Boys never changed. No matter the year or location, they were always the same. There were always boys who refused to learn. At best, their parents or guardians would have no choice but to put them work, usually against their will. Some would end up on the streets, others in jail. Then, there were the boys that simply disappeared one day.
The Coachman watched over the park from his office. He witnessed a chaotic party, a celebration of inhibition, temptation and anarchy. There were no adults to tell these boys what they couldn't do. It was the perfect lure for the stupid boys.
He smiled as he lit up a cigar. By the time the night was over, they wouldn't be boys anymore. The cries of joys he heard would soon become cries of desperation and then brays. They were sounds The Coachman looked forward to hearing.
The sound of the door opening behind him broke him out of his thoughts. Who would dare interrupt him?
He turned to see a boy dressed in light blue sweater, brown slacks – no, something about this boy was off somehow. The Coachman didn't recognize this boy. Where had he come from, who was he and what did he want?
The boy walked closer to the Coachman, stopping as he took a drag and blew the smoke in the boy's direction. Perhaps this presumptuous child wanted the Coachman to share. He chuckled at the thought of personally watching this boy change.
"Can I help you child? You're missing out on the fun, you should go back outside," The Coachman said. "Perhaps I could fetch you a beer to show you what you're missing out on."
The boy walked closer. When he was within a meter's distance, the Coachman could see his face in enough detail to know this was not a boy. His cap coupled with his choice of clothing hid it well. It was rate to see girls that wanted to partake in the same fun but there was always the occasional one.
No matter, the Coachman thought. Male or female, a donkey was still a donkey.
"If you refer to me becoming a donkey then I'll have to decline," the girl said.
That took the Coachman by surprise. Had that one boy that got away said something that someone actually believed?
He turned and looked at the floor with a frown on his face.
The boy that escaped – he wasn't even a real boy. He was a living marionette, an abomination. He should have become a donkey along with all of the others.
That he escaped made the Coachman's blood boil.
Yet, no police office had ever questioned him or his idiot assistants. The island still ran as usual and all of those donkeys were still donkeys.
He looked up, removed the cigar, put it in an ashtray on a nearby table and turned to face the child.
"Who are you, what do you want?" he asked.
The child frowned and removed the cap, revealing long, flowing blonde hair that seemed to come from nowhere. There was something almost magical about how – of course, it was her!
"We need to talk," she said.
She walked over to the window and looked outside before shaking her head.
"Such selfishness, dishonesty and such a lack of bravery in facing the real world," she said.
The Coachman walked up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. She looked at his hand with distrust for a few moments.
"They'll all be facing reality soon enough," the Coachman said.
He chuckled, picked his cigar up and inhaled an extra long drag.
The girl turned around and walked back as the Coachman watched. Despite the form in which she'd chosen to manifest herself, he knew she could still be dangerous.
"You speak as though they deserve what will soon befall them," she said.
The Coachman grinned. "I take it you disagree?"
The girl folded her arms and frowned.
"How can you be so cruel?" she asked. "You condemn them and act as though it's mere business."
The Coachman swore he heard a bray and call for help. He wanted to use this as an excuse to vacate the premises but decided to hear the girl out.
"My dear, you misunderstand why do I what I do."
The girl frowned, walked up to and around the Coachman as though assessing him in the same way he'd asses a new donkey.
"Why do you do it," the girl asked.
"You think me a madman, profiting from the suffering of innocent boys," The Coachman said.
"You are a madman!"
The Coachman smiled an arrogant smile.
"I think you know as well as I that they're all changing into a more suitable form," the Coachman said.
"You know as well as I do of the significance of what you do to them."
"Of course, these are not mere costumes I force them to wear. After tonight, they will be no more boys then a man is a boy," the Coachman said. "But, I doubt you'd allow that to stop you."
"What are you saying?" the girl asked.
The Coachman walked back over to the window. The boys continued with their party, oblivious to what awaited them. He knew he had to make his point clear.
"You know they're already donkeys on the inside. To change a donkey into a boy would result in what you see before you."
The girl walked up to and beside the Coachman. He could see her look of disapproval.
"There is a difference between an ass of a boy and a literal donkey," the girl said. She walked halfway across the room. "These boys were never meant to become actual donkeys."
"What the world needs are donkeys, not badly behaved boys," the Coachman said. "Some people need to be those donkeys. A natural born donkey doesn't have a choice in the matter. These boys chose, albeit unwittingly to be donkeys. "
"They don't yet realize the error of their ways. To exploit their ignorance like this is a terrible thing to do," the girl said.
