When She Awoke…

When She Awoke…

Short Fiction

Peter Tammer

 

 

 

When she awoke that bright and sparkling morning Beauty knew it was D-Day. She was in the foulest of moods. She wanted to scream. She wanted to swear. She had never sworn in her life before this day and now she let it out, full voice, she didn’t care if he heard her, she knew he would hear her,

MERDE!

There you are, she said, I’ve done it. I’ve sworn. My life will never be the same again. Today is the last day I’ll spend in this fucking palace where everything is simply marvellous day after day and every day is just the same as the day before, okay, new tricks, new clothes, new meals, but the weather is always in the Goldilocks zone, always sunny outside, I see fluffy white clouds through barred windows, no breeze ever enters from any doorway or window, it never rains and it’s never too hot, just perfect for fucking Goldilocks.

“I mustn’t have sworn loud enough, he doesn’t seem to have heard me. Hey Beast, where the fuck are you? We need to talk you big purring fur-ball. Time for me to go!”

That seemed to do the trick, the giant fur-ball ambled into the room and asked in his nicest politest voice,

“You called, Beauty dear?”

“Yes you great lump of fur, I called. I even swore! Did you hear me swear? Or were you having sweet pussycat dreams? I said ‘Merde’! I’ve never said that word in my life before this day and that means today is D-Day. I’m outta here you big lug.”

“You mean to say you’re not happy here Beauty? I thought you loved it here with all the things I do to keep it jolly and such.”

“Listen you leering creep, I’ve never been happy here… I’m your fucking prisoner, excuse the language, I’m not used to saying such words, I hardly know what they mean, but they’ll do for now. I’ve been your prisoner now for so many years, I can’t even tell you how many years it has been… feels like about thirteen years to me, give or take, but how could I know when every day is just the same as every other day, picture perfect, same old, same old, day in day out, new clothes every day, plentiful foodstuffs prepared on the banquet table in the main hall, prepared by invisible chefs and served by invisible waiters and they’re all absolutely delicious, and always different but somehow always the same… how many years have you kept me prisoner in this place Beast? Come on, fess up!”

“You were very close with that number you mentioned Beauty. What does it matter if you were one year short or if it was one year too many?”

Beauty was completely taken aback:

“What does it matter? It matters a lot, being held in someone’s prison for many years, missing out on my own life in the real world. To be held in your world because you were cursed by some evil witch and I come to be cursed because of the curse which was put upon you… to tell you the truth Beast, it sucks!”

The Beast was totally perplexed, he had obviously never thought of it quite like this before and secretly he was glad she didn’t say seventeen years, which it had been. He was taking his time to answer because he had picked up that she was deadly serious, that this morning really was like no other morning in Paradise.

“Dear Beauty, why do you say you are my prisoner? I never think of you as a prisoner!”

She wasn’t ready for that she had to admit to herself, wasn’t it blindingly obvious?

“Is there something wrong with your brain as well as all the things which are wrong with your stinking body Beast? How can you not understand that I have been held prisoner here, because you tricked my poor dear father into sending me here in his place, my dear old Daddy whom you frightened into betraying me into your magical domain! To become your companion! To have to put up with your animal qualities every day, your fetid smell, your sharp claws from which I recoil to protect my delicate skin when you reach out to caress me, your drooling fangs dripping with saliva all the time, and your constant loopy leering at me with never-ending longing. What the fuck is wrong with your brain Beast?”

The Beast was stunned. Can you believe it, she had never spoken to him like this in seventeen years. He thought to himself “I better not let that out…I’ll save that one”. Actually he kinda liked her being this feisty, she’d always been so demur, so peaceful, so delightfully accepting of the situation, he’d sort of become lulled into a false sense of security that it would always be like that, and maybe one day she would release him from his curse.

But he saw she was pretty damn serious, there’s no mistaking that! What to do? he was thinking hard, trying to buy time. Even a few more minutes, even a few more seconds.  He was thinking, “If I have to let her go I’ll die. I can’t bear life without her, but what if I’m immortal and can’t die? What in the name of Hell am I going to do?”

Eventually he broke the stony silence. It was so eerie, words came out from his mouth, from between his huge fangs, words he never thought he would hear himself say:

“You really want to leave me Beauty?”

Inside she was jumping for joy but the tone of his voice had surprised her, so she didn’t shout for joy, she simply said,

“Yes Beast I really want to go home. That’s what I want. It’s all I want in the whole world…just to go home to my village, to see my Dad and be with the other people in the village like a normal person…an ordinary everyday person, go to the shops, buy some food, come home and cook it for me and my Dad. Sit by the fire at night and go to sleep in my own bed. What’s so wrong with that?”

Here comes the hard part for the Beast… Dad is dead! He hadn’t told her but Dad died many years before, devastated that he had sunk so low as to betray his beautiful daughter into the imprisoned slavery of a fairytale nightmare.

What to say? He was so quiet, he wasn’t purring now.

“Beauty, I have something to tell you, this is not easy…”

Not easy! That’s an understatement. I wonder how she will take this?

“Beauty, your daddy died some time ago, and I should have told you but I couldn’t find the courage to tell you. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me for that, I kept it away from you because…”

Beauty fell into a heap on the floor. She was totally overwhelmed, stunned. How could he have not told her? How could he have known her father had died and not even let her know? The Beast saw her sobbing pitifully on the floor, he wanted to reach out and touch her, tenderly, just to comfort her, but he had known for years that she couldn’t bear to be touched by him, and that it was not just his sharp claws or his sandpaper rough paws, so he held back. Eventually the sobbing subsided. It felt like an eternity.

