An orphan boy discovers remarkable powers as he leads a silent rebellion against the evil forces that enslave the students at The Woodlands. Can he undo the past before the present becomes permanent? Boy 39: Undoing One Thing Always Does Another.
“Next,” Sentry-5 ordered. He stood at the head of the line, his broad hands pressed against his hips, glaring at the two girls who were at the front of the procession of students. His bushy eyebrows jutted out from his forehead like twisted branches over a brooding abyss. His ominous eyes, dark ovals of simmering rage, declared his violent intentions. One look was enough to scare most kids into submission. His scowl terrified and his physical presence was overwhelming; at 6’6” with doorway-wide shoulders, Sentry-5 was the largest enforcer the students had ever seen.
He wore the usual sentry uniform: a full-body jumpsuit. He looked like an enormous auto mechanic, minus the grease. A flat chrome belt buckle engraved with the silhouette of an evergreen and the words The Woodlands separated his brawny torso from his tree trunk legs. A sewn-on red patch with a white number 5 covered the left side of his chest.
“Keep moving!” he bellowed at the two boys circling to the back of the line as they dragged their feet against the mossy ground, kicking pinecones. The misty rain that dripped and rolled off of everyone’s edges was no deterrent to his demands, nor was it a hindrance for the students’ outdoor activities. Life in the Pacific Northwest was mostly lived against a backdrop of grey skies, tall trees and dampness. Lots of dampness.
The students were lined up along the northernmost wall of the Yard. A rectangular space surrounded by ten-foot high cinder block walls, the Yard was the only exposure to the outdoors at The Woodlands. Electric wires suspended between short black poles ringed the top of the wall, forbidding exit or entry. The Yard was the place where the children at The Woodlands experienced their only independent moments.
They were allowed free time in the Yard twice a day for fifteen minutes during the week, and two one-hour sessions on Saturday and Sunday. The Yard was comprised mostly of twelve horseshoe pits and a mix of dilapidated sporting nets and jungle gyms. The Yard was anchored in the center by a single willow tree framed by an oval bed filled with leafy ferns and barely living wild roses.
A double row of listless seven to twelve-year-olds; the well-trained children waited in silence for their heads to be shaved. They stood in alternating gender pairs, most of them wearing brown or white tunics over tan leggings. The students who were serving work detail or completing punishment assignments wore white shirts under dark blue coveralls. The constant mechanical hum of the clippers, operated by the two sentries who stood between Sentry-5 and the front of the line, provided a monotone soundtrack for the melancholy atmosphere. It was the first day of the month, Shearing Day at The Woodlands.
Every student’s head was shaved on Shearing Day. The monthly ritual had been initiated a few years earlier, as a means of reducing potential fraternization between the older boys and girls. All students at The Woodlands were numbered rather than named. It was part of the constant effort to eliminate individuality. Mirrors had been removed long before Shearing Day was instituted, as any focus on physical beauty was wasted energy. In spite of these attempts to eliminate distraction, the hormones of developing adolescents occasionally overpowered the constraints of discipline.
Thirty-Nine stood beside his podmate Thirty-Three, behind the two girls now at the front of the line. Thirty-Three glanced over at Thirty-Nine, who stared straight ahead. Thirty-Three coughed to get Thirty-Nine’s attention.
“Silence!” Sentry-5 shouted.
Thirty-Nine looked over at his smirking podmate. As their eyes locked, Thirty-Three arched his eyebrows and pointed at the girl in front of him. He winked, and moved his eyebrows rapidly up and down. Thirty-Nine shook his head in exasperation.
Thirty-Three sure loves to stir up trouble, he thought.
They had been podmates for almost five years. During that time, Thirty-Three led the entire student body in disciplinary infractions, while Thirty-Nine moved toward the top of the class. Thirty-Nine was a model of consistency while Thirty-Three’s only consistency was his near weekly violation of one or more of The Ten Axioms of The Woodlands.
Now Thirty-Three was courting danger with Sentry-5 just to alert Thirty-Nine that Eleven was in front of them. They had been standing behind her and another girl, Fifteen, for at least ten minutes. Yet he chose this moment, standing less than ten feet from Sentry-5, to notify Thirty-Nine of her presence.
Thirty-Nine rolled his eyes and nodded his recognition of Eleven’s existence. He understood his friend’s interest in her but he hated to indulge Thirty-Three’s folly. There was no disputing Eleven’s superiority. No matter what human subculture exists in this world, a hierarchy always develops over time. Regardless of geography, history, social customs, or even the definition of beauty, celebrity is always gained by some at the expense of others. In the secluded subculture of ultra-intelligent orphans at The Woodlands, Eleven was preeminent. She was the Head Student.
Thirty-Nine stared at her figure as the clippers buzzed her scalp. Her long legs gave her an advantage in jumping exercises. Her lean arms seemed constantly coiled for action, even when she was writing at her desk. She was older and taller than most of the other students. If he closed his eyes, he could picture her vivid blue eyes and her freckled cheeks. Eleven was twelve years old. She was an early bloomer; it was impossible for any boy older than eight to not notice her.
Fifteen, the girl standing beside Eleven, was an ill-tempered introvert with a slumped frame and a frown to match. Fifteen rarely spoke and she spent most of her free time in the Yard scribbling in a notepad. Two weeks earlier, Thirty-Nine had bumped into her as he sprinted across the Yard, trying to get to the one good swing near the jungle gym. As he stared at the short light brown hairs drifting off the clippers and sticking to her thick neck, he remembered the interaction.
“Sorry!” He tried to apologize as he untangled his right leg from her left arm. They had fallen to the ground upon colliding, and his foot was pinned under her upper back. As she rolled over, relievi