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Little Bird

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Once there was a boy named Timothy whose memories were like a photo album of distant relatives; a collection of moments he didn't understand about people he half remembered.

One day, a loud thump disturbed the silence of the boy's room, in the early days when they still let him have a room with a window. The boy had been sleeping, and he isn't sure the sound was real or a leftover from a nightmare.

The man was in his room, watching.

Later, during the hour that they let him go outside (he would sit on a bench and watch the other children play under the supervision of his nurses) he found a little bird with a broken neck on the ground below his window.

He imagined it saw him through the glass and tried to come to him, and was killed by something it didn't see and didn't understand. He started screaming so uncontrollably that they had to take him inside and restrain and medicate him, and none of them knew why.

"--can't even look at him," the boy heard his mother say. His ear was pressed against the wall. It had been weeks since he heard his mother's voice, and the doctors had said he would see her today.

His least favorite of the doctors responded, "That's understandable."

"I know you said I should visit him, but I don't think I can do this. It's... it's easier if I think imagine that they both fell. That they're both gone."

"He hasn't had any violent episodes since we've put him on the medication. The hallucinations are still... a problem."

"Listen, I appreciate all you're doing, I just..." Whatever she said next was too quiet to hear through the wall.

The boy closed his eyes and waited, praying silently just in case there was something out here that would hear him.

The door opened, startling him. It was his least favorite doctor. "Hello, Timothy."

"Where's my mom?"

"She isn't coming to see you today." The boy was sure he saw something sinister in the doctor's sympathetic smile. "But you can have an extra helping of ice cream at dinner, if you like."

"Tell me about this," the doctor said, and he slid the drawing forward on the table.

The boy was peeling the paper off of a crayon. "You told me to draw my family."

"And who is this?" he said, pointing to the figure in the blue dress.

"My mom."

The doctor nodded, then pointed at the smaller figure in the red shirt. "And this?"


"You don't look very happy in the drawing." The boy shrugged, and the doctor moved on. "And who is this over here?"

He was pointing to the man in the black suit.

The boy set the torn paper in a pile with two others, and began to peel the paper off another crayon. The red one. "That's the one in my room."

"What's he doing in your room?"

The boy shrugged.

"You drew a face on your mom and you, but not on him. Why is that?"

The boy looked up at the doctor. "He doesn't have one. He just stands in my room and watches."

The doctor didn't believe him, he could tell. "How does he watch if he doesn't have eyes?"

The boy placed the red crayon paper into the pile, then drew a red X over the blank face.

When the boy was very small, his mother would read him stories, and his favorite story was Little Red Riding Hood. Every time his mother mimicked the wolf''s deep, scary voice he would hold a stuffed animal close to his chest for protection, and every time his mother said the hunter cut open the wolf's belly to save everyone, he would clap and laugh. Every time she reached the end of the story she would say "little boys and girls should always stay away from the deep, dark woods, right, Tim?" and every time would reply enthusiastically, "Right!"

When years later he ran away from the hospital, he hid in the deep, dark woods and he swore he could hear his mother's wolf voice in the leaves whispering to him--the better to see you with, my dear--until the men came and dragged him kicking and screaming and biting back to the hospital.

The medication made the boy numb and stupid, but it kept him from running, and it kept him from seeing the man in his room.

He knew the man was still there, though. He'd wake up in the night knowing the man was there, but not able to see him. That was when the seizures got worse.

He could usually feel them coming. The crystal clear thought cut through the usual numbness, like a camera suddenly coming into focus. The bird with the broken neck, or the missing person in his drawings, or the stories his mother would tell him. And his heart started beating too fast as the thought disappeared into the blackness, and he woke up more disoriented and medicated than he'd been before until reality was a dream he couldn't quite remember.

"Tell me what happened," the boy's least favorite doctor asked him after one of his seizures. "Tell me why you did it."

The boy didn't remember running into the window in his room head first over and over again until it broke. He didn't remember that, when the nurses came to take him away, he stabbed one of them with a shard of glass.

But he knew he had cuts on his face where he'd broken through, and he knew he had cuts on his palms where he'd gripped the glass shard, and he knew they wouldn't let him out of his restraints.

"I thought I was a bird," he whispered.

They boarded up the window in the room where the boy lived and they put deadbolt locks high on the door where he couldn't reach. His bed was a matress on the floor that was soft enough that he wouldn't hurt himself if he had a seizure on it. There was a table and chair bolted to the floor where he did the schoolwork that they gave him, and all the corners on them had rubber caps.

He only left the room to play outside under supervision when none of the other children were there. But the boy didn't play. He sat and stared out into the deep, dark woods and whisper the story of Little Red Riding Hood to himself.

There was a rumor among the nurses that he was possessed.

The boy was at the hospital for a year before he saw his mother again. He was on new medication that made him less stupid, but more numb, and when they took him for his hour outside, she was sitting on the bench that looked out into the woods.

The doctor told him to sit next to her, so he did, and she didn't look up at him.

"Once there was a girl," the boy whispered to himself, like he always did, "who everybody loved. Her mother doted on her, but her grandmother loved her even more..."

The boy's mother put her hand over his, and he looked up at her. She looked older than he remembered.

"How have you been, Tim?" She asked. He shrugged, and she squeezed his hand. "You can be honest."

She looked like she might cry, so the boy looked down at their hands. "You left me in the woods, and I don't know why."

"I know." She patted his hand and stood. Her coat was too heavy for summer, but the boy could still see that her belly was round. "The doctors say you're doing better. I think this place is good for you. I can't bring you home now, Tim. I know you don't understand."

"There are monsters here. You should go before they see you."

His mother was quiet, but she leaned down and kissed the top of his head. "The doctors will make the monsters go away," she said, and she left him there.

The boy began to whisper to himself again, "Her grandmother loved her so much that she made her a red riding hood. She wore the hood so well, everyone called her Little Red Riding Hood..."

"Draw your family for me, Timothy."

The boy used pencil now. He still drew stick figures, but their proportions were more accurate, and he knew not to draw the faceless man in his room.

Before the doctor could ask, he pointed at each figure and named them. "Mom. Her baby. Her husband. Their house." Then, on the other side of the paper. "The hospital. Me. I know their house isn't that close to the hospital."

"The window's open in their house, isn't it?" the doctor asked. The boy shrugged. "And what about this person over here?"

The boy blinked down at the drawing, and found that there was another figure next to him in the hospital. He didn't remember drawing that one. "It's a girl..."

'That's right. Is it one of the other patients here?"

"No. I guess..." The boy's mouth felt dry, and he tried to swallow. He'd drawn something on the ground next to her that the doctor didn't seem to see. A little bird with a broken neck. "I guess I was thinking about how I used to want a little sister."

"You wanted a little sister?" the doctor asked. "Or you had a little sister?"

The boy looked at his drawing for a long time, and his head began to hurt. The scratched out the girl with his pencil and crumpled up the paper. "It's just a stupid drawing."

The boy grew up, and the rumors about him faded away along with his seizures and his headaches. He left the hospital, and when people asked about his family, he said they were happy and he was happy too.

But sometimes at night, he dreamed about a bird with a broken neck, and the girl he didn't know, and an open window, and his mother screaming, and the deep, dark woods.