It was hard to remember a time in his life that he was happy.
For the longest time, he was sure he'd fallen to earth. An alien. A stranger. Perhaps he'd appeared out of the dust, the very freak of nature the world treated him as. Perhaps the fairies had left him there, for sometimes if he closed his eyes and concentrated hard enough he was certain he could see some kind of world in the clouds around him, along with women dressed in dazzling colors. He must have been young for the colors to interest him more than their faces.
In his mind, if he thought of these scenarios as true, they helped him, eased his mind as he tried to sleep each night and somehow made a terrible situation better.
Maybe his father had found him in the woods. Yes, that was it. He'd been walking, maybe out to the bar, but when he saw him lying there alone and naked and cold, he'd had pity on him. He'd given him food and shelter. He was lucky such a kindly man had found him and given him so much! Even a name as deplorable as he'd given him. Maybe he'd done it because he thought it was cute or funny, even though he'd never known him to do anything because it was "cute" in his life.
As long as he could believe these things, as long as he had a fantasy to hold on to, and a world he could go to in his dreams, he was alright. It was far better than admitting the truth.
That his father was a drunk. "A swine" the villagers called him, on the rare times he took him to town. On the few times the smell of alcohol didn't fall off his clothes, he made most of his money gambling. He would have liked to know his father before he'd arrived, he could tell that a few of his moments of sobriety he'd been clever before he started drinking and still was. He taught himself the sleight of hand he used to cheat the strangers to their port out of their coins. His father even taught him one afternoon, that had been a rare day. He'd got out of bed to find the dog he'd been taking care of in the woods, Peter Pan, had run away, someone had untied the rope he'd been using to keep him there. It had also been raining and his father said he had a terrible headache from the night before and he declared it too rainy to "work" today. To cheer him up and keep him calm while his head pounded he'd taught him his tricks. He'd laughed, and clapped him on the back when he finally succeeded at the trick. "Oh! Perhaps we'll give you the family business yet!" he declared before falling back into the chair and going to sleep.
He only crept up to the loft that he spent most of his hungry nights in and opened the shutters to stare out at the stars. He probably should be worried for his dog, but his father's words had given him an odd feeling, one he didn't entirely understand.
"The family business" he'd called it. Deceiving, lying, and stealing. He might not have been a very bright boy, as his father reminded him day in and day out, but he knew that those were bad things. He didn't want to be bad, he wanted to be good! And yet…this evening had given him happy feelings, even with the loss of his dog. Those words, coming from his father, with a sense of pride, made him feel like his chest was filled with air. His father didn't often smile, or compliment him, or tell him anything that he'd ever be good at, but he had tonight. And no matter how evil the deeds were, he was happy that for the first time in his entire life he'd made his father proud of something he'd done.
It was temporary of course. All too soon the rain had stopped, his father's headaches faded from his mind, and with no Peter Pan to play with he found himself alone day after day in their home again as his father left.
He moved about as he pleased. Some mornings he woke to find his father in such a deep sleep no matter how much pushing and shoving he did there was no chance of waking him, other mornings he woke to find he'd spent the night and was about to leave for town. Some times he didn't see his father for days, nearly a week once. He'd eaten all the bread in the house and had to pick berries to survive. On the last morning, his stomach hurt so bad that he thought it would turn him inside out if it didn't get something besides berries. So he ran to the closest farm and stole two eggs from the coop. He felt scared and guilty for taking them, but he promised himself that one day he would pay the family back when he had the money. He was nearly ready to eat them when his father had come back into the door, grinning like a cat with venison over his shoulder.
"I've hit a lucky streak, my boy! Look here! We'll eat like kings tonight!" For the next hour, he watched as his father ate his eggs, and told him all about the week he'd had, the tavern he'd stayed at, and the soups he'd tried each night for dinner. When his father finally fell into bed, he cut a small piece of meat free from the venison, cooked it himself, and carried it outside. He ate it in the woods near the place he'd kept his dog, looking over his shoulder at every little noise, keeping the food close to him, and crying. He didn't know why he did it. One moment he was sure it was because he was so hungry, he could think of nothing to do but crying. The next moment, when he finally had a nice piece of meat in his belly, he was sure that it had nothing to do with his stomach, and everything to do with the happy time his father had been having away from him all the while he'd tucked himself into bed every night, wondering when food would arrive.
