“I’ve decided that you’re gonna spend this summer working on your great-uncle’s farm!”
The way Dad said it, I guess I was supposed to think it was some great reward, not a prison sentence. I was not exactly your farm-boy outdoorsy type. Puberty had come and gone, leaving me a spindly asthmatic seventeen-year-old who had topped out at five-foot-seven and still had a goddamn baby face. Mom still bought my clothes in the friggin’ boys’ department at Walmart, for god’s sake.
“Do I look like I’m built for doing chores?” I asked Dad, extending my scrawny arms to emphasize the point. It was one of life’s mysteries how a tall and hardy guy like my dad could produce a puny kid like me. If we hadn’t shared the same blond hair and dark eyes, I’d have been sure I was adopted or switched at birth…or maybe that my spaceship had crash-landed in the backyard and Mom and Dad had decided to raise me as their son.
“Trust me, son, you’re gonna love it,” Dad said with enthusiasm that I found dubious. “The summers I spent at Uncle Cyrus’s made a man out of me.”
In the weeks that followed, I kept making alternative proposals for what to do with my summer, but Dad would have none of it. On June first, my folks loaded me onto a bus for the 36-hour ride to Texas. I walled myself off from the other riders, popping in my headphones and escaping into my music until the battery wore out.
The bus finally arrived at Cyrus’s ranch, a hundred miles from nothing in every direction. The bus driver shook me awake, and I discovered I was the last passenger left on the bus. Wiping the crumbs of sleep from my eyes, I lumbered down the aisle, my heavy, overstuffed knapsack slung awkwardly over my shoulder.
In the gravel at the side of the road, I was greeted by a gigantic guy wearing overalls and no shirt, revealing massive muscles which were already glistening with sweat in the heat of 7 a.m. “You Nicholas?” he asked in a low booming voice. I nodded, standing in his shadow as he eclipsed the sunrise. He told me his name was Caleb and shook my hand, his palm feeling like one enormous callus. He gestured for me to follow him down a dirt road.
I trudged behind him, straining under the burden of my knapsack, scrambling to keep pace, needing two steps to match one of his strides. I began to wheeze and my shirt was quickly drenched with sweat. I gasped to Caleb, “How much further is it?”
“Not far. About three miles.”
I stopped in my tracks and dropped the dufflebag at my feet. I could barely imagine walking another three feet. Caleb turned around and offered a sympathetic smile. He bent down, snatched my knapsack off the ground and slung it lightly over his shoulder like it was full of marshmallows. “Don’t get used to this. After this, you’ll have to pull your own weight.” He winked at me and began to walk forward. Relieved of the burden of my baggage, I was marginally less miserable.
When we got close to the ranch house, Caleb shoved the bag back into my arms, saying I would have to carry it the rest of the way, in case Cyrus was watching. I somehow survived until I reached the front steps of Cyrus’s house where I collapsed on top of my knapsack. I could hear a screen door squeak open and hard-soled shoes approaching me along the floorboards. I turned my head to look up and saw a leathery old man with a scruffy white beard.
“So, you must be Tony’s boy,” he said with a thick twang. “Well, stand up, son. Lemme get a look at ya.”
I struggled to my feet and once again felt dwarfed. Cyrus was just as tall as Dad or Caleb and, more amazingly for a man of his age, had the same powerful physique. He wasn’t just in great shape for an old guy, he was in great shape period. The sleeves of his flannel shirt were rolled high up his arms, revealing the veins that topped his bulging biceps, and his broad chest kept him from buttoning the shirt’s top three buttons. Seriously, how was I part of this damn family?
After giving me a thorough look-see, Cyrus declared, “Yep, you look just like your daddy when his paw sent him for a visit. C’mon in, you must be starvin’.”
Caleb held open the door, and I followed Cyrus inside, finding it hard to believe that Dad had ever been a runt like me. I took a seat at the table as Cyrus began to prepare breakfast, hauling eggs and milk and ham and butter out of the fridge. “You don’t have to go to all that trouble,” I assured him. “Just some Frosted Flakes and a Pop-Tart will be fine.”
Cyrus turned slowly toward me. “On my farm, you eat what I say you eat. You got it?”
I got it.
Working swiftly, he whipped up more food than I typically ate in a week. A stack of flapjacks, a pile of scrambled eggs, a platter-sized slice of ham. I couldn’t imagine I would make a dent, but once I took a bite, it was so tasty that I kept plowing forward and, to my astonishment, devoured every last bit of it, washed down with what must have been half a gallon of fresh milk. After such a feast, I felt ready to find a bed and lapse into a coma, but Cyrus informed me I was to join Caleb outside to begin the day’s work.
When I caught sight of Caleb, he was toting two bales of hay propped upon his mighty shoulders and carrying them into the barn. My stomach churned with my digesting food as I jogged toward him. “Hey, Caleb, I guess I’m s’posed to help you out or something?”
“Oh, great. Here, catch.” To my dismay, Caleb flung one of the bales toward me. Fortunately, I jumped aside just in time before it could obliterate me. Caleb laughed. “You’re gonna hafta learn to catch better than that. Here!” He fired the other bale my direction and I found myself extending my arms. I wrapped them around the sides of the bale, but the momentum knocked me flat on my ass.
Caleb rushed over, blurting out his apologies. “I’m sorry, man. I forgot that it doesn’t kick in right away.”
“What doesn’t kick in right away?” I asked as I pushed the heavy bale from atop my chest.
