Little Boy Lost
Emergency! is owned by Universal Studios and Mark VII. This is a story of fiction based on their show and its wonderful characters.
The long, dimly lit, narrow room stretched out before him. Perfectly made beds lined the walls on either side spread with plain brown blankets. The one window at the end was heavily draped with drab fabric blocking out any hope of sunshine as well as the bars on the outside. There were no pictures on the grayish walls or brightly colored decorations like he had in his room back home. He shuddered. There was no "back home" anymore. That life disappeared along with the last breaths his parents took. That world shattered with the glass from the family car as it careened down the embankment into the thick brush and beyond to the hidden drop off.
He felt a nudge in the middle of his back startling him from the horrors that now plagued his thoughts so often. He took a few steps further into the cold room.
"This will be your bed." The tall slender woman spoke softly to him. "You can put your clothes in here." She opened the trunk at the end of the bed, reached for the bundle he had in his arms and tugged at it. He curled his arms tighter around his few belongings. "Come on sweetheart. I know you're frightened, but this is the way it has to be. Your parents are gone and the authorities haven't found anyone to claim you. This is your home for now. We need to put your things away." She pried his small thin fingers away from the hold they had on his things. He didn't have much, but they were his. He didn't want anyone to take that away from him too. She kept at it until she worked his hands free. She gently pulled the bundle from his grasp and dropped it into the trunk. They could sort them and fold them later. The dark haired boy looked so broken and lost. "Come here sweetie." She pulled him into her embrace and held him there as silent tears slid down his face. She could feel the tremble in his thin frame.
When he had cried out his anguish she helped him take off his jacket and shoes tucking them safely into his foot locker. Exhausted, he crawled into the bed and curled himself as small as he could, hugging his legs and tucking his head to his knees. The woman stood and pulled the covers over the boy. "You just rest. I'll come for you when it's time to eat." Turning from her charge she walked softly across the long room to the door and turned off the lights plunging him into the darkness that had become his world.
The boy fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
His dreams had become nightmares. Sleep no longer an escape, so the dreamless slumber afforded him some much needed rest.
Several hours later when the woman returned to wake him she found him flat on his back with his arm draped across his eyes. The threadbare sheet and thin blanket bunched around his long slender legs and his breathing still laced with sounds of a deep sleep. She knew he needed to eat, but chose not to disturb him. She would make him a sandwich for later when he woke on his own. After taking the time to disentangle him from the covers and tuck him securely into his bunk she tiptoed back to the door and pulled it to just as sad brown eyes opened to follow her as she exited the room.
He heard the click of the lock on the heavy door and pulled his blanket to his chin, once again curled into a tight ball and let the tears slide down his face dampening the pillow.
He hadn't done anything wrong. Why had they sent him here?
Officer Brewster stood outside the heavy door for a moment after closing it contemplating her decision to leave the boy asleep when she heard a soft whimper from the speaker on the wall. The boy hadn't spoken a word since his arrival. He hadn't made a sound when he cried earlier that day, so the soft whimper though it tore at her heartstrings gave her a glimmer of hope for the child.
The Sheriff had told Warden Tompkins the boy had not uttered a word since the firemen had pulled him from the wreckage that claimed his parent's lives, at least not that anyone could understand, so even a whimper seemed like music to her ears.
Watching him curl back into himself on the monitor, she decided to take special care with this young boy. Something about him was extraordinary. She sensed a kindness, a gentle spirit in this child and knew that in the harsh world in which he had been thrust those qualities could be squashed to make way for bitter resentment and hate. He didn't deserve to be here in the juvenile detention center. His only crime was being half Native American and unwanted by his people. She lifted a prayer to the heavens for him before returning to the others under her watch.
Left to their own devices for very long the fifteen boys ranging from eight to twelve from her block would find a way to anger Warden Tompkins and find themselves scrubbing the building spotless for weeks to come. She smiled at that thought. Warden Tompkins was good to the children especially these younger boys, but he felt hard work cleaning would help them learn to behave more appropriately. Officer Brewster knew better. She knew boys would be boys and no amount of cleaning would dampen their spirits.
Miraculously, when she returned to the cafeteria what she found was a room full of hungry children with their heads bowed in prayer and Warden Tompkins standing by the door smiling. Heads raised and small hands shot out grabbing forks, napkins and buttered rolls.
"How did you do that?"
He shrugged, "They want to watch 'Walt Disney Presents' after dinner. I told them it depended on their behavior."
"They love that show. It makes for a special Sunday night treat before returning to school tomorrow." She smiled.
"Where is the boy?"
Officer Brewster bowed her head and closed her eyes for a second before answering her superior. "He was still sleeping."
"He needs to eat."
"Yes, but according to the records from the hospital he has not been sleeping well either." She said softly.
"You will see that he eats later."
"Yes sir. I will see that he eats." She knew she had made the right decision to leave the boy where he was. "I will make him a sandwich."
"Maybe some buttered rolls with jelly." Warden Tompkins winked at juvenile corrections officer. "I always liked that when I was a boy." With that he walked away.
