they said I’m quiet

Apparently I couldn’t speak. That’s what Brenner’s men said, time and time again. The child’s a dumb mute… don’t worry about the pain; she can’t scream… makes you feel safe about hurting her.

I remember those words, but the sentiment went back further than I can recall. If this case study you tell me is true. Nancy, this is too much even for me.

“I am sorry to leave you with this task,” Brenner’s voice scratched through the mostly-empty room. “She is rather uninteresting, but I need to fix that if possible.”

Maybel nodded.

“Good.” Brenner’s grey hair fell from it’s gelled form, and he pressed it back in place. Leaning over to the tiny toddler, he stood her up, let go, and watched her fall. No sound but the little thump from baby hitting floor. He shook his head, and left the child. He addressed Maybel once again. “Try to teach her,” he shrugged, “something!”

He left the room, and Maybel took a deep breath. She sat beside six; Brenner’s latest fail. She hoped something would be made of the child before they tossed her. More stupid children meant more messes for Maybel to clean up, and an abundance of sick days spent at home when the lab’s cruelty turned her stomach. Someday one of these children will fix this place. But for now…

Maybel turned six onto her stomach, and placed her on hands and knees. If the thing could at least crawl, maybe Brenner would lay off for a week or so.

Brenner did ignore the baby, just long enough for Maybel to force the child into some sluggish movement.

After the child crawled, she did only that. No further performance to impress lord of the lab. Maybel had more progress with the girl than others though, so she had the privilege of watching Brenner work his science upon the babe.

Mostly, he shouted, and pinched the soft, plush of the child’s skin. It was then Maybel started hearing the screams. The baby made no sound. No protest to the minor abuses. But Maybel felt she knew how the six would have sounded if she had mind enough to speak.

Brenner saw the girl more often, and Maybel’s episodes of internal child screaming started when the man began his work. Maybel felt compassion for the baby, that must be what caused the odd thoughts. For within two weeks of Brenner’s daily visits, Maybel heard in her own mind, a wailing baby as soon as he appeared. Then she started staying home sick.

The nightmares followed. Maybel dreamed of six spitting out monosyllabic no. Over and over. Just no. No. No. Maybel caffeinated herself to limit the sleep, but the crying started during the day, too. She feared telling Brenner, but the gag order she had signed prevented outside health or psychological care. She made an appointment with one of the lab psychologists, and hoped Brenner would be preoccupied and not notice.

She walked into the stupid-big office building, flashed her badge, signed in, and winced at the newest batch of financially-desperate or sickly-curious college-age kids being dropped at the Hawkins’s lab. She hurried into the waiting room for her appointment, and clutched her purse strap as the receptionist walked her back. Brenner greeted her.

He learned then, of the terrors in her mind, keeping her from sleep or daytime productivity. From work. She recognized Brenner’s feigned compassion, but accepted the pills he offered. Once clear of the lab, Maybel pulled her car off the road, and dumped the capsules, placing the orange bottle in her glove box. She couldn’t get caught turning down help, but would never give into Brenner’s drugs.

Two weeks after that appointment, they found Maybel hung by her banister. Dead.

Why are you pestering me?

There are other numbers out there, so I’m not sure why you’re so desperately intrigued by me. But, I will concede my story like an obedient little thing.

A thing is all I knew myself to be for my formative years. Brenner is crewel, and he controlled those years. Even so, I never mistook him for my Papa. I suppose some are more intelligent than others. In fact, until I reached thirty, I failed admitting a papa or mama existed in my past. My self as a number; that I could comprehend, but nothing more.

Other numbers had parents who cared, some too much, as poor Eleven learned. –And on that note, if you ask too many questions about that woman, I will give you a phone directory, and you can talk to Jane Hopper herself.– Where was I? Ah yes, mothers. Many of them needed removal from the picture (a feat Brenner enjoyed too much.) Their children disappeared, died, or never took their first breath; Brenner lied well. Right now, I would embrace my mother with gratitude for her brilliant idea to remove me from the picture. If her plan had worked, you could pester a different number for their story.

If my mom had her way, I never would have suffered existence. Abortion. Mmm, how I wish it had worked. You might think that an ugly word, but it would have been my salvation from a hellish life. There are fetuses who survive several moments of pure anguish as their underdeveloped and unprotected bodies give out, unable to scream out their pain. I would take that short and less painful road. But he was there.

One of Brenner’s goons taunted me once about the beautiful scene of a newly-pregnant surrogate carrying me safe in her womb while my mother bled out in a back-alley abortion clinic. . .

I don’t know how Brenner knew to target me, I just recall the years of frustration and disappointment when I did not develop as he wished.