Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day:
“There are tomorrows on their way worth the struggles of today. Never give up.”
~ Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ugly Ugo

I've written another short story entitled, 'The Beauty of Ugh'.  This story is significant to me for many reasons, expounding a message I would have the world internalize.  This work was penned as a gift to benefit the Devizes and District Opportunity Centre, helping children with disabilities and learning difficulties.  A fellow writer and friend, Darren Worrow, requested that a number of authors come together and contribute fresh short stories to be compiled into one book for the purpose of donating the proceeds to an organization benefiting children.  A wonderful idea, I agree!  This tale of mine is included among others in that book, available for purchase at Amazon.com.  You can visit a website dedicated to the project at iamnotfrazzle.webs.com.  The title of the completed book is, 'I am not Frazzle'.  Please, look for it.




Oh yes, I dedicate this tale to a young, ambitious reader, Parker Randall.



The Beauty of Ugh
By

Richelle E. Goodrich

Eyes, so easily deceived, might judge more rightly with lids closed,
allowing ears and heart to remain wide open.”
~ Richelle E. Goodrich

     Ugo Gerwyn Hubert was ugly. 
     It may seem a harsh thing to say about a boy, but in actuality I am being kind, for ugly is a weak word to use describing the real sight of Ugo.  The fact is this young man’s appearance could startle a forest goblin; his features had been arranged by nature in a near ghastly enough manner to cause a gorgon to turn to stone.  A fair comparison might be Victor Hugo’s fictional character, Quasimodo, while the initial effect poor Ugo had upon unprepared eyewitnesses parallels the reaction of those who caught sight of Mary Shelley’s monstrous creature spawned in a laboratory in Frankenstein
     Now Ugo wasn’t lacking in intelligence or in any of the senses, he was just grotesquely physically-deformed from the womb and a trial for anyone to stay an eye upon.  Nevertheless, it seems malicious for a saintly observer like myself to label one of God’s souls as hideous, revolting, disgusting, repugnant, or gruesome (however fitting), so I shall in a very cruel way be kind by saying that Ugo Gerwyn Hubert was indeed ugly.
     Considering Ugo’s story, I shall start with the ending first because I believe this account necessitates it.  Knowing the ugly boy’s fate will also allow you, the reader, opportunity to choose whether or not to press on with this gruesome tale or to stop right here and now before you’ve been affected.  It is, of course, your decision—but isn’t that always the case?

     Very well then, if you insist on continuing down this road….

     Ugly Ugo’s life ended in death—a truth for all of God’s creatures—except that this young man breathed out his final exhale by order of a court’s sentence, just barely having reached that age society recognizes as early adulthood.  For you see, he’d been found guilty of ending another life, that of the young and fair maiden, Elizabeth Natalie Desmona.  The law at that time was established on a foundation of simple, crude justice—an eye for an eye, a loaf for a loaf, a life for a life. 
     The circumstances of the crime were nothing if not straightforward.  Poor Elizabeth’s brother, Stephen Adrian Desmona, understandably upset to the point of being haunted by nightmares even weeks after the incident, had retold the tragedy to every ear in the village, which amounted to nearly the entire population seeing that no one but Ugo’s father abstained from the trial.  It was a short and concise hearing—guilty without argument. 
     As the only eyewitness, Stephen Desmona had left no detail unarticulated.  He’d freely spilt the particulars as to how, where, when, why, and who had taken his sister’s life.  The deciding factor in the case had been the fact that the alleged never once denied the charges against him.  Not even a whispered word to plead innocent or to beg for mercy or to offer some heartfelt strain of apology—nothing to place doubt in the minds of every villager that the ugly monster was indeed guilty of an equally ugly crime.
According to the accuser, the circumstances of sweet Elizabeth’s death had come about on a late afternoon in the following manner: 
     “It’s Ugh’s fault,” he said, pointing a trembling finger before the judge.  “He’s guilty, I tell you; that hideous fiend cast the stone that killed my sister!  He’s always been crazy mad with hatred toward me and my family ever since we were kids!  You know it’s true.” 
     Stephen scanned the audience for concurring nods, which he found in plenteous supply, before continuing. 
     “The brute was harassing us down by the lake.  I don’t know why he was even out where any good saint had to suffer a look at him.  My sister and I weren’t doing anything to attract his attention, just talking and skipping stones across the water.  Our conversation didn’t include him; he was never invited to join in.  When he came near I told him to go away and leave us alone, I did.  We wanted nothing to do with him or his madness.  He acted like he didn’t hear, and then he started throwing rocks—big rocks—into the water too near Elizabeth.  It made her nervous; I could tell by the way she kept glancing at him.  So I demanded that he go on and leave us be…..but he wouldn’t.  If he’d just gone home, if he’d just stayed away, none of this would’ve happened!  It’s his fault for even coming around when no one wanted him!”
