I knew Preston was special the first time I met him, now six
months past. Even here at Castlewood, where every child defies
belief, heís a standout. I also feared that his talents would
someday take him from us. I ponder this from the comfort of my
Supervisorís chair, in back of the sprawling Recreation Room.
I took this job three weeks after leaving my clerk position at an
upstate firm, no longer able to stomach the shady tactics of my
employers. I traded the mendacity of men for the honesty of
children, and "regret" is no longer part of my vocabulary.
The children are playing hide and seek Ė never a fair game
because Tommy Hibbs can see through solid objects, and the Jacobson
twins, between the two of them, have more ESP than anybody could
But what game is fair? How does one level the playing field for
the worldís most unique children? There looms my challenge.
"No fair," says Belle. Her pigtails whirl as she shakes her head.
"Tommy doesnít have to walk around."
Sheís right. Tommy sits Indian-style on the varnished floor,
looking through everything and pointing out the other children. He
calls Pamela from behind the dollhouse and Roderick from under a
Belle levitates a few inches off the floor and folds her arms
with adult-like rebuke. "Cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater!"
One by one, the others emerge as Tommy names them, until only
Preston remains hidden. I have a moment of panic, thinking Preston
sneaked outside and found trouble. But then his laugh carries
through the upper air of the Rec Room. "Canít find me," he says.
Tommy stiffens. He sits up and scans the room harder. Squinting,
he looks through the doors of the janitorís closet and the play-mat
storage room, through the plywood walls of the Junior Puppet
Theater, and through the beanbag stuffing of Big Bertha, the
Preston is nowhere, though again he laughs as if right beside me.
I rise and approach Tommy, looking down at his small, frustrated
face. "Youíll have to give up soon," I remind him. "Rules are
Rules, I said, not laws, knowing the children will break them.
He nods and canvases the room again with his eyes, surprising us
by getting up and walking around. After a moment he shrugs at me and
sighs. "I give up, Mr. Bruybard."
Belle floats back down to the floor and does a gleeful shimmy.
"Ollie, ollie, oxen-free," she sings. "Prestonís won."
"Okay, Preston," I say to the emptiness, "Tommy gives up. Where
All fourteen of the children gather around me, curious to see
where heíll show. Iím as anxious as they are and the twins read
this. "We know you are, Mr. B," they say in unison.
We wait and watch. I look down to find that Iím wringing my
hands. Then a sweet, boyish laugh echoes around the room, confirming
my fear that we were soon to lose another.
"Iím everywhere," says the voice.
Brandon Cornett was born in Roanoke, Virginia in 1972 and spent
the first two decades of his life in that state. From 1991 to 1995,
he attended the Virginia Military Institute and graduated with a
Bachelor's Degree in History. He then joined the Navy and was
whisked all over the country for follow-on schooling and
assignment. In 1998, he came to San Diego, California for a
two-year ship tour and has been there ever since. Currently, he is
a Lieutenant Junior Grade, finishing up his service at a naval
support center, where he writes technical documentation and performs
data collection. He has been writing fiction, in one form or
another, for over five years. This is his first short story
selected for publication.