But what was there to be done about it? Nothing. He'd stopped trying to convince his father to take him with him or not to leave him alone long ago. It never stopped him from leaving the house, just made his ears ring when his father slapped him on the side of his head to let him go, and trusted the housework would be done when he came home…whenever that would be.
"Please," he prayed each night to whatever or whoever was listening. "Please come get me!" He didn't care if it was aliens from another planet, or fairies, or if it were a pack of wolves, he just didn't want to live here anymore, where food was scarce, work was plentiful, and happiness even more fleeting than his father.
How long could a small boy live in this life, he wondered. How long could he be expected to go on like this? There were times he could see people through the windows, men with their sons hunting in the night. They didn't behave as his father behaved with him, with indifference on the best of days and fury on the worst of days. He longed for that, desired it above all. Some days it was the only thing that kept him from walking out the door and running away, the hope that one day something might change and his father might love him.
His father hadn't come home yet, though day had broken hours ago and he hadn't returned home for a fourth night now, he wasn't panicked. Rather, with every passing minute he found a new feeling growing inside of him. His fingers were itching, aching to move, to do something, to change things somehow. But what? He couldn't run away. He had no food to cook. The cleaning was done. Good and bad were shifting into other feelings, anger and curiosity and other emotions he hadn't a name to put to. And that afternoon, as he heard laughter in the woods, undoubtedly another father hunting with his son, come to taunt him, he sprang up from his bed and did the wickedest, worst thing he could think of to wound his father.
Under his pillow, his father kept a scrap of cloth. No matter how many times he had made his fathers bed and washed the filthy vomit soaked sheets he had never dared to look at that fabric, for he knew above all that what he would see was to be hidden from his eyes. But with his stomach grumbling and his fingers itching he couldn't help himself. He grabbed that fabric from under the pillow, hurled his arm back to toss it in the fire, and-
A flash of the image made him stop. It was a drawing. A very good drawing of a woman's face. She was slender, had dark hair and eyelashes, cheekbones that looked like his own, her eyes were bright, but her smile…her smile gave him a warm feeling, like that day his father had taught him sleight of hand. She grinned back at him from the paper and though it was only a drawing he smiled back at her, and touched the curve of her cheek with his finger. There were markings on the bottom of the paper, words. But as no one had taught him to read…
He had to find something to write with, to copy the letters down and find someone who could tell him what the symbols said so that he'd know-
Just as he'd started scrambling about he heard the door open and close behind him and every bit of that happy feeling the image of the woman had given him drained from his body as he turned to face his father. He brought nothing with him this time, nothing but the dirt on his hands and watery red-rimmed eyes; eyes which were focused on what he held in his tiny fist.
"Now what have you got there, lad?" he whispered. It was the most terrifying tone he'd ever heard from his father and he suddenly found himself wishing that he'd yell at him.
"I was just…I just…I found it."
"You found it did you?" he questioned stepping forward slowly. He'd been drinking again. He reeked of it. "How did you find it, I wonder? Did it fall from the rafters? Did it scurry out of the fireplace? Come in with the wind? Or did you go through my things!"
He ducked as his father tossed a metal stein in his direction. It bounced off the wall and missed him by about a yard. But when his father reached for him his aim was better, and there was barely a struggle as he swore at him and pulled the fabric from his hands, screaming at him all the time.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry, father!" he cried, but his father was more occupied now with looking over the photo. He was…he was crying! It wasn't the wateriness in his eyes he'd seen when he first entered their home, the look he associated with his father having too much time spent at the pub, this was different. His father was crying. He was looking over the picture and mumbling words he couldn't understand as he sat down on the bed. It was then that he drew his finger over the image, and though he couldn't exactly see what he'd touched, he had the feeling that it might have been the same cheek he himself had been drawn to trace.
"Father," he mumbled stepping forward timidly. His father didn't answer, just continued to hold that picture and mutter nonsense words like "younger" "stolen" and "why".
"Papa," he swallowed stepping even closer so he might catch another glimpse of the woman. "I wondered…I wondered who she is."
