He had a name, once, which he can't remember any longer. It doesn't seem important now, not after everything that he has gone through.
He wonders, though, just what it would be like to have a name. To have something for people to call him other than 'monster'.
He thinks, maybe, it would be nice.
He is eleven years old, and afraid of thunder.
The storm outside rages, wind whipping violently through the trees, sending leaves and branches careening wildly in a terrifying dance. The wind howls, it sounds hollow and mean, like a ravening beast threatening to devour the land.
The castle is dark, shadows flickering on the walls from the few torches left lit this late at night. Even so, the boy is standing in the hallway, not yet daring to knock on his housekeeper’s door.
His parents are away, but he would never dare to knock on their bedroom door to say that he is afraid of the storm. That's something that another boy would do, a boy with a name or with parents who sang to him at night. His housekeeper is the only one he knows who has ever held him, has ever said to him, "It's okay, there's nothing to be afraid of."
But he doesn't want to wake her. She works hard, her eyes had been sad and tired when she tucked him in hours earlier, and for some reason he simply cannot raise his hand to knock on the door.
There's a loud thump, and another. Not the thunder that shakes the walls and sends him scurrying into a corner to tuck his knees to his chest and press his eyelids tightly closed, but something that sounds closer, ominous.
Someone is knocking on the door.
His heart is in his throat as he walks down the deserted hallways. Servants are sleeping; it is late. The storm outside makes enough noise that no one would come to investigate the scattered thumps, but the boy is awake, so he walks to the door. He is afraid of the storm. He has no reason to fear anything that could knock on his door.
The woman is ancient, and gnarled like the old willow tree in the courtyard. Her skin sags, heavy, and the wrinkles on her face are deep. Her wet hair lies on her scalp in straggly, messy knots, and her skin is mottled like paper. She smiles, but her teeth are rotten and stained, gaps between them where some of them must have fallen out, or perhaps been rotted away.
"Hello, pretty boy," she says, and her voice is eerily strong, not wavering in the least. She can be heard over the howls of the wind, the pounding of the rain.
He doesn't answer her.
She is holding a rose clutched in one hand, a red rose that is almost glowing, unearthly beautiful. It has sharp, wicked-looking thorns that jut out from the stem, and he can see even in the faint, flickering light that they are stained with blood.
"Shelter," the crone says, enticingly. "I seek shelter from the storm, will you let a poor old woman stay with you?"
It is on the tip of his tongue to say ‘yes’, but she holds out the jagged, thorny, blood-stained rose in one of her hands, and he sees that her hands are gnarled and twisted, the nails long and stained dark. They look like claws, not like hands, and he can see that her fingers are too long, bony, unnaturally so on both counts.
He is, suddenly, terrified of this old woman and her rose.
It makes no sense but it's there, like a viper coiled at the pit of his stomach. He knows with solid, gut-wrenching certainty that this woman will mean the end of him.
She smiles, and he sees her hatred and her anger in her smile.
"Won't you let me in?" she asks.
"My-- my parents aren't at home," he stammers, unsure of how to turn her away.
"This rose," she says, "this is all I have to pay you. I will pay you and you will let me in," but already he is shaking his head. His hands tremble, his knees feel weak.
"No," he says, and he sees lightning flash in the distance. "No, I shouldn't have answered the door. I need to go--"
He wants to shut the door, but doesn't. He stands.
With the crack of the thunder the old woman shatters, falls apart like broken glass or perhaps like a snowflake melting. Beneath her skin is a beautiful woman, slender and golden with the same vicious, unnerving smile.
"No," he says, and tries to close the door, but she blocks him with one hand, unnaturally strong as he pries his fingers one by one from the doorframe, pulling him out into the rain with her.
The rain curves around her frame, falling onto the ground. It pummels him, cold as ice and as unforgiving, and she laughs as he cringes away from her. She laughs as she loosens her grip and lets him fall, shaking, to the ground.
"Pathetic, miserable creature," she says, cruelly, her smile curving in amusement. "What right have you to refuse me anything?"
"I didn't mean it," he says, apologising but not knowing why. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, please don't hurt me, don't--"
"You're sorry now, aren’t you?" The sorceress laughs. "Oh yes, now you cringe and beg, now that you see what I truly am. Selfish, stupid little boy. Would you let me in, now that I'm beautiful?"
No, he doesn't say, as he lies miserable on the muddy ground and she stands above him. I wouldn't let you in, your smile is ugly and your heart is the same.
She gestures with one hand, dropping the rose by his side. It is, strangely, still beautiful. "Well then, little boy," she snarls. "Perhaps you should learn not to be so petty. Ugly on the outside is not ugly on the inside.”
She is beautiful on the outside, but he thinks her insides are rotten and twisted up. Her outsides had matched, before, now she is all wrong.
"Go," She coos at him. "Be monstrous, little boy. See how people treat you when your skin and face are ugly, and your heart shrivels in your chest."
She curses him.
The curse is this:
Be a monster. No one will ever love a monster.