"I had been more expecting a list, Darnelle, not a potted history of each child who's a little odd who has come in recently. I mean, few of these children can be described as baseline sane, can they? If they could, I wouldn't need to employ you." Dr. Conjeeca was trying to sound meaningful, hinting that he'd like to leave his office now and go to bed, preferably with a good textbook on morbid diseases and a glass of stewed-prune-juice, but even to his own ears he sounded slightly petulant.
"Even if I gave you a list you'd only be asking me for more information," said Darnelle, shifting again in her seat. She'd been suffering from insomnia for the last couple of weeks and knew that she'd be awake for several more hours yet at least. Hank Conjeeca was a strange fellow, she thought, but this was more interesting than sitting in front of her laptop trying to beat her current highscore on mine-sweeper.
"Take Christopher, for example. He came in yesterday morning. And yesterday afternoon, and yesterday evening."
Dr. Conjeeca smiled thinly, his red lips pressed tightly together, stretching the crow's feet at the corner's of his grey eyes. "You mean he keeps running away? That's what the leg-irons are for, Darnelle. Barbaric or not, they work, and we rarely have to keep the children in them for long."
"I think you're well aware that I believe that leg-irons are wrong," said Darnelle, outrage sparkling in her eyes. "We should just butter their feet--"
"That's for cats, not children! We could lose funding if it came out that we were doing that!"
"We could lose funding if the leg-irons were discovered!"
"It's written in Dr. Spock's book!"
"You wrote it there, in black eyeliner pencil!"
The two glared at each other across the desk, both breathing heavily. Dr. Conjeeca had grabbed both sides of the desk and started to rise from his chair, and Darnelle's hands had contracted into fists. Dr. Conjeeca sat back and released his grip on the desk, the dark expression on his face not changing, and said,
"Maybe this is a discussion for another time. You were saying that Christopher keeps running away."
"I wasn't. I said he'd come in three times so far. He hasn't been running away at all."
"Then how...?" Dr. Conjeeca was still too angry to show puzzlement, but at the top of his mind he was curious now. Children generally came in in one piece only, but perhaps he could obtain additional funds for a child that came in in several pieces.
"Christopher has eight arms so far. He came in with two, then three more arrived, and then three more after that. He can attach them all somehow to his body, though he's refused to do it in front of anyone so far. He's like a little spider."
"Is this why he's an orphan? Have his parents rejected him too?"
"No, his parents are definitely dead; they were found partially digested in an upstairs bedroom. His grandmother had a heart attack when she saw him with all eight arms attached, and appears to have switched her own life-support machine off. His father's brother was arrested for shaking the grandmother's corpse and screaming at it, and his mother's sister went from busy social worker to chronic alcoholic overnight and is currently checked in to the Betty Ford clinic at the taxpayer's expense."
"What was the uncle screaming?" asked Dr. Conjeeca quietly, his head filled with the strange images of a family going mad.
"You can't leave me with that little bloodsucker!" and "I'll do things to your corpse that'll make you regret leaving me with him!"
"Ah. It'll be a long prison sentence then?"
"Especially since he went into graphic detail about what he'd like to do to the judge's elderly mother."
"So we have our very own little spiderman, do we? That is a curious case."
"And still not the last!"