Chapter 1: Prologue
Rain poured against the window of the car, windshield wipers pushing away the substance; the darkness made it difficult to see, the only source of light ahead of me being the headlights beaming off the ever growing strength of the wind and rain―flicking water through the invisible mass. I silently watched the road ahead of me, glancing for any sort of familiar signs, ones I had remembered from long ago and no longer exist like an off distant memory no longer touched upon, packed away in boxes and lost amongst the move―but how could I forget? I spent most of my life here, knew those surrounded by me, and yet, it was until now that I remembered it only for the off-distant smell of the sea and the pouring rain that I had once used to fall asleep to, but now kept me up during the night.
The road was long, twisting at every dangerous curve. In the distance, I could see the outline of trees, but I could not remember what part of the road I had begun to reach. To another, it may have felt like a struggle, attempting to find the one sign of any life that currently existed―perhaps a diner to grab something to eat before leaving for the length of their trip, or a comfortable inn to rest ones weary aches, a sign to give hope for the travel ahead―but the fervent memory of finding such a thing kept me along my journey. The haunting persuasion that lingered in my dreams and waking life (exactly a week ago to this day) never let me be, gave me the tinge of both guilt and happiness I felt to be away from such a place, only caused my curiousity grow even more. I had been given the graces of leaving years ago when the town itself had fallen and become a war ground that history would never recognize. One night, I had been awoken to the sound of rain pounding against my flimsy window―I now owned an apartment quite close to Oxford, furthest away from sea, as it was the only place I could afford on the small stipend I had left with―only to remember all that had once been forgotten, rushing over me as if I were placed underneath the strength of a waterfall against my own will.
I tried all I could to ignore the nagging sensation that lingered within my mind. Keeping myself occupied with work only lasted until I had found myself between breaks or riding the train home. I had tried to take a day trip to Cambridge hoping to find a solution to my problem, but I only found myself back with a terrible sunburn spotted across my nose and the empty melancholia of something missing from my life.
Now, in the distance, I could see a corner of the wooden sign, flecked with white paint, chipping off from the years of decay. Perhaps there was nothing left of this little town that had onced flourish, but even upon that thought, I could not escape the frustrating siren's call that wracked my brain. Stopping the car, I found myself frozen in my spot. Terrified. Of what, I could not say, but I knew that to reliquish this strange druge through time. I had to face whatever had remained.
Stepping out of the car, I felt the rain soak through my overcoat. I did not figure to bring an umbrella, I felt no reason to, for getting out of my car upon reaching this sign had not been my first intention. Gravel crunched underneath my loafers as I moved closer to the omniscient sign, fingers seizing their movements, as I held my breath. What was I expecting? The revelation of my memories possibly being false? Or perhaps an entirely new story to become obsessed with? Whatever it had been gave me the reason to push away the ferns and rosebush thorns covering the familiar sign now aged by years of neglect.
Taking a large step back, I allowed myself another deep breath and clenched my fists, my nails biting into the lining of my leather gloves. The rain continued to pour on me, soaking me to the bone, my hair obscuring my eyes, but I could still see the red and gold lettering, clear as a sunny day.
Welcome to Storybrooke
Chapter 2: Et in Arcadia ego
life is one long struggle in the dark
― titus lucretius carus
Fall had begun to sweep over the town; leaves barely hanging onto the branches, trickling down to line the streets; grey had become painted with browns and reds piled into neat little bunches from the city council's annual fall cleanup. Outside my window, I watched the city's patrons below make their way to their destinations―whether it be work, home, or spending the day out with a leisure that felt far too false for it's own good. Everyone had become so unaware of their purpose in the world that I felt a growing need to tell them the truth, to let them know their true fate and what had led them to be trapped in this mundane land.
I had not always known the legend of the ones who lived in the quiet town of Storybrooke, as many years of my life I, too, faced the unknown abyss of the truth. Even now, I realize my delusion had lasted longer than I wish intended, but it was not until the eve of my tenth birthday until I was granted this acknowledgement.
The call of my mother's voice from the end of the staircase pulled me from my odd visions that a typical ten year old child holds, but learns to forget of how they were lost to their world as an adult. I pulled away from my window—gentleman's bowlers hats and ladies' emerald overcoats had become nothing more than little specks against the ground—to creak open the door, peeking my head outside of it to see my mother waiting with one hand against the staircase, the other on her hip.
