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Drama Fiction American

“No! Caleb, put down that doll this second. We don’t touch other people’s things without permission. Apologize right now.” Caleb’s mom had one hand on her hip and was punctuating her speech with the other. Caleb noticed that her scrubs were wrinkled.

Caleb did his best to look apologetic as he mumbled, “Sorry, Sherry. Sorry I took your doll,” though he didn’t feel sorry in the least. That Paw Patrol doll should be his, not hers. He picked at his worn tie dyed t-shirt and stuck out his lower lip, even though he knew he would be punished if he didn’t straighten up. That’s what his mom would say if she caught him doing it. Your face will stick that way, she’d say. He turned away from his mother and ran to the coat closet. He jammed himself into the coats and pulled the door closed after him.

Soon there was a soft knock. His mother said in a conciliatory tone, “Caleb, honey, let’s get going. No one’s mad at you. Just come out and we’ll go home. We can stop and get you a Paw Patrol doll to make you feel better.” Deep in the closet, Caleb smiled. He had gotten the result he hoped for. He opened the door and peeked out. All of the kids were all looking at him. Good.

He made his face look contrite and even squeezed out a few tears. He opened the door and his mom offered him a hand and he took it, sniffling slightly. “Thanks, mom. I love you,” he whispered. He knew this was what she wanted to hear. They walked out to the old white car his mom drove. It wasn’t as nice as the other cars in the lot. They were always shabby compared to the other kids in his gifted program.

Caleb had gotten a scholarship to the elite Forsythe Academy where he was in third grade when he should have only been in first. He was a bright kid; he had learned to read at three and could do math on a seventh grade level. He talked to adults with ease, but couldn’t handle dealing with kids his own age. He'd begun to get in trouble on a regular basis and he flew into rages that scared everyone around him.

Caleb got into the car seat that he still had to sit in like a baby. He wasn’t tall enough yet to get rid of it. He was the smallest kid in his grade. The bigger boys liked to pick on him on the playground. He tried to keep to himself and played games he invented like seeing how many dandelions he could collect. Then the older boys would show up and stomp on his pile of sunny yellow flowers, crushing them into the dirt. He didn’t cry, he willed himself not to, even though hot tears threatened to fall.

“Ice cream, too?” He asked with a sniff as his mother got into the car. He wasn’t sure how far he could push it.

“Sure, honey,” his mom said. “The Cold Stone Creamery is right next to the Five Below. I think I saw Paw Patrol there last week.”

Of course it had to be Five Below. He never got anything from a regular store. And of course, today there were no Paw Patrol dolls, only knockoffs called Patrol Pups. Caleb stomped his feet and started to throw another fit. His mom ushered him out and into the ice cream store to placate him. 

A few minutes later he was happily eating a cone filled with chocolate ice cream mixed with Reese's Pieces, his favorite. The bottom of the cone had a hole and soon he shirt and jeans were streaked with chocolate drips. 

“Look at you!” his mom said. “You’re a mess.” She spoke sternly but smiled.

Caleb smiled back. He could feel the ice cream around his mouth as well. He started to wipe it off and dropped his cone. He immediately began to cry. “My ice cream fell!” he wailed. He flung himself to the ground, landing on the ice cream cone. As the cold seeped through his pants, he cried harder.

“All right now, Caleb. Stop that. You’re too old to be acting like this,” his mom said in a a wheedling tone. She grabbed his arm and tried to pull him up. Caleb only wailed harder. “Ok buddy. Let’s go. No more ice cream for you.” She grabbed him with one hand under each of his arms. He was too big to pick up so she half dragged him until he finally started walking with a pouty shuffle.

He was playing Paw Patrol in his room when his mom and dad came in and sat on his bed. “Caleb, your mom and I want to talk to you about something. This is serious, kiddo,” his dad said as Caleb had continued to play with his toys.

“Caleb honey, tomorrow you’re going to see a doctor. A doctor who wants to help you with your… behavior. The fits you have, like today.” his mom said.

“We know this is a lot to take in. Just remember that we love you very much.“

“So much, buddy. You are our favorite person in the whole world,” his dad said.

The next morning his mom drove him to a brick building. They went into a small room with a tan couch and two chairs. A man in a worn tweed jacket came in. His mom said, “Caleb, this is Mr. Peterson. He’s going to talk to you for a while. And don’t worry, I’ll be right outside,” she added, seeing his frightened face. She left. 

“Well, Caleb. It’s nice to meet you. Your mom has told me a little bit about you, but I’d like to get to know you better. Do you know why you’re here?” said and gestured for Caleb to sit.

“I dunno,” Caleb said, knocking his dangling feet together. “They’re making me,” he said finally.

“They want to help you, Caleb,” Mr. Peterson said. “They worry about those fits you have, the times when you don’t seem in control of yourself.” He folded his long fingered hands and looked at Caleb.

Caleb fell into a rage. He felt such a pressure inside him, a pressure of bad feelings-- disappointment, sadness, and fear. He pounded his fists as hard as he could on the desk, then grabbed a pen and repeatedly stabbed his leg with it, leaving blue holes in the skin. As the anger coursed through him, he fainted.

When he came to, Mr. Peterson was sitting motionless with a confused look on his face. He said, “Yes, these, um, fits that you have. Can you share with me what happens inside when you have them?’

“I don’t have any problems. You’re all wrong,” Caleb said. 

He was astounded when Mr. Peterson said, “I don’t know what we were thinking. You don’t have a problem, we were wrong. I’ll tell your mother.”

Wow. Caleb wasn’t expecting that. “I’m a totally normal kid.”

“You’re a totally normal kid,” Mr. Peterson said.

“I don’t have a bedtime. I get to have spaghetti every night if I want. I don’t have to take baths, and my dad never tries to make me play catch.”

