Wires

By T.J. Hardman, Jr.
Illustrated by JHorsley3

Part 1

He'd never thought it could happen. And certainly it could never happen to him. He didn't really believe the whispered tales told him by that boy, the strange one, the one who always told the other kids how to do bad things. That one had been the kid who showed them how to feed ex-lax to cats, to cherry-bomb school commodes, and so he, being one of the kids who was trying to be a good kid, ignored the brat.

The stories were stupid anyways. He remembered:

"Ever notice how grown-ups got funny heads?"

"Sure. All of 'em do."

"Ever wonder how they get that way?"

"I guess it's what happens to you when you get older, hormones or something." He remembered his older brother and sister grousing about each other being a hormone victim. He wasn't entirely sure he understood, but he knew it had something to do with the changes one went through when one grew up.

"Ha," said the Brat, "Shows what you know. Nothin'. I know why they got funny shaped heads."

"Okay, you're so smart, you tell me."

"Okay," said the Brat, "Wires."

"You're nuts," he told the Brat.

"Course. You're gonna be nuts too if I tell you."

"This is stupid. What about wires?"

"Look at 'em, stupid. They got wires holding their heads together."

"Uh, huh, sure," he said. Had it not been the Brat, he'd probably have pushed him over, and got up and left. But you couldn't push the Brat over. The Brat knew a lot about fighting, and that's one of the reasons he hung out with the Brat.

"Well, look at 'em," said the Brat, madly, reasonably.

"Okay, so I look at 'em. What do I see? Just grown-ups with funny heads."

"That's ‘cause you're looking and you're not seeing. You got to know what to look for, or you'll never see it, cause you been looking at it all of your life."

"You're definitely wacko," he told the Brat.

"No, for real. Look at their eyebrows."

"Okay, I see eyebrows."

"No, look at the corners of the eyebrows. If you look close, you can see where the wires go in. They're attached at the corners of the eyebrows. They go back across the top of the head, and they hook up at the back of the head."

"You've lost it. You've seen too much MTV or something." It was all he could think of to say, it was what his parents said all of the time.

"Nope. And if you look at some people, you can see they wrap wires all around their heads. That's where forehead wrinkles come from." The Brat spoke with an earnest dead-calm, like he was trying to tell him why the sky was blue or where babies came from.

"This is too weird."

"For real. Look, watch.” The Brat wrinkled his forehead. It slid smoothly up his skull, and what wrinkles there were were small, not deep, and disappeared completely when he unwrinkled his forehead. "See? They go away. Look at a grownup, and you can sort of see the wires under the skin."

"Yah, right, uh huh. So tell me, mister knows it all, where do they get the wires?"

"I dunno." He'd never before seen the Brat at a loss for words.

"Whaddaya mean, you dunno?"

"Really, I don't know. I have no idea. I think they get it when they get their wisdom teeth pulled."

"What, the dentists put 'em in? What for?"

"I dunno. Maybe they get 'em when they go off to college."

"Still, what for?"

The Brat thought for a minute. As he thought, he pulled out a magnifying glass and cooked an ant, and then he finished, and said, "I think... you ever notice how grownups are sort of... dumb?"

"I dunno, most of them know a lot more than we do, I mean, they've gone to so much school and college and who knows what."

"Yeah, I know," said the Brat, "But just 'cause they remember everything they were taught, it don't mean nothin'. It's like, don't you see that they really don't seem to think much? Like, you ask them a tricky question, and they think for a second and then roll their eyes and then they give up. It's like it's too hard or something."

"Um, yeah, as if I had not noticed. But still, it's not like they're stupid, they seem to do everything they have to do."

"Sure they do. But do you ever see them doing anything new, or thinking about something they didn't get off of TV or something?"

"Um, do we?"

"We're doing it now."

"Um, you might be right."

The Brat said, as he got up to look for something more fun to do, "Well, just remember, don't say anything to anyone, ya know, but look. Look for the wires."

And within an hour or two, he'd forgotten all about it.

*****

His wisdom teeth never did come in. Strangely enough, his dentist did ask him, when he was told that his wisdom teeth would never come in since there were no buds lying beneath the gums, "So, you picked a college yet?" Something clicked, almost, in his memory, but he didn't think about it.

"Um, yeah, State U," he said. His dentist smiled.

*****

He was wandering around at the mall one day. Someone sat down beside him, and he glanced at him, and then went back to eating his french fries. When he looked up again the person was still there, and grinning at him. Things fell into place, and it was the Brat. It came to him that he didn't know the Brat's name, and wasn't at all sure he'd ever known it. The Brat was staring at him, staring at his forehead.

"They haven't got you yet," said the Brat.

"Huh? Uh, hi, long time no see, dude."

"Oh yeah, uh, how's it going?" They shook hands. "How ya been?"

"Uh pretty good, just graduated, college starts in a month, going to State. You?"

"Um, pretty good."

"Where ya been? Haven't seen you in, oh about, what, six years?"

