The way he said each word was odd. Not wrong. Just slightly off center.
He seemed to be sucking air inward instead of outward as he said the pronoun, "You". The Echo and breathiness of it made his voice travel eerily- like it wasn't coming from him but a dark and gaping void deep inside him. and it wanted to pull me in.
"Must", the verb sounded too fond. Like he was too familiar with me, had been watching me my entire life and he knew all my tricks. the familiarity might have been grandfatherly, comforting... but he lingered too long on the S, so the word rotted into a reptilian hiss before it was broken- no- Bitten Off with a crisp "T".
"Be Jackie!" these words were lifted up at the end, like a melody, or a question, and yet it was greeting. He was asking me nothing. He was commanding an answer. I stared up at him, in awe of his obvious wickedness.
His slightly bent teeth, his dated haircut, his neatly pressed but painfully boring brown suit. But in the shadowed light of the thrift shop, his features seem sharp, his thinness offputtingly corpse-like. A long slender scar dripped down his neck disappearing into his forest of salt and pepper hair. Everything about this man was neat and mysterious to me, like candy wrapped in gleaming tin foil that had melted in the sun- so when you peeled away the silver layers, what you found was black, and sticky. Coming away on your fingertips like wet chewing gum but Black. Black as tar.
I can describe him no other way. He was old yet young. Restrained yet cruel. Deep crows feet and laugh lines around his eyes, but the eyes crackled in their sockets- they were young, keen, and far more alive than I'd ever seen on any other human being.
He whistled shrilly. A brief burst of sound that had me shut my gaping mouth and stand at attention. First 30 seconds of meeting my new boss and I was already fudging things up. He stepped closer, eyes still examining me, measuring me against some invisible rubric in his mind. He reached out a hand to put me at ease, his touch was ghost cold. His long fingers rested on my right shoulder and swiped up and around to the back of my neck. It was so slow and deliberate, I could feel him taking stalk of my gangly muscle. I felt him tighten his grip ever so slightly on my neck, his fingertips pressing in as if I were a cadaver and he was checking for a pulse.
"You'll have to get used to it eventually," he said, his voice softening as studied my eyes. A foreign accent smoothed the rough bits of his speech. "So child, What is your name?"I swallowed once and slid a mask of polite fearlessness over my true face, "My name is Jackie." I grinned like a gambler as I said it, mixing that with innocent puppy-like eyes.
Jackie is not my real name. But it's the only name you will ever get, because, from this moment onward in my life, my real name no longer mattered. From this moment forward, who I was no longer mattered. Jackie is the name this man insisted that I learn to respond to. And he likes the way I respond, I see it in his pleasant surprise. He likes the way I lie.
So he takes my hand and places it in the crook of his elbow. "Pleasure to meet you, Jackie. You'll fit right in."
We walk through the thrift store, stepping around precarious mountains of oddities. These knickknacks and dusky pieces of china had once been precious to someone. The further in we went, the less light filtered in from the front windows. And beyond the labyrinth of tragic junk, there was a single door.
It had been dead silent in the front room, but now that I stood before the door, even with it closed I could hear the chaos. Packing, scampering feet, barked orders, and children screaming at each other across multiple rooms.
I realized that I wouldn't have another chance to ask so I paused, just before he opened the door.
"What may I call you? uh, sir?"
When he smiled his face seemed fox-like, all tightened pointed angles and slim eyes. "You will call me Mr. Brown. But there is another name, one the children gave me. I will not respond to it, but you should know that when they say it, they are speaking of me."
He didn't continue. I played along, "What's the other name?"
His electric eyes crackled at me once, like a blade catching the light of the sun. His speech is plain though, matter of fact, as he swings the door wide open.
"They call me Rumplestiltskin."