Eventually she raised herself from the floor and said,

“Beast, it’s time for me to leave. How do I get out of this place with all these bars on the windows and all the locks on the doors?”

The Beast answered simply, calmly,

“Beauty, there are no bars on the windows. There are no locks on the doors. This is not a prison, you can leave now…you really could have left anytime you wanted to in the past…the bars and the locks are in your mind…look over there, see that window…where are the bars? Look over there, see that huge pair of doors, they are open, there are no locks. If you must leave you are perfectly free to do so. I can’t stop you.”

Beauty was stunned by this turn of events. It had never occurred to her that she really could have left at any time, she felt all those years that she had been held entirely by something outside of her, and now she saw that some part of it all was inside her.

“In fact dear Beauty, if you really want to leave you can walk straight through any of these walls, these walls cannot hold you. Just as I cannot hold you. You can walk out into the garden and down the straggly path to the village if that is what you want. It’s entirely up to you.”

The Beast saw she was having difficulty making sense of what he had just said. He continued, quietly, sotto voce,

“Before you leave Beauty, I must warn you that things are quite different in the world outside our world…this special zone you call your prison. If you leave you must experience changes, ageing, illness and death. In this prison you are completely safe from all those things.”

Beauty was so surprised by the quietly dignified way that the Beast had stated all this she couldn’t believe it. She saw there were no bars on the windows where she had seen them all those years. The doors were all open to every part of the garden. Her mind was racing…go or stay? Ageing, illness and death? Or infinite boredom!

It did not take long to make up her mind. A momentous decision,

“Time for me to leave you Beast. The choice is clear, I’m going home, come what may!”

She wanted to thank the Beast and almost reached out to touch him as a gesture of thanks for letting her go. But she couldn’t do it. She wondered what would happen to him when she left. Then she turned and walked straight at the nearest wall and felt a delicious tingling sensation all around her body as she passed through the wall which had always seemed so solid, so impassable.

She walked a few steps from the patio into the lovely garden and looked back at the enchanted palace and its sole inhabitant. He stood there staring at her without any particular expression. And he began to fade away at the same time as the palace started dissolving into thin air. Just as the enchanted garden around her was dissolving into countryside, unmanicured, normal, wonderful forest and shrubs, wild and untamed. Although it was a sunny day, she felt a slightly chilly wind as her dress was more suited to the enchanted palace. And just ahead was the grubby little path which she had travelled so many years before which she knew would take her back to her village.

So Beauty departed the magical zone and wandered back into the real world. She found the village very much the same as it had been before she left. The villagers all recognised her immediately but she didn’t recognise them instantly because they had aged so much. Some kindly folk who had been young adults when she left were now middle-aged and then she realised the Beast had lied about the thirteen years. They led her to her cottage, it was now hers entirely… They had looked after it all those years in the hope that one day she would return.

Everyone was so kind to her, they seemed to know she would need to take some time to settle in. They had kept her cottage clean, they had tended the garden, they had a pile of wood ready for the fireplace and food in the larder.

Beauty was home. It was so strange to be back at home without her father. She would have to find out where Daddy was buried. Tomorrow. While she sat in front of the fireplace that evening, placing a log into the grate, she noticed that the skin on her hand and arm had aged. She wasn’t horrified by the changes she noticed in her body, that she was no longer the slender little thing her Daddy had sent to the enchanted castle.

Eventually she became quite settled in her village, she mingled with the villagers on market day, some of them visited her from time to time and brought her small offerings, some homemade cheese, some wine, and they never asked her what had happened while she was away… That seemed very strange to her. They still called her ‘Beauty’ just as they had always done.

The villagers gave her so many gifts, the best kind of giving where the giver never expects anything in return. One woman brought her a basket filled with balls of wool and a crochet needle which she taught Beauty to use. She told her to make a shawl to keep herself warm in winter. Beauty soon learned the art of crocheting and found it gave her much satisfaction.

One day when she was in her garden a tiny kitten came up to her and rubbed itself against her leg. She reached down to stroke the kitten but it shied away. So she held back and the kitten left.

Next day, it was back. She said “Hello Kitty”. Then she went inside, poured some milk into a bowl and placed it before the puss. Kitty loved the milk. Kitty adopted Beauty although Beauty thought of it the other way round.

Over the years, she and Kitty aged together. Kitty was now a large pussycat and Beauty was a larger elderly woman sitting by the fireside. Sometimes when she wrapped her shawl around her shoulders, huddling in towards the fire for every bit of warmth it could give, she would think about her time away from the village. Sometimes she thought it was just a dream. She tried to work out what it all meant. If it was a dream, how come she never knew about her father dying and being buried and only found his grave after she returned?

She was always surprised when she noticed signs of her fading health, stiffness in her joints and the condition of her skin. She didn’t need a mirror to know that her face had aged, she could feel the folds of flesh and the creases, so she knew. She didn’t mind. The people in the village still called her ‘Beauty’ even though she thought she must look like an old crone…but she really was beautiful. She was one of those people who retain their natural beauty despite the ravages of time.

Eventually the day came when Kitty died.

Beauty did not know that Kitty had died.

As usual, the villagers looked after everything.

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