Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 8 – lostandwhatever
Charlie drifted through the next few days with no aim or direction. He had no great mission to occupy his thoughts, and so he was left with simply living the life of a young boy. It was surprisingly easy to let go of adulthood for a little while. That grown-up identity existed only in his memories, invisible to anyone else, while all of his senses repeatedly informed him that he was, in fact, physically just a little boy. Taking the next step to acting like a little boy was a very short step indeed. When kids wanted to play, he played with them. When adults ordered him to do something, he respected their orders and did it. He fell into a simple routine: sleep, wake up, eat, clean, learn, eat more, learn more, serve detention, eat again, have fun, and then sleep again. Repeat.
Still, underneath it all, Charlie wanted to grow back up again. As much as he was appreciating his second childhood, he could not forget the adult life he had left behind. However painful some of his recent adult experiences had been, he missed the freedom and respect that came with being a grown up.
Saturday came, and Charlie was looking forward to spending a relaxing day hanging out and playing with his friends. But, just before breakfast, Sister Francine arrived unexpectedly at their room and knocked on the doorframe.
“Charlie?” she called to him.
“Yes?” he said, his attention being drawn away from the cartoon that he and the boys had been watching.
“Come with me,” she said.
“Is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said. “You have a visitor that needs to speak with you.”
The other boys looked at Charlie curiously as he excused himself and followed Sister Francine out of the room. As he walked through the halls with her, Charlie wondered who the visitor would be, although he had a good idea who to expect.
Sister Francine led Charlie into Ms. Peach’s empty classroom, and just as he had expected, Dr. Wolff was waiting for him in there, sitting at Ms. Peach’s desk.
“Hello, Charlie,” she said in a chipper tone. “Do you remember me?”
Charlie nodded. “You’re the one who brought me here,” he said. It was a simple answer that everyone there knew to be true, and it betrayed nothing secret.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m the social worker from the state. I’m here because I need to ask you some questions, just as a follow up to the information we already have.”
“I see,” Charlie said.
Dr. Wolff addressed Sister Francine, “May I speak with him alone? There are some sensitive topics we need to cover.”
“No problem,” Sister Francine said. “Give us a shout when you’re done. I’ll be just down the hall in my office.” She walked off, leaving Charlie alone with Dr. Wolff.
“Close the door,” she said.
Charlie closed it.
“Come here,” she said.
Charlie took a seat at one of the little kid desks right in front of the teacher’s desk where Dr. Wolff was sitting.
Again, he felt distressingly small as a boy compared to her. All adults were giants to him now, but something about Dr. Wolff made her giant size worry him more. Maybe it was because she was the only person had known as an adult before the regression who he had seen again after. Going from being taller than her to being much shorter than her only illustrated to him just how much smaller he had become. She was like a measuring tape to him, acting as a reminder of what he had lost.
“Well,” she said. “How are you feeling.”
“Fine,” he said. “The same as when I last saw you.”
“No memory loss?”
“No,” he said. “My memories are as clear as ever.”
“Good,” she said. “Well, what do you have to report? Have you found anything useful?”
“I’ve been all over the place, keeping an eye out for problems. The boys are misbehaving.”
“We know this already. Have you found a reason why?”
He took a deep breath and decided he had to be honest. “I kept a close eye on the staff. I never saw them mistreating the boys. I even dug around in their files. There was nothing to indicate that they were neglectful, abusive, or incompetent. The only problem here that I’ve seen is that they’re understaffed.”
“That’s all?” she said.
“None of the kids remember their adult lives, but I think that most of them have had problems since they were originally kids. They need families and professional help. The orphanage is trying, but there’s only so much they can do. The misbehavior is not their fault.”
“It has to be. There is no problem with the procedure.”
He sighed. “Maybe there is,” he said, trying to be delicate with his words. “You assumed that criminal behavior was some kind of moral problem. You thought that they made bad decisions as they grew up and that was the reason why they chose to become criminals. From that viewpoint, all it takes is erasing those decisions to make them into innocent children again. But, that’s not really the reason why they became criminals.”
Dr. Wolff raised a skeptical eyebrow, and he considered backtracking. Clearly, she was not liking what he was saying. Then, he thought about the boys he had met in the orphanage, the ones who had befriended him and even the ones who had been mean to him. They had been through a lot, and they deserved to have someone tell the honest truth about them.
“For most of them,” he continued, “I don’t think it was a conscious choice, turning to a life of crime. They started out with problems: mental illness, trauma, missing parents, abuse… Then, society failed them. It never gave them the help they needed. It let them fall through the cracks and ignored them until they became too dangerous to ignore.”
