Hey all! This idea has been rolling around in my head for awhile now and I just had to put it down on paper. Sorry to those of you who are expecting an update on my other story but this one wouldn't leave me alone. Don't worry though! I haven't quit that story or anything. I already am half way through the next chapter. And of course I have to say a huge thank you to my wonderful beta Terpsichore! She rocks!!
But anyway this story is a one shot exploring how Erik got the stuffed monkey which is shown in the movie. Hope you all enjoy!
Hands of Fate
The French countryside: 1849
The French countryside spread out dark and quiet as far as the eye could see, the tenuous sparkle of the stars and the distant glow of a city providing the only illumination on the land below. A gentle summer breeze sifted quietly through the imposing shadows of the tall oaks lining the dirt roads, carrying with it the muffled sound of voices. Out of the darkness of a small side lane, a group of giggling country folk merrily burst out onto the main road, their laughter mingling with the discontinuous music strains now sighing with the wind. Happily tripping down the road, the small group seemed impervious to the shrouding cloak of the night.
One of the more brazen youths bravely swung his arm about the shoulders of a pretty young girl, his heart practically jumping out of his chest when she didn't shrug off his advance. "You know I hear that this Gypsy fair is one of the best traveling in these parts!" he offered up excitedly for the rest of the group.
"Oh?" one of the others tittered. "What makes it so well known, Andre?"
Not wanting to be contradicted and made to look a fool before his pretty little captive, Andre puffed up his chest before he answered. "Anyone with a brain knows why it is so famous," he drawled, his haughty tone meant to show off his highly superior intellect. "But I suppose that can explain why you don't know."
Smirking as his companion choked over his comment, Andre continued confidently. "Through my connections I have learned that this fair has some of the greatest attractions you can put into one spot."
Giggling coyly the girl under his arm tilted her head against his shoulder. "Tell us about them. I cannot wait to see what is there. It has been so long since anything exciting has happened around here. I am just fit to burst from it," she sighed softly in his ear.
Forgetting for a moment how to breathe, the boy nearly died from happiness right then and there. Turning his eyes to the heavens, Andre thanked the Lord that he had taken the time to listen in on several conversations in the dry goods store earlier that day; the knowledge he had gleaned was certainly coming in handy. "Well, I know that because it is a Gypsy camp they have some of the most interesting shops there, which offer all kinds of exotic merchandise. Supposedly they sell all sorts of black magic as well. Love potions… curses…"
When that merely got an unimpressed snort from some of the other young men in the group, he continued. "Well, if black magic doesn't interest you, then perhaps this will." Pausing for dramatic effect, he allowed a heavy moment of silence to pass. "They also have a demon in their camp… fresh from hell, I hear."
Several startled gasps rose up out of the darkness in response to his proclamation, causing a triumphant grin to spread across his face. "Ohh, you didn't know?" he asked, fully playing upon the sudden thrill of fear he could hear in his companion's whispers. "Yes, it is true. This fair has the devil's own earthbound spawn locked up. Lord knows how they caught it. But they say it is so ugly that it can drive a full grown man into a faint…" The uncomfortable shuffling of the other boys in the group spurred him to add, "And its eyes can burn holes of blue fire straight through your eternal soul."
Stunned silence met Andre's statement and several of the group stopped walking, no longer as confident as they had been with the night pressing in on all sides. "I… I am not so sure about this anymore. My mother told me that the Gypsies were a bad sort… I am not even supposed to be out tonight," one of the girls said hesitantly, her sentiment soon rippling among the other females of the group.
Sensing that he may have gone a little too far, Andre quickly sought for a way to salvage the jolly spirit of a few moments ago. "Do not worry, ladies," he began cheerfully. "The fellas and I will protect you. No demon child will get past me!!"
Something about the confidence in his voice broke the tension hanging in the air. One of the other young men let out a loud whoop and broke into a gale of laughter. "Hell yeah!! This is going to be great!!"
Nodding in satisfaction, though no one could see the gesture, Andre joined in with the laughter now coursing through the group. "Look out demons and devils, 'cause here we come!" he sang out, his chant soon being adopted by the others.
Marching happily along, the teenagers continued to joke and jostle each other up until the moment they rounded a bend and caught first sight of the brightly lit fairgrounds ahead. Buoyed by youthful overconfidence mixed with the thrill of danger, the gang strolled into the clearing with barely a moment's hesitation. Eagerly gaping at the exotic and garishly painted wooden wagons lining the clearing, the group wove their way through the outer fringes of other sightseers.
