When the project started, the garden was not going to be a peaceful place. The original plan had been to use it as an outdoor classroom for the many children that would soon be coming along. They would learn by interacting with the botanical wonders that grew in the large fenced area. From the benches equipped with removable desks to the flower-shaped pencil sharpeners hidden amongst the branches, everything had been placed inside as a means of expanding their knowledge as far as possible.
Sadly, like many parts of the house, the idea had been scrapped. Gardeners still came to keep the plants in check, but there were never lessons held here. The children never took time to study the vegetation. Despite the living museum that stood just behind their house, they ended up learning all that they knew through a textbook. Most did not even know of the chance they were missing.
In fact, those that did come into the small enclosure of paradise actually preferred it this way. A young child running about here could spoil the beauty in their excitement to discover the strange and exotic secrets the garden held in its leafy walls. Instead, those that came appreciated the scents of the flowers, and the gentle curves of stems. Not even the patterns in the bark were beneath their notice. They were artists, those that spent time within. Though they were not always of the drawing sort.
Such was a young Camber Scratch as he typed away madly at his computer.
With a thin build and being slightly shorter than average, it would come as no surprise to reveal that Camber had no interest in anything that involved physical movement beyond his fingers. His life was inside the computer, and he was happy with it that way. The games he played, articles he read and pieces he worked on were all tucked away neatly in a sleek silver laptop. This computer was nearby at all times, whether in his shoulder bag or his hands. He rarely left his house, so the bag was mainly used as defense against the many children he was forced to share a living space with. He had learned the hard way that when a young one has a chance to delete everything they would take it. And they would laugh.
A surprisingly large difference between a child's care for the computer and his was obvious. They would have shown a decent amount of respect, only hitting keys until the noises coming from the computer were of greater annoyance than the fun they were having because of it. Camber, on the other hand, went far beyond that. In fits of rage that tended to consume him, he would end up breaking keys or damaging his mouse pad. He had successfully catapulted half of his spacebar by hitting the other side too hard twice, which had lead to the repair of most of his keyboard.
When he wasn't busy destroying the laptop, Camber actually got work done. Despite his slight temper problems and seemingly unsophisticated way of speaking, he was quite gifted with words. He could take them and bend them to his will, creating images that could only be seen in the mind. Despite his gift, he often became frustrated with his work, which would, of course, lead to more damage to that which held his entire life.
"Orange, orange..." he mumbled to himself. "Damn it, why does nothing rhyme with orange? It seems like by now, someone would have realized how stupid it is to never create something that actually sounds good to go with it!"
He quickly deleted the verse and began re-writing it.
A flower petal fell onto the spacebar. He accidentally squished it as a furious thumb went for a space. He stared at it, and then looked up to see a basketful cascade onto his face. They fell into his hair, tangling before he had a chance to realize what just happened. He opened his mouth and they tumbled in. He spat them furiously and wheeled around.
"Cato!" he shouted, shaking the rest away. Petals fluttered over the bench he was sitting on and onto the ground.
"Aww, no, Camber, don't take them out!" There was a large grin on her pale face. "You looked so adorable!"
He shot her a glare that could kill anyone who hadn't built resistance to his dramatics.
"If it's so adorable, go throw them on Blaike. Maybe he'll start eating them, and you can get mushy over that instead," Camber snapped at her. She frowned a little.
"You know, just because he's young doesn't mean he's stupid," she said with a small frown. "He seems pretty smart to me."
"He would," the boy grumbled.
She softly flicked his head. "Uncalled for!" she cried.
"Whatever." He turned back to his computer. "Go find someone else to bother, I'm busy."
"But you're always busy," Cato complained. "It's not going to be any different whether I talk to you now or later."
"Maybe later, I won't be angry about the fact that you just dumped a basket of flowers onto my head!”
"But you'll still be grumpy about something else," she pointed out. "You always have to be unhappy about something."
Camber ignored that comment. It was true, and even he had to accept it.
"Just go find someone else," he said again. "I promise that we can talk later."
"Fine." She turned away sharply. "Maybe Ique will want to hang out."
"Don't taste his medications," he called as she left.
"No promises," Cato replied with a wave. She didn’t turn back.
Camber felt a tiny smile form on his lips. He quickly fought it away and returned to his work.
But it wasn't his poem on the screen. It wasn't even his computer. He looked closer, and realized he was looking at a chat client.
"Fuck, no!" he cried, but it was too late.
The garden began swirling around him, the colors melting together. They blended and dulled, spinning faster and faster around him like a washing machine.
