Though it may be a difficult concept for mankind to grasp, the majority of the creatures who watch life transpire upon this Earth are not in fact human. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that on this bleak, shadow-swathed eve, the creature who watched my young mother from between the twining grapevines was not of mortal blood. He had watched, unseen for almost a year now, fascinated by this girl child who preferred bugs to baby dolls. Was this truly the same babe he had lost in trade for a fiddler’s thumb near ten years ago?
He still wore the thumb around his neck, a punishment his people had inflicted upon him. The Fatine delighted in administering punishment. He hardly noticed the weight of it any more, yet not a day went by he wasn’t reminded of its cost. Absentmindedly, he twirled the thing about in his ice spindle fingers. Preserved in a silver vile of “the deathless glass” the Fatine so adored, the forsaken thumb was still as fresh as the day it had been cut. When he’d been so bold as to slip it from its case, the damnable thing yet bled.
“Tonight brothers, I’ll make it right.” He whispered to the tarry darkness that surrounded him.
In the past few weeks he had courted the girl child, all the while unseen. He’d watched her as she gathered glass bowls and vases in which to hold her insects captive. One evening, when she had been unable to reach the sconces atop the chandelier, he’d taken three down, one for himself, and two for his departed brothers and set them atop the rafter for her to find. How delighted she had been. It all ended very badly of course, but who knew better of fate’s temerity than he did?
Six years ago, when he had been only a few years older than she was now, one childish mistake had shattered his existence. How could he have known the old fiddler would mutilate himself over one fat, miserable baby? Especially when there were so many born each day to replace it. He and his brothers had been dragged before the twin queens for judgment not two minutes after the deal was struck, human blood still warm on the earth.
“You set the terms of this trade then?” The queens asked him in unison. He could but nod, staring into their pitiless black eyes, which shattered his visage into four.
“and your brothers did not speak against it?” The Left Queen asked.
He shook his head.
“They had no mind to contest?” The Right Queen said, her lips drawn back into a malicious breed of smile.
Again he shook his head, his brothers stilled in their flesh by terror.
“If they have no minds then they certainly have no need for those bodies.” The Left Queen tittered, thrilled by the prospect of a fresh agony to wield.
“No indeed.” Agreed the Right, writhing in her chair, titillated by pain’s beckoning, for the Fatine fed on the nectar of emotion. Pain was the most nourishing of all, bringing near transcendent bliss to those lucky enough to scavenge a taste.
“Take them.” They ordered the boy in unison.
He looked to his brothers, horrified. Their eyes answered back with the same dread.
“I can’t” He managed to muster voice enough to protest. “Please, please I can make it right! I’ll give the fiddler back his thumb, heal him good as new…”
The Right Queen shivered, savoring the deliciousness of his suffering. “Take them, or all three of you may live as pariah.”
The horror of this thought alone threatened to unwind the very fiber of his being. To become a pariah was the most dreadful fate known to the Fatine. It was to live outside the communion of mind the beings shared, alone, robbed of the knowledge accumulated over eons. It was to exist, tormented by silence, save the plague of one’s own regrets. Most Fatine condemned to it were scarce left with mind enough to survive the night of their exile, reduced to drooling, blathering slabs of meat. He’d watched, even participated himself in tormenting the condemned. What unequivocal joy he had found in beating them viciously while they looked on, helplessly watching their bodies destruction through dull, dead eyes.
“Do as they say.” He heard his brother speak. His voice held all the calm of the grey seas that serve harbinger to coming tempests.
“Yes.” Agreed the other. “Then at least one of us might survive.”
He turned to look at them. He refused to believe they would relinquish their existence so willingly, these boys who had been his companions near the whole of his life. They had been raised in the same rookery, brought up by the same drone. Though the thing was neither male nor female, they had called it “Mammina” the way human boys called their mothers. He looked to Mammina now, and immediately wished he hadn’t.
He had somehow been deaf to the drones wailing until now. Mammina had collapsed under the weight of it’s anguish, clawing at the ground, shrieking incoherently as black tears marred it’s face. Charged with rearing the young, such drones were the only gender among the Fatine who entertained compassion.
This was evidenced in the behavior of the Fatine who had gathered around the poor creature, laughing as they shoved Mammina’s face into the wet, winter’s mud again and again. Each time the drone would pull itself back up, it’s bald head caked in filth, determined to crawl to it’s children, if only to embrace them one last time.
“I hate what we are.” The boy whispered to his brothers. They smiled in concord.
“You’ve only just arrived at that?” One brother spoke.
“And you the eldest of us all!” The other chided.
“Take away these bodies, set us free.” The first spoke again.
“Yes, it’s best that you do it.” The other said, resting a hand upon the boy’s shoulder.
“Our memories will remain in you.”
“So see that you make good use of them.”
The boy understood. He placed a hand upon each of his brother’s chests and let their essence rush into him. He had done so to humans time and time again, and never once thought of the hallow he left in the world by thieving a life away. They were chattel after all, or that was what he had been taught.
As always, the act filled him with that same quaking pleasure, an orgasmic sensation that rushed in a torrent through his veins. This time, the feeling was tempered by the misery of his victim’s being those he cherished most. As their memories flowed into him, he watched through their eyes as life fled their bodies. He endured their pain, fathomless vile agony, and all the while his torment was furthered by the knowledge that it was he who had delivered them to this fate.
