Beast

I have been alone for so long that I no longer remember who I was. Enchantments may not be prefect protection against time but I would have given much to have no protection and be dust long ago.

I cannot think what moves me to begin this morbid account, particularly after so many years, save for loneliness. And the fact that I now can, having learned to write again. Nothing has happened this day but I have become unaccountable restless and unsettled. There is nothing else.

Again here I am, though this day progresses with the grey sameness of all the ones before it. But, since I am here, I shall try to set down the events that have brought me here. So, where to begin? As though I were speaking to someone who had no idea of me or my circumstances at all, I suppose, though I find it unlikely that this account shall ever fall into other hands.

Very well then. I am a beast, a monster who was once a man. I can just barely remember having had a different form from the one I now wear. Surely it was more pleasing, less clumsy… certainly it was less hairy. Beyond that I do not now remember how I looked, only that I was inordinately vain. How I look now I can only guess. There were mirrors here once, but I broke them all long ago.

What happened that I should have been thus enchanted? My family was an old and virtuous one but rather grating. They offended a wizard who cursed them. I say they and them for it was several generations before my time. But they were actually as pious as they made themselves out to be and the curse wouldn’t stick. So the wizard, being long-lived as wizards are, settled down to wait for one of us to slip. Unfortunately for me that misstep was mine.

I had never heard of the family curse before it struck me and after, there was no one to tell me all of the details. But as soon as I had changed into a beast, all of the park around our manor house (which is a small town in size and function) became overgrown forbidding wood… and more disturbing to me, everyone else vanished. They did not die, there were no bodies; they did not run, it happened all of an instant. And sometimes, if I am very quiet, I can hear them still talking as well as see the results of them being there.

As best I can tell, they can see and hear me but I can neither see nor hear them, only echoes. However I still have excellent meals, served perfectly (although it is a bit disconcerting at times to see plates and glasses floating about), the garden seems to take care of itself and the house is as perfectly kept as thought there were still an army of housekeepers.

So those are my circumstances now, and that is enough for today. The one place that does not take care of itself is the rose garden, both indoors and out. Instead I tend it, most carefully I must say, for the roses do not care what I am and I love them for that. I also love them because they bloom so generously for me, but only if I am meticulous in my care and it is time for me to go and water them today.

Now, about this enchantment. Of course there is a way to break it, enchantments can always be broken in some way. But I think that this is impossible, it was made to be impossible. I must fall in love with a girl and win her love in return in spite of my ugliness. And what woman could love a beast? Oh, and I may not tell her that the enchantment is not permanent. Not that it matters much, I have been here for generations and have seen not another living creature. Not a bird, not a butterfly, nothing at all. They are all afraid of me or the enchantment keeps them away, I do not know which. This is morbid and depressing. I will write no more today.

All that I touch is tainted, it must be. After all these years of loving and tending my roses so tenderly, all my care has gone for naught. My roses are dying. If it is some blight, it is unusually slow and yet I have changed nothing from prior years. I understand this not. They have ever thriven under my care before, why should they now be dying? Perhaps, even with all my skill and two centuries of garnered knowledge, they will die. Would that I could die too and let this poor place return to the mundane daylight instead of this dreadful enchantment. No more! I should never have begun this journal, there is nothing I can do, no one to read these poor words and thinking of these things saddens me past all bearing.

How strange! Scarcely a week has passed since I gave up on writing for nothing would ever change when something has. A traveler appeared at the gate, soaked with snow and worn out. He sleeps now after my invisible servants have fed him and his horse and given him the hospitality of my house. I have not shown myself to him, I would frighten him needlessly, I think. But it is still a wonder to know that there is someone else beneath my roof tonight.

That ungrateful wretch! After I had the household see to his every need, and packed him rich gifts to be discovered when he reached his journey’s end, he tried to steal one of my roses! My roses that I love above all things and have cared for so tenderly! When I confronted the thief, he told me a sad tale indeed of misfortune and loss. I was moved, for I am not made of stone, but not to the point of condoning theft.

However, he told me that the rose was for his daughter and a thought sprang into my mind. Fair exchange is no robbery so I told him to send me one of his daughters (he has three) to live with me and be a companion to me in exchange for his life. If the girl lives with me, surely she can begin to see past this hideous exterior. If he comes back alone, I shall think him nobler than I give him credit for but also more foolish, and let him go his way. But surely one of his daughters will be brave enough to want to save his life. In a month’s time, I shall see.

