Regrets are the instruments by which we learn. We tend not to repeat those things we regret. A remorse, I think, is a much deeper thing. I tend not to dwell on regrets. For all the pain they’ve caused me, they have allowed me to grow and become a better man, sometimes despite myself. I regret how I treated my first love, but it taught me how to better live with my wife. I regret not working very hard in school, but now I know to apply myself in my work. I feel bad about the things I regret, but I wouldn’t take a single one back.
My remorses however, I would do anything to go back and prevent the circumstances that brought those to life, and they are many.
The worst however came at a young age. I was too much of a child to know better, but that doesn’t take away from the pain I’ve caused, lives I’ve destroyed and the hardships I’ve endured.
It was during my last summer in Saint-Ferdinand. Not my very last summer, but the last one I’d spend before heading off to boarding school. Back then, our little village was nothing more than a handful of farms and a general store. We had to leave town for anything fancier. It was no big deal however. In those days, what we couldn’t grow, we’d just make ourselves.
The whole ordeal started innocently enough. It was early summer, maybe spring, any warm day with the sun high in the sky is summer to a child like I was that day.
My friend Jonathan and I had gone deep into the forest. Woods that hadn’t been seen by human eyes in years, decades, perhaps ever. The purest of virgin forests. We’d play games back then, often roping the Richards twins into joining us. We’d do as most kids do; play cops and robbers, or was it cowboys and indians? We’d build forts and occasionally go fishing or frog catching. Children playing childish games.
One such passtime that we always reserved for when we were deep in uncharted territory however, was hide and go seek. We would come up with endless variants of this game, but a favorite by far we called "freeze’. As long as the seeker was looking at you, you were ’frozen’ and could not run away. If the seeker touched you, you were caught.
All was fun and games until that one day, when we were further into the woods then we had ever been, that’s where we found ’him’.
We were playing explorers that day. We’d brought bottles filled with water, which we called canteens, and bags with some bread that we called rations.
’He’ was sitting on a moss covered stone in a clearing. At first, we didn’t notice him. His green skin glowed gloriously like the sun shining through leaves at noon. He was as immobile as he was naked, smiling peacefully, his face turned towards the hot summer sun.
"Hey!" I remember calling. "What are you doing here? Where are your clothes?"
Slowly and only after a moment, he opened his night-black eyes to look at me. His smile broadened on his noseless face, as if he were glad to see me.
"I’ve always been here." he answered without moving his lips.
As a child, I didn’t take notice of his physical differences. His sexlessness, his skin color and his strange anatomy. I was more curious to know if he’d join our games, and he did.
First, we continued playing explorers and he was our Indian guide. He brought us even deeper into the forest where we found a small rivulet. He showed us a clearing where strawberries grew and a tree so large and old that it dwarved all others in the area.
We had to give up fishing though. Our new friend didn’t like that we killed for sport. Instead, he’d find us nuts or other berries that we could eat, or show us other wonders to keep us distracted.
Jonathan was convinced we’d found a wood nymph, while I thought he was just some freak, like those from the circuses that fascinated me so much. In the end, it didn’t matter. Every day, after our chores and if it didn’t rain, we would gather together at my parents farm and head out into the woods to meet him. Every time we’d find him sitting on his rock, staring at the sun, a look of serene pleasure writ upon his face.
Then, one day, we drove so deep into the woods, so far into the forest, that even our guide was finally in unfamiliar territory. That’s when we knew we had, at last, found a place to play ’freeze’.
"Whenever you’re being watched, you can’t move." I explained, along with the rest of our made-up rules. He nodded and said ’yes’ with that wordless voice of his that caressed the mind so pleasantly.
However, the very first time we played with him as the seeker, he cheated. You can do a lot to a child that he will simply shrug off, but cheating isn’t one of those things.
We... Called him names. Unkind things I’m happy not remembering and glad he couldn’t understand, but still, he knew we were unhappy with him.
"Now you have to promise, spit in your hand and swear, when you’re watched, you cannot move. Understand?"
He answered by doing as he was told and spitting in his hand and shaking mine after I did the same. The innocent things children do without knowing the reach of consequences.
We played that day, but our fun game had taken on an intensity we’d never meant for it to have. Our new friend had a fresh gleam in his black eyes. There was something predatory in how he watched us play. He was suddenly intolerant of even the slightest mistake.
It all came to a head when Jonathan kept running after being spotted. We were already tired and more than a little worried at the atmosphere. None of us had ever given a second thought as to our companion’s strange abilities and powers. Suddenly however, we were his prey and what made him different also made him dangerous.
Obviously, Jonathan had had enough and wanted to walk away from the game.
"Stop." it growled, very softly as my friend ignored him and kept walking. "Stop!"
When he shouted, we all grabbed our ears in pain. It wasn’t the silky, soothing silence we had been accustomed to, but an assault on our young minds.
This scared Jonathan and he started to run, further angering our strange friend.
I didn’t see what happened next, how could I, but when we got to Jonathan, the strange creature we had befriended was holding him to the ground and had bitten his pinky clean off.
"He cheated." he declared, his mouth full of fresh, warm blood.
None of us moved. Jonathan was sobbing in the dirt, holding his mangled hand.
"You understand Nathan?" the creature asked me while getting off my wounded friend who scampered away. "He cheated. We hate cheaters don’t we?"
I took a step backwards, then another, never taking my eyes off the strange creature we’d met and befriended in those woods.
"Nathan?" it called out in my mind "At least tell me I can move. Nathan? Nathan!"
"I’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll talk." I said, never meaning a word.
"Do you promise Nathan?" it asked, the voice in my head sweet and harmless once again. "Do you?"
I never answered. By that time the next day, I was on a train bound for Toronto. I wouldn’t be back in Saint-Ferdinand for another twelve years, by then, things had changed.