Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 9 – lostandwhatever
Charlie tried to sleep. He lay in his new bed in the quiet of his private room, but sleep would not come. His mind would not calm down, not after the events of that day. He could not stop thinking about Ben. One word kept repeating in his mind, so he spoke it out loud.
What if Eddie was right? What if he had given Ben poison? Ben had drunk something that had caused a seriously bad reaction. That is what poison does. The milk was poisoned. If that were true, though, then Charlie would have a big problem. It would mean that Dr. Wolff had betrayed him and tried to poison him.
“No,” he said. “I mean… She wouldn’t… Would she?”
Mentally, he went over everything he knew about Dr. Wolff and Tabula Rasa. They take the condemned and make them into children. There are two steps to the procedure. First, the inmates are regressed physically. Then, they are regressed mentally. He had only been given the first step.
“Did she try to give me the second step?”
That would explain what happened to Ben. He started acting more and more like a child until he began acting like a baby.
“Why, though?” he wondered, but the answer was pretty obvious. “I didn’t give her the report she wanted. I told her that her procedure was flawed. If they listened to what I said, then the whole project could be cancelled. So, she tried to get rid of me, to wipe my memory, in order to protect her work.”
Charlie felt sweat drip down his forehead. He realized that he had a much bigger problem now than just snooping around and surviving the orphanage. Dr. Wolff was the one person he needed to help him return to his normal age, and now she was trying to silence him. She was no longer on his side. That would mean that he had no backup anymore, no way of getting out of the orphanage, and no way of turning his body back to normal again. He was stuck here. No, it was worse than being stuck. He was cornered and, no doubt, Dr. Wolff would be back again as soon as she found out that she had failed in her first attempt. She would not let herself fail again.
“I have to get out of here.”
He got out of bed and walked to the door of his room, but that was as far as he went. He saw that the doorknob was at shoulder level and was reminded again that he was physically 7 years old. He was barely four feet tall. Every adult in the building was taller and stronger than him, and they all saw him as a lying, disobedient child.
“Oh, fuck,” he said, putting his hands on his head. It felt good to swear, to have a little touch of adulthood on his lips, even if the voice that said the words was anything but adult. “Fuck. I’m in trouble. I’m in real trouble.”
He paced back and forth and tried to figure out what to do next. “What do I do? What do I do?” He paused. “I could just talk to Sister Francine. She wanted me to tell her the truth anyway. I’ll just tell her who I really am.” His shoulders fell as he realized how it would all sound. “I’ll tell her that I’m secretly an adult transformed into a child by a secret experimental drug and that I was sent to the orphanage to spy on them.” It had actually happened to him, and he barely believed it was true. “I. Am. Fucked!”
He lay back on his bed and tried to calm down, which was easier to do than he had expected as all the worrying was wearing him out. He yawned. Finally sleep was catching up to him. As upset as he was, it was getting late, and he was still a little boy. He felt too drowsy to find a solution just then. “Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll figure out what to do tomorrow.” His eyes shut, and he fell asleep at last.
Charlie’s eyes opened in the morning light, and he tried to sit up, but something was holding him down to the bed. He struggled against whatever was restraining him, but he could not get loose.
“Help!” he cried, before his mouth was muffled under someone’s hand. It was Dr. Wolff! She must have snuck in while he was sleeping!
“Shhh!” she said as he stared up at her fearfully. “No one is coming to help you, so you’d better just relax.”
She let his mouth go and held up a large syringe. She tapped it and pressed the plunger to let out a thin squirt of clear liquid. Then, she aimed it for his arm. “No!” he cried. “Stop! I won’t tell. I won’t say a thing. I’ll do anything you want! Please, don’t do it!”
“Shhh!” she said again. “Don’t worry,” she added gently, almost kindly, as the needle entered his arm. “You have nothing to worry about now.” She pressed down the plunger and he felt the drug enter his vein. “And, neither do I.”
“No!” he moaned, as his body burned again, heating up like a furnace as he sweated away his few remaining years. Tears mingled with his sweat while he shrank away. He kicked and screamed, and soon he heard only the cries of a baby coming from his mouth. Then, when the heat died down and the tears cleared from his eyes, he saw Dr. Wolff gazing down at him, looking even more like a terrifying giant now.
“How does it feel?” she asked him.
