It wasn’t unusual to wake up to nothing. You could look out the window and see only yourself. North Carolina was known for her fog and every now and then, she made it known. She pulled the clouds from the sky and made them her carpet. Young Findlay liked to play on that carpet. He was a foolish boy as many young ones are. A brunette mane fell upon his head and each curl danced its own dance. As he sat upon a rusting slide, he did not notice the other children but they noticed him. They always noticed him. The sun soon climbed upon its pedestal and Findlay descended from his. He then trailed, posture without fault, to the manor at which he lived.
The dirt road fostered many footprints but he imagined only his own. That is how he survived in a world that his grandmother created. Her love was without question but what she had taught him, people of today would question. Nevertheless, Findlay was still a young boy. When curiosity got the better of him, he would run and play with the footprints that his grandmother refused to see.
As he approached the manor, it kneeled before him. The Victorian oak was without a scratch and if one was ever made, it would be gone the next day. What a strange kind of magic that was. The building would be without fault, as if someone turned back time.
“Happy Birthday Findlay.” His grandmother forced from her throat.
She was a dainty woman, five foot in height but what stood within her probably tripled that. They say that privilege is something you are born into but for some, it is something you are born out of. This lay at the centre of Augustine. Her eyes, usually a teller of misfortune, spoke of no such pain. For you see, the world was once upon a time black and white. You were handed either a black card or a white card and with it your life was foretold. Augustine was never handed a card though. She hacked it from the very claw of which it came.
Underneath the chandelier which bared witness to all, Findlay and his grandmother ate from the hands of those who cooked. The fire was then taken from fourteen candles and for the first time since her daughter’s death, Augustine smiled.
That evening, buttercream frosting churned within the heads of those that were known as shadows. To cook was their duty but to taste was their downfall. Augustine marched through the hallways with crumbs still sitting on her lips, singing their songs of gluttony. A sound, which she found to be far from satisfactory, had pulled her from her sheets. As the shadows climbed the walls, she forced a door from its hinges. Her eyes sunk into their sockets. Findlay, pants down, had turned a shadow into something that she could see. A young girl, not much older than him, had taken the cake and eaten it. Now the lukewarm frosting dribbled down her behind. Before even swallowing, she took another piece. Augustine forgot her age and pounced. Her fingernails dug at the girl’s scalp and brought up from beneath, both blood and hatred. She yanked the girl over the floorboards, giving each protruding nail a bite of her bare black skin. Findlay dropped his third leg and lay sobbing in his alleged sins. He closed his eyes and yielded to the screaming for that truly was the only thing that privilege had taught him.
On the outskirts of entitlement, you would find them; a mother and her child banished to a house with many holes. Every second Tuesday, when her feet weren’t bruised with labour, Andrea would climb to the ceiling and attempt to patch those holes. It was a fruitless act. No matter how many she filled, fresh rubble would fall into her mouth as she slept. She hated the taste though. She always had. Most women had become acquainted with it but she had not. Perhaps that was the story behind her scars. Nonetheless she was a good mother and although many saw her without a smile, when it came to her son, smiles were all she had.
Carlos was a peculiar kid. He had been handed both a black and white card and it seemed that he never knew which one to play. One day his hair would surely be brown and the next it would be the colour of coal. He was wider than the other boys too. His garments stretched in a way that made appear to be a fraud. He wasn’t though. He ate what everyone else ate and that dish was usually titled ‘nothing’.
Once a month, maybe every two months, a man would walk through that dishevelled door. A boy that was known as mute, would become anything but. A child’s father is their biggest hero and that sickened Andrea. She didn’t hate the man though, she pitied him. She would watch his hand swallow Carlos’s shoulder, grit her teeth and swallow her own dissatisfaction. No matter how discontent she was though, hope always sat between her ears. She hoped that one day Finn would forget where he came from, fix the front door and make it his. Even so, she wasn’t foolish. Andrea had seen and been too much to subscribe to such fantasises.
“Stand up for yourself Carlos!” Finn shouted with a smile.
Carlos let down his head and sighed. He wasn’t that type of boy and his father knew it.
“Even if I did, they would still stand higher than me.”
Finn and Andrea looked at each other for the first time in years. It wasn’t Carlos’s fault he felt the way he did, it was theirs. They had constructed the life that their son now had to live. Andrea, like her son, pushed her head toward the ground and handed the light over to Finn.
“I have something for you kid.” Finn whispered.