Taking in the alien scent of mysterious spices mingling in a jarring cacophony with the slightly noxious stink of manure, the group contented themselves with getting the layout of the camp. Carefully picking their way through the scattered bales of straw, which had been spread over the mud recently churned up by hundreds of other feet, the young group pointed and browsed like the sightseers they were.
Pulling his pretty companion along with him, Andre led her to nearby stall and bought her a slightly wilted red rose. "For you, my lady," he said, offering up the flower with a dramatic bow. He grinned from ear to ear as she took it with a blush of pleasure.
Raising the rose to her nose, the girl took a coy sniff of the flower's faded scent, her dark eyes never once leaving Andre's face. "Thank you, Andre. I never knew how very romantic you were."
Just as Andre was on the verge of replying, he was playfully punched in the arm by one of his other companions. "Ohhh!!" the other boy teased. "Andre and Marie sitting in a tree. K…I…S…S…I…N…G."
Swatting at this friend, Andre felt his cheeks color a bright red. "Shut up! Mind your own business!!"
Dodging out of Andre's reach, the other boy laughingly rejoined the others where they stood a few feet away. Looking outraged on Marie's behalf, one of the other girls reached out to pinch the jokester. "Stop it, you idiot. Leave them alone. I think Andre is being sweet!"
"Yeah!" all the females in the group chorused.
Shooting the girls a wary look, one of the other boys quickly cut in before a full-scale battle of the sexes broke out. "Hey… Hey, let's not fight! There is too much to see yet. After all we haven't seen it yet, now have we? And after all that Andre said earlier, I would really like to see!!"
Settling his face into haughty lines, Andre raised his chin proudly, shooting the boy who had been teasing him a deadly stare. "Hm, I suppose we could do that next," he said slowly, making sure that the irritation he felt translated perfectly into his voice. If he had been given just a few more minutes, and just a little more privacy, he was sure he could have stolen a kiss from Marie. Sighing heavily with regret, he followed the group as they made their way through the crowd toward a shabby yellow tent situated at the very far end of the fairgrounds. Grumbling to himself, Andre barely noticed the large lurid sign hanging over the flap of the tent.
"Come one, come all!!" a heavily accented voice boomed suddenly from a shadowed area just inside the tent's entrance. "And lay your eyes upon the Devil's Child!!"
Nearly jumping out of his skin at the bellowed words, Andre shied back several steps, his jerky reaction going unnoticed by his companions as they all stared in stupefied shock at the scraggly form of the man coming towards them. The proprietor of the dingy tent shuffled into the light with a drunkenly malicious grin. His mop of knotted black curls and wild, glittering eyes gave him the unnerving air of a man possessed. Suddenly Andre's youthful confidence fled, being replaced with an unexpected sense of looming dread. He was no longer certain that he wanted to follow this mad-looking Gypsy man into the tent, Devil's child or no.
Singling Andre out in the crowd as being the tallest and most distinguished looking of his companions, the tent's proprietor shuffled right up to him, the gin on his breath nearly causing the boy's eyes to water. "Come to see my monster, have you?" the Gypsy asked with a mean-spirited sneer. "I will give you a good price."
His mouth opening and closing like a landed trout Andre quickly glanced at his companions, for once at a loss as to what to do. The vague sensation of trepidation plaguing the back of his mind exploded into full-blown panic. He wanted to turn around and leave immediately, but the soft touch of Marie's hand upon his arm stopped him in his tracks. Raising his chin stubbornly, he forced his features into a mask of calm, unwilling to look the coward in front of his pretty new sweetheart.
"All right… lead the way then," Andre said, his voice sounding a little too shaky for his own liking.
Chuckling darkly, the Gypsy turned and held back the lip of the tent for the group to pass. "Then welcome young messieurs and mademoiselles. Welcome to the monster's den."
Warily eyeing the wild man, Andre slowly eased through the tattered opening of the tent's entrance. Blinking rapidly to adjust his vision to the new gloom within, the boy held his breath against the acrid stink of old sweat and fear. He could just barely hear his friends following close behind him over the pounding of his own heartbeat. Stepping forward cautiously, Andre's gaze skittered about the interior of the tent; in the middle of the dark space, near the far back, sat a large wrought-iron cage. Set atop a three-foot stand, the miniature prison at first appeared empty, but on closer examination, Andre caught a flickering of movement within.
