Writing Prompt #2: Every baby is taken away by the government and returned when they are ten years old. They never remember what happened in those years, but they always recognize their parents. You, however, remember everything and those aren’t your parents.
Author’s note: I have never written in first person before and, at the end, never in present tense. It is surprisingly difficult…
Not My Parents
They woke me up more slowly than usual. I thought that was weird, but my body hurt. It took me a few minutes to figure out why my body hurt, because they day before was still very fuzzy. The man in the gray clothes, with his white face mask already in place, approached me with his syringe.
Every single morning, they used the syringe. I cannot remember a time when the day did not start this way. The light in my room would come on and the temperature would change. If I did not get out of bed and stand up pretty quickly after that, then the lights flashed. That was the only warning I would get.
Someone would come in. I never knew who it was, because they were always wearing the same type of clothes and the same sort of mask. I stopped wondering why the jumpsuit was gray and the mask was white a long time ago. It did not really matter, because what came next was always the same. The syringe calmly inserted into the line attached to my arm. That had always been there, too.
Once, when I was much younger and feeling very angry for some reason, I decided I would not let them give me the shot. I demanded to know what was in the syringe and why they did this to me every day. The lights flashed. I knew that was the single alert before they would start using meaner ways to make me obey.
I had felt the pain that followed the flash. It scared me a lot, but I was determined that day. The blinding flash, electric arcs of pain seared through my entire body. Before I could recover, the doctor type person was inserting the syringe into my intake line. Fresh, hot tears rolled down my face. I cried for more reasons than just the pain.
Today, however, the shot felt different; there was a stinging feeling in my arm. The man in the gray clothes, what I thought of as a doctor, inserted the syringe, depressed the plunger, removed the syringe, and then – he started to removed the line into my arm. I felt so confused. Why would they remove something they used every single day?
With a bandage in place, the doctor gave me the folder for the day. This was normal again, which made me feel a little better. That feeling disappeared very fast after I opened it though. Usually, there were worksheets, information packets, and instructions on what I would be doing that day. After all, the doctors never spoke. Rather than sending me to one of the instructor’s rooms to start my learning cycle for the day, there was just a few photographs and one of the flash dossiers.
My eyes took in the flash page and I looked to see if there were more. Once the flash takes place, it takes a few seconds for my brain to catch up with the information. It didn’t make sense, so I tried to flash it again. This time, the flash failed. That had never happened to me before. I felt a little flutter of panic, but I tried to hide it so the doctor would not see.
“State your name, please,” the doctor asked me in a bored voice.
Despite my shock, my mouth opened and a pair of words fell out. It was not the label I had been using, so I did not understand why that was what I said. Again, that feeling of panic. Again, I squashed the feeling to hide it from the doctor. I did not have any idea what they would do to me if they found out I was not functioning correctly.
“State your father’s name, please.”
Another pair of words and more confusion. Parents? Was I leaving the Home? Why were they sending me away from Home when I had lived here my entire life? I guessed that was why they removed the line in my arm. This repeated with another pair of words for a woman’s name. Was the doctor saying this was my mother?
The doctor turned to leave. “Follow me,” he said.
Obviously, I complied, but my head hurt. He took me down the hall and out to a room where several other children were gathered. I knew some of them, but I did not know some of the others. I looked around at them, but their eyes seemed to be glossy. The emptiness scared me. Was that what I was supposed to look like?
There were grown ups in uniforms directing other grown ups around. The children were just milling about in a group to one side. Such clumps were strange. Usually, the doctors required we stand in our lines when we were in bigger rooms. Unless – and my heart fluttered again – unless we were being tested…? No, that did not make any sense.
The doctor sent me to the wall, where a group of eight kids had gathered. At first, they merely glanced nervously at me when I approached, but I was quickly welcomed. I was recognized by one of the boys there. He nodded to me and introduced himself.
“I am Bobby,” he held out his hand to me.
The frown on my face felt strange, but his reaction was also strange. Why did he want me to take his hand? It took me a second to remember the “handshake” ritual and repeat it for him. Still, I felt wary of this boy now. He had a name instead of a label like mine.