     Again, there were concurring nods from members of the audience.
     “Well, he got mad because I asked him to leave.  He went into a fit of rage and started calling names, throwing rocks at us instead of the lake.  You’ve seen him knock blackbirds right off their roosts with pebbles; you know how accurate his aim is and how hard his arm throws.  He did the same thing to Elizabeth—hit her right between the eyes with a fisted stone!  I saw it!  I saw it all, I tell you, he coldcocked her with a pitched rock!”
     The eyes of many listeners scrunched into condemning slits, all cast on the one blamed.
     “I watched her fall into the water where she began to slip under, disappearing from sight.  I wanted to go in after her, to drag her out, but that monster wouldn’t let me.  When I tried to get past him he grabbed hold of both my arms and shook me so hard, threatening me with hateful words.  I feared for my own life!  I was thrown from the bank and suffered this!”
     Stephen raised his arm and peeled away a long sleeve to reveal a dark bruise that traveled from his smallest finger clear to his elbow.  Onlookers gasped at the sight.
     “This was my reward for trying to save poor Elizabeth.  But I couldn’t get to her.  That wild animal prevented me.” 
     Undoubtedly shaken by so recent memories, Stephen began to cry like a toddler, his voice quivering through the rest of his account. 
     “Eventually, he dragged Elizabeth out of the water.  As if it wasn’t enough that he’d let her drown, he tossed her limp body onto the shore and beat her, pounding on her over and over and over again in a wild fit of rage.  I yelled for him to stop, but he wouldn’t.  I couldn’t do anything—I couldn’t watch anymore!  I’m ashamed to say it, but I ran away.  I ran home and left Elizabeth to die in the devil’s arms.”
     It was gruesome imagery painted by Stephen.  But to be fair, I must say there were doubters who furrowed their brows, simply because a history of quarreling existed between the two young men since youth.  However, when the implicated party failed to respond to questions presented him by the judge, and when he furthermore refused to meet anyone eye to eye, it seemed that Ugo Gerwyn Hubert was unquestionably guilty of the crime in which he stood accused.  No one stepped forward to challenge the verdict.
     He was sentenced to death—a life for a life, as I explained. 
     When his public hanging took place at sunrise in the town square, only one set of eyes did Ugo raise his head to meet.  Stephen Desmona turned away from the silent stare cast him by his sister’s killer.  The town understood Stephen’s grief, and while the monster hung from a rope like a heavy sandbag, everyone agreed that they were better off without that hideous figure lurking in their shadows, troubling their streets.  There had never been a fondness felt for the disfigured soul anyway.
     And so life went on. 
     But before we delve further down that road, let me take you back to the start of Ugo’s story—far, far back to the very earliest beginning.
     It was a late, dark, still night when Sandra Shaine Hubert gave birth to the only child she would ever have.  He was a large boy, a gruesome sight covered in birthing fluids and blood.  Sandra cried for days while her boy remained silent, watchful, wrapped up tight in cloths.  Eventually she gave the child the name Ugo, believing that God must have blessed him with greatness of spirit having denied him any trace of physical beauty.  His middle name came from his deceased grandfather because his father, Bernard Alden Hubert, wouldn’t have ‘that spawn of perdition’ (as he referred to the newborn) corrupting his good name.
     Not many days later, on a sunny afternoon, a baby boy was born to Maddalyn Unwyn Desmona a mile down the road from the Hubert’s.  The babe was immediately named after his father, Stephen.  Born with a healthy set of lungs, the boy cried incessantly as his proud parents showed him off to anyone who would take the time to awe over his uncanny resemblance to a heavenly cherub.  ‘If he isn’t the most adorable thing!’ was a comment repeatedly voiced in their presence.
     Needless to say, Ugo grew up in the shadows—a nearly secluded existence apart from his mother’s pitying attention—while Stephen thrived under the warm light of popular admiration.
     Sandra tried her best to love her ugly child, a task she found easier to accomplish in the privacy of their little house built on a few acres of farmland.  Ugo’s father, Bernard, spent most of his waking hours working the land, avoiding any paternal duties other than providing food and shelter.  He grew potatoes, corn, carrots, onions, and bright-yellow mustard seed.  It was this sunny color that Ugo developed a fondness for early on.  If ever a traveling soul had squinted at the Hubert’s fields, he might’ve caught a glimpse of a husky, warped figure sitting in the midst of endless greens dotted with petals of an intense yellow hue.  Ugo’s fascination for all things yellow remained with him throughout his short duration in mortality, and most likely accounted for his attraction to Elizabeth Natalie Desmona.  The girl was born just two years after her brother with buttery-blonde hair that glistened like gold in the sunlight.  She was a happy child—always smiling, even at the dreariest of faces. 
