So, you have come for a tale have you?
A story to pass the time?
A lesson to be learned perhaps?
Well, you’re in luck friend, for I have what you seek right here in the old noggin’
Ah yes, this one takes me back, about fifteen years to be exact.
I remember the day I met that peculiar man as if it were yesterday.
It all happened in a park near my former home in London.
Rain had begun pouring down to earth while I was walking my dog, a small Jack Russell Terrier by the name of Jack, if you’re wondering, and I had decided to take shelter underneath a large, old willow that stood on the edge of a small lake.
Despite the weather I found it rather pleasant outside, especially next to that pond where I could see the rain violently, though elegantly collide with the water to create quite the spectacle.
The old willow protected me and Jack from the cold rain well enough so I decided to take my time, to sit by that tree and be mesmerized by nature’s play.
After sitting there, little Jack on my lap, he suddenly jumped up and stared straight across the water as if startled by something.
I thought he saw some animal darting past, seeking shelter from the downpour as we had, but on further inspection I could make out a human form, though it did seem…
The fundamentals were there, the head and body, but the rest looked off in a way I couldn’t, at the time, explain.
I decided to go over to the mysterious stranger for I feared the worst.
The shape had not moved at all for a good few minutes after reaching the edge of the lake, as if it had collapsed.
I ran towards the figure, Jack following me closely.
Upon reaching the form, now almost entirely covered in mud, I put my hand on what I assumed to be it’s back.
“Who’s there?” A tired, male voice spoke.
“My name is James. Sir, are you alright?”
He hesitated for a moment.
“Could you help me find some cover from the rain? I don’t walk too well, you see.”
I looked at his legs, or rather, where his legs were supposed to be for I could not identify if they were even there or not.
“I’ll take you to the old willow just across the pond. It should give us all more than enough shelter from the rain.” I said while pointing towards the tree I had been sitting under just a moment before.
He seemed very tired, very fragile, so I carefully picked him up and carried him to the willow as fast as I could.
I will admit, I shivered when I placed my arms around him for his anatomy was very odd, as though he were missing a few parts, so to say.
Nevertheless, I kept my word and took him all the way to dry ground where I placed him against the base of the tree where after I too collapsed to the ground in exhaustion.
Jack sat himself down right next to the man almost as though the little dog tried to comfort him.
He gently patted his head as Jack crawled up close.
We stayed there for a good while, me catching my breath and the man looking out over the lake.
Eventually I broke the silence.
“I never got your name.”
Perhaps not the best conversation starter but I had grown more curious than I had, and probably still have manners.
“Call me Vocka.”
He was still peering over the water’s surface, as if some entity lurked on the other side.
“So, ‘Vocka,’ what happened to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… Uhm.” I answered, too embarrassed to make myself clear.
“Do you really want to know?”
He looked straight at me now and I could clearly see his face.
It was a…
He did not look unpleasant, on the contrary, he was a very handsome man however there was something about his eyes.
They seemed cold, dead, soulless even.
“Well?” He asked.
I quickly nodded yes, perhaps a bit overeager.
He placed himself upright, or at least for as far as he could.
It all began long ago.
I was but a naive, little boy.
I had a mother, a father, though no siblings to speak of.
We all lived on an old farm my father had bought to save it from certain demolition as it had once belonged to a dear friend of his, one who had passed only a few months before.
Over time he started bringing in animals, pigs, goats, cows and many more, animals who would otherwise be sent to slaughter as they had outlived their usefulness.
After even more time passed, and the farm had accrued a respectable number of animals, he and my mother decided to dedicate their resources to building an animal sanctuary where all manner of creatures could live out their lives in peace.
I was thrilled with their decision for I loved animals, still do.
Love to look after them, to care for them, to feed them and play with them.
I loved to love.
Beside us there were three other farms nearby.
On one, the smallest, there lived an elderly couple who were mostly retired though they would often visit bringing homemade apple pie, how delicious that was.
On the other there lived another family with three children, two girls and a boy my age with whom I used to play whenever I had time, Jonathan he was called if I’m not mistaken though I could very well be as it has been a long time since I last saw him, saw any of them.
I do not know who lived on the third farm, the largest of them all, but I believe it was a single man who kept very much to himself which was rather curious due to the size of his crop fields, however, at the time, I don’t think anyone every really thought about it and simply let him be.
All in all I was quite happy living on the old farm with my parents.
One day though something peculiar happened.
A traveling circus had set up shop on one of the third farm’s fields.
Nobody knows where they came from for they had come during the late night hours and placed down their attractions before anyone even knew they were there.
I still don’t understand why they chose that field as there was a lot of open, unowned land closer to the nearest town but I didn’t really care then, as naive as I was.
It was new, it was exciting and I just had to go.