“Francis,” I said, repeating the name the doctor had put in my mouth earlier. It was a challenge to not use my normal label, nine-eight-three-tango. I recognized this boy; he was six-three-six-alef from an economic simulation the previous year. He had been a girl using an orange knife. He quickly introduced me to the others, each with names like him. I hid my trembling as best as I could.
For some reason, I think I expected there to be a conversation about what was happening. We were not usually allowed to do this. Nothing that was going on made any sense to me. Instead, these children looked like they were sleep walking, maybe? None of this was helping me feel better.
“Do you know what is going on – Bobby?” I tried.
He looked at me in a slow kind of way. It was possible to see there was something going on in his mind, but there was something stopping him. Six-three-six-alef was still inside Bobby. Despite that, however, Bobby extended his hand.
“I am Bobby,” he repeated blankly. I shook his hand lamely.
His eyes shifted and I turned around automatically. A grown up was approaching our group. She was not wearing the gray clothes of a doctor nor the uniform of the others. All these changes were making me dizzy. When the woman spoke, it was with the authority of someone used to having their instructions followed.
“Diane, Edith, Francis, and George,” she listed off the names, “come with me.”
I felt the panic shoot through me. The other three shuffled toward the woman, but I stepped forward as I had been taught throughout my short life. I realized just a bit too late that this was the wrong thing to do. The woman looked me up and down with an odd expression on her face. Forcing my body to relax, the combined effect of relaxing my spine and my trembling made me lurch forward slightly.
The woman made a thoughtful sound and my heart pounded. Finally, she muttered to herself, “Might have to adjust the final dosages,” and made a brief note on the clipboard she carried under one arm.
We were taken across the hangar. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was a hangar, but there was a large door open to one side. I had not noticed it when it was closed. I expected to see the normal black corridor leading to wherever it led. Instead, there was blue and white.
Everything that I, nine-eight-three-tango, everything Francis, had learned about clouds could be summed up in a few paragraphs. The images did not do the reality justice, though. Was this what was happening? Were those real clouds in a real sky?
I had to tear my eyes away, because I did not want to look weird to the woman again. I still did not know if we were in trouble or not. She had taken us alphabetically, which made me feel a little better, but this was all still too confusing. There were other groups like ours dotting the hangar in knots of four children and a grown up leading them. This made me a little better, because it meant we were not the only ones. Still, I did not know what they were doing to us. There must have been over a hundred children here.
Finally, the woman stopped in front of a transport. It was the same type of gray, boxy vehicle used to move people and crates around at any other time. I had never seen one go into sky before. Things had always been loaded up and then driven down whatever corridor to wherever we were supposed to be, but this was going to be very different. Was there sky on the floor, too? No, memory reminded me, sky was only up above things; on the floor, it was called ground or earth.
We were loaded in with the other children still stumbling along in silence. The seats at the front were already taken by the driver and their co-driver. We took our places in the back, along the benches. The door slammed closed with the usual lack of ceremony. This time, though, it feel like the closing of any chance I had to escape back Home. This was the end. Despite my panic, I was starting to feel curious, too.
It was very strange to have so few of us in a space made to hold, at least, four times as many. I did not test my theory, but I was certain the echo would be just as strange in the cavernous feeling space. As the transport began to move, I regretted the fact there were no windows for me to look out and see what sky and ground would look like up close. My companions, none of which I knew the labels for, were disinterested; Diane, Edith, and George, I remembered belatedly.
Light from the front of the vehicle streaked through the passenger cabin, creating a strobe effect. I could feel the motion against gravity, the acceleration, and lurch of the transport engine as it fought to obey the demands of the driver. It was difficult to discern where we were heading. Obviously, I had no idea where we were, so it would be impossible to guess beyond that.
It was not until the vehicle stopped that I realized I had been thinking about entirely other things. That was a bad habit of mine, since I tended to do that a lot when going from one task to another. This time, I was remembering a geography lesson from a couple years before. Having snapped out of it, though, I could not recall the lesson I had been thinking of.
