Jerry was lying on his bed, filled with dread and anticipation of what was coming. He hated it when his mother was away from home, not because he felt lonely, but because he would be left all alone with his stepfather. Light streaked into his room as the door opened and the big man entered. Instinctively, Jerry's legs folded upwards and he held them tightly in a fetal position. He was shivering. The big man came and sat beside Jerry's bed.
"Are you feeling cold, my boy?"
Jerry curled up even tighter.
"Don't worry, your mother will be home by tomorrow evening. Till then I will take good care of you."
He stroked Jerry's hair. The shivering increased as the hand moved slowly from the head to his back. He patted his back for several moments.
"Do you want to come with me into my room, boy?" he asked Jerry. A few tears rolled down Jerry's cheeks. The big man gently lifted the shivering child and took him to his room.
Robert let out a huge sigh of relief as he finished pitching the tent. It was a long hike through the hill and forest and they had reached the water hole at last after walking for close to five hours.
Victor was a young and athletic man who could give any fitness freak a run for their money. Robert liked Victor ever since he had interviewed him for an analyst position for his finance company. This guy had a tremendous amount of confidence and energy. Robert had predicted that if Victor could channelize his passion and zeal properly, then he was sure to go places. Under Robert's mentoring, Victor blossomed into an asset for the firm and was now indispensable for them. Robert wanted to share some good news with Victor, but wanted to do it informally before making the actual public announcement. He invited Victor for a hiking cum hunting trip in this popular water-hole where he planned to break the news while gathering some good game.
Victor put down the tools and laid himself down on the cool ground of the forest.
"This is what I call a job well done, boss."
"That's what you get when you have the perfect blend of experience and youth."
"You call yourself old, boss? Sometimes I feel older than you."
"Stop buttering me kid. You don't need to. I wanted to discuss something important with you. But before that get a couple of beers from the icebox first. Both of us can afford to relax now."
Victor went inside the tent where they had kept the icebox, and pulled out two cans of beer.
"So you said you wanted to discuss something important with me?" Victor asked as the liquid spread warmth in their bodies.
"Yes. What have you thought about your future Victor? Where do you want to go from here?" Robert asked.
"Well, as of now I don't feel like going anywhere away from this beautiful place. But once our stocks get over, I guess both of us will have to go back to the city."
"I was talking about your career, kid."
"I know, boss. I don't keep any long term plan, you know. As long as I can pay my bills and feed my family and enjoy the work I do, I guess I would be happy."
"What do you think about being a partner in the firm?"
"Are you kidding me boss? I have been with you for just six years. There are people who have been there longer."
"Yes, there are many more experience people. But none are as innovative or energetic as you. I don't want the company that I built to stagnate. I can only take it so far, I need someone who has the will and passion to take it even higher. And I think I know who that someone is."
"Woah. I mean, it really feels great that you feel like that, boss. If you think I can do it, then maybe I can. Cheers to you!"
"And another news is that the papers are all ready and signed back in the office. We just need to make the announcement. So, cheers to you!"
The beer cans clanged together.
"You know, boss, my mother would have been really proud. I miss her so much."
"Yes she would be. I can assure you that she is very proud of you right now, wherever she is. You never talk much about your family, do you? I mean in the past six years, this is the first time I have heard you talking about her. What about your father?"
"I lost my father when I was a little kid. My mother married another man after that. He is still living, but not for long."
"What do you mean? He's got some ailment or something?"
"No boss, he is pretty fit and fine."
Victor picked up a piece of wood lying next to him.
"You know, boss, wood has always fascinated me. I mean, this is a natural organic thing, but it still remains so strong even if the living thing it was a part of is long dead. And it remains strong until you allow it to remain strong."
"I can't see the point you are trying to make." Robert said.
"The point is, we are like this wood. We can remain strong even if the soul is dead. We still remain alive. But then we all have the termites inside us. These termites eat us from inside. They sap whatever strength we have left and leave us brittle."
"Is it you talking or the beer talking? I still don't understand what you are trying to say."
"It is neither Victor, nor the beer talking, boss. It is a little kid called Jerry, whose soul was ripped apart twenty five years back."
Robert looked at Victor with shock. But before he could say anything, the block of wood landed on his face and he fell unconscious.
When he regained consciousness, it was night and a bright moon was out. Robert's head hurt very bad from the blow. But that was not the only body part that was hurting him. He was tied to a tree and could not move. He looked down and found his groin filled with blood. There was a letter stuck to his thighs, and the moonlight enabled him to read it.
I hope you are feeling great. I hope I have made you as comfortable as you made me many years back. The Jerry in me died a long time back, thanks to you. I ran away from home that time so that Jerry could die and Victor could be born. By now you must have discovered that the tools you used to destroy Jerry have gone missing and it is all a bloody mass left there. I do hope that the animals of the forest like the taste of your blood. Your tools have been strategically placed to help them find their meal for the night.
Thank you so much for all the guidance that you have provided Victor, the result of which I am now a partner in the firm that YOU created. But a partner is someone who shares ownership with another person right? But what if the other person is lying in the belly of some wild animal? I guess the partner can become the owner.
Thank you for your faith in me. I hope I have returned you the favor.
As a parting note, if you ever get born again, which I definitely hope not, I hope that your soul remembers this lesson and does not become a termite for another Jerry.
Your once-upon-a-time stepson,
Note: This story is not fully original and is based somewhat on a short story titled "Triangle" written by Jefferey Deaver in his book "Twisted".