Short Story: The 1944 Child
It is always grey. Nothing else. Maybe a bit of brown hair and slips of creamy skin, or olive or black – it depends on the day – I wonder what day it is now. But, usually, it’s just grey. A phantom grey with the ghost of what could have been haunting my one decade of living. Barely living. Surviving – maybe. I do not feel lonely. I do not feel sad—just grey. My mind and emotions are just a haze of grey—an indiscernible colour. There is no black or white in my life. No colour or even the absence of it. Just grey.
No one is familiar. No one is the same. No one cares either. I wonder if I am the only one. They left me food. According to my books, it is the bare minimum. They leave me the bare minimum. Food, yes. Clothes, yes. Books, yes. They took the black metal box that had people on away for a long time. I think it was called television. I am not sure; I do not really care anyway. It was worse having it. A person talking, moving. Never interacting. I cannot communicate with them. What was the point of a television? It is like they were dangling a piece of fish in front of a starving bird. I am this starving bird. A bird with broken wings. But just like the starving bird, I wanted the television back so badly. Just a taste of it again.
At times they bring the television back. There were people on the screen. I remember they would say one word over and over again with a picture next to it. ‘Apple…a…a…apple’. Then another picture. ‘Pidgeon …p…p…p…Pidgeon’. A series of the same words again and again. I remember they changed it once. Instead of the human inside the television, there would be two, three…sometimes five. They would talk to each other, their legs would move, they would stretch. I remember I tried so hard to copy them. To be the same. It was fun but it was so tiring. My legs and stomach hurt whenever I would try to copy them. Again, the people inside it would talk to each other. Sometimes I would pretend they would talk to me. So that I was around them. Somewhere else.
This wish came true one day. One day it spoke to me. The lady in the box, or television, stared at me and spoke like I was the only person she could see or talk to. This happens only sometimes. It’s the best time ever. I love talking, it is fun. My replies were the same, anything else was hard to say and won’t move out of my mouth. I said to it, ‘h…h…lor’ or, ‘yesh’, but after that, my words would become unclear even for me. Sometimes I could speak back using more words. I get so happy and I think the word is proud? I know that the people here are kind now because I get more than the bare minimum now. It is not just food or clothes or books. I get to have the people in the box as a gift. Yet, after a few times of bringing the television, the box, I realised they were not actually talking to me. So, I would instead pretend that the people on the television knew it was me they were talking to. I would pretend they could see me, and I can feel them.
They would ask me things:
“What did you eat today?”
“Can you show me how to walk? No? Copy me then.”
“What colour is this bag?”
My body nearly explodes like the apple I once threw at the door. My body is like an explosion with how excited I am whenever I see television and pretend people. I get to speak to them and it always went so well. My only company, usually, is my thoughts. No, wait. I have the box, or television, sometimes—actually, just my thoughts. My thoughts bounce around the books. The words on the books reflect into my mind processing information and conjuring up people. People that are so tangible. I do not think I count as one of these people. They feel something strong and they can share it. They have seen more than just this one room. All I have seen is myself and not through a mirror. I am grateful for no mirror, I read that they cause self-loathing and envy. In a rare event, they also make people vain. If I was to have harsh and strong feelings, I would rather it not be that. It sounds dangerous.
I move closer to the teaching book. I pressed the button and it spoke, “Daisy went on a walk with her pet dog.” In this book, the words light up and the book speaks. But it sounds weird. I do not know why but it sounds harsher and slower than the people on the television. It is always here near bedtime. A lot of the times I am bored with no box…or…television so I sit reading with it and listening to it. I want to speak better – ‘D…d..azzy ant on wak.’
Grey is the colour of my skin now. I think that is normal. The lady on the television said people come in all shapes and sizes. So maybe I am a person. I am a grey one with purple veins and more skin than meat. That has only been the case for a few days. I was brownish-white with… I don’t know what colour veins.
My face’s skin and bones move. They move, up and up into a smile. My smile is almost as bright as the sun right now. The sun is supposed to be really yellow that it hurts your eyes. Faking it comes easy. The books told me happy people smile. I want that badly. So I stretched my cheeks with everything I had. I even pushed them up with my fingers. My cheeks and jaw hurt. Nothing. I feel nothing. My heart is still grey, and I think just like grey fuzz. All just fuzz. Not much there, but random bits and pieces fizzling together. Waiting. Waiting for an image to pop up a feeling to form. Like white fuzz, my mind is messy and confusing. My face aches too much so I resort to bashing my head into the wall. Bash. Bash. Bash – bash. I think I like this game. It is like a pattern. Fun – right? A few days ago, I could only tolerate five hits before I had to stop. Now I can do 167, but never more. It pounds too much. I do not think I will have another chance to beat my score.