I looked up as the door slid open and immediately forced my head down again. Would these people look at me like the woman had, questioning whether the new medicine had worked? They called out one of the others, Edith, and she shuffled out of the transport. As the door closed again, I stole a quick glance out to see the sky. All I could really understand was that it was bright.
The transport vehicle started moving again. I realized that I had no idea what was happening to the Edith that was left out there. Did they give her to some parents? Was she always going to be asleep while she is awake like that? If that was what they were expecting from me, then would they realize I was not asleep like the others?
The co-driver came back and removed the George next. He disappeared from the vehicle with the same lack of concern that the Edith had. As we started up again, the panic that I might be next warred inside me against the curiosity to see the sky. This was terrifying, but I wanted to know what it was like. Would the parents they were giving me to be nice? Would they be like the doctors or the instructors?
Suddenly, the door opened again. They called for Francis. After a moment, I remembered that was supposed to be my name. I stood up and staggered forward like the Edith and George had done. My heart was pounding, because I could feel the cooler air rushing over me. It was a challenge to keep myself from looking around at the new things. The immediate sense of open space around me was intense and overwhelming. My head spun and I did not have to pretend I was feeling sluggish or confused anymore.
The firm grip on my arm was too normal for this weird world around me. Maybe it was just another type of simulation? That was a comforting thought. I could only seem to keep the floor in front of me, the ground, in view; it was paved, in sections, flat… The person next to me propelled me forward step after step. I felt the next few minutes as a blur more than really being able to hear or understand anything at the time.
In the space of a few moments, I was standing alone in the middle of a residential space. There were decorations of every color trimming the portals and ceiling corners. Round, oblong, brightly colored orbs hung in clumps like waxy fruit in various places. Some of the portals were bright, like the sky had been, and others were more normal. As I started to take in my surroundings more, I realized that I was not alone. There were two grown ups standing to one side.
A man and a woman; something in my brain immediately connected the names from before to these people here. Were these the parents they gave me to right here? They were smiling at me; smiling was strange to my eyes, but also so normal…? What had they put into my head that made both of these things happen in my mind like this?
“Happy birthday, Francis!” the woman said, stepping forward with her arms spread. “Welcome home!”
I stepped back instinctively. I could not think of a time when an adult had tried to grab me like this, but, almost immediately, other images came to mind to counter that. She was trying to hug me. Unfortunately, my initial reaction had put a sad expression on her face. The woman stopped, her arms dropping to her sides.
“What is wrong, son?” The man stepped forward to peek around his wife. “Are you feeling alright?”
I am speechless, right now. I do not know what to say to these people. They tried to explain to me, with pained and suspicious faces, that I am their son, named Francis. What can I possibly say that will not put me in more trouble than I am already going to have? The mother is motioning for me to sit down on their couch. The cushions plush and soft; I comply, because I am afraid to do anything else. The father has disappeared into the other room.
The bright portal in the wall, I realize, is a window. Outside is sky; sunshine must be what makes things so bright out there. I can hear the father speaking to someone in the other room. Next to me, the mother is speaking softly about something, but it is what the father is saying that actually catches my attention.
“I do not know, but he does not even recognize us! It has made my wife very upset.”
Silence. I guess he is talking to someone over a comm line. My eyes are still drinking in the sky and trying to absorb every detail. I have seen mineral deposits, ore veins, crystals structures, fungal and mold colonies, and more, but nothing quite like the strange undulations of the milky, bulbous structures of the clouds outside.
“Okay, we will keep him safe until you get here. Thank you.”
The mother next to me begins to cry quietly. “Why? You are our son! How can you not know who we are? Why are you not talking to us? Why?”
As the father returns, my heart sinks. He starts to talk over me as if I do not exist while he explains to the mother what he just learned on the comm line. “They are coming back, love. They will fix him and bring our son back to us. Just leave him here.”
The mother stands, practically launching herself into his arms, and bursts into tears. I feel terrible, because whatever is wrong with me is making her sad. The father looks blankly at me. I do not belong here and it is obvious in his face.
A knock at the door turns all three heads… They have returned for me.