Story-a-Day September marches on! Thanks for reading.
Ten-year-old Marcel tapped a few keys on the keyboard, watched the screen go blank, and smiled before turning around to face the man waiting for him. “There,” he said. “I’m all done.”
The man frowned. “You can’t be done.”
Marcel pushed his chair back. “See for yourself.”
The man looked. “The screen is blank.”
Marcel drummed his fingers on his knees. “Can I go now?”
“You deleted the test?” The man stood up and in two long strides loomed over Marcel. “This, young man, is better than I expected.” He patted Marcel’s shoulder.
The drumming stopped. “But I was supposed to take the test.” He glanced over at the orphanage’s headmistresses, who sat, hands clasped primly in her lap, by the only door in or out of the room, her expression as bland as ever.
“There are many ways to be tested,” the man said, taking out his device and flipping it open. The light from the screen gave his skin a sickly tint. “Checking boxes might be the easiest, but it isn’t the most interesting. Don’t worry. You’ll learn.”
There were no windows, only that door, and though Marcel stared long and hard at it, he knew making a run for it wouldn’t end the way he wanted. And if he got through the door, what then? He knew the answer to that too. “I said I don’t want to go. Like it here.”
“You like it here?” the man asked. “You want to stay here? You? You’ve been here a week and you’re already bored. Soon you’ll have to eat the walls for entertainment.”
Marcel scooted his chair away from the man, but he backed into the desk. “My dad told me about you people. He…he said you’re…destroying the universe.” Heat went through him. He didn’t want to talk about his dad. He didn’t want this man to make him go anywhere. He didn’t want to stay under the watchful eye of the headmistress, who never raised her voice but also never laughed.
“You saw what happened to your father,” the man said. To Marcel’s surprise, he moved away and may have had a hint of a smile. “It seems unlikely you’d want to take his advice.”
“Don’t you talk about him,” Marcel said, squirming. He hadn’t listened to his dad’s advice in years.
“Would your mother want you here?” the man asked, the hint of the smile growing. He was a man used to winning.
“I’m not simple. Just because she wouldn’t want me here don’t mean she’d want me with you. There isn’t just two choices in the universe. I know better than that.”
The man looked down at the device in his hand. He read whatever he saw there before answering the boy. “At this moment, on this day, you have no choice.” He paused. “Other than the choice to walk calmly through the doors with me or be carried out by several of my compatriots.”
“Your things are packed,” the headmistress said, her expression still fixed into place. “They’re on the shuttle.”
Marcel leapt up, cursing his dad under his breath. This was his dad’s fault. All of it. “Fine. We’ll do this your way. But I’m not going to be a kid forever, you know. One day, I’m going to live how I want. Where I want. And nobody’s going to stop me.”
The man gave Marcel a slight bow. “We’re going to show you the universe, young man. You will be the one to decide how to live within it. I promise.”
Marcel marched toward the door the headmistress had now unlocked. He didn’t believe promises, but he did believe in surviving to fight another day. And in the curious part of his brain, the part of his brain that kept him up at night wondering about his mom’s last thoughts and if she’d gone to anyone’s version of heaven, that part wanted to go. He hated being told to go, but oh! What could he, just another orphan, learn from the universe? More than anyone in the orphanage, including the man who’d come to retrieve him, could imagine.