Life of Charles

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
We were twins with a deadly difference. Who gave Charles the gift he desperately desired?

Submitted: September 20, 2014

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Submitted: September 20, 2014

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 LIFE OF CHARLES

by Ben A. Vanguarde

My birthday dinner was over, the ladies were in the kitchen, the men smoking on the porch, and delightfully, I ruled over all of my pre-teen grandkids in the living room of my family farm home.  Some might stay and continue to farm as I had done after my father.

“Where is Uncle Charles?” they asked.  “Why do we never see Uncle Charles?  Why do you go see him but he never comes here to visit us?  Why won’t you tell us?”

"I promised you all that I would tell you the secret of Uncle Charles today.  You must promise not to tell anyone.  Raise your right hand if you promise."  Every hand was raised as looked solemnly at each and called their names with a nod.  "Okay, put your hands down."  I began.

   Uncle Charles is my twin.  As you know, we grew up on this farm a long time ago.  We were poor but we got what we needed.  Our mother died when we were twelve.  As we grew older and bigger, Dad began to take jobs away from the farm to raise money and left Charles and me for months at a time.  Farm work is long, hot work and you never really get a day off.  There is always something that needs fixing or tending to.

On the farm next door, back then, lived a wizard.  Later Dad, with help from his bank, bought the wizard's farm at the estate auction.  Over the fence we could see that the wizard never actually did any work himself but he somehow got other farmers to leave their farms and do the hard work for him and they worked quickly, not like hired help.  One day as we pulled weeds from the field, Charles spied a snake, a beautiful black racer, sunning himself on the fence.  Charles ran up to catch it but the racer quickly slithered away to the safety of the brush.  Later, Charles spied the racer and again, the snake easily left him behind.  Charles seemed depressed and sat down on the bench in the cool shade of our big oak tree.  I said, “It's not supper.  Come on back to work, Charles.”

Charles walked up to me and announced, “I don’t want to do farm work anymore.  I want to be like that snake, just lay around when I want and hunt when I want.  Let’s go to the wizard and see if he’ll give me a spell or something.”

Dad had told us to stay away from the wizard and we did.  But I decided to follow Charles, just in case he got into trouble.  The wizard offered if Charles would plow up the ten acre patch the wizard owned between our farms then he would turn Charles into a black racer snake.  Man, I never saw Charles work so fast at plowing.

In a week the field was plowed and we went back to see the wizard.  The wizard donned a gold lame robe and held a golden mace to tap Charles on the head and shoulders.  Before my eyes a large cloud of black smoke enveloped Charles.  When the smoke cleared,  there on the floor was a snake, a beautiful black racer.  The smiling wizard opened his front door and Charles slithered away.  I ran to catch him but he was too fast and disappeared.  I sifted through the brush but I could not find Charles.  So, I went back to the empty farmhouse.  As the week went by I felt very lonely.

Dad forbade us from shooting the .22 when he was not around but he said nothing about the bow and arrows.  After dinner one day I practiced shooting at the bulls eye, but without Charles around, it wasn’t much fun. 

“Hey, Georgie.”  I looked around.  “Over here.”  I looked hard and saw Charles, the snake, looking at me from the bench under the oak tree.  As I walked over to him, an owl swooped down heading right for Charles.  I drew my arrow back as far as I dared and fired.  I took a breath before my eyes focused.  The owl had Charles in his talons but the owl also had my arrow through his neck.  I released Charles and pressed him to my chest.  I must admit I cried for joy after almost losing my brother, forever, to an owl's supper.

“Take me back to the wizard so he can change me back.  It’s fun being a snake, chasing and eating field mice, but too many critters want to eat me.”  The wizard said he would change Charles back but first he wanted his field furrowed.  Because Charles was too small the job fell to me.  I kept Charles inside the house and he would annoy me by playing hide and seek when I was so tired after working from sun up to sun down.  After I finished the wizard's field Charles wrapped himself around my neck and we returned to see the wizard.  As I laid Charles on the wizard's living room floor, the wizard donned his robe and with his ceremonial mace, said some enchanted words and a black cloud of smoke appeared.  As the smoke cleared away, Charles stood, a man of 16 again.  As you might guess, Charles never paid me back for the week's work.  We solemnly swore not to tell Dad about it.