     The first time Stephen came across his reclusive neighbor was by way of a snooping venture.  He’d heard rumors of the ugly child and had dared to sneak away from home, cutting through the Hubert’s cornfields on a straight course for their little house.  The curious boy kept hidden within the tall cornstalks while peering out, spying on Sandra Hubert who was busily folding up air-dried laundry.  It would’ve been startling enough to have an unexpected voice speak over his shoulder, questioning his reason for trespassing, but when Stephen Desmona twirled around and found himself facing a living creature more hideous than rumors painted, he nearly jumped out of his skin scrambling to get away. 
     Carrying on as he did, screaming out as if a garter snake had climbed up his pant leg, he caught the attention of Ugo’s mother who came running toward the frightened child.  She slowed her steps, the hurt evident on her face, when her son stepped out of the cornstalks behind Stephen who tore down the road toward home.  Though expressions were truly hard to read on Ugo’s face, he did look more puzzled than upset.
     “Is he okay, Mama?”
     Sandra nearly choked on her tears hearing that her son’s first consideration was the other child’s welfare.  All she could do was nod.
     That day Stephen told every one of his young friends, including sweet Elizabeth, that he’d encountered an actual monster:
     “He was an ugly beast—the ugliest ever!  I think he might be a real ogre.  You know they’re like trolls except they wear clothes.”
     “I heard that ogres, trolls, and goblins will clobber you over the head and then skin you alive and eat you for dinner,” someone said.
     Stephen agreed assuredly with his knowledgeable friend.  “I know it.  I’m lucky I can run fast; I almost didn’t get away!”
     It was Elizabeth who piped up with a timid voice of reason.  “I heard he was just a regular boy.”
     The other kids shook their heads, dismissing her error.  “No way.  I ain’t never seen a boy that looks like a troll.”
     “You mean an ogre,” someone corrected.
     “Yeah, a mean and ugly ogre.”
     “I heard he was nice.” Elizabeth persisted.  “Mrs. Killian called him quiet, like a field mouse.”
     Stephen rolled his eyes at his little sister.  “Ugh, Elizabeth, he’s only quiet so that he can sneak up on you before cracking open your skull to bash your brains into stew.”
     Everyone laughed, but the majority covered their heads with two hands.
     “That’s gross,” Elizabeth groaned, making a face.  “Mrs. Killian said his name is Ugo.”
      “Ugh-o, you mean, as in, ugh-ly!”  Everyone snickered at Stephen’s cruel play on words. 
     “Yeah, that’s what you say when you see him, ‘Ugh, you’re ugly!’  And then you throw up.”
     “And then you plug your nose, but only because he stinks worse than your vomit.”
     “And then you run before he clobbers you and eats you up!”
     “—or he eats the vomit.”
     Elizabeth turned and walked away while the other kids snorted their amusement, continuing to make fun of the peculiar boy she was now more than ever dying of curiosity to lay her eyes upon.  But she’d be forced to wait until the following summer for opportunity to present itself. 
     It was nearing harvest season when Maddalyn Desmona sank into a depression over her second miscarriage, having hoped and prayed over the years for a large family to mother.  Consumed by inner grief, the watchful eye she normally kept on her children found itself resting often, seeking escape from the pains of loss.  Young Elizabeth took advantage of this chance to sneak away from home, knowing that her brother Stephen (now capable of menial farm chores) was off helping his father.
     The cornstalks hadn’t reached the same height as those Stephen had cut through on his first brave venture to the Hubert’s front yard, but their fronded tops still towered over little Elizabeth.  Anxious and wary, she pressed forward in short, hustling spurts interrupted now and then by momentary pauses of hesitation.  Imagery of Stephen’s hideous, flesh-eating ogre haunted her imagination; nonetheless, it was in Mrs. Killian’s less harsh report of the mysterious boy that Elizabeth trusted. 
     Approaching the opposite end of the cornfield, the girl halted her steps.  Her neck stretched forward as she attempted to peer out from between the last fibrous plants.  A small brick-and-wood home stood across a stretch of grass, the front door and windows darkened beneath an extended rooftop.  Not a single person was in sight.  While endeavoring to amass the courage to go out into the open, the sweet child heard a voice speak over her shoulder.  Frightened of what she might find, Elizabeth didn’t turn her head at first, for the voice itself came across pleasantly enough.
