Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In fact, some of what has been put down in the various accounts of my life is true, for, in order to save my poor father's life, I did consent to live with a fearsome creature that was more beast than man. It is also true that I fell in love with the Beast. As for what happened after that, the storybooks are quite accurate in their exposition for the Beast, immediately upon my avowal of love, was released from an evil curse and returned to his original form as a charming prince. We were married that very day.
But that is where the similarities between the legends you have read and my own incredible narrative end. For I have not lived "happily ever after" since that day.
You see, I miss my Beast.
As I languish here within the lonely halls of this castle, my mind often drifts back to the very first day I spent here. It was with much trepidation that I left my bedchamber that day, very cautiously, to make my way through the vast corridors that twist and turn throughout this fortress. Despite much speculation over the matter (for I had slept not one wink the night before), I could not imagine why the Beast had requested my presence there. I spent the day alone, wandering in and out of rooms and exploring the unfamiliar surroundings, while trying to guess what was in store for me.
This is not to say that I came to the great castle of the Beast against my will, for I was quite anxious to leave the poverty and boredom of my childhood behind me, and so when obligation awarded me this adventure, I was not entirely dissatisfied.
I could not have said what a castle should look like, but it seemed to me that everything I saw was exactly as it should be. Very austere-looking ancestors silently gazed down at me from the lofty positions where their portraits hung superciliously upon the walls. Other walls displayed splendidly woven tapestries of French picnics, Italian vineyards and other exotic affairs. The furniture was intricately carved from the finest lumber, and the carpets were extravagantly thick and colorful. In short, everything was quite extraordinary in its elegance and splendor.
I did not chance to meet the Beast while roaming the castle that day. He had, upon my arrival the previous evening, instructed a servant to take me directly to my bedchamber after I had bidden my father a quick farewell, and watched with strange detachment as he loaded two brimming trunks onto his coach. These were gifts from the Beast, who instructed that they be filled with treasures for my father to take away with him. It calmed and pleased me to imagine my family's delight when opening those trunks.
I did not stir from my bedroom during the remainder of the night, sleepless though I was. I pondered the end of my old life during the long hours of that quiet night, and even into the next day as I drifted from room to room, examining everything at leisure, without seeing a single soul about the place.
Supper was announced with the tinkling of a bell, and it was there that I once again encountered the Beast. Despite his gruesome appearance and gruff voice, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was, in fact, a gracious host, and we passed that first dinner with pleasant conversation and food and drink that delighted the palate.
As soon as the meal was concluded, the Beast rose from the table, surveying me with his dark eyes for a moment before asking, "Will you marry me, Beauty?"
I stared at the Beast in utter astonishment. What was I to do? Though my heart was hammering a loud warning of caution not to anger the Beast, I somehow managed to whisper, "No, Beast."
The Beast merely nodded bleakly, saying, "Very well, then," in a tone that indicated he had expected my reply, and he abruptly left the hall.
Relieved that I had not provoked the Beast with my refusal to his preposterous request, I too left the dining room to retire for the evening.
Have I forgotten to describe my bedchamber? Do not think it is because the room was not worth mentioning, for it was, and continues to be, the most beautiful room I would find in this elegant castle.
When first entering the chamber on the previous evening, I was too preoccupied to take much notice of my surroundings. On this night, however, I darted from one thing to the next, examining the wonderful array of objects that had been placed there for my pleasure, until at last my eyes beheld the extraordinary bed upon which I was to sleep. Along its towering posts it displayed, in great detail, the carved images of wild animals, spiraling along the edges and seemingly moving upward until, at the top, there sat a beautiful man with a crown. I knew not the meaning of the exquisite carvings that lanced that wooden frame, but gazed attentively at them nonetheless, for their beauty was not lost on me in spite of my humble upbringing.
Beside the bed an enormous bouquet of no less than one hundred fragrant pink roses stood placidly in an oversize vase that had been set on the bedside table. And, upon my word, from that day forward I was never to enter my chamber of an evening without finding an equally remarkable display of freshly cut flowers beside the bed.
The bedding was every bit as magnificent as everything else I had feasted my eyes on that day, and a shiver of pure delight ran through me as I slipped between the sumptuous silken sheets. It was such a pleasurable feeling that I was momentarily tempted to remove my nightdress. Instead, I ran my hand slowly across the bedding. My senses were rapidly becoming engulfed in exotic sensations amidst the influence of such luxury.
I was startled out of my enchantment suddenly when there came a light rapping on the door of my chamber. "Who's there?" I inquired, sitting up and clutching the silk sheets about my neck.
"It is only I, your servant, the Beast," came the gentle reply. His manner was as reassuring and appealing to me as his appearance was frightful. "Do come in," I said, more at ease.
