Where the unwanted wake,
and the smallest bell tolls;
A thousand blessed wombs,
become an orphanage of souls.
Chapter 1: Cayden
Cayden's eyes were sad but peaceful, and remained fixed on the tiny window in front of him. He and Timothy had been sitting on the cold wood floor for some time now. Timothy searched Cayden's eyes, trying to figure out what he was thinking; desperately wanting to comfort him. Cayden looked only to the window with a solemn embrace of what he feared was about to happen. Timothy looked away for a moment and scanned the walls pleadingly for a sign of hope, anything; but there was nothing. Cayden noticed what he was doing, and, trying to ease Timothy's discomfort, spoke softly, "When I first woke up in that bed, all those months ago; there were flowers. The walls were painted with beautiful but hilariously uneven stripes." He paused. "They were perfect; I loved them. There was a picture right there; a family. I couldn't make out who the people were, but I was there, I just know it. It was a portrait of... feelings, what was to come; what could be. I can't see the faces; but I loved them; oh so dearly. My blanket was such a wonderful rich blue; so fat and warm." He laughed and cradled himself in his arms, relishing the memory; but then looked back to the window again solemnly. "And my window- It was never as warm as yours; but it was always enough for me. It was enough." He whispered. "I'd be happy to sit in that glimmer of warm light forever; because it was mine. It was hers." He looked to the floor quietly. "But even as I sat in the light, day after day; even as I kept my hand pressed against the glass trying to love all that I could, my blanket lost it's color; my walls became a sickly gray, and the picture of my family became a smear of messy colors; like tears down my face." Cayden's voice drifted as Timothy listened.
"Do you ever dream?" Cayden asked softly, his gaze remaining fixed on the window. "Sometimes." Timothy replied. Cayden turned his wet eyes toward him. "What do you dream about?" he asked. Timothy thought for a moment, then looked down, unable to break his thoughts away. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the vapors of images and sounds that would sometimes come to him as he slept. "They're like memories, almost." Timothy said. "But they can't be." He let out a faint breath. "They feel so far away, but they're so close sometimes. They feel like things I can almost touch; but they're always just out of reach; things I don't dare to hope for. They seem so wonderful." Timothy stopped talking, trying to hold back his tears. Cayden was looking at the floor again. "There are some nights when it's just black, and I don't dream." Cayden said without emotion. "Maybe those are the nights that she doesn't want me." He put his hands together and closed his eyes. "But on other nights, I could feel and see such wonderful things; things that don't always make sense; but when I'm there, it doesn't matter. You know? It's as though someone will give me a gift someday, but even before I get my gift it's in my dreams, and when I wake I don't always remember what the gift was, but I remember the wrapping paper and the excitement of something wonderful. I can see smiling faces, and the joy of... something. It's so blurry." His tone became soft again. Timothy waited until he could see that Cayden was getting choked up on his words, then spoke so he could rest, "I have one, a dream I sometimes have; a hand holding mine. I don't know where we're going; but it doesn't matter. Her hand seems so big compared to mine; I'm only able to grasp her thumb, and she leads me. I don't know where. Steps..." He tried to remember more but the images dissipated like mist.
"Yeah." Cayden said after a moment, his face lighting up. "Her hand holding mine. Going for a walk." Cayden paused thoughtfully, "And there was something else, what was it..." Cayden spoke softly. "It was so wonderful." he looked truly content as he spoke. "There is something I'm sitting in." His eyes searched the floor as he tried to make sense of what he'd seen. "I think- they're taking me home. I'm wrapped up so tight." he laughed, but then straightened his face. "It feels so safe. I feel so safe." he paused for a moment. "And there is another place. I'm wrapped up again, so warm and so tight." He leaned in with excitement. "And I'm right against her. It carries me. She carries me." He paused. "I'm so happy." His eyes closed with joy over his wet cheeks. "I'm so happy there. I'm so happy there." He clenched his little hands then opened them again slowly, looking down at how empty they were.
"Cayden, you might still have that." Timothy said reluctantly, letting himself be fooled for a moment. "Timothy." Cayden answered with friendship. "Look there." He gestured to the wall. "My picture is gone. My room's empty." Cayden slouched onto his side and said wearily, "And... I just feel so heavy." Cayden pulled himself a little closer to the window and leaned against it." Timothy didn't understand. "I used to feel so free here, almost weightless. I feel so heavy now. I don't think that's a good thing. And..." He lifted his hand slowly and held it out, palm open, a few inches from the icy glass of his window. "Cayden." Timothy softly pleaded. Cayden gently put his hand on the glass; it was ice cold. "I want so much." he stopped. "I want so much." he said again, much softer than before. "I want so much, to be out there... with you." He wasn't speaking to Timothy as he said this. He rested his cheek against the window, hoping at least his tears might escape. He sat upright again for a moment. "Give this to her, Timothy." Cayden held his small empty hands to his mouth and whispered into them. Cayden then extended his hands toward Timothy and slowly opened them, revealing a small piece of white paper, folded and sealed.
Timothy took it and felt the edges of the tiny paper, and after a moment quietly asked, "Are you scared?"
"I'm still young; still soft." His voice quivered slightly. "I'm just afraid of the tearing." He let a gentle smile peek through, even though he knew the severity of what he was saying. He looked again to the window and began to recollect. "Did you ever see..." He searched his thoughts and tried to make sense of what he wanted to say. "In one of my dreams, there was a place..." he paused and became frustrated, slowly shaking his head back and forth as though trying to dislodge an image. "I'm sitting; there are lights going around and around. I'm riding on something fantastic, something... colorful... and slick to the touch. She is bracing me so I don't fall. I can hear... sounds of..."
"Laughter." Timothy said after a moment. "Squeals and screams, but happy. A fountain of lights."
