Publisher’s Note: Mature content warning. This is the first of two-parts.
Papa Wesley was out back in his workshop tinkering with an old radio beneath the glow of a soft lamp when the door slowly opened and the boy appeared, shivering.
He quickly turned to look at him, using only his eyes and not his head. “Close the door. It’s cold out there.”
The boy closed the door and moved in deeper, his bare skin slightly blue and pale.
“What do you want?” the man asked.
The boy hugged himself as he shook. “I was bored in the house. I just wanted to see what you were doing.”
Papa Wesley set down the small tools and removed his glasses. His blonde hair was parted in the middle and fell against each side of his face like a woman’s; he used his fingers to stroke it back. “It’s just a hobby to keep my mind occupied. I’ll probably never get it to work again, but a man needs a hobby nonetheless.” He rubbed his tired eyes and smiled at the boy. “So, young David. Have you thought about what you want for Christmas?”
The boy looked up at him, shining blue eyes sparkling forth from an innocent yet troubled face. He was indeed a very childlike version of the man. “Yes.”
“Well, tell me all about it.”
“I want some clothes.”
Papa Wesley sighed, and his face turned troubled.
“Now son,” he began. “We’ve talked about this a million times. We don’t wear clothes in this family. Clothes are unnatural. Do you so quickly forget how you came into this world?”
The boy thought about it for a moment before answering. “Naked and afraid?”
“Yes. That’s exactly right. That’s how the good Lord intended us to be, and we will not stray from that path.”
“But when we do have to go out into the evil world, we are chastised and chased away because of our nakedness. Why does God allow this if this is how we are meant to be?” the curious young boy asked.
“My boy, as I have explained to you before, the world is a fallen, sinful place, and the sinners must cover themselves in clothes because they are dirty and evil. Their bodies and hearts are unclean. They are not like us. They do not understand our ways and so tease and taunt us, threaten us with confinement.” The man slowly shook his head in distrust for the ordinary world and then looked up. “But the good Lord is on our side. He favors our nakedness, young David. He will protect us from those clothes-wearing pagans. Do not be afraid or ashamed. Remember, our ways are rooted in the time before the apple.”
“Yes, father. Thank you, father. I appreciate the lesson.”
Now, is there anything else you want for Christmas?” Papa Wesley asked the boy.
The boy stared up at the rafters and thought. “Yes. I want to go to a real school. I want to be around other children. There’s no one to play with around here.”
Papa Wesley became stern and raised a hard finger toward him. “Absolutely not. You will be brought up in our ways and nothing else. I forbid you to speak about it again.”
“But it’s what I want,” the boy pleaded.
“You will not have it! Why can’t you ask for something sensible, like a shovel?”
The boy became mute and stared at the floor. Then there was a knock at the door and a young girl poked her face inside.
“What is it, Camille?” the father snapped.
“Mama said to come fetch you for the evening meal.” She licked at her shivering lips and tried to decipher his temperament, brushing back the same blonde hair her father had. “It’s meatloaf and potatoes, and I prepared a rhubarb pie for dessert.”
“Very well, we’ll be there shortly.”
The girl closed the door and disappeared, and Papa Wesley grasped young David by the chin and pulled his lost gaze upward. “Are we settled then? No more talk about clothes and school. Is that understood?”
The boy blinked slowly up at him. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. A shovel for Christmas would be fine, sir.”
The farmhouse was old, white, plain, simple; nestled comfortably in a patchwork of meadows, low hills and fields now harvested and frosted. The cold moon and clouds barked quietly high above as the two walked toward the rear porch and its yellow light in the shivering silence of early night. Young David’s bare feet burned from the cold ground. An animal made a frightening noise in the forest. He looked back at his father and saw that his body was covered in a downy fur of soft human hair, and he thought he looked like an ape man on a hunt. “Keep going,” the man ordered. “I don’t want you to get frostbite again.”
They entered the house and Papa Wesley went immediately to Mother Ruth in the scented kitchen and kissed at her glowing and flawless cheek. One of his hands fell to an ample bare breast, and he playfully squeezed it as his other hand smacked her buttocks. “Smells wonderful,” he said.
Mother Ruth giggled and kissed him back. “Me or the meatloaf?” She called out to their daughter, Camille. “And don’t forget the fresh milk, darling,” she said. “Bring the entire pitcher to the table.”
Mouths were in motion and silverware clinked against plates as they ate in the simple dining room. Papa Wesley finally looked over at his daughter and admired her as if she was a hardy stock animal, and he smiled with pride. “I see you really have begun to develop nicely, Camille. That’s wonderful, and what a fine tribute to our heavenly father.”
The girl looked down and became somewhat shy. “Yes father. I’m very excited about it.”
Mother Ruth cleared her throat and smiled; full earthy lips pressed tightly together before she spoke. “I have some wonderful news. She’s begun her woman time, Papa.”
