All the children have turned into animals, and now they have been set free. They are scurrying around the neighborhood, as if it is a forest full of brush and trees in which they play and hide from the likes of us, as we stare out our windows and wonder what to do. I hear the pitter-patter as they pass my house, and I hear the cries of the wild outside my door. I see them running, playing, fighting, frolicking in the morning light, as if there is only a here and now with no thought of tomorrow, as if they do not know school is about to start, as if they do not know their breakfasts are getting cold, as if they do not know their parents are wondering what they could have done to stop this. As they pass by my house, they do not stop to notice me. They do not stop to notice any trace of what they once were. They do not care that there are cars on the road. They do not care that it is snowing, and they can catch a cold. They do not care that there are hunters out, and they are prey. All the children have turned into animals, and now they have been set free.
I find myself mesmerized, as I stare out the window and watch the chaos in the streets. There are parents chasing animals everywhere. The Kearns are running after a flock of ducks in pajamas. The Southerlands are trying to corral their platypus twin boys in underwear. And the Teals are confronting a bear with a bow in her hair. Suddenly, I hear noises coming from upstairs. Now I hear a window break. It is coming from my son’s room. I run up the stairs to see what the uproar is about, but my son’s room is empty. The place is trashed. A lamp is turned over. The bedspread is torn apart and thrown on the floor. There are feces on the floor and a big hole in the window. I am shocked, as I realize my son Jacob has escaped.
I guess it happened during the night. There must have been a metamorphosis in every house. In the beginning, it was probably sudden and quiet. The children awoke in the way children usually do in the middle of the night. But instead of getting out of bed and going to the bathroom, they began to crawl about their rooms. Some of them must have been on all fours. Others were probably perched on two legs. Then I suspect sounds began to resonate from the childrens’ bedrooms. Some houses could hear a purr, whereas others could hear the barking of a dog. I bet that other houses could hear the sound of squirrels. While other houses still could hear the quacking of a duck, the chipping of chipmunks, the sound of sheep, moose, deer, lions, bears, goats, eagles or of any other animal one could name. Soon the entire neighborhood awakened to the sounds of the wild. Windows were being broken and doors were flying open, as all the children set themselves free.
I grab my jacket, leave my house and go out searching for Jacob. He is a feisty nine-year-old boy who cannot sit still. I walk the streets and wonder what kind of animal he’s become. What personality fits him? Perhaps he is a squirrel, scampering about while running up and down the trees and jumping from branch to branch. This would be a fitting animal for the boy. Maybe he is a cat. He is a little sly. He can pass through a room and you might not even notice he is there. Not to mention he is also territorial. He keeps his place and it is his and his alone. Or maybe he is an eagle flying high above the city, as he stares down at us with all his elegance and shows the world all that he can be. There are so many possibilities. I cannot imagine all the possibilities. All I know is that he has turned into an animal, like all the rest of the little boys and girls. Now I must find him or I will never be able to turn him back into a human being. I will lose him forever, and he will live with the rest of the animals for the rest of his life.
As I continue looking, I see parents standing at their doorsteps, staring down the street at all the unfolding chaos. The neighborhood is rife with animals. They are roaming the streets without a second thought to anyone or anything, including themselves. They do not follow the rules their parents had once set out for them. They do not follow traffic laws. They roam the way any untamed animal would roam. They crisscross the road as they play with each other in ways that no human can possibly comprehend. They pounce on each other, chase each other, claw and bite each other, and even make each other bleed.
Then, as I turn the corner, I run into Bill, who lives down the street from me. He is walking with his head hung. He’s leading a horse by the reins. He notices me and turns away, trying to hide his face. He realizes he’s been seen, and that he is rather obvious since the horse and him are in the middle of the street. It must be his son Steve. Steve is a big boy. Now a teenager, he is a star player on the football team. I inspect the horse as he gets closer. There is a piece of Steve’s shoe on one of his hooves and a piece of his football jersey caught in his mane.
Bill looks at me and sheepishly says, “Hi, Gale.”
I am not sure what to say. I reply, “Hello.”
“I guess this is my boy.”
“He’s a fine animal.” It is a bad joke.
“I guess so,” Bill says with a sigh. “I’m just glad I found him. It took me a half-hour to chase him down. He finally stopped for a drink from a puddle in the gutter six blocks down. But now that I have him, I’m not sure what to do with him. He’s huge. I always used to say that Steve is as big as a horse. Well, now he is a horse.”
As Bill talks, the horse continues to walk and starts to pull at Bill. Bill gives him a stern jerk, and the horse comes to a stop. I say, “At least you’ve found him, even if it took you a while. I haven’t found my boy yet. I hope he hasn’t gone far.”
Bill replies, “I’m sure you will find him. You’re right. He can’t have gotten far.”