A young boy, who was perhaps only a few years Andre's junior, crouched on all fours in one corner of the cage with his back towards him. Coming to a sudden stop, his legs refusing to take one step further into the oppressive atmosphere, Andre could do nothing else but stare at the person shuffling about the dirty straw within the cage. A shard of pity speared through his gut just then, causing his stomach to drop sickeningly to his feet. Faced with the sight of another person locked in a cage, Andre took a horrified step backward. This wasn't fun anymore.
But as Andre continued to stare, the young boy stilled his movements, cocking his dirty head to one side to listen to the ragged breathing of the spectators now present behind him. Feeling his heart skip within his chest, Andre silently willed the wild looking child not to turn around. He knew, with an almost supernatural precognition, that he would see the true meaning of terror if he saw the child's face. Quietly the tenuous stirrings of pity dried up within him. Don't turn around… I don't want to be here.
"Hey! My little monster!! Turn your ugly face around so these good people get their money's worth!" the Gypsy barked as he released the tent flap and tottered inside.
Flinching at the older man's voice, the boy in the cage hunched his shoulders into a protective slouch but otherwise ignored his jailer's demands. Impatient with the lack of response, the Gypsy took up a solid stick and banged it against the iron bars. "Do not ignore me, you little bastard!! Do what I say or I'll bash your god damned face in!" Pausing there, he let out a loud bellow of laughter. "Not that anyone would notice, eh?"
The fear igniting in Andre's blood seemed to collect heavily in his tongue, making it feel thick and clumsy in his mouth. He couldn't have told the older man to stop his racket if he wanted to. And so with a strangely detached sense of dread, Andre watched as the boy in the cage turned slightly to pin the older man with a deadly sharp glare, the caged boy's hooded eyes glittering fluorescent blue in the dim light. Andre had never seen such eyes; the dry-eyed loathing within them seemed almost profane in such a young face.
After a moment of tense silence, the boy sighed heavily, his too-thin frame shuddering from the effort, and then turned fully around to face the small crowd. Time seemed to stutter to a halt as all the breath rushed out of Andre's lungs. Staring in wide-eyed horror at the repulsive visage before him, Andre tasted the acidic burn of bile boiling up the back of his throat. Raising a hand to his mouth to control the sickness rolling through his body, Andre's eyes moved over the caged boy's face.
Though the left side of the boy's features appeared normal in every respect, with smooth white skin and a soft, childishly rounded cheek, the right side was a disgusting collection of every wrong that could be contained upon a single visage. The high, sculpted cheekbone of the left was distorted into uneven crags upon the right, throwing off the symmetry of the face as a whole and creating the disorientating sensation of being off balance in the observer. It looked strangely as if the boy had been smashed upside the head with a shovel and his features had never settled back into place. The unblemished skin transformed into a waxy, yellowed color the farther right it stretched, pulling overly tight around the mouth, forcing the boy's lips up into a permanently gruesome smirk.
Shaking his head slowly from side to side, as if the gesture could wipe away the ugliness before him, Andre took a step backward. He felt as if he must have unknowingly walked into a nightmare. How was it possible for this boy to be locked away as he was? How was it possible that he could even be alive wearing the features of a dead thing? But the longer Andre stared the face before him seemed to change. He could no longer see anything but the terrible right side, the humanity of the left fading away, leaving only the monster behind. The boy no longer even seemed a person. The way it moved about in a stooped crawl, its long unkempt hair hanging in mats down its back, the terrible, devilish face all pointed to something else. The thing in the cage truly was a monster!
Slowly Andre became aware of a scream echoing loudly in his ears, and only after several moments of blank confusion did he realize the sound was coming from his own throat. Turning hastily, without consciously deciding to move, Andre raced toward the tent's flap. Followed closely by the rest of his companions, their cries of fear rising up to join his own, Andre broke out into the wit-saving fresh air outside. Continuing to run, the fear pushing him onward, he ignored the indignant bellow of the Gypsy man.
"Come back! You did not pay!! Come back you little brats!!"
Closing his eyes against the ear-splitting shrieks of terror, Erik leaned his head back against the cool iron bars behind him, allowing the crowd to run from the tent without a second look. This was not something new. He had grown used to this type of reaction in the years since he had come to the Gypsy camp; it no longer drew his unwavering attention as it had at first. The cries of strangers were more familiar to him now than any other sound in the world, creating within his mind a never ending crescendo of fear.
