A Runner of Sticks
By David Castlewitz
Dad had the best of intentions when he had us kids genetically modified. My sister, Sheila, at six-foot-five, became a well-paid and sought-after underwater salvage worker because of her size and her gills. My brother, Ken, a thin man standing no higher than five feet, rescued dozens of people from burning buildings thanks to his fire-resistant skin. I was meant to be a tracker, a star detective perhaps, but something went wrong and I wound up a playmate at Happy World Preschool. I romped. I tumbled. I ran after sticks.
The children loved me. Dad tried to hide his dislike, but my siblings ridiculed me at every opportunity. I think our mother would’ve been understanding and accepting, because the moms at Happy World encouraged their kids, petted them on the head, and never yelled even when they whined and cried.
I intervened when I could. Our first Rule of the Yard was, “Make happy times whenever wherever.” So, when Sally threw an apple at her mother or Timmy the Terror sat on the pavement and cursed the sky, I went into action.
“Isn’t Randy the best,” Sally's mother cooed from the safety of her car.
“You’re doing good, Randy,” Timmy’s mom called when I jumped on her wailing kid and tickled him until he wet himself.
My own mother, if only she’d known me, would’ve beamed and smiled, and cooed kind words. I often imagined her sitting in her cottage in that far off farm where dad put her after she tried to kill me, pictures of me spread across her lap.
I even imagined visiting her. I’d jump out of the car and skip-hop to her cottage door. I’d burst into her little room with its ornaments dangling from the ceiling, its huge stuffed chair encasing my frail mom like an oversized bag wrapped around a doll, and the room’s air perfumed by colorful flowers dancing on a windowsill. I’d kiss her all over, make her laugh and cry and hold me.
But Dad would never take me to the farm. He never talked about her and I knew he was as disappointed in her failures as he was in mine. He boasted about my sister and her achievements. He bragged about my brother. But he never came to Happy World to see me play in the yard, hit a soccer ball with my head, or jump on my hind legs when told to dance.
I went to family dinners now and then, with Mrs. Harold, Happy World’s administrator, as my keeper. She sat at the table, across from Dad, wedged between my sister and my brother, her large round eyes darting to and fro. Dad never looked up from whatever fare occupied him at the moment. I think these get-togethers were a chore for him, even though everyone else enjoyed the chance to exchange gossip and good-natured ribbing.
At my special place in the corner, on my special chair, at my special little table with its playful animal motif top, I ate from my favorite bowl, careful not to slobber all over myself, get my bib dirty, or splash water on the floor. Even though Mom was no longer there to kick me for such bad behavior, and though I knew Mrs. Harold would protect me if Dad lost his patience, I liked making as good an impression as possible whenever I had the chance. After all, one of the reasons for these occasional suppers was to show my family that I’d made progress adapting to my situation.
I think they understood, even if they didn’t play with me after supper. Sheila and Ken always shot up from the table moments after finishing dessert. Sometimes they looked in my direction, shook their heads or wagged a finger because I’d flung pie crust or cake frosting against the wall or onto the floor, and grunted their disapproval.
Mrs. Harold explained, “We have a particular room for feeding him. Easy to clean up.” She flashed a toothy smile. I wondered if she was a failed hybrid herself. She understood so well. What gene-cross mishap gave her such an incongruous shape and look? Bulging eyes, patchy dark skin, curly hair that sprouted from her head like some sort of bush, and big teeth that sparkled in the light.
“He’s special and precious,” Mrs. Harold once said.
“Special?” Dad spat out the word. “He ain’t so special, lady. He came out a freak.”
Mrs. Harold smiled and said, “To Happy World, Randy is our special chummy-bud.” Sweet words. They soothed the wounds Dad inflicted with his invective. Not able to speak, I couldn’t thank Mrs. Harold with anything more than a rub across the back of her legs when she took me to her car. I licked her hand. I nuzzled her neck from the rear seat. And then I lay on the blanket she kept for my comfort, paws under my chin, hind legs drawn together.
Now and then, when we stopped at a light in traffic, people glanced into Mrs. Harold’s car and stared aghast at the sight of a human-canine hybrid with the face of a boy and the body of a dog. I sometimes heard gasps. I sometimes heard laughter. I sometimes heard nothing but whispered conjectures and opinions, amazement at best, hatred at worst.
If it weren’t for the children who romped with me, or the tender regard of Mrs. Harold, or the parents that appreciated what I tried to do at Happy World, I think I would’ve wished Mom had succeeded in drowning me as an infant. I think I’d look at myself with the same disapproval my siblings showed. Or I’d glare at my reflection with the disappointment I saw in Dad’s eyes.
But I kept happy. No matter what else, I was a Happy World chummy-bud romping across the lawn, tumbling on the grass, running after sticks.
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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF and fantasy. I have published several stories in Weirdyear, Farther Stars Than These, Fast Forward Festival, Encounters and other online as well as print magazines. Search the web and you’ll even find some of my earlier military history articles. My longer work can be found at https://www.amazon.com/author/davidcastlewitz
Thursday, April 23, 2015
A Runner of Sticks
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