He tried to reach forward, to grasp something real. Nothing would stay in his grip. It all flowed out from his fingers like oil. He tried to yell or curse or do anything, but he couldn’t. There was no air in this place, and he couldn’t make noise. It got caught in his throat and stayed there, refusing to budge.
They colors continued to melt until it was black all around him. Then, one by one, point of light became apparent. They were still spinning, but they did not melt. They remained independent of each other.
The spinning slowed, and he was in a meteor. How he knew this, he was never sure. From where he stood, it could have been a high school computer lab. The room was just one large square with computers long every wall. There were no windows, but that was normal enough. He briefly noticed the lack of a door, but he stopped noticing as a unicycle alerted him to its presence by tripping him and nearly sending him face first onto the floor. He caught himself with the heels of his hands, cursing as the impact struck his bones.
"Gamzee," he growled to himself. He slapped a hand over his mouth. He had no idea where that word had come from. It had popped out automatically. He looked up. A pair of curious eyes peered down at him.
“Uh, excuse me, but aren’t you going to get up?” the owner of the eyes asked.
“Coye,” Camber whispered, dropping his hand. The sound was almost inaudible to the one standing above him, though only almost.
“Um, what?” The confused creature continued to stare at him.
“Coye, it’s you.” He raised a hand to the boy. In return, a hand was offered down to lift him. Right as their fingers touched, his vision began spinning again.
Camber jumped and found himself seated back in the garden. Nothing had changed. Cato was gone. He heard the gate close with a click, and he assumed that it had been her. This meant he couldn’t have been out for more than a few seconds. That was good.
He didn’t look at his computer. Instead, he closed it as quickly as possible and set it in the bag. It slipped inside with ease. He grabbed the worn zipper pulls and closed it. Once that was done, he sat back and sighed. A headache was beginning to work into his skull. The pounding was making it difficult for him to think straight, and he couldn’t quite remember what to do from here. His legs didn’t help, as they were missing the strength needed to actually get up.
They found it when nausea came over him. Among the many things that had never been placed in the garden, a bathroom was one of them. He stood on shaky legs and ran to a small bush. He felt terrible about befouling the garden this way, but there were few other options. Parting the topmost leaves, his breakfast removed itself from his stomach.
Once the job was done, he sat back and stared at the flowers growing from the bush. They were small and white. Whatever fragrance they had was now masked by the stink of vomit.
When his legs weren’t shaking and he was certain no more was coming for now, he stood and walked back over to his bag. He hoisted it onto his shoulder and began the walk back inside.
On the way there, he passed one of the many younger boys. He was about an average height for a thirteen year old and a little bit on the thin side. He was wearing a t-shirt with some video game logo on the front. He was playing on his DS, and had a look of intense concentration on his face. He stopped jut for a moment to greet the older boy.
“Hi, Camber,” he said. He raised a hand; only to drop it again as whatever was happening on the screen became even more exciting.
Camber froze a little. He looked over the boy, being sure to not miss a single detail. Yes, with horns and a haircut, he could definitely look like that weird kid he had seen earlier.
“Hey, Coye,” he replied. “Catch anything good yet?”
“Camber, this is Pokémon Ranger. You can’t exactly, uh, catch anything in it.” He bit his tongue between his two front teeth. He always got way too into these games.
“Whatever. Pokémon doesn’t make that much sense anyway.” He rolled his eyes. “What’s the point of a fighting game where you don’t actually do any of the fighting?”
Coye winced as something happened in the game. “I’m sorry, Camber, but can we, uh, talk later?”
“Probably not tonight.” Camber walked away. The grass turned into gravel and he soon found the metal fence that held in the garden. He opened the gate and stepped through, making sure to close it behind him. One of the only rules about the garden was that you had to be high enough to reach the latch in order to go in.
He continued walking on the gravel path. There was grass on either side. A number of trees stood erect about him, their leaves browning as fall crawled on. The second to youngest children, of which there were four, were playing tag with each other. He kept his distance from them. He knew very well that when they got excited, the forgot how to not run into other people.
He stepped out from under the trees and was met with the house. Some of the others might have called it The House, or even just a home, but not him. The house had awed him when he was younger, but after 16 years of living there, it no longer had any great impression on him. 15 young children had certainly taken its toll. The dark paint was marked with crayons and chalk. The steps leading to the back door were worn where many feet had hit them. Looking up the five stories, he could see bedroom windows that had been finger-painted on. He shuddered when he saw the thin trails of his own work. He had been a creepy little kid. Although he had managed to remove most of the paint, he could still see places where black and red had pretty much stained the glass. Lucky for him, one would have to actually be looking for it to notice; otherwise he would have had awkward questions to answer.