The boy’s eyes grew wider than Andrea had ever seen them. Finn forced a ring from his back pocket and laid it within the little boy’s hands.
“I found this ring when I was your age. It was too big for me then but I knew that I would grow into it. I knew that I would become big and strong. Whenever I felt scared, I thought about the day it would fit and that made me brave.”
The boy squeezed the ring at such a prospect. To be brave is something he had never considered. He put the silver band in his own pocket and wrapped his arms around one of his father’s legs. Andrea began to weep. She looked at Finn and saw the boy that gave her everything when she had nothing.
The door no longer swung from its tired hinges. It leaned against the house and fell in the wind. For awhile there, Finn was a piece of mythology. The more they spoke about him, the less he became. He hadn’t visited in over two years and Carlos was now nine, still waiting for the ring to fit. One morning though, as if the storybook began to breathe, Andrea spotted him. He stumbled along the path with that same battered look upon his face. Almost with instinct, she turned to her reflection and gathered her beauty, but she soon remembered that it had been two years and let her anger undo her efforts.
“How do you do Andrea?”
She bled at the question. How did she do? About as well as woman who had her heart taken could.
“We are as you left us.” She hissed.
Like always though, she was charmed by his entirety. The outlines of his muscular frame pushed even harder into his clothing and his hair which usually fell like a curtain, was now out of the way. All kinds of blue had been mixed together to create the colour that his eyes possessed. He pointed his soft yet staunch jaw towards her and spoke.
“Grandmother found out and stopped me from coming. She threatened to tell everyone. You know how she is. She doesn’t believe that someone like me should be seen with someone like you or Carlos. I didn’t have a choice.”
Andrea went red at the word ‘choice’.
“Finn, you’ve always had a choice and you’ve always let her make it.”
Like a bad family habit, he bowed his head and mumbled.
“Well she’s dying now… there isn’t much she can do.”
Andrea was repulsed. If the death of his grandmother is what it took, she didn’t want to take what he was offering. The past two years had taught her what she had always known. The only person she could rely on was herself and the only person Carlos could rely on was her. With a scream here and a scream there, she banished Finn back to the privilege from which he came.
The man staggered along withered grass as the village people wrote their stories. He had done what he could and would do no more. Ignorance was a powerful thing. Off in the distance, his son lay beneath a fruitless tree and the further Finn walked, the faster the fruit grew. A persimmon fell upon the boy’s head and he jumped to his feet. Forgetting all his Mother had taught him, he followed his father, for he would not let him become another myth.
Although there must have been a thousand windows, he was only looking into one. His father was sat on a sofa, bigger than he had ever seen, and on his lap sat a girl. She held the kind of beauty that could not be forged with words. Hair the colour of a fox draped her porcelain face and no matter what she wore, she wore it with grace. Crimson was her name, and she was a damn good kid. Standing at the windowsill was a woman with the same fiery hair and although she wasn’t as pretty as Crimson, she must have been pretty enough. Carlos fell against a tree and resonated with its silence. The moon eventually took its place and he slept beneath it like an unruly dog.
The door to what he thought of as a castle, slammed itself shut. He awoke, sat upright, and brushed the leaves away that had been huddling him for warmth. As the sun dosed out its light, he watched his father stride down the cobblestone path. A rifle was pulling him into the woods and before Carlos could stand to his feet, he was gone. Not knowing where to go or what to do, the young boy sobbed. He reached for the ring that sat within his soiled pockets. He could wait no longer. Carlos needed to brave and so the ring needed to fit. He leaned his index finger against his middle one and forced the power he sought. Skin that was once olive now resembled the very violet that his mother sometimes wore on her face. With one last push, he was now brave.
Crimson came stumbling down the footsteps with a pale of rosemary water in hand.
“Stick to the path!” The woman with fiery hair yelled from the window.
“Okay Mother!” Crimson sent back with a smile.
She was draped in red taffeta and the gown fell to her knees. Her beauty which need not be described again, was flaunted with a smile. It was an odd kind of smile though. Not because of the way it formed but because of the way it made Carlos feel. Her voice clawed up the trees as she hummed melodies that he had never heard. Perhaps it was magic or the desire to know what he did not know but either way, he arose to his feet. Wide-eyed and brave, his footsteps followed hers and cobblestone soon became soil.
“What do you want?” Crimson hurled at the woods.
At first it did not reply, but then it sent forth its answer. Carlos stepped out from behind a pine tree and rid himself of his mask.
“Why are you following me?” Crimson questioned in a much softer tone.
