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Napoleon

Written By Kevin B.
Cover Art by

Description

A young boy wakes up one day to find that everything he touches turns into Napoleon.

Editors’ Note

A great “one day you wake up and everything is different” kind of story, and an excellent example of the nonsensical places our minds can take us. The sometimes brutal honesty of a young child’s perspective is especially refreshing in this tale. A delightfully absurd and unexpected turn of events ends on a very touching and sincere note.

Jeremiah had no intention of turning his dog into Napoleon. 

He woke up one day and when Scotch Tape came to greet him in bed with a lick of the feet and a wag of the tail, Jeremiah gave him a pat on the head as he had always done, and the next thing he knew, there was a tiny tyrant standing before him. 

“Well, now you’ve done it,” said Napoleon, “Look at me. Just look at me. I’ve been dead for almost two hundred years, and you brought me back just to fetch a frisbee.” 

Jeremiah assured Napoleon that he didn’t mean to resurrect him. He had no idea why patting Scotch Tape on the head had resulted in such a transmogrification. The ten-year-old was not a magician or even interested in magic. He also loved his dog very much, and he had very little interest in dead military commanders. 

Not knowing much about Napoleon, but recognizing him from a children’s book his grandfather had given him that centered around famous angry Frenchmen, Jeremiah brought Napoleon downstairs so that he could show his parents what had happened. His mother was making Belgian waffles, and from behind him, Jeremiah could hear Napoleon making a comment about those lousy Belgians and their lackluster waffles, but not wanting to absorb any discrimination, he simply focused on the task at hand.

The trouble was, as soon as he tugged on his mother’s sleeve, she turned into Napoleon as well. Turning around, she scowled at the boy. 

“Look what you’ve done,” said this other Napoleon, “I don’t even like waffles–let alone Belgian ones. Sit down and I’ll make you a French omelet. It’s time we had some real food in this house before I go off to war.” 

The Napoleon that had once been Scotch Tape shook his head, but he sat down at the table, and put a napkin under his chin. Jeremiah didn’t understand. Did touching people now meant he was reviving Napoleon’s? Or were these beings still the beings they were before but trapped in some sort of Napoleon shell? 

While Jeremiah contemplated what to do about his two Napoleons, his father entered the house with some kind of stain on his tie. 

“Spilled coffee all over my–” 

Before he could finish his complaint, he noticed the two historical icons standing in the kitchen.

Jeremiah’s father slowly began to back away. 

“Jeremiah,” his father said, “Would you meet me out in the driveway, please?” 

The boy went running towards his father hoping for a comforting embrace, but his father side-stepped him. He looked pained at having to dodge his son, but he motioned to the front door as though some kind of answer would be waiting on the other side. 

Out on the driveway, the April air seemed to want to heat up, but couldn’t quite get there. Across the street, the Muscatellos were packing up a moving van. Jeremiah realized that it was a good thing he hadn’t hugged his father, because then he might have turned him into– 

“Napoleon. You would have turned me into Napoleon.” 

When the boy asked his father how this had happened, his father leaned against the driver’s side door of his Nissan Rogue. There was a small dent where Jeremiah had banged into the car with his bike. His father had not been cross when that happened, chalking it up to the kinds of things that occur when you have a son, and how lucky he was to have such a good son, who never did anything wrong aside from riding his bike a little too fast and not eating all his peas when they were served each Tuesday and Thursday. 

“Jeremiah,” his father said, “I was worried this might happen.” 

“Worried what might happen?” 

“When you were born, the doctor did some tests on you, because you had this strange birthmark on your back that looked like Napoleon. We asked what it meant, but the doctor–I think his name was Roberto–he was being very cagey. Anyway, you seemed fine, so we took you home. A few days later we got a call from someone who sounded like Dr. Roberto, but identified himself as D.R.R. He told us that one day our child would wake up, and everyone he touched would turn into Napoleon.

Not knowing much about history, we didn’t see the problem. Your mother always confused Napoleon with Charlie Chaplin, which doesn’t make much sense, but she always did associate disparate things. I knew who Napoleon was but he always seemed kind of cute to me. Your grandfather was familiar, and very concerned, which is why he bought you that book as a child and had you read it. He wanted you to be prepared for what might happen if and when the day arrived when your Napoleon syndrome would kick in.” 

