The Princess in the Tower

There is an enchanted forest in a land, far away, dreamt up out of memories and fragmented recollections. The trees in the forest grew up out of love sonnets composed in gratitude to existence itself. Poetry flows between the petals of the flowers and the roots of the trees; words are the energy everything thrives off and fresh letters are continually being inscribed into the atmosphere. A princess lives in a tower at the centre of the forest. Although her world is very beautiful, she can only perceive it from her window – she cannot touch it. She wishes she had someone she could talk to, for she has many profound realisations about life and death and everything in-between, and these thoughts frighten her because they far exceed the width of her tower. Often she looks out her window, searching for someone in the forest. It is like a Monet painting – empty, but very beautiful.

The princess often wonders what it would be like to jump from the window. Her tower is rather high but sometimes the possibility of death in exchange for potential escape does not seem like such a terrible trade at all. She does not understand why she is alone in the tower. This world is all she has ever known and she knows she should be grateful for such a lovely room, sheltered as it is from the rain and blazing sun, but she cannot help feel as though there must be something more than simply the tower and the forest. At night the princess cannot sleep and paces around her room. She has named each star in the sky and shares her fears with them but even then, their presence, being so far away from her, usually only makes her feel more alone.

One day the princess is writing in her tower when she is disturbed by a strange smell. She pushes back her chair and looks out the window. Black swathes are rising from the trees. She cannot believe it. What can it mean? She has never seen anything like it before – the trees are glowing and seem to be dissolving into black ribbons. There is more light in the forest than she has ever seen and so much heat too, she can feel her cheeks burning as the warmth radiates out from the leaves. Is the world ending? The princess is too excited to remember to be scared and she leans as far out of the window as she can. The smell is terribly intoxicating and she feels as though she has never truly used her nose until this moment.

The princess continues to strain her eyes as she watches the orange trees. More and more turn from deep green to yellow and red and deep blue. She wonders for a moment if something has happened to speed up time and she is watching the seasons change in acceleration. It is then she sees him. A figure weaving his way between the trees. He is holding something in one of his hands, it looks like a beam of light, and she wonders how he managed to capture something she has only ever been able to admire from a great distance. She looks too closely at the object he holds and momentarily it blinds her. Once she has ceased to see black dots, the princess looks at him again. He is a monster. Instinctively the princess places a hand over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. There is only one thing written on her wall: Beware of the monsters. She has never seen a monster before and her whole body trembles at the thought that almost below her tower, stands one now. It is terrifying beyond words, and yet, she has never felt more alive and intimately aware of herself than she does in this moment.

When she has caught her breath, she begins to watch more closely what the monster is doing. He seems to be stroking the trees with this light beam, with swift, sharp motions, and then pulling strange silvery threads out from them. He takes these strings in the palm of one hand and examines them carefully. She senses that in doing this he somehow irreparably damages the trees. Once he has pulled all the threads out from the tree, he takes a bucket from beside him and sloshes this strange invisible liquid over the tree, until it is seemingly drenched in a coat of transparency. Then, and this is the bit the princess does not understand, the monster clicks his fingers near the base of the trunk and suddenly the entire tree blooms orange and becomes like a star. That is all the princess knows to compare it to. She wonders if those eyes of light are in fact simply orange trees, miles and miles away. The princess is fascinated and despite herself, her overwhelming sense of trepidation, continues to watch him.

The monster begins to gather all the silver threads around him and the princess twists a strand of hair around one finger, thinking that these threads remind her of her own locks and how perhaps the trees are more human than she once thought. The monster sits on a rock beneath her window and begins sorting through the threads; the princess hears him muttering to himself and quickly realises the monster has collected lines of poetry. As he gives voice to stanza after stanza, the princess cannot believe how beautiful words can be. She forgets he is a monster and that she is supposed to fear him, for now she simply wishes she could thank him for showing her such beauty in a world that long ago lost its power to enchant her. She never knew destruction could be a form of creation too.

