He pressed himself further into the corner of the cage, the metal bars pushing against his bruised back. Bringing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them, he tried to ignore the sounds that the crowd was making, encouraged by Javert who was enticing more people to enter the tent.
“Mesdames and messieurs, boys and girls, step right this way to see the Devil’s Child,” Javert’s voice boomed over the crowd. “The most hideous, horrible and terrifying child ever born and the only place you can see him is right here at this camp. Come closer and see why only the Devil himself could have sired such a child.” Spying a group of young girls walking past the tent he called out to them, “Mademoiselles, I can guarantee that you will have nightmares for weeks to come if you have just one glance at the Devil’s Child! Dare you come in?”
The girls giggled and whispered amongst themselves before turning to their guardian for permission. The thrill of seeing the Devil’s Child was too hard to resist, even with the promise of nightmares. She waved them off with a reminder that nightmares would not be considered a valid excuse for any poor performances in rehearsal the next day. Still giggling the girls all held hands tightly before following Javert into the Devil’s Child’s tent, dropping coins into his hand as they crossed the threshold of the tent.
Javert entered the cage and pulled the door shut with a loud clang that made the crowd jump. “Don’t want him escaping, do we?” he whispered to a small wide eyed boy standing near the front. Emboldened, the boy stepped closer to the cage.
“Let me start by assuring everyone that you are in no physical danger from the Devil’s Child. He will remain under my complete control,” Javert announced, flicking his rope in the direction of the Devil’s Child, “At all times. Your minds however, I cannot guarantee. You may be plagued by nightmares for months to come, suffer horrifying visions at any time. Therefore, may I suggest that anyone who has a more delicate disposition, leave the tent before I proceed.” He glanced around the tent. “No takers I see. Then let us begin.”
Javert paced the length of the cage twice, stumbling slightly only once, before turning to face the audience again. Speaking in a low voice so the crowd had to move closer to the cage to hear him he began, “He was abandoned just hours after his birth, for what mother could bare to nurse such a child. The Devil has outdone himself in creating such a monster, a hideous creature that would kill you without a second thought. A beast that can never be trusted.” He suddenly raised his voice so it boomed throughout the tent. “The Devil’s Child!”
Striding over to the corner he grabbed the boy by the arm and flung him into the centre of the cage. The child remained curled in a ball, his face looking down to the ground. “Get up,” Javert roared with a kick to the boy’s exposed shins. The child gave a small whimper but it couldn’t be heard over the noise that the already excited crowd was making. Javert gave another kick and the crowd started to jeer when the child didn’t respond. Fury rising fast Javert pulled out his rope, and brandishing it like a whip, struck the boy across the back. “Now!” he screamed, continuing to alternatively kick and whip the small body in front of him while the crowd laughed. Slowly, against the continuing assault of Javert, the child brought himself to his hands and knees. Realising that this was the moment, Javert discarded the rope and grabbed the sack that was covering the boy’s head. With one swift movement he pulled him into a sitting position and removed the sack, exposing the child’s head for the crowd to see.
The tent went quiet for a moment whilst everyone took in what they were seeing before seeming chaos erupted. The jeering and heckling of moments ago seemed to increase tenfold as the crowd took in the view. They jostled to get a closer look, scarcely believing that what they were seeing could be real. A rough looking teenage boy, wanting to appear braver than his friends, reached into to his pocket to withdraw some long forgotten food and promptly threw it into the cage. Javert gave a wicked grin to the crowd, this was exactly how he wanted things to proceed. “Who else wants a go?” The crowd started scrambling for things to throw into the cage, anything they could get their hands on. Half eaten food, the small stones and pebbles that littered the uncovered floor of the tent and coins from the wealthier members of the group were all thrown at the child.
Javert retrieved his rope and continued to whip the boy from a distance, hoping to provoke an explosion of temper to truly frighten the crowd, but the child didn’t react, only moving involuntarily when struck. Pushed onto his side and momentarily dazed when he was hit on the back of his head with a larger stone, the boy caught the stare of a thin, dark haired girl in the crowd. She was standing to the side of a group of girls all similarly attired, but unlike her friends she did not appear to be enjoying the spectacle. The two children held each other’s gaze until the boy was forced onto his back by Javert’s boot. The crowd was slowly starting to dissipate, having run out of items to throw and losing interest in simply staring at the Devil’s Child. With one last kick to ensure the boy stayed down, Javert started to gather the coins scattered throughout the cage.