"Could it have been?" Cayden replied cheerfully. "Could it be that we saw the same thing; or would have been there together maybe?" He closed his eyes. "Everything is a blur; going by so fast. I don't understand, but she is there holding me." Cayden looked up happily as though deciphering a piece of this vision that he had never understood before. "Horses." he exhausted with joy. "But I'm not scared. I don't even think they're real." He chuckled at the ridiculousness of what he was saying, then a moment of peace came over him, "I could see my breath." He put his hand over his mouth as he remembered such a strange thing. "I can see my breath. I'm wearing my favorite coat; bright red on the inside. Her hand is on my back; her other hand is only tummy. I'm so content to go wherever she takes me." He looked at his window again, clawing at the ice with his tiny nails, he could still barely make out the building across the street. "She is everything." He pulled himself closer with difficulty, his eyes searching in vain for an open window in the other building, but they were all sealed shut. "If only she could see me, just once. Maybe." His eyes roamed for a moment longer, then he looked back to Timothy. "Why do they close the windows?"
The lights in the room started to dim. The peace in Cayden's eyes left for an instant. "Timothy." he said. The door opened, and as the light of the hall outside washed over the room Timothy faded away, leaving Cayden in his room alone. There was a man in the door, standing in lanky silhouette. Cayden felt very heavy now and it was hard to breathe. The man walked toward him, his slick shoes tapping as he walked. The floor had become cold white tile. Cayden crouched in a heap as the man knelt down beside him. He didn't greet Cayden, and instead sternly mashed on his arms and legs. Cayden gripped the windows with the little strength he had left, as the man pulled on his legs to stretch them outward toward the door. Cayden looked to the man's face, desperate for comfort, but the man's eyes were dark and sunken. He didn't look at Cayden or acknowledge him.
The room trembled for a moment. The man let go of Cayden and looked upward, his black eyes and gaping mouth hung open. The man stood up, carefully snapped the surgical gloves from his hand, then approached the nearest wall and began to gently caress it. Cayden looked up at him. The man looked back. "We don't want her to feel any pain." Cayden took comfort in that and let his eyes rest. He saw a thin shadow drift across the floor as the man left the room and closed the door behind him.
The room was silent. Cayden embraced the cold of the window, as even it was more comforting now than his room; even his own bed. He pulled with all of his might to hold his face against the glass. It was so cold that it burned his cheek, but he left it as he sang softly. "How close I was to you, how close I'll never be. The sadness of death is no sadder than knowing; the hand that warmed my window will never warm me. In your arms I would have slept; in your ear I would have talked. I think you would have kept me, if we could have gone for our walk." Cayden ignored the sound of metal behind him as a small door in the ceiling opened. He clenched his eyes tightly and buried his head into his arms. A metal jaw lined with jagged teeth lowered itself into the room, suspended on a sturdy metal rod. It turned to face Cayden as he sang. "From peaceful rest I came, to peaceful rest I go. But the greatest peace and blissful warmth, is the warmth I'll never know." He dug against the ice with a desperate gasp. "...keep me."
The metal teeth sank deep into his left leg, just above the thigh. The pressure was staggering as the jaws continued to close down much farther than he'd expected. Cayden was so heavy on the floor that when the jaw began pulling, it didn't pull Cayden but only his leg. He tried to focus on the building across the street, but the window had iced over again and was beginning to darken. The metal jaws continued to squeeze with increasing pressure, then began to twist as they pulled; Cayden could feel snapping and breaking. His entire body felt contorted from the strain, when suddenly with a jerk the pressure eased and Cayden's body was at rest again on the floor. His body felt unbearably cold. The metal arm retracted back into the ceiling carrying something in it's jaws. Cayden laid lifelessly on the floor, as his body was encompassed by a pool of warm blood. The metal arm returned and once again directed itself toward Cayden without hesitation. This time the jaws scouted higher up his body, biting down lightly several times as they moved up his remaining leg, finally coming to rest just below his belly button.
Cayden's initial shock had worn off, and in terror saw the jaws preparing to sink into him again. He looked to the window and opened his mouth to scream, but he had no breath. The jaws sank into him below his belly button, sending a wave of excruciating pain through Cayden's body. The jaws kept sinking into him until Cayden couldn't see them anymore. His mouth lingered open, quivering with a silent cry but not making a sound. His body shook violently and with a sudden twist he was lifted, stretched, then suddenly dropped again.
The metal arm retracted into the ceiling once again, carrying with it an indistinguishable mass hanging from it's teeth. Cayden's arm released the window and fell to his side, splashing in the warm blood and entrails. He moved his lips trying to continue his song. He knew everything would be over soon. The metal arm had returned again and was moving through the room searching blindly. It was quiet for a moment, Cayden's vision began to blur; then with a sharp pain the teeth sank into his right arm, jerking him sideways and crushing his shoulder. The jaws twisted and began retracting forcefully. His arm wouldn't come loose, however. Cayden writhed with his mouth open in agony, keeping his head turned away from it and toward his window. The arm began to peel off, stripping the flesh from his side as it was lifted away. Cayden's head fell to the floor again. There was light again in his window; a faint one. He craned his neck to look at it as much as he could. He let it wash over his eyes and embraced the blindness it brought. He had become numb, but could still feel the pressure of the jaws biting down on him again; this time into his chest. The teeth sank down with a steady motion. His chest collapsed with almost no resistance.
Cayden's eyes closed.
Chapter 2: Tiny Windows
Timothy's room was perfectly still. He sat in silence by his window with his back against the wall. It was so still that he could hear his own heartbeat, but even that had slowed so much that it was barely there.
After what had happened to Cayden, Timothy wanted to sit in the warmth of his window and be comforted by it, but he was too scared to move into it's light yet. He would rather imagine what it felt like, and pretend it had gotten even brighter and warmer than the day before. He looked over his shoulder solemnly at the shaft of pale light streaming past him, painting white shapes on the bare floor. How wonderful it would be to reach his hand out and have it wrapped in beams of hot sunlight, and put his palm flat against the window to feel the warmth, the warmth of her hand on the other side; but he didn't dare try. Not yet. He instead closed his eyes for a moment longer, and remembered in splendor the wonderful visions he and Cayden had shared before he was taken.
