The Man in the Tower – Life and Death (Draft 3) The

The Man in the Tower – Life and Death (Draft 3)
The warm red of the torch near his bed is what his eyes opened to first. It wasn’t long before he wanted to climb out of bed, but first a long and desperately needed stretch. The whistling howls against the window shutters meant a loud day ahead. What day was it? He didn’t know. A cold one, he thought to himself as he left the warm covers. The shutters rattled against their locked hinges, so he stuck loose cloth into some of the gaps. This is how the morning routine always was – he changed clothes, grabbed a book that he’s probably read ten times, and waited for the food to arrive. When he was younger, before he could read, he would play with the torches. The warmth of the fire always fascinated him. The shadows were dark and obscure shapes defined only by his imagination. But he thought the flames didn’t play nice anymore, he knew them too well. Instead, he found entertainment through the locked shutters. His curiosity with the outside world could only be cured in small doses from the infrequent sights he got through a small hole in the shutters- until last week when he finally escaped the tower.
The knock on the door finally came. He walked over to open the door for her.
He greeted her with a tired “Morning, Ada.”
“Good morning, Evan.”Evan could smell the soup from before she opened the door. Ada had always taken care of him, and she knew that soup was his favorite way to start off the cold days. Ada had known him for as long as he’d been in the tower. As long as he could remember. It wasn’t until his trip outside that he had been more curious about his past, a past that Ada seemed to know more than she let on. This woman had faded blonde hair, with a few prominent gray strands. She stood at Evan’s height, but had a slight slump in her posture. A few wrinkles creased around her eyes and mouth as she spoke. Her gown was conservative and draped her entire body, hiding any of her features.
Every morning and every night, she brought him food. Sometimes she brought him some new books, but not faster than he can read them. Today was a book day. The boredom from this room compared to the vastness of the outside world described in the millions of words on his wall was what had inspired him to escape.
“Soup today? Seems like the days are getting colder now. Is it winter already?”“Fall comes first, the leaves are starting to change color and fall from the trees,” she said.
He already knew this. He’d seen plenty of leaves falling to the ground on his day trip from the tower. “Even the leaves are falling, it must be a beautiful sight. Don’t they change colors?”
She sighed because she knew where this conversation was going. “Yes, I’m sure you’ve read about the vibrant green leaves turning a yellowish red before falling to the ground. I guess it is a bit colder these days.”
The lunch was a bowl of soup, a sandwich, and the usual apple. Always an apple. “Maybe you’ll let me help you pick apples one of these days. Fall is apple picking season anyways.”
There it was. She let out a sigh and immediately shook her head. “You know you cannot go outside Evan. You do not belong in that world, society knows what you-” she stopped herself from giving away too much, before looking away for a pause and then continuing. “The world is too harsh. People are vile, always cutting each other’s throats. Monsters roam the wildlands. You would not be welcomed warmly. This tower is the only place where you can live freely.”
“Not like I’m more free, not in this stone cage.” On the outside, he was expected to be obedient and satisfied with his current life. But every crumb of information made his imagination grow wild with ideas. On the inside he was teeming with curiosity on what life was like. He had only explored for an hour, and his heart was racing the whole time. The problem was as she said: he was not allowed outside.
*
Evan walked over to the window shutters after finishing the food. Perhaps the main event would start today. One of the shutters had worn down over the years, the tower was much older than he was at 17. While reading one evening three years ago, he’d noticed a piece of loose carpentry in the shutters, probably weathered over time. He was able to pop out the loose piece along its design cuts. Finally, he could observe the outside world. If Ada ever knocked on the door, the piece would fit back in its groove and leave Ada none the wiser.
