SRU: Reforming the Brat

 

SRU: Reforming the Brat
by Daphne Xu

Credit: The song "Nuttin' for Christmas" was by Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett.

            *****

James MacBeth sighed as he made his way through the mall, returning to work. He'd been called to school yet again, along with his wife Suzy from home. His nine-year-old son Jeff had committed yet another prank. This time, Jeff had apparently crafted a contraption and slipped it onto his fourth-grade teacher. The contraption had slowly, centimeter by centimeter, lifted the teacher's dress...

James sighed. Jeff was such a naughty boy, always up to something. The pranks were getting progressively more elaborate. Two years earlier, it was thumbtacks on a chair and glue in someone's hair. He'd also once put ants in the sugar bowl at home, and slipped a live worm into his second-grade teacher's coffee.

Around the same time, Jeff had persuaded the girls in his second-grade class to play a version of Tag. He was always IT, and when he caught a girl and brought her back to his base next to the school wall, he crouched in front of her. She had to lift her skirt and let him pull down her panties and look for a moment. Meanwhile, the other girls stood around in a half-circle just outside the base, and watched. What amazed James the most was how he had persuaded the girls to go along with those rules.

Bare-bottom hairbrush spankings didn't work. In fact, the last time he spanked Jeff, Jeff had that very night slipped an apparatus onto James's dick and balls. The device had razor-sharp blades, and had nearly castrated him the next morning before James and Suzy managed to disable and remove it.

This past Christmas, at James and Suzy's command, Jeff received no Christmas presents -- none whatsoever. As usual, the entire extended family spent Christmas at Suzy's parents' place. James thought it would do wonders if Jeff saw everyone else getting Christmas presents, while getting nothing. To James's annoyance, James and Suzy both had to repeatedly remind the relatives: no presents for Jeff, and no meant no.

Jeff had made mish-mash of that plan, even as he'd enforced the edict himself at Christmas. James remembered it well.

            *****

They were at Grandma and Grandpa's house, and the opening of the presents didn't begin until after ten, after Suzy's siblings all arrived with their families.

Jeff quickly and quietly claimed the role of "Santa," picking out presents from under the tree and delivering them to the recipient. "Grandma first," he announced. Grandma was always first, followed by Grandpa, and then the recipients went from the eldest to the youngest, except that in aunt-uncle couples, aunts always preceded uncles. "Here's something from Uncle Rob." Suzy and Aunt Jeannie had taken the job of writing down who gave what to whom.

He handed it to Grandma, who said, "Thank you, dearie!" Grandma opened it to find a scarf. "Oh, this is so lovely! Thank you, Rob!" She wrapped it around her neck.

Later, when it was Uncle Rob's turn, Jeff had not only found a present for him, but also found one for himself from him. He delivered them both to Uncle Rob, saying, "I'm not allowed to get presents this year. Mom and Dad's orders. Thank you very much, though."

"Why can't you get presents?" asked Biff, one of Jeff's older cousins.

"Why, you ask?" said Jeff. "Well, it's like this." He broke out in song:

          I broke my bat on Johnny's head.
                Somebody snitched on me.

Cousin Betty, the seven-year-old daughter of Suzy's sister, skipped over to the piano, and joined in with the accompaniment. James couldn't believe how well she played.

          I hid a frog in sister's bed.
                Somebody snitched on me.
          I spilled some ink on Mommy's rug.
          I made Tommy eat a bug.
          Bought some gum with a penny slug.
                Somebody snitched on me. Oh--

Several relatives joined in for the chorus, with more joining in as the chorus progressed. Even James joined in halfway through.

          I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas.
          Mommy and Daddy are mad.
          I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas,
          'Cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad.

Most singers dropped out, although a few stayed and followed Jeff's lyrics.

