Author: Helen Merrick

Theresa Davies wrung her hands. “It’s not been an easy decision.”
“You co-signed both contracts, agreed to the payments.”
“Yes, but circumstances have changed. Please, I have no choice.”
Shielding his eyes, George scoured the horizon. “I give up,” he cried, stamping his foot. “Where are you?”
“You looking for me?”
George turned to find Thomas running towards him. Disappointed, he sank to his knees and angrily swiped at the long grass.
“What’s going on?” asked Thomas, panting.
George shrugged.
“Come on, what’s up with you?”
“I hate it here,” George mumbled, his bottom lip quivering.
“Why? What’s happened?”
“Evie’s gone.”
“Gone? Like the others?”
George sniffed and shrugged again. “We were playing hide and seek and—”
“Hide and seek?”
“I’ve looked everywhere.” George glowered. “She’s not here.”
“Okay, I believe you.” Thomas surveyed the meadow with the woods, lake, and mountains beyond. Frowning, his gaze settled on the tall metal fence only metres away. “I do wish we were allowed out there, we could play hide and seek forever.” Thomas scratched his head. “Maybe Evie got out, like Joe and Aziz.”
“Maybe.” George plucked a tall grass stalk and chewed the end thoughtfully.
“I’d like to escape,” said Thomas, squatting in the grass next to his brother. “You know what, Georgie? There has to be a way.”
“Everything’s drawn up, Ms. Davis.” Dr. Richards hesitated. “I trust you understand the need for discretion. I’m only sanctioning this because you’re a valued client.”
“I know and thank you.”
“I just need your thumbprint.” Dr. Richards passed a tablet which Theresa took with shaking hands.
“Will it hurt?” she asked.
“The termination? Of course not.” Dr. Richards smiled. “We take the greatest care of our residents which, incidentally, is why there’s no alternative. As you know, our retirement plans are designed to run the full twenty-five years or until natural death.” His smile faded. “Returning residents, snatching them from the freedom of a second childhood with perfect health, no memory of responsibility would be, well… cruel.”
“I understand.” Theresa stared at the tablet, thumb poised. “I… I lost my job,” she said, tearing-up. “I’ve enough money to pay for Dad but not…”
“Ms. Davis, calm yourself.” Dr. Richards offered a tissue. “Unfortunately, I can’t offer charity.”
Theresa nodded. “And my father…”
“Will be blissfully oblivious, you have my word. Our residents’ happiness is paramount. Always.”
“What kind of problem?” Dr. Richards demanded.
“Some of the pods didn’t load the last updates.”
“Deletion updates?”
“Yes. There’ve been rather a lot recently and some of the pods need de-bugging.”
“So you want to delay today’s deletions?”
“I need more time.”
“Time?” Dr. Richards slammed a fist on the table. “Time is money. We have a waiting list, you know – a long one.”
The technician gaped. “We can’t delete without updating the programme. They’ll remember.”
“And cry to who? You?” Dr. Richards smirked. “We’ve done it before with no complaints.”
“Oh, don’t act all innocent. Execute the deletions and reset the pods. I want them available today. Understood?”
The technician blinked then nodded curtly. He tapped his tablet. “Hold on, this pod’s contract’s still got fifteen years to—”
“Just do it!”
Thomas eyed the fence. “There has to be a way over. Or under. Maybe if we—” Gasping, he clutched his chest and fell to the ground, twitching and flipping like a fish out of water.
“Thomas?” George sprang to his side but Thomas promptly vanished. “Thomas! No… don’t leave me, please!” Frantic, he cast around then, sobbing, crumpled. Hugging his knees, he rocked gently.