     “I like your hair; it looks like butter.  Did you come here to see my mother?”
     Elizabeth tensed and froze, her heart beating rapidly in her chest.  She was too rattled to reply.  The voice traveled over her shoulder again.
     “I’m sorry my mom’s not here; she went into town to help clean people’s houses.  She does that sometimes.  Can I touch your hair?”
     Terrified that there might be even an ounce of truth to her brother’s claim that an ogre nicknamed by all the village children as ‘Ugh the ugly’ would clobber her over the head and have her brains for a stewed dinner, Elizabeth hurried forward out of the cornstalks.  She turned abruptly, uncertain as to what she might glimpse—a boy or an ogre or a monstrous beast reaching for her.  Still inside the cornfield, young Ugo’s features remained partially hidden behind tall, green stalks.  Perhaps it was the slightly dim concealment preventing a sudden and shocking revelation of his face, or perhaps it was the girl’s determination to prove her brother wrong about this boy, or perhaps it was just sweet Elizabeth’s nature to see beyond the worst—no one can say for certain, but his big head so out of proportion, owning a crooked nose and swollen lips and eyes distinctly askew, didn’t cause any fearful reaction in the girl.  None at all other than a wide-eyed return stare. 
     “Who are you?” she finally asked the figure who remained somewhat masked.
     “Ugo,” the boy replied, his voice now a slightly softer, slightly vulnerable tone.  “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
     “I’m not scared,” Elizabeth declared straight away.
     “Really?”
     She gave no reply, concerned that there might not be any truth to her claim once this mysterious boy fully revealed himself.  She squinted as if trying to focus past the cornstalks and shadows. 
     “I’ve never seen you before,” Ugo said.
     Elizabeth raised her shoulders timidly.  “I’ve never seen you before either.”
     “Are you going to run away from me?”  It was hard to miss the note of concern in his question. 
     A tense shoulder climbed higher as Elizabeth carefully answered, “I don’t, uh……I don’t think so.” 
     “Honest?”  Surprise and hope intermingled in that one word.
     The little girl nodded.
     Wanting to trust this pretty stranger with hair that glistened in his favorite color, Ugo dared to come completely out of the field corn.  Slouching worse than normal due to an unusually powerful case of self-consciousness, he blinked his eyes at the gawking female nervously sizing him up. 
     “Are you an ogre?”  She had to ask.
     Ugo’s bushy eyebrows perked and scrunched together.  “No.”  He glanced down at himself and then looked up again with his best apologetic face.  “I’m sorry if I look like one.”
     Elizabeth confessed, “I don’t know if you do; I’ve never actually seen an ogre.”
     An awkward moment of silence transpired where Elizabeth had a hard time keeping her eyes on the ugly boy.  Ugo spoke up apologizing again.  He truly didn’t want this pretty creature with sunbeams for hair to run away. 
     “I’m sorry if I frightened you.”
     “You didn’t,” Elizabeth said, then sheepishly added, “Not really.”
     Ugo dared to ask his desire once again.  “Can I touch your hair?”
     The wary girl screwed up her face, uncertain.  “Why?”
     The boy shrugged, brushing the lobes of his protruding ears with his humped shoulders.  “Because.”
     “Because why?”
     Ugo scratched his globular nose, thinking how to explain.  “Well, because your hair kind of looks like butter.  I wanted to see if it feels like butter too.”
     “Oh.”  Elizabeth touched her own curls, deciding that the feel was soft enough but lacking any creamy smoothness.   “I guess that would be okay.”
     She stood as stiff as a tree as he limped closer, purposefully slow and easy in his approach.  A stubby hand with short, crooked fingers lifted to stroke gently at her long hood of curls.  She struggled not to shy away.
     “You’re pretty,” the boy said.  When he smiled, his teeth stuck out in every direction. 
     “Thank you.”  Elizabeth blushed as he stroked her hair again, her allowing it. 
     “It feels like flower petals—yellow flower petals, not butter.  Have you ever seen mustard blooms before?”  That’s what her hair reminded him of.
     She shook her head.
     Ugo’s unattractive features readjusted, resulting in a cockeyed mask of enthusiasm.  He extended his stubby fingers towards the girl.  “I can show you a whole field of mustard flowers.  Do you want to go see?”
     He eventually dropped his hand at Elizabeth’s silent rejection.  She hadn’t replied to his offer but stood there with rigid, high shoulders. 
     Ugo made another suggestion; he didn’t want the girl to leave.  Company his age had never stuck around before.  “Would you like to hear a story instead?” 