She crossed her arms and looked ready to retort, but he kept going. “The procedure just winds back the clock. It doesn’t fix any of the problems they had as children, meaning they’re still on the same trajectory as they were the first time they grew up. They need a better home than an orphanage if you want them to avoid the same problems in the future.”
Charlie had laid it all out to her as truthfully as he could, feeling satisfied that he had spoken his mind. Now, he waited with increasing worry for her response. Dr. Wolff was quiet for a long time, and he could see her thinking over what he had said.
He added, “I know that this is not what you wanted to hear. I tried to find a reason that would help you, but this is the only conclusion I could come to, based on what I found. Just making someone into a kid again doesn’t cure them of all of their problems.”
“I see,” she said and sighed. “Well, that’s disappointing to hear. I’m sure Kingsley won’t be pleased.”
“I did my best,” he said. “You asked me to investigate and report, and I did. I even got myself into trouble to find out what they would do. They only gave me detentions. No one laid a hand on me. They don’t even spank kids.”
She was quiet again, and Charlie could sense she was making a decision.
“I think you need to give it a little more time,” she said. “Maybe you are right, maybe there’s nothing wrong with the orphanage, but we want to be absolutely sure. You’ve only been here for about a week. Take another week to investigate and observe more. Then, I’ll check in with you again.”
He sighed. “I don’t think that will change anything, and to be honest, I’m getting a little tired of living here. I’m ready to grow up again.”
“Oh,” she said as if she had just remembered something. “Thank you for mentioning that. You’ve just reminded me of something important.” She rummaged around in her bag and pulled out a small glass vial filled with a clear liquid. “Take this.”
Charlie stood up from his desk and walked over to the doctor to take the vial. “What is it?” he asked as he turned it around between his fingers.
“A booster,” she explained. “I’m concerned that your regression might become unstable soon. We gave you a different dose from the other patients, and eventually it might start to wear off on its own.”
“You mean I’ll start growing up suddenly?”
“Maybe,” she said. “And, that would raise some suspicions with the staff if one of their kids suddenly grew years older. Of course, we need to avoid that. All you need to do is pour that liquid into a drink and drink it all down. It will help stabilize your regression.”
He wanted to keep petitioning for his release. It was pointless to keep him here any longer, but he could tell she was reluctant to believe him. He thought about what they had promised him: the promotion, the money… If he quit now, then he doubted that they would give him any of that. “One more week?” he said.
“Just one more,” she said. “Then, we’ll come get you.”
As much as he wanted to refuse, he worried about how she might respond. He did need her to get out of here, after all. “Fine,” he said.
“And, make sure you drink that booster,” she said. “Don’t forget.”
“Good,” she said and stood up. Then, he followed her to the door. Before she opened it, she said, “Keep looking. See if you can find something. We’re all counting on you.” She patted him on the head, and he tried to hide his annoyance at the patronizing gesture. Then, she left the room.
He slipped the vial in his pocket and sighed. “I suppose I can survive one more week.”
Charlie took a seat in the nearly empty cafeteria. Most of the kids had finished their breakfasts before he had arrived, leaving him to eat alone at his usual table. He opened his milk carton. Then, he unscrewed the vial and poured the liquid into the milk.
He sat there looking at the carton, but he did not drink it. He was not exactly excited about extending this second childhood any further. He considered his options. Maybe not drinking it would be a quick way out of the situation for him. He could just let himself grow up and then escape. He could even tell the doctor that he had drunk the liquid but that it had not worked. She might believe that. His dose had been different. It made some sense.
Charlie looked over his shoulder to see Ben looming behind him. He sighed. “What is it, Ben?” he asked.
“What kind of ‘hello’ is that?” Ben said as he took a seat next to Charlie.
When Charlie started to stand up, Ben put a hand on his shoulder and pressed him back down into his seat. Charlie sighed again. He had gotten over being afraid of Ben. Now, he was just annoyed. The boy talked tough, but he had yet to do anything to Charlie beyond that first punch in the gut. The idea of having to face Charlie’s friends later was enough to deter him from further violence it seemed. It did not stop Ben from being an asshole around Charlie when they were alone, though.
“Ooh, you’ve got bacon,” Ben said, taking a strip from Charlie’s plate without asking and sticking it in his mouth.
“You know, they’ve got a whole tray of bacon in the kitchen. You could get a plate for yourself.”
Ben shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t feel like getting up.” He helped himself to more food from Charlie’s plate.
Charlie watched, shaking his head. It was all so childish, so pointless. “Why?” he said. “What’s the point of this? Huh? You putting me in my place?”