Raising a hand to press against the very thing which had ruined all of his thirteen years of life, Erik slowly opened his eyes and stared blankly at the dirty floor under his feet. Erik's mind feebly rebelled against the state of ruin and dim ugliness surrounding him on all sides, but after a few moments his thoughts settled back into the vague despair normally clouding his thinking. It was easier that way. Easier to simply allow time to wash over him, like the warm breezes that occasionally blew through the open tent flaps, rather than contemplate the many years of agony still stretching out before him. And yet despite this, he couldn't help but feel a small flickering of relief at the calming quiet of the empty tent. He didn't often have the chance to be alone. It was nice.
Waiting with a detached sort of patience for the Gypsy man to return from chasing the group of teenagers, Erik slowly became aware of the all-too-familiar sensation of no longer being alone. Annoyed that someone was interrupting this rare moment of quiet, the boy looked up with a feral light in his eyes. Spotting a lone figure standing just outside the tent, he opened his mouth to tell the intruder to leave but stopped when his brain began to register further details.
Unlike most of those who came to gawk at him, this newcomer couldn't have been much more than three feet tall. Clothed in a ruffled blue dress that cut off just at the knees, the intruder was obviously a little girl of perhaps three or four years old from a respectable, if not overly well off, family. Shifting uncertainly from foot to foot, she stood with her back toward the inside of the tent, her little bonneted head turning back and forth as if she were looking for something. At the moment she appeared completely unaware that she was being watched, too caught up with her slightly agitated search to feel his stare. Confused for a moment, Erik sat forward, the fog about his mind clearing for the first time in a long time as he observed the tiny figure.
Raising a thumb still chubby with baby fat to her mouth, the little girl slowly turned full circle to stare directly into the tent; her tiny form limned with the golden flickering of torch light from outside. Her face, though slightly obscured by the back lighting, held an almost angelic sort of beauty that momentarily stole Erik's breath from his body. Perfectly rounded cheeks, a pert nose, and wide, almost dreamy eyes all joined together to create what surely was the very ideal of what a child should look like. It was almost like looking into the face of a perfectly crafted porcelain doll, the likes of which Erik had seen other children carrying from his dark prison. For a moment all he could do was gape like an idiot at the sight, his mind so unused to seeing anything but the ugliest things humanity had to offer that he just could not look away.
Blinking rapidly, the little girl peered into the darkness beyond the tent's opening with large worried eyes. Brought back from his stunned musings Erik sucked in a ragged breath, hurriedly shrinking further back into the shadows within his cage. Though it seemed silly he found that it was suddenly very important that she should not see him. Something hot and uncomfortable began to burn the skin of his face and after a disorientating moment he realized it was shame. It had been so long since he had felt this particular emotion that he hardly recognized it.
Trying to rationalize this unusual reaction he thought that he simply wasn't in the mood to scare the life out of so young a child. Though he normally couldn't give a rat's ass about what happened to others, this felt different. It just wouldn't be right. But despite these calming thoughts he couldn't ignore the embarrassment he still felt coloring his cheeks.
Apparently catching sight of his backward movement, the child advanced into the tent a few paces, effectively thwarting his plans to remain hidden. She stood staring up at the cage with oddly colored eyes the exact shade of antique silver. Finally removing her thumb from her mouth, the little girl tightly wrapped both her arms about a small gray stuffed animal, her gaze pointedly meeting his despite the cloaking shadows.
Certain that she couldn't possibly see his face, but still feeling strangely exposed under her steady gaze, Erik drew even further back into the darkness; expecting the fear to bleach her face white at any moment. But as the minutes ticked by nothing happened. Her expression remained open and slightly curious, if just a little worried. He didn't know how to react to that. It was almost a completely alien experience for someone not to be afraid of him. Even the old Gypsy man couldn't completely hide the disgusted apprehension shining in his dark eyes.
And suddenly Erik had the disturbing need to lean forward and bring his distorted features into the light to see what the little girl would do. Perhaps it was evidence of his depraved nature, but this need soon grew into a full-blown desire. Just as he wanted to avoid frightening her earlier, he now wanted to do just the opposite. It was sick, he recognized this, but still couldn't stop the feeling. Her calm regard was simply too much for his beleaguered mind to understand, it disturbed the very foundations of his most basic perceptions. Why shouldn't she be afraid? If she had any idea what he was she would run screaming from the tent like everyone else had. He was a monster… everyone said so.