     She suddenly looked interested.  “Do you know a fairytale?”
     Ugo nodded assuredly.  “I know lots of them.  My mom tells me one almost every night.”
     Elizabeth quietly considered his offer.  A good fairytale was definitely an enticing lure.  The ugly boy tempted her further.
     “I know a story about a princess and a goblin.  Would you like to hear it?”
     Her head began to gesture to the affirmative before she verbally accepted.  “Okay, but only if it doesn’t take too long.  My mom will worry if she finds out I left home.”
     “Where do you live?”
     The girl pointed over the high stalks.  “On the other side of this field.”
     “Oh.  Well, I could walk you home while I tell you the story.  Then if your mother called, you would hear her.”
     Liking his idea, Elizabeth smiled wide.  Ugo mirrored the expression less charmingly.
     When he started lumbering in a slow walk down a furrow walled by cornstalks, Elizabeth went along.  She kept at his side, her focus on the ground while listening to him cleverly narrate a tale that happened to star a little princess with buttery-blonde curls.  She gasped at the introduction of mean-spirited goblins, but laughed when the fictitious princess outsmarted the nasty creatures.  Nearing the end of their walk and Ugo’s story, their footsteps slowed until finally halting just within the concealing crop of corn.  Each walking companion turned to face the other, neither as tense and nervous as when they’d first started out.
     Elizabeth cocked her head slightly as if lining up her gaze with Ugo’s slanted eyes.  She then dropped her gaze and kicked at the soil. 
     “I liked your story.  It wasn’t too scary.”
     “Thanks.  I’m glad you let me tell it to you.”
     The girl glanced in the direction of home.  “Well……..I probably should go before my mom misses me.”
     “Oh….right.”  Ugo’s form slouched further forward, disappointed by her desire to leave.  “I suppose you shouldn’t get yourself into trouble.”
     She shook her head.  “No, that would be bad.” 
     He agreed with a nod.  “Yes, that would be bad.”
     Fueled by a courage that rose from the likely presumption that he would never be blessed by the kind company of this pale angel again, Ugo asked permission to touch her hair just one more time.  He was truly surprised when she requested a similar favor.
     “Can I touch your face?”  Again she glanced at him from a tilted vantage point.
     His heart reacted with a flutter, and he consented in an exhale.  “Okay.”
     Both reached out.  Ugo’s bigger fingers combed softly over Elizabeth’s soft hair while her tiny palm landed on his cheek, just below his lowest eye.  He smiled at her touch, and she helped his expression along by tenderly pushing his jowl upward—an attempt to level out his features, especially those wonky, happy eyes.  She laughed at the goofy look it produced, and he laughed too. 
     And then they parted ways. 
     It wasn’t the last time that Elizabeth stole away from home to secretly visit with the ugly boy, and it wasn’t the last fairytale Ugo Gerwyn Hubert narrated for the buttery-blonde angel whose image frequented his dreams.  Though it amounted to little more than twice a year, usually when the cornstalks were at their tallest, Ugo looked forward to rare visits from his neighbor.  He soaked up her pretty smile and treasured permission to feel at her soft hair, but above all these inexplicable blessings was the way his heart melted at Elizabeth’s parting touch when she would press her palm against his cheek and mold his features in a way that made her expression appear to approve of him. 
     Ugo dared to believe that his future included the fair Elizabeth Natalie Desmona.
     As the passing of seasons cunningly and craftily turned girls and boys into young women and young men, such changes tested the courage and boldness of those lads seeking manhood.  At this biological crossroads for Stephen Desmona and his friends they fell prey to a common falsehood, believing that persecuting the undesirables earned them an elusive crown of manly nerve and greatness.  Unfortunately for Ugo, his encounters with Stephen were more frequent than the secret visits paid by his sister.
     The majority of their confrontations were due to Stephen and his friends seeking out the unsightly boy on his own property or at a quiet fishing hole or waiting under a tree at the edge of town for his mother to return from a cleaning detail.  The intent was always to humiliate Ugo by taunting him and casting the cruelest names meant to highlight his deformities.  As I mentioned before, these boys had begun early on to refer to him as ‘Ugh the ugly’, a nickname that in due course seeped into common use by many thoughtless villagers.  Those feeling a prick of conscience and thus needing a reason to justify reiterating the insensitive nickname were quick to mention how the boy’s initials spelled out the word, UGH, thus making it an act of fate or his mother’s intent or God’s will or whatever excuse pardoned the sin.
