Based on the short story “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst (rewritten from Doodle’s point of view):

 

I was born when my brother was six. He thought that I was crazy. Not an insane crazy, but a good crazy; dreamlike. He told me so when I was only two weeks old and I couldn’t understand him. But he told me every day for years, so I imagine it was the first thing I ever heard.

Then I turned three months old and Mama and Daddy decided to give me a name. “William Armstrong,” they would say fondly, but I could see the sadness in the depths of their gaze. When they looked at me, I could see the depression, the fear. You didn’t need to be a genius to know that they were hiding something from me (even me, at not even a year old, could tell).

When I was two-years-old, Mama took me off of the rubber mat on the middle of the bed that I lay on and laid me on my stomach in the front bedroom. And, slowly, I began to move myself like a turtle, though it strained me terribly.

Mama and Daddy called a doctor and the doc said that with my weak heart, this much strain would probably kill me. That’s what Mama and Daddy told me, and that was why they never let me do anything that might be too hard.  They were scared that if I strained, I’d die, so they were always real careful with me.

But the strain didn’t kill me. I lived.

Eventually, Mama and Daddy brought me out to the living room on the rug and placed me in front of the fireplace.

During my third winter, I learned to talk. Though, I’ll admit, no one seemed very happy about this. I kept on babbling even though I could tell when everyone stopped listening.

Soon, I learned to crawl backwards. According to my brother, it made me look like a doodlebug (whatever that was), so he started calling me Doodle instead of William Armstrong. Only Aunt Nicey thought that renaming me was a very bad idea. She said that I was a caul baby and that caul babies should be treated with respect. My brother thought that renaming me was kind and what I needed. Mama and Daddy agreed with him.

Personally, I don’t know what to think about my new name. Doodle’s kinda cute, but sounds a lot like something you’d name a pet like a cat or dog.

At first, my brother just pushed me up and down the piazza, but then I decided that I wanted to go into the yard. Whenever my brother was going outside, I would beg him to take me. He was reluctant, then Mama would order him to take me with him. He was obviously upset at having to take care of me.

Sometimes while we were out, my brother would accidentally flip the go-cart over and it would hurt my sensitive skin. But I loved my brother, so I never told on him.

One day, my brother took me to Old Woman Swamp and it was the most marvelous place that I’d ever seen, in our yard or in a dream. It was beautiful.

So beautiful, in fact, that I started to cry as I stroked the grass.

“What’s the matter, dog-face?”

“It’s pretty.” I told him. “Wonderful.”

After that day, my brother and I often visited Old Woman Swamp together and we’d sit in the grass and watch the sky and pick brilliantly-hued flowers.

A few days later, my brother said that he wanted to show me something, and he brought me up to the barn loft and showed me a rectangular box of mahogany wood. He told me how they all believed that I was going to die and told me that this box was supposed to have been my casket.

I studied the coffin for a while then decided, “It’s not mine.”

“It is.” My brother said, stubbornly. “Touch it, or I’ll leave you here. Let the rats have you.”

“I won’t touch it.” I said, terrified of the cruelty that had come over my brother (his face was a mask of disgust, his lip curled in hatred and his eyes were dark with murderous intent).

“Then I’ll just be on my way. Oh, and by the way, brother, rats can chew through anything.” My brother shrugged nonchalantly, as if he didn’t care if I was eaten by the critters who lived in the barn, and started to climb down the ladder to the ground.

“Don’t go. Don’t leave me, Brother!” I said, frightened of being left alone with the bats and the dark.

Trembling, I concluded that I’d touch my coffin to keep my brother from abandoning me.

My fingertips brushed the hard, smooth surface of the dark wood. Doodle, come to me… the casket seemed to call. I screamed and clung to my brother as an owl flapped past us out of the loft.

My brother carried me out into the sunshine where it was bright and real, and, yet, I kept crying and gripping my brother, pleading, “Don’t let me die. Don’t leave me alone with it…”

When I was five, my brother made up his mind to teach me to walk. He took me down to Old Woman Swamp and announced, “I’m going to teach you to walk, Doodle.”

“Why?” I asked, confused.

“So that you’ll be like everyone else. Or do you want to be different? The freak. Not that you aren’t already…”

“Okay. Help me.” I agreed.

