Oliver stood to his feet and trained the scope on the moon. For the next two hours, he educated the creature on the finer aspects of the scope and the stars. He told stories of the stars and their names, about Polaris, Virgo, Orion, and Scorpio, and how their names related to God and His Son. The creature sat spellbound, and after eleven o’clock, when Oliver said it was time to call it a night, he begged for more.
“Come on, it’s not that late. Nobody’s ever told me these things before. Can’t we look a little more? Tell me another story.”
“No, it’s past time for bed. The morning comes early around these parts, you know. We’ll look again soon another night, and I’ll tell you some more stories. Until then, it’s time for me to put this scope and myself to bed.” He slid the black tarp over the scope and hooked the tractor to it.
“Good night and sleep well,” said Oliver
As the engine of the tractor rasped against the stillness of the night, the creature lay down on his back and searched the heavens in silence.
Very early the next morning, while it was still pitch dark, Oliver crept out of the house as the creature slept, carrying two chains, one longer than the other. At about ten feet away from the creature, he quietly cut the tether with a knife, then tightly knotted the first link of the longer chain to the end of the tether tied to the flag pole. He stretched the chain over to the sleeping creature, and then lifted him into a sitting position.
“Hmm? What...doing?” mumbled the creature.
“Nothing,” Oliver whispered. “Just go back to sleep.”
He wrapped the shorter chain around the creature’s waist and locked it together with a small padlock, leaving about six inches of chain dangling from the new chain “belt”. He eased the creature back onto the ground into his previous sleeping position; the creature barely stirred. Oliver locked the last link of the chain dangling from the creature to the last link of the longer chain, then went back into the house.
When morning came, Oliver came out of the house with the creature’s breakfast to find him awake already.
The creature stood and pointed to the chain around his waist and said, “What’s the deal with the chain?”
Oliver set down the tin bowl. “I intend to take you somewhere today, and it occurred to me that it would be convenient to be able to temporarily disconnect you from your leash when needed. After breakfast, we’ll go see a friend of mine who has some boys about your age. I thought you might enjoy a little fun with them.” He went over to the creature and cut the rope from around his waist.
“Never you mind. Just eat your breakfast, and we’ll be on our way.”
After breakfast, Oliver came out of the house with a pair of the creature’s shorts and his belt and some socks and shoes. He tossed the things to the creature and said, “Here. Put this on, and we’ll go. You really need a bath, but I expect you’ll get plenty messed up playing. We’ll clean you up when we get back.”
The creature put on the clothes and Oliver unlocked him from his tether. They got into the truck and drove to Bubba’s house. Oliver parked in front of the house and saw Bubba nearby tinkering with his tractor.
“Phew!” said the creature. “What’s that smell?”
“What do you think it is? Mr. June has about three hundred hogs housed on his land. He feeds the hogs to fatten them for market, and what goes in must come out.” The creature groaned with disgust. They got out of the truck and walked over to Bubba.
“What we got here, Oliver?” asked Bubba.
“Well, Bubba, this is the creature you helped harness a couple days ago. Since then, he’s calmed down and learned a little, so I thought I might risk his presence with some human children. I thought maybe he might play with your boys for a couple hours, if you’re willing to take the risk too.”
“Hmmm...well, I trust you, Oliver. If you say this critter’s got some brains, then I say OK. You go on now, critter, and find Jess and Gil. They’s out in the barn.” With that, he gave the creature a swat on the bottom that propelled him a good four feet forward. Tears welled in the creature’s eyes as he rubbed his bottom.
Bubba tilted his head toward Oliver, and as he looked at the creature with some puzzlement, whispered, “Hey, what’s he crying for, Oliver?”
Oliver cleared his throat. “Well, he’s from the city, Bubba. He’s one of those…sensitive types.”
“Oh. Well, maybe farm livin’ll toughen him up some, huh?”
“One can hope.”
Bubba brightened. “You bet. OK, critter, you go on and find Jess and Gil out to the barn.”
The creature slowly turned, rubbing his bottom, and headed in the direction that Bubba pointed. As he went, Bubba put his arm around Oliver’s shoulders and invited him inside his home for some cornbread, which Oliver gladly accepted. The creature glanced back to see the two men disappear into the large farmhouse.