     Poor Ugh…..  Forgive me, reader, I meant poor Ugo tolerated the unkindness as patiently as any soul could be expected to.  Following his mother’s advice, attempts to ignore, sidestep, avoid, or even befriend his tormentors always failed.  Ugo would then resort to physical means of standing up for himself.  Some called it self-defense, but most who shared a widespread dislike for the hideous figure blamed him for first inciting a brawl and then pummeling his harassers.   
     “He ain’t innocent.  He’s a stocky cuss; he knows his own strength.”
     “He should keep his hideous face hidden if he don’t want no trouble.”
     “Them boys were only playin’ with him as boys’ll do; it’s natural.  They can’t help rough up a rogue now and then.”
     “What can any sane person expect if you come around and make yourself a mark?”
     So Ugo did his best to avoid kids like Stephen who never thought twice about pestering him.  More and more of his waking hours were spent indoors where his mother provided household chores and kindhearted company.  Although a bit restless at times he was basically content until the unthinkable happened.
     It was an early autumn day when Sandra Shaine Hubert succumbed to an illness that robbed Ugo of the only parent who had ever shown any concern for him.  Life became gray and lonely after his mother’s death, and it seemed for a time that he might just lie down in the grave beside her.  His father, who’d always been a silent and cold figure, cared strictly for his own personal needs.  He never asked anything of Ugo, and he never gave.  It’s hard to say what he expected his son to do, for not once did he verbalize to anyone a recommendation for the boy’s future or a mention that the young man stood in need of direction and care.   But the world did not entirely forsake Ugo.  One human remained who felt for the ugly boy, and she paid him a visit on the very day he needed it most. 
     Unable to meet in secret among the cornstalks (for they had already been slashed and harvested) Elizabeth Desmona tracked the young man down at an isolated water hole.  He sat alone at the edge of a muddy lake surrounded by forest trees shedding leaves in autumn hues.  Had it not been for grief’s blinding hand, Ugo would’ve found the view breathtaking.  The young lady knelt beside him at the water’s edge where his large, bare feet had burrowed into the mud.  Her hand landed gently on his humped shoulder where it remained. 
     The silent sweetness of Elizabeth’s company eased poor Ugo’s pain in a way nothing else—no one else—held the power to.  Never once looking up, he cried silent tears for a great while before his companion was even aware of it.  The sound of sniffling gave him away. 
     The girl leaned against him and put her lips near his ear.  “I’m so sorry for your loss, Ugo.  I’m truly, truly sorry.” 
     The griever said nothing, but continued to cry quietly.
     “Your mother was an angel, I know.  She did so much for so many, not just for you but for those she helped out in town.  It was her way of earning extra money, I understand, but she always went above and beyond the tedious chores asked of her.  She worked to make day-to-day life easier for others.  Your mother will be greatly missed—by you most of all.”
     A wordless nod agreed with Elizabeth’s words.  She squeezed on his shoulder when an inhale caught in his throat like an anguished sound of mourning.  
     “I’m so sorry, Ugo.  I wish I knew what to do….what to say.  But I don’t; I don’t know how to help you.”
     Without lifting his head, the young man turned toward the last human willing to give a passing thought to his welfare.  He threw his arms around her and pressed his head against her bosom.  Elizabeth shed tears for her friend and stroked his tangle of hair while he cried over the loss of his mother.  The mud dried on his toes as they mourned in this fashion. 
     Eventually his heartache numbed and Ugo moved away, turning back to the lake.  He didn’t allow the angel who’d held him to see his face, certain it would be that much ghastlier to behold all red and swollen. 
     “Are you going to be okay?” she asked.
     “I don’t know.”  His reply was entirely honest; he had no idea where to go from here.
     “Will your father help—”
     “My father hates me,” Ugo snapped, cutting her off.  “I’m sure he’d rather I’d been the one to die.  I imagine everyone feels the same way.”
     “Don’t say that, Ugo.”
     “Why not?  It’s true.  They all hate me.”
     “They don’t know you.”
     “They don’t want to,” he muttered, clearly defensive and despondent.  “They loathe and avoid me.  Even the women teach their children to call me ‘Ugh the ugly’.  I endure it because I understand why; I’m a frightening, repulsive sight.  I’ve seen my reflection.”
     Shame hushed Elizabeth’s voice as she admitted, “I know.  I thought the same thing when I first saw you.  It’s not fair, Ugo, it’s never been fair.  But more importantly, it’s not, nor has it ever been true.” 
     Ugo almost dared to look up at his sympathetic advocate, but he couldn’t stand it if any sign of revulsion were to show in her face.  He kept his eyes on the stubby fingers curled in his lap.  “It is true, Elizabeth.  No one will ever see me as anything but hideous.”