As his father was telling him this story, the mailman was walking down the street. A bee flew near his face, and he began to run to avoid the bee, because he always suspected he was allergic, even though he had no evidence to back that up. While running, he slammed right into young Jeremiah, and the moment he did, he turned into Napoleon. 

“Sacre bleu!” the mailman shouted, “Now I am Napoleon? And I still have so many letters to deliver. What a garçon irréfléchi! Wait, is Napoleon allergic to bees?” 

Jeremiah and his father looked at each other, and then the mailman. 

“I don’t know,” said Jeremiah, “I think he might have suspected he was, but I doubt he had any evidence to back that up.” 

Napoleon the mailman walked away muttering to himself, and this is how Jeremiah learned that Napoleon was a mutterer, which is something they don’t usually teach you in history books. Jeremiah’s father ushered him into the house where Napoleon the Former Dog and Napoleon the Former Jeremiah’s Mom had found the board game Risk in the closet and were engaged in a heated game. Napoleon the Former Dog looked as though he might prevail, but Napoleon the Former Jeremiah’s Mom was giving him a run for his money. 

Jeremiah’s father led the boy upstairs and had him get into bed. The boy had never changed out of his pajamas, so for a moment, he wondered if he could close his eyes, open them, and find out the entire thing was a dream. Only the dirt from the lawn at the bottom of his feet would prove otherwise. He couldn’t fathom living with Napoleon for a dog let alone Napoleon for a mother, and certainly not Napoleon as a mailman. 

And could he really go the rest of his life without touching another human being for fear that they might try invading Russia in the dead of winter? 

“Now listen,” said his father, “I know this morning was confusing. You’re going to have a lot of confusing mornings in your life. Some more than others. This will, hopefully, be the most confusing, but I can’t guarantee that. The good news is, you’re a kid, so you can just get back in bed and sleep until whatever this is wears off. It might take all day, but I’m sure it’ll go away with time. Just to test it out, I’ll have a few historians stop by this evening to see how you’re doing. One of them might even allow you to try turning them into Napoleon, and if you can’t, we know the worst is over.”  

Jeremiah’s father patted a spot on the pillow near Jeremiah’s head, but was careful not to touch any part of his son since the worst was clearly not over. 

“Some days you wake up and nothing makes sense, Jeremiah,” he said, “And when you get older, you can’t go back to bed. You have to just press on and try to avoid connecting with anyone. Keep your head down. Power forward until things feel all right again. One morning I woke up, and every time I went to have a sip of coffee, it was Greek yogurt. I don’t know why. It only lasted one day, but I couldn’t go back to bed. I had to keep working, and I was so grumpy, because I couldn’t have any coffee, and I don’t like Greek yogurt all that much. This will pass though. This will all pass.” 

With that, he patted the spot near Jeremiah’s head one more time, left his son’s bedroom, and closed the door behind him. 

Not sure what to make of anything his father had just said, Jeremiah tried to sleep, but when he began to dream, he could only have Napoleon dreams. It seemed that even touching an image in his mind was enough to transform it. A dream of him taking a test in school became a dream of him writing a letter to Josephine. A dream of him riding his bike became a dream of him riding a horse into battle. A dream of him playing soccer became a dream of Napoleon playing soccer and losing the game, because Napoleon had no idea how to play soccer.

When the dreams became too much, Jeremiah opened his eyes and saw that moonlight was streaming through his windows. His father had forgotten to close the curtains before leaving him. He went to the window, and saw that the moon was hovering right above the house where the Muscatellos live. Without thinking, Jeremiah touched the glass that separated him from the moon, and, to his surprise, the moon became Napoleon. 

“C’est bon, Jeremiah,” said the Napoleon Moon, one of the kinder Napoleons, “Go back to bed. Le meilleur remède pour le corps est un esprit calme.” 

The best cure for the body is a quiet mind. 

Jeremiah got back into bed, and Napoleon dimmed his moonlight a little, but just a little. He wanted the boy to know he was here, but that he would be gone in the morning. 

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