My mother, as much as she so fervently believed, was not my real mother—a fact already known amongst the inhabitants of the entire town—but my adoptive one. As a child, I did not question her ability to adopt a child in a single-income household, for my mind was filled with creatures and machinations only my childhood could come up with, but I had begun to assume she made a great deal as I gained more wisdom and insight into my later years. She had always looked quite beautiful; dark hair, framed shortly around her face, to match with her similarly dark eyes, always polished in the finest clothes she could, without question, afford in tune with her cool, calm demeanor. Even though she had not been my real mother, she was still my caretaker, and she still cared deeply for me such as a mother cares for their child, regardless of genetics, but upon my findings of her misgivings, I could not learn to love her as much as she had loved me.
"Yes, mother?" I called from my spot at the door. The hallway extending to the stairs had been quite long, curving into the steep wooden staircase, furnished with a rug (from some far off country, I would assume) the similar colour of the fresh apples my mother grew in our back yard.
"It's time to leave for school, Henry."
"Alright." With that I pulled back into my room and began to gather everything. It was in my childish boredom that I had begun to seek out any information I could get a hold of about my biological mother, but the unfortunate struggle of adoption itself in such a time made it nearly impossible to trace back the names of my real parents. Even the files in my adoptive mother's office were so vague that it was nearly impossible to find any proper information that could quell my frequent curiosity. Who were my parents? Why had they given me up for adoption? Perhaps at that time, I so desperately believed that they were figures my mind conjured them up to be—heroes slain by a treacherous creature, scientists living on off-distant planets, perhaps members of the mafia that were to come back once they had been done with their tasks—but I refused the ordinary. Surely, I thought, there must be an important reason they were to be rid of me. It did not cross my mind at the time that perhaps I was unwanted by them.
Asking my adoptive mother was out of the question. I knew her to be quite harsh at times, defensive of her possession toward me in fact, there always lay something behind her reserved persona that I could never quite grasp until I had learned of her true intentions; she had always kept me at a distance, one that it seemed no one could ever fill.
As I headed down the stairs, my mother stood at the door waiting for me—fixing herself in the mirror—before she paused to turn at me with a smile.
"Happy Birthday, Henry."
I muttered a thank you, not quite sure what to say; ten was large number to me at that time. Ten years old, an entire decade, yet how short it seems now, compared to the length of my trials, the trials of the residents that lived in Storybrooke, the eons of torture my mother put people through. To my simple mind, I had reached the point of two digits in my age, something that would now never change, the numbers shifting each and every year, always to remain two digits.
My mother handed me a present wrapped in a simple paper. A small box that fit in both of my hands with no trouble; it was a shade between navy blue and indigo, with gold lining and a silver bow. She had always gone out of the way for me, bought things no other child had, indulged my fantasies of superheroes, placed me in the comfort of a prestigious school knowing where I would be safe in my learning, she believed I was destined for greatness.
In a way, I suppose she was right.
Pulling at the strings of the bow, I glanced up at my mother to see her watching me adamantly, eager to see my reaction of the present picked out for me. Opening the box, my fingers grasped a spherical object that felt smooth against my palm, it was quite heavy as I attempted to lift it out of the box. Once I had it firmly in my grasp, I looked at it.
"A snow globe?" I asked.
My mother lowered herself down to one knee, placing a hand on my shoulder. "Not just any snow globe," her other hand reached to rest underneath the bottom of the globe, fingers brushing against the curvature of the glass. I watched as the specks of white flittered down, her eyes reflective against the glass. "It's a relic from when the Eiffle Tower was built in France, one of the very first in production. Mr. Gold informed me that it is a symbol of the French Revolution."
Mr. Gold was always quite peculiar to me, as was his strange relationship with his mother. I never quite figured out how the two fell into place until years later amongst, what one could possibly call to this day, my gathered research. He and my mother were never quite friends, nor were they enemies, they had a mutual dislike for each other that I did not notice until much later upon personal lament. Of course, he was no exception to the curse my mother forced upon the townsfolk, but he had been different than the others, just as she had.
"Really?" I said captivated by the age and story that lay behind it. History had always been a fascination of mine—one that would go on to becoming a career in my future—that all the trinkets she had obtained from Mr. Gold's pawn shop had always been added to my always growing collection.