     “Then you have to prove them wrong.  Show them your goodness and kindness, then they’ll see how beautiful you are on the inside and realize how their assumptions have been mistaken.”
     “How can I do that when no one will allow me near except to mock and ridicule?”
     His angel didn’t have an answer.  “I’m sorry, Ugo,” she sighed.  “You’re a good heart—clearly your mother’s son.  Just like her, you have so much to offer others.  I’m truly sorry they don’t accept you.”
     It was a discouraging conversation, yes, but Ugo continued to mull over Elizabeth’s words for many days afterwards.  It warmed his heart to believe that she saw a beauty inside him like his mother’s.  If only he could show the world when their eyes were closed.
     A year passed by on the Hubert’s farm where Ugo learned to care for himself.  Ignored by his father and yet not entirely rejected, he took over his mother’s household chores voluntarily.  One year eventually became two which steadily grew to be three.  Elizabeth continued to visit Ugo in secret, especially during those weeks following the death of his mother.  Her appearances, including her soft touch on his cheek, decreased over time.  On the whole, no one saw much of the young man called Ugh, although some swore that they glimpsed his grim shadow hobbling along their lonely streets on many a moonlit night.  The rumors were enough to cause nervous villagers to lock up their homes and sheds. 
     On a day nearing the anniversary of Sandra Hubert’s death, it just so happened that Ugo came across his buttery-blonde angel at the very mud hole where the two had shared a tearful, grieving embrace.  On this occasion she wasn’t alone.  Her brother Stephen stood by her side, showing off how he could skip a rock five times over the lake’s surface.  Ugo considered turning around, not wanting a confrontation with Stephen, but his desire to see Elizabeth was strong, and he assumed that a gentleman’s civility would dictate conduct in the presence of a lady. 
     He assumed wrong.
     At first Ugo kept his distance and tried his own hand at skipping flat stones across the water.  Elizabeth’s pale face turned his direction a number of times, unreadable in expression.  Ugo sauntered nearer, mostly to get a clearer look at her, hoping to read in her eyes if his presence was wanted or feared.  But then, as ought to have been expected, Stephen intervened with his usual verbal abuse.  It would have served them all best if Ugo had simply turned and walked away, but for some unfathomable reason the young man felt to do so would appear cowardly to the lady in their midst.  His entitlement to stand on the lakeshore was the same as anyone else’s. 
     Stephen Desmona strongly insisted that ‘Ugh the ugly’ leave their sight immediately.
     Ugo Gerwyn Hubert staunchly refused.
     The confrontation became sorely physical. 
     Unfortunately when tempers rage and pride dictates one’s actions, the consequences are usually regrettable, and it no longer matters in the tiniest degree who was right or wrong.  Such was the case where poor, sweet Elizabeth fell down victim.  You know the rest of Ugo’s story, for it began our sad tale.  The guilty was put to death—a despised life for the life of an angel.  His body hung like a heavy sandbag for three days in the town square where everyone agreed that they were better off without that hideous figure lurking in their shadows, troubling their streets.  The day after Elizabeth’s funeral, Ugo’s body was carted off to be buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in his father’s cornfield.
     And so life went on.
     Days transitioned into weeks that added up to months.  For Stephen Desmona it seemed a never-ending nightmare.  He grieved and bemoaned the loss of his sister, telling the tale over and over to any listener as if a magical ear existed that could somehow change the ending of a tragedy already carved in a headstone.  Friends and neighbors came in great numbers to offer the grieving family plates of food, sympathetic words, and ample shows of affection.  But it seemed the more kindness that was extended, the deeper young Stephen slipped into the darkest pit of depression and solitude.  He just couldn’t seem to pry his mind away from reliving the day of Elizabeth’s death.
     It was barely two months after the fact when Maddalyn Desmona found a long letter left on her son’s bed.  His things were gone.  A frantic search for the boy found him nowhere, and it was concluded that he’d run away from home.  Maddalyn cried for days on end over the loss of two children while her husband hung his head in shame, having read his son’s cowardly confession:

     To all who hated Ugh,

     I am sorry. 
     It is my fault that such strong hatred ever existed toward him.  He was entirely undeserving of it.  I regret my actions to a depth and intensity of pain no human heart should be able to bear and survive.  Perhaps mine is made of stone.  I’m beginning to think so. 
     I know that no amount of remorse or suffering on my part will ever be enough to atone for what I’ve done, for persecuting Ugh over the years undeservedly and for the malicious spreading of rumors against his actual virtuous and noble nature, and for my final act of hatred most of all.  A confession is all I can give, for I am the real monster and the true coward.  I will never be the hero Ugh was and is.