Timothy had been at the orphanage longer than Cayden had, about two months longer. Timothy had been the first to rush into his room when Cayden first arrived. The room was so bright that day. The room looked like it had been painted by someone who had never painted before, but it was painted with eagerness and joy. There was even a mobile, hanging from the ceiling above the bed, something Timothy had never seen before. There, on dangled strings, were fantastic shapes of animals and little people, dancing in circles in a parade of color and joy, and castling shadows just as wonderful. Then there, in that perfectly made bed, with it's perfectly straight sheets, lay a small boy. His eyes opened for the first time, and after rubbing them for a moment he began to sit up, adding the very first wrinkles to blankets that had never moved. His skin was slightly transparent, which was normal for the first few months of their stay, and would remind the other children of how delicate and fragile he was. After Cayden had sat upright, he immediately searched for warmth. He paid no attention to the decorations in his room or even to Timothy, and instead scampered from his bed and went straight to his small window, pressing his hands eagerly against it. The glass was hot to the touch, and he delighted in it. He couldn't smile yet, or even say a word, but he was comforted, and let his body bask in the love washing over him.
Within the next few days Cayden was able to talk to the other children at the orphanage and became one of the family. He had such a sweet and timid personality. Even though Cayden delighted in the warmth of his window as much as the other children, Timothy would also sometimes find him sitting by himself, seeming to enjoy a warmth that Timothy wasn't familiar with. Cayden would sit at the foot of his bed, eyes closed and head bowed, and would appear to be speaking to someone softly; mouthing tiny words that Timothy couldn't make out. Then when Cayden realized that someone was in the room, he would simply open his eyes and smile gently. Even over the months as Cayden's room started to change, Cayden seemed as cheerful as always. He would still sit in the sun of his window, arms open with childlike happiness, as the light became dimmer. Sometimes Timothy noticed Cayden shivering, though still smiling with gladness, his palms and forehead resting in comfort against the cool glass.
The mobile above his bed had disappeared a long time ago, after only a few days. Cayden acted as though he hadn't noticed. After the first month, the colorful stripes on his walls had faded as well and become a flat and pasty white. The flowers wilted. None of that mattered, because out of everything that had been in his room, Cayden delighted most in the picture that hung on his wall; and even though he couldn't make out the faces, he knew them in his heart; they were his family. He would sometimes hold the picture in his small arms as he fell asleep at night, even as the picture bled away; smearing his cloths in paint which he would wipe off with great difficulty the next morning.
Timothy looked again to the shaft of light coming in beside him. He slowly reached his little hand toward it. He couldn't feel anything at first, but then he did. It was warm. The sudden rush of emotion caused him to exhaust a short but happy laugh. He flung his whole body toward the window immediately and pressed both of his hands against it as hard as he could. He looked through the glass and down to the small brown brick building across the street, it's windows covered over with heavy black shades. Timothy desperately tried to think of some way of returning such a wonderful gift, but he knew he couldn't. "Someday I will." he promised.
After a moment he turned his little body and sat flat on his bottom, reaching for the small notebook that he kept nearby. It was yellow; his favorite color. There were several pages already torn out from letters he'd written before. He eagerly picked up his little blue pencil and began writing.
"Thank you for the love you've shared with me today. I'm here. I felt it. It's so wonderful. I can't return it yet, but I will, I promise that I will." Tears began welling in his eyes, and suddenly his happiness scared him. He remembered Cayden. With that, he continued writing. "Just give me a little more time." He pleaded, then immediately remembered something else he wanted to share. "I had a dream a few nights ago; I meant to tell you. I'm not sure what it was; but I was outside playing a game of some kind. There was grass under my feet and it was going by so fast! I was moving against the wind! Oh it felt wonderful; and then, I was looking to the sky to try to catch something. What was it? I don't know. Oh how fun! I'm going to share that with you! I was so happy! It was something wonderful!" He looked thoughtfully at the paper for a moment. "I want you to come watch me play!" His little pencil hovered above the page.
"It's no use, you know." Alex stood in the doorway, his brown curly locks hanging down either side of his face. "He's not going to let you give those to her."
"You don't know." Timothy creased the small paper at it's edge and carefully tore it from the notebook. "She might know." Timothy added, fearing that Alex was right. Alex had been at the orphanage longer than Timothy, and had been there at his bedside when he awoke on the first day. He was very thoughtful and seemed to know so much, which was often encouraging, but sometimes frightening.
Alex, not wanting to be a voice of gloom that day, just smiled. "Did you tell her about your dream?"
"Yeah that's what I was just doing."
"Make sure to build yourself up. Make it sound like you were doing something important." Alex came in and bounced on the corner of Timothy's bed. "Why?" Timothy asked.
"Because it will give you a better chance. No one wants a dud. It's just a good idea to make yourself interesting. Take up a hobby, take an interest something. Tell her about it. Convince her that this world just can't live without you!" He laughed as he bounced with glee. "Will anyone even know?" Timothy asked. "I'm sure someone would figure it out and say, 'Wow, look at this; this one's a keeper!' It's like me; the great artist!" He placed his hand on his chest in a gesture of self importance and gave a huge toothy grin. "Oh yeah!" He hopped off the bed and crawled on his knees over to Timothy, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out a carefully folded piece of paper. Alex handed it to Timothy. "What is it?" Timothy opened it and held it to the light. It was a beautiful picture made with pastels of all colors; a sky and clouds. The sun was peeking out from behind a blue horizon and the clouds were radiant oranges and reds, and there, on one of the clouds, was a tiny shadow of a boy, as though about to jump from one cloud to the next. "It's Cayden." Alex smiled, his eyes fixed on the picture. A smile grew steadily over Timothy's face. "It's really him. It's wonderful."
Suddenly there was the sound of a wind-chime echoing through the hall outside. They sat in silence for a moment, then their eyes opened with excitement. Someone new had arrived!
Chapter 3: The New Arrival
Timothy and Alex ran excitedly down the hall looking for the room where the arrival was happening. They slid across the polished floors and flew around corners, almost colliding with everything in their path; until finally they saw it. There, down the hall, the third doorway from the end on the left, a door stood open with a powerful wind roaring from inside. "There!" Timothy yelled with excitement, starting to run again and trying to get there in time to see it.
