Freddy didn’t consider his ability to remould other people into whatever shape he desired to be particularly godlike. He was humbler than that, and considered himself no more than an unpretentious craftsman or carpenter; his medium the flesh, the voice, the personality; his tools his own mind.
Freddy made his own wife from his neighbour’s pre-teen daughter. He aged her upward into a role of domestic servitude, sculpted her youthful longing for the freedom of maturity into a desire to please her husband in all things. He gave her a sparrow’s humble voice, a deer’s wide eyes, and left just enough of her girlish innocence to ensure that her imagination never stretched further than her husband’s limitations.
When their first child was born Freddy had a life already planned. He changed the sex at birth because the desire for a son burned through him like animal rage. The boy would be big, strong, tall, overflowing with an inevitable confidence. The boy would be slightly rounded at the edges in youth, with chubby arms and legs and pinchable cheeks, but these features would harden with time. His demeanour would become solid, his figure a chiselled form of perfection. His gaze, perhaps once slightly downcast and unsure when mired in childish self-doubt, would grow to be unwavering. There would be none who stood in his way.
But the years of moulding did not unfold as Freddy intended.
The boy was too arrogant and fought with his father as soon as he was old enough to string a sentence together. He demanded to be left alone, spurned the friendships of other children. Freddy tried to shape the children of the cut-out friends he’d made for himself into friends for his son, but all were rejected. Freddy tried to temper the boy. In an attempt to dilute that obstinate confidence Freddy turned his son’s youthful chubbiness into obesity. As he grew fatter and more helpless, Freddy forced the boy to crave participation in sports as a means developing maturity. This instead became brutality. The boy kicked and bit when opposed, and cried when chastised. For years the boy cried himself to sleep as Freddy lay awake beside his silent wife and contemplated the next step.
The records of what became of the boy are unclear. His disappearance was never investigated, the only evidence his absence.
The next children were different. They had three in rapid succession, each born within ten months of the last. These three were given more space to develop, allowed mature with only the gentlest nudge in an intended direction by their father.
By this point the whole town was his. Its population were all a part of his mind, their individual personalities little more than an isolated characteristic of Freddy’s psyche. He let this world shape his children, since the world was a product of him.
The three children were girls, and grew up as the closest of friends. They lived primarily in fantasy worlds of their own imagination. They ventured together into deep space and battled the demon beasts they found there. In school they doodled impossible landscapes in their copy books when they should have listened to their teachers’ carefully scripted instructions. When Freddy bought them to hear the words he’d placed in the priest’s mouth every Sunday, his girls communicated through a non-verbal sign language of minute gestures they had invented for themselves. Freddy knew what they were doing, but he was unable to crack their code. He could shape others, but only externally. Freddy’s weakness was that he couldn’t get inside them. His girls had a secret world of their own that existed outside the influence of their father.
Freddy sat on his wooden slatted patio armchair and watched them race each other to the bottom of the garden. It had been just over a decade since the birth of his eldest daughter. Freddy saw in their aging a reminder of his own mortality. Like any craftsman, he’d only been given so long to work his shaping skill. He watched his girls as they ran. They moved as if tossing a ball between them, but there was no ball. Beyond the garden, a constructed community went about their scripted routes. But Freddy’s moderations weren’t as attentive as they once were. The old man who sold apples had gotten some wire crossed somewhere, and now he felt something strange stirring inside dormant parts of him whenever he heard children’s laughter. The petty thief who sometimes smashed windows and stole small appliances had taken to carrying a butcher’s knife and carving herself flesh trophies. The priest’s script had started glitching, and his impromptu doctrines spoke of a god who was a carpenter, and a carpenter who was God.
But Freddy wasn’t aware of the problems he’d created. He sat on the patio of his modest house and looked out into the back garden at his playing children. Their talk was babble fast. Freddy was lucky if he could catch a few words of it these days. One word in ten, maybe. Nothing about their fluttering movements made any sense to him. The ran in circles with their arms held out like wings. It would not have surprised Freddy if they took flight, and drifted up and out of his created world like clouds.
Bernard O'Rourke is a writer and journalist from Dundalk, Ireland. His poetry and short fiction have been appeared in The Bogman's Canon, The Honest Ulsterman, TheEEEL, The Bohemyth, The Irish Literary Review and Wordlegs. He lives in Dublin. Follow him on Twitter @guyserious and check out his website.