Chapter 8 Message Undeliverable

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The padded room sounded just as dead and artificial to Toby as it did the last time he’d slept there. By his count, it was the fifth day since he arrived at the orphanage and his fourth day in solitary confinement. He sat curled up with his legs intertwined at the head of the small bed, his blanket wrapped around him. This time the excuse for putting him in here was a fear for his safety. After finding him curled up on the floor of the outside hall, they said they were afraid he would try to hurt himself. So, this time they only allowed him a bed, a pillow, a blanket, and a bathroom. And though things were bleak and could only seem to get worse, he did feel a slight glimmer of hope. He could feel it in the very core of his existence, shining dimly like a single star in a dark cloudy sky. It was just that this one tiny star was surrounded by so much darkness. He shuddered as he breathed in, replaying the memory of his father being carried away from him. He swallowed and told himself he would just have to keep his focus on that single star.

He sat on the bed looking at the wall ahead of him. Pure white foam lined the walls in square, puffy patterns. Even the door, which stood directly in the center, was covered in the same fluffy-looking design. The only things in the room which didn't look like they were made out of clouds from heaven above were the four cameras, one hanging at each corner of the ceiling. The irony of the situation had dawned on him early on. They claimed to be afraid that, because he’d become so upset, he might be self destructive. With his father about to be executed or maybe already having been, what else was he supposed to feel? But here they went putting him in a locked room, leaving him with nothing but his thoughts.

He had almost fallen asleep staring at the glaring white wall when he heard the doorknob jiggle. He hazily looked up, confused by what he saw. The door was cracked open and a sly blurry face peaked inside the room. Toby blinked hard a few times to remedy the blurriness. After three times, when he opened his eyes, he was finally able to focus on the crooked grin hanging in the doorway. His heart went into overdrive as his brain matched the pattern of the face with its correct owner. Craig Thompson grinned wider when he saw that Toby had recognized him.

In the next instant, Craig came inside the room, closed the door behind him, and sneered down at Toby. Toby reached behind himself with as much stealth as he could manage. When he felt the bottom of the blanket, he hesitated for a second and then threw his arms forward, throwing the blanket overhand at Craig. As his opponent focused on the projectile coming for his head, Toby launched himself head first at Craig's unguarded abdomen. He was able to tackle him to the ground but his advantage didn't last long. Craig spun himself around as he stepped back up on his feet and swung an angry kick with his left leg into Toby's side. The blow knocked the air out of Toby's lungs. He fell forward flat on the ground and rolled onto his back as he tried to no avail, to draw air.

After a moment, he managed to breathe, but it was painful. Craig's expression now became one of cold hostility. He knelt forward, pressing his kneecap into Toby's chest and pinning the younger boy’s arms down with his enormous hands. Toby tried kicking his legs to get free or at least get a good hit in but it was no use. As soon as he would get closer to Craig with his feet, the huge lanky boy would cringe and push harder with his knee, piercing Toby's solar plexus with excruciating force. After a few more tries, Toby gave up and tried relaxing his muscles. As Craig continued to look down at him, that vicious grin returned. He leaned forward so his face was only an inch in front of Toby's. Toby's eyes almost crossed trying to refocus. Craig looked from one eye to the other, waiting until Toby could see him in all clarity.

"Tonight's the night you know," he said gently but with a sort of glee.

Toby didn't understand what he was talking about. Realizing this, Craig went on.

"In about an hour and a half a bus full of convicts will arrive in sin city just in time to pay their dues," he said, his eyes lighting up. "And I'm sure I don't have to tell you, little Toby, that your daddy is one of ‘em."

Toby's heart went into his throat and he felt a stiffening in all of his body. In one quick spasm, he sucked in all the phlegm he could gather into his mouth and blasted it up into Craig's face. Craig let go of his arms, scrambling to wipe the mess from his face. In that moment of surprise, Toby swung his left fist into Craig as hard as he could. The punch knocked him out of the way. Toby stumbled to his feet and ran for the front, right corner jumping and waving his arms in front of the camera. He would have screamed, too, if he thought it would do any good.

As he jumped and flailed his arms, he heard something behind him. The next thing he knew, Craig held him in a full Nelson, lifting him off the ground. He felt warm, quick breath on his left shoulder.

"It's pointless to try and get someone's attention when there’s no one even there to see you," Craig said in a triumphant whisper. "My friend Byron mans these cameras at night. He loves to smoke. In fact, he loves to smoke so much that if I happen to supply him with a few packs of his favorite brand, he’ll gladly take a break from watching the camera of my choice," he added with arrogance.

Toby tried again to struggle but could only manage so much before the pain of Craig's squeezing, pulling his shoulders slightly from their sockets, became too much to bear. Toby's face began to soak with tears streaming from his eyes as he realized he was losing sight of that one tiny point of light that grounded him. As he wept, he felt vibration from behind him. He knew it was Craig’s laughter.

"Why don't you just kill me already?" Toby shouted in sobs.

"Oh, that would be too easy and not nearly enough fun," Craig said and laughed. "It will be much more fun to watch you die inside tomorrow when the news comes on the cafeteria TV and they list the names of those confirmed executed."

Exhausted, Toby lamely struggled again for a moment only to be overpowered all the same. In a powerful jolt, Toby felt his body thrown forward and he landed on the bed. Behind him came the sound of Craig slapping his hands together as if to dust them off.

"You have yourself some sweet dreams, now Toby, okay?" Craig said in between laughing. Then, Toby heard the door open and latch shut. He rolled over and looked up. Craig was gone.

He wondered if Craig spoke the truth. Was tonight really the night? Would Toby's father, the only person left in this world that mattered to him anymore, be drained of his blood by monsters tonight? He felt a shiver erupt through his body at the thought. He wondered how bad it would hurt. If his father would think of him. If he would cross the threshold of death and find Diana, or pass away into an unknowing oblivion. With that thought a long-forgotten memory flooded into his mind. He saw Diana on her death bed. He remembered the moment clearly now. His father had gone to get the two of them lunch. Diana hadn't been conscious the entire day. But for a brief moment while her husband was gone, she woke. She recognized Toby and asked him to come close. When he came close enough she kissed his cheek and smiled at him warmly.

"It won't be much longer," she said as if she were talking about the end of a season or a bad storm.

Toby didn't know what to say. As he looked at her like a deer in headlights, she spared him the need to speak and continued.

"It's okay, Toby. It's just the way of things, you know. I'm in so much pain right now. When it happens, well, I'll get a break from all of that, now, won't I?" she asked, looking into his eyes with a weak smile. She coughed fiercely for a moment then started to speak again as she grabbed Toby's hand, squeezing it tight. "When I'm gone, I want you to tell your father something for me. It's important. He's not going to want to hear it for a while. I know he won't. But when he's ready, and I know you’ll know it when he is, I need you to tell him this," she said before giving him the message. He squeezed his blanket firmly as he remembered this long-ago moment frozen in the back of his mind, obscured by daily life, adjusting to the loss of the only mother he ever knew. He never delivered the message and, now that his father was about to follow Diana to that cold place beyond the known, he would never be able to, either.

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