He collided with the door frame and almost fell through it, but Alex held him back. "Shh." He said, looking into the room but not yet daring to enter. There in the corner of the room was another perfectly made bed with a lump under the sheets. It wasn't breathing yet, but it was about to be. This room, unlike Timothy's, had two large arced windows standing open with curtains flowing from them in magnificent waves. The wind surged so strongly that Timothy and Alex had to cover their faces while still trying to watch the bed. The wind died down for a moment, and light filled the room from outside as though the sun itself was drawing near. The light faded, and one more breeze washed through the room. The blankets on the bed lifted slightly with a breath, and then down again. The two large windows faded from sight. In their place was a smaller one, lower to the ground, like the ones in Timothy and Alex's rooms. But the light from this little window was almost as bright and warm as the light from the larger ones! Bright pink paint poured down the walls and a moment later they were completely covered and dried. A marvelous round fuzzy rug grew in the center of the floor, spiraling with purples and reds.
Moment by moment the light from the little window grew warmer and warmer. Timothy and Alex were so mesmerized by the glow and splendor of the room that they'd forgotten about the small person in the bed, at least until a tiny hand pulled back the blanket. The little hand was soft and rounded, and still very transparent. Timothy kept his distance for a moment. There were small shapes growing and extending throughout the little hand; tiny tendrils of red branched up and through the small fingers. A few moments later, after the little hand looked more complete, a little girl sat up from the bed and opened her eyes. She had curly brown hair that went halfway down her back, and was wearing a small white dress. Not taking notice of Timothy or Alex yet, she immediately looked toward the little window and climbed down from her bed. Timothy could tell that something wasn't quite right about her, as she walked with a limp and was a bit sideways, but she made it to the window just fine, and it showered her with light and warmth. She sat speechless for several minutes, slowly looking more and more like a little girl; her features becoming more defined.
She began to sing softly to herself. "Where have I been? In wonderful arms. He carries me from, and carries me to, and in his stead, has placed me with you. To have, and to hold, I will forever love, I will be your blessing, I will be your dove. In frailty of flesh I come to this place, but he trusted my frailty to your gentle embrace. He must trust you, so also do I; in your hands I will live; in your arms I will cry."
She began to whisper things that Timothy couldn't hear, then turned to them and smiled with delight. "Isn't it wonderful." She beamed. "Isn't it wonderful." She said again and pulled herself to her feet, then walked with a bit of difficulty toward Timothy. "I'm Brittany."
"Hi." Timothy beamed back, not being able to help but be affected by such radiant joy. She was extremely warm for having sat by her window for such a short time. Alex was quiet, not being able to take his eyes off of the magnificence of her window. He knew that he couldn't enjoy it's warmth; it wasn't his; but he couldn't help but be captivated by it's glow. He came to his senses, not wanting to be rude and certainly not wanting to be jealous, "It's wonderful to meet you, Brittany. Welcome to our family."
"Thank you!" she exclaimed. Then, with bright-eyed eagerness, simply asked, "Where I am? Where is everyone?" Alex looked to Timothy, wondering who should take the question, but they both knew that Alex was better at this sort of thing. "This is the orphanage."
"The orphanage? But I'm not an orphan! I have a mother! When can I meet her?"
"Very soon!" Timothy jumped in, not feeling the need for anything further. Alex gave him a puzzled look. Brittany turned to go back to her window, and Timothy leaned in toward Alex. "Look at how bright her light is; how warm this love is. She is going to a wonderful home, Alex. We should be so happy for her." Alex nodded.
Brittany turned for a moment and looked at Timothy. "She is over there, isn't she?" She turned back to her window and stared with adoration at the building across the street. Timothy came and knelt beside her. "Yeah, she's over there, thinking about you, just like you're thinking about her." He lowered his head just a bit, hoping in pain that the same could be said of his own mother. "She's thinking about you right now I bet, and is probably getting your room ready for you." Timothy looked around, then happily exclaimed. "Look!" There behind them, a large pink beanbag had appeared in the corner. None of them had every seen anything like it before. "How fantastic!" Brittany squealed with delight! "What is it?" She turned back to Timothy, but he just laughed. "I have no idea but it looks wonderful!" Brittany lost interest in the room however and quickly turned her gaze back to the building across the street. "Can she see me? Where is she?" Timothy looked up at Alex again, hoping he would answer the difficult questions. "Well, the windows are usually sealed up pretty tight over there." Alex kept his answer vague. Brittany strained her eyes. There were heavy lead covers pulled over all of the windows on the other building. There was something written on all of them but she couldn't make it out. "What do they say?" Timothy knew the answer; he'd read it a thousand times before. "They say 'Planned Liberation'."
"Oh." Brittany said in a quieter tone. "Well I know that must be a good thing." She was quiet for a moment then burst into joy again. "I just can't wait!" She pressed her small hands against the glass. "I just can't wait." She said again. Alex knelt down with them. "And hey, until then, you get to hang out with us!"
"That's right!" Timothy smiled. "Then someday, after you've been here long enough, you'll get to go outside!"
"And..." Alex jumped in. "When you finally get outside, that's when you'll get your certificate of life! You'll officially be a little girl!" He beamed.
"But more importantly..." Timothy added, knowing what Brittany really wanted to hear. "You'll get to see her."
"My mom." Brittany whispered.
"And with your certificate of life, you'll be safe!" Alex added, stressing the importance of getting the certificate.
"That will be wonderful!" she took Alex's hand and held it warmly. Alex looked sternly at Timothy as though to rally support before addressing an important matter. "Brittany, we need to find a talent for you! It's never too early to figure out what you're good at!" Alex stood up as though about to go back to his room and bring back supplies of some sort, but before he could leave Brittany exclaimed, "I want to sing! Even if I'm not very good at it!" she laughed. "I want to sing." She turned back to her window. "I'll sing for you, before I sing for anyone else." At this, Alex looked at Timothy and nodded with approval. "If there's one thing we need more of around here; it's happy endings." Alex smiled, then left to go back to his own room. Brittany began singing to herself again softly in the light of her window. Timothy stood and walked to the doorway as well, but turned for just a moment longer to enjoy the sight of someone showered with so much warmth and love. He put his hands over his heart with happiness for her as she sang, then silently left.
