There once was a little village in a little valley next to a dark wood. One sunny day a baby was born to a sweet young couple who lived in a thatched house in the middle of the village. The baby was a little girl, mostly normal. She had ten fingers and ten toes and wiggled them all as she cried, distraught about being brought from the nothing place to the something place as all babies are. Mother and Father, all wrapped up in pale yellow sheets stained red, fussed over the baby. Smoothed her corn silk hair. Muttered the things all Mothers and Fathers mutter. Welcome to the world, little one. It’s big but I will teach you. It’s scary but we’ll protect you. We’re so glad to have you.
Until the baby’s cries faded, and the peace brought from the mutterings cooled her temper, and she finally opened her eyes. Father swore like he was back in the navy. Mother fainted away. For the baby was mostly normal, but not entirely.
The baby had yellow eyes.
Mother and Father brought the baby to the priest that night, covering her in that same bloodied yellow sheet and walking quietly, lest they bring attention. The priest in his little church at the edge of the village closest to the valley lit a golden candle and beckoned them in. He looked gravely down at the baby in his hands, now calm and content. After all, she had heard her Mother and Father’s words.
“Yellow eyes are a sign of the devil,” the priest said in a soft voice.
Father licked his lips. “Should we…should we…dispose…of it?” In his mind, they could always make more. Mother only sat, eyes wide, breathing shallow.
The priest shook his head. “That would be a sin, too. It could be a trick of the devil, to get us to kill an innocent. We must watch the child. The color may fade. Or the devil might never lay claim to her. Take her home. Care for her. But watch her.”
So Mother and Father did. They were better at two of the instructions than one. They brought her home. They watched her. But never again did they really care for her.
They named her Sunshine, as though naming her for the brightest thing could keep away the darkness. They dressed her in yellow dresses, as though the dress might distract from the eyes. They moved to the edge of the village and tried to hide her.
The idea of breastfeeding a possible agent of the devil made Mother’s stomach watery, so Sunshine was given cow’s milk and lemons. She would cry. And Mother and Father would say, ‘the child doesn’t like food, she cries just to vex us,’ and would believe it to be the devil.
Mother and Father did have more children, all with blue eyes. They favored these children. They fed them sweets and cream and helped them grow strong. These children grew up and noticed how Sunshine was treated, because children always notice, and they treated her the same way. They never played with her. They sometimes ran from her. And Mother and Father would say, ‘children are gifted with the holy sight, they must know what she is,’ and they would believe it to be the devil.
They sent her to school, as they wanted her to leave their little thatched house, and the children and even Teacher were all afraid. Teacher sat her in the back so she wouldn’t have to look in those yellow eyes, and when the other children all got honey and butter with their biscuits, Sunshine was made to wait and there was none left and she would eat her biscuit plain. And Teacher would say, ‘no child would enjoy a plain biscuit,’ and she would believe it was the devil.
Sunshine grew up into a lonely young woman. The whole village was against her, for something she couldn’t control. When she was alone, she would look at her reflection and think she rather liked the way she looked. It was like the sun burst forth from her, and all Sunshine saw was goodness. But she knew if she said it aloud her Mother and Father would think, ‘proper young women shouldn’t have such vanity, especially with something so ugly,’ and they would believe it was the devil.
One day, when Sunshine was just sixteen, she sat all alone, outside the edge of the village, in a field of daisies and daffodils. She sat in the hot sun and made flower chains and hummed along with the bumblebees. It was here other girls from school found her. They stood over her, so close she couldn’t stand up.
“Our Mothers and Fathers told us yellow eyes are the sign of the devil,” they said.
Sunshine shook her head. “I don’t know the devil, I’ve never met him.”
“Teacher says you do. And Priest. They say if your eyes are still yellow after all this time then you meet him at night, in the wood.”
“An agent of the devil would lie.”
They began to pull her flaxen hair, tear her lemon-yellow dress, and every time she tried to stand they would push her back down into the daisies and daffodils. She looked across the field and saw her home, saw Father watching, and then saw Father turn and leave. Soon, the girls tired, and Sunshine was able to get away, to run, and she ran all the way into the dark forest, knowing it was the one place the girls would not follow. She ran until she tripped on an upturned root and then sat in the mud, crying and crying from those yellow eyes.
“Why is such a pretty thing crying in the dark and the mud?” she heard a voice ask.
Sunshine looked up and after a bit of searching found a young man some feet away. His clothes were dark, and blended with the forest behind him.
He had yellow eyes.
Sunshine sniffled. “Are you the devil? Or are you another tormented just for having eyes the color of the sun?”
The young man held out his hands. “I could confess. But an agent of the devil would lie, so how would you know the truth?”
She stood up, brushing the mud off her dress. “I don’t want to play games. I want to be alone.”
“Is that what you really want? To be alone? You’ve been alone all your life, haven’t you? And for what? For yellow eyes? The sign of the devil?”
“But I don’t know him, I swear it!” she cried, pulling on her hair and streaking it with mud.
“Would you like to?”
Sunshine stared at the man, and began to wonder if she was seeing a man at all. It seemed she wasn’t, but it was entirely hard to tell in the darkness of the wood.
“It seems to me,” the man said. “You’re in quite the pickle. These people, they treat you like you’re a witch. They outcast you for it. But you don’t have any actual power to do anything about it.”
“And if I had…power…what would I do with it?” Sunshine asked, her voice low.
“Anything you want with it!” the man raised his hands. “Ignore them. Leave and go somewhere else. Or maybe show them what a real agent of the devil is capable of.”
Sunshine thought about Mother and Father. About Teacher and Priest. About the other children. Had any of them ever helped her? What was she to do when she grew older? It was almost the time when daughters married and left their home, yet there had been no suitors, not even flirts.
“Answer me this one thing: Was I born an agent of the devil?”
The man sighed. “No. You were born with a curious pattern of pigment in the iris of your eyes. You were not born of the devil. Only made.”
Sunshine followed the man, then, knowing it could have been a lie but feeling it wasn’t. They walked deeper into the dark forest, and as they did voices began to mutter to her through the branches.
Welcome to the world, little one. It’s big but we will teach you. It’s scary, but not as scary as you will be.
We’re so glad to have you.