The Child Of Stone
Once upon a mountain, past the green hills to Westbrick Village, a mortifying tale was brought to life. It did not revolve around a fair princess or a gallant hero; it did not even include the usual talking creature. It was something far more interesting, something that needed to be told. The story that terrified villagers for years to come: the tale of the child of stone.
It all started on a sunny day, not too hot and not too cold, but just right for common villagers to carry out their normal activities. Susan Carridge and her daughter walked around the village, bee-lining their way to the market, while Mrs. Carridge told any who would hear about so-and-so's affair or the boy who did this-or-that. She was quite a busy mouth. Glory Robinstock and her son were also out and about that day, buying fish for supper. Mr. Robinstock, known affectionately as Joe, was at his bakery earning money for his family. Anne Willing wandered around, lost and scared, trying to find her aunt. She was a sweet creature by nature and her aunt was her only living relative, which made her rather miserable. But our story is not about any of these, hardly delightful, villagers. Our story is about what they saw and what they told on that perfectly common day.
Always the troublemaker, John Robinstock had escaped his mother's grasp as soon as she got distracted. He had dashed away to the edge of the village with the devilish glee only a child can conjure. Emily Carridge had followed him, because her mother really did not care; Mrs. Carridge just wanted her fish. Anne had seen the two kids from a distance and, as any kid with an innate lack of reason would have done, she ran to them to ask about her aunt. It was exactly at some time in between noon and afternoon when they found themselves together, next to a row of green, green tress. The border of the village nobody talked about. Of course, none of them thought of this, because it was in a child's nature to forget everything and anything relevant and not fun.
"Excuse me," Anne said, shy and delicate.
Emily, who was a year older than Anne, looked at her with infantile disdain and tried extra hard to be offensive.
"What do you want, Anne?" John asked, uninterested.
Such a response to poor Anne's question would have been considered rude by anybody else. However, John, who was eight years old and starting to like girls, was actually being polite, because he thought Anne had the prettiest smile in the village. The idiotic boy did not know how to be nice properly.
"I was wondering if you had seen Aunt Regina, I'm afraid she's lost me."
"I haven't," Emily responded immediately, with the sharp tone of someone who did not like you. She was a nasty child.
John shook his head, but smiled a row of teeth only missing one. "I'll look for her from the top of a tree," he exclaimed, his dirty face beaming with self-satisfaction.
It was a terrible idea, of course, but Anne was all too eager to find her aunt and Emily too overwhelmed with frustration. She dreaded how much attention John bestowed upon little Anne Willing.
"John," was Emily's screech, "You don't have to do that for her!"
Anne looked worried at that. What if she never found her aunt? But she did not retort, she was too scared of vicious Emily to say anything. John, like any little boy would, ignored them both and focused on something far more interesting. Something only his curious eyes could see.
"There is a kid hidden in the bushes!" He shouted to the girls once he was sufficiently high up on the tree.
One bush shook with violence as if responding to John's call. Emily stepped ahead, frowning at the green leaves, as John jumped down from the tree. They both edged toward the bushes, fearless and foolish. Anne stayed in her spot, too bewildered to run backward or forward.
"Who's there?" John asked
The bushes shook again, producing a hushing sound that should have been a warning.
It was then that Emily, who had always been a temerarious child and wanted to attract John's attention, reached out and grabbed a fist full of leaves form the bush, making a hole in the plant. Neither of them could quite understand when they found themselves staring at two earnest blue eyes looking up longingly from a cold, childish face of stone.
Emily covered her little mouth, too terrified to even scream. John looked away disgusted in the innocent way of the young. But it was Anne Willing who found the courage to look straight into that pretty stone face. Even after the boy with the face of stone ran away and the three of them went back to the village to tell what they had seen, Anne would not forget those eyes that had not seen her.
And that was how this story began.
A strange kind of calmness always surrounded Westbrick Village. It floated around and covered it like a fragile cocoon protecting sweet normality. Villagers rummaged around the same paths their ancestors had once walked on, blissfully unaware of the fact, for better or worse. No norm had been changed since The Beginnings, no rule hanging on the door of the salon ever broken.
Well, except for that time: The day forever confined away in the minds of many. The day those three troublesome kids brought shame –or, be it forbidden, excitement– to the Village. The day that did not quite exist but was always present. Indeed, rules had not changed, but a ghost one had been added: No one spoke of the day the boy with the stone face was seen.
