|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Two for the Price of One
Lester grumbled as he came down the stairs wearing attire quite unsuitable for church that Sunday morning. His father Matthew saw what he was wearing, and looked him square in the eyes, "That is hardly appropriate for church, young man."
"I'm not going to church!" Lester told him forcefully, exercising all of his teenager pigheadedness that he could muster.
"We're not going to have this discussion again, Lester. Get dressed properly, and be back down here in fifteen minutes." Matthew told his recalcitrant 14 year old.
"No." Lester said quite firmly.
"Dear, listen to your father." his mother Anne conseled in a soft voice.
"I'm not a deer! I'm a buck!" Lester declared, befroe storming off back upstairs again.
"Not this again." Matthew sighed. He offered up a silent petition to God to give him strength and wisdom to deal with his unruly son. This was becoming more and more of a daily ritual, one that was trying on his patience. It had started a few months ago, when his son decalred one day that he was not really a human being, but a steer. Of course, Matthew thought that it was just a passing fancy, nothing to be concerned with, but it grew into something much more sinister, as in the intervening months his son began to grow apart from them. Before then, he had never objected to going to church, nor had he showed signs of disobedience or disrespect. True, like many children he misbehaved on occasion, but otherwise he had been a well behaved boy. Anne was still convinced that it was just a phase and that he'd pass out of it, but Matthew wasn't too sure. He could read the handwriting on the wall, he could see that his son was systematically rejecting everything that his parents believed.
Of course, he knew where the problem lay. Anne was simply too lenient, and refused to abide by the punishments that Matthew had set out for his son. He had taken away Lester's computer rights before, but Anne always succumbed to the feeling that Matthew was too harsh, and so gave them back. The contradictory messages he received from his parents were the worst thing that could have been given to the child, not that the stuff he was finding on the internet was saintly to any degree. About the only thing that Anne did think was just was Matthew's broad statement that if he found Lester touring any sites that had expressly warned him of the mature content, he would lose computer priveleges for a month. So far, Lester had actually not gone to any such pages, but Matthew wondered if that wasn't long in coming.
Anne looked over at him after Lester had tromped up to his room again, "You are too hard on him. He's just a boy."
"He's fourteen years old, Anne." Matthew said calmly. "He's at a delicate age. I don't physically beat him anymore, you know that. I wouldn't, but I will take away whatever priveleges I feel necessary to teach him charecter and proper moral living."
"Well..." Anne stumbled for words, her face rather reluctant, "don't be too hard on him this time."
"I never am." Matthew finished his eggs, put the dish on the counter, and then began to walk upstairs. He looked at his son's door, it had a picture of a very beautiful looking buck with a ten point rack standing on a canyon edge, against the backdrop of the sun. It was a beautiful picture, and the steer was an amazing animal. He had to admit, there could have been worse things his son could have convinced himself he was.
Matthew knocked, and heard Lester call back, "Go away."
Matthew opened the door and saw his son sitting on his bed, just looking out the window to the copse of trees out back. Matthew saw that the computer was turned off, and that his Sunday best was lying out on his chair. He could feel the breeze from the open window come across his face, and he drank in the rich aroma of fresh air. Lester ignored him.
"Look son, we have to talk." Matthew sat on the other end of the bed.
"What's there to talk about, your going to force me to do something you don't want to do. Just like you always have." Lester did not even look at him.
"Well, you don't seem to mind forcing me to do something that I don't want to do." Matthew replied, his anger building. He sent up a petition to God to keep his anger under control.
"You never do anything I ask!" Lester accused.
"If you are refering to your request that I pray that God would turn you into a steer, then all I can say is we've had that discussion before. My reasons have not changed."
"I know that! But you still don't do anything I ask! And you make me do things I don't want to do!" Lester accused turning to face him, fire in his eyes.
"It is a parent's duty. I am trying to teach you how to be a responsible citizen and adult. You are neither. And until you can show me that you can be responsible, and act maturely, then I will continue to give you orders, and you will continue to follow them." Matthew felt a sense of indignation, how dare he say these things! Did he not know of the sacrifices that had been made so that Lester could even have a place to live, and food to eat, and clothes to wear?
Lester grumbled, then said, "If you two had been deer, then we'd be much happier, and you wouldn't have these problems. You wouldn't have to worry about clothes or a home."
Matthew sighed, "Son, sometimes I wish that it could have been that way. I would not have minded being born a deer. But I was not, and neither were you or your mother. We are humans, and humans have responsibilities, and they have duties. Now, we are going to church, and you are coming with us, so get dressed."
