‘Hi, I’m Eva. How are you?’
From my right came a high-pitched voice. It came from a girl, I believe. She sounded around six or seven, a couple years older than me. I stayed silent, refusing to answer. After all, I wasn’t allowed to feel.
‘Um, do you want to play with me? Maybe do some drawing?’ I could hear rustling as Eva, I assumed, pulled out some paper.
My arm hairs rose as her hand brushed my shoulder. I flinched away.
‘Oh, right. You don’t like to be touched.’
Huh. I’m surprised they told her. I heard a clatter on the ground, followed by the gentle scratching of pen on paper.
‘I’m going to draw with the red pen. It’s my favourite colour. What’s yours?’
I shuffled closer to wall, keeping my eyes closed. I’m not supposed to have one, but if I could, I would probably pick blue.
‘Hey, are you ok?’
I nearly laughed at her concerned tone. She almost sounded genuine. As if anyone would be concerned about me. Static crackled around the room. I kept my head down, already knowing the announcement that would come next.
‘Eva. That is enough for today. Please exit the room now.’
I listened to Eva’s footsteps leave my side and the electronic swish of the automated door as it opened to let her out. Escape crossed my mind. My legs tensed, but the doors whooshing closed ended it quickly. It’s not like I could leave without receiving punishment.
Leaning against the wall, I assumed my usual position, hiding my face as I wrapped my arms around my legs. Salty tears stung the corners of my eyes. I rubbed at them, refusing to show any emotion. Hushed whispers reached my sensitive ears.
‘Another failure sir. My apologies, I thought that a child near to their estimated age would be able to connect with the boy better than an adult.’
‘It is not a failure, Agent. We just have to search for other methods to make the child respond.’
‘But sir, the boy has refused all attempts at interaction. We have tried multiple methods, with adults, animals, even access to electronics! Each one resulted in the same thing: the boy has refused to communicate or interact with any of them, and once they were removed, it assumed a foetal position in the far corner of the room.’
‘Hm, it is odd for it to continue to avoid social interaction, especially due to them being so young. I will need to discuss it further with my superiors.’
The two speakers’ voices started to fade, and I heard another whoosh of a door opening and closing.
Boy. It. The child. I couldn’t help the silent sob that escaped me. They didn’t care if I heard their discussions about me. They didn’t care enough to name me. I was nothing to them; they didn’t see me as human, but a mere job to fulfil, a puzzle to solve. Hearing how they referred to me day in and day out was becoming painful. I waited a few moments to see if they would return. They didn’t. Only then did I lift my head, while keeping my gaze on the floor.
I blinked a couple of times, willing my vision to adjust to the bright white room. There were several pieces of paper strewed around me, some covered with crude line figures, others with several misshapen circles. Eva must have left these for me. I’m surprised that Sir allowed her to.
I picked the drawings up. I heard soft whirring as a security camera followed my movements, observing me as I tidied the pile against the tattered mattress, and as I wrapped the flimsy bedsheet around my shoulders. That camera has been there since I was brought here, constantly watching me.
I don’t know why Sir said to Agent that he must talk to his superiors; they’ve always been watching.
I climbed onto the mattress and faced the bare wall, refusing to let the camera see my face. I rubbed my eyes, allowing a couple of tears to fall. They fell from my chin onto the drawings Eva left, the water discolouring a wobbly rain cloud over a house. I rubbed at the paper, trying to soak up my tears, but it only smeared the picture more. I started to cry again, the cold droplets running down the burnt skin on my cheeks and neck. I wish that Sir and Agent would allow me to go outside and see the rain. I wonder what it would look like.
I stared at the scars that covered my upper arms, tracing each ridge with my fingers.
Sir never revealed what happened to me, where I came from. I wonder if I ever had a mum or dad.
Muffled sounds of footsteps echoed in the room next to me, the familiar voice of Sir starting back up again.
‘As you can see, Doctor, the boy refuses to even look at the security camera. It is insistent that either nothing sees its face, or it doesn’t see people look at it.’
Another voice spoke, their tone soft.
‘I would believe that his actions are due to the burns and scars. He is scared of them, not the people.’
I kept my arms hidden under the bedsheet but perked up my ears, listening to their conversation. He? Is the Doctor referring to me?
‘I don’t understand what you are talking about, Doctor.’ Sir’s tone was sharp like when he reprimanded me; something that I was now very accustomed to.
‘Give me his files and allow me access to his room. Let me try.’
There was silence and I couldn’t help but hold my breath. Then the familiar whoosh broke the silence. I listened to the footsteps that approached my room, each one clear and purposeful. The door hummed open and they stepped inside, before coming closer to me, stopping beside the mattress.
Instinctively, I shut my eyes and gripped the blanket tightly in my fist, bracing myself for the barrage of itemised questions.
‘Would it be okay if I sat down? You don’t need to talk, just nod for yes, or shake for no.’
I nearly opened my eyes in shock.
He isn’t going to reprimand me for not wanting to talk? Did he just give me a choice?