For the most part, no one needed to be reminded of this, who would want to remember such a thing? But every other year, someone had to receive a stern look for having such a foul disposition. Someone aptly named Anne Willing.
"You have grown out of you mind, child," Regina Willing said decisively, casting a glance at the deviant young girl sitting in front of her.
Anne lowered her gaze to the floor, positively afraid of looking directly at her aunt.
Truth was, Anne had flourished into the exact opposite of what the word deviant would entail. She was obedient, respectful, and never too loud. She carried herself like a proper lady, with soft dark curls that framed her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were a light green that only hinted at her devoted character.
But, as Regina, a woman who had never married for good reasons, looked at her brother's daughter, she noticed exactly what the problem was. The girl's mouth, such a mocking feature that smiled as if hiding the secrets of the world. Much to Regina's distress, the offending thing dared express opinions, in public, nonetheless. Ladies with a mind behind their wishful eyes stayed single no matter how pretty they were, everybody knew, but Regina would not see the name of her dear brother tainted because of Anne.
"You need to stop contradicting your elders, for heavens sake!" Regina repeated. "They shall send you away to be treated with the insane or," She did the sign of the cross, "they could exile you to the woods, like Crazy Lydia."
In the village, Crazy Lydia was a legend. She had been vanished to the woods for practicing witchcraft, forced to walk away from all she knew as pools of blood formed around her young figure. Her black magic turned against her, the villagers had said smugly. That Regina dared to talk about Crazy Lydia meant that she was serious.
"You need to apologize."
Anne did not respond nor looked up, but her mouth twisted in anger. She did not want to apologize. The elders were wrong.
It had all really started two weeks before, when the villagers woke up to find the barns open and the fruit in the market gone. It was, for them, shocking and unforgivable. A search was conducted to find who had done it: the elders and respectable men of the village had interrogated everybody, threatening to take away the children if someone did not confess.
Mr. Shire had been the one to crack.
Mr. Shire was a nice, middle-aged man who sold potatoes and lettuce in the market, he had a wife and three kids under the age of seven, and he had been deadly afraid of losing them. But Anne knew he was innocent because she had seen who had really done all the damage, and she had told the elders so. They, nasty old men of crooked walk, had not paid attention, but instead dismissed Anne and told Aunt Regina about "the impertinence of her niece".
Any other young adult would have demanded some respect, some justice. But not Anne Willing. The ways of obedience had been carved into her little mind when she was young and impressionable –and, as was the case of every well-raised child, it was now far too late to reverse the damage of discipline.
"I shall be more careful, Aunt Regina."
"It won't do to just be careful, child. You must forget all those silly ideas. I really don't understand how you could make up such things."
Anne's eyes snapped to her aunt's face with such firmness that you would not believe how well mannered she truly was. It was then that she said what she should not have.
"I'm not making anything up. It is the stone child who takes things from the village." She had seen him.
Regina stood in silence for a second. A heavy, dense moment that made Anne feel like dying.
"Such silliness," was all Regina said at the end, in a calm and deadly voice. "Go get some tomatoes for supper, darling. We are in charge of the vegetables for tonight."
Anne nodded and scrambled her way out of their little house and into the open, dusty space of unorganized houses and shops that was Westbrick Village. She walked slowly to the market, zigzagging around the people getting ready for tonight's supper, just like Aunt Regina.
Tonight was not anything special, really, but it was special enough for the villagers. It was Community Supper, the night of the week when they all ate together like a proper, oversized family. Anne dreaded it, but so did most kids.
"But if it isn't Anne," the sweetest of all voices called.
Anne trembled almost imperceptibly and, smile on her face, greeted Emily Carridge. At seventeen years of age, Emily had grown to be a most delightful girl of clear eyes and small figure. Yet, lovely as she was, she remained the greedy child of old days.
"How is your family?" Anne asked.
"Quite well," Emily intoned. "I'm sure you heard that my brother George has gotten engaged."
"I heard," Anne said, noticing with some worry that Emily had started to walk with her. "Please give him my congratulations, I didn't have half a mind to send him a letter."
That was a lie. Anne was certainly not of extraordinary brightness, but she was horribly attentive and always had a thought for everything and everybody.
"Of course you didn't, sweetheart." Emily looked concerned, an expression that did not fit her face well. "What, with the commotion you caused with the elders! My John was terribly ashamed for you."
"I'm sorry he should be ashamed," Anne responded gently, her little heart squeezing tight at the mention of John.