Chapter 4: The Inspection
The children had gathered together for their weekly inspection. This always took place in the lobby of the orphanage, in front of a bright wall of glass doors that led outside. Alex had caught up to Timothy just as he entered the lobby. The other children had already arrived and were standing shoulder to shoulder in a single-file line. Brittany was at the end, and when she saw Timothy and Alex she waved them over cheerfully. Timothy walked across the floor of polished green and white checkered tiles and stood next to her. She leaned toward him. "I'm so excited. What happens now?"
"Well, now we wait for the doctor." Timothy smiled.
"Mr. Lantern." Alex clarified. Brittany giggled. "That's funny. Is that his real name?"
"Whenever we hear his real name it's usually something different each time; so we just call him Mr. Lantern."
"Why Mr. Lantern?" Brittany whispered. Alex opened his mouth slightly to answer, but then closed it again.
"Good morning kids. How are my little patients today?" A tall lanky man entered the room wearing a bright white coat and carrying a clipboard. He stood for a moment in silence, reading from the papers in front of him. "He looks like a very nice man." Brittany smiled. Alex glanced at Timothy. "Yeah, he does look that way, doesn't he?" Mr. Lantern wore a broad smile. In fact, he wore his entire face; it was a sleek white plastic mask with an exaggerated smile and oversized blue eyes. The mask's large mouth looked like a pitch crescent moon, with four small flat teeth white peeking down from the top. The eyes were round and inviting, and glittered blue as he turned from side to side. Brittany was delighted by him.
He knelt down and talked to a little girl standing on the other side of Brittany. "Hello..." He flipped a page on his chart. "Cassandra; what a beautiful name. Your mother is so excited to meet you." He reached his hands out and squeezed her arms and legs, then measured the size of her head. "You are growing just as you should be. Money is tight, and times are tough, but your mother is committed to seeing this through." His head nodded, the plastic eyes sparkling in the light.
He stood up slowly and flipped another page on his chart. He turned to Brittany. "Hello Brittany. Your mother is very excited to meet you also. Now let's have a look." He knelt down, taking hold of her arms and turning her side to side. Timothy watched as the white smiling face stared blankly; it's eyes twinkling blue. Mr. Lantern sat in silence, inspecting her much longer than the other kids. Brittany couldn't help but gush, "It's very nice to meet you. Thank you for all that you do." Mr. Lantern didn't respond, and only turned Brittany's little body from side to side. "Ow." She said softly as Mr. Lantern pressed down on her back. He didn't speak and only wrote on his clipboard. He was unusually silent. Timothy felt the need to speak up. "She can sing. You should hear her sing." Mr. Lantern continued writing. Brittany just bobbed up and down on her toes, then looked over at Timothy and smiled. Timothy paid no attention and continued to address Mr. Lantern. "Did you write that down on her chart? She can sing. She loves to sing."
Mr. Lantern finally turned to Timothy. He took a step closer to him, all the while looking at his chart. Timothy looked down for only a moment, but suddenly Mr. Lantern was there, eye level with him, squeezing his arms. "Still underweight." he commented, then looked directly into Timothy's eyes. The eyes on the mask were large and frighteningly blue. Timothy looked away, but Mr. Lantern caught hold of his chin and pulled his face back toward him. He slowly turned Timothy's head from side to side. Timothy could hear Mr. Lantern breathing steadily from behind the hollow mask. "She is still holding out for you. I can't imagine why." His grip became gentle and he let go of Timothy's chin. Mr. Lantern had never spoken kindly to Timothy. He'd never seen Mr. Lantern treat another child with such disgust as he did with him. Mr. Lantern stood scribbling on his clipboard. Timothy wished he could write on the clipboard too, knowing that it would be taken to the other building. Mr. Lantern began to turn toward Alex when Timothy blurted out, "Can you give these to her?" Timothy held out a handful of crumpled letters. Mr. Lantern stared at him with blank eyes. He extended his hand and gently pulled the letters loose from Timothy's grip, then tucked them away in his coat pocket, turning back toward Alex. "Can you tell her about me?" Timothy added. Mr. Lantern paused. "That would violate her freedom, Timothy. You want me to do what's best for her, don't you?" Timothy thought for a moment, then nodded softly and stepped back in line.
"Now, Alex." Mr. Lantern knelt down once again. He didn't take any measurements, but simply looked at Alex solemnly, tilting his head to one side. "Still on the fence." He stated plainly. "Times are tough, you understand; but she still has a twinkle in her eye when she comes to see me about you." Alex didn't say anything, but his chin crumpled up and his emotions swelled at the thought. Mr. Lantern slowly rose to his feet and began to walk away when Alex held out a small piece of paper. Alex's eyes were wet. "For her..." He said meekly. Mr. Lantern looked back, then reluctantly took the paper and put it in his coat pocket with the other letters. Alex looked to the floor as though having done something wrong.
"Ok, kids." Mr. Lantern walked toward the front doors which were wide and gleaming. "Keep growing and I'll see you all again soon." He walked into the light and disappeared from sight. Alex took a sudden step forward as though to follow him through the doors but Timothy grabbed him. "Alex you can't go out there yet, you won't survive."
"We won't survive HERE." Alex said with tears in his eyes. Out there we can be protected. If we can just make it outside then we're automatically given a certificate of life, and we'll be protected. In here, we're nothing."
"But you'll die out there. You can't..." Timothy pleaded.
"I saw what he wrote about Brittany." Alex said gravely. "Well, I didn't see everything, but I saw all that mattered." He leaned in close to Timothy and whispered into his ear. "Birth defect. That's a death sentence."
"No, it's not." Timothy insisted. "That doesn't mean anything."
