Author Topic: Child Three  (Read 8810 times)

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on: 05:35:56 PM 01/01/13
"Look! A camera!"

I'd heard my parents say this a hundred times when I was little. I don't want to give the impression that they were stage parents, though. It wasn't about living vicariously though me and I wasn't made to wear costumes or enter competitions or do any sort of dance move until my feet bled.

They basically just wanted me to be happy and have everything I wanted in life, something they couldn't really provide through no fault of their own. My Dad had an unfortunate addiction to alcohol... I should just say plainly that he was an alcoholic... and my Mother made up for his routine disappearances by focusing like a laser on my young life.

If there was a school play, I had to be the star of it. If there wasn't a star, then I had to have the most lines. If I came home and told her anything less, there would be a late-night call to the teacher involved. She would think I was asleep, mind you, but I'd always hear the conversations.

"He's such a special boy though... I know, they're all special, but he's had such a hard time of it because of his Father, and the... yes, thank you. Thank you, that would be great."

The only thing that would keep me awake like that was when Dad would get home late. I'd instictively lie there without sleeping, knowing that the day wasn't really over until he came staggering through the front door.

Their conversations were a lot like the phonecalls... my Mother's voice clear as a bell while the other "line" was a mystery to me, a string of gibberish and groans and, more often than not, sobbing.

I had to stay awake because I knew he'd come by my room. I'd hear the footsteps on the creaking, rotted floor and I'd see his shadow in the doorway. He'd just stand there, swaying - unless he propped himself on the door frame.

One time a passing car's headlight caught his face, and I saw his expression. Looking back, it was the most disturbing look I can imagine. It wasn't depravity or anger or sadness... it was a look of confusion.

On these nights, my Father would stop by my room, look in, and for the longest time he'd try to figure out who this child was and why I was in his house.

Nothing he could do ever made up for that. A thousand good deeds, a thousand sober days, could never erase the idea that he could actually forget I was ever born.

"Look! A camera!"

This was one of those thousand good deeds. My Father had taken me to a high school basketball game, and for all I cared I was watching the Lakers vs. the Bulls.

He pointed to a cameraman for the local news, a few rows down, courtside. The man was filming the game. I knew what to do instantly. They'd taught me the proper procedure many times over.

I ran down the bleachers, toward the cameraman, and I did a cartwheel right in front of the lens. This would seem to any casual viewer as a desperate bid for attention, but to my parents this was the way I would get onto television... then someone would NOTICE me... then I'd get a job in a commercial or a movie.

It was questionable logic, but children do not frequently question the ways of the world as given to them by adults.

"How was that?" I asked, winded.

"He turned the camera at the last second." Dad said, disappointed.

I was disappointed too, as if I had just failed to "become famous". This was how I felt every time these tricks didn't work out. Just like when the news came by our neighborhood to show storm damage, and my over-the-top antics were for naught since I was off-screen save for the top of my head.

All of this is why I couldn't say "no" to the focus group.

There was an ad in the newspaper asking for children within my age range who were interested in "the latest toys". I didn't own any of the latest toys, unless they counted drug store impulse buys... which they didn't.

Still, my Mom was already on the path to getting me into that group. Maybe there would be executives there, and maybe they'd want a child for one of their commercials. You never know, right?

The facility didn't look very much like a toy company. It was an aging warehouse-like building on the edge of town, surrounded by a rusty barbed wire fence that was falling off its poles. The pale blue-green paint on the place was peeling, exposing even more rust.

We only found the place when Dad spotted a printed sign with an arrow that read: "TEST SUBJECTS". When I asked what that meant, Dad responded that a test subject was "like a rat or a monkey", which didn't explain much of anything.

There were about ten cars in the parking lot when we arrived, mostly station wagons and vans. As we pulled up, a young couple was leading a little girl toward the building. She had pretty blonde hair in braided pigtails and wore a plaid dress with tiny, shimmering black shoes. She was even wearing make-up.

"Try to sit in front of HER," Mom snorted, "You can see what THEY'RE doing."

Weren't we doing the same thing?

Once we parked and got out of the car, Mom gave me the once-over, trying to straighten out my stray hair and to get the wrinkles out of my clothes.

