Painted Faces

Reads: 37  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


It's all suddenly utopian. But for who exactly?

Submitted: December 31, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 31, 2017

A A A

A A A


Painted Faces

C.w Hawke


Walker had always preferred hot chocolate to the medium-roast coffee so many of his co-workers rushed for in the morning. He'd always liked it more as a teenager. He had tried all of the varieties of coffee, pumpkin spice, light roast, dark roast, breakfast blends and everything in between. Though he was still conscious of his love for the rich smell of coffee. 
Walker watched as his best friend, Alex, whom he had grown up with and attended high school with removed his cup from the high-end Keurig. He snickered as he saw him jump and yelp in pain as he burned his mouth with the hot liquid.


"Ah ha yeah, real funny mister hot chocolate" Alex give a playful smile. 
"A real all time low for you bud. Find some new material." Walker gave a playful smile back and lightly punched Alex 
in the shoulder. 
"Got time for a drink tonight?" asked Alex. 
"Nope, my caretaker quit." 
"What do you mean? You haven't been sending them to one of the Painted Hands centers?"
"No, I'm not sure how I feel about a big parenting center, I prefer the classic way of things. Silly, I know, but I'm so fond of the idea."
“Dude, they have professional teachers and parents. No need for any of those stragglers looking for work. And it has the added benefit of us getting a drink tonight." 
"Okay, maybe it's worth checking out." 

 

_________________________________________________________________


Walker drove onto the freshly paved driveway, gave the ignition button a firm tap, and sunk into the leather cushions of the car. Though he didn't have to drive the vehicle (now one would be surprised if they could find a car that did not drive itself) Walker still felt the pressure on his shoulders from the journey home in the company car. It was as if he were literally bringing his work home with him. He laid back in the seats and closed his eyes, he almost fell victim to the soothing comfort of sleep. 


He awoke with a jolt as someone knocked on the window of the car. He rolled down the pure black tinted windows to reveal his child's caretaker. 


"Hullo Marie" his tone suggesting he hadn't slept in weeks. 
"Sorry about this whole thing, I got a call from the Ministry of the deceased, my grandmother has passed away." 
Eyes opened and fully awake, Walker replied, "I'm so sorry, I had no idea.” After all, she never explained why she was quitting on the phone.
Marie smiled, and she noticed Walker's face grow confused, "You see, I never cared for her much anyway, I'm just going to the funeral out of respect.”
"I see, well, in any matter, enjoy the funeral I suppose.”


Marie got in the pearly-white rail pod that had slid up on the rail above the sidewalk in front of Walker's home. As she left in the pod, Walker was stepping through the door of his somewhat modest home, or rather a home that didn't display his wealth as blatantly as the homes of his co-workers, like Alex. 


Now looking at the glowing screen of the home computer, the screen showed the website of the care center, Painted Hands. He thought it looked friendly enough, the website displayed photos of children smiling from ear to ear, they seemed to be somewhat fond of finger painting. 


___________________________________________________________________

The next morning, he was awoken by the thundering of Jamie's feet running through the house. Within seconds, Walker was in the kitchen making breakfast for his son. How odd, he thought, most people who act as caretakers just make food from the synthesizer packets. Though something was relaxing in the ritualistic act of cooking food. Especially since you could rarely find any modern house with a kitchen. It was a relic of the past now. 
Jamie sat at the table with knife and fork in one hand, his eyes opened wide and almost sparkled a little when his father turned around holding the biggest stack of waffles he'd ever seen. A quiet, "Woah" is all the child could say. Jamie was a sweet boy, with his short brown bowl cut covering his round head. 


"Need a little help cutting them young man?" 
"I can do it myself!" He meant this playfully. Eventually, though, he had to stand up to cut them then had to ask for some help. 
They finished up breakfast together, and Jamie asked the inevitable question, "Where is Marie today?" Walker replied in a strangely optimistic tone, "We’re going on a field trip today my little man!" 
Soon, they were both walking up to the company car in the driveway when Jamie asked, "Can I sit in the front seat today?" the boy was holding his hands in a prayer sign. Walker gave a bit of a teasing sigh and said, "Okay, but just for today.” The boy immediately sprinted up to the car and got in the front seat before his father could change his mind. 


The Painted Hands center was more colorful than Walker had expected, the bright shades of green, yellow and blue all bounced light every way imaginable, as if the building were a prism. As soon as they parked the car and stepped out, someone came to greet them. The woman was shockingly dull, but maybe that was just the building's effect on everything around it. 


