tower pt 1

8/27: inspired by this song (Tower by Avatar). honestly that song makes me feel horrible and i’ve been feeling horrible lately anyway so this was sort of an emotion-purge of all the suffocating decay festering inside of me lately. turned out long so i’m breaking it up into two parts because i’m an adult who makes my own decisions

TRIGGER WARNING?? for suicidal ideation/imagery

I remember very little when I find myself in the field. I feel the caress of the wind against my body and I breathe in the crisp, autumnal air.

I remember it being late August. The desultory grey skies. The rumble of a storm approaching. A glitter of strained sunlight flashed down the length of a blade. And then—the field. And him.

His fingers brush my shoulder and I look at him, his face achingly familiar and strange. High cheekbones and dark, sunken eyes. I think—I had a dream about him, once.

“Hello,” he says, his voice a low rasp.

At first I did not feel afraid but now my heart races, a corybantic rhythm that echoes in the back of my head. Everything about him whispers of a trap, and suddenly I remember my mother telling me to trust my instincts.

I miss my mother but I don’t know why. How long has it been since I’ve seen her?

Trusting my instincts, I ride the lurch of fear to my feet and I run. The grass tangles around my ankles and the man chases me. Again and again when I look over my shoulder I glimpse his eyes.

I trip and my breath tears out of my chest. I hit the ground on my elbows and knees and a gash opens down my arm. In an instant the man is beside me, the wind blowing his black hair all around his face. He looks deranged, but he kneels down and puts his hand beneath my chin.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says.

“I don’t—” My voice catches. “I don’t know how to not be afraid.”

He smiles something that looks a little like a grimace. Overhead, the clouds darken. The wind grows frigid.

“You’ve hurt yourself,” he says, his eyes moving down my arm. He touches me just above the laceration and I manage to not pull away. “Come with me. I’ll take care of you.”

Now I do flinch. I pull into myself like a child, smearing blood on my skin and my clothes.

“I don’t know you,” I say. “I don’t know where I am.”

But to part of my mind, the answer is obvious. I am in the field. I remember the blade. Where else could I be? The man smiles a gentle, tentative smile.

“I’ll take care of you,” he repeats. “That’s all I’ve been waiting for, all this time.”

***

            The tower he takes me to stands in the middle of a valley, the hills sloping down to meet it, the trees dense and packed against its stone curve. It looks to me as though someone had cast it in greyscale—every surface covered in a grey dust so lifeless no other color touches it. The windows glint dully in the pale storm-light. The storm breaks overhead and within moments a torrential rain falls.

He opens the door with an iron key and stands there, poised and motionless. His eyes never leave me. I become aware that this entire time, his eyes have never left me. I do not find this comforting.

“What’s your name?” I ask, holding my injured arm and studying him with some trepidation.

“Whatever you need it to be,” he says.

The rain pours down upon me. Past the door he’s holding ajar, the tower looks dim, but dry. With my pulse still thudding in my throat, I walk through. The door closes and I hear the distinct click as he locks it. It does not unnerve me—instead I feel safe, with the shadow of the water on the windows painted across the stone walls within. I realize that being in the open had provoked a certain unease in me—that I’d existed with a monotonous drone of anxiety just beneath the level of my consciousness this entire time. The door shuts and I am at peace.

The man leads me up the stairs and into a room, this one locked as well. He stands beside the opened door as I enter, turning in a slow circle. An enormous bed occupies most of the room, but a desk rests in the corner as well. The walls are entirely comprised of windows. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, the light flickering down the panels of glass.

He approaches and motions toward the bed. I sit down and he opens a drawer of the desk, producing a roll of bandages. I hold myself stiffly as he seats himself beside me. He pulls my arm away from my own clutches and begins to wrap it. He says nothing. I hear nothing but the rumble of thunder, muffled by the layers of stone and glass.

“Are you a protector?” I ask.

His motions at my arm, mechanical and perfunctory, cease and then resume, slower. Quickly he nods, his hair falling over his face.

Unbidden, a profound sorrow wells within me. I cannot understand or control it. It spills out of me and I stare at the door he closed behind him, tears moving smoothly down my face. I begin to shake. The fear had dissipated but I cannot conceive of a world in which a sorrow like this exists.

He touches me, his fingers light and hesitating. Then I feel his arm around my shoulders and I crumble, allowing him to pull me in toward him. I wonder at the fact that he does not feel warm at all—not his arms, not his chest, not his breath on my hair.

I realize that I, too, feel cold.

***

            He sleeps beside me every night, and vanishes by morning. He locks each door every night and unlocks them deliberately each morning so that I will hear them and know I am free. The first morning when I awaken, ash lays across every surface in our bedroom. I brush a finger through the layer of ash on my skin and come further awake. That day, I remain inside, too afraid of what awaits me outside the tower. I watch the sun rise and fall through my windows.

The first week, I do not leave. I only become hungry when he returns, and then I am famished. We sit on the lavish bedspread and glut ourselves on the apples and rabbits he brings back to the tower. His eyes never stray. The moment he sees me to the moment I fall asleep, he watches over me.

When I am cold at night, he returns the following night with an abundance of blankets. When I mention the cinnamon strudel my mother makes—used to make? I cannot be sure—he finds a cinnamon strudel and delivers it to me without comment.

I venture out on the first day of the second week. I hear him unlock the doors as he leaves, I watch the sun hoist itself above the treeline, and then I leave the room. The stairs creak and groan beneath me as I descend. I open the front door and emerge, and the wind against my skin feels sharp and unwelcome. It whispers through the trees in a susurrous whir, the muted verdure of the forest less extravagant than I remember. The grey of the tower has leeched into the soil, I think, before laughing a little nervously at what sounds like utter lunacy. But the greyscale seems to have bled into the trees, the leaves green but diminishedly so, green but also grey.

I walk into the forest in the direction of the field where I first found myself. An inchoate sense of foreboding grows within the pit of my stomach. As I walk, my fingertips grow numb in what I soon recognize as the return of warmth to my flesh. I find the sensation irksome and uncomfortable, wringing my hands as I walk. So, too, do the colors return the further I stray. Blinking at the intrusive brilliance of my surroundings, I break the trees and find myself in the field.

The fear returns, but howling out overtop of it flies the sorrow. I stand paralyzed, stricken by the roaring cavalcade of emotion threatening to rip me asunder. I fall to my knees. The cut down my forearm tears itself open as I watch—flesh peels back in a vicious curl. Blood boils down my arm and washes over my clenched fist. I realize the screaming is mine—

“This is hell! I’m in hell!”

—and a moment later a hand claps over my mouth and drags me backward. The colors disappear as he drags me back through the greying woods and once again I find myself in the tower. Once again I sit on the bed and weep, and once again he wraps my arm.

“I shouldn’t have gone outside,” I say.

His dark eyes find mine. He nods once.

“You’re my protector,” I say.

“Yes,” he says.

“Protect me.”

“I will. I always will,” he says. “You are safe.”

I look down at my arm and he follows my gaze. Both his hands wrap around my wrist.

“Safe from what?” I ask. The question feels like a trap. I’m afraid of the answer.

He looks at me and says nothing.

I know the answer. My fear knows the answer. I can’t admit it to myself. When he leaves the following morning, he unlocks the doors and then locks them again.

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