Arnold was a strange child. Not the normal strange, he was too odd even for that. As a baby, he never cried and he never fussed. He didn't indicate at all that he wanted to be fed, or showed that he ever wanted anything. His parents had been worried about his lack of reaction when he turned three and brought him to a specialist, who examined him with every kind of test they had. Luckily, most of those tests were experimental and the parents weren't charged for their use.
Unfortunately, nothing was found. His brain worked fine and his central nervous system lit up when he was touched or prodded. His eyes and physical reactions were all within the normal range for a child of his age. The only conclusion that the specialist could come to, that the only thing that seemed to be wrong with him, was his lack of being stimulated mentally. Nothing seemed to excite him. Shiny toys and loud noises did absolutely nothing for the boy. Different tasting foods made no impact on him and they could feed him anything at all and he would eat it all the same way. Monotonously.
When Arnold was five, his father found him with an odd furry thing in his grasp. Not knowing what it was, he tried to take it and see what it was. Arnold squinted his eyes at him and reluctantly let it go. His father looked at the thing and it was a squirrel. A dead squirrel. Scared, the father quickly disposed of the carcass and took Arnold inside the house. He would be starting school in a few weeks and his father didn't want Arnold to make any kind of fuss.
“Don't tell your mother you found that dead squirrel.” His father warned him. “I don't want her upset.”
Arnold looked at him with a blank stare, as was his normal look, and walked away without a word. His blonde hair was trimmed short at the whim of his mother and it gave the boy an air of maturity.
School started and Arnold was admitted to the local primary school. Both of his parents were worried about his interactions with the other children, so they stayed around and watched as Arnold entered the classroom for the first time.
None of the other children paid him any attention and he sat at the very back of the classroom. The other children were rambunctious and lively as they jumped around and played with each other, while Arnold sat in his seat and kept to himself. Dejected, his parents left and hoped that the constant company of other kids would do their non-reactive son a world of good.
The teacher had been advised about Arnold's peculiarities and she was determined to break that little boy out of his shell. She didn't realize that it wasn't a shell, it was just who he was. She still did her best to include him at the front of any activities that she had the students participate in. She worked hard and spent extra time with him to try and get some kind of reaction out of him, and all of her efforts were in vain... until that fateful day the class project was introduced.
Keeping a pet.
For the first time in six months, she saw Arnold's eyes widen slightly and almost sparkle. Her heart was overjoyed that he was finally interested in something, so she dove into the subject with abandon and explained everything she knew about keeping a pet alive and happy. Arnold listened attentively, or so she assumed, because his eyes never left the little hamster in the large cage.
A week later, she came into the classroom early to prep like she always did, and she noticed that the hamster's cage was open and the little thing was gone. She frantically searched all of the classroom's nooks and crannies and all the hiding spots a hamster could get into, and she didn't find it. Saddened at the loss of the class pet, she closed the cage and decided to hide it for the day. When her students came in, only two of them noticed the missing cage and asked her about it.
“Nibbles is just taking a short vacation.” The teacher said, surprised that Arnold was not one of them. “He'll be back in a few days.”
Arnold looked up from his desk and looked right at her, and let a little smile show.
The teacher caught her breath at the sight, because she had never seen his mouth move except to eat, and now she could see his smile. It was striking, and she made special note of it in her class log. She was thankful that hamsters were so cheap and would pick up a couple of them, just in case. She had heard that the little things always managed to get out of their cages somehow.
Every few weeks, she would find their pet hamster missing and would replace it, and no one was the wiser. She would laugh as she added 'escaped hamsters' to her classroom expense report and claim the loss. She was a little worried that the things might get together and create a bit of a problem; but, they never did. Once they escaped from the cage, they were never seen again. The janitor told her that he couldn't find any droppings, so they hadn't stuck around.
The school year ended and as each student came to her to accept their certificate of completion, graduating them into the next grade, they each gave her a hug. She always accepted them as her due for watching over them all year. The last child to approach her was Arnold. She opened her arms to get his hug and he stepped close. She hugged him, a little tighter than she had the other children, because he was the one that had made the most progress in her class that year.
Arnold put his mouth by her ear and whispered. “Thank you.”
The teacher caught her breath and tensed up, because he hadn't spoken a single word the whole year. “You are the best student I ever had.” She whispered back and let him out of the hug.
When he stepped back, once again she was stunned by him as he gave her a full smile this time. She held in her tears and her emotions just long enough for the ceremony to end. She closed the classroom door and burst into tears, because none of the children had ever thanked her on their own before. They had been prodded by their parents to say it and they never meant it. This time... when the silent Arnold spoke the words... she knew he was genuinely thanking her.
Arnold's father drove home from the school, which officially started summer break. He briefly turned his head towards the backseat. “So, did you learn a lot this year?”
Arnold nodded slightly and his father saw it in the rear view mirror.
“Want to tell us about it?” Arnold's mother asked.
Arnold shook his head slightly. Everything he had learned he wanted to keep to himself.
A month into summer vacation, Arnold's father discovered a bit of an off smell came from under the small shed that he kept his lawnmower and various tools. He was sure that something had crawled under there and died, so he grabbed a shovel and dug at the ground beside the shed. It was looser than he thought it should have been, then he heard a squelch sound and the smell tripled in intensity. He gagged a little and held his breath as he dug the shovel back and down, then pulled it out...
...and found six dead hamsters in various states of disembowelment.
He threw up, because he couldn't be sure that the shovel did all of that damage, even with the sound the shovel had made and the increased smell. He walked back to the house and grabbed a black garbage bag, dumped the ghastly remains into it, then used the shovel to dig out anything that might still be under the shed. He was relieved that there were just entrails and no other dead animals. He added them to the bag and filled the space he just dug, then carried the garbage bag to the back of his property.
A hole was dug, the bag was tossed in, then it was buried. With the horrible task done, Arnold's father thought about confronting his son. He wasn't sure how to phrase it, though. Should he accuse him outright? The boy was only five years old and would be six in a few days. No, that was too harsh. Maybe he could bring it up in conversation somehow. He chuckled and shook his head. There was no real way to do it.
I'll just have to keep an eye on him and see what else he does. Arnold's father thought, put the shovel back in the shed, and went into the house. He didn't notice the bright eyed boy that had been hiding right there in the bushes the entire time.