Papa Wesley set down his silverware and diligently wiped at his mouth with a handmade napkin. “That’s a fine thing, Camille. Very fine. I’m happy for you.”
The girl glanced at him, somewhat embarrassed. “Yes father. I feel as if I’m in bloom, like a glorious flower in a heavenly garden and all the fine saints and angels are watering me.”
“Wonderous. Now, I trust you will keep yourself clean in those times of need?” he asked of her, shifting his faint eyebrows, and lifting a mug of milk to his mouth.
“Of course, father. Mama showed me how.”
“Good,” he said, and he reached for a large bowl of mashed potatoes and spooned some onto his plate. “Young David and I were just discussing Christmas gifts out in the shop. Perhaps you could enlighten us to a wish of yours, dear daughter?”
Camille took a long sip of fresh milk herself and looked back and forth at her parents. “Well, I’ve had my eye on a nice pair of hedge clippers I discovered in the hardware catalog. They’re very shiny and seem sturdy and trustworthy. I thought I could use them to trim back the rose bushes, among other things of course.”
Wesley and Ruth looked at each other across the table and in their minds proudly smiled and agreed. “That sounds like a very practical gift, Camille. I’m proud of you,” Papa Wesley said.
Young David emitted a stressful sigh as he stared at his plate and played with his food with the tip of his fork.
“Is there something wrong, son?” Papa Wesley asked the boy when he noticed his lack of interest in the meatloaf.
“No sir. I guess I’m just not that hungry.”
“If you’re troubled by something, please feel free to speak about it,” Papa Wesley suggested.
“It’s nothing, sir.”
Mother Ruth reached over and placed the back of her hand against his forehead. “Are you not feeling well?”
“I feel fine, but may I go up to my room now?”
Mother Ruth frowned with a hint of worry. “But what about dessert? Your sister made the most wonderful rhubarb pie.”
“I’m sure it will be delightful and delicious, but not right now,” the boy said.
Mother Ruth brushed the hair out of his eyes and gently nipped at his cheek with her fingertips. “All right then, I suppose you can go up to your room, but I want you to be still and get some rest, you have schooling in the morning, and I want you to be refreshed and ready to learn.”
“Yes mam,” David said, and he rose from the table and kissed her on the cheek, and then he went to his father and then his sister and uncomfortably hugged at their nakedness before disappearing up the stairs and into his bedroom.
David sat at a small desk and drew pictures of people wearing clothes in a secret notebook as he did every night. He suddenly got bored, closed it, and tucked it deep in a drawer. He glanced toward his unshaded window and the world looked long and lonely to him. He got up and went to the sill and pushed his face against the glass and looked out. He knew it would be a long way. He knew it would be cold. But the overwhelming need he had to possess the one desire most recently overflowing in his mind could not be tamed. He was nervous and edgy and could not make the thought go away. He stretched out on his cold bed and stared at the ceiling as he waited for everyone else to go to sleep, some twangs of madness stirring in his mind.
He waited and waited and when the time came, and the house was still, he quietly crept out of bed and wrapped his feet in pillowcases and threw a heavy blanket around his body. He went to the window that led out to the roof of the front porch and carefully slid it upward. The wind whipped at him as he carefully put his legs out and felt for the shingles with the bottom of his feet. It was further than he expected, and he nearly slid and slipped as his toes tried to grip a safe place to step. When he was completely out, he closed the window and made his way down the slight slope to the edge where he shimmied down a support post and dropped to the ground with a hard thud, the wind trying to rip the blanket from his clutches.
He carried with him a small flashlight and when he was far enough away from the house, he clicked it on and directed the beam onto the dirt road in front of him. His plan was to stick to the road until he came to the main highway that led into the town; then he would slink among the high grasses and trees of the shoulder so no one would see him in case a car, or more likely a truck, came rumbling by in the dead of night.
The pebbles of the road poked through the thin pillowcases on his feet, and it wasn’t long before the fabric was torn, and the stones were working directly into his skin. It hurt him, and along with the chilly wind, it was a miserable journey and several times he stopped to look back and wondered if he should just give up. But the desire of his heart and soul were too much and he plodded along as best he could. When the cold became too much he would step off into the forest and take shelter against a thick tree just so he could rest a bit. He would immerse himself fully in the blanket and shiver in the darkness as cold owls gathered and wondered in the night trees around him.
He went like that for a long while, on and off the gravel road, until he reached the two-lane highway, number 17, the main way in and out of the small and dusty rural town of Octerville. He looked both ways and it was silent and still and cold. His breath shot out of him like a vaporizer, and he glanced down at the illuminated boy watch on his wrist — just after midnight. He coughed and walked on and on and on until the glow of the main drag of the small city began to grow in front of him.