"Perhaps but do not forget that we live in a world of much injustice," the Coachman said. "How many boys never get a chance to attain any sort of education? How many men have no choice but to fight –and die I might add – in wars others start? How many girls are intelligent and determined enough to attain the same –if not more – then any man but society denies them simply because they are girls? How many are born or end up with disabilities or illnesses that limit or even end their lives?"
"That such injustices exist doesn't make creating additional ones right," the girl said.
"You do have a point but answer this, is it right to allow a boy to grow into a man that's forever at odds with his true nature?" The Coachman asked.
"There is nothing natural about what's you're doing," the girl said.
The Coachman turned and took another drag.
"What will soon happen to these boys is perhaps not natural but is giving life to a marionette and allowing him to become human any more natural?"
"You compare the gift I gave Pinocchio to…"
"Before you say it, I understand your objections," The Coachman said. "There is indeed a difference between allowing something non human to attain human form and turning a boy into a donkey against his will."
"You see it as wrong yet you still do it," The girl said. "These are boys with lives, families, hopes and dreams. Robbing them of the only form and existence that comes with it that they've ever known is barbaric."
The Coachman took yet another drag, looked out the window and sat down on a chair beside the table.
"As I said, the world needs donkeys," the Coachman said. "Otherwise, I might agree with you but there is something else you forget."
"What's that?" the girl asked.
"Being born human allowed these boys opportunities other creatures can only dream of. Yet, they forsake all of that in the name of pleasure," the Coachman said.
"There is a difference between taking a vacation and choosing to never work again," the girl said. "How many of those boys would be happy to go back to school once they've had their fun?"
The coach nodded and seemed to think for a few moments.
"Perhaps but you seem to forget that these are not the former but the later," the Coachman said. He pointed towards the window. "Boys like these become men that live on the streets or end up in jail. At best, they'll end up laboring somewhere."
The girl looked out the window before looking back to the Coachman.
"Neither of us can see the future," the girl said. "Any number of those boys may well outgrow this behavior and grow up to be decent, honorable men. And you forget that laboring is exactly what they will do as donkeys."
"Perhaps but at least as donkeys, they can be as themselves without judgment. No one expects a donkey to read a book, be clean, eloquent, decent, inhibited, polite or educated."
The girl sighed. "We are all flawed creatures. It is easy to judge someone who may yet develop beyond such flaws."
"Perhaps but society needs the donkeys these boys will soon become and it needs them now," the Coachman said. "It won't need the men they might grow into for some time. A bird in the hand as the saying goes."
The girl hung her head and sighed.
"You spoke of removing them from their families. It is unfortunate that this must happen," the Coachman said. "But, would their mothers really want to see them in such a state? Would they want their mothers to know what they done and what they've become?"
The girl seemed to think for several moments before looking back at the Coachman.
"Even if I were to agree, that doesn't make it right," the girl said. "Pinocchio had to learn the virtues of selflessness, bravery and honesty before he could become a real boy. These boys can do the same."
"My dear, as one says, you can lead a donkey to water but you cannot make him drink," the Coachman said. "If he doesn't desire to be a boy, he won't want to learn to be one."
"You don't seriously think they would want this?"
"Perhaps not but don't forget that I did not force them to come here. They chose to board my coach and the ferry. Right now, they're choosing to drink the beer, smoke the cigars, fight and destroy. As one might say, I merely provided the door; it is they who choose to walk through it"
The girl frowned.
"You forget that you neglected to inform them that going through that door would change into donkeys," the girl said. "If they knew the truth, they'd no doubt have refused your offer."
"Perhaps not," The Coachman said. "However, this is not the same as abducting and changing random boys or choosing to change anyone unlucky enough to stumble upon the wrong location."
The sounds of braying, while difficult to hear over the sound of laughter and playing were becoming hard to ignore. As well, a scent familiar to anyone that worked with donkeys was starting to become detectable.
The girl looked out the window and frowned.
"You mistake the lesser of two evils for a lack of evil," the girl said.
A short drag from what remained of his cigar followed by the a loud sigh had the Coachman calm enough to continue despite wanting to take care of what he saw a business.
"Perhaps not but in the end, there is something else you are forgetting," the Coachman said.
"There are many that benefit from the work and misfortune of others," the Coachman said. "Have any of these boys earned any of those cigars, beer, chocolate or candy? Have they earned access to a house specifically built for them to destroy? Such luxuries would cost a great deal of coin, I assure you."
The girl seemed to want to say something but the Coachman continued.
"What drove the coach that brought them to the ferry? My abilities allow some crops to grow where they normally cannot grow. Those crops become the beer, cigarettes, candy and chocolate that those boys now enjoy." The Coachman chuckled, put out his cigar and stood up. "And what species is integral in harvesting and delivering those crops? That's right my dear, donkeys!"
