where the writers are
The Chamber of Curiosities - A Novella In Progress

       Darney Vasquez was a freak. He had lived his entire life in a cage. First there was the crib - then the chicken coop. Within the chained enclosure he had his own space, protected from the incessant flapping. He did his job and tended to the chickens by day. At sundown he retreated to his enclosed space, peered up through the chain metal links through a crack in the barn’s roof, where he viewed a smattering of stars, and sometimes a sliver of moon. He felt safe in his solitary home. He had lived here for nearly twenty-five years, and had known no other existence. Comfortable in his routine, he awoke with the sun and completed his chores. His soul was restless and lonely, but he had never seen or experienced anything else, so there was no thought of escape. His parents would visit occasionally to check on him, especially when it was time for the slaughter. He had raised each flightless bird, named and loved it without condition. But he accepted that each would one day be put to death.  Nurturing and releasing life was his vocation, and he had great pride in his work.

        But this morning was different. Darney awakened with terror in his heart. His parents had informed him a few days earlier that he was to be transported. They could not tell him which day it would happen, but it would be soon. The thought of leaving the only home he had ever known was excruciating. He was terrified of people, as the only ones he had seen were his parents, and a couple of workers, who stared at him with strange expressions, then retreated to their tasks. The touch of a human was not something he could remember, though he must have been held as a child. Dreams came often, the touch of a hand, a warm embrace, like the ones he gave his chicks. He loved the feel of soft downy fur, and nearly cried one night when he dreamt of a woman with porcelain skin who reached out a dainty hand to stroke his cheek. He had never seen a woman his own age or any woman, for that matter, other than his mother. Great shame came with sexual feelings, especially when he felt envy when watching other animals mate.

        Darney had screamed, cried, and begged his parents to let him stay, but they shook their heads, locked the pen, and returned to the farmhouse. Today was the day – he could feel it in his heart. And so, he knelt down and took each of his darling chicks in his enormous hand, kissed them softy, and said good-bye. Today it was he who was being discharged, not one of them. He cleaned his cage and piled up new straw, so it would be comfortable for whoever took his place. Then, the grieving man walked to the entrance and looked out over stalks of grain. He called the dogs and cats that meandered through the farm grounds, and begged his favorite cow to come muzzle her nose against his palm. They all came running, and even the heifer managed to rise from her haunches. Every animal loved Darney, as his heart was as large as his giant body.

        He heard the faint sound of voices behind him, and then they came into full view. His parents walked alongside two men. One had a cruel scar across his mouth and luminous blue eyes, the other was a freak himself, not more than three feet tall, and wore a hat that added another half foot. His parents opened Darney’s cage and instructed him to stay calm and follow them outside. The little man showed him a long sharp needle and told him they would use it to put him to sleep if he did not obey. His parents stared at the ground as Darney stepped outside the cage. He focused his eyes on his huge feet, and carefully took one step after the other. Feeling emotion was something he knew well, but to reveal it was to be beaten severely. The sorrow exploded from his chest, welled up into his throat, and he could hear himself scream, as tears exploded from his eyes.

         “Forward, move forward, or we’ll use the needle on you, Freak,” the tiny man barked with a sharp kick to the back of his shin.

        As they came around the side of the farmhouse he saw a horse and buggy rigged to what looked like a barred cage on wheels, painted with garish red and white stripes.

        “Get in, Freak, or I’ll nail you one,” the little man said as they approached a door set into the back of the scalloped wood cage.

         Darney turned to his parents, who stood motionless, only yards away. He begged them one last time to let him stay, and promised to do anything they asked of him. His father clenched his jaw, took his mother’s arm, and turned her to walk back to the house. Neither uttered a word. But Darney thought he saw a tear in his mother’s eye. 

        “Get in Freak. I’m not going to tell you again,”” said the little man. He grabbed a crow bar from inside the cage and lifted it above Darney’s crotch. “Get in, or I’ll bash you one where you won’t forget it.

        Darney lowered his head, stepped inside the cage, and the men quickly shut and bolted the door behind him. He settled himself into the straw and leaned back against the wall to look out the barred window. For the first time in his life he saw flashes of what lay outside his simple world. Strange visions passed, as smells and sounds he had never experienced permeated his new home. He lowered himself onto the mattress of straw and drew his massive body into a fetal position as waves of sorrow overcame him, and wept with raw abandon, until he succumbed to the sanctity of sleep.