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“Hey genius, you ready for that MRI we promised?” I nodded at him as if sedated by their ambition. As we walked away from school, I stepped on every crack.
“What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” the other one asked, worried. I shrugged in response; I didn’t like to verbalize my thoughts. They always sounded better in my head, and that’s the way it needed to stay. I got into the booster seat and buckled the specialized seatbelt. I glared at the man’s concerned grey eyes. He initiated the sliding mechanism for the door and got into the passenger seat. I ignored both of their eyes. I had gotten good at that. The car started and we were gone in a flash.
“How was school today?” the woman asked, trying to break my silence.
“Same old,” was my response. I picked up a book I’d been reading. It was something they’d given to me, Finnegan’s Wake. It was another infernal test. Funnily enough, all they wanted this time was to see if I understood it. Honestly, I just craved to be finished with it. I’d read the description of this other novel, A Clockwork Orange, and had been pretty intrigued. I wished I could read that.
“Did you do anything fun in math?” the man asked, taking another shot at destroying my well-tempered silence. I gave an irreverent snort at the thought.
“That book’s pretty funny, huh?” the woman probed. Oh, how I longed to lie to her. Tell her how amazing this story about this stupid family was. How much sense each word made; words that anyone with a comprehensive understanding of esotericism and portmanteaus would know. I could imagine her smiling at my affirmative response, a genuine one. But no, she wanted to know if I understood the hardest book in the English language. It was another test.
“No, but you are.” It was a rude thing to say, but I knew they wouldn’t react. They didn’t react to anything I said anymore. They hadn’t ever since they found out I was special, ever since I took my first standardized test. After that I lost my friends and skipped five grades. My older brother was four years my elder, and now I was his senior. He resented it. I resented it. My parents reveled in it. They showed me off every chance they got. The genius they called me. It was the only thing they called me these days. I pushed aside my longing for the time when they’d have reacted to my disrespect and focused on the stupid book.
I had won; we sat in silence for the rest of the ride. I read my evaluation.
The car stopped. “I must have fallen asleep,” I thought to myself.
“Yes you did.” Her smile was big and scary. It twisted around her face. It grew so big she turned into the smile. It was a fake smile, just like all the others she and daddy made.
“It’s time to go in,” he said. Daddy, too, was a great, big smile, floating in the air with nothing underneath him. My sliding door opened to show people in white, their faces all missing. I panicked, screaming, my hands pummeling at the release button in hopes of escape. I didn’t know what I would do after I was out anyway. The closest Faceless grabbed me once I unlocked myself for it. It slung me over its shoulder and all six of them went into the building. In my panic I yelled for Mommy or Daddy, but I wasn’t looking at who they had been before they turned into the scary smiles. I was looking at the shadows of the Faceless instead, or where the shadows should have been if they had them.
The next thing I knew, I was inside the building. They were slowly strapping me to a bed while some Faceless held me down. They stabbed at me and made cuts in me with sharp tools. More screaming ensued, but I wasn’t sure if it was coming from me anymore. I looked for a friendly face to help me, but all I saw were silhouettes. One of them held my head down now. The Faceless had my bed completely surrounded. A strap came down over my stomach then, making me remember that one time when my brother Roger punched me in the stomach while Mommy and Daddy weren’t looking. I heard the rip of the plastic strap from the Velcro and another strap came down, crushing my chest and arms. Breath exploded from my mouth at all of the pain. Then I heard the final pull of the last strap from the bottom of the bed and I knew. There was nowhere else for the strap to go. The Faceless’ arm stretched over me as if in slow motion. I couldn’t do anything. He grabbed the strap from another Faceless. There was nowhere for me to go and nothing to do. I stared at the little dots on the ceiling and lay still, waiting for absolution of my nameless sin. The hard plastic slowly came down over my trachea. There was a terrible moment when I felt the cartilage in my neck give way. Thyroid, arytenoid, cricoid, and tracheal cartilage alike collapsed in on me. My windpipe caved in on itself. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t breathe. Fear flooded through me as I realized all of the things in life I would never do. I would never have a friend.
That realization, or the hand tapping me, released the strap that had been put on my eyes. I erupted into the world of reality, sweating and out of breath.
Everything was as it had been.
Finnegan’s Wake lay on the floor, a page evidently crumpled under its mass. Mom in the driver’s seat. Dad, where was he? I looked around and jumped as the door slid aside to reveal him. I waited for his smile to engulf him, but it stayed in its place.
“C’mon genius, let’s get that MRI.” He said it like it he was doing it as a favor for me. Like I should be thanking him right now. Like it was a greater alternative to getting my larynx crushed. He clicked the buttons to release me from my car-seat, and I followed him morosely. It was worse than getting my larynx crushed. I didn’t have a name anymore. I didn’t have parents anymore. I didn’t have a voice anymore. I was just Genius.