"Hi! I'm Grace, are you here for drop off or a tour?"
"Hi Grace," He said shaking her hand.
"My caretaker just quit on me, and I was recommended this place by my co-worker.” 
"Oh! So sorry about that, it can be rough these days, there 
seems to be less independent caretakers as of late" she said this showing what appeared to be genuine sympathy. 
"Right this way then" Jamie gave his father a look that was somewhere in between mild frustration and disappointment. He wasn't getting a day off from learning or going on a field trip with his dad to the science center; where they had skeletons of great beasts people believed might have been called dinosaurs. He was just a passenger while his dad found a place to dump him in place of having a caretaker. 


After the tour, Grace turned to Walker, "Do you need somewhere to leave him for the day? We can offer you one trial day to see how Jamie likes it here." 
"That would be fantastic" Walker bent down so he could see his 7-year-old son face to face, "Okay little man, do you want to stay here?" Reluctantly, Jamie gave his head a nod, somewhat knowing he didn't have much of choice.
"Okay great!" Said Grace, "We'll drop him off at the address in the directory at five o'clock."
Walker waved goodbye to Jamie as he walked through the doors of the main entrance. 

___________________________________________________________________


"So what did you learn today?" 
"Stuff" Jamie shrugged, Walker noticed that Jamie seemed more tired than usual after his schooling at the care center. It wasn't unusual, the centers were known for being tougher on the kids academically than independent caretakers. 
"I'll be able to come and getcha out early tomorrow" Jamie's eyes, (Walker noted that they seemed less blue) opened wide at the mention of this. 
Walker let out a little chuckle, "I guess that's a yes then." 

Walker realized how long it had been since he had gone to the center in person. Typically, Jamie would use the rail pod to take him safely and quickly to the center, and he would come back in a pod the same day at five o'clock. Most adults used their no-pilot cars to travel. After all, pods were juvenile in their nature. He'd only seen the building one other time since the day he dropped Jamie off for the first time. 
He strolled through the sliding glass doors into the newly added lobby. The receptionist looked up 
from her computer screen. 


"Hi there, are you here for an appointment or a tour?"
 Walker replied, "Oh I'm here to pick up my son early today, we have a family emergency." 
The receptionist gave him a look of confusion, "Oh, I'm sorry. We don't allow early pickups. I'm afraid it would be detrimental to the children's success". 
"Excuse me? He's my son, and I need to pick him up."
"I'm sorry sir." 
Walker felt every muscle in his arms tense, the man rarely got mad. But this was his son, it wasn't like he could take no for an answer. 
Then, in a calm, but 
tone, he said, "I want to see my son."
Apparently, (he thought) the woman saw him be crazy, because only a moment later, security officers were rushing through a door he had just noticed. 
"Are you insane? Why do you have security guards? This is a care center!". One of the guards walked up to him. The man looked to be a force of nature. He stood tall a solid eight inches above Walker and was bald. Walker swore he could see a bulging vein about to burst from the man's head. 


Partly out of fear, mostly out of anger, Walker found himself sitting outside in the car. Only a moment later did he notice the dark eyes of the bald guard watching him. Waiting. 

 

That was the night Jamie didn't come home. 

With each passing minute, Walker could feel a hand almost reach inside of his stomach, and pull something out. The anxiety was the same as the feeling of being dropped from a skyscraper, and just barely being caught before you hit the ground. Ever since Jamie had begun to appear tired, he knew. He'd always known, though, still lying to himself that everything was fine. That it was for the greater good. 
With a sudden jolt, he grabbed his coat, he threw on his sneakers, and out the 
door he went. 

He knew the way, he may have only seen the center a few times, though the brilliant shades of color that cloaked the building in false happiness were unforgettable. 

Even in the dark, the building's colors shined brightly. The building still as much of a prism as the day he first saw it. 
He began to walk through the main entrance until he stopped himself. This is a mistake, I should go back, this is probably normal, I'm the one who interrupted them in the first place. He took a step back, almost convincing himself. An image of the bald guard from earlier that day flashed into his head.
Walker moved around to the back of the building, now realizing how large the building was, much to his surprise, there was only one door, on the side of the building. At first, it didn't appear to be a door. It was the same green as the side of the building, blending in perfectly. One would never see it unless they were looking. 
The room Walker was now standing in was entirely dark. Not a single light. He looked down and couldn't seem to find his own feet. 
In the distance, an electrical screech echoed through the room. The sound never faded, still dimly traveling through the darkness. Walker felt the sweat from his forehead come down on his nose, unable to find the strength to wipe it away. His leg stretched forward, and again, and again, fully moving now, he could feel the tile beneath his feet, and the wooden bar his chest walked into. 
The same electrical screech returned, now getting louder. 
And louder
And louder
Until
A lantern blazed to life, giving off just enough light to see what it was connected to, a messy web of heavy-duty wires and cords. 