He started to read one of the books she’d brought him today. His peephole emitted a small whistle as the wind blew outside. As the day grew longer, the wind died down- as did his interest in the book. Evan stood to look through the hole. All he could see was the hill leading out of the valley that the tower was built in, and a lone tree surrounded by a carpet of fiery red leaves that had fallen from its branches. No words could describe how he’d felt while he was out there. The elation and fear, the hot and cold, curiosity and reluctance, all overwhelmed his senses at once. To find that this tree was just one of many- it had plenty of cousins surrounding the tower. To finally see the sun in all of its glory. Taste its heat with his own flesh.
He’d just finished a passage in his book when he heard laughter coming from outside of the window. Perfect timing. He recognized the one with fiery curls for hair from the first time he left the tower. The group of teens were walking down past the tree. One of them stopped to relieve himself, while the rest stumbled around to the bottom of the hill and out of Evan’s sight. Evan knew what awaited them at the bottom of the hill.
*
The stairs spiraled down, swirling into a pit of darkness. A shadowy, musty corridor lit poorly by the scattered dying torches. His breath was the only thing he could hear as he ventured down the stairs on his own for the first time. It was an odd contrast to the bright fall day he was looking at through his window. After slowly crawling his way down the stairs, he found two doors. One was Ada’s room, a place he had been before. Similar to his own, but with a fireplace and more windows. The door that was a bit further down the stairs was his main interest- and the one he opened today. He held his breath as the door opened, hoping somehow this would stop it from creaking. He could feel a gust of fresh air blow past him.
In the same breath, a stone monster stood adjacent to the door against the wall on the other side. It caught Evan off guard, baring its fangs at the opposite wall. The evil expression from the beast glared angrily, straight out of his nightmares. He had to bite his tongue so as not to call out with surprise. Evan regained his composure and silently shut the door, continuing his journey down the stairs. Eventually, natural light peaked around the wall that curved ahead. It led into a door of blinding light, and the first thing he did when entering the light was take in the smell- a beautiful aroma given off by the surrounding flowers. His eyes eventually adjusted enough for him to gaze up and see the beautiful blue ocean, pierced by the tip of the tower. The Sun was peering from behind it, casting long shadows up the hill. He stood for a few moments, or hours, embracing his first steps outside. There was another stone beast posed above the entrance to the tower. When he looked down, he saw a red trail leading around the tower. It was a different red than his torches, than the leaves. He followed the trail, his stomach knew where it led. Around the corner was where the aroma met a terrifying end as it changed to a disgusting, hot scent Evan had never smelled before.
He covered his nose and took a peek, only to quickly rebound around the corner. Five feet behind the base of the tower laid a giant, hairy beast. He had seen the beast a few times before, from his window. Its rhythmic breaths meant that it was probably asleep. He didn’t know that it ate recently, but he probably doesn’t always see it hunt its prey. Evan slowly walked to the tree, away from the tower. He made his way up and over the hill for the first time, walking for what felt like an eternity until he encountered a group of children.
He needed to convince them to go to the tower in a few days so that he could ensure the bear would be asleep when he escaped for real. Part of his great plan. Evan watched them from behind a tree not too far away as a few of them played with sticks, acting like knights in the stories that he had read. Another one of them picked an apple from a tree and began to munch on it. These boys seemed a bit younger than Evan. He almost felt bad that he was using them to fuel his escape.
*
The truth was, he’d actually made his way down the tower once before his previous venture to the bottom. The first time was a year ago. He decided to go out at night, which was a mistake. He had never been enveloped in pure darkness before, always having the warmth of his torches. These ones must have died out before he went down. When he walked down the cold cobble stairs for the first time he saw the stone beast hiding in the shadows beyond the door. He had come face to face with it just as he opened the door next to Ada’s. Fear paralyzed his brain and his body. Just as the real beast probably did to the young boys who were no longer laughing at the bottom of the hill.
Their silence meant the beast had gotten to them. Evan heard the snarl of the great brown beast erupt first from the silence, followed by the screaming children. He eyed the door and knew better than to make an attempt with the beast active, and in a bloodlust. Hungry. The red haired boy had made it back to the tree and was running with pure fear. The beast must have been satisfied enough to not chase them. Evan knew that tomorrow would be the day. He stuck his apple through the window hole, happy that today checked a box in his plan. Evan stuck the wooden chunk back into the window hole, closing up his entertainment for the day.
