- Two brothers, one born in perfect health and the other with a degenerative disease. A story of coming to grips with mortality in the digital age.
- This title is available for free from iTunes, but you can help support future Dark Acre developments by purchasing a copy from the Gumroad links above.
- A short story by Christopher ‘Jack’ Nilssen
- Science Fiction
- Approximately 5,000 words.
- Published March 7, 2013 (3rd ed.)
Parlow began life much like many of us. He was among the lucky few to be born without physical defect or mental deficiency, and his parents were well-off enough to afford him a safe and comfortable childhood.
He grew up in a mid-sized city near the sea. The city was famous for being the last settlement in the country. The founding fathers had set up a fortress there hundreds of years ago, atop a rocky crag that allowed them to catch seaborne invaders before they could make landfall. The petrified logs of the great wooden wall that had surrounded the fort were still there, stone-hard and solemn, caked with salt from their years of vigilance against enemies that had never come.
Parlow’s father often took him to the fort on weekends, when time and weather allowed, to play imaginary games among the towering ruins. The government had turned the place into a tourist attraction, charging a handful of bills for the privilege of wandering around inside. Parlow’s father never had to pay the toll, because he worked for the government and that was one of his perks.
Sometimes Parlow’s brother, Samuel, would be brought along. Samuel hadn’t been as lucky as Parlow, and suffered from a rare degenerative bone condition that the doctors didn’t have name for. He couldn’t walk without fear of his brittle skeleton cracking to pieces, so whenever he left the house they needed to bring him in his chair.
Parlow felt neither pity nor sympathy towards his older brother. His father had always said that “you had to take whatever hand God dealt you” and that sometimes “God cheated”. Parlow knew his father was making a very complex situation simple, and appreciated the elegance of the logic. It was just a bad deal for Samuel.
Though he couldn’t live a full life of running in the fields and playing contact sports, Samuel still took his share of fresh air and the outdoors. Parlow remembered the sound of the hard rubber tires of the chair as their father wheeled his brother up the stony path to the fort’s entrance. Samuel always insisted on a heavy woolen blanket to cover his thin legs, hiding some of his shame beneath the scratchy cover. Even in the height of summer that dun colored blanket would sit in his lap and make him look dignified.
Their father would leave them to their own devices once they were inside the fort. Samuel could wheel himself all around the place, as the government has thoughtfully paved the interior with blacktop and installed ramps wherever needed. Sometimes he would push himself around after Parlow, exploring the ruined barracks and out-buildings together, and sometimes he would find a place on the walls by himself and stare out at the whitecaps rolling on the wide blue-grey sea.
Their father would smoke and talk with the security guards. Samuel never listened too closely to what they said, but he knew his father was an entertaining man of great humor, and the boy would often hear the men laughing uproariously at whatever story his father was telling.
After visiting the fort, if the brothers had behaved themselves, there would be ice cream.
Summers fell into winters, and the fort remained a constant for Parlow. Sometimes he pretended he was a soldier, vigilant against the hidden threats from across the seas, and sometimes he was just a child, running free and wild through the corridors and courts.
The boys got older and a tutor was hired for Samuel, and one of the rooms of their house was converted into a study. Their father built low pine bookshelves that ran around the walls, and slowly these were filled with texts on all topics. Samuel had a voracious appetite for knowledge, and Parlow once overheard the tutor telling his mother that Samuel had no real need of a teacher, and that the boy was fully capable of educating himself.
Parlow had to go to public school. The first school, kindergarten and the elementary grades, was a squat cinder-block bunker a few blocks from their house. His mother would walk him down in the mornings for the first few months, until she was certain that her son knew the way, then Parlow would walk alone. He didn’t much care for the school, nor the people in it. Perhaps it was the months spent in Samuel’s study that had given him a slight advantage, but he always felt like he knew more than the others.
He never complained, though. He knew that he’d been given a gift of sorts, one that had made the experience of school that much easier, and he wasn’t about to expose his edge. He suffered silently through the condescending teachers, the imbecilic classmates and their games, and the ridiculous linear structure of the place.
Samuel shared Parlow’s understanding, even at that young age. Samuel’s advantage was that he existed wholly outside of the systems of society. Alone in his study with all the world’s knowledge at his fingertips, Samuel was afforded a view that very few people ever gained. In this way, the balance of nature was righted, and whatever cards Samuel held in his hand beat the ones that God had dealt him.
When Parlow finished his daily lessons in the elementary school he would run home and sit in Samuel’s study. Samuel would look up from whatever text he’d been studying, smile, and begin to recount the things he’d learned that day. Occasionally he would ask Parlow if anything interesting had happened at school, but for the most part he would teach, and in his review strengthen both of their minds.
Parlow learned many things before their official appointed times. Philosophy, chemistry, biology, politics, mathematics, literature, strategy, business, and fine art. The boys soaked up the wisdom and knowledge of hundreds of years like thirsty sponges. Samuel, with his condition, was able to openly express his hunger for information. To those outside, Samuel was living in balance, his mental acuity making up for his physical handicap. Parlow had to hide what he knew, slowly grinding away his hours in the remedial lessons at the public school.
While Samuel was able to display his burgeoning intellect to his parents, Parlow could not. In those days, to show any hint of real understanding was just asking for trouble. The other children seemed to have a great fear of knowledge. They always acted afraid to admit that they didn’t know something, and yet at the same time no one wanted to show that they knew too much.
Once, Parlow offered to explain the theories behind a certain form of early algebra, something he’d learned with Samuel years before. Parlow’s definitions were far simpler than the mumbling stumbling of the teacher at that time, and he’d elegantly demonstrated the theorems to the class. Afterwards, on his way home, he’d been jumped by several of the bigger boys of the class. They’d dragged him through the brambles, shouting all kinds of insults.
Parlow had never told anyone about this. It had been much easier to keep his mouth shut and head down after that. It had filled him with pride that the time spent with his brother in the study had caused such ire and fear in his narrower-minded classmates. Knowledge truly was power, and the brothers were growing stronger every day.
Then Samuel’s condition began to worsen.