Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 10 – lostandwhatever
Charlie found a folded sheet of notebook paper on the chair of his desk the next day. He nearly threw it out, thinking it was a piece of trash, but he opened it first to find that it was a note. There were only three words on it: “WINDOW TONITE MIDNITE.” He glanced over at Eddie, Davion, and Jack, but none of them paid any attention to him.
“What is that?” Ms. Peach had asked him.
“Nothing,” he said, crumpling the paper into a ball and dropping it in the trash.
She eyed him curiously, but he ignored her and returned to his desk. Thankfully, she did not investigate any further.
Charlie was not sure what the message meant, but he knew he had to check his window at midnight for something. It would be a long wait, though, with all he had on his mind. Time dragged on. Every time he looked at the clock, he was disappointed to see how little time had passed. He kept glancing at the door to the classroom, half-expecting Dr. Wolff and some goons to burst through it and shoot him with a dart gun filled with youth serum. He ate his meals carefully, avoiding foods that would be easy to poison, sticking mainly to fruits and packaged snacks. At long last, it was time for him to go to bed. He pretended to be asleep when the guard checked on him after 10 o’clock. Then, when he was sure that he would be left alone, he turned on a lamp by his bed to keep himself awake until midnight. It was a struggle, though. Being prepubescent meant that he got tired earlier and needed more sleep. Midnight would be a long haul. Still, he was determined to find out what the note meant.
Sure enough, when 12 o’clock came around, he heard a soft tap on the glass of the window next to his bed, which woke him from dozing off. He opened the shades and nearly screamed in shock when he saw Eddie’s face just outside of the glass.
Eddie pointed to the lock on the window and Charlie climbed up on a chair to turn the lock. Then, he stepped away as Eddie lifted the window open from the outside and climbed into Charlie’s room.
“How’s it going, kid?” he whispered.
“What are you doing out there?” Charlie whispered back, harshly. “You could have died. We’re on the third floor.”
“Don’t worry,” Eddie said. “There’s a pretty wide ledge out here. It’s totally safe if you’re not a dumbass.”
“Hey,” whispered another voice from outside. “Is the coast clear?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Come in.”
Davion’s head now appeared in the window. Then, he crawled into the room behind Eddie.
“Let me guess,” Charlie said. “Is Jack out there too?”
“He is,” Davion said. “But, he stopped moving about halfway here.”
Charlie poked his head out the window to see Jack lying prone on the ledge and staring at the edge with his eyes wide open, apparently terrified.
“Jack,” Charlie whispered loudly. “Are you okay?”
“Uh,” Jack said. “I think I want to go back.”
Eddie stuck his head out the window and said, “Going back backwards is more dangerous. It’s safer if you come here first.”
“Uh,” Jack said. “O-okay. Coming.” He began to inch his way forwards.
Eddie backed away from the window and Charlie followed him. “He’s going to be another minute,” Eddie said. “Might as well talk a bit while we wait.”
“Why are you here?” Charlie asked.
Eddie looked faintly insulted. “To plan your break out,” he said. “Of course.”
“Really?” Charlie said, feeling pleasantly surprised.
“Yeah,” Davion said. “You’re in danger, right?”
“Then, it’s true?” Eddie asked. “Some kind of science experiment turned you into a little kid. You used to be a grown up?”
“Yeah,” Charlie said, while wondering if he should tell Eddie what he knew about him. The three of them had really gone out of their way to help him. He felt like he owed them. Plus, there was no reason to keep secrets from them anymore. “There’s something else.”
“What?” Eddie asked.
Jack’s nervous voice stammered from the open window, “H-help me in.” Davion and Eddie each took one of Jack’s arms and dragged him into Charlie’s room and laid him out on the floor like a dead fish. “Thanks,” he wheezed. “D-did I miss anything?”
“Charlie’s really a grown up,” Eddie explained. “Also, there’s something else.”
“Okay,” Jack said. “What is it?”
Davion said, “What’s the other thing, Charlie?”
“Well,” Charlie said. “I suppose I need to explain why I’m here in the first place, but I should warn you. You might not like what I’m about to say.”
“We can take it,” Eddie said. “We’ve been through some real tough shit.”
“Okay,” Charlie said. He took a breath and began to tell them everything.
“Those fuckers!” Eddie half shouted when Charlie had finished with his story. The other boys shushed him quiet. “Sorry,” he whispered. “But, fuck those fuckers. Fuck!” They shushed him again and silently listened for the sound of a guard approaching. Thankfully, they heard no movement in the hallway.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” Charlie said. “I couldn’t. I was just supposed to pretend to be a kid like any of you.”
“Ew,” Jack said. “You showered with us.”
“I did not enjoy that. Besides, would you have preferred I took baths with the little kids?”
Eddie shook his head. “I knew it,” he said. “I knew something was screwy about the whole car accident story. It was all bullshit.”
“Well,” Davion said. “What do we do now?”
