I remembered that the kid would always say the word “emptiness”. Every other word was emptiness. It scared the shit out of his teachers and…well, the kid’s parents just seemed bothered by it. they had two other kids and a lot of money.
I remember that first meeting with the headmaster and the kid. His name was Jacob. He sat in the office next to the headmaster’s desk in a bare bones wooden chair. He wore a puffy red vest with a blue waffle shirt underneath and a red cap. I guess it was January. He had far away blue eyes and a thin, but well rounded face. The bill of his hat showed that his focus was on the bookshelves which covered the walls surrounding the desk in the center.
The headmaster looked like a crane or a vulture. She had a long nose and short white hair that curled, parted to either side. She sat pleasantly with a suit that mimicked the uniforms most of the kids wore.
“Mr Adams” she said smiling in greeting but in the tone of grave seriousness.
“Mrs. Donnally.” I said, mimicking appropriate tone and body language. I closed the door behind me. It was an old style door with a frosted glass window. The backwards letters which spelled “Headmaster” on the other side amused me.
“I assume this is little Jacob?” I said pointing to the kid who turned to me at the sound of his name. I approached their space of the room and crouched down to look level into the kid’s eyes. He blankly met my gaze. It was the kind of look, I’d like to be able to play cards with. I met the boy’s eyes groping for a glimmer or a sign behind them. A twitch or any kind of indication of thought.
“Yes, this is Jacob.” the Headmaster said, looking down at us. “He began last month to…well he began to disassociate with the other children.”
I broke the rules of our staring contest and asked Jacob “Why don’t you play with the other kids in school?”
Jacob blinked and looked past me. “Emptiness.” he said in his child voice.
The headmaster was about to say something stupid out of frustration like “And he only answers with that one word!” but I held up my hand to her before she could manage.
“Could you explain what you mean by that? What emptiness?”
He looked at me again with the slightest drooping of the eyebrows and pursed lips which showed sadness. So the kid wasn’t completely catatonic. He looked at me and said
“It’s everywhere, inside me, inside you, out in space, emptiness. Everything is emptiness. Emptiness.” he trailed off and looked past me again.
“Do you remember when you started to feel this way?” I asked him, trying to hold his attention away from wherever his mind was taking him.
He turned back. “In my bed, I realized I was going to die one night. Emptiness. I tried not to think about it but I took a journey. I realized that it was all empty. People think it’s full. But it’s empty.”
I looked at the headmaster, who only held a look of a confused angry fear down at the boy.
“What kind of journey did you go on?” I asked Jacob, putting my hand on his shoulder. His little round face suddenly welled up and he began to cry. His face filled with tears and he jumped off the chair and hugged me as tightly as I think he could have.
“Emptiness” he said between sobs, he repeated it over and over. It was good for him to cry. Somehow he was releasing his fear. I was certain though that there was more to it. Something made him take that journey.
“Jacob.” I said calmly. He sniffed and looked into me. “What made the journey happen?”
“An empty man” he said. “He was always smiling”
I stood up. “What did he give you?”
“He said they would keep me from being afraid of…Emptiness.”
“Thank you Jacob.” I said “And don’t worry. There is more going on than you think.”
The kid looked at me and actually smiled for a moment before his face returned to it’s blank stare from before.
“Headmaster. I said tipping my hat.”
She looked at me, astonished. “He hasn’t talked this much since this began”
“I have a way with kids” I said and left the office. Intent on finding the sico who gave him whatever psychedelic that sent him into this. I concealed the small prick which held a small dose of Bacopa monnieri extract, known to temporarily enhance memory recall.
Like I said, his teachers were scared for the kid, his parent’s just wanted it solved. That’s why they hired me.