"I'm not going to church." Lester insisted.
Matthew shrugged, "Well, in that case, you will not see this computer for two months." Matthew reached behind the tower, and began to pulls the plugs out.
Lester looked at him in horror. "Fine, I'll go to church." he said finally. "Can I have my computer back?"
"After church, and as long as you stay awake this time." Matthew picked up the tower, and walked out the door, carrying the computer downstairs with him. He heard a few muttering from behind the door, but otherwise, it sounded like he was after all getting himself ready.
Anne looked at the computer in Matthew's arms as he entered the kitchen, and she looked at him inquisitively. "He gets it back after church. If he's not ready in fifteen minutes, I'm keeping it away from him for two months."
"Two months? Why so long?" Anne asked, horrified.
"Because it will stick in his mind, and make him think twice about ever acting like that again." Matthew replied.
"But that's too much. Take it back, please." Anne asked him, her voice quavering.
"No, if we give him contradictory messages, it will only make the problem worse."
"But, how can you do that to somebody you love?" Anne asked.
"It's tough love. I do it because I do not want him to be hurt in the end." Matthew spoke straight from his heart, knowing how many times he had tried and failed to explain this to Anne.
"But..." she asked again.
"No, there is no buts. I've made my decision, and you are not to go behind my back to rescind it." Matthew said firmly, offering up another petition to God for strength to get them through this time of trouble.
Anne settled down looking very distraught. Matthew put the tower in the locked cabinet in his study. It was a key lock, and he kept the key with him at all times, so there would be no chance that Lester could sneak down and get it. He then picked up the morning paper, and skimmed it for the news of the world.
Fifteen minutes later, Lester had not come down. Matthew looked at his watch, and then at Anne, who gave him a pleading expression, and then turned back from him, flipping through her purse as if to look for something. Matthew put the paper down, and then began the walk back to Lester's room. He knocked on the door and called out Lester's name, but there was no response. He knocked a second time, "Lester, it's time to go to church." Still nothing. Matthew tried the door knob, locked!
"Lester, you open up this door!" Matthew pounded once more, and then, slammed his body against the door. Fortunately, the locks inside their house were pretty flimsy, and the door came open. Matthew scanned the room, saw the Sunday clothes untouched and still lying on the chair, saw the stripped bed, with the bedsheets tied to one corner, and the rest dangling out the window, but no sign of his son Lester.
Anne came up behind him, "What's all this shouting about?"
Matthew ran to the window, and looked out. The bedsheets extended all the way to the ground below, but no sign of Lester outside either. Matthew felt his heart skip a beat, and he crumpled on the stripped bed, "Lester's run away."
Anne cried out in horror, "You did this to him! You made him do it! How could you!?!"
Matthew sat staring dumbfounded at the rope made from bedsheets, all the while raising up a plaintive why unto God.
Lester moved as quickly and as silently as he could through the forest. What with his big feet and unwieldy body, he crashed and stumbled through the twigs and leaves. He didn't imagine it would take too long for somebody to find him. Why had he run away anyway? It didn't make a lot of sense in retrospect. Although he was a buck, he did not look like a buck, nor did he have the body of one, so he couldn't live like he felt he should in the woods. He would gain nothing by it. Yet, how could he spend another moment with them! They just didn't understand, and they wanted him to do things that he didn't want to do. How could they? How dare they ask things of him! Did they not realize that he was not truly their son, but the son of the forest?
He continued on like this for some time, amassing an array of cuts, bruises, abrasions, and to top if off a case of poison oak. He was cold in this chilly autumn morning, hiden from the sun. How he wished for the fur coat that he knwe he should have, that would protect him from these elements. What good was a brain if you had a body that was so weak that it couldn't by itself survive?
He was so caught up in his own thoughts, that he lost track of time. Not only that, he was completely surprised when he bumped into that man.
"Why hello there!" the man said smiling down at him. Lester looked up into his face, and saw in that smile something of a triumph, but he did not understand it. The man appeared to be a woodsman, he had trapping gear hanging from his right side, and a dead rabbit on the other.
"Who are you?" Lester asked nervously. One thing that his parents had told him that he still remembered was not to trust strangers.
"Why, I'm nobody important, just an old trapper living in the woods." the man replied, sitting down on a fallen log. Now that Lester thought about it, he did look old.