I have found that if I wish I may watch this traveler and his family in a pool of still water, the only one in the garden. It is great temptation to watch them all the time but I feel as though I am intruding even though they do not know that I can see them. The traveler’s name is Hudson, I think, all of the younger people call him ‘Father’ so I cannot be sure. His daughters are indeed something to be proud of… they are all as
beautiful as the sunrise, though in different ways.

The eldest, Grace, looks as though she carries some secret sorrow with her and the middle daughter, Hope, is married to a dependable looking young man named Ger. As Grace looks as though she could not ever take much interest in life again and Hope would not leave Ger or their two children, I have been watching the youngest with the most interest.

Her name is Beauty, though one can see that she thinks it inappropriate, it is not. She is not as stunning- yet- as her sisters but she has the kind of face that shows great intelligence and curiosity. She goes about quite unconscious of her looks and does chores that most young women would be appalled to be found doing or would be afraid to try. This gives me more hope than I have yet had since a girl that lives life so fearlessly should be less frightened of me. I am eager for her to arrive, I know it will be she.

Today I have spent working in the garden and virtuously not looking into my scrying pool. I grow both impatient and apprehensive and work among my roses to keep from thinking of it. Would it not have been better never to have made this bargain? To have kept on as I was, unhappy but risking nothing? No! And again no, I am deathly tired of loneliness, any risk is worth a friend. And perhaps more though I only barely dare to think of that hope. It is too faint and far away, I must be contented with a friend.

Belatedly, I begin to wonder if I should not have let this merchant go on his way in ignorance, even unconscious of his theft. Yes, my chance of companionship would have been lost, but I begin to fear for the girl’s safety. What if, instead of breaking or easing this enchantment, this foul place should slowly kill her even as it has begun to wither and blight my innocent roses? Perhaps I should send her straight home, telling her that honour has been satisfied by her mere willingness to come, nothing more required. Could I stand to do that now? I do not know.

I have discovered that one of Beauty’s passions in life is reading. She will certainly find no lack of books here, once she finds the library, but I must arrange to have some of the most familiar ones shelved in her room. As well as a desk for I think she is something of a scholar, an unusual pursuit for a woman, but it will stand her in better stead here than love of parties and balls. I wonder what else she would like?

Well, roses of course. I should have remembered that. I even sent her rose seeds in place of jewels thinking that she would like them better. It seems as though she did, she spent the morning after she got them planting them about her house and garden. I will help them along as best I can at this distance. Not that I will need to help them as much as all that, Beauty is something of a gardener… with a magic touch. Perhaps there is a bit of greenwitch in her, I could hope so, it will make life here easier. Indeed, perhaps she can discover what blight has befallen my roses.

She is on her way! They left this morning and are, perhaps, even now at the gate. I was successful in hurrying her roses along… although that was perhaps more her doing and theirs than mine. But I could see them blooming as she left the house.

Should I go and greet her as a proper host? No, she will be frightened enough no matter when she sees me first. I would make our first meeting as gentle as possible. Firelight and shadow will give her less of a frightening visage to face, I think. No! It is not vanity, I simply do not want to startle the girl out of her wits. Concealing darkness will be kinder. I wonder if that is why monsters are only supposed to come out at night? Certainly this monster, anyway!

Well I think that went better than I expected. She didn’t run screaming from me, though she did have trouble finding something to say several times it seemed. However, when she could find her tongue, she was wit sharp and questingly curious. And she is so beautiful! She has a lovely ironic quirk to her eyebrows and her face is as expressive, as changeable as a woodland pool.

When I rose to greet her, she looked everywhere but at me until I asked her if she could not bear to look at me. I should not have, I know I am terrible to view, but then she looked at me so steadily that it almost felt as though she were looking not only at me, but into me. And in spite of my terrible exterior, I don’t think I really wanted her to do that. Well. I cannot change my outside very much but I can make my heart and mind over into something I would not mind being seen. I asked her if she hated me and she prevaricated, so there is some hope there. And then, of all the foolish things, I asked her to marry me. I didn’t mean to, I shouldn’t have but it felt as thought the words were being dragged out of me. That, of course, frightened her terribly. As though I would force anything on her! So I told her to go on, I would not follow her and she ran in panic.

When she found that I did not chase her (much good it would do me, I am what frightened her in the first place) she calmed fairly quickly, I thought. She sleeps now, I hope that could be the beginning of trust and not complete exhaustion, but I doubt it.