Another light flicked on.
And another
And another
Until 
The entire room was lit.


Walker could see where he was standing now. The door he entered the room to was a door to a stairwell, and he had walked into the banister. The wires sprawling from the light in the center of the room were connected to six conveyor belts, three on either side of the light. The other lights were blue-white in their hue. They hung bolted to the walls and stayed close to the ceiling. Gazing upon the room, Walker felt his blood become chilled. He'd had the eerie suspicion that this room may have once been a home. No, an orphanage, though a grotesque thing of the past, some still existed. Walker noticed only one door in the room, besides the cutouts in the wall where the conveyor belts led. He found himself rushing down the stairs to the door. 
Only to find the door locked shut. 
Walker's head was on fire. Sweat now raining down his forehead. His neck snapped left and right. I must've missed something he thought. In his panic, he hadn't noticed the conveyor belts were now moving. The belts! He climbed atop one of the belts and moved through the rubber flaps blocking his view of the opening.
Unfortunately for Walker, the other side of the belt didn't have a staircase to step down. He didn't see this until he was clutching his wrist he used to soften his fall. 
He stood up, and couldn't believe what he saw. 

Children.

Perhaps hundreds of them. All wearing green overalls lined up next to each other at conveyor belts. The belts varied in length, the longest one almost running the entire length of the room. He could see another banister, the same as the one he stood on just moments ago. The belts fed into dispensers at their ends that only looked to be metal boxes with mud flaps blocking the view of their insides. 

"JAMIE!" screamed Walker. The children stood motionless. They might as well have been statues. A red light began to glow at the end of the room. For the third time, the electrical noise flared through the room, and the conveyor belts began to move in unison. The Painted Hands logo, a handprint within a circle painted with their signature colors, green, blue, and yellow, was stamped on the cardboard boxes that streamed out from the flaps of the metal dispensers. Once each child had a box in front of them, the belts stopped. 
Walker stood in horror, unable to comprehend what was taking place before him. Each thought running through his mind on a string, splitting into a thousand threads, each with a new question attached to it. 
Walker snapped from his shock. He ran. He knew he needed to find Jamie. He knew he needed to help the other children, but not until he found his son. He ran up and down the aisles, looking at each child's face. The children seemed to not even notice Walker in the slightest. Once he reached the end of the room, the platform near the top lit up in a rather theatrical manner. 
"Looking for this?" It was the bald security guard. He had Jamie. His giant hand was resting on the child's shoulder. 
"JAMIE!" Walker screamed. He screamed the loudest scream he'd ever made. Even surprising himself. 
The guard chuckled, "He can't hear you, you fool." 
"He's one of us now."

The last thing Walker heard before everything went black was the light tapping of a child's sneakers behind him on the floor. A surge of electricity passed through (what felt like) every nerve in his body. 

Walker's face lay there on the cold tile of the floor. 
The guard laughed hysterically. 


One Week Later

The room (implying it was any larger than a prison cell) they gave Walker was cold. Walker sat up, holding his head in one hand. It hurt. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to stand, it hurt to think. Just from the corner of his eye, he saw two shadows against the wall, he could see through the small window of the door to his "room." Despite its cozy appearance, he didn't need to try the door handle to know it was locked. 
It was the guard, frail pieces of memories returned to him. Mostly the laughing and the intimidation. 
And Jamie.
As Walker raced to the window of his door, he felt every muscle in his body tell him to stop. Almost falling to his knees halfway across the room. His face pressed against the window, there was Jamie. With the guard, the two moved to his door. The guard made a gesture to tell him to step back. Walker obeyed. The door opened, and Jamie ran to him.
Walker fell to his knees and let the soft tears roll from his eyes as they hugged each other. Jamie's head nestled on his father's shoulder, and Walker in Jamie's. 
"Time to get to work" the guard threw him a set of green overalls. 

A couple hours later, Walker stood in another room, at his own conveyor belt apart from his son. He wondered if they would ever see the sky together again. 


© Copyright 2018 C.w. Hawke. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Science Fiction Short Stories