Simulated Sympathy

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Write about someone finally making their own choices.... view prompt


Fiction Crime Suspense

My head is aching as the blazing sun beats heavily on me. I’m sweating buckets and my legs are strained. Standing out here in the sun is one of the many sacrifices my brother and I must overcome in order to fulfil our duty. But, what is our duty exactly? No one told us before we left, so maybe I should think about what would make Master happy. Either that or we wait for him, I don't really know. I glance over at Michael and he’s seated on the pavement, I wonder what made him do that. I’ll just wait for Master, because I can't possibly think of what else to do.

After an hour my legs give up and I fall to the ground, so I sit up and face Michael. Wow, this feels a lot better. He looks over at me and pauses for a moment. He starts to speak but then he stops himself. He turns his head and looks at the empty road in front of us instead. I continue to stare at him then I quickly catch myself, remembering that staring is impolite. I look in front of me and I can see an old, grey truck parked by the sidewalk. I observe it for a while.

A few minutes later an old man comes out of the pharmacy carrying a white paper bag with the company’s logo on it. He goes to the truck and opens the door. Once he gets in I see him glance at me through his window, but he pretends he doesn’t notice me and drives off. I don’t follow the truck with my eyes, I continue to stare blankly into the area where it was parked a few moments earlier. 

Soon two hours have passed and it's late afternoon. It’s hotter than it’s been all day and I’m breathing heavily. I don’t think I can handle this Arizona heat much longer. I think Michael notices because he turns to me, glaring.

“Take your blazer off, idiot,” he says to me, and I do it immediately. It feels much better, I knew it would. It’s now I notice that he’s had his blazer off for hours. I wonder what made him do that. He proceeds to look in the direction of the pharmacy. Such a strong gaze, it can’t be broken.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a car pull up. No, a truck, the same truck. It’s the same old man and he’s back. Did he forget something at the pharmacy? No, I tell myself, don’t think about it, it’s none of your business. I shift my gaze to the concrete sidewalk before me, but my curiosity gets the better of me. As guilty as I am I stare at the man again, but the bag he's holding is different. This one is plastic, and bigger than the last one. I also see that he’s not going towards the pharmacy, he’s coming towards us. Why us? My angry glare at Michael makes him immediately straighten his posture, then we both look up at the man who stands tall in front of us.

“Hello,” he says to Micheal and I nervously, “um… how are you doing?” We stare blankly into his eyes. He mutters something to himself which I hear but convince myself I don’t.

“I noticed that you kids are out here all on your own, and um… well, I’d like to give you some food and water, since you seem thirsty.” He sets the bag down in front of us but we don’t break our gaze with him. He seems a little mystified at that, but he continues to speak.

“My name is Steiner. Gerald Steiner. I was just wondering where your parents are or um, sorry I... if you have any.” He looks down at his feet, waiting for something I think. After a moment he looks up again, he probably hasn't received what he’s waiting for, whatever it is.

“Oh, maybe that’s a sensitive topic, my bad. Do you mind if I ask what your names are?” I feel Michael’s eyes on me, they’re pushing me to do something. To do what? What is it Michael? Maybe if I think hard enough he’ll receive a message in his brain from me. I risk everything to look at Michael. ‘Do it,’ he mouths at me. ‘Do what?’ I mouth right back. ‘Your name, tell him your name.’ 

I stand up quickly and stare the man right in the eyes.

 “My name is Ivory, Sir,” then I sit back down just as fast. Sometimes I hate Michael. Whenever he doesn’t know what to do, he makes me do it first to see if it’s safe. 

“Nice to meet you, Ivory,” the old man, Gerald Steiner, says. He stretches out his hand to me, probably for me to shake it. I’ve seen Master shaking hands before, but that’s Master, and I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve already risked enough today, letting my needs and curiosity get the best of me. Master always said curious children were a nuisance, and we didn’t want to know what happened to nuisances. So I decide to leave the old man’s hand lingering there, because I don’t want to stir up any trouble. He nods slightly and turns his head to Michael.