Just after harvest, Dad took us to a circus show.  I marveled at the high wire acrobats and laughed at the clowns.  There were all kinds of animals and some did tricks under the big tent.  Charles was fascinated with animals in the menagerie.  The next year Dad left us, longer this time to work in a mine.  After harvest Charles begged me to again visit the circus.  When I agreed, Charles was electric.

The day after we returned from the circus, Charles said, “I’ve got it figured out, Georgie.  Let’s go to the wizard.  I want to be a tiger.”

“I’m not working for you again, Charles.  You still owe me.”

“No, George, listen up.  I’ll tell the wizard to turn me back after two weeks.  That way I can see if I like it.  After all, everything is afraid of a tiger.” 

We again went to see the wizard.  He said he would change Charles into a tiger if he would plow under the ten acre field and change him back to a man in two weeks if Charles would plow under another ten acre plot on the other side of his farm.  Excitedly, Charles again worked faster than I’d ever seen him work on our farm, even when Dad was around.

Charles again disappeared into a cloud of smoke and a six hundred pound Bengal Tiger appeared.  As we left Charles thanked the wizard and reminded him to turn him back in two weeks.  I rode on Charles back down the road until we saw Mr. and Mrs. Campbell walking down the road.  Charles roared.  They turned and ran for their lives.  I hopped off Charles's back and ran after the Campbells as Charles ran the other way.  By the time I reached their door they had already called the sheriff.  Alone once again, I walked back home.

Two weeks went by but I did not see Charles.  Two more weeks had my mind filled with unimaginable horrors befalling Charles.  I was up on a ladder painting the barn when I heard Charles call out my name.

"What happened to you?  What took so long?" I asked.

"You won't believe it.  After we scared the Campbells I went into the woods and caught a deer.  It was delicious.  Later some people came and I tried to scare them off but one fellow shot me with a dart in my butt.  It still hurts.  I fell asleep.  When I awoke I was in a room with bars, to keep the people away.  They brought me food and did everything for me.  No work at all, can you imagine?  I looked outside carefully and figured out I was in a zoo.  I would growl and the children would squeal in fear.  It was great.  Later, the funniest thing happened when I turned back into a man.  The zookeepers accused me of freeing the tiger but I asked them how could I have locked myself in?  Eventually they let me go and I have been walking home since.  Fix me something to eat, Georgie.  I'm famished."

Another year went by and we turned 18.  Dad was home with a back injury and couldn't work.  One day dad drove to town to visit his doctor.  We knew he'd be gone most of the day.  "Georgie, don't you want to leave this farm and see the world?  I certainly do."

"Sure, I want to travel but I have to stay put, at least until Dad gets better."

"I liked being the tiger, living without working very hard and having people do things for me but now, I want to be rich, too.  I'm going to become a wizard like our neighbor."

"I'm not going with you this time, Charles."

An hour later Charles returned with the gold robe and mace and a frightened look on his face.  He demanded that I don the robe and tap him on the shoulders and head, as the wizard had done.  Nothing happened. 

"Charles, what are you doing with the wizard's mace?"

"He said I couldn't become a wizard because I was too old to start training.  We argued and so I took it from him.  I'll bet he's sorry now that he ever refused me." 

I headed outside, intending to remain alone by pulling weeds until dark.  I wept.  What would I say when Dad returned?  Charles remained inside our farmhouse.  A few hours later the sheriff's car arrived.

Nowadays, Charles lives in a room with bars to keep the people out and other people feed him and take care of all his needs.  And best of all, he doesn't have to work.

I'm going to check on the cake and pumpkin pie.  When I come back, a prize to whoever tells me what you learned from Uncle Charles's life story?

   As I left the kids in the living room and headed into the kitchen, I ran into my oldest daughter lurking in doorway.  "What do you mean by telling them a fable?"

"They're kids.  Let them enjoy magic for now," I smiled.  "And when they doubt me and ask you for the truth, you can tell them Charles is doing life for killing one of his drug selling stooges.  My story is more delicious to the kids.  And, it's really the same story, isn't it?"


© Copyright 2019 Ben A Vanguarde. All rights reserved.

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