The child gingerly stretched, testing his body after the abuse that had been inflicted on it, when his foot brushed over the rope that Javert had carelessly dropped in his haste to gather the coins. Gritting his teeth, he stretched his foot out further to secure the rope and pulled it towards his body. Reaching down he grabbed the rope and quickly pulled it under his body and out of sight.
Sweeping his eyes across the cage to ensure that he hadn’t missed any coins, Javert glanced down at the child still huddled on the floor amongst the food and stones. “Pathetic little bastard. At least you’re good for something,” he said, shaking his bag of coins. Exiting the cage, once again ensuring the gate was firmly closed behind him, he sat up against the cage facing the entrance to the tent to count the night’s takings, a bottle of drink at his side.
As he lay there listening to Javert count, the pain from the boy’s injuries slowly started to ease, only to be replaced by a boiling rage that needed an outlet. He started to recall the taunts and yelling of the crowd and looked around at the objects that had been tossed into the cage, at him. Oblivious to the remaining pain, he quietly got to his feet, keeping a tight grip on the rope. Creeping towards the edge of the cage, he fashioned the rope into a loop and reached between the bars to hang it over Javert’s head, outside of his line of sight. Taking a deep breath he suddenly lowered the rope over Javert’s head and pulled his hands back into the cage to secure it around his neck. Javert automatically jerked back, trying to escape the rope cutting into his neck, but the bars of the cage prevented him from moving backwards. Reaching up he tried to get his fingers under it, but in his already drunken state Javert was no match for the furious child behind him. The boy felt the moment the life left Javert’s body and he released the rope, letting the body fall to the side.
As the body hit the ground, there was a gasp from the entrance of the tent. Looking away from the back of the head, where his gaze had been fixed through the entire event, the boy looked up to see the dark haired girl he had shared a glance with earlier. He couldn’t read her expression as she stared down at the body. He knew she should be scared, terrified, of him, of what he had done, but he couldn’t see any fear in her expression. Suddenly remembering his face he dropped back down to his hands and knees and started frantically crawling towards the small sack that he used to cover his face when Javert wasn’t forcing him to be the Devil’s Child. Pulling it over his head he turned back to face the girl, who by this stage had crept further into the tent and pulled the flap shut behind her, to hide them from any prying eyes.
“Why...” she started, trailing off. “Is he dead?” she said more strongly.
“Yes.” His response was slightly muffled by the sack.
“Why?” she asked again, more certain this time that she wanted a response.
“He hurts me,” the boy replied simply.
“What are you going to do now?” she questioned, still staring at the body. When he didn’t respond she glanced up. She couldn’t see his eyes, despite the holes in the sack, and didn’t know if he was still paying any attention to her, but nonetheless she persisted. “You have to leave,” she exclaimed, a note of panic starting to enter her voice.
“Where would I go?” he asked. His attention was now squarely on the girl and she briefly wondered how she could have possibly thought that he was watching her previously, such was the intensity of his stare now.
“Does it matter? Anywhere. But you have to leave,” she replied incredulously. Moving towards the cage, she started pulling on the door in an attempt to open it.
“There’s a key. He always carries it,” the boy said looking back at the body.
The girl frantically stumbled towards the body and falling to her knees started to search for the key. “Is this it?” she asked holding up a key on an intricately woven piece of rope. Not waiting for an answer she hurried back to the cage to open the door. Reaching in she tried to grab the boy’s hand but he pulled away. Fearing that he wasn’t going to leave the cage, she begged, “Please come with me. I can help you but we have to leave now.” She could still hear the crowd outside the tent and feared that they would be discovered at any moment.
Moving his attention from the girl standing at the entrance to his cage to the body beside it, the boy suddenly seemed to realise his situation and moved quickly towards the girl. “We can’t go that way,” he said, indicating the entrance to the tent with a toss of his head and walking towards the back of the tent, searching for a place big enough for them to crawl through. “Here,” he grunted, levering a peg out of the ground to make the space large enough. He quickly pulled his body under and looked around to check that there were no gypsies nearby before lifting the tent to help the girl get through.
Silently, the pair crept through the camp, hiding in the shadows cast by the tents and caravans, trying to keep out of the sight of the gypsies as well as their visitors. But they weren’t quick enough and a gypsy standing near a campfire with a group of men caught sight of the boy’s sack as he pressed himself against the side of the tent. “You,” the gypsy said to one of the men, “Go find Javert. I think his little freak just escaped. The rest of you, fan out and find it. And keep it quiet. Danior will have our heads if the customers find out.” He then pointed them in the direction he had seen the boy heading.