The length of her smile grew as she gathered my excitement and allowed it to be her own, "Yes. He told me that it had been handed down amongst a family for years, until someone sold it to him."
"Why would someone ever get rid of something as neat as this?"
She shook her head, "I haven't a clue. Now come, you are going to be late for school. Miss Blanchard will worry of you."
I gave a weak nod as she removed the snow globe from my hands and placed it on the small wooden table beside the front door, then shouldered my knapsack. We headed out the door without another word.
Chapter 3: Aletheia
'But this,' exclaimed Ada, 'is certain, this is reality, this is pure fact—this forest, this moss, your hand, the ladybird on my leg, this cannot be taken away, can it? (it will, it was). This has all come together here, no matter how the paths twisted, and fooled each other, and got fouled up: they inevitably met here!'
— ada or ardor: a family chronicle
Mills Manor had been the second largest architectural creation in Storybrooke (lost only by just a few square feet below the city's local Catholic church) and people had always felt intimidated by the massive size, even just by looking at it. Any young child would have enjoyed the expanse hallways, the hundreds of rooms, most untouched except by the nest of cobwebs and dust caked onto the furniture that lay in there, there was an entirely new experience lurking in every corner. I had always gotten lost frequently, turning the wrong way while heading to my room, or getting too caught up in my reading to realize where exactly I was.
My mother, of course, took pride in her mansion; especially toward the garden cultivation. Ever since I could remember, despite all the maids and servants we had that came and went, she never required a gardener to take care of her plants. It was to her own manoeuvre that she was to take care of it all. The eglantines and artemisia that lined our walkway, the golden chrysanthemums that monogrammed themselves with quarender poppies, the ferns decorated just before the turn of the corner, flowers I could not even name in locations amongst all the walkways and mazes that created our back yard, they had all been tended to by her and her alone. It seemed all her care and work was invested into the tender care of her garden.
What may have been just as important as my personal being toward her, if not more, was the singular apple tree that stood by itself in the middle of the backyard lawn. The tree itself had almost been a child to her, she tended to it whenever she had the moment to, always making sure it remained in proper health. It was not until the day of my tenth birthday that I finally learned the importance of her apple tree and what it had meant for the rest of Storybrooke.
The actual exterior looked like a recreation of French Baroque châteaus that were so familiar in places such as Versailles, and although I had never personally seen these kinds of historic creations in person at such a time, I had soon learned to find out the history of architecture by a sheer piqued interest of the Manor's own foundations. According to the records, which can be confirmed a complete buff, it was built sometime during the early-1800's and first owned by my grandfather, Henry Mills (from whom my namesake came) and my grandmother, Cora, then passed down to my mother after the death of her father. This too, of course, was only another cover up in case anyone had begun to become suspicious of my mother.
The construction of the house itself was made on a brick foundation, but lined with terracotta tiles as an attempt to keep the visage pristine and untouched. It had three floors and an additional attic, as well as a large basement where my mother kept her cider distilled for their proper brew. I was never allowed down there as a child, for reasons I could never know, but I had obeyed her requests regardless.
My room had been on the third floor and overlooked the streets of the town; this is where I had found myself lost in the most, watching the people cross the streets, converse to one another, and wondered what stories lie behind these inhabitants (even making some of my own). Of course, they always regarded me with a sense of politeness, yet seemed to not speak to me for too long, as possible fear of my mother, but this too, was an addition to what she had formed the town into.
Her room, on the other hand, was on the second floor, overlooking the backyard—her open window and balcony regarded her with a straight view of the apple tree she so cared for. It had always been obvious where her room was as next to her door she had a statue of a steed, midnight black in it's noble stance against the stark white of the floors. As the hedonist she was, the hallways were all lined with marble and bronze Hellenist, Roman, and Byzantine statues—of gods and heroes, like Aphrodite and Hercules, of creatures that only existed in the stories of Homer, the finely crafted busts of philosophers—I remembered all of them with their eyes on me as a explored the hallways like some adventurer or cartographer gathering information on the unmapped lands, aware of the creatures that lay within them. My mother valued herself, as well as the intelligence of her child, on worldly culture, to pay the price of our inability to leave Storybrooke (or so she believed) at any given time. It was a tragic emptiness instilled in our family; to be given the whole world, but never to be graced by the admiration of the real thing.