John Robinstock, that bad-mannered child of old days, had grown to be quite a good-looking gentleman, and one of Anne's closest friends. But those days, she hardly saw him at all, for he was constantly courting the alluring Emily.
"Well, I must go back to Mother now," Emily announced, stopping in front of a little shop without a roof, one of the victims of 'Mr. Shire's' supposed nocturne activities.
Anne nodded in the most understated way she could muster. "Nice to see you, Emily. My regards to your family."
Emily frowned faintly, creating little lines of displeasure all over her face. "Same to yours," she said. Then, she smiled. "To your Aunt, that is."
Such was the nature of Emily Carridge.
It took Anne not more than half an hour to buy the reddest, roundest tomatoes she saw. By then, the whispering breeze of mid-afternoon and the buzzing of the villagers had incited her to wander around instead of going back to her aunt, like she should have.
It was in that way that her feet, like anybody's feet would do if left without directions, took her to a familiar place that could almost be called home. Anne Willing stood defiantly at the border of the village as the rest of the people, in the market and their houses, carried on unaware of her insolence. Mr. Shire was in his house, dolefully preparing his part of the Community Supper he would not attend. Mrs. Carridge was in the market, chatting with her daughter Emily while she looked for eggs. Mr. Robinstock was locked in that dark room in the back of his house he tended to frequent, thinking of things that shall not be mentioned yet.
And Anne, pretty Anne, still stood selfishly at the border, the sun setting at her right, oblivious to the peace she would soon break.
An audacious crack pierced the silence, making Anne turn. It had come from the other side of the bushes, where the joyful greenery of the trees blurred with background eeriness. She walked one, two, three steps closer to that forbidden boundary and peered.
For a moment, Anne did not see anything, like eyes not used to darkness, but then she caught a faint movement. It was a figure, distant and quick to hide, so covered in clothes that she almost did not know who it was. Except for the arms, which moved stiffly and were unevenly gray, like a drawing that had not all been colored the same way.
It was the custom that on that night the voices of the villagers overwhelmed all other noise. Not even the fire, viciously burning a dead pig could be heard, only seen, while everybody enjoyed the Community Supper. And those who did not eat, mostly for vain reasons, would amuse themselves by starting rumors that would never die out. The most recent one –rumor, that is– had to do with Regina Willing, for it was said that the old woman had a particular attachment to cats. And it was of common knowledge that only those who could not love were fond of such selfish animals.
"Poor Anne Willing," they would say quietly, or not.
But Anne was not there to hear their pitying comments. She had been sent by her aunt to get her special cutting knife from their home. Awful timing it was, considering what would happen, and if Anne had known, she would not have left.
The villagers were just a little past the middle of the dinner, when the voices were at their loudest and nobody was yet tired. Maybe that was why they were not prepared.
Eyes like blue glass stared at the scene unfolding, only vaguely understanding its meaning. Those tormenting eyes locked gaze with a little boy, innocent creature, who turned to his mom, confused.
"Mom," the child said, barely audible. "That man over there is gray."
The mother turned and saw. The events that followed where so slow and tense that one could not help but wonder where the manners of the villagers had gone. That mother, the first adult to see him, let out a choked yelp, which attracted the attention of the man next to her. He, in turn, fell silent. His neighbor, who so happened to be John Robinstock, the gentleman, noticed the lack of sound and looked.
That was really what started it all.
Soon enough, John stood, his fists clenched and his eyes wide open gazing back at someone who was almost a childhood friend. The villagers frowned at John for interrupting the dinner so abruptly; but, before anybody could say anything, another sound was heard.
"It's that child of the devil!" It was the Mother, who had managed to yell properly.
Naturally, she was wrong, because the one who had once been a child was no longer. Still, the villagers understood, but so did that young man, and before they could react, he was already slithering away from them. He knew his way around the village, and he was one while the villagers were many and had to get organized. If it had not been so, he would not have escaped. But he did, in a way, when he barged into that little house with one light on and the girl coming out of the kitchen.
It was Anne Willing, of course, since obedient girls are the ones that trouble followed. She stood there, knife in hand, and her pretty face framed by those back curls. Foolish girl she was, Anne dropped the knife in shock. She could not have reacted any other way, having that stone man so close for inspection.
He looked so strange and yet so normal, with gray, hard-looking skin that could have been mistaken for ordinary under a different light. The light of the house, however, cruelly revealed the irregularities and cracks of the surface. His eyes were almost human, but not quite, and stood out on his stone face as two irises made of blue glass with the whitest of whites surrounding them.
