**Part 1, here.**
Friday began quietly: “Once, in a time not unlike this one, there lived a child of about 8 or 9 years–”
“Sorry–” interrupted Thursday, “point of clarification: What is the race, ethnicity, or nationality of this child?”
“Not relevant,” said Friday.
“Respectfully,” said Sunday, “race and such frequently does matter where your stories are concerned.” The others around the conference table nodded solemnly, looking at Friday.
“Well, it does not matter at this point in the story. If it does later, I will let you know.” No apparent objections. “This child was the ugliest child of all the children in the town–the ugliest, even, that had ever been born in town in all of living memory. None of the other children would play with the child. The child’s own family only gave to the child the barest minimum of needs for basic survival and–”
“So–sorry again–do you intend to tell us the name of this child?”
“Again, not relevant to the tale.”
“But names are always relevant,” said Wednesday. “Names make us who we are, connect us to our past and to our future!”
“Not to mention,” said Saturday, “that your tale will soon become very confusing if you keep calling him ‘the child, the child.’”
“Aha!” exclaimed Tuesday, “but that is just it! Not only has Friday not specified a name, the child has no gender either! Is this so?”
A glint of excitement lit Tuesday’s eyes. The others looked from Tuesday to Friday, waiting.
“Yes, so,” said Friday. “Gender, is also not relevant. But I suppose we can call the child D. ___________.”
“Dee Blank?” asked Monday, pen poised above paper.
“No. Capital letter D, dot, blank line.”
Monday lowered pen to table without making a notation. After a moment, Friday took up the tale again.
“So, D. _________ was extremely unattractive, and without friendship and love. The child’s days were filled with solitary exploration of the town and the woods beyond. Frequently, D. _________ would wander through the woods well past the town’s border, to the edge of a larger, wealthier town.
“Once there, D. _________ would hide behind a building that might have been a post office. All day the child would observe the people of this other town going into and out of the building, and moving about their business on the street in front. These people were the most beautiful the child had ever seen–even more beautiful than the people who made the child’s life a living hell within its own town.”
“Shhhhhhhh,” said Sunday. The shush seemed to bounce around the walls before dying away. Starting out slowly again, Friday continued.
“As D. _________ crouched behind the building, watching, the child would sing softly the same song:
Though my heart,
it may be broken;
And my soul
will be undone
I will never
fear the darkness
Nor the wrath
There was a silence filled only by the memory of Friday’s more than adequate singing voice.
“One day, during D. _________’s secret and one-sided rendezvous with the residents of the other town, the child happened to spy a figure that it had not seen before. I say ‘figure’ because the child could not seem to see it clearly. It was definitely human, but it was blurred around the edges, and faded in and out. The harder the child strained to make out hair color or facial feature or even gender or height–the more the figure seemed to shift and blur.
“The other people of the town, those beautiful folk, seemed not to see the figure. They walked nearly right through it. They greeted each other, tipping hats and smiling, but never once said anything to the blurry form in their midst.
“For several days the child returned to that spot in the other town and attempted to catch a glimpse of the figure. The first day D. _________ saw no sign of it. But the next two days the child’s efforts were rewarded with the sight of its form, blurring and vibrating and fading and moving through the streets.
“On the third day the child decided to risk discovery and follow the figure once it moved from the vicinity of the building. Ducking behind other buildings and large trees with leaves that seemed to glow, D. _________ hurried along, following the figure, always keeping it within sight–”
Saturday interrupts. “And then the boy–excuse me–the child, comes upon the figure and it turns out to be the ghost of him or her as an adult and the child gets a lesson in it being okay to be different and that the only true beauty is the beauty that comes from inside.” Saturday paused, refilling lungs with air. “You’ve told ones like this one before, Friday.”
“Well,” said Friday calmly, “that is not how this one goes. May I continue?” Silence. “Well, then. D. _________ is following the figure through town, trying not to be seen. The child follows the figure to a quite lonely spot. It appears to be an area of town that is still under construction. No one else seems to be about. Partially completed structures look new and expensive, but abandoned.
“D. _________ watched the figure for some time just blur and vibrate and fade in and out. At one point the child sang only in its own mind its song:
Though my heart,
it may be broken;
And my soul
will be undone
I will never
fear the darkness
Nor the wrath
“Much to D. _________’s surprise, the figure stopped moving and seemed to look over to where the child was hiding. Alarmed, the figure spoke: Who is there? For some reason, the child felt some kinship with this figure, and so stepped from behind a half-built brick wall. ‘I am sorry. I meant no harm. I am from the town next to here and am only visiting here and I…’ But D. _________ could think of nothing else to say, and was somehow aware, despite its blurriness, that the figure’s eyes were upon the child. D. _________ immediately became aware of being so very ugly, and was sure the figure would say something cruel, or laugh, or run away in horror.