     It is my fault that Elizabeth died.  I threw the rock that killed her.  It wasn’t meant to happen that way, but it did.  Ugh took the blame for it, and I know why.
     Here is the truth.
     Elizabeth confided in me years ago that she’d met the ugly boy whose fields bordered our own.  She described him as kind and gentle and a new friend.  Because of hatred, jealousy, pride, disgust, suspicion—take your pick—I made it my aim to prove her wrong about that revolting character, for that’s all I ever saw when looking at him.  I would not have my beautiful sister feeling for that monster, and so my quest to torment him began.  I spread rumors, picked fights, taunted and insulted him in the hopes of drawing out an equally ugly temper from inside.  But the truth is, he endured the persecution from me, from others, from you perhaps, with greater forbearance than I or anyone else could have managed. 
     Elizabeth snuck away on rare occasions to meet up with her ugly friend, to hear him tell her stories and to make him feel less lonely.  She would tell me about how nice he was, and I would tell her she was a fool for allowing herself to be deceived.  I tried to discourage her, but she was never dissuaded. 
     On the day of her death, I started a fight with Ugh.  I was angry that he’d shown up during our time together.  I was angry that he didn’t turn around and leave.  I was angry that Elizabeth kept looking at him, encouraging him to come closer.  I was angry that he couldn’t see how he didn’t belong in her life, how she was meant for someone as beautiful as her. 
     When he refused to go away, I pitched a rock at him hoping to scare him off.  His refusal to budge made me angrier.  When Elizabeth spoke up to defend him, I lost my temper entirely.  I pitched stone after stone at him, figuring it would scare him off.  Elizabeth tried to stop me; she got in the way.  I swear it was never my intent to harm her, but I did.  I threw the rock that hit her in the head.  I killed her. 
     Ugh dragged her body out of the water.  He tried to save her, to make her heart beat again.  When I realized his efforts were to no avail, that there was nothing I could do, I accused him of causing her death.  I screamed at him—blamed him for everything.  Then I ran off while he cried over her.
     I never thought he’d take the blame without arguing his innocence.  But then again, who would’ve believed him?  That too is my fault.
     The truth is, Ugh may have been an awful sight, but he had a pure and decent soul.  He was kind to my sister.  He loved her more than I did.  I know it, because he was willing to die for her while I cowardly let him do so.    
     Nothing can change the wrongs done to him, but I thought at least his good name should be cleared. 
     I am sorry.

     Regrettably,
     Stephen Adrian Desmona

     The letter was read aloud in town and then posted on a public board.  It was the right thing to do.  It affected everyone. 
     Days passed quietly, a heavy shroud of shame having settled over the land.  People pondered the injustice that had taken place and how it had been allowed to occur.  During this time strange observations were made. 
     Mrs. Sawyer noticed that her wood pile was dwindling.  Curiously, she’d not had that problem in a long while.  Mrs. Killian remarked how her front deck seemed to need sweeping often, gathering leafs and debris like it never had.  Mr. Waite was surprised by the amount of chickens he was losing to coyotes, a trouble he’d not experienced in ages.  And Mr. Allen found himself removing more rocks and garbage along his fence line than ever before.  Other peculiarities were noticed and pointed out, mostly small things, chores mumbled about needing attention.  The tasks had not been seen to in some time and yet miraculously they’d been accomplished.  These things had gone unnoticed until finally neglected and in need of someone to step forward and do them. 
     The truth spread swiftly as it became apparent that the grim figure who’d once haunted their streets at night was responsible for carrying out these simple, mundane tasks when he was alive.  It was ‘Ugh the ugly’ who had kept their homes and streets beautiful.  He’d done so in honor of his mother and to prove, at Elizabeth’s suggestion, his goodness to those who would never have given him opportunity during daylight hours.
     No one had bothered to sense a lighter load until it fell back on one’s own shoulders.
     Some say it was guilt.  Others claim a learned lesson and gratitude.  Then there are those who deem it penance for what surely was a shared sin in God’s eyes.  In whatever manner it is explained, a grand thing did come about from the trials of Ugo Gerwyn Hubert.  The hearts and eyes of a community were forever changed.  They learned that physical attractiveness is no indicator of an individual’s beauty.  In remembrance of the one who taught them this truth, a bronze statue of his likeness was raised on the very spot where ‘Ugh the ugly’ was wrongly hanged, having voluntarily sacrificed his life to save Elizabeth’s brother.  The inscription is a lesson to never be forgotten.

In memory of Ugo Gerwyn Hubert
“Anyone who takes the time to be kind is beautiful.”


Copyright 2013 Richelle E. Goodrich