          I put a tack on teacher's chair.
                Somebody snitched on me.
          I tied a knot in Suzy's hair.
                Somebody snitched on me.
          I did a dance on Grandma's plants,
          Climbed a tree and tore my pants,
          Filled the sugar bowl with ants.
                Somebody snitched on me. So--

Everyone joined in the chorus again:

          I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas.
          Mommy and Daddy are mad.
          I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas,
          'Cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad.

          I won't be seein' Santa Claus
                Somebody snitched on me
          He won't come seein' me because
                Somebody snitched on me
          Next year I'll be goin' straight.
          Next time I'll be good, just wait.

Jeff crossed his fingers behind his back, and shook his but at everyone.

          I'd start now, but it's too late.
                Somebody snitched on me.

Everyone joined in the chorus again, and stayed for the coda:

          I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas.
          Mommy and Daddy are mad.
          I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas,
          'Cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad.

          So you better be good, whatever you do.
          'Cause if you're bad I'm a-warning you.
          You'll get nuttin' for Christmas.

At the end of the song, everyone applauded, and Jeff kept making exaggerated bows. Finally, he gestured to Betty, who stood and shyly bowed, her face turning red.

Jeff finally raised his hand, and the applause quieted down. "Back to the presents. So who's next? Oh, Uncle Rob hasn't yet opened his. Sorry about that."

Everyone ooohed and ahhed over Rob's new lovely sweater, and the presents continued. When it was Betty's turn, Jeff gave her a present that he'd apparently crafted himself, to James's further surprise. How much was his son going to surprise him?

The present was a miniature wooden upright piano, carefully carved and painted. "Oh, this is so adorable!" exclaimed Betty. "You really, truly made this?" At Jeff's nod, Betty set the toy down carefully, and went up and hugged Jeff. Jeff wrapped his arms around her, pulled her harder to him, and lowered his head a little so that she could reach up and kiss his cheek. Jeff blushed, but kissed Betty's cheek, and didn't let go of Betty for about a minute.

Yep, James thought. Ever more surprises from Jeff. He shamefully remembered way back when he was Jeff's age. Whenever a girl tried to hug him, he was so embarrassed that he'd always shoved her back, usually violently. Now, he covered his own face in shame.

It occurred to him that he really didn't know his son. "Tell me, James," said Uncle Ben, Betty's father and Suzy's brother in law. "What were you saying about young Jeff being a very naughty boy?"

James was at a loss for words, but Jeff quickly answered. "I like having fun. Like that kid in the song. Fun for me is very naughty for Mom and Dad." He briefly stuck his tongue out at James. "I'm gonna have Christmas fun my own way, whether Dad likes it or not."

Grandma said, "Despite his show of insolence just now, it seems to me as if young Jeff has learned. The best fun, that leaves us with the best memories, is providing enjoyment for others."

James finally found his tongue. "Rob, or anyone else who's interested, I might tell you sometime. But let's keep with the Christmas spirit, and enjoy the day."

"Amen!" said Aunt Justice.

The opening of the Christmas presents continued. Jeff, as Santa, sometimes paused the presents for a sing-along Christmas carol. Betty didn't play the piano any more; instead, her mother, Aunt Austin, played. During the presents, it came to light that Jeff had crafted several other trinkets like the small piano, primarily for his aunts, but a couple for cousins as well.

After the presents were all opened, and after Christmas dinner, James overheard Aunt Austin telling a couple people how Betty had insisted in learning "Nuttin' for Christmas" in piano lessons, back in early November. "Her piano teacher and I both thought it was beyond her level, but she managed it. It was such a surprise when Jeff started singing it, and she joined in on the piano."

"Jeff called me," said Betty. "He wanted me to learn the song. He was planning something for Christmas."

"So that was another of his elaborate pranks," said James with a sigh.

"Hardly a prank, and certainly not very elaborate," said Uncle Rob. "But excellent long-term planning for a young kid like Jeff. He'll go far."

            *****

That had been a fun Christmas, and was certainly not a punishment for Jeff, even though he didn't get any presents. He continued to commit ever-more-elaborate malicious pranks.

