“‘Hello? Is this my customization?’ asked the fetus. The doctor gave a microphone to the couple so that they could talk to their son.
‘Hello, my beautiful son. Shall we get to it?’ asked Mary, wanting to get on with it.”
“Alright, Mr. and Mrs. Gardner, the fetus communication device is all set up. We’re ready when you are,” the doctor said, while double checking that all the wires were in the right place.
“I think we’re ready, doctor,” said James Gardner, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Clutching his wife’s hand, he whispered something in her ear, which made her frown mildly. The screen powered on, and James and Mary could see their fetus. Excitedly, Mary grasped her husband’s forearm, as they had been trying to have a child for a few months, with no success until then. It was a long and painful journey, but they had finally succeeded.
“Hello? Is this my customization?” asked the fetus. The doctor gave a microphone to the couple so that they could talk to their son.
“Hello, my beautiful son. Shall we get to it?” asked Mary, wanting to get on with it.
“Yes, sorry.” The doctor opened his laptop. “Let’s start with a simple one, what are you thinking for height?”
“I was thinking maybe 6’5, 6’6,” James said.
“No, that’s too tall. The Inspector will see him as a freak! He’ll get sent straight to the Ugly House. 6’3 will do just fine,” said Mary, arguing with her husband, just as always. The doctor typed on his computer, inputting the requested height.
“Alrighty, now, how about eye color?” the doctor asked, still typing at his keyboard.
“We were thinking about blue, not very dark, but more like an ocean or sky blue,” Mary said, and James nodded, for once agreeing with his wife. The doctor typed some more on the computer.
“You better make me blonde. Not too yellow though, more like a pale blonde. I’ve studied the current beauty standards,” the fetus said excitedly.
“I don’t know, I was thinking brown hair, but I guess you would know better than me,” Mary said, debating whether or not to trust her child-to-be. The doctor typed that information in the computer.
They stayed there for another hour or so. Whenever James tried to bring an idea to the table, Mary shot him down with some excuse. Eventually, James got sick of it and just let Mary and the fetus choose. He didn’t want his son to get sent to the Ugly House. He had heard about what happened there. He had heard that the Inspectors were very harsh. He had heard the rumors. He was nervous.
* * *
Mary had given birth to Liam Gardner after 16 hours of being in labor. The Inspector was due any minute now. James had to leave for a meeting halfway through Mary giving birth. She was not happy about it. He was always leaving her to do some sort of work thing that she didn’t understand. Well, at least she now had a baby. A beautiful baby boy. Or at least she thought.
“Is this Liam Gardner with James and Mary Gardner?” a deep, booming voice asked. Mary turned toward the door. She saw a man dressed in a black and gray vest with a scar on his face. He was donning a black baker boy hat.
“Yes, I am Mary and this is Liam. James could not be here, unfortunately,” Mary said, a little bit snarkily.
“Liam Gardner, what an interesting name.”
“Oh, the name is not final, we can change it if you think it’s odd.”
“That will not be necessary.” The Inspector walked toward Mary and the baby. “What a tall little man. He appears strong as well. He will be helpful to fight in our armies, if he is deemed satisfactory, of course.”
“Notice how beautiful his face is!” Mary said, trying very hard to get her son deemed satisfactory.
“It will not help you nor the boy if you try to convince me. I have made my decision. You will be sent a letter in the mail with instructions.”
“Instructions? For what?”
“For how to get your boy to the Ugly House. And for what to do from there. Please inform Mr. Gardner of this decision and read the letter together when it arrives.”
Mary was shocked. Her son, going to the Ugly House? That didn’t happen to the wealthy folks. Liam had studied the beauty standards, and she had trusted him. Now he was going to be taken away. She had to speak with James about this.
* * *
Mary stormed into their home.
“James. Our sweet Liam is being sent to the Ugly House. I know this was all your fault, you in those meetings, when you told me in the customization that you had to sort a matter with the doctor, you knew he was going to be sent to the Ugly House all along!” Mary screamed at James, sobbing.