His head began to fall but then he noticed his ring.
“Sorry… I’m… I’m lost.”
She sat the pale of water in the hand of mother Nature and placed her own on Carlos’s shoulder.
“That’s okay… I’ll help you. I just have to take this water to my grandmother first. She’s a bit sick and needs help just like you. Her house isn’t much longer down this path then we can find your family.”
It’s funny what a single word can do. Take the word ‘love’ for instance. Each letter brews within the mind and taints all thoughts with delirium. Perhaps that is why Carlos did what he did. Maybe ‘family’ is just one of those words.
It all begun with the clink of silver. A jagged rock, half the size of Carlos’s head, dropped into his ring wielding hand. Before him stood a young girl but that is not what he saw. What he saw was a mother that had her heart taken and a father who now had two. His arm lifted above his head and from a great height, he dropped his anger. Her skull was pummelled in an instant. The left side of her face pushed into the right. An eyeball detached from its socket and let out the darkest of red wines from its bladder. It wasn’t until Carlos tasted blood that he was returned to earth. Somewhere in the woods of North Carolina, Crimson lay in her name.
Children often deal with things in the strangest of ways and that is exactly what Carlos did. He stripped Crimson of her clothing. Her doll-like body lay on the soil, illuminating the woods while Carlos gathered her frock and held it high. He knew it was going to be a tight fit but like ring, he made it fit. With the pale of water in hand and new melodies on his lips, he skipped down the path, painting it red.
This building held no shadows for the woman within it had casted them all away. It stood at the centre of everything, naturally so, and demanded all that it could. Greenery fell at its feet and grew in-between its toes and pine trees loomed above and scratched at its head. He pulled his fingers into a fist and threw it at the door.
“Grandmother, I have your rosemary water!” Carlos howled.
A creature climbed from hell and the floorboards began to creak.
“Come in darling.” A voice moaned.
He twisted the door handle into his demise. An elderly woman who possessed more wrinkles than she deserved, came face to face with the young boy. Hunched over with eyes glazed in grey, she grinned.
“Hello lovely Crimson. Just settle that water by my bed.”
The little boy who now seemed smaller, lugged the pale from one side of the room the other. Before he could prop it against the rotting bed, his neck was caught. Fingernails entered his bloodstream and gathered all the youth they could find. Wielding the strength of the devil, the old woman climbed upon the boy’s frame and forced his head into the water. Oxygen became abstract. Liquid bubbled. Like he sought a father, Carlos sought life. He began swallowing the water, infusing himself with rosemary. The old woman laughed and continued to stir her cauldron. Each gulp of water took from the world Carlos, and gave to the world a wolf.
The wooden door departed from its hinges. Finn had a rifle leaned over one shoulder and a stiff deer over the other. He dropped both to the ground when he saw what he saw. His grandmother, in her all grey glory, mounted a beast with the head of his son and the body of a wolf. His legs darted across the floorboards but it was too late. As he tugged the witch from her cauldron, it had already given birth. A body that was once small, was now mighty… Skin that was once soft, was now blanketed in fur… and teeth that were once without threat, had only threat to give.
“What have you done!” Finn bellowed into broken air.
Unfazed by her deeds, the little old woman lifted to her feet.
“Your grandmother has done what needed to be done. Now you can live your life, free from the shadows.”
The sobbing wolf pulled itself from the ground and climbed upon the bed. It sat, wide-eyed and patient, as if waiting for Crimson to arrive. The old woman drew a blade from her tattered gown, and held it out to her son.
“You need to make it look dangerous. You need to make the wolf look like a wolf.”
Finn loosened the blade from her fingers and pulled it to power. He gazed upon the woman and saw in her eyes a world that he could no longer see. Without spells, he attacked like a wolf. The blade teased her breasts and become one with her skin. With a swipe here and a swipe there, the devil stood inside out. Crimson came to play as her organs fell through the slits. The more she moaned, the deeper he dug. Black saliva began to coat her mouth and Finn frothed from his. Satisfied with his doings, he drew the weapon from battle and the old woman’s body fell to the ground, empty and hollow.
He stood, stained in a choice that he had made, but content nonetheless. Exhaustion then sat him on the bed and butterflies flew from his stomach. They were now free. Somewhere on the rotting blankets, the wolf continued to whimper. With a parent’s touch, Finn gently pulled the head of the beast into his lap.
“The ring fits…” He whispered to his son.
Finn burrowed his fingers into newfound fur and grinned at the old woman’s shadow that now danced on the walls.