"Yup. 'Bout that."

"You never did say goodbye. What happened?"

"Got caught."

"Huh?"

The Brat, or the teen he'd grown into, squirmed. "I was a wild child," he said.

"I don't get it."

"I was a wild child. I was a runaway, sort of... No family, no real home, just two dead parents who left me a lot of money. The insurance paid for the house, and the folks had a lot of stuff lying around, and a safe, and I knew the combination. So I just kept going to school, and forging notes home to the folks, and shopped for myself. One day, some social worker found out about it, and bang, next thing I know I was a ward of the court, and I got set up with a foster home, and these guys were real dicks so I ran away, and got caught and sent to juvenile hall, and so on. Kept running away, finally got the hang of it. Eventually, well – I just turned eighteen, so I inherited for real. I'm back."

"Wow, I dunno what to say."

"Hey, I got a million stories to tell."

"You always were good at that."

"Still am."

"Great."

And just like that, their friendship picked up, right about where they'd left it off.

*****

They were drinking some cold ones, and talking about all kinds of stuff, when John snapped back to the first thing the Brat (Todd, really) had said to him.

"Uh, hey, when you first sat down, you said something about, they hadn't got me yet. And you were looking at me funny."

"Ummm. Sorry."

Memory clicked. John chuckled: "Still believe that grownups have wires in their heads?"

Todd gave him the weirdest look. "Um, I dunno." He picked up the remote, and flicked it. The TV came to life. He flipped to C-SPAN, where a replay of yesterday's congressional session was on. He got up and walked over to the set, and waited for a minute staring at the screen, and then he pointed to one older man's head, put his finger on the screen, and traced a line. He turned back to John and said, "What do you think?"

"I think we need another beer."

It got very drunk out, and later still, he staggered home. In the morning he recalled the ghosts of strange nightmares. When he reached for the paper, eating cold cereal in the silence of the gone-to-work house, he turned the page to the political section and there was the man he'd seen speaking on C-SPAN in a nicely focused grayscale shot. His wires were clearly visible. He turned the page.

Everywhere he looked, for all of the people over about twenty years old or so, he saw what appeared to be traces of sub-surface wiring.

*****

After that, he became obsessed with the idea. Everywhere he went he found himself staring at people's foreheads, and as he stared looking for wires (he saw them everywhere) he began to notice that some people's wires appeared to be too tight, as if perhaps their skulls had grown after the wires were installed. And on some people the wires seemed to have been, perhaps deliberately, over tightened.

A street beggar had accosted him, begging for change, and he gave the man a dollar while the man harangued him disjointedly. This man had grossly over tightened wires. His head was misshapen, and you could see that the deformity was due to the wires. Was his evident madness? The man must have just gotten out of the lunatic asylum or perhaps jail; he had a very short crew cut. John's eyes traced the wires from just over his eyebrows, running back towards his ears, and from there it seemed as if another wire ran to the crown of his brow. And when the man thanked him in mid-harangue and turned to leave he could see what appeared to be another wire leading from ear to ear directly across the back of his head. He was watching the man walk away, shaking his head, when he saw something that almost made him stop and shout. Instead, he turned away and resumed his pace towards the library with some trepidation, nearly shaking.

"We're gonna get you," the teen had said, before running away like the wind, to vanish in the crowd.

When he went home that night, he examined the area with the aid of a small hand mirror, and saw nothing unusual, other than a small red mark where the teen had applied his strange tool to him. He took some sinus medicine to help his incipient congestion headache, and went to bed.

*****

That night he had a very strange dream, or perhaps a nightmare. In this dream his mother and father and his two older siblings crowded around his bed, with looks of utter stupefaction on their faces. He tried to call to them in his dream, but they simply sat there, ignoring him like strangers' dogs.

He tried to move, but he appeared to be tied to something. He tested the restraints quietly, and became aware of voices from beyond the foot of the bed. He couldn't quite hear them, or perhaps he couldn't understand them. Whatever they were saying didn't seem to make much sense, and there was some sort of growling hissing noise in the background. He was barely able to move his eyes to the sides, and could not turn his head. He was aware of a pinching feeling as if something was clamped to his head, preventing all motion. He rolled his eyes to the side, and he appeared to be in his own room, but there was something he could barely see to his left on a bedside table that hadn't been there when he went to sleep. His parents and siblings stared at him, looking vaguely pleased.

For some unknown reason, he was not afraid, not at all, and this bothered him greatly…or it would have bothered him had he been capable of being bothered.

He thought he heard the voices more clearly now, and he though he recognized them as belonging to his strange neighbors, the ones to whom few would speak; and a strange voice.

"It's too bad it's come to this; he was pretty promising. Who knows, maybe he'd have come up with something new and interesting, but my boy saw him see. We can't let him go unbound."

"Your boy saw him see, and then went after him. Your boy's stupid. Or maybe he's not, maybe he just wanted to press the issue."

"No matter, he saw. You know the rules."

