You woke up to the dark-haired boy bouncing on the end of your bed and grinning at you. Having achieved his goal of waking you, he bounded off to the other two beds. Once everyone was groggily blinking at him, he sat down on the end of his bed, pointed to himself and said what appeared to be his name five or six times. “S” was the only sound you could really latch on to, so he was rechristened with a letter for his name. The blonde siblings identified themselves as well and became L1 and L2. Then, they all turned to you, and you spoke your name aloud.
Breakfast waited just inside the door. L1 and L2 dutifully slipped off their beds, picked up their bowls, and sat beside each other, dipping their fingers into the mush and licking it off. S sat down against the opposite wall, his bowl beside him. You were the last to pick up your breakfast, your thumb skimming the surface of its lukewarm contents. You balanced the bowl in the palm of your hand and hurled it at the wall. The mush flew everywhere. The bowl slid down the wall and rolled to the floor.
S, delighted, followed your example, tossing his bowl up in the air. Some of the gray mush landed on his head. L1 and L2 watched both of you before simultaneously dumping out the contents of their bowls on to the floor. L2 picked up a handful and smashed it on top of her brother’s head. L1 retaliated, smearing mush into his sister’s face. She grinned, wiping the substance out of her eyes. S stomped up and down on their leftovers while you dipped your toes in the mess from S’s bowl, creating a grayish arc against the white floor.
The door opened. Greeted with the presence of your mess, the A who opened the door quickly slid it shut again. L2 giggled, slapping more mush onto her brother’s feet. S continued the painting he has started on the wall.
The door reopened. Two scowling female As entered the room. One yanked L1 and L2 from the floor. The other seized your wrist and S’s shoulder and pulled you into the hallway and then into a tiled room. You were stripped of your clothes and placed in a tiny glass enclosure. The door slid shut.
You heard a rusty moan, and icy water shot down from the ceiling. S shrieked and dove for the corner, covering his head and face with his arms. L1 and L2 pressed themselves into the far wall, hands linked together. You reached out blindly for the door and banged your palm against the glass, one solid thump after another. The water finally cut off, and in its absence, you became aware of a dry, wheezing sound. Before you could uncover the noise’s source, one of the women reached in to pull you from the enclosure.
Clean clothes were handed to you, and you were pushed into a cubicle. As you dressed yourself, you heard the wheezing sound grow more frantic. L2 appeared around the corner of your cubicle followed by L1 who was still pulling on his shirt. They blinked at you. You headed toward the noise.
S lay flat on the floor by the glass enclosure, pale, body rigid, and mouth open wide like a fish. He stared up at you, eyes unfocused. His breathing, quick and shallow, became increasingly desperate. L2 knelt down beside him and placed her hands on either side of his face. He jerked once and closed his eyes. She looked up at you.
Then, As swarmed into the room in a chaos of movement. They dislodged L2 from her place on the floor, and the three of you were removed from the tiled room and returned to your beds.
The three of you waited, staring at the door.
Nothing kept happening, so you pulled the blanket and pillow from the bed and arranged yourself in the strip of sunlight the window left on the floor. On his bed, L1 hummed quietly to himself while L2 braided and unbraided her hair.
Absent anything else to do, you slept.
When you awoke, there was no S. There was also no food though midday had passed. Ignoring the pain of hunger, you turned over and closed your eyes again.
The afternoon drifted on into evening. You moved from the floor back to your bed. L1 and L2 started a game. S did not return. You slept through dinner—which was inconsequential since no food appeared—and woke only when L1 and L2 were making themselves at home on your bed. L2 swatted playfully at your foot. L1 adjusted his pillow at the other end of your bed and nodded at you before lying down.
The next morning you woke in a pile of limbs, and S still had not appeared. But there was breakfast. L1 and L2 crawled off your bed and picked up their bowls. L1 nudged your bowl toward you before returning to his sister. Motionless, they watched you. They did not begin to eat until you lifted your bowl to your mouth.
Watching L1 and L2 eat from each other’s bowls, you realized that there could be a meaning in the presence and absence of food—though you couldn’t be altogether sure. They—whoever they were—could have simply forgotten about you.