I think I will try and paint her portrait… without her knowledge, of course. I have just about exhausted the other lovely ideas that have come to mind and I never did care much for still life, no matter how well composed.

Curse the terrible magic of this place! Beauty has found a locket with a portrait … I don’t know where. And it is a portrait of me… as I was. I might not even have recognized it if she had not commented when showing it to me

“See… his hair is just the colour of your…”
“Fur.” I finished for her.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“I don’t know… and I have never see that locket before.” I replied as evenly as I could.
Which is true enough. As to the portrait, well, I could hardly tell her that it was me.

She wears it all the time now. She is romantically falling in love with that young popinjay that I was. And with whom I have so little in common that I no longer remember his name. How can I compete with a dream?

Well, to answer that last question, I am here and alive and I can talk to her. She spends a good deal of time studying and some with her horse. She has found neither the library nor the rose garden and I ave had no chance to show her. Soon, perhaps, I hope. Evenings we have dinner together. Or rather, I sit with her while she eats. I am so clumsy that I am not fit to sit at a high unless I do not attempt to eat. I would rather not have her see me drop bits of food all down my waistcoat. It gives us an opportunity to discuss what she has been studding. I am ever charmed by the agility of her mind and her keen insights. If I could only stop myself from proposing every evening. She tasked me with it last night and I told her the simple truth… I cannot help asking.

My portrait of Beauty is going far better than I expected. My hands… paws, I suppose, are less clumsy than I ever remember them being. Come to that, writing is easier too. I must be practicing more. But I still cannot capture a tenth of her beauty.

It was raining this morning, something I usually tolerate but do not really enjoy. The grounds are lovely in the rain but it takes me so everlastingly long to dry off again that I don’t much care for getting wet. However it did give me a chance to introduce Beauty to the library. Yes, that is the right way to express it. My library has been like a person to me, keeping me sane and almost civilized through the years. And this gave me the first real hope I have tasted.

The library contains many books that have not been written yet… a peculiarity of the house… and Beauty could see them all. They were not simply many copies of the same things she would have read in her world. Perhaps it is only her love and trust of books but perhaps she is beginning to trust me a little too. And trust is the basis for love, is it not?

I have also met her horse, which is nothing less than a miracle. I was forlorn when it ceased raining and Beauty could go out for her ride after all. It must have showed in my voice because she insisted that I accompany her. Wisely or unwisely, she mounted before she cleared the stable so that when her horse bolted, I was terribly afraid for her safety. And, truthfully, for his. In his panic he could have killed them both. But like the superb horsewoman she is, she controlled him. She even managed to make him come close enough to touch me thought I did not offer to touch him in return. That would be too much for the poor beast. I have left them alone for a bit… I will see her again tonight.

Either I am becoming shorter or Beauty is gaining height… I no longer loom quite so high over her. Possibly both. I also noticed that I had to climb to reach a book that I had always reached easily before. Just a step but still… What is going on here? I suppose that it is not impossible, here, that the house is growing larger… but the simple explanation seems to be that I am shrinking slightly. Not a bad trend but I hope it should not go on too long. Though I would hardly be as terrifying as all that were I the size of a mouse, I think it might not be very comfortable.

Beauty has found my rose garden. Oddly enough, though it is still in sad shape, the blight seems to have receded somewhat. We now have much more to do with our mornings than walk about and talk. Oh, we still talk, but she has decided to save my roses… and nothing will do her but that I work beside her. As if I minded! So now we spend mornings working in the garden with Greatheart in attendance, afternoons after her daily ride studying in the library and then dinner before we part for the night. It doesn’t seem a very glittering round of days but companionship makes all the difference. Beauty has begun to teach me Greek in the conversational mode… something I never had a chance to learn before. My pronunciation is horrible but improving, I am almost understandable now. The roses seem to understand us just as well though. If only I could stop this terrible habit of proposing every night, everything would be perfect.

The roses may understand Greek very well, but my enchantments do not. Nor do they understand Beauty’s preference for plain clothing. She has had some little altercation with her “handmaidens” once or twice before but tonight was serious. I have no idea which dress they were pressing her to wear nor why. Alright, my “valet” bullies me into nice clothes often enough but that is a trifle different. I really don’t want to choose my clothes.

However, the result of their argument was that Beauty did not come back down to dinner as swiftly as usual. So I went to see what was keeping her. She would not even let me in her room. When I asked her if she really cared what clothes I saw her in she was curiously evasive. I would particularly like to know what could be worse than twigs in her hair and mud from head to toe, but I have hopeful suspicions.