"What's your name?" Lester insisted, leaning back up against another tree, not too sure whether he should trust this old geezer.
"I'm Jack Ketch." the man smiled. "Just an old trapper as you can see. And who are you to be running through the woods like a madman?"
"Lester." he admited. "I'm running away from my parents. They just don't understand me." He had no idea why he was opening himself up like this, but he needed to tell somebody, who not this guy? He seemed nice enough.
"Why don't your parents understand you?" Jack asked, looking him over, "Your a fine looking boy, a bit mussed up, but nothing a good bath can't take care of."
"They don't understand that I was born wrong. I should be a steer, instead of this." he gestured at his body, as if that would explain everything.
"Ah, souls get mixed up, mighty bad business that is." Jack seemed distraught.
"You believe me?" Lester was surprised at such a reaction. He ahd expected the old man to laugh, and then ask him what he had been drinking.
"Of course I do, son." Jack smiled again. "I can see it in every move you make, every twitch of the eye. You were meant to be a buck."
"Yeah, well, there's nothing I can do about it." Lester slid down the tree in despair.
The old man looked at him for a moment, then looked away as if not really interested in the boy's welfare. "What would you say if I told you that I knew a way to fix your dilema?"
"I'd say that you were a gift from Heaven." Lester replied.
"Really?" Jack seemed surprised. "A gift from Heaven? Does it matter to you that much?"
"More than you know." Lester assured him. "Can you do it? Can you make me into a deer?"
Jack held up a finger to silence the boy, and then reached in his belt pouch, and pulled out a coarse sand. At least it looked like sand, but it was a pale green, and sparkled in the dim light. "If you eat every grain that is in my hand, and only the grains that are in my hand, then you will have your wish."
"How?" Lester asked, taking an involuntary step towards the hand that was being proffered.
"Do the birds worry about how they kniow to fly? Do the squirrels worry about how they get their food? Do the deer worry about how the hunter's can kill from a distance? No, and neither should you worry about how. Just ask yourself, do you want this? If the answer is yes, then take this from my hand, accept what I am giving you, and nothing else, and you will be a steer. Otherwise, you will always remain as you are, pink, soft, and unhappy." Jack Ketch rose to stand up, and in his presence their was an awesome power that Lester could not name, nor classify. However, all that he wanted was there in the hand, that was his escape to the life he knew he should live.
Lester took another step closer, but hesitated What of his friends? What could he do for them? How would they feel when he wasn't there to share in their desires to be an animal? "What of them?" Jack asked, reading his thoughts. "This is your peace we are talking about, not there's."
Lester took another step towards the greenish sand, he could almost taste it now. The man was only a foot from him, and the aroma of the sand was like the sweetest perfume. Lester felt his body swell with pleasure like he had never before experienced at each intake of breath. He leaned over, his face getting closer and closer to the pile of greenish sand waiting for him to take into his mouth. He licked his lips, only inches from it, as his body quivered in anticipation like he had never felt before. Then, he felt the first touch of the sand on his tounge, and his body shivered in delight beyond anything he had ever known. He lowered his head into the pil of sand, and took as much into his mouth as he possible could. He felt Jack push on the back of his head with his other hand, keeping him down at the palm of his hand.
He felt the sand pour down his throat, moving through him, coursing over his body, and touching every last bit of him. The last resevoir of any affection he had for his parents, was completely destroyed by the touch of the sand, as was his concern for the well being of any other. His tounge licked Jack's palm, drawing in every last grain that was there. He could feel his bones shift and turn even as he stood there, and he felt his clothes begin to constrict him. He did not notice the discomfort, as every cell in his body let forth with cries of pleasure. He vaguely noticed the stretching feeling in his arms and feet. He barely felt the hardening at the ends of his fingers and toes. He dimly was aware of the stub that grew from his spine. Even the outstretching from the sides of his head was only a shadow of the pleasure that he was experiencing. The spherical object that forced itself from his mouth and out onto the palm of Jack Ketch was also but a passing experience. The pleasure was all he could comprehend.
And then, he could not even comprehend that. He looked up, saw the man, and the slightly shimmering object that was in his hand, and bolted into the depths of the forest. Once he fetl safe, he stopped by a stream, and lowered his head, with it's massive ten point rack, into the streambed and lapped the water there. His eyes fell upon his own reflection for but a breif moment, and the steer's visage was sent back to it. It did not bother him in the least, nor did it occur to him that he should have been concerned. It was that very same way just two days later.