Following breakfast was another excursion through a maze of hallways that ended in a cavernous room filled with large and strange objects—beams raised off the floor at different heights, rings hanging from metal bars, ladders attached to wooden platforms that were linked by thick pieces of black wire, a series of metal hoops. A tall bank of windows lined the top of the far wall. Waiting in the room were the green-eyed male and the red-haired female who took care of you on your first day. L2 ran to them and attached herself to Red’s leg. Red laughed and picked her up, placing her on top of the highest of the beams. L2 scrambled across it, jumped off, and ran back around to her brother. Red applauded her efforts.
Red guided the three of you over to the lowest beam and sat down on the floor. She made her fingers walk on the beam like a little person to indicate what action you were supposed to perform. Then, she stood up and helped L2 step on to the beam. L2 stopped in the middle, and looked back at the group of you clustered around the beam’s end. Red started to call out encouragement, but before she could speak, L2 grinned and completed a neat turn on one foot before hurrying across the rest of the beam, doing another easy turn and stepping off the end.
Green-Eyes huffed out a small laugh, shook his head, and said something to Red who frowned in response. But they both praised L2. Red knelt down and cupped L2’s face in her hands and kissed her forehead.
L1 completed his run without fanfare, but he still received praise upon his return. In your run, you lost your balance three-quarters of the way across. You tried to step back on from where you toppled off, but Green-Eyes ushered you back to the starting point, and you began again. You wobbled a foot from the end but ultimately finished the run.
The second of the beams was a foot higher than the first one. This posed no problem for L1 or L2. You, however, lost your balance mid-way. Green-Eyes attempted to demonstrate to you how to place the arch of your foot on the bar and use your toes to grip for balance. This helped. On your third attempt, you made it across.
There was a third beam. L2 scurried across this one, nimble as ever. L1 tripped over his own feet and fell, banging his knee on the way down. He cried out and pressed his palms against his knee. Red drew him away and examined him at the edge of the room, with his sister hopping around them impatiently waiting for the diagnosis. Green-Eyes lifted you up to the beam. You made it farther than L1 but ultimately fell off and scraped skin off your forearm. Having finished with L1, Red rubbed down the raw places with ointment and wrapped up your arm. Then, one after the other, you and L2 were placed back on the beam. Neither of you made it across on your second or third attempts either, but this time Green-Eyes and Red waited on either side of the beam to slow your fall.
On his fourth try, L1 hesitated at the end of the beam. Standing a foot in front of him, Green-Eyes and Red coaxed him forward. Standing to the left of the beam, L2 spoke quietly to him. He craned his neck around to her and nodded. She came forward and reached her hand up to his. She turned to look at you. You stood and took his other hand in yours. You waited for Green-Eyes or Red to pull you away from each other, but they simply stood off to the side watching in silence. With you and L2 there for balance, L1 completed the fourth attempt.
Green-Eyes placed you on the beam for the fourth time, and L1 and L2 waited dutifully behind you. They took your hands without prompting and guided you across. By the time you climbed off the beam, Green-Eyes and Red were involved in a discussion. Both of them turned to look at the three of you a couple times. You rubbed your bandage. L1 itched his knee. L2 climbed on top of her brother to reach the beam and sit on top of it.
Eventually, Red came over and removed L2 from the beam.
The rest of the morning was spent learning how to turn forward and backward somersaults. In the afternoon, Green-Eyes and Red tried to teach you how to balance on your hands and how to do cartwheels. Only L2 was successful with any of these maneuvers.
When you were sitting in a rectangle of sunlight, watching L2 turning cartwheel after cartwheel on the mat out of the corner of your eye, you glanced up at the windows. A row of small faces stared down at you. Hands were pressed against the glass. You poked L1 in the shoulder and pointed upward. He tilted his head to the side, studying the tiny beings that watched you. He turned and called to his sister.
She reacted to this curiosity by fashioning a spectacular performance. The little As above you pressed themselves into the windows, gaping at her. When she finished, she waved upward. The As were beside themselves. Green-Eyes and Red seemed less impressed. This was puzzling since they were entertained by her antics earlier in the day. L2 either didn’t notice or didn’t care about their lack of enthusiasm. She danced her way back to your room at the end of the day and embraced both Green-Eyes and Red before twirling through the doorway.
S was waiting for you, lying on the bed by the wall. L2 ran over and jumped on the bed beside him. She ran her fingers over his face before placing her hand on top of his chest. L1 came over and settled himself on S’s other side. You finally decided to place yourself by S’s head, reaching up on to the bed to wrap your hand around his.
You remained in your cluster until dinner arrived.