Erik walks out, into the bright sunshine, wincing. The light hurts his eyes; he's so used to being in the house, in the dim coolness where no one sees him.
He sees a group of boys playing a game with a ball, throwing it back and forth. It looks fairly pointless, but the boys are laughing and having fun. He wonders what laughter tastes like.
The girls are playing with rag babies, knotted out of scraps of cloth. Erik tries to see them more clearly from where he stands, so far back from the other children. The little dolls are pitifully simple, he could easily make better ones; out of wood, maybe, with jointed limbs, with painted faces and maybe even clothes. Surely the girls would like those better.
Erik realizes, with a twinge, that he doesn't even know the names of several of the children in the village where he lives.
One of the boys throws the ball a little too high, and it bounces and rolls away- away toward Erik. It moves unhurriedly over the ground, then hits a rock and stops at his feet.
Very slowly, Erik reaches down to take it.
"Non!" Before his fingers can close over the ball, he's shoved hard, forced down onto the ground. "Don't touch it! You'll dirty it!"
Erik knows his hands are perfectly clean. He also knows that the aggressive boy in front of him- what's his name? Andreas?- is not referring to actual dirt.
"You disgusting beast- why are you even out here? Go back inside, monster!"
Monster, monster, monster... The other boys come to circle him, taunting him, kicking him back down as he tries to get up. Erik puts up a hand, hoping his mask is still in place. All he needs now is for it to slip, and the boys to renew their taunting in a fresh attack of disgust and malicious glee.
"Don't ever touch our things again!" A particularly vicious kick grinds into his ribs, and Erik gasps and cries out in pain. He touches the place with trembling fingers; they come away bloody.
Making a break for it, he shoves hard at the leg of one of the boys. With a yelp, the boy stumbles backward, and Erik scrambles quickly through the space and gets to his feet and runs.
"Coward!" one of the boys yells, to a score of derisive laughter. "See the coward run!"
"See the beast run!"
"Shall we hunt him down?"
"Don't bother, his flesh is no good to be eaten or tanned...!"
Laughing, laughing, mocking laughter. Erik runs faster, as fast as eight-year-old legs will take him.
The house is quiet and cool, soothing. Erik sits down carefully under the table, taking care not to jostle himself as he pulls his shirt half-off to inspect the place. It's bleeding, but not too badly.
Mama comes into the room, sees him under the table, and winces, her face wrinkling in the way Erik has come to know and expect.
At least his mask is on, still. Dirtied slightly perhaps, but still covering that which earned his aversion.
When Mama leaves for her bedroom, Erik turns his attention back to his ribs, dabbing with a damp handkerchief and watching with vague curiosity as crimson blossoms and swallows the white.
He hums, lightly, to himself.