He tried to curse at her, to demand that she turn him back to normal, but his mouth was missing most of its teeth and his tongue and lips felt all rubbery and clumsy. He only managed to babble like a baby and drool on his chin.
She smiled. “Good,” she said. “You won’t be telling anyone anything for quite some time, and by the time you’re old enough to speak again, you will have been a baby so long that your mind will have turned to mush. I don’t even have to give you the second drug.”
“Do you want me to give it to you? Would you prefer to forget?”
He shook his head.
“Well, then,” she said. “Goodbye, baby. Enjoy your diapers.” Then, she cackled and left the room.
He just lay on the bed, trying to think of a way out, trying to find any escape from his situation. But, there was no way out, no escape. It was over. His life was over. All he could do was cry. So, he lay there, crying and crying, deafening himself with his own baby shrieks.
He opened his eyes. The glow of the early morning was shining from behind the blinds. He sat up, and looked down at his 7-year-old body. He touched himself to make sure it was real.
“It was only a dream,” he said, relieved. Realizing that it was strange to feel relieved about being stuck as a 7 year old, he said, “It’s still much better than being a baby.” As nasty as the dream had been, it did clarify something for him. He was out of time. He needed to come clean and face the consequences of telling the truth, whatever they may be. There was no time left for games.
He opened the door to his room and stepped into the hallway. A guard who had been patrolling the building approached him and said, “Good morning.”
Charlie looked up at him and said, “I’m ready to confess to Sister Francine.”
Sister Francine was still in her pajamas and looked as though she needed a whole pot of coffee to wake up, but she sat behind her desk and listened intently as Charlie told her everything.
He told her how old he really was. He told her about the company he worked for and the experiment they were running on convicts. He told her what they had done to him, and he explained what he was doing in the orphanage. Then, he revealed who Dr. Wolff really was and what had really happened to Ben. As he spoke, he made sure to use big words. He sat up and looked the woman straight in the eyes. He did everything he could to appear like a mature adult in a boy’s body.
Sister Francine just sat and listened. Despite her sleepiness, her attention never wavered. She took in every word he said and betrayed nothing of her thoughts beyond an occasional surprised rising of her eyebrows. When he had finished speaking, they both sat silently staring at each other for what felt like a whole minute. Neither of them moved at all.
At last, Sister Francine spoke, “Do you expect me to believe that?”
“It’s the truth,” he said. “You wanted me to come clean with you. Well, now I have.”
More silence as she looked him over, taking the measure of him. “I was wrong about you.”
“You believe me?”
“No,” she said. “I was wrong when I said you were not a very good liar. You’re an exceptional liar.”
“I’m not ly-”
“Be quiet,” she said, gently but firmly. “You’ve said enough.”
He kept silent, still hoping that she would give him another chance to prove himself.
“You’re a smart boy,” she said. “Maybe one of the smartest ones here. Ms. Peach said as much when I talked to her. You may not have noticed, but she was giving you increasingly difficult assignments every day. You just kept consistently getting a B on them, as if you were trying to avoid getting an A. She was starting to worry that she would have to dig into some high school textbooks to find a proper challenge for you.”
“I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA,” he said. “She’d better start looking for college-level work.”
“I told you to be quiet.”
He held his tongue, but he could tell that this conversation was not going to go his way.
“Being smart is not evidence of anything particularly adult about you. It just means you know more than most people. It also means that you know how to tell a convincing lie better than most. Already, I’ve caught you lying more than once. Now, you come into my office, after dragging me out of bed, and tell me a whopper of a tale about magic age-changing drugs. And, you expect me to believe you because you use big words and sound sincere?”
“I know it sounds crazy,” he said. “But-”
“It does sound crazy because it is crazy.”
“It’s the truth,” he said, realizing he was sounding increasingly desperate. “You have to believe me!”
“Son,” she said. “I don’t believe a word coming out of your mouth. If you told me that the sky was blue, I would look out the window to check it.”
“I have proof.”
“The drug Dr. Wolff gave to me.”
“You mean Mrs. Wolff, the woman from Child Protective Services?”
“She gave me a vial of the drug. That’s what Ben accidentally drank that messed with his head. It erased his mind so that he thinks he’s a baby.”
“What did you really give the boy?”
“I told you what it was.”
“Fine,” she said. “Do you have this vial, still?”