“I dunno,” he said. “I guess it’s just fun to do. You’re easy to push around, and I like being able to push someone around.”
“Did someone used to push you around?” Charlie asked and immediately regretted saying it.
Ben looked furious and grabbed Charlie by the shirt. “You got some mouth on you, kid,” he said and lifted his other fist in front of Charlie’s face. “How’d you like me to rearrange your face? Huh?”
“S-Sorry,” Charlie stuttered. “I’m sorry.” He flinched as Ben raised his fist.
Then, Ben chuckled and let Charlie go. He took another bite of Charlie’s breakfast and, speaking through his food-filled mouth, said, “You should see your face, you scared little brat.” He laughed and almost choked on his food, so he grabbed the nearest drink he could find to wash down the food.
“Wait!” Charlie said as he watched Ben about to drink from the drugged milk carton. “Don’t drink that.”
Ben ignored Charlie’s warning and made a point of chugging the entire carton at once. Then, he set the empty carton down on the table and let out a satisfied sigh. “Delicious.”
“I think you’re going to regret that in a minute,” Charlie said as he watched Ben for any signs of him getting younger.
Ben said, “Yeah? And, what are you going to do about it? Huh? I don’t see your buddies around. Face it, I’m bigger and tougher than you. You can’t do anything to me. You can’t… uh?” He looked confused. “Wait… Who are you?”
“Charlie?” Ben said and squinted at him as if he were trying to recognize his face. “Do I know you?”
“Yeah?” Charlie said, wondering if Ben was playing a joke on him. “You were just threatening me.”
“Really?” Ben said, rubbing his head under his palm. “That’s weird. I don’t remember that at all. Actually,” he started looking around the cafeteria, “where am I?”
“I’m in school?” Ben asked, innocently.
Charlie was starting to realize that Ben was not joking around. “No. The orphanage,” he explained.
“Orphanage?” Ben looked worried. “Why am I in an orphanage?”
“What do you mean?” Charlie asked, feeling increasingly worried. “Don’t you remember?”
Ben looked ready to start crying. “Where’s my mommy?” he asked.
“Your… mommy? Uh, I don’t know. I don’t understand what-”
“Mommy?” Ben called. “Where are you?” He stood up from the table and stumbled backwards a few feet. When he looked down, he gasped. “Why am I so big?” He held up his hands. “I’m a big boy now?”
“Um, how old are you, Ben?” Charlie asked, trying to test a theory about what was happening.
“I’m this many,” Ben said, holding up four fingers. When he looked at them, he said, “Wait, no,” and then lowered one of the fingers.
Ben nodded, and then he looked around the room curiously. “Where am I?”
“Huh?” Ben said. “Is Mommy here?”
“Maybe,” Charlie said, feeling too horrified to know what he should do or say at this point.
“Mommy!” Ben called. “Where is she? Mommy! Where are you?” He started crying. “I want my mommy.” He sat on the floor, stuck his thumb in his mouth, and began sucking on it loudly, while humming worriedly through his snotty nose. Then, he let himself lay on his back, and the 11-year-old boy kept on weeping and sucking his thumb like a lost little baby.
A small crowd of kids had gathered around Ben, but Charlie had not moved an inch. He was too scared to do anything but watch.
“Ew,” one of the kids said. “He peed his pants.”
“What is going on here?” Sister Francine said as she approached the crowd. Then, she gasped when she saw Ben lying on the floor, weeping like a baby. “Benjamin,” she called to him. “What are you doing?”
Ben did not respond, he just kept sucking his thumb and crying. He did not even seem to recognize that she had called him by his name.
“Judy,” she said to one of the girls. “Run and get the nurse, now.” The girl ran out of the cafeteria.
Sister Francine knelt down and cradled Ben’s head in her hands. Then, she addressed the crowd of kids. “What happened to him? Did he fall? Did he hit his head?”
“He just kind of sat down,” one of the boys said. “Then, he started crying.”
“What was he doing before this happened?” she asked.
Another girl said, “He was eating with Charlie,” and pointed at him.
All eyes turned to Charlie, and he realized that he was in deep trouble again.
As Charlie sat on a chair outside of Sister Francine’s office, waiting to be called inside to answer questions, he tried to figure out what had happened. He had expected Ben to grow younger when the boy drank Dr. Wolff’s drug, but Ben’s body had not changed at all. “Why was he acting like a baby?” Charlie asked himself out loud. Maybe there was something different about the new drug. It was meant to be a booster, so it might have been designed to work correctly only in combination with the previous drug. Still, the previous drug had not affected Charlie’s mind at all. What had happened to Ben did not make sense.