“And yours would be…?” He waits.

“I am Michael, Sir,” Michael says and gives a little bow. And without interruption Michael holds his hand out to shake the man’s. Showoff. Michael’s whole mood seems to have changed in a moment, he seems a little more comfortable now. I’m worried he might do something stupid. But to be honest I feel a little more comfortable too. I notice I’ve slouched a bit and I immediately straighten my posture.

“I’m going into the pharmacy now. Though I’ll be out soon. Please enjoy the food I’ve brought you in the meantime,” the old man says.

Food. Just the mention of it has my heart pounding, and I can’t wait until he gets back, because maybe he’ll tell us we can eat it. The man wears a wide smile, his short, white hair is blowing in the wind. That hair. It reminds me of the cook’s. Well one of them out of the fourteen Master had. I can’t remember what her name was, actually I don’t think I ever knew it, but I remember how she was always so sweet to us and she’d sneak us gummy bears in secret whenever she had the chance. I used to love those only because of who gave them to us. If that kind cook had given us cauliflower you can bet I would’ve eaten every last piece of it, no matter how gross it is. OK, maybe not. I guess I did sort of have a taste for gummy bears. Now I can’t stop thinking about them, they’re bringing back memories, the good and the bad. I wonder if I could - no, that’s stupid to think about, but the man is so kind-looking just like the cook and…

“I like gummy bears,” I blurt before I can stop myself. Gosh darn it, Ivory. The man has already turned away, but he looks back at me and laughs.

“You like gummy bears? I used to love those when I was your age. You know what? I’ll get you and your brother some,” he pauses, seeming to realise something, “and you don’t have to wait for me to tell you to eat the food, Ivory and Michael.” He goes into the pharmacy, leaving Michael and I out on the sidewalk, not really sure of what to do.

“He didn’t hit you,” says Michael, shocked, “He didn’t even yell at you.”

“Well of course he didn’t,” I say, faking a brave face, “this guy’s different.” Michael is speechless, and that makes me prouder than I’ve ever been before. “It’s funny you think everyone in the world is like Master, I guess you’ve been living under a rock.” I’m getting nervous with my own words, even I don’t believe what I’m saying, but I can’t help myself. 

“Well we’ve been living under the same rock,” Michael mumbles.

“True, but you don’t really know much,” I laugh, “I bet you don’t even know why Master got rid of us.”

“He didn’t get rid of us, he said he’s coming back to get us.” Michael argues.

“He’s not. He can’t because he’s going to get arrested.”

“Why would he be arrested?” Michael asks.

“Because what he was doing was illegal, Michael, it was against the law.” He’s puzzled, and I can't blame him. It’s a lot to take in, and Michael’s never been that bright.

“Why are you talking to me right now?” he suddenly lowers his voice, “We’ll get caught.” 

“We won’t get caught,” I say, “because there’s no one to catch us.”

The bell of the pharmacy door rings and we see Gerald Steiner coming back towards us. He’s holding the gummy bears, which makes my heart beat three times faster, but that’s all he’s holding, which is a little weird. 

“You didn’t open the bag yet,” he sighs.

“Oh, we meant to,” I start, “you came out right before we could.” I pull the bag towards me, and inside there are two grilled cheese sandwiches, next to some crackers and water bottles. “We really appreciate this.”

“Why would you give us food?” Michael asks quietly, I notice that all the confidence he had before has disappeared. He seems really skeptical now.

“Just doing my part. You know, doing a good deed every once in a while.” Michael shrugs and looks down to the ground, taking a sandwich from the back. I do the same. Gerald Steiner hands me the gummy bears and takes a seat right in front of us. It takes him a while because he’s old, I guess. “Would you mind telling me a bit about yourselves? Folks seeing you young foreign kids out here all alone are gonna get the wrong idea.” Michael looks at me and he shakes his head ever so slightly, the look in his eyes telling me to keep my mouth shut. But I ignore him.