They were unsettling and made Anne, always the detailed one, wonder what happened to the innocent orbs she had seen so long ago.
"Why are you here?" She asked after much silent deliberation.
"My mother sent me."
Anne jumped at his response, surprised that he could talk at all. But it was mostly the sound of his voice, which was both entrancing and repelling, that made her shake in fear. If Anne had been a little brighter, or maybe more like the other villagers, she would have realized that leaving then was the best option. Fortunately, she did not.
"Why –why did she send you? Why were you stealing from the village?" She pried on.
He eyed her warily, and perhaps only answered because of the faint recognition of years ago. "She said she wanted your people to see me. She wanted them to know of me."
"Because of what they did to her."
Anne left out a soft 'Oh' in acknowledgement.
"I have seen you before," the stone man continued in that strange voice of his. "What is your name?"
"Anne Willing," she complied, moving a step closer to him. "What is yours?"
He shrugged in a movement that almost seemed to make him fall apart; and Anne, who was watching carefully, saw a little dust fall off him –rather, from him.
"I don't have a name."
"Didn't your mother give you one?" She inquired, cautious of mentioning his mother. She had just enough sense to know no good could come out of that.
He shook his head. "Lydia calls me Little Bastard, but says that is not a name."
Anne gasped in horror and he smiled spitefully, because he knew not of any other way to smile and he always smiled when he saw things he liked. He did not, however, know why she was so distressed.
"Crazy Lydia is your mother? But she is dead!"
His spiteful smile grew. "She's certainly not dead. I live with her behind the woods."
It made sense to Anne that such a creature would be from the forbidden forest, born of a mother exiled from the village for witchcraft. It was all perfectly sordid and exciting for her.
Only that Lydia had not really been a witch –but nobody knew that. Except for Mr. Robinstock who had accused her of being so after taking advantage of her and impregnating her with a child that was meant to die.
Distant sounds came in through the window, half a hundred men marching together, searching. Stomp, stomp, they went, with torches and knives ready to kill.
"They are looking for you," Anne stated.
He nodded, walking past her to the window. Impudent child she was, Anne followed to see him force the window open. It was unreasonable to think that he should be able to do that being that the window had been securely locked. But as he grabbed the frame and left the mark of his fingers indented in it, reason started to make very little sense.
"You room is not like Emily's," he said, looking around for a moment.
"No, it's not," Anne responded.
Even Anne, who was not exceptionally sharp, should have caught on the meaning behind his words. But, being that the thrill of the escape was clouding her perception, it would not be fair to condemn her for lack of attentiveness.
"Anne," the young man of stone called from the other side of the window. "What are you doing? Your people will be here soon. We need to go now."
Anne's green eyes widened, making her look prettier.
"I can't go with you."
His face changed into what could almost be called a frown, but one could never be sure, for expression lines cannot be seen well in faces of stone.
"You can't stay here," he said. "They'd know you helped me."
It was true, of course, that Anne was in danger. But that man made of stone would have hardly cared if it had been any other person. It was because it was Anne, and because he had begun to like her delicate features and twisting mouth that he worried, even just a little, about her safety.
"I can't go with you," Anne repeated, a dull response that was not very sure of itself. "You don't even have a name!"
"That isn't relevant." The sounds from the marching men came to them, louder than before. "You can call me whatever you want, Anne. We have to go."
The stone man fixed her with his glassy stare and Anne saw a hint of that longing of before. So then, what else could poor Anne Willing do?
It did not take long to get Anne through the window, and, quicker than the stomping of the men could approach, they ran to the edge of the village. The young man of stone was faster than Anne, but his steps were heavy and left a trail that would clearly indicate the way. Neither of them paid attention to that, of course, for they were much too young to be too careful.
He dashed through the bushes into that ominous forest, but Anne stopped short. She could not go through, as was expected. Good education kept her away from that place, hanging to the corners of her mind that had not yet been corrupted.
"Hurry," the young man pressed.
Anne shook her head, terrified of what she was about to do.
"You can't stay here," he insisted and stretched out his hand for her.
Even now, nobody knows why she did it. But Anne took his cold hand made of stone and crossed to the forest, stripping away all the good things she had been taught. That night, they both ran into the forbidden darkness, the Child of Stone and the Girl Who Disappeared.
N/A: Thoughts, anybody? I submitted this for a creative writing class, so feedback is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for reading!