Friday, February 27, 2009

Feeder In the Greed Machine: 2) The Child Inside

Feeder in the Greed Machine is a science-fantasy story with an evil twist on cloning devices. The story comes in four parts, to be released on a weekly basis beginning Saturday, February 21, 2009.

This is Part 2. Click here for Part 1, Part 3
or Part 4

When Eric Williams was in kindergarten, the teachers used to let the children play a game. Each child had to exchange one of his or her shoes with the opposite shoe of another child. So for example, if I gave you my left shoe, you would give me your right shoe - now you would have two left shoes, and I would have two right ones. This was, of course, a time before hygiene became a very large concern. So at the end of the exchange, the group would be split - half the children with only right shoes and half with only left shoes. The children would then get in the square of the basketball court, and one of the teachers, standing back, would yell "Everyone, find an other side shoe!" There was promise of a bright red balloon to every child who found a complete pair.

After the second time, Eric Williams and Patty Byrne were never allowed to play again, because of what happened. It all started very pleasantly, the children happily running around and searching for an opposite shoe. The first time they had played, the children had discovered and developed methods and tricks to win the game faster, and the teachers noticed how they started using these methods immediately this time. Some would run in a grid-like pattern, studiously searching other feet for a match - when they reached the end of their grid, they would start again, backward. Others used their voices, calling out, like fish sellers in a market, "I got two left, I got two left", or "Need right shoe, here!" "Wight shoe here, thwee o'cwock!" would come another child's response.

Nevertheless, the overall outcome of the game was turning out quite similarly. The teachers noticed in the initial moments, more pairs would resolve their differences and run out of the square to get their balloon. This made sense - after all, it was easier to find a match when the square was full of other children with incomplete pairs. Then, it became a little slower. This was also to be expected, as fewer children had incomplete pairs to exchange with, and everyone without a balloon had to weave around, running to find matches. But something was wrong this time. After a while, the teachers started peering into the group, a little puzzled. The children should have been resolving faster this time, what with the methods and tricks they had learned from the first game, but it was taking much, much longer. There weren't enough balloons in the crowd.

In the square, Eric finally managed to swap one of his right shoes with a left from Billy Dorkin. But after watching Billy run off to get his prize, Eric remained, walking around. He spotted Erica Channing strolling in front of him with two left shoes, turning her head this way and that in search for a right. He ran up to her, and said, "Here, exchange with me."

Erica squinted at Eric's shoes, then looked back at him. "But why you already have a match. You already won - you should run and get your balloon."

"I can find another pair," said Eric distantly, looking around them.

"But I'm a girl," said Erica. "I'm wearing girls' shoes."

"It's okay, I don't mind. I - um - I just want to help you out. I want -I want us to be friends."

"You want to help me?" said Erica, blushing a little.

"Yeah," smiled Eric. "But hurry. Before the teachers see!"

So Erica quickly slipped out of one of her shoes, and took one from Eric. "Thanks!" she said, blushing again, and ran off out of the square to get her balloon.

After quite some time, causing the teachers no small amount of curious anxiety, the exchange finally seemed to have been completed. Then, from the sea of bouncing red balloons in the square, they heard a low wailing, and ... sad sniffs ... of a girl sobbing. When they then peered into the crowd, the teachers found that two of the children had still not completed their pairs.

One was Patty Byrne, who had come last the previous time also. None of the teachers were surprised - Patty was one of the slower children in class. She seemed to be challenged in almost every way - she was a poor reader, and even Mrs. Dickman, their class teacher, knew there was something wrong with her reasoning abilities - she was thoroughly hopeless at even simple sums. She was ambling about the court with two right shoes. But the other child was Eric Williams! He was running around with two left shoes. Occasionally, he would circle Patty in the crowd, causing her to lunge at him, then run off some distance.

"Eric!" yelled Mrs. Dickman, stepping in. By now, tears were streaming down Patty's face as she tried to chase and grab at him. "Eric, you stop now! Stop and exchange your shoes with Patty! The game is over, and both of you can win." But Eric just kept running to-and-fro, seemingly oblivious. He circled crying Patty again, hopping from one foot to the other, then darted off. This time, as she lunged, Patty tripped on her own foot. She fell flat on the basketball court, and remained there.

Mrs. Dickman strode in, and on her way to fallen Patty, scooped the elusive Eric up with a long hand. She dragged him along, up the court towards the quivering girl, all the while saying, "See what you have done. See what you have done."


On the drive home, Eric's mother was also in tears. She seemed very unhappy with him. "Good Lord, what is it that I've done wrong with you? I just don't know!" Eric sat beside her, playing quietly with his Rubik's lunchbox. "Are you listening to me?" she cried, but he didn't say anything, sliding a matching red line horizontally instead. When he did it, he looked up at her, proudly.

"Stop playing with that damn thing and listen to me!" said Mrs. Williams angrily. She snatched the lunchbox from Eric's hand and flung it out of her window.


"Yes! That's what you get when you don't listen. Why were you bullying that poor Patty Byrne?"

"I wasn't bullying her," said Eric.

"You were teasing her, Eric. You know that you shouldn't. Patty is not like you or the rest of the children. She is - special. She's just a little slow."

"She's not slow, she's just a retard," said Eric, staring into the
air conditioner vent.

His mother covered her mouth. "Where did you learn that word? In any case, she is not - retarded. She is just a little slower. You have to care and -"

"She thinks two plus two is twenty-two! She's stupid."

"Eric Williams!"

"Anyway, I didn't do it to bully her. Why would I care about her at all?"

"Oh?" said Mrs. Williams. "Why did you do it then, young man?"

"I was just trying to make the game longer," said Eric.

She stopped for a second. Then, she asked, "Longer? What do you mean?"

Eric looked up at his mother. "Well, in P.E. we can play games and run around. But when it stops, we all have to go in to Mrs. Dickman's writing class." He turned back and stared into the air-conditioner vent again. "I hate her writing class. She always keeps telling us to write A's and B's and C's over and over again. I know how to write my A's and B's and C's - why do we have to write each one 50 times, over and over again? So I was trying to make the game longer, so that we could all spend more time in P.E. and less time in Mrs. Dickman's class." He paused and breathed deeply. "And that stupid crybaby retard fell on her face and ruined everything."

"Eric! Don't say that word. Heavens me. Well, young man, you will never play that game again."

Eric shrugged. "Well, I wouldn't let Patty fall again," he said putting his hands in his trouser pockets.

"Uh-huh. Learned your lesson have you?" said Mrs. Williams doubtfully.

"Yes," he nodded. "Next time, I would give Patty a matching pair first thing so she wins and gets out of the game, and doesn't end up ruining everything for me."

Mrs Williams shook her head and drove on, tears in her eyes.

No comments:

Post a Comment