Obvious questions answered here (aka special author's notes): "What is this here? The story, dear writer, you said it was finished at chapter 18!" Well, yes, I did. However. Back in mid-July, before I had conceptualized the idea for Doors to Utopia, I thought up the idea of chp16's 'Phantom's Childhood' story after someone idly pointed out the correlation in behaviors to abused children. I decided to expand it, and finished this story halfway through. I abandoned it because I felt it was 'too intense' for acceptance in most fandoms.
However, when I wrote DtU chp16, I took a chance and decided to use the idea for Hot Sand in that chapter. It was a rousing success, so much so that I even received several pieces of fanart for my fanfiction (crazy stuff, huh?). After receiving these fanarts, I decided that the fandom was ready for the extension and finished up the original Hot Sand story. So this chapter is a more in-depth analysis of chapter 16-a 'chapter bonus', so to say. Considering the obvious content of that specific chapter, I don't think I should have to put up this warning but I will anyways: this chapter bonus contains several mature themes such as child abuse.
That said, please enjoy this bonus chapter-it was, strangely, an odd process to create. (also note that there might be an actual epilogue for DtU eventually, but this bonus chapter will exist in between chp18 and the possible epilogue. No promises.)
It was quiet and dark in the small sandstone building. All the windows were covered by thin burgundy sheets; it was far too sunny and hot outside to allow for open windows. A trail of beads hung from the doorway. The house itself had little inside it; two beds, a dining table, and a small storage space tucked into the floor. Clothing littered one corner of the house. A broom lay in the other. And in the corner farthest from the door sat a child.
His knees were curled up against his chest and his bright amethyst eyes studied the room. The vivid color of his eyes was intensified by the dust coating his pale skin; it had accumulated on him from sitting on the hard dirt floor for so long and stuck into the light blonde strands of his hair as well. Though he scanned the room, there really wasn't much for him to look at that he hadn't seen before. Nothing ever really changed in this home—nothing ever really would.
He started a bit when a woman burst through the bead curtain, mumbling to herself. Then the boy just shrunk back into himself quietly. His mother was surely busy; the expression on her face was nothing sort of stressed. After throwing her shawl on the pile of clothing in the corner, the woman directed her eyes at the boy in the corner.
"Why are you sitting there like that?" She asked. The woman sounded annoyed and the child resisted flinching. "Get up. You have things to do."
The woman signed in exasperation. "Child, I fed you yesterday morning! Must you be this selfish? We are not rich people! I don't have money to waste on giving you some fancy diet. I can barely feed myself."
"But I'm hungry."
"Find some food, then." The woman snorted. "You're a strong, growing boy, aren't you? You're what, eleven? Surely you can get yourself some food. People around here are willing to give you some if you work. But you would rather sit here and whine."
"I'm sorry." He mumbled.
"No you're not." She muttered. "If you were sorry, you would have had the common sense to not ask in the first place."
The boy didn't say anything, just staring morosely towards the window instead. Only slight slivers of gold streamed down through the floor. He thought they looked awfully pretty; like all those pretty gems and medallions that the Queen of Ariant was in possession. The objects harvested through blood labor. The boy almost shook his head but didn't want to draw attention to himself.
"…May I go outside?"
"I said no." She snapped, slamming the pot top shut. The boy sunk back down against the wall in silence. His eyes travelled over to the broom closet; sometimes, when mother was upset, he would hide in there and let her vent. But in cases like this he could only sit and watch her fume as her anger perfumed and soured the air. Something had set her off and her son couldn't tell what it was. The only thing he could do now was look at the floor and hope she didn't call attention to him.
She didn't. She walked over to her bed and collapsed. Several minutes later, the boy rose to his feet and padded over to her bed. He stood next to woman; she was clearly asleep. The child gazed over at the beaded down and slowly, quietly, exited the room. He squinted at the bright rays of sun slamming down on his pale skin. The child was as white as a piece of paper—he had been born that way, and a lifetime inside was not especially helpful to his complexion.
"Hey! Hey!" The pale child whirled around at the sounds of shouts and loud music. Immediately he stepped back; he had heard about these people. These travelers who wandered from town to town, giving their dances and handing out false fortunes. Gypsies, his mother called them. He wasn't supposed to come near them, though his mother certainly never enforced it.
"Are you talking to me?" He questioned. The Gypsy calling out smiled widely and nodded, gesturing the boy come forward. Hesitantly, the child stepped forward to the man. He took the boy's hand and spun him.
"Learn our dance, boy!" He chortled. "You are a pale young thing, obviously a foreigner! You shall attract attention with your shining skin! Copy me, boy! Copy the children."
The child hesitantly looked over to children next to him; they seemed to be doing some sort of simple dance involving a lot of clapping and stepping back and forth. Clumsily, he began to imitate them. The Gypsy man laughed loudly at him and played his instrument louder. Slowly, the pale child began to get the idea of the dance and moved faster, more gracefully.
"You are good at this, boy!" The Gypsy complimented. "What's your name?"
"I don't have a name."
"You…don't have a name?" The man looked utterly confused.
"Nuh uh. I think I did at one point but mum doesn't call me by it. So I can't remember." The boy admitted. The Gypsy man took his cane and shifted the child's face back and forth, smacking him once on the fine blonde hair.
"You look like a ghost, boy. If you have no name, I will give you one. You shall be the Daylight Phantom. With your pale skin and fine hair and weird eyes, you certainly LOOK like a Phantom." The Gypsy chuckled. "I am Raven. Gypsy Lord."