The princess has seen so much in one single day. She is exhausted from the excitement and trails away from her window to collapse on her narrow bed. She can feel something new burning within her; it is as though she herself is one of those trees and she has burst into light because of the monster. The princess is scared that she can feel so much – surely if her heart beats any faster she will explode? He has taught her more in one day than she has learnt in all her years in the forest. The princess falls asleep, waking just before sunrise. She stands looking out of her window at the final ribbons floating into the universal desert, they are only pale grey now. All those miles away, between Blossom and Shatter, a new star has appeared. The princess smiles, it is quite the most beautiful star she has ever seen. She rests her hands on the window-sill and after watching it for some minutes, she turns away from day-break and pens in under her last entry: Hope was born tonight. The word itself means nothing to her and yet that star is everything.

By noon the following day the orange trees are all black. She thinks, perhaps, it is now they are in their purest form. They are particularly striking, like needles etching into the horizon. The monster is back again. She feels very strange watching him. As though something within her has broken off and is pulling against her ribs to get closer to him; she cannot understand it. Following the monster’s example, she has discovered that she too can create by destroying. She tears at the walls of the tower with her nails and golden threads of poetry bleed out. Like the monster, she gathers all these words around her and from what she has understood he uses these piles to draw out the purest meanings. She too, pulls and rips and examines the threads until she has found a single word to express it all. As she searches, copying the monster, the princess feels happy – she senses this act has the power to bring them together.

Growing tired of this activity, the princess retires to the window, from where she can see the forest. The monster is wholly engrossed in his literary endeavours and she realises she can study him, from her tower, unobserved. He is not quite what she thought a monster would look like. But as she tries to recall her preconceptions she realises she had none at all. All her life she has been told to be fearful of monsters. She has a distinct memory of someone holding her and stroking her hair. She had been crying, she supposes, when this figure came to comfort her. It was such a long time ago but she can just remember what the person said: “If you see a monster, do not look at him. He will soon go away and you must make certain to stay out of his sight. Whatever you do, do not hold a monster’s gaze. Monsters are not like you and I, they only have one insatiable desire: to consume. He will not leave the forest until he has destroyed everything in his sight.”

The monster reminds the princess a little of a tree. His torso twists upwards like a thick trunk. He is not so much taller than the princess herself, but there is something about him that is rather intimidating. It is almost as though it is his very presence that stirs these terrible sensations within her. She knows she should not watch him and yet he is so absorbed by the threads that she feels perhaps, to watch him for a little, might not be so very bad. There is a darkness about him. She wonders if his anatomy is composed of pulsating shadows which have copulated on top of each other until they achieved this growth. The princess cannot see his face clearly from her window, it is overcast by shadow because of the angle at which he holds his head. There is a pride about the way he holds his head. A self-assured accuracy to his entire physical stance, she wishes her own movements could be as emphatic as those of the monster. The princess longs to see what colour eyes he has, but she knows she will never be able to because that would mean revealing her presence to the monster and she cannot do that.

The princess wakes the following morning and rushes to the window, so great is the desire to ensure the monster is still there. He is asleep. The princess cannot believe how relieved she is to know he is still in the forest with her. She studies him as he sleeps and in doing so appreciates the fragility of his posture. He seems so gentle and innocence in his slumber. One might even say he is beautiful. Two green eyes regard to the princess. She starts. The monster has awoken. He is watching her, watching her watching him: they watch each other. The princess would look away if she could, but she can’t. As he holds her gaze, she can feel heat rising on her cheeks, as though she is being transformed into an orange tree again. The princess cannot believe how much beauty can be contained in a single moment, she is given the feeling of having found a purpose, and that clarity and validation means so much to her, that she cannot bear to part with the moment and tear her eyes off him. She wonders what the monster is thinking, she finds herself incapable of thought – everything is dedicated to memorialising this gaze.