“They’ve seen us,” the boy said as they stood against a tent on the perimeter of the camp. “We have to split up. They’ll have more trouble trying to chase two of us. If they catch you, do not let them know you were helping me, pretend I forced you.”
“Alright...” the girl said weakly. She didn’t like the idea of leaving this boy to fend for himself but she didn’t know what else to do.
“Good. Go,” he whispered fiercely, pushing her to the right before bolting to the left. Within seconds she had lost sight of him and she started running blindly through the outskirts of the wooded area behind the camp.
But the young boy didn’t realise that the gypsies chasing them knew exactly who he was, the sack over his head creating a unique silhouette. As soon as the children split the girl was quickly ignored and the men put all their effort into tracking the boy.
He ran deeper into the woods, trying to escape the light emanating from the camp which was only going to aid the men in their search for him. He didn’t need the light. He tried to run faster and ignore the burning in his lungs and his bare feet that were becoming more torn up with every step that he took. He didn’t think about where he was going to go or what he was going to do now that the girl was gone, he just ran.
As fast as he was he couldn’t outrun a group of grown men and he suddenly found himself face down in the dirt as he was tackled to the ground. A sharp blow to the back of his head left him reeling and he was suddenly very grateful that he was already on the ground. He could hear the men panting to catch their breath and felt the man on top on him push himself off. The man made sure to press his weight into the child’s shoulders when getting himself up.
“Pick it up.” The gypsy who had spotted the children escaping had arrived. “We’ll deal with it back at camp.”
His sack had twisted over his face when he had been pushed to the ground so the boy couldn’t see what was happening as he was slung over someone’s shoulder and carried back to camp. He knew that to try and escape now would only make matters worse. Briefly thinking about the girl who had helped him and hoping that she had escaped, he drifted into a few blissful minutes of unconsciousness.
He awoke as he was being lifted off the man’s shoulders, seconds before he was tossed to the ground. Turning himself over he reached up to straighten the sack covering his face but one of the gypsies beat him to it and once again the sack was brutally ripped off his head and thrown into a corner. He automatically brought his hands up to cover his face but a man kicked out to stop his hands reaching their destination. “Now, there’s no need to be hiding that pretty face. We’re all friends and we know exactly what you look like.” The man started to kick at the boy’s stomach and back to emphasis the last five words.
“Why would you want to run away?” another man sneered at him. “We feed you, give you somewhere to sleep. Javert even lets you keep that stupid sack over your head. And this is how you thank us?” Clearing his throat the man spat the contents on the child’s face.
“Javert!” The young boy who had been keeping guard outside the tent suddenly ran in. “They’ve just discovered him. He’s dead. The Devil’s Child killed him.”
The young boy on the ground could feel the anger and hatred that was infecting every man in the room and tried to make himself as small as possible in preparation for what he knew was about to happen. It felt like all the men attacked him at once, pulling, beating, scratching, kicking, punching and twisting. He could feel the dirt rubbing into open wounds as he rolled over the floor, blood, tears and spit running everywhere. All he wanted was for unconsciousness to claim him, but he wasn’t lucky enough for that to happen again. He heard a popping sound and suddenly his arm was on fire but he couldn’t move it.
“Stop,” a new voice commanded. The men immediately ceased their attack on the child and stood back, giving Danior a chance to survey the damage. “Well it’s still alive, barely. And you’ve dislocated its shoulder, that will have to be fixed, even if it does add to the illusion. There should be some good scars out of all this though.”
“Why should we even care?” a man boldly asked from the back. “It killed Javert. We should dump it and let it rot like the corpse it is.”
Danior stalked over to the man who had spoken out. “Do you know how much money the Devil’s Child brought in tonight? More than any other attraction we put on. We cannot afford to just let it die.” Moving closer to the child, he started to address the group again. “Javert was part of this family, just like any of you. But he was a drunken fool who got exactly what he deserved and what did for this clan, any one of you can do. The Devil’s Child however, is unique and I will not give it up to appease anyone’s sense of justice or morality. It is however getting older and as tonight has shown, stronger. The current method of exhibition is no longer appropriate; it will not be the Devil’s Child forever. I want a caravan to be specifically fitted out, with a cage at the far end. Our guests can then enter the cage to view it and we need not be worried about it escaping when the camp moves. In the meantime I want two men guarding it at all times. I do not want this to happen again.”