Matthew opened the door, letting Pastor Bly into their home. Anne was still wiping tears form her eyes, and had gone through an entire box of tisues. Pastor Bly was very concerned, and still dressed in his best suit. "Thanks for coming, John." Matthew tried to smile, but couldn't.
"I left as soon as you told me what happened." Pastor Bly replied. "I trust you've alerted the police?"
"They were here an hour ago. I'm sure you can understand why we weren't in church this morning." Matthew replied.
"I can understand. I remember when my own daughter Erica fell down a well and broke her leg. Nobody knew where she was for days, and my wife and I were deathly worried. How is Anne?" John tried to cover up the sorrow of a past pain that he had felt, and it did encourage Matthew some to know that the Pastor truly did share his feelings.
"She's in our bedroom." Matthew said, then turned and saw her there, looking with vacant eyes at him. She had stopped crying, but her hair was wet and sticky from her tears, and her face was absolutely terrible.
"Anne, I'm terribly sorry." John Bly came over to her side, and put a hand reassuringly on her shoulder.
Anne turned from John, and looked accusingly at Matthew, "How could you?"
Matthew looked guilty, "I didn't know that he would run away."
"Let's sit down, and see if we can talk this through." John told them, pointing towards the couches in the living room. Matthew went, and Anne followed him in. Nethier sat next to each other, John noted taking a seat himself opposite the two.
"Now, what happened this morning?"
"Lester declared that he wasn't going to church again, and in the end, I had to threaten to take his computer away from him for two months to get him to agree to go to church. While we thought he was getting prepared, he slipped out his window." Matthew explained.
"I see. And he has never done this before?"
"No, never." Matthew replied, still struck to the heart by what had happened that morning.
"Have you ever punished him like this before?"
"I've taken his computer away before yes, but Anne kept giving it back to him." Matthew explained.
"That's because you were too hard on him." Anne explained glowering at Matthew, "If you hadn't been hard on him, he wouldn't have run away."
"And if you hadn't kept giving him back his computer, he would have known that punishments mean something!" Matthew declared in frustration. It was obivous to anybody watching that they had gone through this argument many times before.
"Calm down." John Bly advised. "What seems to me to be the problem is not either one of you, but both of you. One of the Ten Commandments is to honor thy father and thy mother. How do you expect Lester to do that if you both tell him different things. He cannot obey the one without disobeying the other, because you two do not compromise with each other."
"How can you do something that hurts to somebody you love?" Anne asked, beffudled.
"How can you let him continue to act like a miscreant if you do love him?" Matthew asked, not understanding how she could be so blind.
"Anne, you may not like this, but I believe that your husband is right about this." Pastor Bly told her. "I think that you should not interfere with the punishments and judgements he passes over Lester. However, the fact that you all have let this continue for so long, is both your faults."
"What can we do?" Matthew asked.
"One, Anne you should let the final decision as to the appropriate punishment rest with Matthew. Matthew, you really need to talk with Anne first before you make a decision, and see what she thinks is appropriate. Secondly, I think you should all, Lester included once the police find him again, as I'm sure they will, come and join with several other families in one of my family counseling sessions. God willing, we can find and make ways for us to be happier together, and I'm sure that we can bring Lester back to you two."
"But, it seems so mean." Anne complained.
"Anne," John seemed a triffle annoyed, "your constant objections only make things worse. If you truly want your son back, then you need to let Matthew do his job. If you interfere, you will only drive a greater wedge between Lester, Matthew, and you. St. Paul counseled wives to submit to their husbands, and while I admit this is not the most popular thing Paul ever said, in this case I must strongly urge you to put it into effect, for not only is your child, but your family is at stake here. Do not through that away."
"All right." Anne said begrudgingly.
"Matthew, do not forget what I said to you, for it applies as well." John looked at him with piercing eyes.
"I will always talk to Anne first before I decide on a punishment." Matthew replied.
"Good. Now remember, God watches over everyone, and He loves you and your child. Misery falls on the righteous as well as the unrighteous. Let us dwell on what He has given us, and not what He has taken away." Pastor Bly reminded them.
"Thank you, John, you are a great man of God." Matthew told him.
"Me? No, I stumble more than you would believe. It's not the stumbling, it's the getting back up again, and continuing on the race that counts." John smiled and blushed slightly at the compliment, as he walked towards the front door to leave.
"If you see Lester, don't hesitate to call." Matthew told him.