"Well I'm not gonna just wait around to find out what he wrote for me." The other kids were returning to their rooms but Alex went another direction, toward a door in the back that led to a stairwell. Timothy looked around nervously, but not seeing anyone nearby, he followed.
Alex pulled open the rusty door and walked briskly up a dark and narrow passage, his feet clanking on the grated metal steps leading to the second floor. "Alex, do you even know what's up here?" Timothy whispered from the doorway, not yet committed to following him inside. Alex stopped for a moment and turned to him. "I hear them." he said. "Who?" Timothy didn't understand. "There are rooms upstairs, rooms they don't use anymore. Mr. Lantern used to take kids up here all the time." he paused. "They never came back." Alex carefully put his hand on the stone wall of the passage and looked up. "Maybe there is another way out up there?"
"What does it matter?"
"I want to see where they went."
"Alex." Timothy lowered his head. Alex ignored him and continued with earnestness in his voice. "What if there's another way for us to get a certificate of life? We could be real people, Timothy." he said desperately. "Just think; a certificate of life; we wouldn't have to be afraid anymore. You could go see her." At that, Timothy was silent. Alex turned the corner in the stairwell and kept climbing out of sight.
Timothy stood in silence and thought for a moment, recalling what it was like each day to not know whether his window would be warm or not. Every day felt so uncertain. Every child waited at the orphanage, day after day, hoping for their chance to be taken outside and given a certificate, because it meant they could finally see their mothers, and they'd be safe.
Brittany approached cautiously and stood beside Timothy, gazing up into the dark passage. "What's up there?" Timothy didn't answer, and instead began climbing the steps to catch up to Alex. Brittany raised her eyebrows in shock and looked around nervously.
When Timothy reached the top, Alex was no where in sight. The second floor wasn't as big as he'd expected, just one short hall with two large double-doors on one side. It looked very similar to the first floor with it's slick white floor and gray walls. It was more like a hospital though, more sterile. It was very quiet and Timothy couldn't see very far into the space. He listened carefully for movement. Each of the two double-doors had a small round window above the handle. Timothy walked carefully up to the door closest to him and stood on his tippy toes to peer inside. It was dark but Timothy could make out the silhouette of a figure standing just on the other side of the door. He was startled by this and jumped. The figure inside was too tall to be Alex.
"What is it?" Brittany whispered from the top of the stairwell behind him, looking back every few seconds to see if she was in trouble. Timothy opened his mouth to speak when the double doors burst open. Timothy jumped again, but it was just Alex; grabbing his hand and pulling him inside. "Hey wait." Brittany whispered. She held onto the railing of the stairwell carefully as she pulled herself the rest of the way up to follow them.
Inside was a very dark and sterile room full of tables and instruments. The figure in the corner that Timothy had seen was a mannequin of some kind, built with machine parts to serve some sort of function. In the center of the room was a strange container; a large circular bowl with a spout at one end. "What is that?" Timothy asked as he stepped closer. He looked back only once, not entirely certain about the mannequin, but then stepped up to the bowl, running his hand along the rim. "What a strange shape. What's it supposed to be?" There were two thick trunks protruding from the bottom of the bowl, on either side of the short spout.
Alex was fumbling around along the wall behind them, and with a click, a very dim light flickered on overhead, just enough to make out the rest of the shapes in the room. A gentle humming sound could be heard coming from inside the mannequin, and Alex saw that in it's right hand it held a pair of long scissors. "I don't like this room, Timothy. There is something so wrong here." He continued to walk along the perimeter of the room feeling the walls gently with his fingertips.
Timothy paused as he inspected the bowl, then he began to climb up on top of the structure. "What are you doing?" Brittany gasped. "Just give me a second." Timothy explained. He climbed over the rim of the irregularly shaped bowl and laid down gently inside of it, curling himself up on his side. The contours of the bowl matched his body perfectly. The mannequin began to slowly glide across the room toward the curved structure that Timothy laid in, but no one seemed to notice.
"This room." Alex said softly. "I can hear a million screams; screams that were never heard by anyone else." There was a chart on the wall depicting a medical procedure. Alex didn't give it much notice at first, but as he looked closer his eyes shot open and he began to shake violently. "Timothy!" He screamed!
Timothy tried to sit up from the hollow mold that he laid in but a glass lid closed over the top and snapped shut, trapping him. The only way out now was the spout at the bottom, but he knew he was too large to fit through. Even so, he began to try to get a leg out when suddenly the face of the mannequin appeared over the glass and he jerked his leg back inside.
The mannequin had stopped at the base of the structure, and with a sudden motion, it bent over and looked up into the spout. It reached it's arm up inside and grabbed Timothy by the foot. He screamed and pounded on the glass. Alex and Brittany both tried to pull at the mannequin but they couldn't overpower it. The mannequin pulled Timothy's leg as though to pull him through the spout at the bottom. Timothy suddenly realized he might be torn in half if he didn't put his other leg through as well. The mannequins machinery was whirring and it smelled like sulfur, it's joints were grinding against one another and smoking from decay. Brittany and Alex both screamed helplessly as their combined strength had almost no effect on it as they tugged against it's arms. The mannequin jerked Timothy hard and pulled him halfway through the spout at the bottom, then twisted him suddenly so that he faced downward, then continued stretching him. Timothy knew that even if his body could squeeze through the bottom, there was no way that his head was going to fit. The mannequin continued to pull, forcing Timothy's torso and then his shoulders through, until only Timothy's head remained inside the mold. He struggled to breath with his face pressed against the surface of the mold. He clenched his teeth with fear, but the moment that Timothy was dreading didn't happen; the robot didn't try to force his head through. Instead, the hand that held the scissors began to raise into the air. Alex had been so focused on wrestling with the mannequin that he'd paid no attention to the scissors. "Brittany, grab it's arm!" Alex screamed. Brittany grabbed the cold plastic arm and pulled with all of her weight to keep it down. Alex began climbing the mannequin itself, trying to get to the scissors.
