Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Theme Story - Gone to Sleep

I participate in a group with several friends and acquaintances in which we all post short stories and scenes based upon a prompt for the week. I figured I'd pass these along to anyone who might like to read.



It was Timmy this time. 

It was as if he had never been in the room. His area was clean, all his toys put away, everything pristine and sparkling. It was always clean in the morning.

John wasn’t even sure if morning was the right word. The eight of them woke up, played, ate, drank, went potty, did everything under the same fluorescent light. It never varied, never gave any indication of the passage of time. Just a click, a hiss, and a cloud of smoke, then waking up to another friend gone.

They had lost three. Well, four. Timmy was the fourth. John looked around at his friends, and knew the same unvoiced thought was going through their heads. Where are they?

Everything had started out great. The twelve of them had woken up in the brightly-lit room, filled with toys and games. Sure, they didn’t recall how they had gotten there, or who they were, or what was happening to them, but an eight-year-old’s mind is a very malleable thing. Before long they were horsing around, playing tag, holding action-figure wars, with not a care in the world. One of them found a book, from which they all took their names – they couldn’t remember what they used to be called.

John was surprised to find that everyone got along well – there were no bullies, nobody was beaten up or picked on, not even fat Sarah! They spent those first few days, if they could even be called days, having fun. Food would appear at regular intervals, through one of several slots along the floor. Each child quickly chose their slot, and the choices held; the spots chosen became their rooms. There were just enough slots for all the kids, and none left over. Before long, you could see each child’s personality imprinted on their “room” – Jane’s was very messy, toys strewn everywhere, while Todd was cleanly and considerate, making sure he didn’t accidentally breach someone else’s space.

Everyone seemed to be getting along fine, and with all of their immediate needs met they barely noticed the passing of the time. Hours spent playing games would pass like minutes, and before long the click and hiss would send them all off to dreamland.

It was three days until Mikey disappeared. It was hard to notice, at first, with 11 kids running around and playing with toys. Hard to notice the missing voice, the clean empty space in front of one of the slots. It wasn’t until around lunchtime – that is, the second meal of the day – that they head the loud clunk. A couple of the girls said they thought they had heard a scream with the clunk, but the group ignored them. There was no scream – everything here was so amazing! How could anything be wrong? That’s when Megan asked the crucial question.

“Where’s Mikey?”

The kids looked high and low, and couldn’t find a trace of him. His room was clean, everything in its proper place. There was no sign that anyone had ever been there, aside from the extra slot near the floor.

The slots opened after that. 11 plates slid into the room, filled with what looked like tomato soup. Distracted, each child retreated to their corner to eat, the mystery of Mikey forgotten.

Things returned somewhat to normal that afternoon, and all the children had a lot of fun. Someone had found a Twister mat, and they spent hours contorting themselves according to the spins of the wheel before collapsing in fits of limbs and giggles. When the nightly click and hiss came around, Mikey had completely slipped their minds.

Megan wasn’t there when they woke up.  The other children searched high and low, but found no sign of her anywhere. It was as if she had never been. All the toys she had been playing with had been put back in the communal area, her room was barren. Once again, after a fruitless search the bright and shiny toys proved far too great a distraction, and if a bit subdued the children dove into their play with renewed vigor.

Lunchtime rolled around, and another loud clunk. This time Conrad claimed to hear the scream, but all the other kids dismissed him. They ate their tomato soup greedily, enjoying every bite. There were pieces of meat and mushy vegetables floating in the thick broth, giving it a salty but wholesome quality that was very filling. An afternoon wiled away in play, when the click came they all went to sleep without a care in the world.

The next day, it was Conrad. The children were very quiet in their search. They had dwindled from twelve to nine, and the smaller number was noticeable. A couple of the kids started crying, huddling quietly in a corner. They didn’t know why they were crying – maybe they missed their friends, or maybe they were worried about who would be next. Some of the others had a haunted look to their eyes as they combed the room, looking for any sign of Conrad. But again, there was no sign, and again, the kids resumed their normal interactions. If their play was a bit more subdued today, there was still laughter and enjoyment. When lunchtime rolled around, they all listened closely. Only Timmy claimed to hear anything, but he was the only one. It must have been his imagination, they thought. They enjoyed their warm soup, very filling and thick. When nighttime came, the click brought on looks of panic, sudden wide-eyed wails, but all was quiet and peaceful as the smoke set in.

This morning, no one moved. They didn’t need to look any more. Timmy was gone. He had disappeared while they slept, and there was no sign that he had ever been. Nobody even went through the motions of a search, knowing the effort futile. Each stayed huddled in their own room, ignoring the shiny toys as they tried to understand where their friends had gone. Some of the girls wept quietly, while the boys simply stared at the floor, arms wrapped around bunched knees, rocking quietly to soothe themselves.

After an hour or so, Robert crawled out towards the toys and began to half-heartedly play with a spaceship, but his movements were lethargic. He pushed it around the carpet  absently, not really paying attention as he stared at the wall across from him. Before long a couple more joined him. Anna picked up a doll and quietly brushed its hair, while Trey and Devon played a sullen game of checkers.

There was a collective gasp when the clunk took place. Everyone looked around, but it was obvious by their actions no one had heard anything. John dejectedly left the corner he had been cowering in, and determinedly picked up an action figure, ignoring the soup that came through the slot. He simulated an assault on some monstrous army, beating it into submission as his friends slurped nourishment around him.

Hours later, the playing died down. Each of the children began to look around, wide eyes quivering with fear. No communication was necessary, as it was obvious that everyone was thinking the same thing. Who’s next? Some of the girls started crying again, and a couple of the boys too. John refused to stop playing with his action figures. He concentrated furiously on the toys, not even noticing the click and the hiss. He fought valiantly against sleep, but his eyelids slowly crept downward. He struggled with all his might. He COULD NOT SLEEP. He refused to give in, but ultimately the smoke won and he started to drowse. As he lost consciousness, quiet tears formed in John’s eyes. He had heard the scream.

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