The Beast opened the door to my bedchamber but did not step over the threshold. Through the dim light of the hallway, I could clearly see his physical outline, which would have been terrifying if not for his gentlemanly demeanor. I waited for him to speak.
"I only wished to inquire if all was satisfactory, My Lady," he said, remaining just outside the doorway.
"Satisfactory?" I echoed, suddenly amused. "Good heavens, no! I would never in my wildest imaginings have dared to describe these accommodations as 'satisfactory." I smiled happily at my little joke, as I flung the extravagant bedclothes aside, and reached toward the nightstand to light the lantern.
The Beast remained silent and stared at me as if stunned. Upon seeing his expression, I realized my flippant reply must have insulted him and immediately tried to put matters right.
"Oh, Beast! What I meant to say well, of course every thing is quite satisfactory. Why, it is more than satisfactory! That is what I meant of course."
But something was terribly wrong. It was as if the Beast had not even heard me. Without thinking I leaped from my bed to approach him as I made another effort to explain. But I only managed a few steps before freezing in horror.
Had I heard a growl? My mind reeled between shock and disbelief. It was impossible! And yet, his eyes had a most unnatural glow. He stood perfectly still, like an animal that is poised for an attack.
"Beast?" I whispered, as much a plea as a question.
And then all of a sudden he was gone.
I stood there many moments afterward, trying to collect my shattered wits. I glanced down at my trembling hands, and it was then that I noticed my dressing gown. It was completely sheer, from head to foot! The lantern I had lit only served to emphasize my nakedness beneath the cloth!
I did not see the Beast again until suppertime the following day. There, he was as gentle and refined as I had remembered him being at the previous meal we had shared. I blushed and shivered whenever his eyes met mine, but he never gave any indication that he noticed, or that anything had transpired that warranted such an attitude. His demeanor eventually lulled me out of my suspicions and fears, and I was once again at ease, and even enjoying his conversation and friendly manner. Afterward, he stood up and asked me the same question he had asked on the previous night, and the one he would ask every night thereafter.
"Beauty, will you marry me?"
To which I always replied, "No, Beast."
Our friendship blossomed. And yet, every noise I heard from within my bedchamber at night would leave me anxious and sleepless, waiting breathlessly for that light tap on my chamber door.
But the Beast never ventured near my bedchamber again. It was I who, unable to sleep one evening, stumbled across the Beast's private chamber while wandering toward the library in search of something to read. I heard a noise, much like a groan, coming from the other side of his door as I passed. I stopped abruptly.
In a moment or two I heard the noise again. I knew immediately it was the Beast and was seized with compassion for him. Was he ill?
Without further thought I knocked on his chamber door. Moments passed and I knocked again.
"Go away," I heard the Beast say at last, in a pleading tone.
"I shall not," I replied determinedly, "not until I have seen that you are well."
Silence again. "Please," I implored, knocking again. "Just open the door and let me "
"Go away from that door, Beauty!" the Beast commanded harshly. "Leave now or you will endanger yourself!" His tone was controlled, but his voice was desperate.
I have wondered many times why I did not leave him then. I have told myself that I could not leave a friend in need. I have told myself that it was my curiosity that would not let me leave. I have told myself a great many things, but I suspect that you will not believe them, either.
I turned the doorknob and opened the door to the Beast's private bedchamber.
It was pitch-black inside. I took a few steps into the room, searching the darkness for the Beast. The door behind me suddenly slammed shut. The hair on my neck stood up.
The darkness was slowly giving way to shadows. My eyes scanned the massive room frantically, seeking the Beast's form. Suddenly I heard the shrill screech of metal rings on rods, nearly causing me to jump out of my skin, as one heavy velvet drape was yanked aside so that the bright moonlight could enter the chamber. Now I could see the Beast clearly as he approached me. I could also suddenly hear his irregular breathing, and I realized he was panting.
My own breathing became more rapid as I desperately struggled to get enough air into my lungs. It was as if the huge chamber had shrunk to half its size upon my discovering the Beast's large form. Fear was steadily trickling through my veins, infusing me with an acute awareness of everything around me. The Beast slowly approached me until he stood so close that I could feel his warm breath on my skin, and I fancied I could even feel heat from his stare. He was a full foot and a half, if not more, taller than I, with shoulders that extended a distance of more than three times the size of mine. There was an unnatural glow in his dark eyes. I shivered in spite of the heat I felt coming off him.
"If you don't want your nightdress to be destroyed, remove it now," the Beast said at last. His tone was matter-of-fact, but his manner was strained, as if he was struggling to maintain control. His voice was gruff, and so deep as to be barely able to transmit human language. His presence engulfed and overwhelmed me. His gaze hypnotized me. His breath burned me. There was nothing that I could perceive remaining of the mild friend I had shared so many suppers with.
And yet, as I stared into the Beast's eyes, mesmerized, a new sensation was rapidly creeping up from deep within me, mingling with the fear.