A deformed child is persecuted
|The Boy With The Melting Face
Milton Faust dreamt he was drowning, gasping for air beneath a torrential waterfall that pounded him deeper and deeper beneath its thundering weight and held him there.
He awoke screaming, flailing his arms as if he were trying to swim his way to the surface of consciousness. Bolting upright, skin all a-prickle, he gawked about the room with his one good eye to reassure himself that he was still in bed. The large candle that he kept lit in the corner of his room flickered brightly, buttering the walls with fluid shadows. A cold chill coiled through him, and Milton tried to shiver it away pushing the horrible dream out of his mind, but it only pretended to go away, and kept creeping back like a thick darkness that hung with folded wings around his heart.
"Milton! Get up or you'll be late for school!" his mother yelled like the rusty caw of a morning crow.
Normally, he would have rolled over and covered his head feigning sleep, but the nightmare still lingered and drove him from the comfort of his warm covers and out of the bed.
Milton was an exceptional child. Although deformed at birth, the defect had never daunted his sense of humor or his hunger for knowledge. He was a straight 'A' student, mature beyond his thirteen years, and showed a natural ability for writing, drawing and music.
His problem was never with learning, it was with people. Most folks he passed on the street turned or rushed away, quickly lowering their eyes to the pavement, refusing to look directly at him, as if they too would catch whatever it was they thought he had.
His face was grotesque. It slid to the left side of his skull in loose folds of skin that drooped down like melting ice cream. It all but covered his bad eye which looked as red as blood and was rimmed with pus around the eyelid that had to be rinsed out every morning. The eyeball itself was as white as a moonstone and swam beneath his pinched flesh like a loose tooth in a swollen socket. His right eye, the good one, was as green as an emerald fired by sunlight, large and prominent where the skin had stretched away from it, and sat almost in the center of his face just above his sagging nose. He was abnormally small, had a slight hump below his left shoulder, and walked as if one leg was shorter than the other. That was the way he was born, and his mother, tears slipping down her cheeks where they hung like exotic jewelry, raised him with all the love she could muster. She never told him, in all the years, that everything was going to be all right, but just held him because sometimes only a hug works best.
Milton was not a handsome child, but if people ever took the time to disregard first appearances and looked into that one green eye, they would see that he was special, bright and intelligent.
She knocked on his bedroom door. "Are you up, honey? It's time for school. Come on now, you don't wanna disappoint that nice Mr. Arlen, do you?"
Mr. Arlen was the eight-grade teacher at Kuhio Elementary, and probably the only real friend Milton had on the entire island of Kauai. "Yeah, Mom, I'm up."
Milton hated school, but Mr. Arlen had taken him under his wing and taught him that despite any visible handicap or dirty looks from small-minded people, the world was a wondrous place to live filled with things that last forever: like songs, moonbeams, and kisses.
The world where Milton lived was a small town named Kuhio near Lihue, Kauai. Kuhio, population of less than six thousand, was a small island town filled with employees of the two main resort hotels: The Kauai Marriott Resort and the Radisson Kauai Beach. His mother worked at the Radisson as a housekeeper. To the north was Mount Kalepa, and to the south was the city of Niumali situated at the mouth of Nawiliwili Harbor. Living on a tropical island is probably the dream of millions of people, but to Milton, who was born and raised there, it was just another day in paradise.
Milton quickly slipped into his school clothes, which consisted of no more than shorts and a t-shirt. He searched his room for a pair of white socks but could find none. "Mom? Where's all my socks?"
"I didn't have time to do a load of laundry, babe. You'll just have to wear whatever you can find in your top drawer."
Milton ransacked his drawer, but could only find a pair of black dress socks.
With an exasperated sigh, he pulled on the dress socks and slipped into his tennis shoes. "Great," he mumbled, "this oughta give the kids even more reason to make fun of me."
He snagged his backpack, kissed his mom goodbye, and then jumped on his bike and headed down Kuhio highway toward school.
Milton loved his bike. Even though it was a girl's bike, a used Schwinn, it still gave him the freedom to cover large areas of the island without being hampered by his gimpy leg. He tried to make it as masculine as possible, inserting Coca Cola bottle caps in-between the spokes, but only Coke bottle caps would do, the red ones, and Milton spent every penny of his allowance finding and drinking just that kind so he could add them to his collection.
He was a quarter-mile from the school when he saw Daniel Akaka and his group of stooges come around the corner and file in behind him, pedaling fast.
"Hey, what's your hurry Melting Face?" Danny drew trouble like moths to a bug light.
Milton heard their laughter as he pumped his bike even faster.
"You better run, you toad, cause when I catch up with you it's gonna be the worst day of your life."
Danny had it in for Milton from the very first day they laid eyes on each other. His wealthy father, Daniel Akaka, Senior, was a big time senator. It hadn't helped that Milton made fun of Danny's name. But he had it coming. Every time Mr. Arlen took roll call, Danny had to make some wise-crack or another.