“We get the hell out of here,” Eddie said. “That’s what we do. We might have family out there waiting for us. Who knows? We have to try to find them.”
“We’re leaving?” Jack asked. “You mean, just by ourselves?”
“What?” Eddie said. “You want to walk up to Sister Francine and ask her nicely to let you walk out the front door?”
“But, are you even sure I was one of the test subjects, Charlie?”
“I don’t know about you or Davion,” Charlie said. “But, I did see the video of them changing Eddie.”
“Davion was probably a Guinea pig, like me,” Eddie said. “He’s crazy, after all. No offense.”
“It’s fine,” Davion said. “I know I’m… different.”
“What about me?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know,” Charlie said.
“You’re coming with us,” Eddie said. “We’ll probably need you, and besides, you know the secret now. You might go tattling on us if we left you here.”
“I would never,” Jack said.
“You’d better not even think about it.”
“Good. You’re coming with us.”
Jack sighed. “Fine.”
Davion shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “I don’t know how far we’ll get, but we can give it a try.”
“Good,” Eddie said and turned back to Charlie. “So, you can get us into the drug company’s office?”
“Probably,” Charlie said.
“Okay,” Eddie said. “And, I can get us all out of here. We just need a way to get from here to there.”
Jack said, “That’s going to be tough.”
“Do you know how to drive?” Eddie asked Charlie. “We could steal a car, maybe.”
“I know how to drive, but I don’t think I could see over the steering wheel at this size,” Charlie said.
“Fine,” Eddie said. “We’ll take a bus or something.”
Jack said, “That’s not much of a plan.”
“We don’t have time for a good plan,” Eddie said. “That woman’s coming back for Charlie again soon. We need to get out of here by tomorrow if we can.”
“Tomorrow night, then,” Davion said. “We’ll go in 24 hours.”
“Oh no,” Jack said, realizing that this was actually happening. “Oh no.”
“Oh, grow a pair,” Eddie said. “We’re doing this. I don’t care what we have to do. We’re going to get out of here.”
The next morning, as Charlie ate his breakfast alone with a guard, he had the feeling that he was a prisoner eating his last meal. Of course, if Dr. Wolff showed up again, this very well could be his last meal. He kept checking the clock, waiting for what came after breakfast.
When the clock struck 8, he set down his fork and told the guard he was done.
“Time for your shower,” the guard said.
“Yeah,” Charlie said.
They left the side room and headed for the showers.
“Try to be quick,” the guard said as he took his post by the door to the bathroom and showers.
“I’ll need to use the toilet first,” Charlie said.
“Fine,” the guard said, trying to get comfortable leaning against the wall. He pulled out his cell phone, and Charlie could hear him start playing a game.
Charlie walked into the bathroom and immediately checked under all of the stalls. The room was empty. All the other boys had showered by now and were heading to class. He was alone. It was time to put the first step of Eddie’s plan into action.
He walked to the end of the room and looked at the air duct on the ceiling. The building was old, but it had been given central air at some point over the last few decades. Mostly the ducts were hidden above drop ceilings, but not in the bathroom.
Charlie spotted signs that Eddie had prepared the room for him. He noticed some screws on the floor and looked up to find a half-opened vent grate above him. When he looked around, he saw that the door to the janitor’s closet was opened just a crack. He checked inside and found a ladder. It was heavy, but he managed to drag it over to the vent and open it up. Then, he ran into the showers and turned on a showerhead to make it sound as if he was cleaning up. Everything was set. All he had to do was climb up.
He hesitated. Thinking about what he had to do next worried him. He decided to imagine that he was back on the playground, ready to climb up the jungle gym and crawl through some tunnels. Framing it all that way certainly made what he had to do seem less scary and more fun. “Just do it,” he told himself to overcome his hesitation. He climbed the ladder up to the vent and opened the grate.
It was a small opening, but he was a small boy. None of the other three boys would have been able to fit inside, only Charlie could. For once, being small would actually be useful. It was dusty inside the vent, but he managed to crawl into it. Thankfully, he was not claustrophobic. As small as he was, the vent was still a bit too small for comfort, and he would not be able to turn around in it. He started crawling in the direction that Eddie had described to him and quietly hoped it was actually the right direction. He passed by several vents on the way, showing a variety of rooms. Most of them were unoccupied, but he tried to remain silent.
After what felt like far too long a time crawling on his belly in the dust, Charlie finally reached the vent he was looking for. It opened onto a small windowless room, the guard break room. The orphanage only had a few guards working at any time, but they needed a place to take breaks and store their gear. Charlie could see chairs, a table, and a small vending machine next to a few lockers, but the room was otherwise empty. No one appeared to be inside.