"…Okay." Phantom mumbled. He suddenly was uncomfortable with this conversation; the boy was not often addressed by a name other than child or boy. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he had been addressed by his TRUE name; he knew it actually did start with a P but everything else was a blur. His mouth twitched a bit; he liked the new name. It was mysterious, adult.
"Dance, child! Dance with them!" Raven cried jubilantly. Phantom giggled a bit and joined in a dance with a small dark skinned girl, easily only about four years old. She jumped about clumsily and fell over a few times. She immediately jumped back up with glee on her face and stomped her feet. Phantom began to imitate the girl to amuse her. He and the children stayed there for hours, dancing and playing; by the time the day was out, he was sore but the hat was full of money. The passing people had been intrigued to see the strange, foreign looking figure.
"I have to go now." Phantom mumbled. The children looked like they were going to say something but he took off to his home too quickly. He was excited to have money of his own but he knew his mother would only be angry at how long he disappeared. Phantom knew that his mother didn't much like him being seen; the locals tended to gawk and she retorted to him that he just embarrassed her.
When he burst through the beads, the room was silent. His mother sat on the end of the bed, staring off into space. Slowly, as if offering a sacrifice, Phantom piled the money in front of her. She said nothing, just stared at him. Her expression was harsh and judgmental; it made the blonde shrink back a bit.
"I told you that I didn't want you going outside." She said dangerously. "I don't want you seen, in case you had not noticed."
"I'm sorry…but I got money! Lots of it!"
"I danced with the Gypsies!"
"GYPSIES?" She said in horror. "You assisted the filth to get money for this household? I will not use your filthy money, child—throw it out!"
"But I'm hungry—"
"That is of no concern. Throw that filthy money out." She snarled. "You stupid child. Would you like to be as filthy and greedy as those criminals? You would fit in well with them, be their little sideshow. I should sell you to them. Then you could make all the filthy money you like, couldn't you?"
"Get out of my face." She snapped. "And throw out your filthy money. If you spend a cent of it, I will know and you will be punished for it. Do you understand?"
"…Yes, mother." He mumbled. The blonde child scurried off into the corner to watch his mother from behind his bangs. She seemed highly unhappy—moreso than usual. The child didn't know what she was doing; she seemed to be stuffing the few raggedy clothes she had into a large burlap sack. The woman threw the bag onto her shoulder and made for the door; immediately, her blonde child latched onto her leg.
"Get off." The woman instructed. Her child buried his face against her leg, fingers tightening on the flimsy cotton. "I said get off, boy."
"But where are you going?" He whispered. She rolled her eyes in annoyance.
"Can I come?"
"Absolutely not." She snapped irately as she pulled the boy away from her. "I don't have the time or money to deal with a child. I didn't have either of those things to begin with. And I certainly didn't want to provide them to you—I certainly didn't want to be slave to a child. It's bad enough I'm a slave to the Queen."
"Don't follow me, boy." His mother interrupted. "I won't be as nice if you do. Just stay here…maybe someone will pick you up, though I doubt it. You're too pale to be of any labor use and too stupid to provide intellectual pursuits…all I can do is…"
The woman faltered and her eyes sparked with a very foreign emotion she didn't often showcase. The blonde boy got up, weakly smiling…but the smile faded as his mother shook the expression away from her face and wordlessly turned to the door. She was quickly gone, disappearing into the pitch black night. Her child slowly followed her as far as the doorstep, and then sat down with his head on his knees to hinder his own sobs.
"What's with the tears, little ghost boy?" The blonde's head shot up immediately to catch sight of the gypsy man who had given him money earlier. Rattling along after him was a cheerily painted caravan that stood out brightly against the shining moon. Curiously, the child wiped away tears and followed after the passing caravan with interest in his eyes. Forlornly, for a second, he looked back at his house.
She isn't coming back.
"You aren't looking very happy, Phantom." The gypsy frowned. "Is this your house?"
"I guess." The child replied.
"Where's your mother?"
"Left?" Raven asked incredulously. Phantom nodded, almost shyly. "Where to?"
"I dunno. She didn't tell me. She just told me to stay here, and not follow, cuz she didn't want me." Phantom replied. Raven cast a glance back at the people in the caravan. A small woman was stepping down from the creaking car with a curious expression on her face. "What'dya doing?"
"We're leaving town." The woman said. "We are a travelling group, after all. Staying in one place has never been the best of choice for our performance trope."
"We travel the world, little ghost boy." Raven finished, whipping out a card and holding it out to the boy. Flipping it over, he revealed The Hermit. "Are you all alone now? A child can't fend for itself, you know. And you can dance, and you can be taught skills. Impressive skills. The skills of masters."
"What are you saying?" Phantom asked suspiciously. They both laughed.
"You dragged up a cute little Bambinata, husband." The woman giggled. "He is certainly a show. And what fair skin, fair hair! You don't see such a Bambinata walking around in places like Ariant. Or in many places nowadays. If we dress him up he could be quite a dancing Ashti."
Phantom cocked his head to one side. "Stop speaking like that, Gina. You confuse him. We should teach him languages before we speak to him in them."
"If you insist." Gina sighed melodramatically. "But is the Bambinata coming along with us? It doesn't seem like he has much else to do."
"Depends on what the little ghost boy has to say. Well, Phantom?" Raven smiled encouragingly, holding his hand out to the child. Slowly, Phantom reached out and placed his tiny hand within the darker one. Raven grinned and pulled the fair child up next to a group of gypsy children. They immediately claimed onto him excitedly, chattering in various languages that Phantom didn't recognize.
He gazed back at his old home as the caravan rode away into the desert.
And he found he didn't miss it at all.