It was a cold night atop the castle, wind howling and moaning around the turrets and snowflakes catching in my brown fur. We were in for another dreadful winter, but at least that meant my castle would be unreachable – once again.
But maybe the damage was already done. There was a girl in my castle – a beautiful girl.
I stared at my clawed hands. I'd wanted a girl to come to the castle, certainly – deep down. Anything to break this infernal enchantment. But one like her? Her very name was too beautiful for my thoughts. Now she was trapped here by my own demands and her stubborn devotion to her old father, and I found myself faced with hopes and dreams I'd buried years ago – hopes and dreams that were better off dead.
I snarled to myself, glaring down into swirling gray mist below my lofty perch. Why did she have to come here? If she'd been hideously ugly – or at least incredibly plain, and possibly desperate enough to fall in love with even a beast – then maybe I'd have had a chance.
But I had no chance with this… this angel. That's what she was: A graceful angel with large doe-like brown eyes and long brown hair tied back neatly from her lovely face. What was she doing in a castle haunted by monsters and gargoyles? How generous of me, indeed, to have taken Lumiere's advice and offered her a room. My entire castle was no better than the dungeon!
Rumbling deep in my throat, I clenched and unclenched my huge fists, watching the inhuman way my thick fingers moved. She could have been afraid of me, at least. Then I could have demanded that she fall in love with me and break the spell by force. If I badgered a weak, insipid creature enough, I could have found a way to terrify her into submission. Surely I could have fooled that magic rose into releasing me from its evil clutches.
But this girl… She was impervious. No, she was impossible! I couldn't even order her down to dinner. I grudgingly admired her courage and strength of character, but I wished she didn't have it.
I remembered the single tear that had fallen down her pale, beautiful face as she trailed after me on our journey to her new room. What a brave thing to do, I mused with a rumbling growl, exchanging her life for her father's release. I'd agreed with the old man: He was old; he'd lived his life. She should have left while she had the chance.
But she didn't. Instead, she'd rashly promised remain here for the rest of her life. She had a heart more beautiful than her outward appearance… My heart wasn't fit for her, either. If it were, I wouldn't look like this in the first place.
It was all that enchantress' fault. How was I to know that the ugly old witch in disguise was scouring the countryside in the dead of winter, visiting castles and testing hearts? I was young; I'd grown up surrounded by servants devoted to my every whim. Could she blame me for that? Surely the punishment did not fit the crime!
Wasn't there a more subtle way of getting a spoiled prince's attention?
Didn't she have anything better to do? Or did it amuse her to exercise her powers over hapless mortals – deserving of such appalling fates or not? Who gave her that right in the first place? I would have given a great portion of my wealth to meet the sadistic deity responsible for unleashing her upon the world. At least I would have someone to rage at besides my own shattered reflection in the broken mirrors. How many other castles' doorsteps had that enchantress cowered upon during that cold night? Had other kings or princes refused the old beggar woman and suffered the same misfortune as I?
Or was I special enough to have garnered her full attention? Maybe she'd made a long trip through the cold and snow with her infernal rose just to visit me!
Snarling, I rose up and prowled on all fours among the row of horrible gargoyles lining the rooftop. She had to have known, that miserable enchantress, how repulsed I was by ugliness. Why else would my shining castle be such a monument of sunlight and beauty? My eyes swept the black spires that had once been towers of white marble. Even these gargoyles that glared menacingly down on any soul who dared approach my castle had once been Grecian angels playing along my rooftops.
I rumbled deep in my throat and curled my upper lip back, baring my fangs at the ugly creatures taunting me – no longer angels, but demons; just as my heavenly castle had become a hell. If hell were any worse than this, I would have done anything to stay out of it.
For the time being, I had my own temporal hell to worry about. I'd never escape it if she didn't change. How could she love a beast? That was impossible. She was gorgeous and proud, independent and untamable. I could fling myself on my furry face before her, I supposed, and beg her to marry me. Oh, that would be real smooth. She'd laugh at me and ignore me as a dog groveling for a bone.
Why shouldn't she? It was true; I was no more than a groveling, miserable monster. I refused to grovel at her feet. The thought of such humiliation was sickening.
I crouched under the cold winter darkness while my burgundy cloak blew around me, trying to come up with some other scheme that might work on this girl. Traditional romance was out of the question: Damsels didn't generally have a favorable reaction to hirsute suitors who showed up with bouquets of flowers and big, fang-filled grins. How charming. What was I supposed to do, sweep her a bow and ask her to dance?
I let out an angry snarl. Oh, suave. Real suave.
I could tell her the truth – that I was a prince under an enchanted spell, and that if she gave me her love, my true form would be revealed. I immediately discarded that possibility also: If I told her such an outlandish story, she'd never believe it. I was a monster in her eyes.
No wonder; I was a monster in my own eyes.
