Drop Signal (Short Story)

This story was written as part of a challenge to craft a story, start-to-finish, in exactly 30 minutes. I'm presenting it here exactly as it was written, which is why you'll find typos and questionable sentence structure.


I suppose the worst part is that people talk on your behalf. It makes sense, which is why I’m not overly critical of the people who do it, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be comfortable not having my own voice. As we sit here in the administrator’s office, I know that I won’t have any input in the decisions made. If I could just say one word — or even blink as a response to a question — I’d have my independence.

No, that’s actually being too optimistic. The reality is that I’m a prisoner within my own body. It’s not just the inability to communicate. I am unable to control my facial expressions. I can’t guide my arms most of the time. My walking is erratic and I fidget. All the time. I also have these random vocal outbursts. As if people didn’t already have enough reason to stay away.

I live at home with my mother, and I adhere to a strict schedule. Of course, I’m in very little control of when things happen. This morning, like all others, my mother woke me up promptly at 8 a.m. She helped me get dressed and then fed me a big bowl of cereal. I like Lucky Charms the best, but she buys Cheerios. Once I made a sound when she pointed to the box, so that’s all she ever buys any more.

Afterward, we loaded up into the car to drive to a new school my mother has been evaluating for me. It’s exhausting watching her trying to do what’s best for me. For once, I wish I could grab her by the shoulders, kiss her check and tell her that I’m doing just fine. My body limits me, but my mind is free. I’m learning more than most of my peers and I’m happy.

Instead, I can only manage a grunt and half-absent head tilt.

On the way into the building for our appointment, she stopped just outside the door and lowered her head. As my eyes darted around, I noticed her lips were moving. She was praying. I couldn’t tell what she said, but I’m sure it was a variation of the same prayer she makes every day. She asks God to protect me, to guide her path forward, and to bring peace to our family. She could ask God for anything, but she directs all of His healing grace onto me.

With a deep breath, she said, “Amen,” and turned to look at me. My neck stiffened, causing my head to throw itself back in a way that I couldn’t see her; I could only hear her voice.

“Andrew,” she said calmly, lovingly. “Please know that I’m doing this for you. I want you to have friends. I want you to learn to communicate. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this school, but I need you to tell me if this is a good fit. Okay?”

I wish I could, Mom. I wish I could.

So here we are. My mother is sitting in one of the two chairs directly in front of the administrator’s desk. I’m standing in the back of the room trying my best to listen to their conversation.

“What do you think were some of the challenges for Andrew at his last school?” asks the administrator.

My mother, silent while she searches for the right words, takes a moment before she answers. “I don’t know if I could put it in words.” She looks back at me, saying, “He just seemed more closed off at the last school. I don’t think he liked his classmates. And the curriculum seemed too complicated.”

“Okay,” he hesitates before asking the next question. “Why do you think he would benefit from a full-time care facility?”

What does he mean? Full-time care facility? What is that?

“I just can’t meet his needs anymore.” My mother’s voice softens. “He’s grown up so much, and I’m afraid one of these days his spasms might hurt someone. And I just can’t seem to engage him. I haven’t seen any improvement in his condition for…well, for a long time.”

Mom, no! I’m fine! They can’t help me. I need you!

My mind is racing, but my body doesn’t show it. I’m now just pacing around the room. My arm snaps and I knock a small picture frame off a small table at the back of the room. Neither of them even notice, not that it would matter if they had.

Calmly, the administrator says, “Don’t worry. Even though he’s living here, you’ll be able to see him as much as you’d like. And you can take him whenever you’d like. This isn’t a prison.”

He has no idea.

They finish up their conversation. My mother signs some papers and they shake hands. She guides me out of the room. In the hallway, some uniformed men meet us. One of them puts his arm around me. The other one takes my hand. Together, they lead me away from my mother.

No! No! Don’t take me!

I struggle to turn my head, to look back at my mother. She stands silent behind me, watching me go.

No! Mom! Come with me! I love you! Let me stay with you!

Sadness and fear crash over me, clothing me in darkness. I struggle to breathe. My vision gets cloudy. Why is it hard to see?

Mom! I don’t know what’s happening!

“Wait!” yells my mother. She runs down to meet us. “Andrew — are you okay?” She grabs me by the back of my neck to pull me toward her, and peers into my eyes. “Andrew?”

The orderlies release their grip. “Is something wrong?” one of them asks.

“Look,” she points to my cheek. “Look here. He’s crying.”

I can feel the single tear stream down my cheek.

“He’s never cried before,” she says, her voice cracking as she holds back the urge to cry herself. “Andrew, what does this mean? Are you telling me you don’t want to stay here?”

I feel another tear well up in my eyes. My mother hears me for the first time.

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