Time and time again, James wished that Jeff had never been born, or that something would happen so that he wouldn't have to deal with Jeff any longer. In fact, in the middle of his current bitter reminiscing, he caught himself making such a wish. Of course, he reminded himself, he didn't really mean it.

A couple weeks earlier, Jeff had turned his attentions toward a bully who was tormenting one of the smallest boys in class. Consequently, the bully had ripped the seat of his pants *and* boxers in front of everyone at recess. When Jeff's teacher and principal called James and Suzy in to discuss that prank, the teacher had said something that pushed James into querying further. The teacher admitted that Jeff's victim was a bit of a bully, and had been targeting one little boy in particular.

"And you didn't do anything about it?" James asked.

"What could I do?" asked the teacher.

"What could you-- whaddyamean, what could you do? At least Jeff did *something*!"

Jeff had never tried to explain himself. James suspected that part of his plan was to let his teacher hang herself. James refused to punish Jeff that time.

As he passed through the mall toward the central tower elevators, he kept muttering to himself. Why wouldn't Jeff simply be a good little boy, why was Jeff causing so much trouble for him? He kept wishing he didn't have to deal with Jeff.

He thought of Tina McGovern, Jeff's classmate in second and third grade, who'd been injured the previous summer in a major industrial accident. By all accounts, Tina was a good girl, never causing any trouble. Why had such a disaster happened to her of all people? Why to a good little girl like her, rather than a naughty boy like Jeff?

James wondered, had she joined the other girls in Jeff's naughty second-grade game? No, she couldn't have, he thought. Tina just wasn't that kind of girl.

James glanced up at one point, and he noticed one of the smaller stores of the mall, one of many he'd never noticed before. If he noticed a store at all, he would note the store, dismiss it from his mind, and walk on by. But this time, the store's name caught him: "Spells R Us," an obvious play on the name of the superstore chain, "Toys 'R' Us."

It looked interesting, so he decided to check it out. A bell tinkled as James opened the door and stepped into the store. He glanced around; could the store really be that big? It seemed so much smaller from the outside. Its shelves appeared loaded haphazardly with antique, used, and broken-down artifacts, reminding him of a Goodwill Store from his childhood.

An ancient man approached, clad in what James could only guess was an old tattered bathrobe and an old tattered pointy blue hat decorated with astrological symbols. "Good afternoon, Mr. MacBeth. How may I help you?"

"How did you -- ah yes, the badge." James briefly glanced down at the badge still clipped to his suit pocket. "Just browsing for a few moments, thank you."

"Very well. If you need assistance, I'll be at your side."

James had no idea where to begin. Off to the side, a crystal ball that must have been some kind of television or video device came to life. The crystal ball was on a pedestal, surrounded by a stack of cans bound together in pairs and quartets. A sign proclaimed:

        SRU's Fabulous
        Swippy-Swappy
        Body-Swap Potion

Having nothing better to do, James approached the crystal ball, as it displayed rapidly-shifting images accompanied by the patter of a fast-talking male voice:

Have you ever wanted someone to see things
from your perspective? Now, it really can
happen, with SRU's Fabulous Swippy-Swappy
Body-Swap Potion! See life from another's
perspective ... Learn to walk in another's
shoes ... Become the opposite sex like you
always wanted to ... Loads of fun ... Sold
only at Spells R Us. Use only as directed.

Try SRU's Fabulous Swippy-Swappy Body-Swap
Potion today!

Jason picked up a pair. It consisted of two soda-pop cans, wrapped together in cellophane with a small booklet. A white label on the cellophane identified this as "SRU's Fabulous Swippy-Swappy Body-Swap Potion." The soft-white cans inside the wrap were labeled, "BS Cola," and were covered by the standard warnings, directions, pseudo-Greco-Latin ingredients, and other information written in incomprehensible Flyspeck 3 font.

