Writing

The Tale of a Beast

I turned and looked at myself in the remains of the shattered glass. It was true. I was a now, officially, a beast.

I’ve been working my way through Gail Carson Levine’s book Writing Magic far longer than I am going to admit to. I love it because, although it seems to be aimed at younger writers, it has so many fun writing exercises that encourage you to let your imagination loose, and says nothing about all the the rules that surround writing that every other book and article on writing imposes.

The most recent writing challenge was to write a story about why the prince in Beauty and the Beast was turned into a beast, describing in detail what it felt like to be turned into a beast. I admit I rarely take the time to thoroughly do the writing exercises because I always feel like I should be doing something else, but today, per a discussion Daniel and I had yesterday, is all about doing what I want writing-wise, so I sat down and actually took the time to let my imagination fly and write it out. It was so fun. I forget sometimes how much I enjoy just creating, with no rules or editing.

So, in case anyone is interested, I have copied my challenge results below, raw and unedited.

First, my skin tightened, then expanded. It was such a fascinating sensation that I didn’t even have time to be frightened. One moment, I felt like my skin was going to explode as my arms and legs deformed, followed by my chest, and then, instead, it expanded. I looked down and watched my well-formed biceps grow into something huge, grotesque, watched my shirt sleeves burst, and then my chest began.

It enlarged so fast that I could well imagine looking down on myself and seeing a pea-sized head on a monster’s body. And then my legs began. First the muscles, exactly like the arms, causing my pants to rip just like my shirt, but then they shot up, so fast I almost tottered and fell on my back, and my head hit the ceiling.

In a moment of clarity, I used my now-giant hand to smash the floor-length window, stepping outside, and good thing too because my legs went up another foot or so. I winced, cradling my hand. Either it hadn’t finished turning yet, or this new beast hand was more tender than my last. I had my answer a moment later when the skin tightened some more, and then my fingers extended, until they sported phalanges as long as a banana (or so it seemed to me), fingernails the size of a minnow, and claws that were even longer. On instinct, I drew claws in, and flinched. I extended them and flinched again. Hopefully it wouldn’t always be that painful.
While I was distracted with my new claws, something else happened. I realized that it was no longer just my legs that were long. I could now crane an extra long neck to see miles all around me. I reached up to feel how long it was and bit back a cry. Apparently I had forgotten to retract my claws. And then my eyes crossed as I watched my nose grow. Grow into a nose longer than Pinnochio’s and then, no longer, because everything else on my face except for my eyes expanded and just like that, I had a snout. I opened and closed my mouth and watched my tiny, beady, black nose move with it. Fascinating. Just as I thought the changes had stopped, the strangest sensation yet began.

I itched my backside, then my chest, then my arms, and then I began itching frantically everywhere I could reach, sure that a thousand gnats had descended on me at once. Just as the prickly sensation reached the extent that I was considering throwing myself into the nearby river, the fur began to emerge. Huge strands of dark brown hair that at first made me look like I had glued tufts to myself just for fun, and then expanded to cover my entire body. The rags that had once been my clothing finished bursting, unable to take the strain, and I would have blushed if the fur all over me hadn’t been so long and thick. And then it was done. I took in a breath and was amazed by how much better I could breathe. My expanded chest apparently had room for more oxygen because I took in deep gulps without running out of room, clearing my head.

I turned and looked at myself in the remains of the shattered glass. It was true. I was a now, officially, a beast.

#

When I first laid eyes on her, I had no idea what would come of my infatuation. Had I known, I would have walked away without a second look, no matter how enticing those dove-gray, round eyes were. But, as I had no way of looking into my future, I instead walked forward, sashaying for all intents and purposes, gave a perfunctory bow, flashed her my most debonair smile, and asked her to dance. I had no doubts she would accept. I was, after all, the prince. Who would refuse a dance with me?

Accept she did. The Lady Luellen Lauremond covered those eyes with lashes almost as long and luxurious as her black hair, placed her soft, delicate hand in mine, and I swept her onto the dance floor. For the next hour, she proceeded to enchant me with her ivory, satin-like skin, her adorable button nose, those rosebud lips, and–that smile. That smile is really what did it. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the shy, upturned lips, casting a flash of brilliance into those mesmerizing eyes, I did everything in my power to entice the smile to return as often as possible. As we strolled around the garden after that hour of dancing, she tilted her face up to the moonlight, its pale gleams set to shame by the purity of her skin, and I lowered my lips to hers, drinking in the sweet intoxication of her exotic perfume.

