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Brandon Cornett


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 need.

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 table.

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 crab-soccer ball.

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."

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 are you?"

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.

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