What I Am
Written by KayBee
I was a man once.
This statement would probably bring several questions to your mind. The most urgent would undoubtedly be what are you now?
I prefer not to dwell on this point, it being a rather tender spot in my two hundred and forty-three years, so we will save that explanation for later.
But this story is not about what was, but about what could have been, and perhaps . . . what will be. So the story begins with a girl. This girl was, in a way, my ward. The very mention of the fact that I had a ward might raise alarm bells in your head, and you might wonder, why is an unknown Creature in charge of raising and protecting a poor girl?
Well to that I have nothing to say but . . . You’ll find out.
I had looked upon many faces by the time I met Her, some curious and nosy, most abhorrent and disgusted with my wretched appearance. And I could not blame them. It was not my fault, anyhow. But She looked down at me with a look of utmost pity.
“Father, what happened to that poor man?” she asked in a voice that sounded like bells to my rather rusty ear. It had been years since I had heard a human voice. I did not hear the reply, but I did hear Her answer. “Well, I’m awfully sorry for him, anyway.”
After that She came to me often, looking at me with a mixture of wonder and pity in Her small face. And one day, She spoke to me.
“You poor Mr. Man! You must be awfully lonely. I wish I could help you get better,” she said sorrowfully.
I opened my stiff jaws painfully, working them around to get the feel of using them again.
“Maybe you can help me,” I said, surprised to hear how deep my voice was. It was a little hoarse, since I had not used it in so long, but Her eyes widened delightedly.
“How?” she asked.
“All you need to do is to stay with me and love me,” I said, reaching out what had used to be a hand.
She did not even shudder as Her small fingertips touched me, and in a moment She was standing beside me on the grass, blinking up at me.
“Oh, I’m so glad I’m finally here!” she cried. “I’ve been waiting so long to meet you, Mr. Man, and you don’t know how glad I am to be with you!”
“You . . . you really wanted to be with me?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes!” she said. “You looked so lonely.”
“I am very glad you have come,” I said. “Now, what should I call you, my little beauty?”
“I like that name,” she said thoughtfully. “You can call me Beauty.”
And so I did. As time passed, I became Beast to her, instead of Mr. Man, but she did not call me that name with loathing or disdain. It was more like a fond nickname that she bestowed upon me.
I gave Beauty everything, from the humble roses that she picked from my gardens to canaries and finches in golden cages, hanging from the ceiling of her room. At her request, I changed my usual dinners to meals of strange things called Animal Crackers, and an amber liquid that she told me was “Apple Juice.” I enjoyed these things greatly, and she told me once that they were her favorite things to eat.
One night, after a large dinner of pomegranates, roasted quail eggs, stewed rabbit with garlic, Animal Crackers, and oranges, she approached me on a tender subject.
“O Beast, were your mother and father quite as ugly as you?”
This question, so innocently asked, pierced straight to my heart and I bowed my head.
“I was not always like this, my little Beauty.”
“What were you like?” asked Beauty, resting her hand on my paw.
“I was a man once,” I said. “At least, I think I was.”
“What changed you?” asked Beauty.
“I do not know,” I said wearily. “It has been so long, I cannot remember a time when I was not so despicable.”
There was a short silence and then Beauty said, “Well, I don’t think you’re despicable, Beast. I think you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
“But, Beauty . . . look at me,” I said sadly.
“I know what you look like on the outside,” she said, “but I know what you look like on the inside, too. And that’s what matters. Don’t you think so?”
And I do think so. After Beauty showed it to me.
And Beauty grew, and the years passed, and we were happy together. Happy, that is, until that Day.
We were standing on the lawn together when Beauty looked up suddenly, with a startled look on her face.
“What do you hear, my little Beauty?” I asked.
But she did not seem to hear me. She was looking up with a puzzled look now, and slowly she smiled. “Father?”
Her voice sounded distant and detached. She did not look like the little girl I had known. She looked suddenly, horridly grown up.
“Beauty!” I cried, clutching at her hand as she started to fade away. “Beauty, please do not leave me!”
She turned her head away from me, looking up to that sound I could not hear.
“Beauty, I will die if you leave me!”
She was only a grey shadow now, and when I reached out to touch her face she melted away completely with a little sigh. She was gone. And she had left me nothing.
I stood in my place on the lawn, now gripping the hilt of my sword as my head hung gloomily and I looked down at the ground under my feet.
There was no laughter.
There was no joy.
There was no Beauty.
And suddenly, I heard something that I had heard before. It was a mere shadow of something that I had heard somewhere, only saying something slightly different.
“Oh, poor Mr. Man! I wish that I could go to him, Mother.”
I looked up for the first time in years and saw a small face looking down at me. A face with Beauty’s sugar-brown curls, her hazel eyes, and her little mouth. But it was not quite Beauty’s face. And then a larger face appeared behind it.
“I have been waiting for you,” I said hesitantly.
Her voice came as if from very far away, but I could hear it. “Look, Beauty,” she said to the little girl, “this is my friend. His name is Beast.” She looked down at me for a moment. “I love you, Beast.”
If you ever happened to find that very particular bookshelf, and then find a dusty old volume called “Beauty and the Beast,” and then if you happened to open it to page number five, you would see a tall young man smiling up at you from a green lawn entwined with a wreath of delicate golden flowers, and you would know that Beauty has set Beast free.