For the next three months, I courted her, against the advice of my father, who warned me that the Lauremonds were reported to have witches and wizards in their history, and were known to hold grudges. At first, I thought that she, unlike the others, would hold my attention. Honest to God, I did. Hearing her laughter, reminiscent of fairies at play, and exchanging nonsensical conversation was a delight I could not imagine tiring of. And having her on my arm at functions made me hold my chin even higher than usual. I derived no little satisfaction from watching the envying glances from other men, lords and laymen alike. There was no one who could have been made more perfectly to grace the throne I was to inherit.

I should have known it was inevitable. My father warned me as much, he who had seen me court and lose interest in more than half a dozen young women who I had once thought as perfect as Luellen. Am I wrong, however? Surely my father’s accusations that I am a wastrel without any steadiness are only because he does not see the larger picture, the way I can. How am I to know I will lose interest unless I pursue the young ladies? And once interest is lost, would it not be a worse fate to continue? Unfair to both them and myself?

In all events, I cannot name the day or the hour, but her light laughter began to annoy me. Her pleasing, agreeable nature to bore. There was no variety to her nature, nothing unexpected. It was all the same, obsequious pleasantness I could, and did, expect from all my subjects. I broke it to her as gently as I could. As we sat together in the library, looking through a book my father had purchased me depicting ancient art, she turned her face up to me and, still unable to resist that perfectly shaped mouth, I captured a kiss before I spoke. I knew she would be grateful afterward for that one, pure, unmarred, last kiss, and though she does not seem to be now, I am quite sure she will realize she is in the future.

“My Lady Luellen,” I said, setting the book on the floor and capturing her hands in mine. “My dear, I have something to say.”

She gazed into my eyes, her soft gray ones shining with understanding, and I knew it would be all right. She could see what was coming. I had only to say it.

“I have rarely known such a wonderful time as I have had with you these last few months.”

That shy smile made a welcome appearance.

“You have been the personification of all that defines beauty, kindness, and steadfastness, and it has been my pleasure to spend so many hours at your side.”

The smile widened, and my chest expanded as I imagined the lessons other lads could learn from me about how to break up with someone.

“I will miss you so much, I hardly know how I shall bear it.”

To my surprise, the smile faltered and then dropped, and her luminous eyes clouded with confusion.

“Are you going somewhere, my lord?” she asked, a tremulous lilt to her voice.

“Why no, of course not.” I patted her hand. “But now that our relationship is over, we can hardly spend time together.”

I pulled back as she started up, a positive frown beginning to pucker her forehead. “Now that–now that–what?”

A moment of anxiety filled my head. Had she not realized what I was going to say? What else could I have possibly meant when I told her I had something to say. I did not care for the storm beginning to gather in her eyes, and I also stood, looking around for a peace offering. My eyes landed on some freshly picked roses from the garden, and I reached out and plucked one from the vase, holding it out to her with a gentle smile.

“Surely you have felt it too, my darling. The realization that this cannot last. You are like this rose. Gentle, sweet, and beautiful, but easily crushed or wilted. I need someone…stronger than a rose to reign by my side. Someone who displays kindness and strength. I know you will regard this time with me as something precious, just as I do, and though it may hurt now, you will be grateful as you look back that I, the Prince, looked upon you far more dearly than any I have yet met. Take this rose, dear Luellen, and keep it as a reminder of our fragile time together, and never forget me.”

Something like relief relaxed my chest as she slowly reached out and clenched the stem of the rose. And then her eyes met mine, and the relief froze in my chest like a vise, and then tightened, and tightened some more until I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I looked down and saw blood on her hand as she clenched it as tightly around the thorns on the rose as the tension was in my chest.

“Perhaps you are right, my lord.” Her voice, so soft and musical, had a thread of iron running through it I had never heard before. “Perhaps you do need something stronger than a rose. Perhaps,” her eyes looked me up and down, and I wondered that I had ever thought of them as gentle. They cut through me like gray bricks. “Perhaps you need strength and resilience in yourself as much as you do in a partner.”

She brought the rose to her chest and wrapped her other hand around the thorny stem as well, tiny rivulets of blood making their way through the clenched fingers and dripping down her pure, white knuckles onto the floor, her eyes going back up to mine without wavering.

“Your selfish, fickle nature has done enough damage in this kingdom.” Her back straightened and I wondered how I had never realized exactly how tall she was. “You shall learn to abide by your own words, your own actions, and you shall do so alone.”

One blood-streaked hand reached out toward me and I took a step back, watching it with something between fascination and alarm.

“You, my prince, shall live as the beast you are, alone, until either this rose wilts and dies or you learn interwoven meaning of strength and kindness. If the last petal of this rose falls before you have learned your lesson, you shall remain a beast all your days, and all who once knew you will forget you.”

Cue turning into the beast.

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