Pondering the cans in his hand, he thought of his son. An idea slowly formed in his head. His niece Betty was seven years old and in first grade, but read, wrote, calculated, and did many other things at the fifth-grade level. What level did she play the piano at?

Having her take Jeff's place, and making Jeff go back and redo two or three years of his life as a younger girl, just might reform him. The more he thought, the more the idea appealed.

"I guarantee that your son will reform," came the Old Man's voice from over his shoulder. Darn, thought James. He must have been mumbling out loud again. "Your son and the person he switches with must both drink at the same time, and within seven meters of each other. Be sure the instructions are followed precisely."

"Thank you, kind sir," replied James. He glanced at the price; a special was advertised at $274.95 for a pair, and $495.95 for a quartet. That seemed reasonable for such a potion. "I'll take it."

"Very good," answered the Old Man. They went to the counter, where James briefly spotted a huge dog, resembling a wolf, resting behind the counter. "Don't worry, she's quite friendly," the Old Man assured him. The dog seemed to snicker, but only sneezed.

            *****

James worked the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening. The body-swap potions and the troubles with his son were temporarily forgotten, caught up as he was in his work. Once he reached a stopping point around nine in the evening and returned home, the potions were very much on his mind. The more he thought of it, the better the idea seemed to him. They could invite Betty's family to visit this summer, and transfer them then. Betty would no doubt be happy to find herself entering fifth grade, with more advanced work.

He couldn't wait to discuss it with his wife.

His wife was ironing and folding clothes while waiting for him to get home.

"Hey, Suzy!" he joined her in the living room.

"Honey! Had to work late again tonight?"

"I'm afraid so. I had to make up for this afternoon's trip to Jeff's school." He tried in vain to suppress his distaste, and quickly changed the subject. "Hey Suzy, I found something that might help with Jeff's behavior. Look at this!" He removed the potions from his briefcase and showed them to Suzy.

"SRU's Swippy-Swappy Body-Swap Potion? Spells R Us?!" She took the potions in her hands. "Let me guess. You're planning to swap Jeff with someone else, so that we get a nice compliant child and someone else gets Jeff?" She slammed the cans down onto the coffee table.

"Well--"

"James Madison MacBeth, you have been gypped. Spell's R Us is fiction, got that? Fiction!"

"But--"

"It's a fictional shared universe with numerous stories about an Old Man in a Bathrobe, a Wizard, selling goods that change men into women and animals. That store you bought that in? Someone probably just opened a store with the SRU name, to skim a little money off the gullible."

"Now, you don't know for sure that this was fiction. It wouldn't do any harm to try it at least. I had the idea that we could swap Jeff with Betty."

"WHAT?!? You were going to just switch them around? What do you think it would be like for Betty? Even assuming that it worked! And yes, even if it's fraudulent, as it most certainly has to be, it's dangerous drinking that stuff. We have absolutely no idea what's in it."

James, thoroughly humiliated, was at an utter loss for words. His wife was right, of course. Now that she'd mentioned it, he did recall reading SRU stories when he was a lot younger and less preoccupied with work. He also recalled a common saying, "If you ever see SRU, run -- do not walk -- run away." He had completely forgotten that admonition.

"Okay, okay, Suzy, you're right. I'll throw them out. I should never have gotten it. It's only money, a little under two billable hours."

"Where did you put them just now?" James looked around, but couldn't find the cans.

"I thought I set them down right here, somewhere..." Suzy trailed off.

"You slammed them down, right here. Where's that boy!?"

"Not so loud," whispered Suzy. "He should be upstairs in bed, asleep. Don't wake him up."

James realized the importance of his wife's advice. If Jeff should wake up, they would be in for more mischief.

Suzy went upstairs, then shortly returned. "He's not there. He left the bed stuffed to make it appear that he was asleep in bed."

That settled that, concluded James. "In other words, he's up to more mischief, and pilfered the body-swap potions right from under our noses."

"Should we call the police?" asked Suzy.

"If we want Jeff sent to Reform School, or whatever they call it these days... He'd be out of our hands, and we wouldn't have to deal any more with the brat."

