The boy didn’t remember when he first wanted to be a camel. Maybe when he was learning about animals that start with C in first grade. Maybe sooner. Perhaps the desire had huddled in him since birth.
The boy felt if he behaved like a camel, he might become one. He began to bellow after he spoke. He grazed in the back yard and asked his parents for a potted cactus so he could toughen the inside of his mouth. He tried to sleep standing up, but realized that would require much practice.
The boy knew camels could go months without water. Because he wasn’t a camel yet, he decided to start with a week. When his parents realized what the boy was doing, they put a cup to his lips and forced him to sip. The boy spat out the water. He hated to be disrespectful but knew it was a camel’s nature to spit when upset.
The boy’s parents asked his sister to talk some sense into her brother.
“It’s really stupid to go without water.” the sister said.
The boy squinted to keep the blowing sand of her words out of his eyes. “You won’t think so when I’m a camel.”
The parents took their son to the hospital to be hydrated intravenously. A counselor visited the boy and asked why he wanted to be a camel.
“Because” the boy said. He was immediately embarrassed by his childish answer so he bellowed.
The counselor pointed out that just because a camel can go without water, doesn’t mean it will if it doesn’t have to. The boy hadn’t thought of this and agreed to drink water if his parents took him home.
The mother and father hoped a breakthrough had been achieved but instead the boy’s obsession gripped him even more tightly. He refused to go to school because what use is arithmetic and grammar to a camel? Each time the boy’s parents pressured him to behave normally, he snorted and seemed about to spit.
One morning the mother went to her son’s bedroom. Instead of her son, she found a camel. She screamed the father and sister into the room.
The father wept and accused the sister of spiriting away the boy and replacing him with the camel.
“You would’ve heard the beast climbing the creakwood stairs in the night,” the sister said.
The camel bobbed his head, but no one noticed.
The father ran to the closet, looked under the bed then knelt and buried his head in his hands. The mother and sister continued throwing accusations and denials.
The camel watched the three shout and sob. He was sorry to upset them. Even sorrier for their flat backs and short eyelashes. He felt the tug of the desert thousands of miles away. Beyond the sand were forested mountains. A beautiful place to be a moose, the boy who became a camel imagined.
David Henson and his wife reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions and has appeared in various journals including Pithead Chapel, Moonpark Review, Spelk, and Eunoia Review. Find him at his website and on Twitter (@annalou8).