The bubbling hissing sound started again, and the voices fell silent. "Yes," they said then, "Yes. Yes. No. We understand."

He heard a new sound, and his ears seemed to place it as coming from the same place as did the hissing and burbling. The new sound was coming towards him. It bumped, as if something ponderous was feeling around on the floor for a place that could support its weight, and then his neighbors came into the room, with a strange person. The boy's father?

"He's conscious," said the stranger.

"He won't remember when he wakes up, they never do. The electroconvulsive aftereffects will take care of that." The neighbor moved towards him. He tried to struggle, but whatever held his head immobile was firmly mounted. He flexed his hands, trying to free himself from the restraints, but he felt very weak, almost numb. The neighbor came to the bedside, and looked down at him with an almost compassionate, yet somehow dispassionate gaze. He recognized that gaze. It was the look that one gives to a beloved pet that needs to be housebroken... or perhaps spayed, "for its own good."

"What are you doing to me?" he tried to ask, but could only move his lips a little. The neighbor reached above his head, out of his field of vision, and a taste came into his mouth and filled his head and the world went away.

He dreamed a little more, of duty, and orders, and commands, and oddly, of love; love for the shambling horror that at first terrified him when his eyes fluttered open after the orders stopped. He could only see its face, a moist smooth mollusc-face with four eyes on tendrils set wide apart outside the ring of prehensile tentacles that ringed the obscene whirling rasping thing that must be its mouth. He tried to open his mouth to scream, but the smell filling his head wouldn't let anything through. It was a green smell, like lime kool-aid, artificial, chemical. It was a relaxing smell. He certainly relaxed whenever he smelled it...it made his head, and the world itself whirl away. But the voice remained, the mechanical sound of some computer translation of words his ears could not directly hear.

Unable to scream, or even fully open his eyes, nor close them, he gazed fixedly at the abomination as it reached out of sight, below his field of view, reached for something, almost fumbling – and then it returned into view, with a needle attached to something shiny, something silvery. Wire.

It poked him a few times in the face. He felt the pressure, but no pain at all. It was like the prodding a dentist would give to see if anesthetic is working. He tried to scream again, and his throat didn't even work. The thing did something out of his sight again, and the smell changed, and the creature became surrounded by a halo of colors and waves of pleasure seemed to wash through his mind, though somehow he could not feel any of it. The creature's tentacle dipped into his eyebrow. Tentacles emerged from its face, extruded like pseudopods, and these manipulated something slung about its fat twisted neck as other pseudopods extended towards his own face.

His parents and siblings, so far as he could see them from the periphery of his immobilized vision, began to smile vacuous and contented smiles appropriate to the mindlessly retarded or the profoundly insane.

Through that long long night he felt the pressure sliding through his scalp like the stitching of a doctor upon a numbed and tattered wound. Pressure, pinching, and the whir of some small motor, and he heard and felt simultaneously and great pressure upon parts of his skull, and the smell of scorched bone came through even the smells in his head. Something clamped on his head at one point, and he heard the cracking of bone, and then he felt, as if through a great distance, wires being drawn tight, felt the edges of carefully created fractures floating each across another edge, felt his thinking go even more muzzy as his very brain (or parts of it at least), were crushed, to conform to the shape of the mold which held his head within the fracturing vise…heard a whining, almost sizzling sound. He felt something chip on the top of his head, and knew that holes were being drilled. His mind tried to close down then, but it didn't happen. The smell that had put the halo of colors around the thing intensified and held him still and made logical thought impossible, a good thing since it probably saved his mind, or what was left of it. His ears picked up a sound a man is not meant to hear, and live: they tracked something moving between them.

Finally, the pressures and sounds stopped, and the thing backed away somewhat. It reached down and did something to a device that was barely visible at the corner of perception, and he loved it...he loved the thing. It was divine. He loved it intensely. It was his GOD. He was in awe, and he loved it, and he wanted it, to kiss it, to touch it, and he knew that if it ever went away the heartbreak would be enormous. And the smells in his head intensified, and redoubled, and again came the orders, the commands, the instructions, and he writhed in pleasure like a dog that has shit in the bathtub when the owner comes home, in an agony of anticipation for the inevitable punishment, but so happy to see his master again.

Finally, the smells abated somewhat and he could almost think, and he saw the slimy back of his new god, his Master moving away. And as the neighbor moved in, he mouthed don't go, don't go master, please at least let me remember you, and the neighbor almost winced at him and gave him that studying look again, the look one reserves for one's dog, or more properly for the neighbor's dog that one is training for the incompetent neighbor. And then the other, the stranger, the one who’s boy had brought this all upon him, that one smiled the smile one reserves for dinner and touched something and the world went away in a blast of a new smell, and through the drifting howling fog and abyss came a light, a light from nowhere, blue and gold and expanding as it sucked him into a place where there was not memory, nor thought, and it seemed to him as he faded away that somewhere very far away, his body was flexed as tight as a spring, shaking.