This is Issue #9 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
“No, no,” Kieron said, sounding knowing, wagging his finger at the people cornering him. “I know what help means,” he said, panting as he balanced up atop the cabinet. “I know what your help is,” he told them, baring his teeth. “Not happening. You don’t understand. I have to talk to Jet. It’s important. Just… just ask my parents, okay?” he said, trying to bargain, holding his hands out as though to show how he was unarmed.
“Let’s be reasonable. I’m not… there’s nothing wrong with me,” he said. “I just have to talk to him.”
“Sorry, kid,” one of the men said. “We’ve got our orders.”
“Fuck your orders!” Kieron cried, panicked. “Jet’s going to die — I saw it! I have to stop it! Just… just call my mom and dad!” he pleaded. “They’ll tell you! They said I could go back to school. I’ve been doing good. I’m not sick. I’m not sick!”
“C’mon down,” the other orderly sighed, sounding resigned. He reached for Kieron’s foot.
Kieron kicked out, snapping his booted foot at the man’s hand and stomping down, pinning it, grinding his heel. He leaned in, getting almost face to face with the man, and shouted, “CALL. THEM. I HAVE. TO GO. BACK!”
“Son of a — !” Shocked, the orderly pulled his wounded hand out from under the boot, swearing furiously. His other hand shot out, reaching up to grab a handful of Kieron’s hair. “Who the hell do you think brought you to us?” the man shouted as he brought Kieron even lower down to face him. “Get your ass down here, cadet. Your parents are signing you over right now.”
Stunned, Kieron turned to look toward the mirror that was a window into the room, and it was all the orderlies needed to get a solid hold on him. “No! I have to go back!” Kieron insisted, his voice raw, his expression frantic. “You have to let me go back!” he shouted, struggling against his captors. “No. No! NO!” he screamed, thrashing, wild-eyed and hooking his fingers into claws to tear at the men who tried to restrain him. He lunged for the window, screaming at the people on the other side. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!” he shrieked, his hair pasted to his face and neck, sweatslick. “You’re killing him!” he accused. “You’re killing him! You have to let me go back!”
The orderlies tightened their grip on him, while a doctor stepped in, and administered a sedative, enough to take down a man three times his size.
Kieron howled in rage, tossing his head, and arched his back as though he could tear himself loose of the very fabric of Here-And-Now…
…and then he slumped, his eyes glassy, and he shook his head, trying to clear it, his words slurring. “Y’can’t, I can’t– Jet,” he said, blinking widely, struggling to stay conscious. “Somebody. Somebody save him,” he said, and finally, he sagged in the grips of the orderlies, who moved to lay him in the bed, and restrain him thoroughly.
Through the windows, his parents watched, and wept, holding to one another. The very thing they’d feared had come to pass — their son was lost to them.
“We’ll provide him the very best care,” the man in the white coat explained, turning them away from the scene, once they’d watched it play out. “I know it seems hard, right now, but this is for the best — for him. He’ll be helped. We’ll help him,” he promised them.
* * * * *
“Brody, Kieron?” The nurse’s voice was flat, even as she questioned Kieron’s existence.
“Here,” he said dully, making no move to go to her side.
She crossed to him and held up the little paper cup. “Meds,” she said.
He put out his hand, and she put the cup in it.
He took the meds, and handed the cup back.
He put out his hand again, and she put another cup in it.
He took the water, tipping it and the pills down his throat, and handed the cup back.
It was their own little ritual, five times a day.
He waited around twenty minutes or so, and then shuffled off to the bathroom, where he carefully peeled the capsules away from where he’d tucked them against his cheek, and flushed them down the toilet.
He had learned his lessons, in the first few days of this hell.
He no longer had to be held down. He no longer wore restraints in bed. He did not struggle. He did not fight. He gave up, and nursed the tiny spark left in him, waiting and waiting. This couldn’t last. This wouldn’t be forever. He spoke quietly in group, and he parroted back what he knew they wanted, and he was as good a student for the institution as he was at the academy — better, even, because his brilliance could stand out here the way it couldn’t as much in a field full of other brilliant, undrugged, unrestrained students who believed in the ferocity of conformity the Academy expected.
His parents came after only two weeks, after hearing a glowing report from the doctors. He was told of their visit and made sure to behave as the rest of the inpatients did. They visited their son and found him glassy-eyed and compliant, so much of what made him Kieron stripped away, and they could not leave him there for further treatment. He was signed back out again, against medical advice, though the doctor did consent, at last, to allowing Kieron back for therapy if necessary. “But if he must come back, Mr. and Mrs. Brody, I need your assurances you will leave him with us until I deem him fully recovered,” the doctor said, patient but firm.
After agreeing, Kieron found himself back home, in familiar clothes, with familiar love surrounding him, and he imagined that perhaps life could get back to normal, the way it had been. Surely after five years of school going decently well, they would not take it all away from him, only one year from graduation. While he waited, he wrote brief missives to Jet; short notes about his health, and questions about the Academy. He wasn’t allowed to leave the house, and he never managed to catch the carrier, so he always handed the letters over to his parents to mail.
He assumed they would read them, so he wrote nothing about his episodes in them, nor anything that would even bring suspicion. But days went by, and he would hear nothing in response. Still, he sent the letters out into the world, via his mother, via his father, hoping.
One morning, his parents were fairly beaming, and his mother said, “And today, we’ll finally get you settled back into your studies.”
Kieron’s heart leapt. “I’m going back?” he said, his eyes wide, his whole body trembling as he fixated his attention on them.
