I blame Deadmau5. For making this exist. Because then I had to tell my daughter that it was based on a story, who it was by, and what it was about.
Her: “Well, then what happens? To the kids?”
Me: “Nothing. It’s a short story. It just ends.”
If you haven’t read The Veldt, you ought to do. Even if I think Ray Bradbury portrays all women as hysterical, simpering simulacra of actual female persons.
They had to cut the power to the house from the closest transformer box. It cut power to seven of the neighbours: they emerged from their houses frowning and blinking in the late evening light; so many little red ants on the hardbaked grass. The neighbours hadn’t seen the Hadley family for several weeks, but that was normal.
“I can barely keep track of where my own family is. You can’t expect me to keep track of the family next door.”
The Happylife Home’s Televised Answerator announced itself full and suggested calling later: George Hadley’s employer had given up leaving messages. Doctor McClean missed a dozen appointments before his secretary realised that enquiries ought to be made. He wasn’t picking up, but he was easy to track as his mobile phone transmitted his location every time it passed a receiving tower.
Public records showed five mobile devices inside the house, but the infrared cameras showed only two people. No one left the house without at least one connected device. Dr. McClean was in that particular house, and most likely all four of the Hadleys. But only two of them alive.
The Happylife house was supposed to call 911 automatically when something like this happened. But it hadn’t, indicating a pretty monumental failure in the safety system. The Dudley Do-Rights knocked loudly at the door for several minutes, before attempting to access the house’s central processor. It was locked down tightly. The battery backup generally had eight good hours of life, so do-not-cross-tape was strung out festively around the yard and officers stationed to cautiously sip coffee and grouse about their bad luck.
“There are no criminal masterminds,” said one of the Dudley Do-Rights to the other, and downed the dregs of his coffee, even though it was burnt and bitter.
An hour and an hour and an hour, and the little buzzing house wound down, and slumped to a stop. Without power, without the fail safes and backups, the house was just a box after all. Inside the box were three sets of bone-bare gnawed remains, and two very live children. The bodies were brought out into the evening and hastily identified using dental records uploaded to the police car’s computer. A fine mist began to fall and hissed threateningly on the still-hot pavement.
The two children, Peter and Wendy, were safely extracted at last. They were taken for evaluation to the local hospital, until someone could find identify and contact any remaining family. They were by turns coldly clinical in their dealings with the staff, and utterly hysterical. They screamed for the playroom, for the house to save them. They scratched and punched at the nurses, and ran for the elevator. It was during one of these turns that they were eventually sedated.
Two Dudley Do-Rights came to interview the children. The girl did nothing now but cry and scratch, and they mostly kept her sedated. But the boy, this Peter was a stone, and he sat the long afternoon grey in a blistered plastic chair beside the bed in his room. Peter stared out the window, his mouth set in a line and a furrow on his brow.
“I know you must be very upset ,” she began, “but we need you to tell us what happened in there. To your parents. And Doctor McClean.”
Peter sat silent and impenetrable.
“They tried to take the playroom away,” he said simply
“I see”, she said. She had suspected but was still surprised at his forthrightness.
“But you must have known that someone would notice? That the household credit would run out? That the power would go off?”
“The house was supposed to take care of us. It was supposed to take care of everything.”
“It was just a house, Peter. Just a house.”
Every Happylife home provided constant video surveillance, ostensibly for the busy parent to check on the children from work, or from the supermarket. Once the house’s main processor was extracted and the video record disgorged the Dudley Do-Rights had everything they needed to know. They didn’t need to ask anything more from Peter and Wendy, who were left to the tender mercies of the hospital’s psychiatric ward.
There was no other family to claim the two children. The nurse administrator crossed her arms sternly. Her voice was white and crisp, and she put her questions to the head of the Psychiatric ward directly.
“What do you intend to do with the Hadley children?”
“They’ll be kept here for the time being. The nation’s top psychiatric experts are here. But of course they can’t stay here indefinitely, and they are too young for prison.”
The nurse administrator shuddered. The thought of what those two angel-eyed children had done chilled the entire room. The department head continued.
“My staff is trying to secure places for them at a wilderness program for troubled youth. A few months roughing it in the woods will do them good.”
“And after that?”
“Peter and Wendy are wards of the state now. We’ve arranged for them to be sent to a lovely residential treatment centre here in the city. They’ll get the treatment they need.”