"No! How could you say such a thing?"

"Yeah, we really *don't* want that."

            *****

It was around 10:00 that evening, and James was sitting next to the phone, tapping his fingers on the counter, hoping against hope that *someone* would call with information about Jeff. Jeff and Suzy had called the parents of Jeff's few friends -- at least the ones they knew about. Suzy had also called Jeff's fourth-grade teacher. None had heard anything about him. Suzy had again suggested calling the police, and again James had rejected the idea, for the day at least.

Suzy had returned to her housework, had finished the ironing, and was now vacuuming the house. "Call me if you hear anything, *anything*, about Jeff," she said. "But in such situations, work helps distract us from needless worry when we can't actually do anything."

The phone rang, and James snatched it before the first ring ended. "Hello?!"

"I am Scarletta Baker. Am I speaking with the father of Jeff MacBeth?"

"Yes. Just a second." James covered the phone's mouthpiece. "Suzy! Someone's calling about Jeff!" He returned to the phone. "Jeff's missing, Mrs. Baker. Do you know his whereabouts?" Jeff heard a click, indicating that Suzy had picked up another phone.

"Jeff's here playing with Tina McGovern, as usual."

"Tina McGovern? The girl who was..." James trailed off, unable to say outright "injured" or anything similar.

"Just what did you mean, `as usual', Mrs. Baker?" asked Suzy over the phone.

"`Miss Baker,' please. I'm Tina's live-in nurse. You didn't know? Jeff visits Tina two or three times a week, usually around this time, sometimes after school."

"What?!" exclaimed James. "What did you know about this, Suzy?"

"Nothing. I have no idea what this is all about."

"I thought you knew," said Miss Baker. "I only called because someone called Mr. McGovern to tell him that Jeff was missing."

"Okay, Miss Baker, you owe us an explanation here. What has been going on with Jeff?" That was James speaking.

"Okay, fair enough. I think it began when the fourth-grade classes were invited to visit Tina one afternoon. It worked out horribly: the children were all shocked and horrified at Tina's appearance. Many threw up. I heard that many had nightmares that night or the following nights. It was horrible for Tina as well, to see the disgusted and nauseated reactions.

"None of her former friends or classmates visited again, except Jeff. As I understand it, he tried to visit two or three times, and was rebuffed every time. Apparently that's when he started sneaking in at night."

"That's Jeff all right: a real sneak," said James.

"I caught him with Tina one evening a few months ago -- it was before Christmas. Tina cried and begged me to let him stay. I finally agreed. I was even persuaded to let him sneak in, because Tina's mother and father wouldn't let him play with Tina. And I could tell, Tina liked Jeff's sneakiness.

"Sometimes he slipped in during the afternoon. He always stayed an hour and a half or two hours. Tina always looked forward to his appearance. Even I've come to enjoy it. Tina's been so much happier and healthier mentally, and I'm sure it's been helping her physical recovery as well. When he's there, Tina smiles and laughs as much as she can with her physical handicaps.

"But I just don't understand, how he could have been doing all this without you're knowing!"

"We don't understand it either," said Suzy.

"We don't understand how he does any of it," added James. "For example, we have no idea how he managed to pull off today's offense at school. But we do know how capable he is of doing things under our noses without our detecting." James wondered further to himself. Was this his son Jeff they were talking about? The brat, who seemed to have dedicated himself to pulling mean-spirited pranks on everyone, and disrupting their lives?

A moment of empty silence followed, where everyone was caught up in his own thoughts or simply at a loss for words.

Finally, Miss Baker said, "I'm sure he'll return home shortly."

After the phone call ended, Suzy came and joined James. "Suzy," he asked, realized that they'd forgotten to ask Miss Baker about the potions. "Do you think Jeff did something with the potions? I mean, it's pretty clear he stole the potions, and then slipped out and visited Tina. Coincidence?"

