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art by Tim Stewart

Vestigial Organs

Katie Camp lives in Georgia with her husband and her two cats. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading, playing the piano, and planning her next DIY home improvement.

"I'm afraid there's something wrong with your daughter, Your Lordship," the physician said.
The lord's chair squeaked as he shifted. He cleared his throat and ground his teeth together. He didn't ask the obvious. He didn't say anything at all.
"We were afraid of this," the lady said, her voice soft and breathless in the echoing hall. "She's too fast. She goes places we can't. She eludes us when she wants to. She laughs at things we can't understand. She knows things we don't. She is..." the woman's voice faltered. "Special."
"She is different," the physician agreed. He was examining the child's throat with probing, careful fingers.
"I'm worried about her," the lady said. Her velvet slipper made a faint tapping against the floor as she spoke. "She isn't like other children. She doesn't play well with them. She takes their toys without them realizing. She mocks them and laughs when they try to get them back. She is quick and sly. I worry, sir. I worry about her when she grows up. Will she develop a reputation? Will she discourage marriageable partners with her behavior? She's our only child. She will inherit our fortune. She will continue our family line."
"Will it worsen, do you think?" The lord asked. It was the first time he'd spoken since the physician had begun his examination.
The child, who had not made a sound up until this point, sneezed. Everyone flinched.
"How old is she?" The physician asked, resuming his examination.
"She was born two winters ago," the lady said. "She has not yet begun to speak."
The doctor said, "Hmmmm." He probed the child's head now, then made a series of movements with his hands.
After another moment he spoke again. "You were right, Your Ladyship. Your daughter is special. I believe she has a rare ability housed in one of her vestigial organs, but I'll need to run a few tests to be certain."
"What is it?" The lady was breathless. The lord, while he didn't say anything, held his breath too.
"It's called sight."
"Yes. The child uses her vestigial organs--eyes, they're called--to see. To find things, to know about things. Instead of using her hands and ears to explore the world, like us. That's the best way I know to describe it."
The parents were silent with wonder and horror.
A servant entered the room with drinks for the king and queen. The child stretched out both hands towards the light that was pouring through the open door and gurgled.
The lady waited until the servant's footsteps had faded and the door had closed again. "What should we do, doctor?"
"I suggest an emergency operation," the physician said. "Remove the eye organs immediately. Many parents have them removed at birth anyway. They aren't useful for anything, and they can become injured or infected. Your daughter will be fine, and perfectly normal once more."
"Is her condition... is it very rare?" The lord asked.
"It crops up most often among the poor, the guttersnipes, the lowest in society--some of them seem to want to cultivate it. Most of the country's best criminals use it to commit their crimes, I've heard."
"Criminals!" The mother's lips trembled. "Guttersnipes!"
"I'll arrange for more tests," the physician said.
"No." The lady stood and reached for the child. "Just take the things out. You said it doesn't matter, right? You might as well do it. Then the problem will be fixed."
"But a potentially unnecessary surgery, without knowing for sure--"
"If it will secure a good place for her in society, it's the most necessary surgery she'll ever have," the lady snapped.
It was the end of the discussion. The doctor put his instruments into his bag and excused himself. The lady sighed and stroked her daughter's hair. The child whimpered.
The lord shifted in his chair, speaking only after the doctor had left the room. "Perhaps," he said, "It isn't so bad. We are respected. Our daughter is lively and intelligent. The people of our city--"
"The people of our city will not tolerate a freak," the lady said, turning in the direction of his voice. "She will be ostracized. She might be called a witch! We need to have the operation done. Quietly. Nobody will know, and she will grow up normal."
The lord lifted his hand and touched his eyes, his fingers tracing the scars that the lady could not see.
"Normal," he repeated. And his voice held a note of unhappy agreement.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 21st, 2011

Author Comments

I'm often dismayed (but always fascinated) by what most of us will do to fit in with our peers. In many instances, people want to trim away anything weird or different, and they consider most abnormal traits undesirable. One day I wondered--what if everyone in a particular society were blind? What would happen to a child born with sight? Originally I planned to make the story much longer, but as I wrote it I decided the piece worked best as a brief, brusque snapshot.

- Katie H Camp
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