The letter was there in the mailbox. And yet the young man had yet to retrieve it. Instead he stared at it for a while longer, cursing himself quietly in the comfort of his own head.
It was just a letter: not a package, nor in a large manila envelope; though he was not sure if that made any difference. He hoped it did. He prayed there was some forgotten clause in his contract that would enable him to escape before the project officially started. Most likely not, he thought.
The young man sighed. And, still, the damned letter was there, waiting for him to pick it up. He should not have offered to buy coffee and donuts. Nothing good ever came from this extra nice shit, not even a little higher pay at the end of the month.
Why had he offered? He should have gone out with the others last night and drunk himself into a stupor. He should not have woken up so early and definitely should not have noticed he was hungry and in need of coffee.
He was an intern for God’s sake! He wasn’t supposed to notice his own needs. He reached into the mailbox and removed the letter. Grimacing, he shut the cubby door and locked it. After making sure he had everything, he walked to the lift and pressed the elevator call button.
It was going to be a long day.
The fog was just settling in, blanketing the skyline of buildings. The sun was nearly fully risen. And the morning traffic, like it always was in London, was hell. Not that any of the interns or the production crew had reason to notice this.
Today was a big day, after all. The young intern who had gone for the early bird coffee-donut run had returned with the mail, as well, and with it his ticket to history. Kinsmen Landing, the well-known Ireland based terrorist organization, had agreed to allow him to film a documentary of their organization.
So the truth of the matter can be brought to light and we be shown for the concerned individuals we are.
The letter read.
The director smiled. He would not paint them in a kinder light than they had experienced previously from the media, or any for that matter. He was a documentarian, after all. And he believed in that moment of truth suspended in time, when the camera catches something after hours of filming and photo shoots that finally captures what is at the heart of it all.
Now he just needed to make the necessary arrangements.
“Fuck!” Slamming the phone down and looking wildly around the room, Calvin, a middle-aged man, tried to think of any way to explain himself when Michael came back. He was screwed.
It had been his bright idea to kidnap the children, after all, and now they were facing the possibility of even more bad press. Calvin grit his teeth, a new appreciation for criminality growing inside him. Shaking his head once more, he walked out of the room in search of some brandy.
Calvin walked quickly to Michael’s office, trying to think of ways to explain why his plan seemed to be unraveling so fast. How was he supposed to have known kidnapping children would be so difficult? Well, he reasoned with himself, the kidnappings had been the easy part; it was what to do next that had him stumped.
Calvin was not a diplomatic person. Never had been, never would be, thank you very much. But that was becoming a problem in the next stage of their plan. After all, how do you successfully ransom children while staving off police intervention without someone seemingly trustworthy, for lack of a better word, behind the helm? You don’t, Calvin thought bitterly.
He stared at the doorknob with slight trepidation. Calvin heaved a heavy sigh. God damn it, he was not a coward! He reached for the doorknob at the same time as it opened up to display the beaming face of Michael, the man in charge.
“Change of plans, Calvin. We keep the kids.”
Michael opened the door wide, as he spoke, motioning for Calvin to enter, who swiftly complied.
Apparently, their need for manpower outweighed their need for money.
This would be fine, Calvin thought uneasily, except he had already started making ransom calls. Michael had waved his concern away, saying no one would think anything if the calls were to stop so soon. The parents would probably just come to think of it as a dirty prank, if anything. Something meant to monopolize on their grief. Besides, they had bigger issues to worry about, like the film crew that would be arriving soon to shoot a documentary on them, the first to be ever allowed entry to see behind their ranks, who the real Kinsmen were and allow them to prove once and for all they were not terrorists but freedom fighters for an independent Ireland, as Michael liked to say.
Calvin wondered bitterly how they were going to manage all that with the kidnapped children in tow, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
John walked towards the door, breathed deeply once more, before pivoting on his heel and marching back. He needed to think. This was just not right. He had just helped kidnap children. Shit! He looked around the room one more time and made sure all the children were as he had seen them last. Unable to control himself, John burst into a hysterical giggle.
The room was bare, save for a table in the middle, with a few chairs thrown haphazardly around it. The children had been divided into groups, the director was told (or head documentarian, as he preferred to be called). Most were named after the letters of the alphabet, while others had been given random names, such as those based on cards or colors. This was done to strip them of their individuality and remind them there was no going home. This was it for them: the end of the line.