The small hole through the door makes a sound. It is unlocking. The tiny hatch flaps open and in reaches a hand. A white hand today. Quick swap. But just an exchange of my food tray. The plate I had licked, and the now dried glass is gone only to be replaced with something brand-spanking-new. I saw that phrase in a book too. I know why it is said, but I do not know how it is said. Shut. Lock. Shuffling my body closer, I stare at the food. I do not think I will eat it. It does not matter now. Or ever. I should have stopped a long time ago. Pushing myself off the floor, I turn my body back towards the head bash wall. Yanking my head before I prepare for another blow. No. I do not want to do that anymore, either. I still just see grey. Solid grey this time. Not the grey fuzz I saw on the television when it did not work. Not even the grey fuzz that I perpetually feel. I want to be proper grey, then everything will be the same. It won’t hurt so much. Whenever the television goes, I won’t feel so lonely. Or when the other people ignore me my chest won’t hurt. It gets too hard to breathe. So I want solid grey this time. Nothing bright and loud like yellow. Or sensual and smooth like burgundy. Just grey. Between black and white – both absences of colours. White is a blank sheet – a blank slate. Black an abyss that you can fall into and disappear.
My body moves on its own to lie down on the cot. The mattress feels like I am on a cloud each time my muscles fall into it. I also feel light and airy. My head feels light and airy. My eyes flutter and close as if I was somewhere up high and airy. The airy wisps of the wind hurling into my eyes, forcing them closed. Just like the times I move my mouth to stretch up and up and up into a smile. I am almost done. I have almost reached my end. I think endings are the best parts of the books. Actually, I lied, the pictures are the best part, conclusions are the next best.
One book I read said that when one dies, their life flashes before their eyes. Yet, there was only one memory that sparked behind my eyelids and inside my skull. They forgot, it must have been a mistake, I am not that important, but once they left the door unlocked. There was no latch clicking into place nor any movement of the handle to check. A surge of curiosity pushed me towards the door. My pale arm felt the cold surface of the handle. Pulling it down slowly, I feared being caught, even though I have never been punished. In the books, naughty children got punished. But this isn’t naughty…is it? I have never been punished. Never been loved. Peering into the empty hallway, there was the same grey splashed across all the walls and each door. Stumbling forwards, I reminded my barely used legs to walk—one step in front of the other. They would often step onto the other, unable to stand straight, much like my back. I was always curved towards the ground. A place the books said I would end up in one day.
After I escaped from the same room, I froze. Not a single image my mind conjured could compare to what I witnessed that day. No long branches with lush greens attacked, nor was there endless and endless sand-covered land. I once imagined I was a tiny dot on a map surrounded by towering buildings and bustling taxis. But I was wrong. What I witnessed was the opposite. I dragged my hands against the smooth walls, feeling each dent or scratch upon the other side of the wall that I have stared at my entire life. My hands were bumpier than the walls. I have never seen so many doors. Each had a different sign. Most I didn’t understand. Most I did not care to understand. My excitement and curiosity were too much where I had to focus on keeping them at bay. Someone may catch me otherwise. They will take me back straight away, I think. Yet, I do not know if there is anyone here. Throughout my life, I have only had brief encounters with people. Some to drop books or take the television away. Usually when I wake up my room is tidy and the food that fell on the floor or the old toothpaste is gone. This always stays the same. None spoke to me when I tried to communicate. None touched me when I desperately needed to feel the touch of another human. None acknowledged me or cared. I did not know if they were allowed to talk. I like to talk to the pillow. I drew a smiley face on it. I think it looks like me with my fake smile.
That one time I left I remember that there was a boring corridor with boring doors and walls—just a mirror image of the inside of my room. Just the same thing. The boring exit made it so much more enjoyable. My ears heard no sounds, not a footstep or a slither of a voice. It is the silence that I have befriended since the day I could remember. The silence had followed me out of my locked room like a loyal friend. We had walked side by side admiring the number of doors within the confines of…of…where I was. The familiarity scared me. Is that what earth is like? Is this all there is on our planet? No humans. No contact. No changing sceneries? If I could, I would run, but there was never space for running within the walls I had been housed in my entire life. My feet pitter-pattered against the cold, cold floor. The floor was grey too but a different grey. The grey in my room was one solid ground, but out here, the foundation had lines dividing them into small boxes. Yet, my feet were nowhere near as big as each cut up floor piece. Who would cut the floor? The weird floor boxes also shined.
I dragged my feet to one door. The door was open. This is new. I did not see open doors often. Quietly and even more quietly I moved so only my head and eyes poked through the open-door frame. I saw a man. I saw a woman. They were sat there, talking like the lady in the box. It was magical. Their hands moved around so much when words came out of their mouth. Neither had the same voice either. One was heavier like he had a box on his chest. The other voice was squeaky, like my feet when they touched the shiny grey floor. Their clothes were grey, though, but their hair was so different. Curly, or straight. Long, or short. Brown or blonde. So many colours. So pretty, so pretty. I had wanted to jump out and touch them. Did they feel like me? How did they look so different? If I was smart, I would have run away right there and then. But I was not, and I still am not.
Could they be a mum and dad like in the books?
“No, the infants died so quickly.” The man with a box on his chest said.
