Dr. Carl Camphor, pediatric psychologist, has encountered and counseled traumatized children in the past, but something about ex-cult member Asia Ellis confounds and disturbs him. Hilarity ensues - or not, as her experiences and his frustration are no laughing matter..
“Sit up straight.”
“I’m sitting up straight.”
“Sit with your head tall.”
“I’m sitting with my head tall.”
“Put your hands on your knees.”
“My hands are on my knees.”
The room was pitch black. The people attached to each voice couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces, let alone each other in that tiny room. The commanding voice had a hoarse streak in an otherwise rich tenor range which even clearing his throat couldn’t take away. “Now. What did you forget?”
The second voice, a tiny treble sound, paused for a moment before replying, “…I’m sorry, my Elder.”
“I’m sitting up straight, my Elder,” she quickly amended. “I’m sitting with my head tall, my Elder. My—”
A sharp crack and a hiss of pain from the child ended her statement prematurely. The tenor voice continued slowly, compromising that rich tone for one more cold. “Speak slower.”
“—I’m sorry… my.. my hands are on my knees, my Elder.”
“Very good. Now, we can’t continue lessons until you apologize for your mistake.”
“…I’m sorry, my Elder… thank you for letting me apologize….”
“You have nothing more to say to me. Just apologize.”
The child swallowed hard before tucking her head down into her knees, wrapping her arms over the back of her neck. She couldn’t help flinching upon feeling a solid hand press her deeper down into that tucked position, which earned her another quick snap on the shoulder.
“You have thirty minutes to apologize. You can review your previous lessons to count the time,” the Elder spoke in that same even voice. “By then, you might have actually learned something to deserve being at your level at your years.”
“—I’m sorry,” the child mumbled into her knees, holding her breath to keep from reacting to the impending crack across her shoulder, which came not a second later.
“I said, you have nothing more to say to me. Just apologize. We’ll make it sixty minutes from this point.”
The girl hesitated for a moment, letting out that shaky breath. It took her a few false starts to find her momentum, but her tiny words eventually made their way out from the valley between her knees. “…I am a brother and I am small. I am the creation of the Elders above me. The Elders gave me the right to be a brother to my Brothers. I am just one brother and one part of the Whole. Without my Brothers, I am nothing. I will give everything to my Brothers and we will be strong together. We are the product of the Elders above us. We will always respect our Elders.”
This seemed to satisfy the Elder. She didn’t feel any continued punishment, anyway. That hand also lifted itself from her back, allowing her to breathe more freely than before. “We will always respect our Elders,” she repeated. “Our Elders give us food and shelter, and protect us while we sleep. Our Elders were once Brothers taught by their Elders. We will continue their… legacy. We will continue their legacy and follow their lessons, so we may teach new Brothers as Elders ourselves.”
As she spoke, she could hear shuffling to her side. Slow, methodical movement pacing around her, listening to her speak. She didn’t dare move, or pause her speech. After all, she never learned that Elders can see in the dark, but it would be better not to take that chance when she’s already in trouble. “We will learn everything our Elders have to teach. We will learn everything so we may grow to be Elders ourselves. We will learn every lesson completely and without error. Only perfect Brothers will grow to be Elders. We will be perfect Brothers for our Elders.”
“You will be the perfect Brother to your Elders,” the man interjected before she could continue. The shuffling stopped, and the child could sense his presence kneeling inches away from where she lay curled up on the floor. She felt his hand – this time, running down her hair. It wasn’t painful, so it couldn't be punishment. Still, she had to suppress a shiver, lest that rare gentle moment change immediately back to pain. “And you, specifically, will be perfect. You should be the role model for your Brothers. You are the Brother that your Brothers will be looking up to.”