The Boy in the Barn

by nostalgia [Reviews - 6]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, General

He remembers a man. The man is very tall (or, more likely, he himself is short) and even when he crouches down to the child's level he still looms like the Panopticon.

“It's not that we don't want you,” says the man. “It's just... It's complicated. You'll understand when you're older.”

The boy says nothing and the man is forced to continue to fill the silence. “You'll have lots of new friends there.”

The boy looks down at his feet. He still can't quite process what's happening. Everything was fine, he is certain, until the baby came along and ruined it all. Weren't they all happy before that? Didn't his parents love him? And now they want him gone and it's not like he even did anything wrong.

“They'll feed you well, and give you nice new clothes.”

“I want to stay here,” he mutters.

The man sighs and stands up. “You can't. I'm sorry.”

He is washed and fed and put on a shuttle with a small bag of belongings and a note to be given to the adults at his new home.

Then there is a woman, slightly plump with a wide face. She wakes him — he must have fallen asleep — and leads him into the house, taking his bag for him and chattering about rules and opportunities.

It is smaller than his old home, with the sound of children everywhere. Maybe he really will have new friends. He's used to old people, adults, and isn't quite sure how to interact with his peers.

The woman stops outside a room with two beds in it. “You'll be on your own at first,” she says with an odd expression on her face. “We couldn't... I mean, we didn't want you to feel crowded before you've settled in.” She seems pleased with that line, which he suspects is a lie made up on the spot.

At teatime he is given a plate of soup and heads for the nearest available seat.

“Miss! Do I have to sit next to him?”

He's stunned by this, steps backwards involuntarily. Has he done something wrong? Did he break some unexpected taboo of social interaction? He looks around, and the woman says, “Yes, and stop complaining. He's not diseased. It's not catching.”

Is he sick? Is he dying? Did his parents send him away because they didn't want to see him suffering? He panics, runs out of the dining-room, out of the house. He runs until he finds an old barn to hide in. It smells of animals and hay, but it's warm and he can't keep running forever.

After an hour or so the woman appears at the door of the barn. “Are you in here?” she calls, and he tries to cry silently to stay hidden. But she turns her head and she sees him, lets out a long sigh and crosses the barn to his half-hearted hiding-place.

“You can't run away,” she tells him, patiently. “There's no place else will take you.”

He wipes his eyes on the back of his hand. “What did I do?”

“You didn't do anything, dear,” she says, and after a moment's hesitation she smooths his hair with her hand. “It's nothing you can change.” She sits down beside him on a block of hay. “I don't think it's right, them sending you here, but... Well, it's not up to me, is it?”

“I want to go home.”

The woman looks like she's about to cry as well. “It'll be all right, give it time. The others'll get used to you.”

“Just tell me what I did wrong.”

“It's nothing you did. I can't tell you more than that, but I want you to know that none of this is your fault.”

He's fairly certain that it is.

Somehow he settles in. It isn't easy, and he has to learn magic tricks and ghost stories to keep the other boys on his side, but the odd looks subside eventually, and he begins to make friends.

He learns that he is clever. He reads fast, learns easily. He can adapt to new situations and solve problems that stump his peers. After a few months of sailing through his school-work he is given an especially difficult test. He never learns if he passed it, but there is another within a few weeks.

One night he hears adults in the corridor outside his bedroom. “I don't think he's right for the army.”

“What else can he do?”

“You know perfectly well what else. I've got a cousin at the academy and she says -”

“They'll never go for that. They'd never accept him.”

“Why not? As far as anyone else knows his mother's a Time Lord.”

He freezes when he hears that. Has something happened to his mother? He waits, trying to stay calm, while the adults keep talking.

“Yes, but -”

“I'll send them his test scores in the morning. I don't care what lies I have to come up with, I said I'd do my best by that boy and I will.”

The conversation ends abruptly and the boy doesn't sleep until dawn.