Perhaps the girl was mercenary. I could offer half of my kingdom if she would agree to marry me. But what kind of kingdom did I have to offer? I'd seen the horror in her brown eyes as she walked through the halls to her chambers. I'd seen the way she looked at me, the way her brown eyes widened in horror as she covered her face with her small hand – and I'd never felt more like a beast than I had at that moment.
And it… I hated to admit it. That look pierced me to the heart. I frightened her with a mere glance. But could I help myself? I growled, irritated. Was it my fault that I was a hideous beast? I couldn't change what I was – not now. Not without her!
She was proud; I doubted money or power would sway her. She'd already proven how difficult she would be with me, refusing to eat dinner in my presence. She acted like I was going to eat her for dinner!
I snarled and sat back on my haunches and curled my bushy tail around myself, then glared at my ugly claws again. Alright… maybe my appearance would give substance to such an idea. I had broken every mirror in the palace for a reason, but I was powerless to change the way she saw me. I would have stayed in the shadows, except she was the one who asked me to come into the light! What spell in her voice persuaded me to obey her? I could have – should have – remained hidden, the mysterious master of the castle. At least she… she wouldn't have… looked at me that way.
Mrs. Potts' admonishment echoed in my thoughts: But you must help her to see past all that…
I snarled into the cold air, and delicate snowflakes scurried from the horror of my very breath. Help the girl to see past all this? Right. Instead of just a monster, I could be a sophisticated monster. A genteel monster. A monster who didn't eat pretty girls for dinner, but a monster who certainly didn't bother with the silverware.
Growling discontentedly, I rose onto all fours and paced beyond the row of leering black gargoyles. I didn't know where I was going; nor did I care. I just needed to move – to get away from the shadowed hopelessness of my own thoughts. The cold could not penetrate my thick pelt, and a large part of me wished it would. If I froze to death up here like one of the gargoyles, at least I could escape this hell.
Or maybe… I could leap off the roof. It was a long way down. I peered over the ledge at a dizzying height – or what would have been a dizzying height if I were still just an ordinary prince. As a beast, not even the enormous plunge could strike fear into my heart. Maybe I was incapable of fear…
No, no, that wasn't quite true. I was terrified of a girl.
Growling to myself, I made my way over the slanting roof tiles, gravitating towards the West Wing out of habit. Why? I had nothing better to do there than brood over my rose – the rose that controlled my fate and fostered false hope – and watch another petal fall.
I glanced over the edge of the roof again when I heard something – a soft cry, a sharp intake of breath, a muffled creak of wood. My head whipped toward the West Wing, and my keen beast's eyes caught a faint movement within the shadows. Something – no, someone – was creeping toward the table where the enchanted rose bloomed: The only two beautiful things in the entire castle, drawn to each other.
The glass bell jar lifted, and the soft pink light fell on the face of the girl.
I was incensed with rage. How dare she? I'd forbidden her to enter the West Wing – my domain! There she was, poking around among the ruins of my chambers – just because I'd told her not to. And now she was after my most precious possession…
Red heat flooded my brain. My one slim chance at redemption was in danger. I flew down from the roof and landed silently on the terrace in a single powerful leap, landing lightly on all four paws. Then I drew my cloak around myself and slowly rose up to my full height, my blood beginning to boil beneath the surface of my fur as I watched her delicate hand reach toward the beautiful flower, her expression glowing with curiosity and delight.
My shadow fell across her, and she caught sight of me with a terrified gasp and lurched backwards. I snorted a thick cloud of steam from my nostrils, and I was across the room in one bound. In an instant I snatched the bell jar and thrust it safely over the rose – my rose.
Then I whirled, cradling the fragile bell jar possessively with my massive arms and snarling lowly in her face. I could hear her heart pounding.
"Why did you come here?" I growled.
She held her small hands outward – a helpless gesture to hold back my terrible anger. "I… I'm sorry…"
I was furious. She was sorry?! She was only sorry that I'd caught her!
I released the jar and prowled toward her menacingly. "I warned you never to come here!"
She stumbled backwards, her frightened eyes riveted on me. "I didn't mean any harm!"
I advanced on her, seething. "Do you realize what you could have done?" I swung my paw and destroyed the first piece of furniture that stood in its way, reducing it to a pile of splinters.
Her musical voice quivered with fear as she backed against an armoire. "Please, stop!"
I lunged at her and smashed the side of the armoire, but she'd moved out of my way at the last second. My claws left a deep gouge in the wood where her body had been an instant before. Snarling fiercely at having missed her, I unleashed my violent fury on anything and everything I could get my claws into.
"Get out!" I roared.
Her voice came in a terrified whimper. "No…"
I wanted to kill her! I unleashed a fearsome roar that shook the castle to its foundation. "GET OUT!"
That was finally too much for her. The girl in the blue dress whirled and fled, running for her life, and she vanished around the corner as she dashed down the staircase. I could hear her tiny feet on the carpeted stairs, hammering like the beating of my own heart.
She was gone.
Searing pain ripped through the red curtain of rage. She was gone. Oh, God… I sank back onto my haunches and covered my hideous face with my paws. What have I done?