“Here goes nothing,” Charlie said and slipped off one of his shoes with his other foot. Then, he contorted himself in the tight vent, until he managed to pass the shoe up into his hand. It was time to test his strength, or at least, the strength of the vent grate. He smashed the heel of his shoe against the grate. It did not move. He took a firmer grip of the shoe and smashed at the grate again. This time, he felt it give a little bit. He smashed it again and heard the sound of something metal ping off the floor below. He pressed against the grate and saw that he had dislodged the screw in one corner. He Smashed the grate again at the other corner of the same side, and the grate swung open. “Yes!” he said.
He peeked out of the vent to see the wood floor far below him. There was nothing to stand on or climb down below, but there was nothing dangerous to fall on either. Clearly, he was not going out face first. Instead, he crawled forward to put his feet near the vent, and then he cautiously crawled backwards out of the vent. When he felt his legs dangling in the air, he paused a moment, worried about hurting himself in the fall. Any illusion about this being like a bit of climbing around in the playground was over.
“No turning back now,” he said, urging himself on.
He slid backwards out of the vent until he was hanging on by his fingers. Still, the ground seemed way too far beneath him for a safe fall. He felt his grip starting to wear out.
“Do it!” he told himself.
He let go.
The fall seemed to last forever. Time slowed down, and he wondered if he could die falling from that height. In all that had happened up until now on this little adventure, he had not considered that he might actually die at the end of it. Now, death seemed a real possibility. There was nothing he could do, though. Gravity was in control.
He landed hard on his feet, stinging his heels. His knees buckled and he rolled onto his back. On instinct, he curled up into a ball and avoided hitting his head against the floor. When he came to a stop on his back, his legs felt sore, but nothing seemed to be broken. He moved his feet experimentally and did not sense any sprains or fractures.
“Woo,” he cheered. “Thank God for rubbery little boy bodies.”
He sat up and looked around the room. There was a desk against the wall with some lanyards hanging on a hook on the wall above it. He got to his feet, and walked to the desk. There were rings of keys on each lanyard. As he had done before in the nurse’s office, Charlie climbed up on the chair, stepped up onto the desk, and started flipping through each ring, looking for the right key. Then, he found it. It was a small key, the kind used for a simple padlock, but it was exactly what he needed. He managed to pry open the ring to slip the key off. After storing the key in his pocket, he turned back to the vent to make his escape. It was only then that he realized the fatal flaw in their plan.
“How do I get back into the vent?”
There was no ladder in this room and nothing tall he could pull over to the vent. He considered just walking out of the door, but that would definitely get him caught since he was supposed to be in the bathroom right then. There was the table. He pulled at it, and managed to budge it a few inches. It seemed to weigh a ton, though. Once more he was left cursing his weak young body. Unfortunately, he saw no other option but to pull the table to the vent. He kept pulling, inch by inch. As he worked, his eyes kept darting from the door to the clock on the wall. Every minute that ticked by made him increasingly worried that a guard would walk through the door to catch him in the act.
Eventually, when he had the table close enough, he climbed up on it and reached for the vent. “No!” he said when he found that the vent was still too high to reach. He looked around and decided that he would need to pull a chair on top of the table. He was thankful to find at least one folding chair in the room that was light enough to heft up onto the table. Then, he opened it up and positioned it under the vent. The whole setup felt very unstable, but it looked as though it would give him the height he needed. He climbed up on the wobbly chair, holding his arms out to help his balance. He reached for the vent and managed to get his arms inside of it. He hopped off the chair into the vent and winced when he heard the chair tumble off the table and crash onto the floor below. He knew that someone must have heard that. Quickly, he crawled into the vent and pulled the grate shut behind him.
Seconds after it was shut, the door to the guard room opened, and one of the female guards entered the room. “Hello?” she called out to the room. Charlie did not move, he even held his breath. “Is there someone in here?” she asked.
He watched through the grate as she searched around the room. She looked at the table and the folding chair lying sideways on the floor. Silently, Charlie prayed that she would not look at the vent. She stood the chair up again and then looked around for what felt like a whole minute.
She held up a walkie talkie to her mouth, pressed a button on it, and said, “Looks like it was just a chair that fell over.”
A voice over the walkie talkie replied, “What do you mean?”
“One of the chairs must have been leaned against the table or the wall and finally slipped down. I don’t know. There’s no one in here.”
“Roger,” the voice replied.
“I’m heading back,” she said as she left the room.
Charlie let out a sigh of relief when the door was shut and he was alone again. He gave himself a moment to relax, and then he began the long crawl back to the bathroom.
When he exited through the original vent he had come in, he was feeling totally exhausted. He pushed it shut, slowly climbed down the ladder and, with the last of his strength, returned the ladder to the closet. Finally, he just collapsed on the floor, feeling utterly spent.
“Hey,” called the original guard from the door to the bathroom. “Are you done in there yet?”
“Almost,” he said, looking down at how dirty and sweaty the climb through the vents had left him. Thankfully, there was a shower nearby that would take care of the mess. He pulled the key out of his pocket, held it up, and smiled at it. So far, everything was going right according to their plan. “I’m almost done.”