“I just hope it happens soon. He hasn’t had his breakfast.”
It is another bad joke, but I finally get Bill to smile. However, as I say this, Steve’s penis starts to extend out from his body and he begins to urinate right there in the middle of the road. The stream is so thick that it splashes up against Bill’s pants. Bill hears and feels the piss, and he quickly steps away and yells, “Steve! What the fuck are you doing?”
This is pure Bill. He has a way with words. One that can silence a crowd with its vulgarity. Steve picked this up from his father. It continuously gets him in trouble at school. Steve is lucky that he is a good football player, or else he would have been sent packing long ago and got a whipping from his father for it, too.
I say, “Well, good luck with your boy. I’d better be on my way.”
Bill turns back to me and says, “Good luck.”
I give a thank you nod and continue on. As I walk down the street, I reflect on Bill’s predicament. A horse, Jesus Christ, what the hell is he going to do with a horse? Clearly, he cannot let Steve inside. I wonder if his backyard is big enough for a horse. Steve certainly cannot run laps in it. How will he get exercise? Maybe Bill will have to buy a saddle. Of course, he will have to break Steve in first before he can ride him, or else Steve will just buck him off. After all, Steve is quite a big horse and can easily send Bill flying if he tries.
All of this is bringing me to reflect on my own son. Where is he? What is he? He cannot have gotten far. I heard the window break a few minutes before I left. It is all my fault. I should have gone up to check on him the moment I saw what was going on. But I was so mesmerized by the situation that I never thought about my own child. I had to sit there and watch.
I continue searching, looking to and fro and trying to find Jacob. I do not even know what I am looking for. I wonder if I will even recognize him when I see him. Hopefully, there is something left on his animal self that will remind me of the beautiful little boy I know and love. There must be something: some sign, some tell. Will I just be able to tell that it is him? All this thinking is making my head hurt. What are the chances anyways?
Then, around the corner, I see Ms. Henderson. She is holding a cat in her arms and walking back toward her house. The cat has a bracelet around her paw, the very one her daughter wears. As she approaches me, she smiles and says, “Hello, Gale.”
I reply, “Hello. I’m glad you found your daughter,” as I point at the cat. Ms. Henderson’s daughter’s name is Clair. She was a lovely twelve-year-old, good at school and liked by everyone.
Ms. Henderson replies, “Thank you. To tell you the truth I’m sort of relieved she’s a cat. Some people’s children are so big. I don’t know what they’re going to do with them. They will have to be kept outside, I guess. But my Clair can be a house cat for now.”
I reply, “That’s true. I saw Bill. His son Steve is a horse.”
“Oh dear. Well, my Clair can play with Mitten, until we get all this sorted out. I have food for her and everything.”
“I’m glad you are thinking positively. I must say I can’t stop worrying about Jacob. I have been walking for some time now and he hasn’t appeared.”
Ms. Henderson replies, “You haven’t found him yet? Well, I’m sure he’s somewhere. He couldn’t have gotten far. He’s such a little boy and a good boy, too. I am sure he will stay a good boy, even as an animal.”
“Thank you, and you’re right; I’m sure I’ll find him. I just have to keep looking.”
Then Ms. Henderson puts the cat down and says, “I’ve been talking to some of the neighbors. I think we’re all going to get together and say a prayer for our children. You know, ask the Lord to change them back.”
I am taken back by the suggestion. I know Ms. Henderson does not go to church. In fact, none of my neighbors go to church. Besides, now is not the time for a silly superstition. This is serious. I reply, “I’m sorry, what will prayer do?”
“Only God can save our children?”
I too am beginning to realize that the metamorphosis is a curse that has been placed upon humanity. But Ms. Henderson has gotten this all wrong: “It’s God’s absence that has caused this because without God we are just another animal.”
“You know that isn’t true. We aren’t like them at all.”
I am geting annoyed: “Look, without God, anything is possible. That is how this has happened. Not through some silly superstition. We might as well ask Santa Claus to change them back.”
As I stand there in shock, I cannot help but notice that Clair is licking herself. I try to keep my eyes up, but Ms. Henderson notices that I noticed and picks up her daughter, gives her a light tap on the nose, and whispers in her daughter’s ear, “No, you are not an animal, don’t do that.”
I continue: “Haven’t we chosen science over superstition?”
“It isn’t superstition.”
I shake my head but decide to stop arguing: “Well, maybe I’ll join you. However, first I have to find my son.”
Ms. Henderson replies, “I hope you do. The more people there are, the more powerful the prayer will be. We need God to fix this because no one else can. I’m sure you will find Jacob. Don’t give up hope.”
