Once upon a time, high in the locked tower of a castle on a hill, there existed a young man who believed himself to have once been called Alexander. His days could hardly be called living since he had been imprisoned within the confines of his locked landing and suite of rooms for the previous seven years.
Each meal arrived through a hatch in a locked door. His few brief conversations arrived through the whispers of the wind, the scurries of the rats, and the occasional overheard chatter of kitchen lads and lasses who would run through the courtyards shrieking on the way to their errands. He’d reply, but was never heard.
Alexander had been locked away, not owing to some terrible crime, nor to the curse of a spurned witch. No. Alexander believed he had been imprisoned for protection against a world that was not yet ready for his peculiarity. Though he felt it would not last forever, it mattered not, for he knew not when it would end.
Every day, he prayed for release, and on no day had release yet come.
The young boy had grown to be a young man, and, following years of acceptance, he suddenly knew that he must leave his prison, come what may. He had passed 15 summers and his heart was breaking with what he suspected was loneliness. He’d read of it within his room’s library, just as he had read of valour, of love, of friendship, of work and of the ideas of great thinkers since printing began.
But book knowledge, though important, did not equip him with the skills to remove himself from the only existence he remembered. Even had he discovered a physical method of escape, he knew he would struggle with life on the outside, it being a place that was full to the brim with confident souls accustomed to the outside’s vagaries, and that that would not accept hi for all he was.
Books assisted in passing the time, but only his dreams brought true relief from the tedium. They provided faint memories of the life he’d had before this place, and of walking in the forest when, from a gap in the bracken, a woodland creature had emerged, with head cocked. The creature had been curious at Alexander’s approach, and he had greeted the young boy with a nod of his head and a lifting of his leafy green hat. He held out his hand to Alexander, and being a well brought up boy, Alexander extended his own to meet it.
But, once their skin touched, Alexander regretted all friendliness, as half his boy-ness disappeared into the creature, and half the creature-ness seeped into him. The young man and woodland creature were both transformed, two into two, and each half of the other, and Alexander’s mother, with whom he’d been strolling, fell into a dead faint at the vision of her creature-son.
Both were discovered by an elderly gentleman riding within a carriage, who bundled the creature-boy and his mother into the carriage. Then, the elderly gentleman’s coach had carried the unfortunate pair to the man’s manor house, where the man had locked the boy into his secret hidden bedroom, having told the boy’s mother that he died from his transforming. He had soon married her as she had become weak and vulnerable through her grief.
So, what remained for the young man? Only two people knew of his existence – the elderly gentleman and the butler who brought all his meals, though the boy had never espied the butler.
Still, the boy had matured to a strong young man whose brain was full of thoughts arrived through his enormous supply of books, and somehow or other, he believed fervently that he would discover the means to escape. Only then would he know for certain how the world viewed his creatureness.
The sooner came earlier than he’d expected, and later than he’d hoped, when one fine and warm morning, a bell tolled in the courtyard. It rang once then, following a count of ten, would ring once more. Alexander watched as flags were erected – three black cloths on three tall flagposts. Black. He knew well enough that it signified a death of importance within the house. As the day went by, Alexander heard enough to know for certain that a wasting disease had taken the old man, and his successor had been fully primed of all his duties within the manor.
That was all very well, but would Alexander’s life continue as it had? Would he be remembered? Would his meals arrive as they had? And what had become of his mother?
All was quiet in the rooms of Alexander for one day, two days, three days. And, towards the end of the third, the young man, requiring much sustenance for his growing, had made the decision that his only way to live was to break out of his confines that very moment.
Though no knives were provided on his food trays – he ate only food he could hold, and chopped food using a spoon – on one occasion he’d mistakenly been provided with a tiny, rounded end palette knife. He’d stashed it, of course, and now was the time to use it.
Hunger dictated the urgency.
He knew that there were wooden barriers over his window, and that they had been attached by means of what he believed were screws. The tops of the screws were some straight and some crossed, and he set to work to turn these. His learning was all through books, so it took a few efforts to make even the smallest amount of loosening, but once the first screw fell to the floor of his room, he was energised enough to continue.
Unscrewing took the whole rest of the day, until the light ended and he was forced to sleep.
He woke early and immediately walked to the window. How marvelous the view was. How vibrant and colourful. How cheery were the people.
And next to his bed was a bunch of flowers in a small jar.
And a sheet of paper. It read ‘My Darling Son, I too have been locked up all these years, though free on the outside, the old man kept me in such torment of my own grief at having lost you. Yesterday I discovered from the person who brings you meals, that you were still alive. He led me here as you slept. I saw the wooden bars you’d removed from the windows. I will be preparing our belongings for leaving this place. So, when you wake, come to me’.
The young man lay back on his bed. Relief. Escape! It was all going to happen. He was to return to his mother, and perhaps even to the rest of his family. And he would get healed.
He smelled the flowers next to him and noticed a small round item – silver and shiny and looking so fragile and delicate that he didn’t like to touch. But, as he brought it up to his face, Alexander remembered. The item was a mirror. He hadn’t seen himself for so long and his heart beat with speed and excitement as he held it in front of his face. He was no longer the boy he had been before the imprisonment. He was no longer the creature that he’d seen in the bracken. He was a young and handsome man, with long dark hair, skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood.
He was the image of the mother he remembered, and he could no longer stop his feet from carrying him to her.
‘Mother,’ he shouted as he opened the always-locked door, and left the hated and loved prison and shelter for the final time.
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