"He is not breathing, Félicien. It is fortunate. I ween her to be demon possessed, and now she has born a demon into this family," Milou said softly. "Get rid of it before Gisela wakes."
The young man stared down at the still, red infant in the midwife's trembling hands and felt nothing but relief. The child was blessed to have escaped this family. Yet when he took the small child from the harrow faced woman who was covered in his sister's blood, he felt life. He met the woman's eyes, and wondered if the task had been left to her, if the child might not have been drowned. He took the babe, shielding him, and warned her to silence with a glance. The babe certainly looked inhuman, though it was a more tragic countenance than a frightening one.
"I will bury him, Father," Félicien whispered. "Where no one will ever find him, or look upon this face."
His father did not look at the child again, but his furious dark eyes lit once more on the girl who had birthed it. She had lost so much blood, it would be a wonder if she survived.
"Remember this night, son. Remember it the first time a whore spreads her legs for you, and the consequences of planting your seed there."
"I will," Félicien promised quietly. He took the blanket that Gisela had been making for the child, and wrapped him up tightly, then slipped from the room.
The night sheltered them as he walked away from the house into the dark Ardenne forest. He stopped, just beyond the timberline, and lifted the child's mouth to his ear. A faint breath was evident, but there was no other sound. He started moving again, speaking to the child as he went.
"Go on and die. You're better off in heaven than here, little one. This house will drive you mad. Already it has cursed you with this face, and if you stay, I know what will happen to you. Gisela has been locked in her room for months. Imagine what he would do to you. Just imagine." He kept glancing at the infant, as if expecting him to speak, but that mottled face did not move.
He stopped again, hearing someone running through the forest, hoping the midwife had not told his father the truth.
"Let me see him. Please, Félicien."
"What are you doing here? If my father finds out you are here, he will beat her again. Is that what you want?"
"No," the abbé said. "Please. Let me hold my son. Let me give him the rites."
"He does not need them," Félicien muttered.
The priest waited until he was upon them before he spoke again. The moon struck his weathered face, and Félicien glared at him with hatred, but his eyes did not rest on the boy. They rested on his infant son, and he made the sign of the cross as he caught sight of the horrific features.
"Father, forgive me," the abbé said softly. "A blessed thing he does not live, I think. But I am so sorry, my son. My child. I am so sorry."
"A blessed thing, to be sure," the boy replied. "Although he yet lives."
"What? He lives?"
The abbé took the child from him, pressing his ear to the slightly malformed mouth, just as he himself had done. A shudder ran through his thin body, and he held the small body close to his chest for several moments.
"Go, Félician. I will take him away from here. I will raise him, and he will never know your sister's shame. He will never know mine."
Félician remembered the look in his father's eyes the day he discovered that his sister was pregnant. He recalled the way he had beaten her nearly every day of her life, and how none of those beatings had ever compared to the ones she received while she was with child. Perhaps those beatings had caused the child's deformity. Just as this man had been the one to cause dishonor in his family. Although he was only thirteen, his father had taught him about honor. He had taught him about punishment and revenge. He had never taught him about love. His father would never let Gisela keep the child she had loved while it grew inside of her. His sister, who needed something and someone to love as desperately as she needed to feel that love. It was not fair that the priest could take this child and forget all of them while Gisela's punishment would go on. The abbé deserved to be punished too.
"Let me say goodbye to him," Félician said.
Abbé Drugge looked surprised, but he gently held the infant out to the boy he had mentored for the past eight years. Madness ran in the family, but it had seemingly passed over Félicien while it had accumulated in his elder sister, Gisela, to a fevered pitch. He could barely remember that hazy morning when she had seduced him in this very forest, with her angelic voice and devil's touch. God forgive him for many things, most especially that of losing this boy's trust forever.
As his fingers left the cool, hollow infant's body, Félician struck a blow that left him dazed upon the ground, gasping for air. The boy kicked him again with all his might, his breathing heavy in the stillness of the woods.
"Instead it is you who says goodbye, abbé," the boy whispered.
He turned, carrying the child off into the night.
It was only then that a piercing wail was finally voiced.