The Outcast by Candy
The Hobbit-hole where Sméagol lived was like a warren. Passages branched off in every direction, lit by little lamps mounted on sconces in small niches. It was a bit dim in there, even in broad daylight when the round front door was open. Now Sméagol was returning from his fishing trip, and Déagol wasn’t with him.
“Hey Sméagol!” called William. “Did you catch any fish?”
Sméagol turned to face him, fingering the ring that nestled in his pocket, and despised the young lad for his freckled face and the bright yellow shirt he wore. “No,” he said curtly.
The lad came scampering over to join him. He always wanted to join him, and there was little Sméagol could do to dampen his enthusiasm. Usually, he brushed the little fellow off, making excuses to avoid him or promising to meet him at a certain spot, then not showing up. A grin spread slowly across Sméagol’s face as a new possibility occurred to him.
Sméagol halted. He’d known this moment would come, but even so, a cold hand gripped his guts as he considered how to answer him. “I don’t know,” he said, playing for time.
Soft music played in his head, a song of promise and glory. The increasing warmth of the ring sent a tingle up his fingers, made him grip it tightly and smile.
Blue eyes shone from William’s eager face. “What’s in your pocket?”
“My hand,” snapped Sméagol. “Go away, William.”
“But what are you smiling about?”
A frown crossed the lad’s face for a moment, then he ran off.
“Sméagol!” called a familiar voice. The Grandmother.
Quickly, Sméagol hastened to the cavernous common room where she usually held court, ensconced in her armchair by the fire.
“There you are,” she said. “Where’s Déagol? Did you catch any fish?”
“No, I don’t know,” he answered, unwilling to look into those sharp brown eyes.
“But you’ve been out all day!” she declared. “That’s an awfully long time to be out catching nothing. And you’ve managed to lose Déagol, too. Did you have an argument, or something?”
She suspected him! She knew! She knew, but she just wouldn’t say it!
“It’s my birthday,” he whined, “and nobody’s got me a present!”
“That’s not what I asked you, Sméagol,” she said, her voice strict. The Grandmother folded her bulky arms and glared at him.
“You’re being mean,” he snivelled, and walked away.
He pretended not to hear. Outside in the corridor, he looked around, saw no one there, and slipped on the ring. People came out to bring him back and make him show respect, but couldn’t see him. He went to one of the store rooms and stayed there for a while. The ring felt like warm honey dripped over his skinny finger.
Over the course of the next few days, Sméagol had to answer the same question over and over again: “Where’s Déagol?”
He had no answer; well, not one he was willing to give. He could hardly tell the truth, could he? Besides, he hadn’t murdered Déagol. He was only expressing his frustration at being snubbed on his birthday, of all things, so he’d made it clear that he was upset. Déagol was a weak and selfish person who cared nothing for others. That’s what had killed him, not Sméagol. Poor Sméagol, always being blamed. Well, he couldn’t be held responsible for this. But they wouldn’t understand if he told them that, so he just said, “I don’t know,” and left it at that.
But they kept asking.
They asked him about other things, too. That silver chain Frery was so proud of – when it went missing, they asked him where it was. He could hardly tell them it was in a small box under his bed, now, could he? That wiped the smug smile off her face. She looked everywhere for it, but never did find it.
The gift of invisibility afforded him by the ring was a huge boon. He often crept about, looking into dark corners and following his people about. Oh, it was delicious to discover that Delfere and Lufu were more than just friends. The trouble was, Lufu was promised in marriage to Nistan. And Nistan had a right to know, so Sméagol took it upon himself to inform the cuckold. “I have something to show you,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper. “Come.”
Nistan followed him outside to the shed where the cows were kept at night. Sméagol led him to the back, to the hay rick, and gasped in mock surprise to see Lufu and Delfere locked in a passionate embrace, their hands wandering frantically around each other’s…
“What is this?” demanded Nistan. He rushed over, seized Delfere by the hair and pulled him away from his woman.
Delfere didn’t even raise his hand when Nistan punched him in the face.
“Stop!” cried Lufu. She tried to pull Nistan back, but he swung his elbow back and knocked her off her feet. She fell in the hay, and got right up again.
Delfere got up and punched Nistan in the stomach.
Lufu slapped Nistan in the face.
“Why?” he demanded. “Why are you two doing this?”
Lufu burst into tears. “I didn’t want to hurt you,” she said.
“But you did,” he replied. “Both of you did.” He turned around and walked away.
Invisible, Sméagol grinned as he watched, squeezing his laced fingers with glee. A wicked warm feeling spread over him like a blanket. Oh, this was fun!
As time went by, Sméagol found that his tolerance for his family frayed. Stupid people! They couldn’t make themselves invisible like he could. Nor could they see what was going on in front of them. They should have known about Lufu and Delfere. Weren’t they always creeping off to be together? They should have found Frery’s chain by now. He’d lost interest when she’d stopped moping about it. Why hadn’t they noticed it was back in her keepsake box? And they’d given him such filthy looks, too. Accusing him of all sorts. Some of it was true, to be fair, but they’d seen his funny jokes in the worst possible light. Why couldn’t they just accept him as he was?
Only the ring, the precious ring, brought him any joy. Sméagol fondled it as a lover would, caressing the outer edge with his fingertips, late at night in his room. “Ah, precious,” he crooned. He could almost make out some strange pattern on it as it glowed slightly in the dark, but it was too faint to make sense of. Oh, it was beautiful. A lump formed in his throat as he beheld it. Gollum!
His ability to make himself invisible certainly gave Sméagol access to people’s secrets, but some things were meant to be kept private. When he learned that his family – and people he had known all his life – despised him, he was cut to the quick. “Gollum!” they mocked. “He’s such a little sneak, that one!”