The creature trudged to the barn, his eyes downcast. When he reached the barn, he peered into the large entrance. It was very similar to Oliver’s - a hay loft, stalls with cows, a horse, a few pigs, various tools and equipment – though Oliver currently housed no animals in his barn.
Suddenly, a soft clod thumped heavily on his chest and caused him to stumble backwards a few steps. A pungent odor assailed his nostrils. He looked to see what struck him and saw a chunk of manure on the ground. He bowed his head to see the dark stain on his shirt and the odor became even more powerful. He moaned in disgust, grabbed a handful of hay, and attempted to wipe his shirt clean.
“Who threw that!” he screamed in anger. “Who threw that!”
He heard laughter up in the hayloft and two mischievous faces appeared over the edge.
“I throwed it,” said the older of the two, standing. “What a corker! I hit you smack on, didn’t I? See that Gil? Ain’t no way you could chunk a turd that good.”
“Can too.” With a defiant look, Gil stood, picked up some manure, and hurled it at the creature, but he dodged the missile.
“Stop throwing things at me!” screamed the creature.
“It ain’t no fair, Jess!” wailed Gil. “He moved! You had him standing like a post!”
“Hah! You couldn’t hit him if he was twice as close and twice as big! Here, I’ll show you how it’s done.” Jess picked up another piece of manure, and Gil’s face darkened.
Before Jess could launch another missile at the creature, Gil quickly picked up some manure, hurled it full in the side of Jess’s face, then quickly slid down a pole that ran from the loft to the ground. As he zipped past the creature, he shouted, “Run! Run!”
“You little punk! I’m gonna squash you like a bug!” said Jess as he picked the remains of the manure from his face and slid down the pole.
“Outta my way!” shouted Jess as he blazed toward the creature. Though the barn entrance was large, Jess bowled the creature over on the way out.
For a moment, the creature lay on the ground and watched the two figures running into the distance across the field. Jess was gaining on Gil and shouting the vengeance in store for him when he caught him. The creature stood and began to run after them.
The creature saw Jess tackle Gil and the two boys rolled and flailed on the ground. He increased his pace and arrived just as Jess straddled Gil and threw the first of a barrage of punches.
The creature increased his speed a bit and said, “Hey! Cut it out!”
Jess continued the pummeling while Gil screamed.
“Hey! Cut it out!” The creature ran as fast as he could toward the brothers and plowed into Jess, knocking him off Gil and onto the ground. Gil immediately stood with tears in his eyes and blood flowing from his nose, and the creature stood in front of Gil.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” said the creature.
Jess sat up and said, “Like you, critter? My daddy told me about you. He says you might look like a boy, but you's really nothing but a critter. I guess that means I can do just about anything I want to you, don’t it?”
Fear fell on the creature’s face. Gil tugged at the creature’s arm and said, “Run!” They instantly wheeled and ran as Jess scrambled to his feet and pursued.
He pursued for only a short distance then stopped and shouted at the duo, “You ain’t worth my sweat!” After watching them run a few seconds, he shouted, “Hey, Gil! Birds of a feather, stick together!”
The duo did not stop running until they reached a creek where they flopped down onto the ground side by side, panting. Gil was the first to speak. He propped himself up on an elbow.
“Thanks for knocking him off me. I thought he was gonna punch my face clean off.”
“He sure was mad.”
Gil laughed. “I reckon you’d be mad too if someone made you eat a cow biscuit.”
The creature laughed too. “Why did you do that? You knew he’d wanna tear your head off.”
“Oh, he just makes me mad, him and his airs. He always thinks he’s better’n me on account of him being older and all.”
“How old is he?”
“He just turned eleven last week.”
“Eleven! I’m going to be eleven in a couple months! I thought he was about sixteen! How old are you?”
“Just turned nine last month.”
“Nine! You’re bigger than me!”
“Yeah, we’s all big in my family, 'cept for ma. Ain’t you seen my daddy?”
“My uncle’s even bigger’n my daddy. Dang near a real giant, and that’s a fact.”
“Sheeesh...” The creature gazed up into the clouds.
“My uncle’s younger’n my daddy too, and I’m hoping that holds for me and Jess. One day, I’ll be looking down on Jess maybe.”
After a pause, the creature pointed to Gil’s face. “You got a bunch of blood on your face.”
Gil smiled and pointed to the creature’s shirt. “Yeah, and you got a bunch of crap on your shirt.”
They both laughed as they went to the creek to clean themselves off.