“Okay. Hmm. Michael and I are eleven, and we’re from a small village in Spain. A really long time ago, when we were only six, a bunch of men came knocking at our door and they took us away on a plane that didn’t go from an airport. They told us we would be coming home in a few days, which wasn’t true. There were other kids on that plane from Spain, I saw them around the mansion a couple of times. 

“So anyway we were brought here to Arizona, in a really secluded area. We lived in a mansion right next to a relish factory that belonged to a man named Kenneth T. Brown, he was our master. There were a lot of other kids there, all from different places in the world. I don’t know why he chose such random places, but I know we were all poor before going there.” I can’t keep my mouth shut, but I don’t feel the need to anymore. I’ve been silenced for so long I want to tell someone, anyone, everything I’m thinking.

“So you’ve been taken away before,” the man remarks. I try to read his expression, but it’s pretty neutral.

“Yes,” I continue, “and we lived there in the house to work for the master.”

“And your parents never came back for you?” Gerald inquires.

“A few weeks after we arrived in Arizona, the master told us our parents died in a car accident, but I know he sent his men to kill them.” I hear a small whimper come from Michael, he didn’t know?

“Really, how did you figure that out?” Gerald queries. 

“Well, it would be a coincidence that out of all the 40 children that worked between the mansion and the factory, all of our parents died in a car accident.” I see a small gleam of happiness in the corner of Gerald’s eye, but he tries to hide it which makes me uneasy.

“So we worked in the mansion up until two days ago when the master seemed nervous after a phone call he received. He told all of his guards to get rid of us and get us far away from the factory as quickly as possible. I heard him using the word ‘evidence’. The guard in charge of Michael and I was supposed to kill us I think, but he couldn’t. That was this morning when we got here, so he ended up just leasing us instead.”

Gerald is silent for a moment. 

“I am so, so sorry for everything that happened to you kids, I just can’t even imagine going through something like you’ve been through.” Odd, where was this sympathy a second ago? “Here, I know you’ve been deceived in the past, but you can trust me. Come with me, and I’ll take you to my house, then I’ll call child services to plan something out for you because I can’t take care of children at my old age.”

“What will child services do?” I question.

“They’ll find you a home with new parents, and endless gummy bears, and whatever you like too.” He turns to Michael. Michael shoots me a look that says no, and I agree with him this time.

“I don’t know,” I shrug. It seems too surreal for me. 

“Come on, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll die out here either from hunger or heat, I mean there’s no one around except for the pharmacy owner who’s as selfish as anything. You have nothing to lose coming with me.” With that the man stands back up, and heads over to his truck.

“He’s not wrong,” I say to Michael. 

“I don’t trust him,” he replies.

“We’ll die out here. We have nothing to lose.” Michael nods reluctantly, and stands up holding the large plastic bag. I grab his blazer and mine, and together we walk over to the truck.

“Ah, so you’ve made up your mind,” Gerald smiles. He opens up the door closest to us and we both step inside the truck. It’s messy in there. Gerald makes his way around the truck then gets inside the front seat. He puts his seat belt on and adjusts the rear view mirror. I spot a driver’s license dangling below it. I can’t read the name but it’s not long enough to say Gerald Steiner. Ken Bale, who the heck is Ken Bale? I suddenly realise what’s happening. Before I can even reach for the door handle I hear a click. Locked. Michael stares over at me, with an unreadable expression.

My throat is dry, I think I’m going to faint. Before today, I can’t remember a time where I made a decision on my own. So my first decision, the first time I got to decide my own fate, I got my twin brother and I kidnapped. I start to cry, because this is all my fault and Michael wouldn’t be here with me if I hadn’t convinced him.

“I can try to p-pick the lock, or smash the w-window,” I whisper through tears.

“That’ll never work,” Michael whispers back.

“I’m so sorry, Michael,” I tell him. He doesn’t say anything for a while.

  “It’s okay, Ivory,” he smiles, “where we’re going, there’ll be air conditioning.” 

May 22, 2021 01:46

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