Sebastian led us to the elevator, and I was fascinated with the concept. So much here I had only read about, and I got to finally experience it. Fortunately, there was no one else around as we rose to the third floor. We stepped out into a corridor carpeted in rich, blue splendor and lined with heavy wooden chairs with blue cushions. It was filled with more than a few people. The first man we saw as we exited the elevator smiled at us and tipped his hat to the doctor in greeting, but when his eyes flicked to me, his left one twitched and his eyebrows disappeared into his hair. This was the most reserved response I received during the seemingly interminable trip down the hallway.
The ladies we passed, without exception, gasped and either turned away or raised their hand to their eyes. I heard them mumbling after we passed, and at one point, the word “hideous” embedded itself in my brain and played over and over and over. It was spoken by a lovely young woman in a yellow dress who looked to be not much older than me. She whispered it to her male companion once they were behind us, but I heard her clearly.
By the time we reached the door to our suite, I was seething inside, but I hoped that none of it was showing on the outside. I found that this was not the case, however, as Sebastian placed our suitcases inside the room, accepted the doctor’s tip, and, with one last glance at me, left the room, shutting the door behind him.
“You know, Erik,” the doctor said suddenly, “if you want people to think you are a monster, kept staring them down like that.”
I had been looking at the door, but my head snapped around at his words, and I knew that I was glaring at him. “What else am I supposed to do? Smile sweetly at them when they insult me behind my back?” My anger simmered deep within me, and I couldn’t control my words. “Shall I cringe and flinch at every nasty look or comment I get? Do you like me better that way?”
Doctor Clark frowned deeply as he took one step toward me. “Of course not, Erik,” he said in a tight voice as if he was struggling to control himself as well. “But I don’t like this angry boy either. If you let things get to you like this, you’ll only make yourself and everyone around you miserable. You are an incredibly gifted young man, both mentally and artistically. Some people will refuse to see past your scar, but that only shows their ignorance, not your unworthiness. It shouldn’t affect you one way or the other.”
I scoffed loudly. “Some people? How about everyone, Doctor? Tell me that you saw one single person who didn’t look at me like I was a freak.”
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I trust you mean other than myself.”
My glare intensified. “Yes,” I grunted, “other than you. The girl behind the counter downstairs looked like she wanted to cry, the ladies in the hallway thought I was hideous, and even the men looked shocked.” I stalked past him and started to pace, my hands clasped tightly behind my back. “This was a mistake.”
“What was, Erik?”
I stopped and looked at him as if he was as ignorant as he had accused those others of being. “Coming here, leaving the house, subjecting myself to this ridicule and contempt.” With another scoff I stalked past him to the windows and dropped my head as my hands tightened into fists.
Soft footsteps approached me from behind, and the doctor laid a hand on my shoulder, but I rudely shrugged it off.
For the first time, I knew that the anger in the doctor’s voice was directed at me, but I didn’t care. In the part of my brain that was still logical, I knew that he would never hurt me, and, although I knew I was hurting him, I couldn’t seem to tamp down the fury coursing through me enough to stop. I kept my hands in fists and shoved them under my arms.
All of a sudden, I was spun around, and I threw my arms out to stop myself from falling. When I was stable, the doctor’s hand was back on my shoulder, and I saw that he was very angry indeed.
“If there is one thing I will not tolerate from you, Erik, it’s rudeness,” he said, his eyebrows drawn together and his lips tight.
The thought that I would normally be terrified in this situation flashed through my brain, but I was too far out of control for it to stick, and then I said something that I instantly regretted.
“If you were my father, I might care what you think.”
Doctor Clark’s eyes went wide, and his jaw dropped as he took a shaky step backwards. My own eyes widened as well, and then, before he could say anything, I ran past him, threw the door open, and sprinted down the hallway and the staircase, oblivious to the people around me.
“Erik! Stop, please!”
His voice sounded strange through the pounding in my ears, and it faded quickly as I moved farther and farther away from him.
I didn’t know how far I ran or to where, but eventually I found myself standing on a street corner, gasping for breath with my hands on my knees. I was horrified to discover that tears were streaming down my face, and I hastily wiped my hands across my cheeks, flinching when my fingers crossed my scar. When I could breathe normally, I stood up straight and looked around me. Nothing looked familiar, and I realized I was completely and utterly lost, even more than I had been in the forest.
The street I was on was definitely not one of the nicer ones we had driven through to get to the hotel. There were not as many people around, and those who were there had dirtier, coarser clothing and dirtier, fiercer faces. A cold dread began to seep into me as I turned a slow circle and saw that many of the lights along the street seemed to be broken, and that the gloom that permeated everything I saw seemed to be getting darker. I scanned the area and then, determined not to let anyone see me as a victim, I straightened to my full height, squared my shoulders, and chose a direction to walk. I had no idea if this would take me back to nicer surroundings or only deeper into the dark, but I had to keep moving. If I stood still, the darkness would suffocate me, and I would never escape.
I only got three blocks before I stopped cold. Ahead of me about a block and a half, I saw movement in the mouth of an alley. I squinted my eyes against the fading light and tried to make out the two people who were standing there, shrouded by the shadows. The man was large, looming like a phantom in the murky dusk, and my breath caught in my throat as I thought that he might be lying in wait for me to pass. The woman with him was just as ethereal as he was, and she barely came to his shoulder, but something about her caught my attention. When she saw me look at her, one hand came up as if in entreaty, but the man clasped one hand firmly on her shoulder and drew her back into the shadows. She struggled against him, but to no avail. As she disappeared around the corner of the building, I heard her cry out.
Everything stopped. Time. Breath. Heart. Life.
Eons passed as my mind struggled with the reality that the voice of my mother was floating toward me from a filthy alleyway in Knoxville, Tennessee and that my father was taking her away from me yet again. Only a split second passed before I took off after her in a run.
I rounded the corner of the alley in time to see my parents round the one at the other end. Fate was unkind to me as this scenario was repeated twice more. Finally, I saw people moving at the end of the fourth alleyway, and I knew that my father would not be able to move as quickly. I raced to the spot where they had disappeared from my sight and came skidding to a halt as I found myself on the curb of a busy street, people moving around me on the sidewalk and cars crowding the street. I frantically scanned the crowd, but there was no sign of either of my parents. The people who passed me at first looked at me with concern, but almost instantly, they skirted a wide path around me.I could only imagine how I looked. Between the tears, the sweat, the shock, and my telltale scar, I was sure I was a frightful mess. I ignored the stares, the glances, the whispers, and the gasps as I slowly began to walk down the sidewalk, my head swiveling back and forth as I tried to catch just one glimpse of my mother. At one point, I thought I saw my parents about a block ahead of me, and I began to run again, but as I got closer, I realized it was not them. In that moment, I gave up hope, leaned back against a wall, and dropped my head in my hands.