He walked up the steps and into the kitchen. Seeing the house from the outside, someone might expect an old room with black-and-white tiles on the floor and an oven that was made more for its looks than use. Actually, the kitchen was a comfortable place with older decorations and modern cooking tools. It was brightly lit from the ceiling and the windows. Two walls were lined with counters, and there was a third island in the center of the room. There were clean, white tiles on everything.
He walked past and pushed open a door into a hallway. There was no one in here, either. It was just he and a large splatter painting. He hated the thing. It had so little meaning in his eyes, he didn’t understand why it was liked it so much. He wouldn’t say that a child could do it, but just because it took skill didn’t mean people would appreciate it. Or maybe people did, and he was just too blind to see the beauty in it. He honestly didn’t care.
He walked past the door underneath the wide staircase. He could hear Nell singing to herself within. He grumbled to himself. She was such a weird kid. He was never able to understand her mind.
Still, he couldn’t help but stop to listen for a moment. For such a weird girl, she really did have a nice voice. He doubted the words she was saying were even English, but it only added to the piece, whatever it might have been.
She stopped very suddenly. “I know that you’re out there, Camber,” she called.
Shit. He began a fast walk away from the door. He knew that she wouldn’t follow. She only left her room at specific times, and often only on their guardian’s commands. Had Camber been someone else, it would have seemed lonely to him. However, he was not someone else. He was Camber, and he completely understood what it was like to not enjoy the company of people in general
He took the stairs two at a time. He had been doing this for as long as he could remember, so it felt more natural for him than one at a time.
Once he reached the top, he turned around for the next flight. Originally, his bedroom had been on the second floor and had been far easier to get to. As the years passed and more children entered the house, however, he had been moved up. He now shared the top floor with the next four oldest.
He was still tired from throwing up in the garden, and his scare with Nell didn’t help much either. By the time he reached the top, he was trudging up the steps on at a time.
He first stopped at the restroom to brush his teeth and get the taste of vomit out of his mouth. He opened the door and turned on the light. The room he entered was small, with a window in one corner. There was a counter on another, with a sink and toiletries. Above the counter was a mirror that took up what could be seen of the wall.
Once he was finished getting the awful flavor out of his mouth, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. A small, pale boy stared back at him, dark lines under his eyes from sickness and lack of sleep.
He left the room and went into his own. Even if it was hard to get here, he liked this room far more than his past other two. Seeing as there was nowhere else to move him should his father pick up someone else, he would have this space until he moved out. The head of his bed was against one wall, right in the center. There was a small nightstand with his alarm clock beside it. There was a bulky television sitting in one corner across from his bed. It stood on a simple foldout stand. Beneath it was a pile of DVDs, some with a case, some without. Sometimes he thought about sorting them a little bit, but he always found something more interesting to do instead.
He put his bag down and laid on his bed. The soft fabric welcomed him in. His hand went to his head as the beats of a headache started coming back. He would faint again soon, and then of course be sick directly after. He didn’t know why these things happened to him. They had simply always been happening, and he hated it. Most of the time, it happened while he was at home, but there had been times when he blacked out at school. He had even once landed face first into his shopping cart a he was at the grocery store. That had, however, been a short spell, so he had had enough time to shoo away the small crowd and sprint to the men’s room. If he were to have another public episode, he might not be quite so lucky.
The headache made a sudden large beat, and his room melted away, back to the computer lab.
It was the same dream a he had had a few minutes ago. Everything happened in the exact same way. He searched for anything he’d missed last time, any little detail that had escaped his notice. There was nothing important. The dream was meaningless.
The only difference was that this time as he touched the other Coye’s hand, the world around him shattered. The walls, Coye, everything just broke into thousands of tiny pieces all around him. They glimmered around him before disappearing. When the last of them blinked into darkness, he was left alone to fall for what felt like forever.
He landed on his bed. The ceiling formed above him once again. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face. He took a deep breath and drew out the exhale before pushing himself up.
He wasted no time in reaching the toilet. Leaning down, he released more than what he knew a human stomach could hold. When he finished, he flushed and brushed his teeth again.
He sat on the ground and rubbed his temple. He couldn’t understand why it had only just occurred to him that kid’s resemblance to Coye. This wasn’t the first time he’d had that dream. He had had others as well, and interacted with other strange children. He couldn’t remember what they looked like, but he was now certain that this one was much like Coye.
He couldn’t figure it out, and in reality, he was in no position to do so. The pounding was returning, leaving him unable to create useful thoughts. He curled himself into a small ball, enjoying the contained body heat. He would stay in this position for a long time, waiting for the pain to be replaced with visions to be replaced with sickness.
This was how he had spent many evenings, and how he expected to spend many more. This was Camber’s reality.
And you know what?
It damn sucked.