Mr. Peterson stared straight ahead as he repeated the list. 

Caleb was amazed. Apparently he could control Mr. Peterson. He wondered if it would work on other adults. They went to the waiting room and Mr. Peterson said to his mom, “I’ve cut our session short. Your son doesn’t have any problems.” 

“I’m sorry, what?” his mom said. 

Caleb spoke up. “He said I’m a normal kid. I don’t have any problems.” He repeated his list of demands, adding that he wanted the new Paw Patrol playset.

On the way home, his mom was silent. Caleb directed them to Meijer where he picked out two carts’ worth of toys, sugar soda, and candy. His mom pushed the cart and quietly got things off the shelves. He told the cashier that they didn’t have to pay.

At home, he had his mom make him spaghetti and garlic bread, then sat on the couch eating candy until wrappers were strewn all around him. “Pick that up,” he told his mom. She dutifully did so while his dad made him cookies to take to school in the morning. Might as well make the kids happy when he controlled them. 

The next morning he made his mom drive him to school instead of taking the bus. In class, he sat smugly, drawing out the moment when he would start using his powers. He leaned over to Lydia and said, “You want to stand up and shout that you’re a giant bitch.” She looked at him as though she’d been slapped. 

“What did you say to me?” she said loudly. “Mrs. Franck, Caleb just called me a naughty word.” Caleb stared at her with his mouth open. What was going on? Had his powers stopped?

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Caleb said.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Mrs. Franck said to Lydia. “You must have been mistaken.”

“Wh-- what’s going on?” Lydia asked. The rest of the class started to whisper.

“Let’s get back to subtraction,” Caleb said.

“Let’s get back to subtraction,” Mrs. Franck said as she turned back to the blackboard.

Lydia hissed, “What are you doing? Why is she acting like that?”

Caleb hissed back, “Nothing.” So his powers only worked on adults. Well, that was ok. He’d have to be careful though. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself, didn’t want the other kids to know what he could do.

He hung around after the last bell rang and told Mrs. Franck how it was going to be from now on. He had no idea how long his powers would last, but the next day, he was allowed to read comic books during lessons, get the hall pass whenever he wanted, and the class bullies, Billy Wilmes and John Tarbull, got detention.

Caleb continued to explore the extent of his powers. He couldn’t make someone do something dangerous; he’d tried to make a man step into traffic, but he just looked confused and didn’t comply. He told his mother to touch the hot stove, just to test his hypothesis, and she didn’t do it. She got the same vacant look, then shook her head and continued to make him spaghetti.

As the months passed, Caleb reveled in his ability to control the adults around him. He got free comic books, ate at Johnny Rockets whenever he wanted, got rid of his car seat, and saw movies in the theater by himself. His fits completely stopped. Since he always got his way, there was nothing to complain about now. Somehow, Caleb missed it. It was kind of boring when he really thought about it. He was even getting tired of spaghetti. 

His classmates avoided him when at all possible and seemed afraid of him. Even the few outcasts that had occasionally played with him at recess wouldn’t look at him. It’s their loss, Caleb thought. They didn’t know the unlimited candy he had access to. But he was lonely. He brought elaborate treats every day, hoping to win friends with fancy cakes and fresh fried donuts. The kids devoured the food, but it didn’t change their suspicion of him. He had demonstrated dominance over not just Mrs. Franck but Principal Smith and the lunch ladies as well. He always got extra cookies and pizza. 

Caleb read a Spiderman comic while Mrs. Franck returned the test they’d taken the day before.

Lydia leaned over and grabbed Caleb’s test. “Mrs. Franck, look at Caleb’s test. You gave him an A and a big smiley face and he didn’t even do the test. Look at it! It’s totally blank!” 

“It’s fine, Mrs. Franck,” Caleb said. “My test was an A.”

“Lydia, please mind your own business. Caleb got an A.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Lydia shouted. She suddenly started crying and rivulets of tears streaked down her face. “He’s controlling you somehow. Think about how crazy you’re acting! Would you let any other kid get away with that?”

Caleb looked at her smugly. “Mind your own business, Lydia. You heard Mrs. Franck.”

Lydia continued to cry and ran out of the room.

“Maybe Lydia needs to join another class,” Caleb said to Mrs. Franck. “She seems unhappy here.”

Mrs. Franck just nodded. He wouldn’t have to deal with Lydia again. 

On the playground, red-eyed Lydia was at the front of a group of kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. They stared at him with malice in their eyes. “We see what you’re doing. We don’t know how you’re controlling the adults, but we’re going to stop it. Get him!” Two large fifth grade boys caught him roughly under the armpits. 

Caleb started to scream but Lydia smacked him in the mouth. “No. No calling for an adult you can control. We’re going to settle this,” she said. “You’re going to tell Principal Smith and Mrs. Franck not to listen to you anymore.”

“The hell I will,” Caleb said, swearing like his mom did when she was upset. But he was afraid. 

The bullies holding him tightened their grip and an even bigger boy stepped forward and made menacing faces at Caleb. “Do like she says, dumb ass,” he said. Caleb didn’t see the punch coming until it landed hard right in the softness of his belly. Again and again the blows came until he was limp and unable to struggle. He was filled with rage. The anger welled up in him and he screamed for the recess monitor before Lydia could stop him. The woman seemed not to hear him or notice that he had just gotten beat up. Caleb felt the anger eclipse rational thought and he fainted.

 “I’m not going to school anymore,” Caleb said as he got in the car after school.

His mother turned to look at him. “Like hell you’re not,” she said. “You’re going to stay in that school we’re paying so much for. You need to straighten up, young man,” she said. "And if you keep making those nasty faces, your face will stick like that."

Caleb had lost his powers.

October 22, 2021 18:54

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