He is to say that he's an orphan. The story is woven as the woman helps him into a set of ill-fitting robes which are freshly-laundered and the best clothes he's worn in a long time. They'll have to be returned, he's told, so he's not to eat anything until he's back at the house.

He is taken to the Capitol and there are more tests. He carefully fills in “Deceased” on the forms that ask him about his parents. They might as well be, he thinks.

He goes home — and when did he start thinking of the orphanage as his home? - and waits a few days to discover his fate. There's no one to pray to on Gallifrey these days, so he crosses his fingers and hopes.

The next few weeks are a blur of activity. The woman sews day and night until he has new clothes to wear at the academy, and he wanders about slightly dazed when people congratulate him. The oddest thing is how pleased the adults are when he passes his medical, as if there was ever any doubt that he is a healthy Gallifreyan.

“You'll visit, won't you?” asks the woman, cleaning a spot of dirt from his face with her handkerchief. “They'll keep you busy, but don't forget where you've come from.”

“I won't,” he promises.

He says goodbye to his friends, puts a box of sandwiches into his bag, and waves to the assembled crowd of onlookers. It's ridiculous, really, you'd think they were going to make him President the way everyone's carrying on.

“Go on, hit him.”

He looks up at the older initiates. “Why?”

“Don't ask questions, just do it.”

He glances down at the boy cowering at his feet and then he says, “I don't want to.”

He makes his first enemies with that statement, takes a beating for it but he doesn't hit back.

“You shouldn't have done that,” says the other boy when the older ones have left.

“Why did they want me to hit you?”

“They have to hit someone,” is the incredulous reply. After a pause he adds, “They're calling me Koschei.”

“I'm supposed to be Theta, but really my name is-”

“Don't tell me! It's bad luck!”

“Why is it bad luck?” he asks, bewildered.

“It just is! What are you, a Shabogan or something?”

“What's a Shabogan?”

Koschei stares at him. “Do you really not know?”

He shakes his head.

“They live outside. In the dust-lands.”

“Oh. Then yes, I am. I think.”

“Then for your own sake, don't tell anyone else.”

“I think my mother's a Shabogan,” he muses as he lies in bed one night.

Koschei twists round to look down at him from the top bunk. “Why do you say that?”

“I don't know, but there's something they haven't been telling me.”

“Oh.” Koschei thinks for a moment. “Look it up in the birth records.”

“I did. I don't think the records are right.” He pauses. “I'm going to break in to the Matrix.”

“You're what?”

“The Matrix knows everything,” he reasons, “and it's not like it's they guard it very well.”

“They don't have to.”

“Will you come with me?” He waits for an answer and then adds, “It's okay, I can do it on my own.”

“I just -”

“It's okay,” he repeats.

He runs faster and farther than he's ever run before. Out of the dome, across the flood-plain, up to the mountains. He finds an empty cave and hides in it, terrified.

“What's your name?”

He cries out in fear, turns to see an old man sitting cross-legged in the dirt.

“I'm... I don't know,” he says, honestly. His eyes sting and when he blinks he feels tears forming.

“Would you like some tea?”

“I'm fine,” he lies, “I'm just a bit lost.”

“I'll put the kettle on,” says the old man, rising to his feet.

The boy wipes his eyes and follows the old man out of the cave. “Do you live here?” he asks, for something to say.

“In a way. My name is K'anpo,” says the man. He stops suddenly, looking at something on the ground. “Oh,” he says,“Look at that.” It is a small yellow flower, a sarlain. The old man plucks it from the dirt, hands it to the boy. “See?”

“It's a flower,” he says, stupidly. “They're quite common round here.”

The old man smiles. “Did you know that they're not native to Gallifrey?

The boy stares at him, scarcely daring to breathe.

“And yet that never stops them growing.” He smiles serenely. “The flowers aren't afraid, why should you be?”


“It's all right,” says K'anpo. “You've done nothing wrong.”

This time, for once, the boy believes it.