The Son that Chased a Dream
A Short Story by Kathryn C. Lang
The young man watched as his older brother finished the daily chores. He groaned. David always finished first and he was left to work alone. Despite his efforts, his smaller size and weaker upper body meant that David could finish first.
“Ha!” David tossed the taunt over his shoulder as he ran off to the house.
Stephen wanted to do better and he did try. It was just that the work before him was not the best work for him. He looked off into the horizon and dreamed again about what could be if he would only take the steps to make it happen.
He lost himself in the dream and it was only the sound of the dinner bell that brought him back to reality. Stephen finished up the last of his chores and then dashed to the house hoping that there would be something left for him from the evening meal.
“You’re late again.” Stephen rounded the corner of the house and ran into his dad.
“We waited. Go get cleaned up.”
“Yes, Sir.” He cleaned up and changed his shirt before joining the rest of the family at the table. David glared at him as he took his seat, but David often glared at him. To David, Stephen was too slow, or too weak, or just too lazy to do what needed to be done.
Dad said the prayer over the food and soon food was being passed around the table while lively conversations filled the air. Stephen was quiet and on more than one occasion someone had to bump him to get his attention so that he could pass the food.
“Is something wrong?” His dad had watched him for most of the meal and waited until the others were focused on a lively debate about the local sports team.
“You’ve been awfully quiet.” His dad leaned in closer to Stephen. “Has something happened?”
Stephen looked up at his dad and then across the table at David. He shrugged. “Nothing happened.” But something had happened. Stephen finally realized that no matter what he did, David would always be better or at least always be the one that everyone looked to for the help or the answer.
“There’s something. I can tell.” His dad leaned back and took another bite. He watched Stephen for a moment and then added. “Maybe you and I should continue this conversation alone?”
Stephen took a deep breath. “There’s no need.” It was time to take that step. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Uh Oh.” David had heard him from across the table. Their dad glanced over at David and he dropped his gaze and turned his attention to someone at the other end of the table.
“You were saying.”
Stephen tried not to smile. It was not that often that he saw someone put David in his place like that. “I was just saying I had been thinking about a business I’d like to start.”
“What were you thinking?” His dad took a sip of his water and then kept his attention on Stephen.
“I was just thinking that with the right backing I could get this business up and running.” And I would be in charge for a change. Stephen did not add the last part.
“What do you need?”
That was it? That was all there was to it? He had thought his dad would have questioned him or cornered him or made him beg. “I was just thinking that if I had my inheritance then I could make this happen.”
“If you think you can then it’s yours to do with as you see fit.”
Stephen stared at his dad for what felt like the rest of the night. The words needed time to settle in. Maybe he had heard wrong. Stephen looked around the table and knew from the look on David’s face that he had not heard wrong. His dad was giving him the funds he needed to pursue his dreams.
For once, Stephen cared little about what David thought.
The next morning he set out with his money in hand. He had noticed during a visit that a nearby town had some real estate he could use for his first venture. Stephen contacted the agent when he arrived in town and the agent worked out the details. The cost was a little more than Stephen had remembered, but he was certain he could make up the difference in no time.
The plan was in place. The pieces were in place. It was going to work.
And then the bottom fell out of the market and the economy crashed around him. The bill collectors continued to demand payment despite the crash. It was only a matter of time before Stephen found that he had nothing left to pay the bill collectors.
The agent that had been so helpful when he first arrived to town was the first to kick Stephen to the curb. The streets were not a nice place to live and Stephen found some refuge with a slop house at the edge of town. The owner treated him worse than the animals but Stephen was determined to make it work.
Each day he slipped through the muck to feed the animals and each day his stomach growled at the sight of their slop. On more than one occasion, Stephen considered eating the trash that he was supposed to be feeding the animals.
The night he came the closest, he remembered the way the workers in the barns had been treated on his dad’s farm. They ate regular meals. They had a warm place to sleep. His dad even made sure that they had clothes to wear.
“This is crazy.” Stephen announced to the pigs. “I want to eat your slop when I could be back working as a servant for my dad and eating real food.” He determined at that moment to return to his dad and explain what had happened.
Stephen left after he finished the night’s feedings. Even though he was leaving, he was not leaving the animals to be hungry as he had been hungry. He walked through the night and with each step his nerves became a little more raw. His dad had given him everything he deserved and he had lost it all. Stephen only hoped that his dad would be willing to put him to work if he was allowed to return.
He practiced his speech the whole walk home. The sun was just rising when he came up over the hill that looked down on his dad’s farm. He stopped for a moment and took in the sight. Stephen had forgotten how peaceful and inviting it looked with that morning light shining down.
In the distance, Stephen heard voices shouting. He looked around and prepared to assist or defend depending on the situation at hand. He lifted his hand to block some of the rising sun and noticed a figure running to him.
Before his thoughts could catch up to his words, his dad was on him. His dad hugged him and kissed him and told him how happy he was that Stephen was home.
“But, I need to apologize. I messed up.”
“All that matters now is that you are home.”
– – –
We often hear the story of the prodigal son and assume that he went off and wasted all his inheritance. That is what the older brother implies. What if the younger son just went off to make his own way? What if the younger son just thought he had a better way of doing it than his dad had?
Too often, I look around at my life and realize I am that younger son. I tell God that I have a better plan or I take a path that I determine to be better for my end needs.
God knows the best way. God made me and He made all the ways. Until I accept that maybe I do NOT have all the answers and I return to His plan and His way, I will continue to struggle in the slop.
If you enjoyed this short story, you might also enjoy Kathryn’s mystery fiction series – Big Springs Novels.
RUN is the first book in the series and follows the path of Sara as she struggles to overcome the pain of her own past while confronting the secrets of her dead husband. Sara learns that sometimes the only way you can stop running it to turn around and face the past.
WATCH is book two of the series and it picks up in Big Springs where the death of a local leader has Karen (the reporter that befriended Beth in book one) digging into the shadows that have turned up around town. She finds that when you step into the darkness, you have to watch your back. The figures in the dark are determined that Karen will join her dead friend.