Brian never minded the plywood around the backyard. It had been there for as long as he could remember, binding the dirt and shrubbery that made up his world. He didn’t really mind when his parents made him stop going to school. He didn’t have many friends there; he’d moved too many times. It’d been two birthdays since he started learning math and history from the computer screen in the living room. The man on the screen was nice, even with his funny accent. He also got to spend more time outside; the man only talked to him for a couple of hours, then his mom let him do whatever he wanted. It’d been awhile since he left the house. Dad still went to work everyday, but he got mad at mom when she told him he should stay too. It usually happened when he was in bed. They woke him up, but Brian was pretty good at listening from the top of the stairs. They didn’t know he listened. Mom would say it was too dangerous and that he shouldn’t leave. Dad then said that someone had to, and he had to be the one. Mom couldn’t leave the house. She cried and they’d hug and they wouldn’t say anything else. It happened a few times.
The man on the screen was nicer than Mrs. Frankel. He always had funny videos to show Brian how to add and subtract, and he used funny characters to teach him about Columbus and Thanksgiving. He was good at helping Brian with difficult numbers once they moved to multiplication, and he taught Brian tricks for remembering all the states in the United States. He didn’t have it just yet; he always forgot about Delaware because it had such a weird name. A few months after his 10th birthday, the man didn’t show up on his screen. He told mom about it, and she was confused. She tried unplugging the wires and plugging them in again, but it still showed the main screen. After a while, she used the phone to call the man and went to a different room. She closed the door, but Brian got real close to it. He could hear her say something his “education” and she got mad. She said that he should have said something sooner. When she stopped talking, Brian rushed to sit back in the living room so she wouldn’t know he’d eavesdropped. She had the phone in her hand and looked sad. Her eyes looked around the room a lot. He asked her if she was ok, and she smiled and said he could play outside. She said she forgot that today was a holiday and there was no school. Brian got excited and ran outside.
His toys were still by the wall, where he’d left them. He wasn’t worried, since no other kids could get inside the yard to take his toys. The wood went so high, he probably couldn’t climb it, even with the big ladder in the shed. He knew they wouldn’t get rained on, even if he left them outside all the time. His Army Johns were in the bunker that he dug out of the dirt so they could better fight the evil Boas. He’d just say down by the bunker when he heard something on the wall. It sounded like a knock. It was weird, because he remembered that the house next door was empty when the construction men built the wall. He put his head real close and listened. The knock came again, and he almost fell backwards. He probably made a sound, but he wasn’t scared. The noise didn’t come again. He waited for a bit, his favourite Army John held tight in his hand. The knocking was gone. He sat down to return to the battle.
It sounded like a girl. She sounded scared. Girls always got scared. Brian wasn’t scared.
He didn’t hear anything for a bit. He put his head real close again.
“How old are you?”
“I’m ten, how old are you?”
“What’s your name?”
“Did you go to school today?”
“No, did you?”
“Not today. I didn’t go yesterday either, my mom doesn’t want me to go anymore.”
“My mom doesn’t make me go to school. I didn’t go in forever.”
“I like going to school.”
“Ew, are you a nerd?”
Sarah sounded mad. She was probably a nerd. She just didn’t want Brian to know.
“I bet you like homework.”
Sarah didn’t say anything after that. Brian started playing with his Army John’s until mom called him for dinner. He felt bad about Sarah when he went to bed, after dad read him a story.
The man still wasn’t on the screen the next day. Mom said the holiday was actually a whole week. She didn’t sound happy when she said that. Brian was happy. He could play in the backyard all week! He went to the wall, at the exact same spot as he did yesterday. He knocked and waited.
Nothing happened. He sat against the wall. Mom came outside.
“Brian...did you talk to someone yesterday?”
“Yes. Her name was Sarah, she was nice.”
“Ok, well you’re not supposed to talk to anyone across the wall, you know that.”
“It’s not safe.”
“Is that why we’re at home all the time?”
Mom didn’t answer right away.
The prompt: In a future where a mutated HIV virus means a mere touch can lead to instantaneous death, two children grapple with the dangers of friendship and play.
I really liked this prompt. I might continue this one sometime.