"Remember, if there's a camera you face THAT. Look directly into it whenever they ask you anything, and smile a lot."

"Yeah, Mooom!" I whined.

The room inside the facility was small. Warm. It had been painted over and touched up in stark contrast to the rest of the place. All the way through the lobby and the hallways, I was instructed not to touch this, not to go near that, because I didn't have a tetanus shot.

The room was a lot like a classroom, or at least it seemed that way to me at the time. I felt a sort of angst that usually only came over me when I was going into school in the morning. That certain feeling of unpreparedness and an expectation of negative repercussions if I did anything out of line.

There were school chairs... plastic and metal seats with small palette-like desks attached... all in rows and facing a folding card table at the head of the room. Behind the card table was a long mirror.

Some of the kids were already pulling faces in front of the mirror and just generally acting nuts. Parents tried to coax their children away from things or just stood idly by as if there was nothing to be done about it.

In all, I remember nine other children. Some were dressed as if they were going to Church, others had sort of costume-like outfits. A pink dress, pink ribbon, pink shoes, and a minature pink purse, for example.

The only other kid like me was a husky boy at the back of the room, dressed in what was no doubt his "best" clothes, that still made him look like a street orphan compared to the rest.

"Take a front seat at the center." Dad half-shoved me into the room.

I did as I was told, and while all the others were flailing around or staring into space, I slid into the best seat in the house.

"Okay, look at the center of the mirror." Mom said, leaning down into my face with a manic sort of disposition better suited to a boxing coach.


"That's where the camera is."

"I don't see it." I leaned left and right in my chair, peering frontward.

"It's behind the mirror. It's a mirror they can see through, but you can't. Just look at the center of the mirror and SMILE a LOT when they ask you something."

I nodded. It wasn't necessary to really understand what she meant, but rather just to DO it.

A woman in a business suit, clip board in hand, clacked into the room on sensible heels. Her jet black hair was pulled back in a way that stretched her face just enough to look odd.

"Alright!" she said with an excited sigh, "Look at all these wonderful little..."

She surveyed the room and smiled at my Dad who was still hanging around at the door.

"Maniacs." he chuckled, like he was looking for her approval.

"Ohhh, I don't know about that!" she smiled wider.

She walked up to the folding table and struck it with her clip board a few times, sending a loud crack through the room.

"If our little ones would please take a seat, I'd like to talk to the parents in the next room."

After a few moments, all the kids were seated and the parents had collected by the door. Each waved or wished good luck to their respective spawn. The husky kid's mother, a down-trodden looking wisp of a woman in a worn dress, told him not to worry because she'd be nearby. He rolled his eyes as if he didn't care, even though I knew he did.

Then, only the children remained.

Within seconds, chatter and laughter filled the room. Some kids introduced themselves, others already knew each other. One or two took the opportunity to lace their commentary with coarse language I hadn't heard before.

When we heard the clacking of the businesswoman's heels in the hallway, everything fell silent and we all faced forward, hands on desks.

It was well learned behavior at this point in our lives.

"Well!" the Businesswoman sighed again, "Now that THEY'RE gone, we can get to the FUN STUFF."

She smiled at everyone, by which I mean she looked around the room, to each seperate face, and smiled with varying wideness.

"I'm going to give you a ticket," she said, unclipping something from her board, "And this ticket will have your NUMBER on it! We won't use names, because it helps us keep everything clear, okay?"

What could we do but drone "Okay..." in response?

She passed out the tickets. Since I was in the center, third from the start, my ticket read "CHILD #3".

Once everyone had their number and was given a chance to memorize it, the Businesswoman launched into what seemed like a scripted speech.

"Who here likes ROBOTS?"

(wait for cheers and/or "Me!")

"Who here likes SUPERMAN?"

(wait for cheers and/or "Me!")

"Alright, well what if I told you there was a ROBOT who was SUPERMAN'S BEST FRIEND?"

(wait for excited murmur to dwindle.)

A man in another business suit walked in the door, carrying a glossy white cardboard box with an "M" stenciled on the front in black. The Businessman was stocky, muscular, and had the same sort of jet black hair as his female counterpart.

"Let's meet MECHATUS, the MECHANIZED MOTO-MAN, then we can talk about him!" the Businesswoman gestured to the box in a grand fashion.

