I stood there, getting off my bike. I couldn't believe my eyes.
"Yeah it's me! I'm BIG, Mickey! And TALL!"
And I was too late.
My name is Mickey. My dad is an overworked stress case who is like one of those fathers you always see in movies. Always yelling into his cel phone. Never had any time for his kids. I was the older one. I knew better than to complain. I was always told I was mature for my age. Jonny is two years younger than me. I'm 11, he's 9.
One morning at breakfast he and my dad had an argument. That was about 3 weeks ago. This was my dad, the way he looked before:
My dad looks kind of young because he's 28, which means he was only 17 when I was born. He was only in high school when he knocked up my mom. She was really young and didn't want kids but she had me anyway and gave me up for adoption. My dad went through college and his aunt and uncle adopted me until he was done and he has taken care of me ever since. He also got a girl in college pregnant and I still see her sometimes but basically neither of our moms wanted us.
Dad and Jonny were fighting because Jonny was grounded. Jonny wouldn't stop complaining about how everything sucks. He loved baseball and Dad wanted him to concentrate on his homework more and finally took it away for a week. Jonny kept telling Dad he could change everything if he was in charge. Dad just laughed.
"If I was in charge, I wouldn't ground you! I wouldn't do any of the things you do! I hate you!"
"Well if you hate things so much maybe you'd like to go live at another family's house! I tell you what to do because it's for your own good!" Dad's cel phone went off. He answered it, shushing both of us with a warning finger. Jonny stared at Dad, like he was planning something.
"You don't even care!"
"I am on the phone right now! Go to your room!" Dad said, covering his phone. "No, I'm sorry, go ahead."
I went up to Jonny's room. He didn't want to talk. He just said he wanted to talk to The Manager. The manger of his team. But he just called the guy The Manager. I noticed that he said that. The guy didn't have a name. Weird.
Later that night, Jonny and me and Dad all had dinner and Dad asked Jonny if he wanted to apologize for earlier. Jonny said yes. He said he was sorry, and then...
"The Manager says he wants to talk to you. He says he can make everything different."
"I thought I told you that you couldn't go to the playground anymore!"
"The Manager wasn't on the playground. He's...sort of in another place. I could show you."
"No. Look, I have a lot of work to do. You and your brother clean up."
All week long after that, Jonny kept asking Dad if he wanted to meet The Manager. Dad just told him to do his homework. Finally, Jonny invited me to go with him to the playground. It was late but Dad was working late. Jonny kept bugging me so I said, fine, I'll go talk with your manager. It's just down the street. I told him I wouldn't do it again. I was supposed to be babysitting. Dad trusted me but I was curious to meet The Manager.
Jonny and me rode our bikes to the park, locked up our bikes, and then he walked me to the edge of the park where this huge bunch of trees were. It was dark, the sun had set, and there was a shed at the bottom of a steep escarpment. The small shack down below was covered in branches and dirt and the windows were broken.
"Jonny, is this a joke? This place is abandoned."
"No, it isn't. I'll show you."
We walked down below and I don't mind telling you, it was pretty creepy. I felt my skin crawl. Why the hell were we here? No one was around. The park was big and I hadn't heard the sound of anyone in a while. I still couldn't. I had never even seen this part of the park. It was invisible to the naked eye, you would never even notice it since it was behind a huge group of trees and between another huge stand, surrounded on most sides.
We went inside. It looked abandoned. Plaster peeling everywhere, spiderwebs, broken furniture. Jonny walked me to a door and opened it. Inside was a pitch dark room with a neon sign saying "Manager". Okay. Creepy. You could hear a pin drop. I started hearing my own heart beat. Jonny told me to wait and he went inside. I could hear two voices talking. Jonny came out.
"Okay. He has an appointment. Then you'll see." He turned on a light switch. A dangling bulb illuminated the room.
We sat down on a decrepit bench and waited almost 30 minutes. I kept asking him what I was supposed to see and I got up to go into the Manager's room but Jonny tugged at me and hissed. "No, don't. You have to be invited. And you don't want to make him mad." he whispered.