I continue on my way and think about what Ms. Henderson just said. Prayer? What a stupid suggestion. I always knew that Ms. Henderson is a bit of a New Age hippie. She is always doing cleanses and yoga, but prayer? What is that going to do anyway? All this must have gone to her head. She must be desperate. Why else would a civilized person talk to an imaginary friend? Prayer is stupid. God does not exist. What has been done cannot be undone.
I am trying to think of why Ms. Henderson would think such a thing. After all, we are so much like animals. We piss, shit and fuck, yet we create art and contemplate. They are so indifferent to others; we experience embarrassment and shame. They seek pleasure; we seek salvation. So, we are also different from them. Perhaps there is still hope. I believe there is still hope. What has been done can be undone, hopefully.
As I continue walking, I run into my neighbor Peter. His daughter’s name is Mary and she is five years old. She is an adorable girl who loves dolls, ballet and preschool. He walks up to me and says, “Hello, Gale. What a day it’s been. Have you found your boy?”
He is clearly trying to put on an optimistic face. Despite this, his worry shows through. I respond, “Yes, it’s been quite a day indeed. But no, I haven’t found Jacob yet, how about you? Have you found Mary?”
“Yes, she didn’t get far. She’s turned into a dog. I found her running around with some other dogs just three doors down. She is over there by the bushes.”
He points over toward the animal that was once his daughter. I look over and see a dog jumping around with three other dogs. She has a brown coat with black spots and is slightly smaller than the other dogs. When she is on all fours she is about the height of my knee. Peter continues, “I can’t get her to sit still or leave the other dogs alone. She’s obsessed.”
I stand here watching as his daughter and the other dogs sniff each other’s crotches. Then one dog mounts his daughter and they begin to fornicate. My neighbor looks at me, blushing from embarrassment. I reply, “Don’t worry, all our children are acting strange.”
Peter replies, “Sorry about that, I can’t get her to stop doing that, either. It isn’t really her, you know.”
I turn away in vain. God, I hope my son is being more behaved: “How is it not her?”
“She’s a dog…”
“Dogs are not the same as people.”
I think, before I respond: “Yes, they are. We’re all animals.”
“But she doesn’t understand herself and what she’s doing.”
“I’m sure she does.”
“She can’t even think about her own existence.”
I am so shocked, I almost start laughing: “How so…”
Peter thinks for a while, and then he proudly declares, “Cogito ergo sum.”
“She can’t understand that.”
“I sure she is aware of herself.”
“She can’t think it.”
I stop and turn to the dogs and yell, while slapping my thigh: “Here Mary. Come, girl.”
Mary the dog turns to us and starts to make her way over. I declare, “See.”
“On a certain level.”
I realize what I am doing, and I put it aside and turn to Peter and say, “I need to carry on and find my son.”
“Do you know what he is?”
“No, not yet.”
“Okay, good luck. Try not to overreact when you find out.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
I carry on, and, as I turn another corner, I run into Susan. She looks like she has good news. She is running up to me yelling, “Gale. Gale. I think I’ve found your son. Come quick before he takes off again. We could lose him forever.”
I try to reply, but Susan grabs my arm and pulls me back in the direction she came from. We start running down the street. I am petrified. What will I see? Will he be a dog? A cat? Hopefully, he is not a wild animal. Maybe he can be tamed and we will be able to bring him inside. We stop. She points to the sky and says, “There.”
I look up, but I do not see anything. I ask, “Where?”
Susan replies while thrusting her finger up: “There. Right there. He’s by the telephone pole.”
Now I see him. He is a raven. He is standing on the telephone wire with something in his mouth, a worm perhaps, and he is looking around. He does not see us yet, but I am sure it is him. The raven has a piece of a cowboy scarf wrapped around his neck. The very one that Jacob wears to bed every night. I yell at him, “Jacob. Jacob. It’s your father. Can you hear me?”
The raven looks at us as we stand here. His eyes give off a blank stare. He does not recognize me. I try again, “Jacob, please come down.”
The raven continues staring at us. Then he tilts his head back and swallows whatever it was that was in his mouth. I desperately try again, “Jacob, please come down. For the love of God come down and let me take you home.”
The raven stares at me some more. I start to despair as I realize that he does not recognize me. Suddenly the raven lets out a sound. It is an ungodly sound. A sound like nothing I have ever heard before. It reverberates in my ears. It shakes me to my core. The raven spreads his wings and takes off with a flap. It is sublime. I think he is going to fall, but he flies as if he’s been flying his entire life. He flies with the grace of angels. He flies like a little black ghost. Now he is flying towards the sun. He eclipses the sun and leaves a silhouette of his spread-out wings for all to see. The sight of my boy in flight brings me to my knees.
The raven returns to where he was perched before. He is balancing there without a care. He turns to look at me and makes that ungodly sound again. I have an epiphany. I am engulfed by the sense of trembling, loss, and awe.
Eric Twa is an emerging writer from Canada. He has an MA in Philosophy.