1865 Milford, Ohio
When Aaron was born, one of the midwives ran out of the room screaming.
The other women in attendance looked at each other grimly as they wrapped up the howling infant. The mother, Betsy Livingstone, was so weak, and had lost so much blood during the birthing ordeal, the women were worried she would die. She held on for three days. Long enough to see her deformed son’s face. She touched his cleft palate tenderly and ran her fingers over the smear of a nose (two holes actually) and traced the deep creases on the left side of his face that stretched his eye into a slit. He didn’t have ears, just holes where they should have been.
On the last day of her life she dictated a letter to her sister giving her all of her possessions and tasking her with raising the baby boy (she named him Charles after his father who was away fighting Confederates). In the event the baby’s father never returned, she would also get the deed to the three-story house built-in grand Italianate Victorian style. It was the biggest and grandest house in the county. In addition, it had a special tower that rose 5 stories from the basement to the observation room at the top.
Charles was raised away from prying eyes. Only family, friends, and servants ever saw him. As a young boy he wandered through the great house with its lavish furnishings and rooms full of paintings, playing secret little games and living in an alternate world. One where he was accepted despite his terrible appearance, and could play with other children…and things, without censor.
Private tutors taught him to read and write at an early age. He was a fast learner and quickly graduated to math, physics, the social sciences, and chemistry. His aunt Loretta saw to it that Charles always had the best she could provide for him. His father never came home from the war. One of his comrades came by one day and said he was with him when he died at Gettysburg, and gave Loretta his few belongings. She, in turn, made out a will giving everything to Charles when she died. She never considered getting married. She knew what suitors would think when they saw Charles. They’d treat him like a freak.
As the year’s rambled on in a slow but livable pace, Loretta and Charles were inseparable. She was the one person in the world who didn’t cringe when she looked at him. He always saw love in her eyes. Unlike the fear, loathing, and suspicion he noticed in others. Doctors. Tutors. Servants. They all stared at him when they thought he wasn’t looking. He’d caught them all numerous times, and it made him feel like an exotic creature that should be displayed in a zoo.
Charles’ world almost came to an end when Loretta died from the consumption. He refused to eat and had her body displayed in a coffin in the parlor for a week. Never leaving her side. When the family stepped in and took care of the burial arrangements he sat in the top of the tower until the funeral was over, and everyone went home. All but one of his servants elected to leave. Old John lived in the house when Betsy gave birth to Charles and was content to stay with him as long as he lived. Grief became a constant companion, and after a while it descended into anger and bitterness with the world that rejected him because of his looks. He still managed to find a place in his heart for his aging servant who made him meals and did light cleanup. When Old John was too weak to walk up the twisting staircase to the top of the tower where Charles spent most of his time, he came up with a dumb-waiter system that spared him from dutifully hobbling up it everyday. When the day came that Old John couldn’t get out of his bed, Charles stayed by his side and nursed him until he took his last breath. Because he had no known relatives, Charles buried him in a plot in the back of the house where Loretta, and his mother and father were resting. Only a priest attended the funeral. Two young men Charles paid to dig the grave and cover it up afterwards, stood nearby sweating in the heat of the hot Ohio afternoon.
After that, it was just Charles. He paid a nearby farmer’s 11-years-old son to go into town and get him supplies once a month. Money was one thing Charles didn’t have to worry about. The family safe contained the savings from two generations of Livingstone’s who had invested wisely and never trusted a bank. Gold bars. Assorted Bank notes. Golden Certificates backed by the government, cash, and heirloom jewelry was his insurance against poverty. And from going out into a hostile world.
The only time he left the house was at dusk when he would wander through the nearby forest for hours. Long into the night. He grew use to the animal sounds and they to him as he walked through the forest like an apparition. When the weather was too bad to go out, he sat at the top of his tower and watched the wind and rain batter the large glass panels in elemental fury. On some nights he studied the stars through his telescope and dreamed of other worlds. It was a lonely life.
It was a normal quiet day in downtown Milford when the outlaws rode into town. All three had long black dusters on and were carrying Winchester rifles. They rode their horses up to the bank and casually dismounted. After tying them up on the wooden railing they all strolled inside, still carrying their rifles. A keen-eyed deputy sitting outside the barber shop spotted the men and suspected them of being outlaws. He passed the word around to the townspeople.