“And a thief. Where’s my necklace? You all saw how he eyed it when I got it, then it disappeared.”
“Does anyone know what happened to Déagol? Gollum does, but he’s not saying.”
It hurt. They blamed him for everything, even things he’d had nothing to do with. If anything went wrong, it was laid at his door. They didn’t even use his real name any more. Well, he’d had enough. The time had come to teach them a lesson. In the darkness of his room, he stroked the ring and thought of a plan that would force them to accept him.
Up he got and slipped on the ring. He crept down the dimly-lit corridor to the common room, where the fire burned low in the grate. Benches, tables and chairs were scattered around, and he put them together in a pile. Carefully, quietly, he stacked them, then gathered the rushes from the floor to wedge between them. A few coals from the fire stuck in the middle ought to do it, then he could run around, raise the alarm, and be a hero for rescuing his family. It couldn’t fail! He gulped as he thought about his plan. Gollum! But it was a good one.
That noise! Yes, he made a funny gulping noise from time to time, but that was their fault for making him nervous.
The door creaked open. “Gollum!”
He jumped. Wait, he was invisible. They couldn’t see him. But they were blaming him. Without any proof, they’d come to the conclusion that he was responsible for this. It wasn’t fair!
“Gollum, come out of there,” ordered Uncle Besléan, with a furious edge to his voice.
Sméagol froze. There was no way Besléan could possibly see him.
“Gollum?” he shouted. “I mean it. Come out right now.” The heavy-set elder glared around the room, holding a lamp aloft. He came in, looked over the pile of chairs and benches and walked slowly around it. “Sméagol, come on, I know you’re in here. Where are you hiding?”
His heart thumped a tattoo of terror in his chest, but Sméagol dared not make a sound. As Besléan drew near, he crept away, circled the pile, and made for the door.
“Gollum, you little rat!” shouted his uncle. “Come out at once!”
The noise of Besléan’s shouting brought the others running.
“What’s going on?” they asked. Then they saw the pile.
“He means to murder us,” said Besléan grimly.
A large cupboard stood beside the door, and Sméagol went to stand on the other side of it. Fear held his heart in an icy grip. He was in trouble now, his plan in ruins. If he could just make his way back to his room, then emerge, blinking, pretending to have been woken by the hue and cry, they’d have to find someone else to blame. But with all those people at the door, and more arriving every minute, there was no way he’d be able to manage that.
The Grandmother arrived, clad in her sleeping shift, a shawl about her stooped shoulders. “What’s going on?” she croaked, rubbing the sleep from her rheumy eyes.
“Look,” said Besléan. “That little sneak has gone too far this time.”
“Where is he?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
Could there be a spark of doubt in their minds? Ah, there was William. He might be able to pin the blame on that puppy-eyed crawler. If he could just creep up and pop some rushes in the lad’s pockets, they’d have to stop blaming him. No, too risky. He would be noticed. How would he get out of this?
“Find him,” she ordered.
The people came into the room and started to put things away. Several of them glanced directly at him, but couldn’t see Sméagol where he stood flattened against the wall beside the cupboard. Sméagol rubbed the ring with his thumb. ‘Please don’t let them find me, precious.’
They were all in now – well, most of them. The doorway might be clear now.
Wary as a mouse, he crept forwards and put his head around the side of the cupboard, then ran to his room. He’d made it! He slipped off the ring and put it in his nightshirt pocket, then made a big show of emerging from his room, surprised at the noise emanating from the common room. “Hey,” he called as he came in, “what’s going on?”
“You little snake!” shouted Besléan. “Your little act is not fooling anyone!”
“What do you mean, uncle?” asked Sméagol. “Gollum!”
“You always do that when you’ve been up to something,” he snarled. “Sneaking around causing trouble. Now you’ve gone too far!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Sméagol. “Gollum! Gollum!”
“Stop doing that!” he shouted.
“I can’t help it, you’re making me nervous,” Sméagol replied.
“You just tried to murder us,” declared the Grandmother. “You’re making us nervous.”
“But I’ve only just come in,” wailed Sméagol.
“Does anyone believe that?” asked Nistan.
“Who are you to say that?” demanded Sméagol. “I helped you!”
“You broke my heart!” shouted Nistan.
“No,” argued Sméagol, “that was Lufu and Delfere. They broke your heart, not me. Gollum!”
“You stole my silver chain,” accused Frery.
“Have you checked your keepsake box?” asked Sméagol. “Have you? Gollum!”
“Stop doing that!” shouted the Grandmother.
“Gollum! You’re making me nervous,” snivelled Sméagol. “Shouting at me like that. Gollum! Gollum!”
“I can’t have any more of this, Sméagol,” she said. “Get out.”
Her harsh, cold words were like a slap in the face, and he recoiled. “You can’t make me leave,” he whined. “Where will I go?”
“I don’t care,” she said, pointing at him. “Go.”
Uncle Besléan seized him by the scruff of the neck, dragged him to the door, flung it open and threw him outside on to the muddy ground.
A cold breeze billowed his nightshirt. “It’s cold,” he cried, his teeth chattering. “Please let me back in.”
A moment later, Nistan chucked a sack at him. “Here,” he said. “You’ll need these.”
“But it’s dark!”
“No, Sméagol,” said the Grandmother. “We can’t have you in here with us any more.”
“No!” cried Sméagol. “Gollum!”
“Go away, Gollum,” shouted Besléan. He bent down, picked up a stone, and threw it at him.
The blow hurt less than the rejection, but Sméagol knew there was no going back.
The others shouted and cursed him, the sounds of their fury followed him as he trudged away in the darkness clutching his sack. What else could he do? They’d never let him return. Weeping, he made his way to the mountains. Maybe there he’d find a place to stay. He reached for the ring, longing for the comfort of the warm shiny thing. It was all he had left.