"This. Is seriously scary. I'm going home. So are you."
A small boy walked into the room.
"Hi. I'm a friend of the Manager's. It's okay. I know why you're here." Jonny smiled.
"Yeah. Hi. I'm a little nervous," said the little boy.
"Don't be. You'll be fine."
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Hi, Jess. I'm Jonny."
The neon sign flickered. The little boy went inside. I heard voices and some weird moaning.
"What is this? This is crazy! This is crazy, Jonny!"
The door opened. A fully grown man who I assumed to be the Manager walked out. He smiled to Jonny and looked at his hands. He was wearing only his underwear and a shirt several sizes too small for him.
"Wow. Wow, wow wow." he said over and over. The Manager sign flickered out.
"Are you the Manager?"
"Huh? Me? No, I told you. My name's Jess." the man said. "Wow. My voice! It's so different." He rubbed his face. "Oh my gosh, I have whiskers! I have stubble. This is so weird." He laughed giddily. He took off and I felt my heart drop.
"No that's not possible. I went to the room and pulled the door open...and a brick wall greeted me. No room.
"You have to be invited," Jonny told me.
We ran outside. The man had a backpack. He was pulling some adult sized clothes on and marveling at his new outfit as he put it on. He looked pretty proud of himself.
"What's it like?"
Jess climbed up the steep escarpment and hauled himself up onto the grass. "Cool. It's way easier now that I'm tall."
"You're telling me that's the kid. That's...that's...impossible."
We went to get our bikes. Jess unlocked his and...it was a little kid bike. "Oh. I didn't think about this. But whatever. My dad can ride this tomorrow. Cool. Bye! It was cool meeting you! Hey are you gonna like...visit the Manager, too?" he asked me.
"No, I am." Jonny answered with confidence. I stared at him in horror.
We rode home just in time. Dad drove up a few minutes later and I pretended nothing happened.
The next day Jonny asked Dad if he could go play baseball. Dad told him no. That's when Jonny gave Dad his first "warning".
"You know, if aren't nicer to me, we could trade places. You could wake up as a little kid and I'm gonna be the adult. Then I get to tell you what to do."
"Oh, well, I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it." Dad's cel phone rang. Dad answered it. "Hello, Davis Mitcheson speaking."
Jonny warned Dad three more times that week. I tried talking to Jonny but he just ignored me. Dad just ignored Jonny because he thought he was playing a game. Then after a week of this "game" Dad and Jonny had a talk alone. Jonny had a huge grin on his face.
"What? What is it?"
"Daddy said he would trade with me. He can be a little boy and I can be a grown up!"
"He doesn't think it's real, though!" I hissed.
Jonny just shrugged.
I waited until the next day, Sunday. I asked Dad to help me with my homework so I could get him alone. Then I told him everything. Every single detail. He thought I was playing at first but I pleaded with him. I looked into his eyes and he knows I never lie.
"Don't trust Jonny. Whatever this is it's no game. The Manager is real. Someone that can make a little boy into a man. I know it sounds crazy." I was keeping my voice real low. Jonny was upstairs but I felt like I had little time.
"Let's go to the park. Now. I'm getting your brother."
Jonny was not mad that I told Dad. If anything, he was happy. None of us said much. Dad said he just wanted to talk to this Manager just to sort out what kind of make believe he was telling his son.
We got to the park. We followed the trail, then off the trail, behind the trees and down steep. Dad slipped and cursed, hurting his ankle. He dusted himself off. We went inside the abandoned shack. Inside was the same man I saw that night. The one who claimed to be Jess.
"So you must be the guy fucking with my son's head."
Jess just puffed from his...cigar? He was smoking a cigar?
"Man, I'm just a friend. Manager said you'd be here. He said he had a message for you. He said he will see you but you need to go in without your kids. Right through that door.
"Whoever you are, you are in big fucking trouble! STAY the FUCK away from my kids. Or I'll call the cops and then-" Dad froze. The door shut all by itself. "What did you say?" he asked us.
