Even though the darkness enhanced by the distant sounds of nocturnal animals coming to life in the forest nearby was scary, the moonlight didn’t bring any comfort. It made it possible for me to make out the outline of his bear-like body standing on the balcony staring into the night. The silver light refracted through the glass slightly illuminating the old and forgotten contents of a dingy and gloomy chamber: a gold pocket watch attached to a rusty chain dangling from a wooden table on which stood an empty candle holder with the remnants of the last candle it held crawling up the sides, the cracked spine of a dusty book facing the ceiling, a brown antique globe with a brass arc and a wooden base, and a broken chess board with chess pieces scattered on the carpeted floor. Torn velvet tapestries dangled from the walls where a tall mirror in a beautiful carved wooden frame stood covered with a silk bedsheet next to a slashed canvas that was once the painted portrait of a handsome man with bright blue eyes. The same man who has been stuck inside a beast for the past decade. The same blue eyes that stared at me every night from behind a glass, too afraid to touch me. The beast’s only physical feature, bearing witness to the man he once were, unchanged, the only proof that the man still exists somewhere inside this hopeless creature. Now standing on the west wing’s balcony, his shoulders hunched under the weight of his despair, staring into the night at nothing in particular, tears rolling down his furry cheeks.
“Adam.” I called him softly.
He wiped his tears on the back of his hand and turned to face me. His buffalo horns shining under the moonlight.
“Rose.” He replied.
He entered the chamber. A musty breeze that smelled like damp moss and wet tree trunks trailed behind him traveling all the way from the wolves-infested forest. He positioned himself on a green armchair in front of me, his blue eyes penetrating the glass dome that separated us.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“She left.” He replied.
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”
“Do you really believe that?”
He looked away to an empty space on the brimmed table where a vintage hand mirror once laid peacefully as the only window to an outside world that once existed. Fighting back the tears, he asked with a voice so low it was almost a whisper, “when?”
“When? Rose.” He interrupted firmly.
“In a couple of hours.”
He sighed and let out a single laugh that wasn’t a laugh at all. And surprisingly, his eyes were no longer filled with tears, instead, a bittersweet and strange look was drawn on his face. The defeated air that filled the room was suddenly lifted and peace descended on the castle. It terrified me, to say the least. One more petal, one more day and all will cease to exist.
“Thank you, Rose.” He said breaking the silence.
“For keeping me company… And for constantly reminding me how fragile life is.”
“Keeping you company was my pleasure. But don’t thank me for the latter. I’m not proud of it.”
“Because I was a constant reminder of your mortality. Every time you look at me, that’s what you see. That’s all you ever saw… Roses are meant to be a symbol of love… not death.”
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
“I… I don’t understand.”
“I would die for you… till death do us part…till my last breath… till the end…” He smiled, “You see, my Beauty, to deny one is to deny the other. Love and death go hand in hand. They keep each other company... Just like you and me.”
I wanted to shout Nonsense. Love was supposed to break the spell, to lift the curse. It was supposed to keep you alive, you fool. Instead, I asked “Will you stay with me?”
“Till the end.” His smile softening his monstrous features, enhancing his soft gaze.
We sat there, two lonely creatures doomed to a life of solitary confinement: a glass-encased rose and a beast-encased man, until the golden rays of the sun stretched outwards into the dark blue sky indicating the start of a new day for everyone except the two creatures who wasted in the lonely tower of the mysterious fortress behind the dense forest. Suddenly, he stood up, took a step forward. And the most unexpected thing happened: he reached for my glass dome. He lifted it and set it carefully aside. He leaned forward and breathed me in, filling his lungs with the smell of my single petal. He looked at me and for the first time, he saw me. His blue eyes ever so close, and the ghost of the man painted in the ruined portrait was moving in and out of sight behind them. He raised his hand and I saw his sharp claws approaching my stem cautiously. Both a little scared, neither one prepared.
“I love you.” I whispered.
His hand trembling slightly, closer now.
“Don’t be silly. Who could love a beast?”
The last petal fell.
And a large monster thudded to the ground with a shudder, blue eyes open but empty as though their permanent resident finally freed himself from the confinement of his cursed body.
He died and I withered, without ever having known how his grip would have felt around my body, without ever having experienced the touch of his hand or his fingertips even. without getting to taste his lips or to inhale his scent. The world stood still but time kept moving forward, indifferent to our agony and grief, refusing to stop or slow down just because we learned the truth too late, cruelly reminding us that the world hasn’t ended just because we did.
A tale as old as time, true as it can be, of love and death, a beauty and a beast. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.