His mother and father looked worried, glanced at one another, and both tried to talk at once.
“Now, honey,” his mother began.
“Son,” his father said, lifting up a ‘Be Calm’ hand.
Then they both paused, and after a moment or two, it was his mother who offered, “Professor Garrett will be coming to tutor you. Privately.”
Kieron’s shoulders sank, and with them, his heart. He tried not to let the disappointment show on his face. “All right,” he sighed, shrugging, trying to offer them a smile, at least to dull the concerned expressions on their faces. He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to end up back in the institute — he knew any fits, be them the episodes he knew, or any of just rage or misery, would land him right back there.
Instead, he complied, as he knew he had to. Go along, to get along.
The next few days were a rush of getting used to new routines, with Professor Garrett, with yet another doctor who wanted to poke and prod him, give him supplements, and have him stand on his head in the sauna for fifteen minutes three times a day, and through it all, Kieron struggled to remain placid, tried not to beg Garrett to advise his parents to send him back to the Academy. The first thing Garrett mentioned, when they were alone, supposedly working through calculus, was “I don’t know as your parents informed you, but Redwell was expelled.”
Kieron looked horrified, paling out, and Garrett reached out a hand, putting it on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re safe here, you know. Your house is a bit of a fortress,” he said, not unkindly.
“Jet,” Kieron breathed, shaking his head. “Not me, Jet.”
Garrett pursed his lips, glancing around, and then said “He’s fine. He’ll be fine as well. You would do well to focus on your work.”
Kieron dropped it, feeling the stirrings in his gut that foretold an episode, sometime that day. Or perhaps it was an odd sense of disappointment that Jet would be fine, but not have written back. If he was going to slip soon, to witness another death, he didn’t want to bring it on any quicker, and didn’t want to push Garrett away by arguing. The man was his only link back to the Academy, back to Jet.
* * * *
Some time later, he happened to be in the front hall when a carrier arrived, offering out mail and packages. Kieron signed for them, and noticed one was for him. His heart soared when he saw Jet’s careful lettering, and he went to set everything down in his father’s office so he could take his letter to his room, and read it. Finally, a response! Just as he dropped everything off on his father’s desk, he heard a sudden and terrible crash, and then his mother was calling out, urgent, pained.
He rushed off to her, and found her tangled in a small ladder, her ankle twisted grotesquely, her orchid planters fallen in disarray. A call was made for the family medic, who showed up quickly, and made sure that the injury was a terrible sprain, and nothing more. It took the afternoon to get her settled, to get things cleaned up. When all was said and done, and she was comfortable, Kieron finally remembered what he’d been about, and he ran to his father’s office to get his letter, so he could read it before Professor Garrett showed up.
When he went to his father’s office to find it, however, the mail was sorted, most of it opened, and the letter nowhere to be seen. He looked on the floor around the desk, in his father’s wastebasket, and could not find it. When his father came in, looking for him, to let him know Garrett had arrived, he found his son under his desk, shining a penlight beneath the feet, using a letter opener to try to reach beneath it. “What, pray tell, are you doing?”
Kieron sat up quickly, smacking his head on the underside of the desk, and climbed out, sheepish. “I was the one who got the mail today,” he said. “I thought I’d seen…”
“I thought there’d been a letter for me,” Kieron said, watching his father’s face.
“For you?” Ellison Brody said, pursing his lips, looking thoughtful. “I don’t believe–“
“I saw it. It came in an Academy envelope–” Kieron began.
“There was nothing,” Kieron’s father insisted. “I’ve been through all the mail myself,” he said, reassuring. “If you get mail, we’ll make sure you get it.”
Disappointed beyond measure, Kieron nodded, and went off to meet Garrett for tutoring. Go along, to get along.
That night, however, once he was certain everyone was in bed he went to his father’s office, and began to search through his desk — the letter had to be there. It just had to. He opened the doors and drawers of the big mahogany desk, feeling a thrill of excitement move through him, as he carefully searched in forbidden places. The last drawer was locked, but he knew the key was kept beneath the paperweight, so it wouldn’t get lost. When he opened it, he was stunned to find not just the letter, but two bundles of them. He pulled them out, and looked them over, heartsick. One bundle held all the letters he had written to Jet — unsent. The other held letters Jet had written him, including the latest. Two weeks’ worth of daily correspondence, hidden from him.
His heart thundered, and the love of his parents warred with rage — how dare they keep these things from him? He was home, but in truth, this place had become little better than a prison, no different from the institute; this cage was simply prettier.
He paced in front of the fire, thinking, thinking, his mind and heart racing. What could he do, to get beyond this, to use it to his advantage? His father would notice if he took the letters, and would take pains to keep them better hidden. No — this would require something far more planned, far more subtle. At length, it came to him, and he nearly stumbled over himself in his efforts to get started quickly.
Checking the time, he put on a kettle, and as it steamed, he used it to open the letters from Jet, setting aside the papers carefully. He then steamed open the letters that were to be sent, and swapped the contents, putting his carefully handwritten letters into Jet’s envelopes, and then sealed them shut once more. He burned his fingers once or twice, refilling the kettle as he worked into the wee hours, and grew sick with fury over his family’s betrayal.
Finally, he put the kettle back, cleaned up, and went to bed, reading and rereading the letters from Jet, carefully tucking them into his schoolbooks, getting them settled into his texts, flattening them carefully so they wouldn’t be noticed. After so long, he felt like there might be some way through this isolation, and he slept heavily and well.
* * *