“But the figure did none of these things. Instead it spoke gently in a voice that–like its appearance–could not be adequately be perceived. It’s alright. It is only that I thought I heard you singing a song, and– The figure laughed. D. _________ relaxed, though the child did wonder that the figure could hear a song that had only been sung in the mind. Perhaps the figure was magical? Like a fairy godparent like the child had heard of in fairy tales?
“The possibility thrilled the child, enabling boldness. ‘Are you from this town?’ Yes, said the figure, …and no. I work here, and must stay here during the time that I am working. But I am not allowed to be a part of this community. The child’s heart quickened at these words, ‘I, too, am at the same time a part and not a part of my town!’ Somehow, D. _________ knew that the figure was nodding, even amidst the blurring and fading.
“You should see how the townsfolk treat me. They look at me with contempt in their eyes. I am good enough to do the work that they feel themselves too good to do, but not good enough to live among them. Often they will even strike me, sometimes until I bleed, and I am not allowed to defend myself in return.
“Tears pooled in the child’s eyes. D. _________ was remembering a time when, while the child and its mother were walking together, the mother met one of her friends on the street. The other woman kept glancing at the ugly child, who was standing a pace behind the mother. The child knew not to make eye contact, and had stared at the ground praying for invisibility. The mother soon became aware of the other woman’s stares. Turning to the child, she delivered a slap to the face that knocked D. _________ several steps backward. Both women had then begun laughing, then turned to each other to resume their conversation.”
Around the room, all eyes were at the Front. Some eyes threatened to spill tears. The sound of breathing and breathing only filled the room. Monday was vaguely aware that a watch or clock should be consulted, but consulted neither.
Friday began again.
“Mind if I come sit by you? said the figure. I have a ways to go before I reach where I must sleep. The child nodded, excitement building in its chest. The figure drew nearer. D. _________ observed, with some anticipation, that as the figure neared it seemed to blur and fade a little less. Finally the figure drew near enough to the child for the child to finally see it clearly.”
Several of the listeners around the table became aware that they had been holding their breaths. There was then in the room the sound of exhaling. Friday looked around the table, making eye contact with each of them while reciting the next words.
“And what a sight it was. D. _________ was no longer under the delusion that this was some benevolent fairy godparent. The child saw a sight that caused its blood to rush through veins that were nearly bursting to contain it.
“Then…there was a great gnashing sound, with a grinding and ripping mixed in. A scream arose so loudly and so sustained, that it traveled to all the edges of the town. Soon, the sound of running feet: first one pair, then two, then five, until a large crowd of townspeople stood at the abandoned construction area. Their beautiful faces were marred by shock and horror as they gazed down at the ground. Both ground and brick wall were covered with blood and wet bits of what might have been organs, skin, or muscle. Torn fabric mixed in here and there. The air was heavy with fresh death, and already buzzing things had flown in to feast.
“‘God in heaven,” gasped one of the townspeople, a beautiful young woman.
“‘Was it…the ghost again?’
“‘Do not be ridiculous! Surely you do not believe such fanciful tales!’
“Said the first woman, ‘Who is it this time?’
“‘I think it is Tempe Johnstone’s boy. He does her wood chopping and errands. Shame!’
“‘Shame?–surely, not! Merely another Negro. So far no one of consequence has been killed!’
“‘But–but–this time it is a strapping full grown buck! I have seen this one lift twice as much as any normal man! What could have done such a thing to him?’
“The other townsfolk were silent, considering this. Finally, a young man who had been the first to arrive spoke up. ‘The ghost. This I know, for like Joseph Taylor did last time, I heard its song as I arrived at this spot.’ There was some commotion as believers and non argued. ‘Well, what song would that be?’ someone finally challenged.
“The young man looked around, feeling somewhat unsure of himself now that all eyes were on him. ‘I could not make it out just perfect…but it was something like:
I will never fear the darkness, or the wrath of any man…’”
Friday calmly laid both palms onto the table’s surface to signal the tale’s end. No one spoke, or looked away, for some moments. Finally Saturday, in a voice that was intended to be much more confident, said, “I told you we were in for a treat.”
There were a few nods. Monday coughed softly. “Well, then. We are well past our time so I move to adjourn. Saturday, you are next at the Front. And I believe it will be my turn to make the coffee run.” Nods. “So…then…we are adjourned.”
The sound of chairs scraping and cups being crumpled and tossed in the trash bin. They filed out, Monday first, then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday–the last turning around and giving Friday a half wave.
Friday sat in the chair at the Front for a few moments longer, then stood and walked slowly out of the room, flipping down the light switch and closing the door on the way out.
Inspiration: “October in the Chair” by Neil Gaiman, in Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub, 2008, Doubleday.