Some years ago (long enough to be, indeed,once upon a time),
There was a boy who, as best could be determined,
Never spoke and rarely smiled.
His mother (young, unmarried,
Frequently if not terminally drunk)
Did not survive the birth,
And the father, with the exception of his unfortunate progeny,
Left no more residue of his paternity behind
Than the fleeting droplets of a brief August afternoon thunderstorm.
As a ward of the state,
The boy was hopscotched from family to family:
Ineffectual proto-hippies with VW microbuses and unsuccessful gardens
Where foodstuffs and other less legal produce
Failed in similarly spectacular fashion,
Pig-eyed, thin-lipped Christian fanatics
Enjoying the Lord’s bounty in social services vouchers
For goods rarely lavished upon the prodigal in question,
Stolid suburban families with sterile fathers
And mothers barren of everything except guilt.
The boy was never a problem,
At least in terms of discipline;
Indeed, he was (thankfully, in the view
Of most of his provisional parents) preternaturally prone
To absent himself from human contact
For hours, occasionally days, at a stretch.
There was, of course, no question of school for the child,
The prevailing wisdom being
That a boy like that had no more place in school
Than a bent hammer or broken pliers in a tool box,
So the boy alternated between being out of sight
And mutely accusingly underfoot.
Eventually, either for his safety
Or the convenience of the parents du jour,
A station wagon with official plates would come,
And the boy, dented, putty-colored suitcase in hand,
Would walk to the car (never bothering to look back)
And be driven away, until one day
The destination was a state home
Way Upstate which overlooked an old, inactive graveyard
That stretched down to the shore of a cold, narrow lake.
Some months after his departure,
The last in the series of Mommy pro tempore
Was spring-cleaning a closet
When she happened upon a large stack of papers,
Easily several hundred sheets, haphazardly rubber-banded together.
The papers contained stories—though as she read on,
She determined it was a single story—accompanied
By drawings of the great knights, huge ocean-going ships
And sundry other characters that populated the tale.
There was no question it was the work of the boy;
Certainly, her husband, having not read anything
More time-consuming than a box score in years,
Would never be responsible for such a thing.
The hero of the tale (she was, as the ad catch-phrases
On the back of paperbacks inevitably say,
Unable to put it down) was an often silent knight,
Much given to slow contemplation yet invariably correct and honest
When he at last ventured an opinion,
And she could not help but note that the boy portrayed him
In every illustration as impassive and granite-faced
As a medieval Jack Webb.
There was a smattering of other noble, brave men in the story,
But their number paled in comparison
With the scores of small-minded village priests
And petty clerks and merchants littering the pages.
As she flipped through sheet after sheet,
She was able to ascertain the plot revolved around
The knight’s plan to seek out the Devil himself
(According to the boy, he lived
In a far northern, vaguely European empire)
Accompanied, as opposed to aided,
By a peasant-smart, highly volatile prince regent
And a scheming, venal bishop
Whose machinations would put Machiavelli to shame.
She read on until she came to the point
Where the knight’s plan was successfully carried out:
The Devil lying prone, sprawled across the peaks of several mountains,
Bleeding profusely from a slashed throat.
The book did not end there, however–
There were scenes, happening apparently simultaneously:
A king declaring war on a peaceful, unsuspecting neighboring principality,
A banker evicting a widow from a suitably wretched hovel,
The ravishing and subsequent murder
Of an orphan girl in the center of an unnamed city.
Can you imagine, the woman thought to herself
As she placed the pile of paper in the corner of the closet shelf,
It’s good he left when he did.
I had no idea the poor child was absolutely crazy.