All the kids pretty much went berzerk. Everyone leaned forward to get a look at the box and the chatter started back up again. Toward the back, I heard a kid fall out of his chair.

The white box went onto the folding table, and the Businessman left without so much as a word. He hadn't actually met our gaze at any point, despite one of the ruder children loudly inquiring "Who are YOU?" when he had walked in.

The Businesswoman stood behind the table and opened the box. The excitement was really building to a head, and I could hear some of the other children whispering "open it..." over and over again under their breath.

She pulled out a square toy with wrench-like arms on either side. It had tank treads for legs, and a small row of rockets ontop of its head.

The weirdest thing about it, however, was the face. Painted across the front surface of the robot, from edge to edge, was this hateful little face with narrow eyes and a downturned mouth. Its pupils, just black dots amid the expanse of white that was its eyes, stared forward like it was focusing on what it hated most in the universe.

On its forehead, the letter "M".

I seemed to be the only one put off by the face... unless everyone else was really good at covering up how they felt. A simultaneous, awe-struck "Whooaaaaaa..." washed across the group.

I copied them, pretending to be absolutely in love with this object.

"Okay, what's the first word that comes to your head when you see MECHATUS?"

Hands shot up as the Businesswoman slowly rocked back and forth, showing everyone the robot's different angles.

"Child #5." She said flatly.

"AWESOME." - It was the girl in all pink.

"Child #8." She said in exactly the same tone, at exactly the same speed.

"Grrrrrreat!" said the husky kid, illiciting laughter from the others.

"Child #3." She hadn't changed her style one iota.

I looked to the center of the mirror, smiled and replied.


The Businesswoman's expression dropped, and for a second it seemed as if she was also going to drop the toy to the floor.

"Child #5 said it was awesome," she snapped... then her tone softened and she smiled again, "Let's try to come up with different answers. Okay, everyone?"

I felt awful. I felt like I'd failed some sort of test, and I was also very afraid of the Businesswoman's inappropriate reaction to an innocent mistake. All I could think was that I wasn't going to be in their commercial, now.

I could feel the corners of my mouth turning downward, trembling, and the more I tried to will it to stop, the worse it got.

"Okay! What do you think MECHATUS can DO?" the Businesswoman continued as if nothing had happened, something I was thankful for. Hands shot up again, but I was still reeling and didn't take part.

"Child #7." - Same tone.

"I bet it can fire MISSILES and GRAB everything!" came an unknown voice. I didn't even turn to see who it was. I was too focused on controlling my expression.

"Child #1." - Same tone.

"He would be my NEW BUDDY." said the girl with the braided pigtails.

Mom was right, I had to watch out for her. She was looking at the center of the mirror, and she covered her mouth to giggle.

At this point, I recovered from my emotions by rolling a question around in my head. I'd read Superman comics, I'd seen Superman cartoons. How exactly was MECHATUS his "best friend"? It seemed like a lie, like if someone in class said he's best friends with He-Man.

MECHATUS was just pretending to be friends with Superman, I'd deduced.

A volley of questions hurtled across the room from then on, and each time the Businesswoman called on a child by number, in a monotone voice. The entire time, she swayed, leaned, and showed off the robot toy. Always smiling toward us.

The anticipation was building, and there wasn't a child in that room who wouldn't have given ANYTHING to touch that toy, or even to see it do something else besides move slowly back and forth in a small area of space.

I even got a few more answers in, this time VERY careful to be unique in my insights. If someone said they liked MECHATUS' square shape, I said I liked the round wrench-hands. If someone liked his color, I liked his size. And so it went.

Then, finally... FINALLY... she asked the question we'd all been dying to hear.

"Who wants to PLAY with MECHATUS?"

Hands shot up, kids got out of their seats and hopped with arms aloft, and a mindless, echoing round of "me me me me me me me me" circled the room.

I was starting to get genuinely concerned about WHO would get to play with MECHATUS. I only had a one in ten chance, here, and I knew that whoever was first would be the focus of attention.

Maybe they'd even be the ONLY one to play with it... and actually getting to touch the robot... to hold it and talk to it... was quickly replacing stardom as my biggest concern.

The Businessman returned, wheeling in a handcart of identical white boxes marked with an "M".