A bustling of feet and slamming of foot lockers woke the boy sending him scrambling to the head of his bed in fear. "Hey who are you?" One of the taller boys in the beds next to his asked. He covered his ears with his hands and ducked his face to his knees. "We won't hurt ya…at least not yet."
His head shot up and brown eyes darted from side to side looking for an escape. He shot off the bed and padded across the wooden floor in his socked feet stumbling with every few steps. When he righted himself with a last ditch effort to reach the door he ran headlong into Officer Brewster. "Whoa there. Where do you think you're going?" She gripped his bony shoulders to keep him from falling. He flinched and backed away from her, but never raised his eyes from the floor. "Come and meet your room mates." She motioned to the other boys that had gathered around them. Then she introduced each boy by name. "Now I know who you are, but why don't you tell them?"
He raised his eyes to hers and she saw fear in them. "It's alright. They're your friends."
He looked at the floor and did not speak. He knew they weren't his friends.
"Everyone this is John." Officer Brewster placed her hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'm told he likes to be called Johnny." One by one as expected the boys said hello and then returned to their beds to change into their night clothes. "Are you hungry?"
His stomach growled in answer.
"I'll take that as a yes." She pulled a package from her pocket. "I brought you something to eat. Shall we eat it here or would you like to come with me to the kitchen and find a glass of cold milk?"
He turned to the door and waited for her to lead the way.
"Lights out in ten minutes." She called to the oldest of her boys.
"Yes ma'am." She got in answer. "You heard her," he called to the others, "lights out in ten. You guys had better be in bed by then. And don't forget to brush your teeth." Officer Brewster laughed in earnest at the boy trying to imitate the words she usually spoke to them at bedtime. Cleanliness was next to Godliness and according to Warden Tompkins clean teeth was a big part of a man's cleaning regimen.
Johnny followed her down the long hallway staying a few feet behind her and as far as she knew never taking his eyes off his feet. How he ever knew where she walked was a mystery, but he did keep up with her. He also saw many things from beneath the long hair that hung in his face. He saw the monitors outside of the heavy locked doors they passed. He saw several people dressed in uniforms standing guard outside those same doors. He heard locks clicking and the loud noise of many lights going out at once. When she stopped at the kitchen door and opened it for him to enter he was right behind her. "Well come on." She prodded him. He entered. She flipped on the overhead lights, and moved over to the industrial sized refrigerator to get the milk. She hadn't noticed the flinch he made when she flipped the light switch.
Johnny stopped in the middle of the room and stood awaiting her instructions. He looked out of the corner of his lowered eyes and scanned the room checking things out. When Officer Brewster turned around to hand him the glass of milk he looked as if he had never moved much less surveyed his surroundings. "Let's sit over here." She pointed to a small table in the corner. Johnny shuffled over and stood by one of the two chairs waiting. When she had sat in the other chair he quietly slid his out and sat down. She placed the milk and sandwiches in front of him and he waited to be told to eat. "Go ahead sweetie." He tore into the food as though he hadn't eaten in weeks. By the looks of the frail boy, maybe he hadn't.
Over the next few days Officer Brewster and Johnny would share this special corner of the kitchen as she worked to help the boy gain his strength. He had suffered some pretty severe bruising and cracked ribs from the car crash that killed his parents. Even after a week at the facility he still hadn't spoken a word. Not even at school. Officer Brewster and his teacher at the school the children from the boy's home attended were perplexed at the boy. Medically, there had been no reason for him not to speak, but they all feared that he suffered from some type of mental anguish from the abrupt change in his life. They all hoped the condition would pass, but so far he communicated only with his eyes and in the deep brown orbs they saw loss, fear and sadness well beyond his years.
Even though he didn't speak, the other boys had taken a liking to Johnny. He was bright and creative. He could draw animals better than anyone else and helped them with their chores. When the other children at school teased him about being small or about how he looked different, they took up for him.
And he did look different. He had long dark hair that hung almost to his shoulders. His cheek bones were very distinct, his nose long and thin and his eyes a deep milk chocolate brown. His skin tone was darker than most.
One night when Warden Tompkins let the boys watch television before bed they saw a show about cowboys and Indians. "Are you an Indian?" One of the boys asked him. Johnny simply nodded and then he shook his head no. "Well which is it?" The boy asked. "Yes, or no?"
Johnny stared at the boy, but didn't know what to do. How could he explain being both? Officer Brewster answered for him. "He's both."
"How can you be both?" The boy asked her.
"When one of your parents is of Native American decent and the other is of White decent. Then you are both." That put an end to the questions. None of the boys talked much about their parents. They were all either orphaned or too hard to handle at home so it was not a subject that they often talked about.
After that Johnny seemed more relaxed…at least as relaxed as a boy could be under lockdown at a detention center.
It was as if he had been accepted. In a small way he had fit in, something that no one realized he had never experienced before. Within a few days Johnny spoke his first words since coming to the center.
"Could I have some more milk?" He asked Officer Brewster softly during one of their special late evening snacks in the kitchen.