Their bodies withered, desiccating till they were as brittle as the fallen leaves underfoot. The husks that finally fell away from his grasp crumbled into dust and were swept up greedily by the passing wind. It was as if the cruel vesper had lay in wait, eager to snatch up any scrap of evidence that his brothers had once existed. It wasn’t the same with humans. They at least left a pile of leathery bone kindling, something to bear testament to a life that once was.
A gentle voice shook him from his recollections, soft and wounded, scarcely more than a whisper.
“Are you her big brother?”
The boy looked down to see the girl child, who had been his quarry, now staring up at him. He had been so lost to his memories that he hadn’t noticed her approach, hadn’t bothered to hide himself with a glamour.
He lowered himself upon a knee to meet her eye. She was so close, he could smell the sweetness of her sweat, the warmth of each breath she freed upon his skin.
“Who…whose brother?” He managed, wondering if somehow this child had gleaned his thoughts. He realized it was silly, humans couldn’t do such things, and yet there was something in this child’s boldness that disquieted him.
Why? He wondered to himself. Had it not been his very intention to reveal himself to her? He’d even dressed for the occasion. Though he knew little of the human world, he had come to understand they took offense to nakedness. He’d traded a handful of seashells for a pair of trousers he’d found hanging on a line, and worn them for that very reason.
The girl child reached out with chubby fingers and examined the glass vile he wore around his neck.
“No!” He screamed, pulling back so abruptly that he fell artlessly into the dirt below.
“I need that!” He screamed, scooting away from the child, his hands and feet fumbling on the soft soil. She’d spoil everything!
“I’m sorry.” She said earnestly, biting her lip. “I just thought it was pretty. Like a silver cocoon.”
“It’s not pretty!” He cried, clutching the vile protectively. “Not pretty at all!”
“Then why do you wear it?” She asked, giggling, inching ever closer to him.
“Because I have to.” He said simply, rising to his feet and freeing the clinging soil from his trouser bottoms.
“Why?” She said, staring up at him quizzically, grinning all the while.
“My brothers, my Mammina.” He spoke the word solemnly through clenched teeth.
“Are you Azzurrina’s brother?” The child doggedly returned to her original question, now taking his hand and examining the long, thin fingers upon it. “She had white skin and hair like you.”
“We all do.” He said with mild offense, then realizing he was the first of his people she had likely ever seen, he answered her relentless query in a gentle voice.
“I have sisters, but none of them have names.” He smiled down at her, allowing the child to bend and straighten his index finger with a near violent curiosity.
“Because you’re one of the Fatine.” She replied, as if such interactions were commonplace in her day-to-day life. He had allowed himself to forget who this child’s adoptive father was.
“Yes.” He answered, again sinking down to hold her gaze.
“Your eyes are black!” She laughed, clasping his cheeks between her plump hands.
“Well…so are yours!” He said, shaking the vice of her hands away.
“Not all black!” She trilled, “Not like yours! Yours are black, like a beetle’s!” She mused twirling a strand of his long white hair around her finger.
It wasn’t a comparison he found particularly flattering, but he held his tongue. After all, he had come here with the intention of befriending this child, and he had succeeded at least in capturing her fascination. That was something that could be cultivated.
“I’m going to call you Scarafaggio!” She squealed. The word was used of beetles and cockroaches, and seldom said in kindness. However, when this child spoke it, this little girl who so loved vermin, the name was clearly draped in affection.
“You think you can just go around naming people, like they’re your pets?” He teased her, tugging upon one of her own corkscrew curls for good measure.
“Yes!” She challenged, with an impish grin.
“Then I shall name you too!” He said, standing to his full height and folding his arms across his chest resolutely.
“I already have a name!” She protested playfully.
“And it is?” He asked, looking down at this fearless creature.
“Armonia!” The words bubbled up to his ears.
“No, I’m sorry, but if I get a new name, then you do to.” He teased, lifting the girl into his arms. To his surprise, she offered no resistance, ingratiating herself to his embrace. How easy it would have been, to simply take her now. No, not yet, he’d have to bide his time. He’d already waited a year now, what were a few months more but time to let all the pieces fall into place.
“But you didn’t have a name yet!” She reasoned with a sensibility beyond her meager six years.
“No, no, it’s only fair.” He laughed. “Perhaps I’ll call you, Azzurrina?” Scarafaggio tried.
“That’s not even her real name!” The girl giggled buoyantly, tracing a defiant finger along the silver vile her new found friend wore about his neck. He allowed it, watching how the child was so easily entranced by her distorted reflection within. It was as if another world was harbored in that glass, one without the harsh confines of reality. If only she knew what it truly held.
“No?” He prodded. “And what was her real name, this Azzurrina”
“Guendalina.” She answered. “Everyone knows that!”
“Then I will call you Guendalina.” He said decisively. She smiled, resting her head upon his shoulder as if in confirmation.
Guendalina felt a happiness she had not known for many years began to warm within her. Here was a friend plucked again from the vineyard. Not one she had to entomb in glass, but a friend who had come willingly. One who would answer back when she spoke rather than just flapping it’s wings and preening it’s antennae. She had been so alone all this time, with only her father as company. She fell asleep in her new friend’s arms, dreaming of the adventures she might have with her Scarafaggio.
[Small edit made to chronology May 20th 2013]