"No, I think you're right. Jeff is of that age to still believe in magic, and may have thought the potions might work. He might have tried to shift Suzy out of her body."

"But who would be the sap tricked into switching bodies with Tina? Nobody else was there, except Miss Baker." A horrid idea struck James. "Oh, my God. You don't think he..." he drifted off.

"Exchanged himself with Tina? Hey, this is Jeff we're talking about. The brat. Anyway, don't worry about it. SRU is fiction. If Jeff and Tina did drink the potions, I'd be more worried about stomach troubles and poison. But let's not borrow trouble; we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Meanwhile, I'm bushed. I'm off to bed now, care to join me, dear?"

            *****

James found himself in the midst of horrid nightmares. Every wish from the past that something would happen to Jeff, or that Jeff never existed, echoed around him, through him, penetrating his very inner being. "Jeff should never have been born." "Why Tina? Why not Jeff." "I wish something would happen and I wouldn't have to deal any more with Jeff."

"No, I didn't mean it!" He tried to shout, but the exclamation was caught in his throat.

Superimposed on the noise was the voice of the Old Man from Spells `R' Us. "Be careful what you wish for; you may get it." "Do you really want Tina back into her maimed and mangled body?" "Jeff made his choice; he has to live and die with it." "You got exactly what was promised. The brat has re-formed."

In a moment of clarity, the Old Man's voice pronounced, "Your son has wiped out all accumulated bad Karma, from this life and past lives, in one blow. He now has a credit balance of good Karma. But you don't believe in Karma." That last sentence came in a mocking tone.

James awoke in horror, nearly screaming out. He burst into silent tears, shaking the bed, and eventually crying himself to sleep.

            *****

The alarm woke James the next morning at the usual time, six-thirty. He barely managed to avoid crying all over again, through sheer will-power. He told himself that Jeff was probably perfectly fine and dandy, and had returned home last night.

He got up, avoiding waking Suzy up, and got dressed, prepared to follow his morning routine. He sensed something wrong, but couldn't put his finger on it. He realized what it was, when he went for breakfast and didn't see Jeff making his own breakfast. No matter how naughty Jeff was, he always got himself to school in the morning.

James cynically thought that Jeff liked school because he had so may opportunities to be naught and prank both children and teachers.

But now, Jeff wasn't here. James ran to Jeff's room; the stuffing that gave the illusion of Jeff in bed was still there.

The telephone rang, and James ran to answer it.

"MacBeth!" boomed the voice of Mr. McGovern. "Your son was found asleep in bed with my daughter. She woke us screaming in renewed pain -- and if she hadn't begged me to let him stay, I would have bodily thrown your boy out of the house. Something strange is happening, and I want you and your wife here i twenty minutes or there will be Hell.

"I want a full accounting, and if we don't get one, we'll see you in court."

"We'll be there," answered James in a low tone. "But you might want to talk with Miss Baker, and Tina and Jeff themselves. See you in twenty!"

James ran to the bedroom, and woke his wife. "Suzy, get dressed. We have to be at the McGovern's house in twenty minutes. It's urgent!"

They made it with a couple minutes to spare. James rang the bell, and the door promptly opened to reveal a much calmer Mr. McGovern.

"Please come it." James and Suzy followed. Mr. McGovern through the house. "Miss Baker has told me what she knows about your son and Tina. She thinks that Jeff has been beneficial in making Tina's life bearable. According to her, Tina has always enjoyed his visits. I have to admit my own guilt. I haven't seen Tina except for a couple times since the disaster. I just couldn't bear seeing her mangled and torn-apart body. I have to grant your son great credit here. I finally saw my daughter for the first time in months.

"But they've been acting peculiarly. Jeff called me Dad, and Tina called me Mr. McGovern. I don't know what's happening."

"Mr. McGovern," said James. "I believe I know what happened, but could we see the children, please. I may be able to explain it there."