“I did that to protect you, dear Mary. I knew I wouldn’t be able to help you raise a child. I was barely there when you were pregnant, I could never have time for our son,” James said, a lot calmer than his wife.
“And you thought that sending him to the Ugly House would be an appropriate response? You couldn’t have just been there for him?” Mary was really yelling now.
“Mary, you are acting obtuse. Do you not realize I was just trying to help? God, Mary, you’re impossible sometimes.” James was starting to get more aggressive.
“I’m impossible? I take care of our child, I cook, I clean the house while you just go to work all day! I don’t see you ever, and I’m the impossible one? You’re insane, James! You know what? Don’t come to our room tonight. I need my space from you.” Mary picked up Liam and went to their room. Liam’s crib was already set up in there, at least James did one thing. Mary had just gotten in bed when she heard a knock at her bedroom door.
“Hey, Mary, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I know it won’t help but I just wanted you to hear it. This came for us, I thought you might want to look at it first.” James slipped a letter under the door. It was addressed to both of them.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gardner,
On the next page are the instructions for how to get your son, Liam Gardner, to the Ugly House. You have three days to get him there, or he will be forcefully removed from your household.
Mary skimmed the instructions and then opened the door. James gave her a hug, and then took the letter from her. They would take Liam to the Ugly House the next day.
* * *
The instructions had been very clear. Liam was to be brought to 151 Applebaum Street, and he would be taken to the Ugly House. Mary and James took their relatively-newborn and got into the car. They passed Bananabaum street, Pearbaum street, Grapebaum street, until they finally got to Applebaum. 147, 149, and then finally, 151 Applebaum street. The house was painted a turquoise color, and neither Mary nor James could say that they liked it very much. It looked very old and run-down. Almost abandoned. The instructions had said to leave Liam on the porch and not to hover. They did exactly that. Mary and James had driven home, and didn’t see Liam again, at least not for a long time.
That’s where their stories end, but Liam’s story, well, that one is just beginning.
* * *
Liam was lying on the porch for about 15 minutes before an elderly woman came out of the house and got him. She brought him inside and gave him a bottle of milk. Then, as standard procedure for all incoming Ugly children, she gave him a dose of a serum made from maple tree bark that allows him to talk.
“Hello, Mr. Liam Gardner. You are here because you have been deemed Ugly. Do not be alarmed, you will not be harmed just yet. You may call me Mrs. X,” the elderly woman, Mrs. X, said.
“So, I was deemed Ugly, why am I not in the Ugly House?” Liam said, confused.
“Currently, you are in what is called the ‘transition period.’ You will be transported to the Ugly House in about 30 minutes. This talking serum will wear off in about two minutes, so if you have any questions, now is the time to ask them. Don’t worry, this is standard procedure.”
“What is it like in the Ugly House? Will I be treated poorly? I’ve heard rumors that it’s terrible there.”
“I apologise, but I’m not allowed to address that. Oh, I think the serum has worn off. Unfortunately, I cannot give you more. Here, play with this.” Mrs. X gave Liam a baby toy to play with until the Transporter arrived.
30 minutes later, Liam was picked up. The Transporter put him in a seat in the back of a truck. The ground was damp and it smelled like mold. The Transporter was not a good driver. He kept on swerving and hitting potholes. About 15 minutes into the drive, the truck stopped. Liam was taken out of the foul-smelling vehicle and put into a baby carrier. He was handled aggressively and carried until he saw a mansion. If someone had asked Liam to describe what he saw in that moment, he would’ve just said scary. The mansion was huge, and looked amazing, but Liam knew it was the opposite. The whole thing was very eerie. Liam was taken inside. He was greeted by an incredibly ugly young girl. She seemed about seven years old. Her family must’ve been poor, Liam thought. Come to think of it, all of the children in this home were not from a high income family. Liam was the only outlier. Liam thought it was kind of horrible how only the poor got sent to the Ugly House. Well, mostly the poor. The girl took him to a room that didn’t have any windows. The only source of light was a small lamp in the corner. There was a black crib in the room that Liam assumed was his. Sure enough, he was placed in the crib. The ugly girl gave him a small bottle of milk that she had hidden underneath her bed.
