ROBOT LEGS • by W.J. McCabe

“There’s Bran!” Jacob Kit screams to a fellow camper. The eight year old stands in a stopped line of children and gawks at the man most campers are terrified of.

The other camper looks at Jacob with raised eyebrows. “Bran is scary.”

“No he isn’t,” Jacob shoots back. He takes the criticism personally, but his blue eyes stay on Bran. Jacob sees no reason to be afraid of Bran because only the ‘bad kids’ get sent to him.

The object of Jacob’s interest approaches his camp group with purpose. Bran is a man in his late twenties or early thirties, but Jacob guesses he is about forty-seven on account of children being notoriously bad at such estimates. Despite this, Jacob sees a tenderness few recognize in the eccentric camp disciplinarian.

Jacob realizes Bran is heading for one of his two camp counselors. Even they are intimidated by Bran. They use his name in camper discipline, too. Every time a camper misbehaves he earns a letter in Bran’s name. If a camper gets to ‘n’ and completes the name he is sent to see Bran in the camp office. No one ever wants to be responsible for spelling Bran’s name.

“Hey Bran!” yells Jacob. His smile grows even wider and showcases a respectable series of missing baby teeth. He does not fail to notice his counselors are less excited to see Bran.

Bran smirks. He never actually smiles enough to show his teeth. “Hello Jacob.”

“Can I see your robot legs, Bran?!” Jacob asks as quickly as he can. Bran always wears denim jeans even when it is over a hundred degrees outside like it is today. For years it has been a source of great debate among campers and camp staff as to why. While there are rumors Bran has tattoos or scars on his legs others say Bran shaves his legs for swimming or has peg legs. Jacob is having none of that and buys into the fashionable theory Bran has robot legs.

Bran walks by Jacob. “Not today,” he says. His unsmiling face makes him unapproachable by design, but he seems amused by Jacob’s keen interest in him.

Jacob pouts. “Oh, come on. Yesterday you said maybe.”

Bran always answers ‘not today’ or ‘maybe tomorrow’ whenever someone asks to see his legs. He knows at least a dozen ways to say ‘no’ and encourage the rumors.

A few days earlier Jacob had tried to use a stick to not-so-subtly lift the right leg of Bran’s pants up.  Bran was slightly irritated, but politely backed away and asked Jacob, “What do you think you are doing?” Jacob thinks he saw some hair on Bran’s leg, but can’t be sure.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Bran says right before reaching the counselor he has come for. A brief discussion in whispers leaves the subordinate speechless as Bran walks away. “Bye Jacob.”

Jacob’s face lights up again. Bran rarely says ‘hi’ or ‘goodbye’ to anyone, and he is infamously terrible with names. Jacob feels special that Bran has committed his name to memory.

A thud in the distance goes unnoticed by almost everyone on the grounds. The screech that follows is noticed by half the camp, including Jacob who quickly turns around. What he sees confuses him. Bran rests on his side and an elderly woman with a cumbersome gut crouches over him.

“Get your group out of here!” she screams at Jacob’s counselors. Her fingers dial three numbers into a sweat glazed cell phone as she shakes Bran. “Bran! Bran!”

Before Jacob knows what is happening his group is being rushed from the area by the counselors. He takes another look back in the direction of all the action. Jacob recognizes the woman standing over Bran as another camp boss, but not Bran’s boss. Jacob cannot imagine Bran actually has a boss. He is Bran.

“It looks like heat stroke,” the woman who is a boss but not Bran’s boss loudly tells whoever she is talking to on the phone. “He is unconscious and has shallow breathing.”

Jacob hears Bran’s condition and hangs on one word. He wonders how stroking the robot legs will help to fix them and get Bran walking again.

“What happened to Bran’s robot legs?” Jacob asks the counselor he likes best. There is no reply to his question as both counselors are busy herding the group away. Jacob notices they look worried, but that is normal when it comes to anything Bran related.

“I hope he gets them fixed soon,” Jacob says to himself while he walks to wherever they are going.

The camp group soon arrives at a decrepit barn red pavilion tucked away behind a group of dense pines and well out of sight of the fallen Bran. Jacob hears some of the other campers being scolded by his counselors for talking about Bran being hurt or even dead. Jacob ignores them.

A symphony of sirens closes in on the grounds while Jacob muses alone in a corner about what has gone wrong with Bran’s robot legs. He knows Bran would never allow a robot leg malfunction to get in the way of camp. Bran never took time off and always wore jeans in heat wave weather without missing a beat.

Jacob plans to ask Bran what happened and knows he will see Bran tomorrow, if not later today, depending on how quickly the repairs go. He also intends to ask Bran about seeing the robot legs, too. And Jacob knows what the answer will probably be.

W.J. McCabe writes in Rhode Island, USA.

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