He looked away from her and clenched his fists. “No,” he said. “I threw it away during dinner last night.”
“No, it’s not convenient. I really wish I had kept it now.”
Sister Francine shook her head and looked very tired. “I’m done with this,” she said and yawned. “You can go back to your room.”
“Dr. Wolff is going to come back for me soon,” he said. “You have to help me.”
She sighed. “If Wolff does come back for you, I will be happy to hand you back to her. You’ve been nothing but trouble for me since you came here, and I’m done listening to you.” She stood up from her desk and left the room.
The guard entered a moment later to take Charlie away.
Ms. Peach sat Charlie at a desk separate from the rest of the class and near her own. She made a point of locking her desk drawers in front of him. Charlie looked back for his friends, but Ms. Peach ordered him to focus on his work.
As the day wore on, Charlie finished his assignments almost as quickly as Ms. Peach could give them to him. He could tell that she had pulled out the high school textbooks at last, but that did not slow him down at all.
It felt satisfying to have given up on pretending to be a kid. He could just be himself without worrying about being found out. He had the opposite problem now, convincing them that he was not what he appeared to be. Sister Francine had made it clear that she would not listen to him. Maybe his friends would believe him if he found a way to talk to them. Then, there was Ms. Peach. She was with him more than any other adult in the orphanage. If there was one person he might convince, it would be her. He had to try.
He held up his most recent assignment and said, “Done.”
Ms. Peach walked up to him and took the page he had completed. She looked it over and silently shook her head.
“How do I do it?” he asked, guessing at her thoughts.
She looked at him coldly. He still found her beautiful in spite of it.
“I’m not cheating,” he said.
She returned to her desk, sat down, and started to grade assignments for other students. “I never said you were.”
“It’s what you were thinking, though. Wasn’t it?”
“Just wait quietly for your next assignment.”
“I’ll finish the next one just as quickly, and the one after that as well.”
“Do you want to know how I’m doing this?”
She looked at him.
“I’ve done it all before. I graduated from high school years ago and then college.”
She shook her head and turned her attention back to her grading, trying to ignore him.
“I was an adult before I came to the orphanage. That’s the truth.”
“Just be quiet,” she said. “Or… or I’ll have to have you sent to detention.”
“Do you have a better explanation for what I’m able to do?”
“You’re smart, very smart. That’s all.”
“No kid is this smart. You know that’s true, and it’s scaring you.”
When she looked at him this time, there was anger in her eyes, but beneath it he could sense a touch of fear. She was starting to believe him, and that was scaring her.
“I know a lot of things they don’t teach in school as well. Would you like to quiz me?”
“When was the last time you went on a date?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“When was the last time you made love?”
Her eyes went wide.
“I haven’t had a girlfriend in 8 months,” he said. “We broke up when she decided that she wanted children and it became clear that I did not. She even told me she had considered stopping her birth control in the hope that an ‘accident’ might happen. Thankfully, she didn’t do it. You see, I don’t really like kids all that much. Isn’t that ironic?”
She stood up from her desk and calmly walked to the intercom on the wall and pressed a button.
“Yes?” a man’s voice replied from a speaker above the door.
“I have a student that needs to be removed from class.”
“On my way,” the voice replied.
Charlie crossed his arms and said, “You know I’m telling the truth.”
“I know that you are leaving the room now.”
“Deny it all you want. You believe me.”
“I don’t believe in impossible things.”
“They’re coming back for me,” he said. “They’ll do to me what they did to Ben… or worse.”
She shook her head. “I’m done listening to you.”
“You can help me,” he said. “I need you to help me. I need to get back to my office. It’s my only chance to go back to normal. I even have part of a plan. If you would just-”
“Shut up!” she screamed at him.
Charlie heard someone gasp. He looked around and realized that every eye in the room was focused on the two of them.
The door opened and a guard stepped in.
“Take Charlie out of here,” Ms. Peach told him. Then, she turned her back to Charlie.
“Come with me,” the guard said, and Charlie walked to him without a struggle.
As he passed by Ms. Peach, who still refused to look at him, he said, “They’ll be coming soon. You’ll be able to spot them. You’ll know they aren’t who they say they are. At the very least, don’t help them get to me.”
“Come on,” the guard said.
Charlie followed him down the hallway as Ms. Peach shut the door behind them.