“So how did this one survive?” The woman with the shiny grey floor said. “I swear they died because there was no affection there. No proper human contact. So how?” I read the word affection, but I did not understand what it meant. I still do not.
“Do not bother questioning it is not our job. Just make sure the child gets fed. This one is probably going to die soon. He is the longest one to survive, hell none of them made it to double-digit months forget ten years of life. He has been going a bit grey the last few days anyway.” He moved his shoulders up then down when he said that. It was so quick. Was his shoulder hurting?
“There was no reason for the babies to die either. Fed well – check. Cleaned and changed properly – check. Sleep – check. Vitamins – check. So how…” At that moment, she had been turning her head. To which her eyes met me. Then her eyes were wide. So wide. Can my eyes do that? I guess I will not find out. I had grunted and tried to make my eyes wide like hers. Is this what I should do when I see people.
She looked like she was in mid-scream. Her hand flapped and flapped as she tried to hit the man on his arm. They were so hairy. I did not know bodies could do that. Are they not human? Is that why they can talk to each other and I cannot. Am I not human?
“Oi, you knocked my burger and messed up the sauce and salad alignment. What are you…” Now he looked the same as her. Maybe I can draw those on my pillow. I can talk to more than just a smiley face. It gets boring talking to the same face. Should I say hello? Can they talk to me? Will they like me? I made my eyes big again, to show him my hello. I like saying hello now. It is fun. I do not need to think about the words in books or television.
Unable to say what I wanted, they jumped from their chair like I did when I dropped my hot drink on me. But I did not see any drinks. Were the drinks invisible? That means you cannot see the drinks. I thought I was invisible, but then they saw me.
“Shit, shit.” The man had gripped his hair so tight it looked painful. I mimicked his movements to see if it hurt. It had. I swore then I would not do that again.
“What are you doing out here little man?” She moved closer. Click. Her feet had these weird things covering them. I turned my head to see the man had covered his feet too, but they were different. The lady feet-cover looked less warm. They were pretty. So pretty and red and shiny like an apple. Like the Dorothy Gale. I do not remember the name of those things. But the woman had something long and thin at the back. As thin as my small finger. It looked silly.
My mouth opened and I remembered how the people in the box spoke and how I would answer back, “looobc d..d…d…ar.” I stood up straighter, proud of my accomplishment. I spoke well.
“Do not talk to him. He is an idiot, do not become one too. He is not allowed any human contact or affection. It must be nothing. He will always have nothing.” The man’s voice had turned scary, and bits of water fell out and hit the floor. I lifted my foot and touched the ground. My lips moved to make a sound, “Kik, kik,” just like the woman’s feet. “Kik, kik.”
“Does it matter? He is going to die soon anyway, you just said so!” Her voice was a yell, but it was a quiet yell. No water flew from her mouth. “Kik, kik.”
“Shit, what are we going to do?” He tugged his hair again. Ouch. Why did he do that?
“We’ll just drag him back. No one is ever here anyway.” Her eyes did this thing where they looked to the side. Then they looked up. Then other-side and back down, but they moved really fast. Yes. They are not human. That is why no one talks to me, they’re not human. Humans cannot do that. None of those on the television did that. None of the people who came into my room did that.
“What if they find out? They’ll actually kill us you do realise this!” My heart had jumped at the man’s word. Kill? That is the end, right? Then it is all over. I want my ending to come soon. I want my story to end and be put on a shelf forever. No one will be allowed to open it again. I’ll add a lock and then hide the key. I can finish this story.
“D…d…?” I asked. Why would they die? They did not seem to hear me and only continued talking to each other. Is this another television? Will they not talk to me either?
“No one talks to him, so they won’t find out you damn worrywart. We are safe, the idiot cannot talk anyway.” The woman said as she came closer and became bigger. Her clicks moved with her, and the sound also became bigger, louder. Her face became scarier as it went back to normal. No wide eyes or O-shaped mouths. Her large hand had pressed into my arm like a chain. She used her chain to tug me away. He did not speak to me either. They did not look at me. They took me back without a word.
Moments later, I was back in the room. That day when she pushed me back, I looked down at my uncovered feet, I saw the ground was just grey. Not shiny like the one behind the door. The door that shut quietly, like a whisper. The locking was loud, though. Louder than it had ever been. So loud that it scared me. That was all though, no tears fell from my eyes like the animals or people in the book. I was just scared. There was not quick breathing like the books said. It was normal breathing, not fast or slow. I was just scared. So very, very scared.
My closed eyes allowed the memory to fade away into an abyss. I slip into the nothingness that I will see from now on. I will never witness that memory again because my ending is finally here. I did not like being scared or bored or hitting my head on the wall. All of it will scrunch up like paper and be thrown to be eaten by the flames. The fire will make sure everything is destroyed, never to be restored or put back together again. This is the end. The fire is numbing me and lifting all the memories, the emotions and physical pain away.
I remember questioning if they had any more children trapped – I know that I am trapped.
Did they die now, or will they die later?
Did they feel any love, or did they talk to anyone?
I guess I will never know.
©️ photo from Unsplash
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