A bird flits overhead, claiming the monster’s attention and he glances away from her. She uses this opportunity of being unseen to retreat into the back wall of the tower and collapse against the bricks. The desire to procure single words from the poetry overwhelms her and she scratches at her walls, this time physically yanking the lines off them. In her enthusiasm to claim the threads she presses her fingers much too roughly. The tips are shaved off by the wall and the princess sits in silence watching her hands bleed. She is apathetic. Unable to help herself she does not move, she simply sits and watches the blood pooling by her ankles. She is not in pain, or if she is, she is not receptive to it at this time. All she can think of is the monster, and the beauty of his gaze. Her heart throbs. If anything, this is the part of her which aches the most. She creeps over to the window and glances out of it, surreptitiously. The monster is back at work, if one can term destruction a form of employment. She is disappointed as she watches him untangle and sort the threads as though nothing has changed. She turns her head away from the window and wonders why she is almost in tears – it is as though he has already forgotten her. And can a princess in a tower really be so easily forgotten?

Some weeks pass in this way. The princess and the monster continue to work side by side, if held apart by the height of her tower. She continued watching him until he looked up at her again as she was overwhelmed by a need to resurrect the moment that passed between them. When he looked at her she felt, oh she felt, she felt in some way whole again. They often glance at each other and when they catch each other at the same time, the princess is shocked afresh by his gaze, which literally seems to course through her body like a volt of electricity. The monster is beginning to run out of trees. It is a simple statement of fact and the princess tries to treat it as one, but finds far too much of herself bound up in it for it to be considered a static certainty. As the princess cannot allow herself to foresee the departure of the monster, she chooses to ignore its increasingly likelihood, if she refuses to acknowledge it will happen, then how can it? The monster seems to be looking at her more frequently, watching her more closely. She feels very strange. Everything suspends itself. She can only equate her desire to be near him with that of the trees’ hunger for the sun. They would die without her.

The princess wakes one morning and she can feel something is not right. Rushing to the window, a sob breaks in her throat even before she has looked down: the monster is gone. The princess breaks down on the ledge and screams at the last few trailing black ribbons. She still does not understand how the monster manages to turn the trees from green to orange, she had been hoping he would explain it all to her one day, but now it is too late for he has gone. Between the waves of tears, she peers out of her hair and suddenly jumps as she realises there is one tree left standing in the forest. What was it that strange figure of her youth told her: “A monster will not leave until he has destroyed everything in his sight.” That settles it, he must be coming back again. Now, thinks the princess, as she collapses on her bed – exhausted already – now all that must be decided is how she can keep him here forever, a single tree will not last him long. The answer is of course obvious; she must find something else for him to destroy.

It is decided, upon the morning of the monster’s return. The princess will sacrifice her material self. As she is entrapped in the tower and she has taken all the poetry from the walls, there is nothing within her room that she can give to him, that is except her own body – she will give the monster herself. The princess watches eagerly as the dark figure winds its way between the charcoal remains of the forest. She can hear his footsteps echo in this wasted tundra, she believes the whole forest shivers at the thought of the monster, but perhaps she imagines it. She hardly knows what is real anymore. The monster enters into the clearing with the final tree and the remains of his poetry. He stands and looks right at the princess. She cannot help but smile. He is even more real than she remembered and he is back again. He seems to smile too, the princess thinks, although she could not be certain as it might have been the light winking off his eyes. They have never spoken and yet the princess believes he is talking to her right now, through his eyes. Through this gaze between them so many things seem to be said and shared.

The monster stands expectantly, watching her. It is as though he knows what she is about to do. His eyes turn black and they are so deep and dark – blacker than a starless, moonless night. Blacker than anything the princess knows to compare them too. They are darker than the charcoal trees even. The princess stands before the window, she cannot believe what she is about to do, it seems insane. As she closes her eyes she is almost certain she sees the monster’s pink tongue dart around his lips, but she must be mistaken, she thinks. Why would the monster lick his lips at her? She grips the flesh on her shoulder and with her eyes still closed, she takes a deep breath and then pulls very quickly at the skin, tearing all the way down to her wrist until she is able to peel off the flesh from her arm. Her whole body burns, but it does not feel very different from when the monster looks at her and so it must be right, she concludes. She throws down a handful of her flesh to the monster who greedily begins to strip the words from the skin. She wonders what hidden meanings he shall uncover about herself. The idea he will learn things about her that she herself does not even know, enthrals her so greatly, she quickly tears her breasts off and throws them down to him too.