Caleb merely said, “You’ll see,” as he offered his hand and yanked me to my feet. He told me to pick up one of the bales and follow him into the barn. I was surprised at how light the hay bale felt, once it wasn’t being hurled at me like a weapon. …
Caleb kept me occupied with chores all morning, and I found myself quickly acclimating to the demands—and the smells—of the farm. Before I knew it, Cyrus was clanging the triangle on the porch to call us in for lunch. After that monstrous breakfast, I couldn’t imagine being hungry again so soon, but my mouth watered and my stomach growled as soon as I caught sight of the t-bone steak, enormous baked potato and two-foot-long ear of corn that Cyrus had waiting for me.
“How do you get your food to grow so big?” I asked Cyrus.
“Why, son, don’t you know everything’s bigger in Texas?” Cyrus responded with a grin as he refilled my coffee mug. I’d always gagged any time I’d tasted coffee before, but it was really hitting the spot that day.
I could feel my body aching from all the work I’d done that morning, yet I didn’t feel fatigued in the least. In fact, for someone whose idea of extreme manual labor was taking out the garbage, I was feeling surprisingly energized by the day’s forced labor. I noticed that my arms had reddened a bit, and I asked Cyrus if he had any sunscreen. He chortled heartily. “You won’t need any of that crap here,” he informed me. I had no desire to end up as leathery as the old man, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a nice even tan like the one Caleb sported.
Caleb and I headed into the fields that afternoon, hand-picking carrots which were two to three feet long and thicker than any I’d ever encountered. I’m telling you, seriously, these carrots could be used to club someone to death. I asked Caleb, “Come on, you can tell me, how does he get crops to grow like this? Is it some special fertilizer? Does he spread radioactive waste on the fields?”
Caleb shrugged his powerful shoulders. “It’s just something to do with the soil here. It’s very… special.”
I asked how long Caleb had been working on the farm. “I came on last summer. He really only needs one hired hand to help him through the summer. Then every year he brings in someone new to train. Last year, that was me. Maybe next year, you’ll be training the new guy.”
I laughed. “I don’t think so.”
“You might be surprised. This place grows on you.”
As the afternoon wore on and we carried basket after basket of oversized carrots in from the field, I started to feel strange, lightheaded and a bit queasy. I toppled forward, but Caleb rushed over and caught me before I could land face down in the dirt. “Cyrus, it’s happening!”, he shouted toward the house.
Through bleary eyes, I muttered, “What’s happening?” Suddenly, a painful spasm spread through my arms and I bunched my hands into tight fists. Caleb lowered me to my knees and I clutched my hands to the sides of my head, which had begun to throb mercilessly. I closed my eyes tight, but could hear Cyrus’s footsteps approaching. He spoke to me in soothing tones.
“Just relax, boy. You’re just growin’. It’s perfectly natural.”
I let out a fierce scream and shouted, “It doesn’t feel perfectly natural. What are you doing to me?”
“Same thing I did for your paw. I’m makin’ you a man.”
My head was abuzz as my brain attempted to process the frenzied signals it was receiving from every part of my body. My skin was tingling with the simultaneous impact of a million needles, my muscles were pulsating with heat, and I could hear my ribs cracking and reforming as my shoulder blades expanded. My t-shirt was becoming tight around my torso as my chest muscles broadened and my deltoids ballooned into power-packed round masses that strained the cuffs of my sleeves. Wrapping my arms around each other, I could feel my biceps inflating, first becoming firm, then rock hard. My fingertips could feel my triceps growing more defined, and I smiled as I was overcome with a dizzying rush of adrenaline and testosterone.
I gritted my teeth as I could feel the bones of my head separating and reshaping themselves, my brow growing heavier, my chin stretching downward. As my palm brushed across my cheek, I could feel the beginnings of stubble.
I then became aware of the tightness of my jeans, being pushed to the max by the expansion of my thighs and the new fullness of my ass cheeks. My knee shredded the denim, and the hem of each leg inched upward, digging its way into the flesh of my newly bulbous calves. My feet squirmed inside my ever-tighter shoes, my elongating toes wriggling until they eventually burst the shoes apart.
I had lost all sense of time, lost in the most extraordinary rush I’d ever felt. I collapsed on the ground in relief as I sensed the changes subsiding. Cyrus’s warm hand rubbed comfortingly across the expanse of my wide back. “There, there, boy. You done survived your first growth spurt.”…
“First?” I moaned in a voice that sounded deep and unfamiliar. “You mean there’ll be more?”
“Why, sure. The first one’s the most dramatic, but you’ve got a whole summer ahead of you. Heck, by the time you’re done here, you’ll be bullying Caleb around.”
“Hey!” Caleb objected. “I came here so I could stop being bullied.”
A fog lifted in my brain and I peered up at Caleb as he towered over me. I shielded my eyes against the sun so I could get a good look at his face. “Hang on. Are you that Caleb? My geeky cousin from Tucson?”
As he reluctantly nodded, I could dimly see the remnants of Caleb’s pug nose and overbite hidden among the more classically handsome features of this brawny dude. No wonder I hadn’t recognized him. “It’s a lucky thing our family stumbled upon this farmland,” Caleb said. “If we had to rely entirely on genetics, we’d be one long thin line of wimps.”
I pressed my hands into that rich miraculous farmland and pushed myself to my feet, feeling the power which now flowed through my arms and discovering for the first time what the world looked like from six feet tall. I brushed myself off, picked up the carrots I had spilled when my transformation began and carried them into the barn.
I felt a cool breeze on my back and realized that my t-shirt had been split straight down the middle by the expansion of my shoulder blades. I clutched the collar of my shirt in my mighty hands and yanked down, shredding it into yellow scraps. I strode toward an abandoned car near the barn and checked my reflection in the window, sweeping a hand through my sweat-soaked blond hair to brush it away from my forehead. With my handsome face, broad shoulders and newly acquired abs, I finally looked like my father’s son.
“So,” I asked, turning eagerly to Cyrus, “when’s supper?”