Everyone went insane. Children cheered, shouted "YES!", and a couple just screamed... screamed like they were being abducted... just this ear-splitting shriek that emptied their lungs.

The Businessman looked up at the ceiling as kids just RUSHED the handcart and started pulling away the white boxes. There was little regard for anyone else as kids scratched and hip-checked each other.

I was right in there. The husky kid bit my elbow when we both put our hands on the same box... and... well, this was in response to HIS act, remember... I grabbed his crotch in my hand and just squeezed as hard as I could until he screamed and crumpled away to the floor.

I don't know why I did that. I really, REALLY never hurt another kid before or since, but something about the scenerio just had me seeing red. It was bad enough that he was taking MECHATUS away from me, but to actually ATTACK me... to draw BLOOD... I mean, I can't say I'm proud or anything but you have to agree he was asking for it.

The weird thing is that there was one box for each child. Nobody was going to be left out, so I have no idea what anyone's problem was.

As soon as we had each freed our seperate MECHATUSes from their cardboard homes, we instantly seperated, like some change in surface tension caused everyone to spread to the far edges of the room. There, all ten of us dropped to the floor, cradling MECHATUS like a baby doll.

I looked around the room exactly once, to make sure no one was sitting near me. The girl in pink had a gash on her head, with blood trailing down into her eye, which she simply kept clenched shut and ignored. Another kid was favoring his wrist as if it was broken, his hand and fingers nearly limp.

I didn't really care about any of them. I had MECHATUS, and finally, truly, he was MINE.

The hushed sound of whispering filled the otherwise silent room. Every kid, including myself, was quietly talking into the side of the robot as if he had an ear.

"My Dad drinks," I whispered, "My Dad drinks all the time and sometimes he forgets who I am. One time he took me to the lake and drank a bunch of beers and left me alone in the water while he drove home. One time I was playing with nails in the shed and he caught me and pushed me against the wall and my head broke the window. One time he was driving me home from Soccer and he smelled bad and he drove into a mailbox. One time..."

I just kept going and going, and as I did, I started to cry. It wasn't because I felt scared or sad, but because I was so incredibly happy. I could tell MECHATUS anything, and I did, and that meant MECHATUS was my best friend, and if MECHATUS was MY best friend now, that meant I was more important than SUPERMAN.

I wiped my eyes and tried to hide what was going on, but I could hear sniffling and weeping all around me as the whispers continued... and I knew nobody was going to judge me.

I could barely make it out through the mix of voices, but I heard the girl with the pigtails' normally bubbly voice choking between whispers about waking up to something weird... I heard the husky kid complaining about something called "the brat closet".

After I'd said everything I could think of... everything bad that happened in my life... I set MECHATUS on the floor.

I smiled at the toy's angry little face... which was really cute and funny now that could see it up close... and I said goodbye to him.

"Bye-bye, MECHATUS."

The robot backed up, its little tank treads whirring. It spun around, rotated its wrench arms 360 degrees, and headed to the front of the room. They were ALL heading to the front of the room. All the other kids waved as the robots made a single-file line and rolled out the door, arms spinning, gears whirring.

Slowly, but happily, everyone returned to their seat.

"Well, let's talk about how you all feel." The Businesswoman sighed happily once more.

After we'd said everything we could think of, after we'd answered every question with unique insights, our parents were brought back into the room.

"We had a little accident." The Businesswoman said, "The children got a bit over-exited during play-testing. Everybody's fine, but we're going to add onto your checks to make up for any boo-boos."

The girl in pink's parents were incensed when they saw the freshly cleaned and band-aided cut on her head. They basically dragged her out by the arm as they stormed away. The Father mentioned something to the Businesswoman about being a Lawyer, and the girl begged him not to "scare her like you did Nanny Claire".

My Mom and Dad couldn't care less, though, as I had come through it fine unless you counted an easily hidden bite mark.

"Did you get to talk?" Mom asked.

"Yeah!" I beamed.

"Hope you did good, kid." Dad remarked, eyes repeatedly darting to the mirror.

"I want MECHATUS for CHRISTMAS!" I blurted out. They both laughed and glanced at each other as if I was still acting for the cameras. It was February.

"We'll see." Mom patted me on the head.