And so it happened.
One day, when all work had been done, me, my mother, father and my friend Jonathan went to the circus.
It was, simply put, amazing.
There were clowns, strong men, lions, zebras, snakes, a fortune-teller, more things to see than I could count.
Even now I become giddy with excitement as I tell you this.
However, there was one attraction that changed my life for good.
‘The House of Horrors’ it was called and it was a freak show.
A large, rectangular, black building made out of what I presumed to be simple plywood with a sign hanging above the entrance and on it the ever famous quote, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’
At first I did not dare enter but my friend had dared me and I flat-out refused to be called a ‘chicken’ for the rest of my life, even if I did really like chickens, so I entered.
It was every bit as terrifying to my young mind as I had imagined.
It was very dark with only a few torches illuminating the many, large cages that filled the inside and in them, a Siamese twin, a man whose eyes hung in a glass of water, a woman who ate live snakes and many, many more.
I rushed on through, wanting to leave that place of horror, until, near the end of terrifying journey, I walked past a cage that initially seemed empty.
A dark, formless void filled the inside, unmoving and unchanging, yet I remained there, staring into the black.
I wanted to leave but something kept me there, some unseen force, some sudden spike of curiosity.
“Aren’t you going to leave?” The voice of a girl said, piercing through the dark.
I jumped back in fear and fell.
A gasp came from the cage and I could hear a nervous rustling sound.
I crawled back up as fast as my shaky legs would allow and spoke.
“My name is Vocka, what’s yours?”
It was a very soft reply, almost a whisper.
“Crystal? That’s a strange name!”
“So is yours.”
I paused for a moment as I was not sure what to say next.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“No silly, I mean why are you here? In this attraction?”
“Because I have to.”
“Because I’m a freak…”
I could hear sobbing attempting to be held back.
It sounded so soft, so fragile.
“Are you alright? I’m sorry I asked!”
“Do you want a hug?”
I froze the moment those words had ventured past my lips.
What had I said?
Who in their right mind offers a random person a hug?
A person like her no less?!
It was quiet for a moment.
“Okay…” She replied hesitantly.
I approached her cage, very slowly, very carefully, step by step.
My arms outstretched I reached out into the formless void inside.
Rustling noises came from the back of the cage.
My heart was pounding, fear and doubt filled my mind as my arms trembled.
The rustling came closer, slowly, almost as if she had to crawl towards me.
Then I saw her.
Slowly she came into the light of the flickering torch, her white hair dragging behind her as she crawled towards me, her body covered in a long, black cloth she wore almost as a cape, covering everything from the shoulders down.
I stood frozen in place, no longer shaking, nothing.
She crawled into my arms and I embraced her.
Her head lay against the cage bars, her hair caressed my face.
My heart was broken.
She wept softly, tears of joy.
I stood there, this girl, this fragile soul crying in my arms.
After what had seemed like aeons, though still too short, she let go.
I collapsed to the floor.
That girl, the so-called ‘freak’ who spends her days in the dark, locked away from the outside world had stolen my heart.
I knew, from that once embrace, that I loved her, that I had to be with her.
“Are you okay? Did I scare you…?” She asked, her voice trembling.
Quickly I leapt back on my feet.
“No, no, it’s just…”
I didn’t tell her for I was far too embarrassed to tell her the truth.
“I have to go now.”
She fought hard to hide her sorrow though her attempts were futile.
“I will be back tomorrow! If you want me to, that is.”
“Of course I would!”
The first time I saw her smile, the best day of my life.
I walked to the exit, or more like stumbled for I was still a bit light-headed when I heard a voice speak to me.
“You’re a kind young man.”
It was an old woman, at least 80 years old and blind as a bat with milky white eyes.
“She deserves all the kindness she can get for a lonely life is no destiny for an angel like her.”
I visited her each and every day after that.
Work was hard on the farm but every moment I could I would rush to ‘The House of Horrors’ and talk to Crystal.
We would talk about me, about the farm, about animals.
Sometimes, though not often, she would tell me about her life before the circus, before she became an attraction for passers-by to gawk at.
She didn’t say much but she did tell me that once she led a normal life as the daughter of the circus’ owner.
She had always been deformed for she was born that way, her legs half missing and her bones twisted, but her parents loved her nonetheless, loved her with all their heart.
When she was four though, they vanished.
The police suspected foul play, she told me, however they had no leads and could do nothing.
Both of them were simply assumed dead.
A new owner quickly came and kept Crystal as an attraction, as a ‘freak.’
I would never press on about her past for she got very upset talking about it, so I let it rest.
After every visit to her the old woman would tell me of how lonely Crystal was before I came and how happy she is now.
How she wept softly when I was gone and crawled through her cage in excitement when she heard someone enter.