When I growled at her “handmaidens” (and, by the way, that works quite as well on enchantments as it does on people) they came quickly into line and Beauty appeared. A slight aside, does that mean that my “enchantments” are, in fact, enchanted people? If so, I think I owe them each and every one an apology for my behavior and my treatment of them. However, to continue. The dress Beauty wore was so exceedingly modest as to be a statement so the dress that they wanted her to wear must have been a touch more revealing than Beauty would tolerate. I expect that she looked smashing in it.

What gave me real pleasure, right down to the bones of me, is that she took my arm to go down to dinner. She has been avoiding my touch, as any sane person would. I asked her, once, if she would take my arm at the beginning and her gentle “I’d rather not.” hurt me so badly that I haven’t dared offer again. Last night, she asked me… or rather she stopped an inch short of demanding my arm, as though it was her right. Which, of course, it is.

Beauty has wrought a miracle in the garden. The roses are lovely and beginning to bloom once more. They have not quite recovered from their bought of blight but they are on the mend. My painting has not fared so well. With other things to fill my days I have had scant time to work on it. Perhaps the lack of time holds a touch of the disinclination of despair…I can never make the portrait reflect even a small portion of the woman. How arrogant I was to ever believe that I could.

Speaking of portraits, Beauty is still wearing that dreadful locket. I don’t think she opens it much any more although I haven’t dared to ask her.

I think I am speechless. When I woke this morning, there was a wren perched on the window sill chirping at me. Beauty has not only brought back the birds (and some small animals as depredations to the garden attest) but they tolerate me now. No, more than that. They are no longer afraid of me… perhaps beginning even to like me a trifle. Beauty no longer avoids my touch and Greatheart, who I have come to know as a person in his own right, occasionally will come and butt his head against me to be stroked. I never thought I would care for such affection as the birds and animals can give but I find that I do.

I don’t know what my “valet” is doing but my clothes feel different somehow. They still fit just as perfectly but they feel… well, different. And bathing is not the chore it has been… it takes much less time to dry now. A nice change, since I must needs bathe daily, both from my work in the garden and so as not to offend my lady.

There. I have said it. And, though I say it nowhere but here, I love her. I still propose every night… but I no longer mean it. Oh, if she accepted, I am not such a fool as to refuse. Immediately. Sooner. But she deserves so much more than me and I know it. The best I ever was or could be would not be good enough for her. Perhaps no man in the world could be. And I am manifestly not a man, though she makes me forget that, sometimes for days.

My world is ended. The roses bloom with no trace of blight, more beautifully than they ever have. The silly rabbits come and sit beside me on the grass and the braver raccoon pats my leg with small hands when he wants my attention. One robin, bolder than the rest, even lights on my shoulder to make conversation from time to time. The sun shines and the breeze is light and warm. And none of it gives me any pleasure at all. Beauty has gone home.

I knew I could never hold her against her will… now I would not wish to. But she had some sort of dream of her family that disturbed her terribly and asked if she could go home to visit. She was loud in that protestation of only wanting a visit. But it matters not. I let her go… how could I hold her? Why, loving her as I do, would I even want to? But it is more lonely than ever here.

I could look into my pool. I suppose, and watch her. But I think that would make things far worse instead of better… to see her and not be able to speak to her. Not to mention that, come to think of it, it seems rude somehow… to spy on her without her knowing. I do not think she would like me to do that at all. So I will not.

I told her that I would give her a month but that is not exactly true. I know that she will not come back. Why should she? This is a terrible place… though less terrible now than before. And, in a way, more terrible. If I could escape it I would. But where in the world would there be a place for such as I? Well. Now at least there is no reason for me not to finish my painting of Beauty.

It is finished. It is only a pale reflection of all that she is but it is still by far the most beautiful work I have ever done. And looking at her picture makes me more lonely for her than I was before, though I had not thought that possible. This longing for her is like a burning pain inside me that nothing helps. And a bitter wishful non-hope that when her month is up, she may yet return.

Even if she should, she would hardly know me. My fur is coming out in great clumps all over… although the skin under it is smooth so I am not so ill as all that. Still, I will be a bald beast if this keeps up.

Beauty’s month is up today. If she is going to come back, it will be today or not at all. I have hung her picture in my small study and I think I shall wait here. I don’t know that I could stand watching the empty road remain empty. But first, a bath and brush what little of my fur remains…. mostly on my head, oddly enough.