Brent led the family to Tina's room near the back of the second floor of the house. When they arrived, James nearly vomited at the sight of Tina. He knew that Tina had been badly injured in the industrial accident, but he hadn't realized just what that really entailed.

The left side of Tina's face looked like her, but scraped up. But the right side of her body was all scrambled up. It didn't look human. Her right eye was gone. Her neck was wrapped in bandages, as was her right arm that ended in a stump at her elbow. Tina's legs were under the covers, but it appeared that her right leg had been amputated as well. Jeff was holding her, his arms wrapped around her.

James looked at his wife, who seemed to take it with better stamina.

"I gave her a pain-relieving sedative," said Mrs. Baker.

Jeff said, "I feel so strange, having a whole body again, being free of perpetual pain."

"Mom...Dad" came a barely audible whisper from Tina.

"Is--is that you in there, Jeff?" asked James hesitatingly. Tina nodded almost imperceptibly.

Suzy collapsed and bawled uncontrollably. Miss Baker and Mrs. McGovern took her in their arms and helped her out of the room. James slowly approached the children on the bed, pushing aside his nausea. "You did this to -- yourself with the... body-swap potion?"

Mr. McGovern picked up the two cans from the floor.

Jeff -- or as James now realized, Tina in Jeff's body -- cried quietly. "Jeff, you really did it. I never believed it would happen. You did this... for me?"

James knew he had to put aside his revulsion at Tina's body, for now. He sat down on the floor next to the bed. Mr. McGovern moved over him. "Okay, MacBeth. If I'm to believe this, your son switched bodies with my daughter, and that's now your son inhabiting my daughter's body. And my daughter in your son's body." He turned to Jeff, who had stopped weeping. "Tina?"

"Yes, Dad. It's me," said Jeff.

James spoke. "It's all my fault. Yesterday, I found a little store in the mall called Spells 'R' Us. They were offering a special on body-swap potions. I don't know what possessed me, but I had the terrible idea of reforming Jeff by switching him with a niece of ours. Last night, while Suzy and I were arguing about it, Jeff apparently slipped away with the potions, came here, and switched with Tina."

"Is that true, Tina, Jeff?" Mr. McGovern looked at Tina. She gave another faint nod.

Tina pushed herself up a little. "Dad," she whispered. "I'm not out yet. Tina, I have a reputation to maintain..." Her voice drifted off, and James could tell she was asleep.

"I don't know if I can uphold Jeff's reputation," said Jeff. "I always liked him, and envied his guts in pulling those pranks. What? I never used that language before? I was always the good little girl. Everyone is revolted at my appearance. Jeff was, I could tell. Yet he kept visiting, and we talked about many things and played games. He made me laugh.

"I probably should get off to school, don't you think?"

Epilogue

The MacBeths and the McGoverns became parents to both children. Tina had to accustom herself to Jeff's body, after all those months of inactivity and maiming. But she took over Jeff's body and Jeff's role. Outside the family, nobody knew about the body switch. But it was noticed that Jeff no longer committed pranks like he used to. On the other hand, Tina in his body no longer suffered the painful shyness and anxiety that had led her to being the good little girl.

Jeff in Tina's body couldn't stand lying there forever, and eventually he was hobbling around, getting into things, snacking on food, and driving Miss Baker crazy. Tina became the world's worst patient. He once paid an unscheduled visit to school, hobbling all the way with one crutch, shocking everyone with his appearance. More than a few children, and even a few teachers, vomited and had to go home for the day.

James extracted the maximum settlement possible from the company that had the industrial accident. After extensive reconstructive surgery, Tina came to resemble a human, although one with both right limbs lost. She had a glass eye put in.

James vowed that if he ever met that Old Man from SRU again, he would personally strangle the life out of him. But SRU was no longer at the mall. No matter how he searched, he never found any trace of SRU or its Wizard. A legal search confirmed his conclusion that courts would not look upon a lawsuit against SRU as anything other than frivolous.

"If you ever see SRU, run -- do not walk -- run away."

The END


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