“Hello!” chirped a blond vendor. “Would you like to be the first to try my new recipe?” Benjamin shied away. He wasn’t supposed to talk to anyone in the marketplace while he was running an errand for Martha. She would be waiting for him, and he was already very late. Benjamin was supposed to buy some dried herbs for Martha’s new spell, but finding his way to the shop through all the busy legs and disorientating chatter was proving to be a difficult task.
Oh, I hope she isn’t angry with me, thought Benjamin. I hope she won’t be angry…
“Fresh mountain roots!” called the same blond vendor from before. Roots! That’s exactly what Benjamin was looking for! Now if he could just push past all these people…
“E-Excuse me!” he squeaked. “I’d like to buy some mountain roots! Six pinches please!”
The vendor peered kindly over the wooden counter of his little stand.
“Six pinches, coming right up,” he smiled. Benjamin smiled too. Once he finally finishes Martha’s errands, he can escape from this loud maze of people. All he can do now is hope that she won’t be too angry with him for being so late.
“That’ll be six coins” Six? Martha said he would only need four coins!
“Oh,” said the vendor. “Did I say six? I meant three! I’m terribly sorry.” He smiled again, his kind face waiting for Benjamin’s reply. Benjamin’s face must have been a visage of shock for the vendor to know that he lacked money.
“Is that okay?” the vendor asked.
“Y-yes, thank you very much!” Benjamin stammered.
“Thank you,” cooed the vendor. His shining emerald eyes gave Benjamin a warm feeling. Not a bad feeling, but a rather familiar one, one that Benjamin was sure to see again.
“Get out of the way!” screamed Martha, later that night. “You’ve done your job, now go!”
Benjamin scurried out the door just in time to miss the glass bottle that Martha had thrown at him. Hidden by the darkness of the night, he snuck through the tall grass of the yard and found his way into the shed. The wooden door was cracked open, as it usually was. The thing never shuts right, thought Benjamin. Winter is coming too… it’s going to be cold.
“I wish Martha would at least share some of her blankets with me,” he grumbled. “She probably keeps herself warm with all those wretched spells anyway.”
That night, Benjamin slept in his shed, curled up in the extra hay that had been stored there. This was his room, provided by Martha. I won’t have a dirty little servant boy dirty up my sheets with his dirty little self! she always said. Martha hated children, with Benjamin as no exception. It didn’t matter to Martha how polite and docile Benjamin always was. To her, he was just another grubby, good-for-nothing ingrate.
“I wonder if I’ll ever be more than a work dog to someone.” he thought. Judging by the Martha’s loathing stares, probably not.
“It’s not my fault she’s my aunt. It’s not like I even want to be here. It’s not my fault my parents were soldiers! It’s not my fault she regrets promising to take me in if anything were to happen to them! It’s not my fault!”
The stars shone brightly that night as Benjamin finally fell asleep.
The sun rose, as it always does, ripping Benjamin from his pleasant dreams and forcing him back into reality. Another day. Maybe one of these days, he could escape this place, escape from Martha’s disapproving, witchly scowl.
The shriek coming from inside the house startled Benjamin as he emerged from his own little house, or closet, more like. Speak of the devil, he thought. Tentatively, he stepped up the two stone steps to the small house, but despite his carefulness, the door flung open and Martha’s worn face appeared like lightening, ready to blame him for whatever had just exploded.
“I told you to buy sugar ant thoraxes, not fire ant thoraxes!” she screeched. “Do you have mud in your ears? When I tell you…” she started to drift off.
She was still screaming whole heartedly at Benjamin, don’t be mistaken, but he was too focused on the piece of paper stuck to her skirt. It read: “I’ve left you two coins on the counter. You are to go to the market and buy four fire ant thoraxes.”
That’s from last week, thought Benjamin. She wrote… fire ants…
The scribbly handwriting of the note began to blur as his eyes fuzzed over with tears. He could hear Martha screaming about something else, but she sounded like she was in a tunnel. She sounded far away, like she wasn’t even real. Maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she would just fade away. Maybe Benjamin could just fade away into the leaves or…
“Are you listening?!” her voice stabbed his ears like daggers. “Don’t you shy away from me! Look at me when I talk to you!”
Benjamin stood there like a startled deer. Then Martha turned on her heel and stomped back into the old house. Oh… Is it over so soon? thought Benjamin. What should I do…?
Almost as soon as she had left, Martha was back with her old worn broom clutched in her old worn fingers.
“Get out!” she shrieked. “Go away!” she started beating him frantically with the broom. “Go away and never come back! I’m burning your room! I have no need for such a useless child! Go!!” Terrified, Benjamin had no need to hesitate fleeing. He sped down the dirt path as fast as his small legs could carry him. He didn’t know where he was running to, but that didn’t matter right now. What mattered right now was what he was running away from. Suddenly, the vision of the kind blond vendor’s bright green eyes flashed in his mind. If only that man and Martha could trade places, maybe Benjamin could feel a little less worthless. Maybe he could have his own room, inside the house. Maybe he could eat home cooked meals three times a day, and not have to feel bad about asking for them. Benjamin’s dirty sleeve came up to wipe the tears pouring from his eyes. Never come back? Good riddance! I’m sorry Mother… Father…
That lonely boy ran all night long. In fact, he ran so far that as soon as the sun rose he collapsed on the floor of the forest around him, too exhausted to continue any further. There he lay, in the dew-covered morning, waiting to be discovered.
(Bonus: a silly, low-quality doodle of Benjamin[right] and his Spout friend[left, to be introduced later])