It is evening and she is not here. That is it, then. She will not be returning. I always knew it, somewhere in me. And I have come to realize that I do not want to live without her. I don’t think I can. In it’s fashion death will be a release, of a kind, no more of this hurt… and no more enchantment. Perhaps this was, after all, the only way it could be broken. I feel as though I am dissolving, my bones turning to liquid with my tears. It might hurt if I did not already hurt too much to be able to tell. How I wish that Beauty was here! My Beauty who was never mine at all.

Well, no I am not dead. Did anyone ever hear of a ghost keeping a journal? And I am so… well, happy isn’t the word. I am amazed, awed and several other things. But let me continue where I left off.

Beauty found me there, curled up with my arms over my head. I was on the floor, in front of the portrait I never meant for her to see. She tells me I was so cold and still that she thought I was dead. For all that I know, I was, for I don’t remember her entering the room. I didn’t even feel her enter the house, the only time I have not been aware of exactly where she was. The next thing that I knew she was shaking me and saying

“Beast. Beast! Wake up!”

It was like swimming up to the surface from a deep dive. Apparently I did not “swim” fast enough for her.

“Beast! Wake up! You can’t be dead, I won’t let you be dead!”
“Beauty?” I managed to say.
“Well of course it’s Beauty. darling Beast, who else would it be?” she asked, relief lending more than a trace of asperity to her voice. She helped me sit up for I was unaccountably shaky.
“You’ve been crying.” she stated. “Didn’t I tell you I would be back?”
“I thought you had forgotten.” I said.
“You’re going to have to trust me more than that.” She said. “Our marriage won’t work unless you trust me as much as I trust you.”
I must have looked confounded by that because she laughed at the look on my face then and told me
“Yes, Beast, I love you and I want to marry you. I had to go home to find out how much. But you are going to have to have a proper name.”
“Why?” I was to astounded to say anything else. I felt as though the world had suddenly turned upside down and inside out.
“Well, you aren’t a beast so I can’t call you that anymore, can I?”
I looked at her quizzically… And a little cynically, I admit. “It is what I seem. What else would you call me?”
“What you seem.” She snorted, sounding for a second much like Greatheart. “Beasts do not weep. Only men weep.” She touched the traces of tears on my face. “Besides, have you looked at yourself lately?”
“No of course not…” I started.
“Where’s a mirror in this place? It has everything else, several times over.” She broke in.
“There isn’t one. I broke them all long ago.”
Beauty stopped then and looked thoughtful. I expected her to say something about wanton destructiveness but for a long moment she didn’t say anything. Then she reached a conclusion.
“Well, I need one now. “She held out her hand to the air. “Mirror. Please.” she demanded and one appeared in her hand. She viewed it’s ornateness critically. “Overdone, like everything else in this house.” She muttered under her breath and held the mirror up to my face.

I hadn’t looked into a mirror since just after I was enchanted… about the time I broke them all so that I wouldn’t have to see myself. I wouldn’t have looked then, except that my head was spinning from everything that was happening. That, and Beauty wanted me to look. So I did.

Well, I needed a shave. That was the first thing I thought, my hand going to the short stubble on my chin. And then, by slow degrees, realization began to creep in. I looked up at Beauty. “The enchantment is broken?” I couldn’t quite believe it and looked down at my hands… very definitely hands once more.

She smiled at me. “What was left of it. You lost a lot of hair while I was gone.”
“Well, yes, I did. I was afraid you would come back and find me bald.” I confessed.
“Not bald, just human. I’ve been watching you change all along.” She held up the locket. “I would have had to be pretty blind not to recognize you when I’ve been wearing your picture for months now.”
“You knew it was me?”
“Well, not at first. But when you started changing, the more you changed, the more you came to look like the man in the picture. With that and your eyes being the same… and the colour of your hair… well, I just guessed. And then I knew. And now I know I love you.”
There was only one thing to say to that. “And I love you. Beauty, will you marry me?”
She gave me one of her charming quirky smiles “Yes… but only if.”
“If what?” And I braced myself.
“If you promise that this will be the last time you propose.” And she kissed me for a long time.
“Oh, I think I can promise that.”

Will we live happily ever after? I don’t know. I think, like anyone else, we will have our ups and downs. But I am fiercely in love with Beauty… and she with me. So she tells me and so I cannot help but believe. So I also believe, at last, that it is possible.

Word Count: 5454

Based on Beauty by Robin Mckinley

12Dec2000

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