Once it's arm was raised, it pointed the scissors downward and toward the back of Timothy's neck. The arm began to lower toward him. "Up! Up!" Alex yelled! Brittany stopped pulling the arm down and began trying to push it back up, bracing herself underneath it, but it was no use. The scissors were almost to the base of Timothy's neck when Alex reached forward and snatched the scissors from it's hand. Just as he did, the mannequin thrust it's hand forward and pressed against the back of Timothy's neck. Then there was silence. Timothy breathed carefully and steadily. Alex didn't move, afraid that somehow the mannequin would realize it was no longer holding the scissors and try to retrieve them. The mannequin slowly extended it's thumb outward, as though to open the scissors. "What's it doing?" Timothy cried. Alex spoke carefully and quietly. "Your head won't fit."
"Well this isn't the way to save me!" Timothy was confused and sobbed! "Why is it trying to kill me?!"
"Your head won't fit." Alex repeated. He looked back to the chart on the wall. "It's stabbing you at the bottom of your skull, then opening the scissors, to open the wound." They were all silent for a moment. "I don't understand." Timothy cried.
"After there was a wide enough hole in your neck..." Alex looked around the room nervously, trying to figure out what other kinds of dangers there might be. "After there was a wide enough hole in your neck, it was going to force a tube into your skull and suck your brains out. That would collapse your skull... and then your head would fit though." Timothy stopped struggling, stunned by what he'd heard. Brittany stopped pushing against the mannequins arm.
After waiting long enough to be confident that the mannequin wouldn't move again, Alex hopped down and ran to the mold, wrestling with the latch until it finally came loose. Alex and Brittany lifted the glass lid off, giving Timothy more space to free himself. He pushed up on the mannequins hand just enough for him to get his head out, then fell to the floor and pushed himself away from the mannequin. Alex and Brittany ran to his side. The dim light overhead was just enough to outline the contours of the evil machine, and although inactive for a moment, it began to move again, reaching into a compartment on it's side and removing a long narrow tube. It moved the narrow tube to where Timothy's neck had been and thrust it forward. Timothy jumped at the sight. The tube made a high pitched whining noise as the suction turned on. "Lets go." Alex said nervously, and the three of them quietly pushed through the double doors and back to the short hall outside.
"Who would do this?" Timothy shuddered. "I think Mr. Lantern has done this; many times." Alex, having been there the longest, felt in his heart that Mr. Lantern was someone to be afraid of. "Why do you call him Mr. Lantern?" Brittany whispered again, tears running down her face. Alex turned to her, and with a straight face answered. "Because when he takes off his mask..." He turned to Timothy. "He looks hollow, like a Jack o' Lantern."
Alex turned and looked toward the second broad door, then without hesitation he stood and began to walk toward it. "Alex, what are you doing?" Timothy gasped. Alex turned and shook his head. "Can't you hear them?" He put his hand on the door. Then with a soft voice he whispered, "This room is still used sometimes." He pushed through the doors and out of sight.
Timothy sat with Brittany in silence a moment longer, breathing several long breaths together. "I'm going to go see, too." He finally said.
"I want to go back and sit in my window, Timothy." Brittany cried.
"That's ok." Timothy rubbed her arms with comfort. "You are so fortunate, Brittany. I envy you so much." Timothy looked right into her eyes. "You are so lucky. Go sit in your window. Enjoy your time with her." He whispered with honesty, wanting so much for it to be his room that flooded with such radiant warmth. Brittany wiped her face, then stood up with some difficulty and made her way back toward the stairwell.
After making sure that she had made it out ok, Timothy walked toward the second set of double-doors. He paused at the sound of someone's voice coming from within. It wasn't Alex's. Timothy listened, but the voice grew faint and then stopped. He slowly pushed the doors open and peered into the darkness inside. Alex was sitting on the floor, facing the furthest corner of the room. It was very difficult to see because the walls and floors were charred black. There were heaps of black objects lining the floor against the walls, but he couldn't make them out.
As Timothy stepped closer, he could make out another small figure sitting in the far corner, opposite Alex and sitting upright in the shadows. It stared back in silence, with only two pinpoints of light indicating eyes. Timothy began to walk much slower as he approached. The silent figure was naked and bright red, as red as a fresh coat of paint. He also seemed very thin. There was a sign above the his head that read "The candied apple baby." Timothy knelt down beside Alex cautiously.
"Timothy." Alex shook. "This room." He lifted his eyes and looked with despair at the heaps along the walls. "We have to get out of here." He whispered. Timothy couldn't look away from the lopsided stare beaming back from the darkness, but finally he nodded softly. "Ok, come on." Timothy helped Alex to his feet, but as they stood the room became bright. There were no more heaps along the walls. Wind-chimes were singing their lighthearted songs and a wonderful, steady breeze sailed in from the open windows. There was a large and puffy bed, piled high with quilts and stuffed animals. The walls were a pleasant pastel. Timothy looked down and wiggled his toes in the fuzzy clean carpet. "Where are you going?" A little voice called from behind them. Timothy and Alex turned back to where the dark corner had been, but the dark corner was gone. Instead, there on the floor, sat a bright eyed little boy holding a toy train in each hand. The floor was littered with little wooden tracks, and the clutter at Alex and Timothy's feet indicated that they must have been playing as well. "Where are you going?" The little boy asked again with worry. "This place is dangerous. Isn't it?" Alex looked around nervously. The boy on the floor had a confused expression, his curly blonde hair peeked out from all sides from the small white ball cap on his head. "This is the safest place you could be!" The little boy exclaimed. "I've always been safe here." He shook his head with seriousness in his eyes. "This is the safest place that you'll ever be." The breeze rolled in against them like gentle waves.
Timothy looked to Alex, then carefully sat down on the floor in front of the boy. "What's your name, then?" he asked. "Ethan! You know that!" He laughed. "I've never seen you at the orphanage before." Timothy said, looking to Alex for confirmation. "Orphanage?" Ethan asked. "This is my room, silly!" He set the little orange train on the tracks and pushed it forward, puffing his cheeks as he chugged.