By the time the outlaws came outside every able man in Milford had a rifle trained on the front of the bank. The sheriff shouted out for the men to surrender and then he saw the little girl in the arms of one of the outlaws.
“Hold your fire!” he screamed. A few shots rang out and then stopped. One of the shots hit an outlaw and he slumped in his saddle as another one pulled up alongside him on his horse and steadied him. The whole town watched them ride out of sight into the dense forest nearby. The sheriff put a posse together, but it was getting dark and impossible to track the outlaws in the night. The girl’s name was Judy and she was blind. Her parents were grief-stricken. Members of the community stayed up with them all night.
Instead of putting distance between the town and themselves, the outlaws chose to stay close and circled around in the forest looking for a place to hide out. Then they saw a light that appeared to be hovering high in the distance. On the outskirts of the forest they stumbled across the Livingstone house. None of the men had ever seen a house that big and were awed by the tower. They could plainly see someone in it. Taking their horses to a nearby barn, the outlaws lowered their comrade to the ground on a pile of straw. He’d been bleeding profusely and lost a lot of blood on the trail. One of the men stayed in the barn with the wounded man. The other, holding Judy tightly by her arm, went over to the house. The outlaw had his pistol out as they walked up the steps of the porch to the front door. It was dark inside. The only light inside came from the top of the tower and filtered down the winding stairs to a faint glow.
The outlaw, who went by Cherokee Pete, stepped inside the dark entryway, pulling the reluctant little girl along with him. There didn’t appear to be anyone else home. He looked at the grand stairway, took a better hold of Judy’s hand, and began ascending the marble stairs. Charles heard them of course. His hearing was very good, despite having no outer ears. He listened to a little girl’s whimper of fear. A man’s low guttural grunt hushing her up. Step, by step.
Charles was unarmed. He sensed whoever was coming up the stairs was armed and was going to make short work of him. All he had was a small element of surprise and the cane he used when his bad leg acted up. He stood up beside the door so when it opened he’d have a clear shot with his cane. He barely had time to react before the door was flung open and a gun, followed by a hand and arm appeared. In that instant he brought the cane down with all of his strength and heard a satisfying crack as the gun fell to the floor! Cherokee Pete howled in pain and let go of Judy to grab his broken wrist. At the same time he looked over at his attacker…and screamed! Ignoring his injury he ran towards one of the glass panels and plunged through the window, his body tumbling down until he made contact with the ground three stories below. Charles turned towards Judy to see if she was all right. He prepared himself for the inevitable scream. As he looked closer he realized she was blind.
“Are you okay?” he gently asked.
“Yes…thanks to you kind sir. My name is Judy and that bad man and his friends kidnapped me.”
“Yes. Outside in your barn. There’s two men, and I think one is seriously wounded.”
Charles bent over and picked up Cherokee Pete’s pistol. “You stay here. I’ll be back.”
“Wait! What’s your name?”
“Thank you, Charles…”
He heard her innocent voice all the way downstairs and out to the barn where he peeked through the partly open door and saw the two men. One was lying down and not moving. The other sat next to him and was drinking from a bottle of whiskey. His rifle lay across his lap.
Charles watched him for a few minutes, pondering on what to do next. He never fired a gun before. He was aware the hammer had to be pulled back before firing, but that was it. Finally, as the man tossed his empty whiskey bottle aside, Charles made his move and charged through the door firing the pistol wildly at the outlaw whose eyes opened wide in terror when he saw him. Then he went for his own pistol and fired once, before one of Charles’ wild shots hit him in the head killing him instantly. The lone shot found its mark and Charles sank to his knees clutching his chest. After the initial shock he got up and slowly made his way into the house. Once inside, he called out Judy’s name and passed out in the parlor.
“Thank you, Charles…”
He opened his bad eye and saw Judy and a woman standing next to her. It was Judy’s mother. He was in a strange house. In a strange bed. And people weren’t turning from him in terror and loathing. As he lay recovering for the next two weeks Judy stayed by his side and chatted gaily about life and it’s wonders.
After a while, she convinced Charles that his life could be wonderful too.
As It Stands, it doesn’t matter how you look, it only matters how you act.