The study was full of large books on authors whose names I could never completely pronounce, from every genre one could think of. While they looked untouched and unread, as if dust were to pour out from the craquelure of pages, upon opening, one would find them dust free, as if they were always read and tended to regardless. Amongst all that I did believe in, ghosts were not one, but the belief that my mother did such a thing felt far too unrealistic.
Her desk also resided in the study; rich mahogany, fountain tip pens, the desk was always kept tidy. The drawers were locked with carefully carved gold insignias that only she knew how to gain access to from the ring of keys she always kept with her. She had me believed for quite some time that all our accounting of expenses were in those drawers, never to be touched for the fear of the distortion in their precise organization, but there was much more to be found. Records of all the residents, their house numbers, medical records, where they had worked, all of their lives kept in one single file; despite her inability to completely rule the town, she still had her hands on the psyche on all of them. She had always been in control, regardless of where her position stood.
Upon my arrival at school, my mother kissed me goodbye and yet again wished me a happy birthday, then passed me off to my schoolteacher. Miss Blanchard was a woman of a small frame, she had the usual look one would conjure an image of a teacher in the eye of one’s mind; she was very fair, she had always reminded me of the porcelain dolls lining the windows of Mister Marco’s marionette shop located on the corner of the main street, her hair short and dark, rubicund cheeks, always influenced by long skirts and collard blouses, sometimes with dresses with ruffled patterns and an acciaccatura of a belt tied at the waist. She was a quiet teacher, never quite going out of her way to speak to the other members of the staff, and reserved a meekness that only a young schoolteacher could.
“Good morning, Henry,” she smiled down at me, hands placed suspiciously behind her back.
“Good morning, Miss Blanchard,” I said, enthusiastically.
From behind her back, she revealed to me a large, old leather-bound book covered in a decoration of gold lettering, with an aesthetic choice of decorative style (deeply grooved with crosses and flowers bordering the sides). It had looked worn from years of those who had read it before, the spine weakened, pages yellowed by age, one false move and it seemed it could rip into two. “Happy tenth birthday,” she said, as she placed it into my hands.
My fingertips traced over the words on the front; Once Upon a Time it had read. Fairytales had never really made such an impact on my life at that point in time; it was the only genre missing from our library (not a coincidence). I had come across certain authors like the Grimm Brothers in the search at the school library, but never found myself interested enough in the azoth of Norse tales until that fateful day she placed the storybook into my hands.
“You a quite the vast imagination, Henry. I had a feeling that you would appreciate yet another story to get lost in.”
Keeping the book close to me, I threw one arm around her waist, pressing my smile into the fabric of her blouse, and thanked her. Her only response was only an aria of a laugh and the explanation of how I had better go inside, as school was set to start.
It was upon my union with this storybook that I had found the secrets that lay beneath the town; aphotic and treacherous, deception built upon the falseness of a world that once existed. These turn of events had brought my young, ten-year-old self into a realization of just how controlled this minute portion of the world was by my mother and her need to ruin others happiness for her own personal gain.
To put it simply, my mother was an Evil Queen. Not just any Evil Queen, but The Evil Queen, the one set out to destroy the fairest of them all. She had gone a great deal to sever the athanasy of any true love that had once existed in the realm of the fairytale world. She had fought down to tooth and bone, by the manipulation of her own clever deceit, and bargained all she could, to muster up a dark curse that put a grim reality on the word we lived in now.
There was a turn of events that my mother failed to acknowledge: the presence of an enchanted tree, with wood tied to the sacred white magic my mother had tried to hard to corrupt, and the hopes of a young infant to cross the threshold over to the real world, an infant who was destined to become the Savior. The Savior was meant to break the curse, to allow those in Storybrooke remember their lives, who they once were, and discovered the strongest magic of all, true love.
For twenty-eight years, my mother had known whom these seemingly typical people were—a schoolteacher, a nun, a cobbler, the tailor, an owner of a pawn shop—their mundane delusions and tasks were chained to them, made them prisoners in the bastille of their own bodies and minds in this what they so strongly believed to be the perfect town with no trouble at all, and here I was, with all the information I needed in the palm of my hand.
It was my job, as I saw it, to locate the Savior and break the curse gloaming over the town of Storybrooke.