A man walked into the room. Ethan didn't seem to notice. The man was wearing a long white coat like Mr. Lantern, but Timothy couldn't see if it was him or not. The man moved liked a ghost and in silence. He went to the windows and pulled them shut, locking them, then exited the room and pulled the door shut as well. Alex immediately got up and went to the door to open it again but it was locked. "Timothy." Alex said frightened.
"She is going to make sandwiches for us." Ethan beamed, his cheeks swelling cheerfully. "Do you like peanut butter and jelly? I like it, but without the crust. So mom takes a knife for me and cuts off the crust for me and then I like it better, without the crust." He looked again intently at the little orange train as he wheeled it back and forth over the same spot.
Timothy could hear a squishing sound coming from below him. The carpet was wet. He lifted his hand and stared at it, confused. "Oh no." He heard Alex say. Alex was kneeling by a vent just above the floor where liquid was beginning to pour in. Timothy didn't take time to ask what it was and immediately stood to his feet. Ethan was still playing contently. The liquid seemed to hiss as it brushed against the edges of the room, and was creating a strange smell. "It's going to burn us!" Alex screamed and climbed up onto the bed. "No, no it doesn't burn." Timothy said, dipping his hand into it again. "I doesn't feel like anything." He said. The liquid continued to rise slowly. Alex stepped down into it reluctantly and touched it. "You're right." He said. "Ouch." They heard. Timothy and Alex both turned and looked toward Ethan. Ethan was just standing up, his pants were wet from the liquid and he was trying to brush it off of himself. "Ouch. Ouch." He cried again. His cheeks were becoming red.
Timothy and Alex only looked at each other for a moment before rushing to his aid, gripping him by the arms and hoisting him up onto the bed. "Ouch. Ouch." Ethan continued to whimper, pulling off his shoes and socks and rubbing his feet, which were now tender and pink.
The liquid kept rising and was now about halfway up the side of the bed. Timothy climbed down into it with a pillow and tried to block the small vent. He could feel the sensation of the liquid around him but it didn't burn him as it did Ethan. "Over there!" Alex cried. Another vent had opened on the other side of the room where more fluid was pouring in. Alex climbed down off the bed and ran to it, trying to block it with his hands until the liquid was up to his chin. "It's no use!" He pushed backward away from it. The liquid was level with the top of the bed now and was rising faster. "Timothy help me." Alex began lifting Ethan up higher while standing on the bed. Timothy began to climb up as well when all at once the bed melted into vapors as though having been an illusion. Timothy, Alex and Ethan all plunged into the fluid, which rose to the top of the room within only a few moments.
Timothy struggled to swim but couldn't seem to get anywhere. Alex was having the same problem. It didn't take Timothy long however to realize that he wasn't drowning, or burning. In fact, he hardly felt wet at all. He opened his eyes and looked to Alex who had made the same realization. Ethan, on the other hand, was reaching in all direction with his arms and legs, flailing wildly. His eyes were clenched and his mouth was open trying to scream. Timothy tried desperately to get to him. Timothy expected Ethan to drown since the fluid obviously affected him in ways that it didn't affect Timothy or Alex. But Ethan didn't drown. Minute after minute, he kicked and struggled. His skin began to turn red from the burning solution. The fluid was getting into his mouth and eyes and ears. Ethan thrashed from side to side, clawing at his neck.
Twenty minutes passed. Ethan was still kicking and grasping. His cloths had burned through and had fallen, his body was red and raw. Timothy had gone from feeling a sense of horror to one of shock. How long could this possibly go on? Timothy struggled again to move from his place. Alex was also just looking on, unable to move and not trying anymore. Timothy and Alex didn't feel as though they were really there anymore. They were bystanders in a moment of time; in a memory, watching helplessly as Ethan slowly burned before their eyes from the inside and out.
Forty minutes had passed. Ethan's body was slim and red now, but was still kicking weakly. He didn't look like a little boy anymore. His innocent expression was gone. His playful spirit and smile replaced with a gaping red hole and two blank eyes. The burning liquid had skinned him.
After fifty seven minutes, Ethan stopped kicking.
Timothy felt a sudden burning sensation over his body and jerked, but was suddenly awake, staring again into the dark corner where two tiny pinpoints of light stared back at him softly. "The candied apple baby." Timothy read. Alex stood to his feet and ran from the room. Timothy continued to look at the frail and still child for a moment longer, then followed.
He had barely stepped foot out of the room when he was confronted with the sight of Mr. Lantern standing tall over Alex. Mr. Lanterns sleek plastic face turned toward Timothy, the fake blue eyes didn't twinkle without light, and instead looked gray and empty. "I want to leave." Alex said softly, almost pleading. "It's not your time yet. There are decisions to be made." Mr. Lantern said gently. Alex bounced uneasily on his heels. "Did you tell her about me?" His voice quivered. Mr. Lantern answered steadily, "I don't want to violate her freedom. Is that what you would want?"
Mr. Lantern slowly brought his hand up to his slick white mask and, with a snap, dislodged it, pulling it away from his face. There was a sickly yellow light coming from down the stairwell, just enough to highlight the rims of his gaping eye sockets and toothless mouth. If he had eyes, they were too deep in his skull to see. Timothy had only seen him without his mask once before, but never this close. "Why do you wear that mask?" Timothy's curiosity outweighed his fear. "We all do. It's not as strange as you think." He crouched and looked Timothy in the eyes, his face even more in shadow now, looking more like a wraith than a man. "All people wear them. We wear them for each other. We wear them for civility. We wear them for law." He leaned in closer. "But here with you, I'm neither concerned with civility or law, because neither pertain to you." He looked directly toward Alex now. "Until you have your certificate, you are no different than the bodies in that chamber." He looked back to Timothy, taking him by the jaw again. "Especially with circumstances like yours." He didn't elaborate, and instead looked back at the chamber where the mannequin stood. "If they would let me, Timothy." He let out a passionate sigh. "I burn with anger that I can't do what I should rightfully be able to do."
He leaned in even closer and whispered into the air with putrid breath. "Even those who would stand up for the others, would not stand up for you." He held the