“Drink up. I’m Susan,” the girl whispered to him. She seemed cautious, as if something or someone was preventing her from talking to him in full volume. Liam drank the milk. Susan watched him drink, and then took the bottle from him when he finished. Liam thought this was a bit odd. This whole place was kind of odd. But it certainly was nothing like the rumors, at least not yet.
“The guard will be here any minute. I should go,” Susan said anxiously. She left the room.
“Liam Gardener?” a woman’s voice came from outside the room. “I am here to introduce you to the Ugly House. I need to give you an injection so that we can… communicate with you better. Don’t worry, it’ll only be a pinch.” The woman came inside the room with a needle and a bandaid. She gave him the injection and put the bandaid on. Liam felt different. He felt older. It’s not possible that that injection made him older, right? It’s not possible…
“Great, it looks like the injection worked. You are now 11 years old. Can you speak?” the woman asked.
“How – how did you make me age ten years with only an injection? Why am I suddenly 11 years old?” Liam asked, confused.
“This is a standard procedure for all incoming Ugly children. Do not be alarmed.”
“That’s not possible, the girl that greeted me, Susan, she was only seven. It’s not possible for her to age ten years.”
“The injection works differently for different people. That ugly girl only aged five years. Now, let’s take you on a little tour, shall we?” The woman grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him out of the room. She took him to a room that again didn’t have any windows and sat him down at a metal table. The chair legs were uneven, and the table was sticky and smelled of orange juice. Sure enough, the woman gave him a glass of orange juice. When he finished drinking it, the woman took the glass and put it in a bin on the table. There was a small side room, which she went into and took out a pen and a notepad. She then looked at him and began to write something down. Liam was curious.
“What are you writing?” Liam asked, anxiously.
“That’s none of your concern! Don’t be so nosy, or you will not enjoy your time here. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
“Um, I guess not.” The woman continued to write. About ten minutes later, the woman had stopped writing and took Liam out of the room. She instructed him to follow her and took him to another room with no windows that had a chair and a barber smock in it. She told him to sit down and grabbed an electric razor from a side table. She then gave him a haircut.
“Nice hair makes someone look more Satisfactory. You stay here for three months so that we can mold you into a Satisfactory child. We transport you back to where you started, 151 Applebaum street. Your parents or whoever can come get you from there. Unfortunately, the injection never wears off, so you have lost a few years of your life. Oh well. Get up and follow me please.” She walked to yet another room. This was going to be a long three months.
* * *
Liam looked in the mirror. I guess I’m, Satisfactory now? He thought. The Inspector was supposed to come today to reevaluate him. Liam was not sure if he was excited or disappointed. The last three months were something to say the least. He enjoyed his time here overall. He made a new friend in Susan from his room. He was considered attractive now. But despite all this, he still felt incomplete. He skipped ten whole years of his life. Ten years that he would never get back. Well, at least he would see mom and dad again. He heard a knock at the door.
“Come in!” said Liam.
“Hello, Mr. Gardener. My, you’ve grown a lot since the last time I saw you,” said the Inspector, shocked.
“Yes, well I was given an injection which made me age ten years, as per your instructions,” Liam said, passive-aggressively.
“Do not put the blame on me, boy. I only deemed you Ugly because my boss had told me to. I have to reevaluate you now. You are a very good height for your age. And my-my, very strong too. Hair looks great. I deem you Satisfactory. Goodbye now, Mr. Gardener.” The Inspector left the room. Liam was in shock, that all happened so quickly! The woman who had given him a tour (whose name he still hadn’t learned) came into the room.
“I’m here to discuss the details of your departure. You will leave our facility in half an hour. Please go pack your things now,” the woman said, without an ounce of emotion in her voice. Liam packed up his stuff and went to the exit of the Ugly House to be picked up. Again, he was put into the back of a truck. The ground was not damp this time, but it still smelled of mold. After a 15 minute ride, the truck stopped at 151 Applebaum street. James and Mary Gardener picked him up. They went back to the house. Mary had decided to get a divorce from James, so she took Liam and they got their own house.
That’s where this story concludes.