"She's your mother you fool!" his father snapped at him so quickly he jumped away. It was only when he felt his back pressing up against the wall that he could consider the words.
"My mother?!" he muttered as his heart started to race with excitement. "I have a mother!"
"Well, of course, you have a mother you devil!" his father screamed. "Where did you think you came from? A pig?!"
"No, I thought…I-I-I-"
"I-I-I-I…" his father mocked copying his scared stutter perfectly. The problem was that he was scared. He'd had theories and dreams all his life, but he'd never given voice to them before. And he'd certainly never thought that he had a mother! What would his father say when he revealed his thoughts.
"Out with it lad!" his father demanded after he'd gone silent.
"I…I thought maybe I fell from the sky," he stated quietly.
There was a pause between them, a moment when his father simply looked him over and stared so that he truly might be an alien. But then, without warning, he burst into laughter. Riotous laughter. The kind of laugh that can be seen from a man's front to his back and all the way down to the tips of his toes. He tried to speak, but every time he did he couldn't get the words out and in the end, pointed at him. It made him want to cry all over again, but it also made him angry.
"Or…or I thought maybe the fairies brought me to you to take care of!" he spat, hoping more than anything he might hear those last words and suddenly realize that he hadn't done the job he was meant to do, that he'd neglected to take care of his own son. But as soon as he had said the word "fairy" there was a change in his fathers face. The laughter faded, stopped almost all at once as his father went back to staring at him, but this time the look in his eyes was different. He felt as though he could see the darkness from drink pouring into them with every tick of the clock.
"Fairies…" he muttered. All of a sudden his father was on his feet again advancing on him so that he had to duck down and tuck himself back into a ball with his hands over his head to protect himself. "You are never to speak of such creatures again!" he screamed.
"Never!" he screamed slamming his fist into the wall. He could have sworn there was enough force there to make the entire wall fall, but there wasn't even a hole where his fist had connected, just a small dent that still made him happy not to have had his body anywhere near that fist. So far, in his life, his father had never struck him in such a way, but he lived in fear of the day it would happen. So when he felt his father tugging on the sleeve of his shirt, forcing him to stand up he trembled a little, his instincts telling him to remain as small as he possibly could.
"Listen! Listen to me, son!" When he finally peeked his eyes open his father was before him, kneeling on the ground, mere inches from his face, so close he could practically taste the alcohol on his breath. "Fairies are vile, wicked creatures! They steal dreams! Take lives! The Black Fairy killed your mother!" he stated shaking the scrap of cloth in front of him. "And those others helped her do it!"
He gasped in fear, suddenly aware of the tears springing to his eyes. So that was what had happened. He hadn't fallen from the sky or been given to anyone by the fairies. The fairies had killed his mother. That was why his father was the way he was. That was why he'd lived the life he'd lived.
Just as suddenly as he'd grabbed him, his father had let go of him, and he fell back down against the floor, curled in a little ball. "You'll never speak of such things again lad!" he spat at him as he fell back onto the bed. His small burst of energy was beginning to fade, and he could see sleep fighting to consume him as he placed the cloth back under his pillow. "You'll let the memory have that woman rest…you won't speak of this again…you'll let her memory…" But his father's head hit the pillow and he heard light snores follow only seconds only.
It was over. With the coming of sleep it meant that not only was the danger passed, but he was also certain that when his father woke in the morning, he wouldn't remember this conversation. But he would. He would remember forever. Despite the morning hours and the light pouring into the room the boy made his way back up to his pallet and stared out the window into the morning sky. The evening star was faint, but still visible. How often had he made a wish on that star? To be taken away from this place? For someone to come and get him? To be taken back to the fairies? Quite suddenly, he had no interest in any of it and wishing on stars seemed to be foolish, something for babies and he was no baby! He slammed the shutters closed and buried his face in his pillow, crying out at a truth he had no control over.
He had a mother. She was killed by the fairies, the very creatures he'd hoped would rescue him. His father hated him and now he knew why. He was a living breathing reminder that his mother had existed. Perhaps that was why as a child he'd given him such a cruel name, a name that meant mischief and trouble and foretold nothing but instability. What other name was more suited for such a boy than Rumplestiltskin?