*
When Ada brought him his food that night, he had a question for her.
“Am I cursed, Ada?”
“What?” She paused, curious about his questioning.
“I went outside,” it was his turn to pause and take in the look on her face, which went from anger to worry, “and I met up with some children. I mentioned the tower in the woods, and they called it the Tower of Curses. What does that mean?”
Ada seemed shocked and surprised, not sure what to say. She went to her default argument, “Evan, I’ve told you for years,” the anger in her voice started to seep through, “to never go outside. You do not understand-”
“Of course, I don’t understand, that’s why I’m asking.” His own years of pent up anger that he didn’t know he had began to boil up.
“Evan, I do not know why you cannot just accept that you are not meant to live outside- The world will shun you, they know what you ar-” She cut herself off, just like last time.
“What am I?” His fury turned into desperation, desperation to find out why he was sentenced to this stone prison for eternity, not allowed to experience life with other people like the boys he had found. The cruelty that his life has suffered from might be why he has become so selfish.
Ada began to back up and close the door, he heard the usual jingle of her keys as she was closing the door. “You were given to me as a mercy, Evan. The outside world is not meant for you. Please, understand that much. We are the same.”
He clenched his fists until they were purple as she closed the door, he grabbed the plate of food she had brought up for dinner and he threw it at the door. It was not the first time he would go to bed angry and hungry. But it would be the last in this tower.
*
He slept a few hours that night, but spent his time awake thinking about his plan to get out. The locked doors were nothing new, he had just unlocked them on his own anyways. Ada had been his caretaker for as long as he had known. But he knew that she kept herself distanced from him. She always hid the truth about his life, and now Evan would leave and find it himself. When he woke up he checked the window. The sun had just started lighting up the sky. He walked over to a shelf where he left his metal utensils at. Using them like he read, he opened the door after a few minutes. He was sloppy, and he knew it. If he was going to unlock the lower door, he had to be silent. Ada would probably be up soon, if she wasn’t already. Evan made his way down to the door and silently picked it this time. He tucked the metal pieces into his pocket next to his apple.
As he made his way to the bottom, his mind was racing with possibilities on what to do, where to go. He decided that he wanted to go to the ocean when his foot suddenly missed a step and he fell over. The metal picks went clanging down the stairs and off the wall. Evan’s heart dropped. He didn’t know which would be worse, facing Ada or waking the bear that hopefully still slept below.
He got up and ran down the rest of the stairs. The sun did not blind him, and instead he was met with a blue haze below the tower. The leaves had fallen from most of the trees, and his steps made a slight crunch. About halfway up to the tree, he heard Ada at the doorway. She spoke in a raised whisper, Ada knew what sat at the bottom of the tower.
“Evan! You cannot go, Evan. Get back here.”
Evan turned to Ada only to wave. “I’m not going back, Ada. I’ve had enough of it all.”
“Evan…” She sighed from the stress that she was under. “Evan, I have a disease. A highly contagious, deadly disease. That is why I am here. And that is why you are here. You were given to me so that they did not have to kill you, a child.” She finally pleaded with him by using the truth.
Evan froze in place like the tree behind him. He could not live among others. And he could not live secluded. Not in the tower. The truth hurts, but it does not change his plan.
“Thank you Ada, and I’m sorry. Even if I can’t live with them, I’d rather die out here than in there.” He turned and began to walk away. The beast was the least of his concerns, because it would mean the end of his stone sentencing. Perhaps it was still sleeping off the calories it gained.
Ada wanted to chase after him but only made it a few steps before a large gust of wind swept into the valley and almost knocked her over. She couldn’t get up the hill as easily as him. He faded away up the hill until his head bobbed underneath its crest.