"Milton Faust?" Mr. Arlen asked as he went down the list of twenty students, his handlebar moustache jumping up and down.
Milton knew what was to come next, and he hesitated before answering. Reluctantly, he whispered, "Here."
"Don't you mean, Melting Face, Mr. Arlen?" Danny asked with a smirk.
Milton had had enough. "Gee, I thought I heard a huge pile of Akaka talking."
The entire class busted up, even Mr. Arlen had trouble keeping a straight face. Everyone knew what a jerk Danny Akaka was; he was rich and a regular pain in the ass.
Milton didn't laugh with the others, but smiled on the inside, where it was safe to smile.
They say, the sharpest teeth always take their nip when you're looking the other way, and Danny Akaka bared his teeth as he slipped in behind Milton and delivered a vicious slap to the back of his head.
Milton immediately covered up, waiting for more blows to follow.
The room fell silent.
"Danny! Sit down!" Mr. Arlen yelled.
Danny glared into Milton's good eye. He could have peeled an apple with that stare. "I'm gonna get you for that, you little toad!"
The school was right around the corner, and as Milton made the turn, he rode his bike across the grass and straight up to Mr. Arlen's classroom door. Danny and his followers peeled off, taunting Milton in loud voices, and then parked their bikes at the bike rack. Danny pointed at Milton from across the yard. "This ain't over, dude! Not by a long shot!"
The rest of the day was uneventful, Danny kept to his friends and only gave Milton a few leering glances.
It was after school that things turned ugly.
Milton fidgeted about the classroom stalling as long as he could. Finally, Mr. Arlen was packed and ready to go home. He came over and put a hand on Milton's shoulder. "You want a ride home, champ?"
Milton looked up at him. "Naw, I got my bike. I'll be fine."
"Well, all right then..." He turned to leave and then came back. "You know, we live within a tick of time, Milton, standing upon a bridge between the past and future. The greatest blessing of all is that we never actually know just how short our time here really is."
"Thanks, Mr. Arlen."
"Ride straight home, Milton, as fast as you can."
Milton opened the door, gave him a thumbs-up and walked out of the classroom.
At first, Milton couldn't find his bike; it wasn't where he had left it, and then he saw a bike out in the middle of the parking lot. He knew immediately that it was his and slowly hobbled over to claim it. The bike lay on the blacktop like a dead soldier, spokes stomped in, tires flat, and the front wheel bent out of round. Brokenheartedly, he picked it up and started for home.
He knew better than to take Kuhio Highway home. They were probably waiting for him that way. So he followed the narrow path through the forest that led to Wailua Falls. From there he could go south and approach his house from the opposite side. A bottle cap fell from the bent spokes, rolling and clinking upon the blacktop. Tears welled in Milton's good eye.
He pushed the bike across the street, walking along beside it, and then jumped the curb and followed the path into the tropical forest. Before too long, he was completely concealed by the trees that huddled in close on either side of the path. Milton could hear the long grass whisper like low voices against the wheels of his bike. The bushes grew wild across the trail, reaching out to one another like lovers and made it more difficult to navigate the steep hill.
Milton paid little or no attention to these things. All he could think about was how he was going to fix his bike when he got back home and how he was going to get even with Danny Akaka.
Behind him, a chorus of voices arose. Danny stopped to listen.
"He went this way, here's one of his stupid bottle caps."
It was Danny, and from the sound of it, he had brought his whole crew along with him. Milton wiped away his tears and pushed his bike with earnest up the hill. The roar of the falls was just ahead.
"There he is!" Danny shouted. "Let's get him!"
The hill began to flatten out and Milton, panting and out of breath, stood upon the rock ledge that hung over the deep pool eighty feet below.
The river cut through the rock and cascaded forty feet down to the foamy water below and then out to the sea.
Danny was just behind him, four others climbing as fast as they could to keep up. "You better run, asshole," he shouted between heavy breaths. "Ain't nobody gonna save you now."
Milton watched him climb, knowing he couldn't out run them. He mounted his bike and faced the drop-off. He was tired of running from people like Danny Akaka; tired of people who thought he was a freak or teased him about the way he looked. "If you want me, then come and get me!"
Without even thinking about it, he rode his bike over the edge of the cliff and down into the pounding waterfall. For a moment, he felt elated. He had outsmarted Danny once again, but then he hit the water and the bike's handlebars spun around and punched him heavily in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The water pounded him deeper and deeper beneath its thundering weight and held him there, just like his dream, just like he knew it would.
Later that day, accompanied by the police, Mrs. Faust, with her jeweled tears, and Mr. Arlen, his moustache working up and down, searched for any sign of Milton. All they could find was a lone black sock washed upon the shoreline. Milton, along with his bike, had completely disappeared. As darkness approached, Milton's mom was ushered home by the police to spend the rest of her life crying and asking God, "Why?" Mr Arlen quit teaching and took up drinking. And Milton . . . Well, Milton was riding his bike up and down the golden paths of Heaven grinning from ear-to-ear with his two emerald green eyes fired by the sunlight.