Weeks passed. Everything went back to normal, or as close to normal as my childhood got.

We got the check, and even though I was fine, they'd still added in a good sum of money. I don't know how much it was, but Mom and Dad danced in the living room when they saw it, and I'd never seen them actually touch each other before that.

Along with the check came a video tape. VHS, at the time. It was marked "CHILD #3". Mom had specifically requested it before I'd even gone there, and I had no idea she had done it. She wanted to use it to show to talent agents.

For days, I lived in fear of that tape. On it, I not only flubbed the first question I was asked, but I had told everything my Father had done wrong. The minute they played that tape, I knew my goose was cooked... but I had no idea how to stop it.

When we all sat down in the living room to watch that tape, I just wrapped myself in my own arms, drew my pajama'd feet in close, and dreaded the moment I felt my Father's foot hitting the back of my skull.

The tape played. It was a straight shot into the room, from behind the mirror just as Mom said.

The Businesswoman asked the first question. The others answered. Then came my turn.

"Strong!" I cheerily replied.

I had said "Awesome"... it was the whole reason I got snapped at! I let go of myself and crawled closer to the television, wide-eyed and slack-jawed with shock.

The rest of the questions and answers were exactly as I remembered. Then came the "play test" time.

The Businessman wheeled in the handcart of white boxes, and we all calmly lined up and took one. Each child was polite and moved slowly. Eerily slow. No other children in the history of mankind had ever moved toward a toy at such a snail's pace.

We all went back to our seats, and I was looking right into my own face as I sat down, took MECHATUS out of its box, and quietly rolled it back and forth on the desk.

I -- I mean, the onscreen me... looked at the toy flatly and rolled it back and forth... back and forth... all I did was move it left and right, rolling its wheels. Over and over and over, with this blank look on my face.

I wasn't even blinking.

"You should have done MORE with the toy," Mom interrupted my awe, "They wanted to you play with it."

I looked around the screen. Each kid was doing something different... turning the wrench arms, removing and replacing the missles, or just patting the toy on the head. They were just doing this on an infinite loop, but taking off a missle took longer than a head-pat, so it wasn't just the same footage running repeatedly.

The Businesswoman walked around the room, looking down at each child and watching them.

Then we gave the toys back, sat quietly, and answered more questions.

I felt relieved and horrified at the same time. Part of me wanted to believe the company had actually edited the video to keep me from catching a beating. But how? It seemed impossible, but there it was.

There wasn't even the "accident" the Businesswoman had claimed, but it took me a long time to even comprehend the video enough to realize it.

I didn't protest the contents of the tape. I couldn't. I couldn't very well say, hey, I know that's not real because I attacked someone and told them how horrible my life is...

The video got put away. I had done okay, but it didn't show my "star material".

It wasn't long after that Dad died.

He was walking home one night. Everyone just presumed he was drunk, because he'd stumbled off the road and fell down an embankment. The Doctors said he could've survived the fall, but when he hit the bottom, a large stone had rolled down with him and crushed his head.

Visitors and food and gifts flooded into the run-down home my Mother and I now inhabited... alone.

One of the gifts - a plain white box, marked with an "M", mailed to us with no return address.

"They must've liked you after all." Mom smiled at me. The first time she'd smiled since ... the first time she'd smiled in a while.

I sat on the floor and opened the box. I pulled out MECHATUS.

His face was different, though.

He was winking.
« Last Edit: 02:29:48 AM 01/21/13 by chwolf »
If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.


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on: 05:37:19 PM 04/26/14
This story reminds me of Monsters & Other Childish Things in the best possible way. The concept of monsters or similar that genuinely love children and want what's best for them, but are still monsters and don't understand that murdering the school bully's ancestors so he's never born or eating someone's abusive parents isn't actually considered socially acceptable problem resolution is a concept very dear to my heart.


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on: 08:27:32 PM 03/03/16
According to Slimebeast, tne protag is based on a childhood friend who pressured him into being a star.


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on: 04:14:09 AM 03/05/16
Somewhat. :) His parents pressured him just like in the story. (Though the events are different, of course. XD )
If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.


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on: 01:54:16 PM 03/05/16
Still, it's pretty interesting to know this. Gives the story a authentic feel