"If I see him, you will know about it immediately." John smiled, praying for the safety of the child behind his calm facade.
"Thank you." Matthew said after John walked out the door.
"I'm praying for you Matthew, Anne." John said as he walked down the front steps. Anne just stared after him, her face sitll in shock.
Ronald Walter took another sip of his coffee as he drove down the forest road that Tuesday morning. What a misreable day it was, just drizzling enough to give the day a morose feel. He didn't like Tuesday's anyway, as it meant he still had three more days of work to go before the weekend. Since he had an early shift, he was on the road early in the morning, and it was darker in the forest at night than anywhere else on the Earth.
Thinking about work only made him more miserable. He had so much to get caught up on, it seemed like he would sink beneath the surface and die from suffocation. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong at the office. The server was down, so they had to use typewritten letters instead of email. The heaters had kinks in them, so that sometimes they would send a burst of cold air instead of warm. To add insult to injury, the office forbade any games on the computers, which meant no more minesweeper for him.
Ronald Walter shook his head in dismay, sighing at the prospect of another day when he came round a bend in the road. Before him stood a massive stag, with a huge rack. It turned to look at him, as he stepped on the break, just a moment too late. He felt the animal bounce off the front of his truck, and slide on down the road. Ronald quickly undid his seat belt, climbed out of the door, and walked over to where the animal lay. What was before him was no deer, but a teenage boy, who was quite dead.
Matthew was at work, it was nearly midday, and he couldn't think. They had decided that it would be best if he went to work, to try to take the problem of Lester's disappearance off his mind. It wasn't working. In fact all he could think about was Lester, and how much he missed him, even though he was unruly, and very uncooperative. He didn't care, he give all he had to his son if only he would come back to him. In that moment, he understood the parable of the prodigal son better than ever before.
So when his wife called that day, he was glued to the phone, and he dropped his lunch on the floor, and didn't even care. "What is it, Anne?"
"He's dead!" she wailed into the phone. "Lester is dead!"
Matthew fell to the floor, the phone nearly falling from his hands. He choked back tears, and tried to cool the yell of rage that was welling up in his voice. He took a few deep breaths, and then asked, "How? How did he die?"
"A car....hit him." Anne was sobbing nearly uncontrollably now, her words were barely intelligible. "How could you!?!"
"I didn't mean..." Matthew tried to explain, but the words died on his lips.
"You killed our son!" Anne screamed into the phone at him. Matthew did not reply, but instead dropped the phone, and crawled over to his chair, and climbed back up in it. He lowered his head on his desk, and began to weep.
Sometime later, he got up, and went home. He told his boss what had happened, and was given the rest of the week off. Matthew climbed in his car, and began to drive home, trying not to think of what his son's last few moments were like. He tried not to cry out in anger at the unfairness of it all. He tried not to cry again, nor to unleash his pent up frustration at the other cars in traffic, who were taking their sweet time.
He did not know how long it took to get home, nor anything that passed him by while driving. He stepped into his home, and began weeping anew. He dropped his briefcase on the table, and went looking for Anne. She was not in the living room, or the kitchen. He found her in their bedroom, sprawled out on the bed, face down. It looked like she had cried herself to sleep.
Matthew went over and sat by her side, and shook her gently. She did not stir. He shook her a bit more forcefully, but agian, she remained still. He rolled her over, and saw her mouth agape, eyes wide, and dilated. A horrible thought came to him, and his eyes wandered the room, and found on her besdie a glass half drunk, with a pile of aspirin lying beside it, the bottle emptied. Lying on the floor below was a piece of paper with writing on it. The writing was very sloppy, and their were some water stains that had dripped onto it as well. The note read, "how could you?"
Matthew looked back at his wife, and then fell to the floor himself, crying in anguish and pain that most never would feel. He cried out to God, "Why? Why?" and did so until he collapsed from his misery, and fell to a comforting sleep.
Alongside the forest road where Ronald Walter had inadverdently killed that stag, walked an old trapper named Jack Ketch. He smiled, jiggling two little balls in his free hand. They sparkled in the sunlight piercing the trees, and most would only see that. To the more asute observers, what appeared to be dust inside the balls themselves wavered with the light, and shifted over time. However, under the closest of scrutiny, the balls Jack Ketch jiggled showed the souls of Lester and Anne screaming in anguish.
Jack Ketch sang a jolly song as he walked.
Two for the Price of One copyright 1997 by Charles Matthias.
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