"W-we didn't say anything. Dad this is all real. This guy...he was only a little kid! Then he turned into an adult! And that room became a brick wall." I pointed. The Manager sign flickered. It was dark inside and Dad approached the door. "I hear you. I'm coming," he said.
I almost stopped breathing but Jonny just took my hand. "I'm gonna be the Dad. So don't worry. I'll take care of you."
"You're gonna fucking love it, man. I love bein' grown up. It's cool. My Dad can't stop me from doin' nothin' now." said Jess.
Dad walked out of the room. He motioned for us to come with him. We climbed up again and headed home.
Dad told me it was all taken care of when he got home.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you don't have to worry about it. Now I gotta get to work."
For the next two weeks things progressed back to normal, but then one day, out of the blue, Jess told Dad to take out the garbage. And..Dad did. "Sure thing." I felt my heart freeze. I slipped outside and confronted Dad.
"Dad, what the hell are you doing?"
"I'm just taking out the garbage."
"No you let Jonny tell you what to do."
"Mick, son, everything is fine. I'm just doing my job."
He wouldn't even look me in the eye. I decided to pretend that I was heading up to my room for the rest of the night to catch up on my homework. Then I snuck downstairs to listen in on Dad and Jonny. I hid in the closet. I could see through the blinds but only a little bit. This is what I heard:
"It's gonna be sooo exciting when I'm the Dad!"
"Yes, but it's also a huge responsibility. Are you sure you're ready for it."
"I think I am. So...what should I call you? I can't call you Dad from now on. You're going to be...my son, right?"
I heard Dad laugh softly. "Yeah. You know, I think I'll be glad to do it over again. I really didn't enjoy it the first time. My parents are gone now but even growing up I didn't have a very happy childhood. I...I guess I always resented you guys because I never had fun growing up. My parents were very strict. Then I had you guys. Then they died. I've been just so caught up with succeeding, making a life for us. But it isn't very much of a life."
"The Manager will take care of all that. I'll go to work and you can go to school. I'll take good care of you..."
"Call me Davis. Can I...can I call you Dad?" Dad asked his own son carefully, as if he was asking someone in authority. Jonny smiled. I was now perfectly still and could hear myself breathing and was feeling my heart beat twice as fast. This couldn't be happening.
"Yeah! I want you to call me Dad. Son." Jonny put a reassuring hand on Dad's shoulder and Dad, who was sitting in an easy chair, just looked up at his son's face and hugged him.
"Thank you, Daddy." My own Dad whispered to Jonny.
"You're going to be the son."
"I'm going to be the son." Dad repeated. "And you'll be Mr. Mitcheson." They both were really happy and decided to go upstairs. I waited until I heard both their bedroom doors close.
The next day I woke up and they were both gone. "Oh no. Oh no. No. NO NO NO NO NO SHIT!" I screamed running through an empty house.
By the time I got to the park I was too late. A man who looked just like an older version of my brother showed up. That brings us up to present.
"Don't worry, no one is around. The Manager made sure of it. I just...it feels...so good." Jonny ran his hands over his frame. A little boy came trotting around the fence wearing some of Jonny's clothes.
"Davis! You look so short! Wow. This is gonna take some getting used to."
"No," I whispered.
Jonny put on his new adult sized pants.
"I'm the Dad."
"And I'm the son." said my former Dad.
"But why? WHY? Why would you do this? Don't you love us? Don't you want to take care of me?"
"Jonny can do that now. The Manager made sure of it."
"Yeah, buddy." Jonny bent down so we could look at each other eye to eye. God, he was huge now! "I know you don't understand, but we really are happier this way. The Manager only changes people for the better. And don't worry, everyone else will see me as the Dad. And everyone will think he has always been my son." He laid a very confident hand on Davis' shoulder.
"This is so impossible."
"You know it's the truth. Now come on. I'm going to drive us home." said my new father.
My dad followed in tow. I looked towards the direction of the Manager's office.
"He's not there anymore. It will be gone if you try and find it," Jonny said. "You have to be invited."
And I never was again.