A few days pass and neither the monster nor the princess sleep. Her body is too mauled to be able to rest comfortably and he is too busy unravelling the princess to pay any attention to the wanderings of the sun. She continues to feed him piece after piece of her skin until he finishes every fragment of flesh on her body. In her desperation to hold him to the forest, she begins to throw him her bones. The syntax of bones being hard and brittle, they take the monster a lot longer to digest and the princess uses the time to watch him. She thinks he looks the most beautiful she has ever seen him. As he peruses her, she feels a greater sense of connection between them and knows she has done the right thing. There is no pain, as long as the monster is with her, the only pain shall be when he has gone. As night falls the princess throws him her last bone. She does not need to tell him this. When his eyes meet hers, he knows. That evening the monster explains to the princess that his light beam is in fact a knife and the trees are not turning into stars, he is simply setting them on fire. Although the princess had always longed to understand these phenomena, his revelations come off as somewhat disappointing. Together they burn the final tree.

As day breaks the princess rises from her bed to look out the window. All she has left is her heart and she moves carefully so as to not jolt it or shock it suddenly. The monster is awake and is pacing about the smoking remains of the tree. The realisation there is nothing left for him to destroy seems like a cold hand tightening on her heart. The princess knows there is one more thing she can give the monster. She does not want to give him it, she is scared of the consequences of such a bold act – consequences she knows even the monster cannot anticipate. But the princess also knows she cannot live without him and so she must give him her heart. The princess hopes that in giving him her final gift he will understand its meaning without needing to unpick and destroy it. He looks at her as though he loves her and it must be obvious that she loves him. She takes her heart and she throws it to the monster. He catches it and holds it carefully in his big palm. The monster looks at her heart for a long time. She is so relieved, he must love her too. As long as he stays, they can be together, it does not matter if they are separated physically by the tower. Emotionally, she knows they are one. The monster lifts up his knife, the princess does not understand what he is doing. What need has he of a weapon when there is nothing left for him to destroy?

He plunges the knife into the princess’s heart and she thinks she must be screaming. She must be screaming because this cannot be happening, he loves her – he said he did, he said he did with his eyes. But she is not screaming because she has no mouth nor throat or lungs, like everything else she gave them to the monster. She watches silently as he begins to draw out the meanings of her innermost passions. He tells the princess that she is living a fantasy, her whole world is not real, at least not in the way his is. She is young, she cannot understand these things now but she will one day. He says one day she will thank him for what he has said to her. He laughs at her love for him and says that of course she would love him when she has never seen anyone else, when she does not know anything else. The monster consumes her heart and tells the princess, you’re becoming yourself, maybe you already are. The princess cannot breathe, even with lungs she would not be able to. She feels as though she is drowning in the water her own body was once made up from. She wants to yell at him how can she be becoming herself when she’s got nothing left. She wants to, but she doesn’t.

The monster turns and walks away from her. He does not stop, he does not look back. The princess watches as he leaves the forest. Her forest. A world that was once enchanted is now ruined. She looks at the broken skyline and she regards every charcoal tree. She understands how a tree can burn now, but somehow that knowledge is not beautiful anymore. It is ugly and it is damning. She cannot see anything magical about being strangled by flames. She turns away from the window and immediately sees the words on the tower wall. It is easy to wish she had listened to them. He has told her there is a whole world out there waiting for him, that’s his to take. He said he would leave her to her own world. But what world can he be referring to, when he’s destroyed every last piece of it? 

© 2020 by AMBER SIDNEY-WOOLLETT