My brother helped me up, but I collapsed.

“Keep trying, dimwit.” My brother said.

I tried again, but fell flat on my face.

“Again.” My brother said, then thought and added, “Brat.”

Again, and again I attempted unsuccessfully to stand.

“Why don’t we just quit?” I suggested. “We can sit here and pick flowers, admiring the sun.”

“No! We are not stopping until I say so. Got it, mouse-brain?”

I nodded silently.

After a few weeks, I had managed to walk a few feet. My brother shouted and gave me a hug, in his relief seeming to forget that he hated me. He was ecstatic that I’d finally managed to do something. But then he remembered his revulsion with me and he shoved me roughly to the hard ground.

I just smiled grimly. He always got away with this kind of stuff because he knew that I’d never tattle.

On October 8th (my sixth birthday), my brother and I had decided to show Aunt Nicey and Mama and Daddy that I could walk.

When Mama, Aunt Nicey, and Daddy were all seated in the dining room, my brother pushed me in the go-cart into the room. My brother told them to turn their backs while we got ready. My brother helped me up, and, when I was standing alone, had the adults turn back around.

The room was completely silent as I made my way over to my place at the table.

Mama burst into tears, and ran over to me, hugging and kissing me. Daddy came over to hug me, too.

I told everyone that my brother had taught me to walk and Mama and Daddy and Aunt Nicey hugged him.

After a few months, when I had learned to walk pretty well, my go-cart had been put up on the loft with the coffin.

After a while, I took up the habit of lying to escape the ugliness of real-life of my deformity and how my brother kept trying to beat it out of me. I created these great fantasy stories about faeries and little dwarves and ugly little gnomes and big hulking trolls and graceful angels with hearts of pure gold and eyes that held the sun.

 

My brother and I spent a lot of time at Old Woman Swamp, thinking about our futures.

I came up with a plan and shared it with my brother one day. I told him how we could live in Neverland (a place that I’d read about in a picture book) and we’d never grow old and we would be able to fly and have adventures.

“Don’t be silly, dumbbell.” scoffed my brother, rolling his eyes. The best you can do is not be a complete embarrassment to me by the time you start school.  Forget Neverland, this is the real life. Reality. And in reality, you play by my rules!”

Soon my brother had succeeded in teaching me to walk. He even prepared a “terrific development program” he announced. He’d teach me to run, swim, to climb trees, and to fight.

We set our deadline of these accomplishments for less than a year away, when I was supposed to start school.

Since I kept suffering from many bad colds, one right after the other, we didn’t get much progress done this winter.

But when spring came, bearing promise and hope, we set to work again.

My brother taught me how to row a boat and gave me swimming lessons on particularly humid or hot days.

School was only a few weeks away, and according to my brother, I was far behind schedule.

Sometimes I’d come back from these training sessions with my brother, feeling ill and looking feverish. At night, I didn’t sleep well. I’d have horrific nightmares and I’d cry out.

On Saturday, at noon, just a few days before school would start, Mama, Daddy, my brother, and I sat at the table eating lunch. Aunt Nicey was in the kitchen, singing softly to herself.

Suddenly, a loud noise interrupted the silence.

“What’s that, I wonder?” Daddy said, puzzled.

My brother and I leaped up from the table and rushed outside, Mama and Daddy following.

“It’s a big red bird.” I said, peering up through the branches of an old tree in our front yard.

“It’s a Scarlet Ibis.” Daddy said knowingly.

“How’d it get here?”

“Probably flew.” I said, staring at the vibrant bird.

“No, duh!” My brother hissed into my ear, so that Mama and Daddy couldn’t overhear.

Just then, the bird wailed and flapped its crimson wings.

We all watched as the bird fell and landed at my feet. But, in death, the bird was still as gorgeous as when it’d been alive. It lay gracefully in a pose like a ballerina.

“You better beware. Red birds are bad luck. Especially dead ones.” Aunt Nicey said, poking her head outside.

I gulped, staring at the bird with wide, surprised eyes.

“Oh, the poor thing.” Mama said sadly.

“We should bury it.” Daddy suggested.

“I’ll do it.” I volunteered.