Often she’d be disappointed, the visitor being another individual come to gaze at the monsters, but when it was me she would hug me as if I’d been gone for years.
This went on until the 8th day.
“We’re leaving soon…” She told me.
I felt the ground collapse under my feet as I fell into the abyss below.
Leaving, I had completely forgotten that the circus, once finished, would travel on to other lands.
“Will you return? Here I mean.” I asked.
“No, we never visit a location twice…”
She sounded so sad, her body shaking ever so slightly as a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Silence, the most horrible, dead silence I had ever experienced.
“We won’t see each other again, will we?” She asked, her body trembling as she uttered those words.
What should I have said?
Tell her the cold, hard truth?
A soul so kind?
No, I lied.
“Of course we will! And do you know why?”
She looked at me, a glimmer of hope shining bright in her eyes.
“Because I like like you…”
She seemed shocked at first, which scared me, but then she began curling her long, white hair with her right hand, her good hand, and smiled.
“I like like you too…”
We hugged and I kissed her cheek, gently caressing her head.
She cried, tears streaming down her face.
“My dad used to tell me…” She said in between the crying.
“As long as there is someone to love you, care for you, nothing else matters.”
Now I too broke out in tears.
We hugged and cried and even the other cages, usually silent, produced soft sobbing sounds.
“I must go now.”
“Will I truly see you again?”
“Of course you will!”
We smiled at each other, gave a final hug and I left for the exit.
I was then met by a familiar voice.
“A lonely life is no life for an angel.” The old woman said.
“But what can I do? I don’t want to leave her!”
“I do not know child, unfortunately, but what I do know is that a wingless angel is doomed to die…”
Doomed to die.
I looked back towards Crystal’s cage.
She saw me, smiled and waved.
My heart broke again.
I could not bring myself to leave her, but there was only one way we could be together.
The rain had long since stopped but I was so enthralled with Vocka’s story I hadn’t even noticed.
“What happened next Vocka?”
“Can’t you see?!” He exclaimed seemingly angry.
I looked at him.
His legs were missing, his left hand partly gone and a few ribs were pointing outward at abnormal angles.
“And, what happened to Crystal?”
He sighed deeply, a single tear rolled down his face.
I was brought to my cage, more dead than alive.
All I could think about was Crystal, even as I was in horrible pain and almost passed out from the morphine the carnies had given me.
I could endure any pain, any torment as long as I could see her, could see her smile.
When I awoke the next morning her cage was gone.
I screamed, I yelled, I smashed and cried.
After a while the circus manager came to me, a small, fat man with greasy hair and a short, pointy mustache.
“Yes?! Why in the name of the Lord are you making such infernal noise?!”
“WHERE IS SHE?!” I screamed.
He looked behind him to the spot where Crystal’s cage stood the night before.
“Ah yes, we sold her off.”
“YOU SOLD HER?!”
“Well, actually, it was Agatha’s idea.”
Agatha, the old woman.
She had tricked me.
Her sweet words, her pleas to me to never leave, all an act setup for me to be caged as yet another beast.
Crystal was broken, lifeless, she had given up, but before the old hag could further her plans she needed a new freak, a new attraction to replace the broken one.
She had found her fool.
Days later I managed to escape and went on a rampant search for Crystal throughout the whole of England, Wales and Scotland.
I searched high and low for her…
“Did you find her?”
“Where was she?”
“Buried in Dornoch, Scotland.”
A single tear rolled down his cheek.
I looked at the man, broken, tired, full of sorrow and I pitied him, for the first time.
“Vocka, why are you here?”
“I wandered around Scotland for a while, then back to England. I live without reason, without a purpose. Without wings.”
I did not know what to say.
What do you say to one doomed to die?
To someone who has lost the only thing they ever cared about, they ever could care about.
“A wingless angel is doomed to die, James.”
He turned to me and looked me straight in the eyes, his filled with tears.
“You are a good man James, though I must ask you for a favour that no good man could ever fulfill.”
He trembled as he spoke.
“Would you leave me be? Here, under the willow tree.”
I knew what he meant and I hesitated.
It was no small request, even if I only just met him, asking a man such a thing…
“Thank you…” He replied, a glimmer in his eyes.
I left him there, under that willow tree next to the lake.
They found him the next day, his body floating on the water.
They questioned me as there had been people who had seen us talk the previous day, though I was soon freed of all suspicion as they determined the cause of death being suicide as no struggle had occurred.
I moved afterwards, no longer able to live so close to that park, to the place where Vocka told me of his life, of his love, of his loss.
Do I feel guilty for leaving him there?
I am very much to blame for his death.
The only peace I can find, my friend, is in the fact that Vocka and Crystal once more lay arm in arm, buried in Dornoch, Scotland.