Two men (more like teenagers, the director scoffed to the camera) were given authority over indoctrinating the children named after letters. This indoctrination involved locking them inside this room alone with just Oh, the one in charge of the lessons, and the Brown-Noser who held the camera to record the footage for him, as they were not allowed to enter the room.
Oh and the Brown-Noser were so named by the kidnapped children from early on. When asked why, Ehn had responded wildly with, “Because his nose is so brown!” The children were often found to say and do such nonsensical things. Such as with their names: all the children had insisted on writing their letters wrong, longer, so they were sad facsimiles of names. No matter how many times they were sent to the room for extra lessons, the discrepancies continued.
The documentary was spinning out of control. What once seemed so simple had become quite complicated with the addition of these children who were swiftly becoming child soldiers under his watchful lens.
“I learned my letters in that room.” Ehks softly said.
“But you already knew your letters!” The interviewer could not help but protest.
Ehks smiled weakly and fell silent.
Not all the children were made for film, he had realized early on. Yet he had maintained his position that they all see the light of day in his film. And so they had footage of all of them, the dead ones, and the ones who had lasted past the naming. Even the ones who managed to run away. Sad, sorry fucks; bodies probably riddled with bullets by now.
No, they had footage of them all in all their moments. The brave and the cowed suspended in one brutal moment, forever.
He had thought of reporting the missing children, about going to the police or the government even. In the end he had not. After all, what kind of documentarian would he be if he did not do exactly that and document this sad historic event as it took place?
To the children he was the Watcher and they hated him for it.
“All he does is watch! He loves to watch!” Ehl had shrieked the day they had been handed weapons and told if they refused to learn or were proven to not have the aptitude for war they would be killed.
He had stood morosely by and raised the camera up a bit, before proceeding to take that perfect picture of a girl gone mad by the tribulations of the world.
She had to be restrained from attempting to blow his head off for that.
“What made you realize these were children capable of being saved?” The interviewer asked only the hard questions, questions that made him ashamed. Made him question himself as to why he had not done anything sooner. But he knew why. The Cannes Film Festival knew why. They all knew why.
But still he plastered on a fake heartwarming smile and recited the words he wrote down the night before, about becoming a family, being human, salvation, and knowing when to answer in a time of need.
But really, he thought to himself, it had been those damned buttons.
Once he had seen the buttons that had been the end of it. No more filming, just arrangements to get the hell out with whoever that was left. He hadn’t thought such a simple act of kindness would be what would get to him, but it was. And it really hadn’t been that simple.
The children were never to cross the boundary, the border, unless they were on a run. A run was for lack of a better description when they rushed the border and killed as many British officials, coppers and sympathizers as they could. The children seemed to have made a game of it, turning the winning tally into a sort of achievement. It had seemed like it was a videogame of sorts to them.
Until one night, the Intern (who had picked up that fateful letter) had followed the children as they snuck out after one such run, filming all the way. He had not wanted to believe the Intern when he approached him a few days later with the evidence of their borderline insane compassion (as he put it). But there was no point in arguing with the celluloid.
There for the world to see if he so chose (and choose he did) was a new sort of run all its own: the children running across the border dragging the dead bodies of missing men and sometimes women and children. Dodging the bullets as they ran to the houses of the victims’ families. Proof enough of how serious and thought out these runs had been.
But what struck him the hardest were the victims’ clothes. Everything had been stitched back to perfection, so they seemed to wear new clothes.
These runs took place between sunrise and sunset. And the sewing of the buttons by these unwilling child soldiers was an image that would stay in the country’s consciousness for a lifetime, if not more.
After that, he watched no longer. He arranged for passports to be forged for the surviving children. He befriended the townspeople beyond the border and re-kidnaps were set up to get the children to their side of the region where they could safely return home to England and he could, after all of seven years, return to that dense London fog.
Calvin shot himself in the face on the day the film was shown in its worldwide release. He was a criminal, he supposed, and that was what criminals do to avoid jail time sometimes.
John left the Kinsmen to become a priest and help those less fortunate than himself. He remained a separatist and believer in a ‘Free Ireland’ but through peaceful and political measures.
There were rumors that the CIA and the MI6 were keen on getting the children into their ranks. Some who were old enough got jobs others did not. The ones who were still children went back to school. But always the story was the same: trouble assimilating and dealing with their pasts.
He supposed Ehl had explained it perfectly when one day after school before her follow-up with him she had idly complained, “I searched all over for God today but couldn’t find him.”