“Okay, honey.” The three of them went back inside with Aunt Nicey.

Picking up a rope, I managed to tie one end around the bird’s neck without touching the bird and I dug a hole and pushed the bird inside. Patting the dirt back into place, I decided to sing it a song to the tune of an old hymn:

So pretty her grace,
So soft her wings.
Feathers of ruby and fire.
Blood, blood, under the bleeding tree.
Beauty, her faithful servant,
Has come to her once more.
Owing the price of honor and pride,
Quiet and peace commence.
 Love is a myth from long ago,
 Upon the wheel of gold.
 Spun around the mistletoe,
 Change will never come.
 So pretty her grace,
 So soft her wings.
 Feathers of ruby and fire.
 Blood, blood, under the bleeding tree.
 So here lies the bird of a fairy-tale,
 Red as red can be.
 Dead, dead, of shadowy death,
 Please have mercy on me.
 ‘Round and ‘round, the Heavens look down on me.
 Out, out, in Hell I’ll never be.
  Escape these clutches,
  Of thorns and swords, and rest in peace with me.
  So pretty her grace,
  So soft her wings.
  Feathers of ruby and fire.
  Blood, blood, under the bleeding tree.
  Hide your secrets from Heaven and earth,
  Hide your secrets from me.
  Hell will freeze and you’ll be free
  To reveal your secrets to me.
  So pretty her grace,
  So soft her wings.
  Feathers of ruby and fire.
  Blood, blood, rise above the tree.

I finished my song and looked up to see Mama, Daddy, Aunt Nicey, and my brother all watching me from the window.

They looked away quickly and sat at the table, pretending not to be listening as they finished their lunches.

I had lost my appetite as I’d seen the bird literally drop dead right before my eyes.

After my brother had finished his lunch, we set out to Old Woman Swamp.

There, we trained and then my brother told me that it was time to do a final ‘bout of rowing to end the day.

I clambered into the boat and gripped the oars as my brother climbed in beside me.

I rowed down the stream for about twenty minutes, then my brother instructed me to row back against the tide.

I turned the boat around and tried with all my might to get us back to where we started.

After about fifty-five minutes of this, I managed to get back. I had more than doubled the time it took to go downstream.

My brother and I got out of the boat and pulled it to shore.

Together, my brother walking a few paces in front of me, we headed back home.

As we walked in silence, I heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Lightning flashed and gray clouds formed overhead. Rain spilled down, pelting us with wet bullets and caressing its icy fingers over our skin beneath our clothes.

We both began to run, trying to beat the rain, but we were soaked to the bone and shivering even before we got halfway home.

Sensing that my brother wanted to ditch me, I cried, “Don’t leave me.”

My brother sped up, and soon he was far ahead.

“No, no, no!” I muttered to myself, reduced to tears.

Suddenly, I choked.

Something warm and salty was in my mouth. I screwed up my face in distaste as the coppery taste flooded my mouth. I coughed.

A moment later, I spluttered and fell to my knees. I couldn’t breath.

I clutched at my throat as if I could pull away an invisible hand that was bent on strangling me.

I found a red bush and crawled underneath it for shelter. I drew my knees up and hugged them to my chest, tears pouring down my face and mingling with the rain.

My brother had left me. Abandoned me. Ditched me. I always knew he would.

I was alone. Truly and utterly alone.

I was going to die alone without anyone by my side.

Truly and utterly alone…

Alone in the world. Alone in my thoughts.

I always knew he’d leave me. So my brother had killed me in the end, anyway. I knew he’d wanted me dead from the moment I was born, and I guess he was going to get his wish after all.

I was completely and entirely ignored. Forgotten.

“Doodle!” I heard feet pounding on the earth.

Doodle…

“Where are you? Ungrateful little vermin!”

I recognized my brother’s voice as I drifted slowly out of this wet, cruel world and fell down, down, down into a bottomless pit.

Doodle… The darkness seemed to call, reaching its shadowy fingers out to grab onto me and pull me deeper into the spirit world. Doodle…

And, as I welcomed the blackness into my heart, accepted Death, let my mind go blank, I heard someone crying over me, “Oh, Doodle!”

And I was gone.

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