“Charlie,” Sister Francine called to him. “Come in.”
Charlie entered the office and saw that the nurse was standing in the office next to Sister Francine, who sat at her desk. He took a seat on a chair in front of her desk, feeling an awful sense of deja vous.
“I’m just going to be blunt with you, Charlie,” Sister Francine said, her face looking deadly serious. “We need you to tell us what happened right now. Benjamin is seriously ill. We don’t know if he had a seizure or a head injury or something else. He’s on his way to the hospital right now, and I need you to be honest with me about what happened so that they can give him the treatment he needs. Now, tell me, what happened?”
“Right,” Charlie said. As much as he detested Ben, he did not want to hurt the boy. However, Charlie had secrets that he still needed to conceal. He would have to be careful about how much he revealed. “I was just eating breakfast alone. Then, Ben came up to me and took a seat at the table. He started pushing me around, and he ate some of my breakfast. After he got up from the table, he started acting funny, and then he fell over. That was just before you came in.”
“That’s all?” she asked.
“That’s all,” Charlie said. He tried to hide his nervousness. He had concealed what he could and revealed only what any observer would have seen, and he had been careful to hide the empty vial in his shoe when they had taken him to Sister Francine’s office. There should be no evidence left of the drug, unless they tested the milk carton, but he doubted they would.
“What were you eating?” she asked. “Tell me everything that was on your tray and everything that he ate.”
Charlie described his whole breakfast to them, leaving out the drug, of course.
“Well?” Sister Francine asked the nurse.
“I don’t think any of that could have caused such a severe reaction,” the nurse said. “But, I will contact the hospital with that information.”
“Go,” Sister Francine said. “Call them now.”
The nurse left, and Charlie wondered if he was free to go as well. But, Sister Francine just sat there staring at him.
“Can I go?” Charlie asked.
“Okay,” he said.
“What are you hiding?” she asked him.
“I’m not hiding anything,” he said.
“You’re not a very good liar,” she said. “Most kids aren’t, but I’ve gotten used to spotting even the good liars when they’re spouting their garbage. It’s as plain as the nose on your face that you’re hiding something.”
“I don’t know what-”
“Cut the bull,” she said. “I was willing to let you get away with breaking into desks before, since I thought you might grow out of thieving on your own. Now, I’ve got one of my kids heading to the emergency room, and you know something about what happened that you’re hiding from me.”
“I swear,” Charlie said. “I don’t know what happened.”
“At best, that’s half true,” she said. “You do seem a bit confused, but you are hiding something.”
“Was there something else in the food he ate?”
“N-No,” Charlie said. He felt himself beginning to sweat and mentally told himself to stay calm.
“I’ve heard that Benjamin has been picking on you. Were you trying to get back at him, to make him drink something gross, maybe?”
“No,” Charlie said. “Ben was a jerk to me, yeah, but I did not try to hurt him.”
“Do you know what did this to him?”
“No,” Charlie said and stared at her as seriously and sincerely as he could.
She stared back, examining every move he made. “Fine,” she said. “I can see you’re not willing to tell me what you’re hiding. Well then, since this is the second time in a week that I’ve had you in my office, I need to make some major changes to your living accommodations, because the current situation is not working. Already, you’ve robbed a teacher and possibly injured another boy. You’re going to be moved to your own private room for the foreseeable future. Your contact with other students is going to be minimized. You will eat meals alone with one of the staff. You will not be allowed any social time alone with other students until I’m confident that you won’t be a danger to them.”
“My sincere hope is that you will choose to tell the truth to us at last. Benjamin’s life may depend on it. If ever you choose to come clean with me, I will be available to listen at any hour.”
“Until then,” she said, coldly. “Get out of my sight.”
Charlie left the office, and a security guard who had been waiting down the hall escorted Charlie back to his bedroom and ordered him to gather his personal belongings from his trunk. He noticed his friends were there, but he did not greet them.
“What’s going on?” Jack asked as he saw Charlie packing a box.
“They’re moving me,” Charlie said.
Eddie said, “Is this because of Ben? We heard about what happened.”
“Yes,” Charlie said.
“Did you poison him?” Eddie asked.
“What?” Charlie said.
“Was it you?” Davion asked.
The security guard interrupted, saying “That’s enough boys. Let’s go, Charlie.”
“Wait!” Jack said. “Charlie, where are they taking you?”
Charlie said, a quick “Bye!” and allowed himself to be led away from his friends. As he walked next to the guard, he was reminded of his short time in the prison before he was regressed, and he realized that he was on his way to solitary confinement.