The girl paced the room with her hands behind her back. Her loud steps betrayed her anger. She took several angry steps toward the Coachman, who only chuckled.
"Madam, if you could or were willing, you would have done it long ago."
She grumbled before starting to pace. The Coachman watched her, knowing she was going to be difficult to convince but her fortitude seemed to waning.
"Think of all who will benefit from the hard work they will no doubt soon be doing," the Coachman said.
"Those boys will not see or experience any of those benefits," the girl said. "And you forget that they'll only work because the people that buy them will force them."
He wanted to respond but she continued.
"You try to justify it with logic, demand and some twisted version of the order of things," the girl said. "The worst part and what makes you truly evil is how you take pleasure in it."
The Coachman sighed. He looked out the window with his hands cupped behind his back. Admittedly, he did enjoy seeing the boys change. There was a certain pleasure in seeing them realize what they'd become and would be from then on. Ripping what remained of the clothes off the donkeys still clothed felt like stripping them symbolically of what remained of their identity as a human as much as it was a literal act. Seeing them only able to protest as a donkey would was an irony that put a smile on the Coachman's face every time.
He tried to see them as bad boys that deserved this fate. It made mistreating them easy, perhaps a little too easy. There was a time when he felt guilt over what he did. Then, he saw the sorts of men some of these boys would grow into. That, coupled with the coin people paid for the donkeys they became eased his guilt.
He turned to face the girl.
"Perhaps I do enjoy this when I should not," the Coachman said. "If an executioner takes pleasure in putting down a killer, perhaps he is indeed no better then the men he has the grim task of removing from this world."
"What you're doing is little better then killing those boys," The girl said.
"Perhaps I am evil. Or, maybe I'm just a man with some power that uses that power to do what someone needs to do."
"You may have the power but it doesn't make your actions just."
"Tell me this then, if you find this so reprehensible then why pray tell have you made no effort to save any of those donkeys or stop any of those boys from becoming one?" the Coachman asked.
The girl again folded her arms and frowned.
"I can't interfere in their affairs as I wish," she said.
"Can't or won't?"
The girl frowned.
"You know that changing them back is not that simple. These are not mere costumes as you said. I cannot change a donkey – even one that was born a boy – into a boy as easily as you can do the reverse unless that donkey wants to be a boy and has the values that make one a real boy."
"Of course," the Coachman said. "You cannot make gold out of dirt."
"The curse you place upon them also complicates things," the girl said. "You know all too well how difficult it makes things. There are donkeys out there right now I could allow to be the boys they truly are if it were not for that."
The Coachman nodded. He walked over to a cabinet at the side of the room. The girl watched as he opened it, took out a wide brimmed glass and poured a glass of port. He walked back to the chair and sat back down after putting the bottle on the table.
"One must ensure that one's product will not fail soon after delivery. Many count on me to deliver the product for which they pay me. Besides, as we both agree on, these are not costumes."
He took a drink from his glass and put it on the table beside the bottle before folding his hands.
"Even if I were to remove the curse, they would still be donkeys," he said. "It's mere insurance, nothing more."
"If one considers locking them away and throwing away the key to be insurance," the girl said.
The Coachman snorted and smiled. "In some cases, it can be. Besides, I know you enough to know that unless you agree that they truly are donkeys in human bodies that you'd find a way past all of that."
The girl hung her head before looking the Coachman in the eyes.
"Do not mistake my lack of action as my agreeing with you," she said.
"Do you deny that not even one of those boys is more suited to being a donkey? Do you honestly accept that none of them will be or are better off this way?" the Coachman asked. "Have you considered that perhaps some may even consider this a gift?"
"Some perhaps, but many are or will not be better off and will not enjoy this," the girl said.
The Coachman nodded. "Either way, it's still something I think we both know someone needs to do."
The brays were growing louder. It was getting time for the Coachman to be going. There were donkeys that would need his attention.
"Now, if you're finished, I have work I need to do. But, don't fret, your words were not lost on me," the Coachman said.
"Somehow, I doubt you'll stop doing this," the girl said.
"Perhaps when the world doesn't need donkeys and boys stop being donkeys, there will be no need for this place."
The girl turned and walked to the door. She stopped when her hand was on the handle.
"Before I go, tell me something Coachman, have you at any point ever asked one of those boys for their opinion on all of this?" the girl asked.
The Coachman smiled. "My dear, you're hearing their opinion of it as we speak. They will not agree with what I must do but it doesn't change the fact."
"Everything ends Coachman," the girl said. "But, for what it's worth, your words were not lost on me."
She opened the door, left the room and closed the door behind her.
The Coachman turned and looked back out the window before leaving the room. Maybe he did have something to ponder. For now however, there were donkeys that needed his attention.