Her head shot up in surprise, but she tried not to react too much. She didn't want to frighten the boy. "Of course you can." She got up slowly, walked over, got the milk from the refrigerator and brought it to the table.
Johnny looked up at her and a crooked smile spread across his face, "Thank you."
Officer Brewster couldn't contain her joy at Johnny's words. "Oh sweetie! You are so very welcome." She wrapped her arms around the boy and hugged him close. "You can have all the milk you want."
Johnny hugged her back. He buried his face against her and let the tears slide down his cheeks; once more remembering how comforting it had been when his mother hugged him that way.
From that day forward Johnny talked. He didn't talk a lot and when he did he didn't say much, but he did speak when needed. The other boys carried on as if nothing had changed. Johnny had become one of them in the short time he'd been there.
The days passed and turned into weeks and the weeks to months and soon a year had gone by since Johnny was brought to the center. Some of his peers had been placed in foster care or reunited with family, but being older than most families wanted to take in many of the boys were still there, and a few more had come. Johnny had grown taller and filled out a bit, but was still by far one of the smallest boys in the ward.
Being small led to being picked on by the bigger boys.
One in particular, Davey, loved to make Johnny the brunt of his jokes, and he was full of jokes and pranks. Johnny had learned early on in his stint at the center that going to the officers only resulted in both boys getting detention or extra cleaning chores, so over time he learned to "handle" things on his own.
Davey had many ideas up his sleeve, but one of his favorite things to do was to embarrass his prey. He would put dye in their toothpaste that made their lips and teeth turn blue. He would smear toothpaste on their face while they slept, or tie their ankles to their bed making them struggle to get out of it. Johnny had fallen prey to many of the pranks. Having things done while he slept taught him to be a light sleeper. When he threw his arm over his eyes at night it was as much a habit as it was a protective measure allowing him to keep watch over his roommates when they thought he was asleep.
It amazed Johnny how the guards had monitors to watch them, but never seemed to notice when pranks were being committed. It was like they had selective vision.
One night in particular Johnny lay in his bunk with his arm across his eyes. He had drifted off, but hadn't really gone to sleep when he heard soft voices. Blinking the sleep away he peered out from under his arm and could see shadows moving around the bed beside his.
"Keep it down you goofs. We don't want to wake him up."
The tell tale sound of a crumpled paper sack opening told Johnny that the boys were up to no good. He slowed his breathing and concentrated on listening the way his elders had taught him in preparing him for the hunt. 'A good hunter can hear the animals breathe.' He remembered. 'A good hunter's intentions are never known to his prey or his attacker if the animal should turn on him.'
"Hey dufus…pull the blanket down." Davey whispered to one of the other boys.
When he felt the blanket on his bed move Johnny bolted up, springing to his feet on top of the mattress and letting out a terrifying warrior cry that sent the boys scrambling away from his bunk in shock.
Davey watched as Johnny's eyes darkened into a squint filled with a rage none of the boys had ever seen. His feet were planted in a defensive pose, and he held his hands at the ready to pounce.
He continued chanting in a language none of them understood, but that sent fear racing with their blood.
To Davey it looked like every muscle in Johnny's body tensed. His eyes darted from person to person. No one moved thinking they would be the receiver of the strange boy's fury. No one wanted to tangle with the crazed Indian.
The bolted door clicked, light flooded in from the hall and the night guard moved into the room like a strange shadow until he flipped on the lights. "What's going on in here?"
Davey shoved the ropes he held beneath the blanket on his bed and sat down on top. "He just freaked out. He woke me up and scared me to death." The other boys agreed with Davey.
Johnny had gotten lost in the moment. Tremors shook is thin frame. He couldn't believe the things that had come out of his mouth. It frightened him that he had lost control like that. He still stood on his bunk lost in a haze of memories flooding his mind. Memories of the lessons he'd had as a young boy in the ways of his people, lessons about being a hunter and a warrior. When he realized that everyone was staring at him he began to shake harder. His stomach cramped and he felt the hot sensation in his throat that comes before getting sick, but he swallowed it back down. He blinked several times. "I…" he looked around the room and to the guards. "I had a bad dream." He sunk down on his bed and lowered his gaze. "It was a nightmare."
The guard could see how pale and shaky Johnny was. He also knew from experience the signs of nausea. "Why don't you get some water and get back in bed and the rest of you too. Show's over…back to bed." He turned and left the room turning the lights out before slamming the door.
Johnny flinched at the clicking of the bolt. Maybe he did belong in a locked room. The way his emotions had taken control of him must mean he was crazy. Not wanting to draw attention to himself any further he curled into his pillow and pulled the blanket to his chin.
"Man you're one crazy half breed. That mixed blood of yours must have made you wacko." Davey sent the verbal jab across the space between their beds. "You better be glad you didn't snitch either." Davey tried to maintain the tough exterior he presented to the others when in fact Johnny's behavior had scared him deeply.
That was the last time any night time pranks were played on Johnny.
It would also be the last time he allowed his emotions to control his reactions.