I hesitantly nodded my head and heard a spring squeak as another weight joined me. We sat in silence, with him flicking through what I assumed was a clipboard with notes about my failed sessions.
I straightened up, tilting my head towards his voice.
‘You don’t have any recorded name.’
It wasn’t a question.
He knew I wasn’t given a name.
‘Would you like me to give you a name?’
Tears squeezed their way past my eyelids. He wants to name me, to give me a proper name. I quickly nodded. The weight next to me shifted as the doctor moved closer.
‘How does Elias sound? It was my son’s name.’
I tilted my head again, before trying to speak.
‘E,’ I coughed, my voice hoarse after years of silence. ‘Eli,’ I hesitated, before clearing my throat. ‘Elias.’ The name felt strange on my tongue. ‘Elias.’
Moments later, the intercom crackled to life, Sir’s voice coming through cautiously.
‘Doctor… did—did the boy just talk?’
‘Yes, yes, I believe he did.’ I turned my head to his voice.
‘Let me introduce myself. I am Doctor Haselhurst. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Elias.’
I felt my lips turn upwards and I moved my hand out from under the sheet, holding it out in the direction of Doctor Haselhurst’s voice. A gloved hand took mine and briefly shook it.
‘Ah, so you are aware of proper etiquette. Strange for a child who fears social interaction and themself.’ I flinched at his tone, pulling my hand back behind the sheet.
‘I—have a request. You—are a doctor. Can you—fix me?’
‘No. I can’t, Elias.’
‘Oh, did—did I do something—to upset you?’
‘I’m not upset Elias, I’m just telling you the truth.’ I felt Doctor Haselhurst’s weight shift on the mattress, moving closer to me.
‘Pl—please. Don’t like people being too close.’ I tightened the blanket around me, hoping that it was covering all of my body.
‘Okay, Elias. I’ll stay over here.’ Doctor Haselhurst’s voice had returned to being soft, talking like I would bolt if he raised his pitch.
He fell silent, causing each ragged inhale to echo in my ears.
‘Can I ask why you don’t like looking at people?’ I stiffened, before pulling my arm out and tracing the scarred flesh.
‘These are ugly. I—I am embarrassed. I do not want—to see any reaction to my damaged body.’
A gloved hand took a hold of mine, and I choked on a scream.
‘You are not disfigured Elias. You are a brave, brave child who has survived. You shouldn’t need to fear other people’s views of you.’
I weakly smiled at Doctor Haselhurst’s words.
‘I know you don’t like showing people your face, but do you think I could see just your eyes? I am very curious to see them.’
I bit my lip and tightened our hands.
I opened my eyes one at a time, my hand holding the sheet to cover my scarred right side. A man, shorter than Sir, sat opposite to me with a large, long mask on his face and a full doctor-like outfit on. I couldn’t see his eyes, and every piece of skin was covered in cloth. He leaned in, the nose of the mask poking my chest.
‘I knew you were special. You’ve got Heterochromia. Oh, such beautiful colours.’
‘Het—ero—chro—mia?’ I frowned at the long word.
‘It means your eyes don’t match. That isn’t a bad thing, Elias. It just means you’re special.’
‘Special?’ I knew what that word meant. Freak. Weird. Ugly.
‘Yes, special, meaning that there’s very few like you. It means precious.’ Doctor Haselhurst dipped his head at me, trying to appear comforting. The intercom crackled.
‘Doctor? Care to give me some updates?’
‘Sure, later.’ Doctor Haselhurst didn’t sound bothered to report to Sir.
‘You see this mask, Elias?’
I nodded, unable to hold my curiosity back. I touched the beak, smelling a strong floral scent when I did. ‘This is called a Venetian mask or, as it is better known, a plague mask. Doctors wore these to protect themselves from diseases. But do you know why I wear it?’
‘To protect yourself?’
‘Somewhat. I’m a little like you. I don’t like people I don’t know seeing my face, so I wear this. People usually think that I like imitating the doctors of old, and I don’t bother to correct them.’
Doctor Haselhurst gently brushed the air above my shoulder in an attempt to comfort me without physically touching me.
‘Doctor? I need you out here.’
I frowned at Sir’s interruption and watched Doctor Haselhurst get to his feet.
‘Duty calls. But Elias? I look forward to seeing you again.’ He walked towards the door, and it swished open and closed behind him. I ran my fingers over the blanket that hid my scars and slowly pulled it off. I turned for the first time to look at the camera, and gave it a small wave.
‘Hi, I am Elias.’
Author: Rebekah J Pouw is a third-year creative writing student at QUT. She loves reading and writing pieces based on mythology, especially from Greek myths. She mainly creates stories and fantasy worlds where she hopes that people will always love to return to.
Artist: Cyndra Galea (she/they) is in the third year of her Bachelor of Fine Art’s in Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Communications. When not found with her head in a book or three, Cyndra can be found radioactive antique hunting, fixing classic cars with her dad, working in their vegetable garden, drawing on her iPad, or writing and editing her manuscript. Cyndra aims to work in the publishing industry when she finishes university, but also dreams of releasing novels of their own.
Editors: Rory Hawkins & Brock Scholte