I was young and fancy free then. Some might have said "naive", others would say "innocent". Me? I blame it on inexperience. How was I supposed to know that something I did as a silly teenager would impact my best friend the way it did?
I can't really remember how it happened, but it did. It was probably a sunny day outside, but it's been far too long. Besides, the real event began as the sun was setting.
My lifelong friend, now a wife who was with child, Julianne Daae, had invited me to join her and her husband to see a traveling fair. It was quite enjoyable. There was entertainment of all kinds, exotic foods, the likes of which I hadn't tasted before nor since, and my personal curiosity: human oddities.
I wore my hair down, then.
I was beginning to make my way as a prominent dance instructor, and was in line for an interview with a nearby opera house about a full-time position. Myself being an overconfident teenager, I was not worried in the slightest about the job. Somehow, I knew that I would get it, but I have since learned not to be so certain.
There was one oddity that had stricken my fancy, but his section was roped off, large signs saying "NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART" and the like were strewn about. I begged Julianne to come with me to see it. She refused, not wanting her baby to be affected by the impression, but her husband, Vincent, gladly escorted me through. What I saw there changed me forever.
He sat in a cage, shackles around his feet, but he didn't seem to mind. He just kept toiling away at his makeshift desk as if he weren't being gawked at by dozens of patrons. He wore a bag over his face, but it somehow did not diminish his glory. Sure, it made some feel uneasy, but they did not notice the diligence with which he worked. The way his hands moved was incredible.
Then a worker stepped through into the cage, and removed the bag from the man's head, revealing the grotesqueness underneath. One could hardly call it a face. It was frighteningly pale, like a skeleton, yet with a yellowish hue. His nose was warped on the right side, and then I noticed how heavy his breathing was. His hair was dark and stringy, growing in wisps along his scalp, and some parts of his flesh appeared only partly formed, one could even say transparent, so thin you could see the veins running through his face. It was truly horrifying, yet I couldn't turn my face away. Others screamed, yet I stared on, silent, my mouth wide open.
Then he looked at me. His gaze froze me where I stood. His right eye seemed to have turned yellow over time, still holding some of its original brown towards the pupil, and both eyes appeared to be sunken into his face. It was like a skull. I didn't know what to do other than stand there and stare.
"Poor man," Vincent said. His words broke me out of the trance. "To be treated like that solely because of his appearance."
"Y-yes," I said, trying to find my words again. "It's a real shame."
Vincent led me out of the disfigured man's tent, and back to his waiting wife. We continued on our jolly evening, but I could not get the look of that man's face out of my head. It looked painful, pleading even, like he was silently calling for help.