Leaning forward with a dark frown coloring his features, Erik brought his face into the light and waited. The little girl's mouth opened slightly as her lamp-like eyes moved over his face. Clutching her homemade doll closer to her chest, she did the impossible and moved closer until the top of her head was just barely visible above the bottom of the cage floor. The muffled scrape of a bucket being dragged across the dirt floor sounded overly loud in the quiet tent before the child's face appeared at the front of the cage, her head bobbing slightly as she tried to keep her balance on her makeshift stool.
Smiling a wide crooked grin the child met his glowering stare without batting an eyelash. "So this is where you are," she said brightly. "I was wondering… because I dreamed of you."
Opening his mouth but finding that no sound would come out Erik merely stared at the little girl in complete shock. Still tensed and waiting for her to scream in his face it took him several moments to process what she had said. The almost casual talk of dreams made him wonder absently if the girl was a bit touched in the head. At least if she were impaired in some way that would explain why she could stare him right in the face without running away in horror. But after a moment more of searching her pale eyes Erik was forced to admit the clarity he saw there, and to give up on his desperate theory to explain the little girl's behavior.
When Erik made no comment the child shrugged and continued. "Did the monster put you in there?" the little girl asked, her expression sobering to more serious lines as she clutched at the bars.
Gaping in shock at his strange companion, Erik was at a loss as to what to do. How many years had it been since he had been asked a question? How many years had it been since he had been spoken to civilly at all? Taking his silence for misunderstanding the child repeated her question again.
"Did the monster put you in there?" she repeated, her lilting English pronounced in an overly careful tone.
"W-What?" he sputtered, naturally speaking his native French.
Pale eyebrows drew together into a confused frown and her powder blue bonnet tilted imperceptibly to the side as the child contemplated his words. "Outside… they said a monster was in the yellow tent but I didn't see him. Did he put you in there?"
When Erik couldn't seem to form any reply she bit her lip and looked down at the stuffed toy hanging limply over her one arm. "I can't find my Momma or my brother." Pouting slightly the worry returned to her gaze. "Is yours missing too?"
"No. Mine is not missing…" Erik replied tensely, his English coming out in less practiced tones than he would have preferred. Shaking his head slightly, he tried to clear his thoughts. "Get out of here… there is nothing for you in here."
"But the monster… will he eat you if I leave?" she asked anxiously, her cherub cheeks staining a bright agitated pink.
Stunned that he heard concern in her voice, concern for him, Erik's hands began to shake where they rested on the straw. "No… stupid! I am the monster they were talking about," he snapped, reverting once again to his native language in his agitated state.
Her apparent kindness was like a foreign entity to him; it shivered against his amassed knowledge of the world like the taste of ice on a hot day, both refreshing and chilling his tired mind. Blinking at his harsh tone, the little girl slowly stuck her thumb back into her mouth, her odd gray eyes going overly wide as she continued to stare up at him. Certain that this would be the end of the odd encounter Erik turned his face away from her, a strange mixture of relief and disappointment warring within him.
Sighing, the little girl looked down at the toy hanging on her arm. Taking the homemade doll by one leg, she raised it up and set it upon the cage floor. Turning his head back around to watch her, Erik noticed the smiling grey face of the cloth monkey. Deliberately the little girl reached through the bars and pushed the toy closer to him.
"What are you doing?"
Not answering his question, the child turned and hopped down off the bucket, her tiny feet shuffling loudly across the floor as she retreated to the tent's opening. From outside the sound of a woman's high-pitched call could just be heard over the general din of the fair. "Where are you?!! Come on, Love. Come out for your Momma!"
Seeing that the little girl meant to leave without another word, Erik leaned forward and picked up the stuffed monkey. Holding the toy out between the bars, he hurriedly called out, "Wait… you can't leave this here. You won't get it back, you idiot!"
Looking back over her shoulder with a bright smile the little girl merely waved. "Of course I will… one day! Bye-bye!!"
Allowing his arm to drop to his side, Erik watched the child run out to meet up with a well dressed woman and a loudly complaining redheaded boy. Looking down at the toy clutched tightly in one hand, he shook his head in stupefied disbelief. It was the only toy he had ever received, and though he knew he was far too old to need or want such a silly thing he found a small glimmer of contentment flickering within his battered heart.
Only after several moments of silent reflection of this alien emotion did he realize that he had never thought to ask the girl's name.