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February 26, 2013 Fiction

Uptaten Towers

Sam Martone

Uptaten Towers photo



A hand over your mouth. A hush in the darkness. It’s the girl, whose name reminds you of another, who you remember marrying in some uncertain future or almost-forgotten dream. She is unaware that, even if her palm was not curled around your lips, you would not be able to speak unless she asked you a question. She tells you it is time. Your father stirs and coughs beside you in his stiff inn bed. He rolls over, his swamp-monster snores resume. He fell ill before you could leave this town, before you could return to your village. Now, here she is, to steal you away from the inn, from him, in the middle of the night, her hand firm over your ever-silent boy mouth. Here she is.



Outside the town, it feels like this night could last forever. Maybe it could. Walk carefully through these forests, through the fields and mountain ranges. This is your first adventure without your father to guide you, and it could be your last, too. Look at the map that hovers above you, most of its topography still darkened, a silhouetted world—you will chart the landscapes in your head, illuminate each region as you travel through it. Don’t get lost. Figure out the best routes. There are creatures that will emerge from darkness. There are poison bogs that will make your eyes flash purple. You have heard stories of fights, of teeth knocked out, of shadowy gangs ganging up on lone travelers, tipsy tavern frequenters stumbling directionless, but she will protect you: you raise your club and she draws her knife, but she is stronger than you, you notice already, you feel it in her grip. She has heard stories of a haunted castle in the north, and that’s where you are going, where you must go, where she says she wants to take you when she squeezes your hand in hers.



When you arrive, there is a strange familiarity to the place, those turrets towering at each corner—but all castles look the same, especially from the outside. The iron latches on the heavy wooden doors are rainworn, rusted shut, but she points to the back. You find a way in, stones missing at the foot of a tower, an opening large enough for your child bodies to crawl through. You watch her feet disappear into the dark, and it begins to rain, to pour. Lightning cleaves the night. A storm. You remember a word from your dreams: monsoon. You are not sure if it is the correct word for this, this rain that has come from nowhere, if you are in the right region for this word to be the right word to use. You want to reach in and touch her ankle, to have her crawl back out, but she is too far away for your fingers, stretched to their very tips. You want to run for home through puddles with her. You want to see what her hair looks like when wet.



Inside, in the darkness your eyes cannot see through, statues come to life, coffins fall open, ghosts waltz, bump into you, miss a step, step on your heel. You cannot see anything. You cannot see her, behind or in front of you. This place, it may as well be a cavern. It may as well be a labyrinth, a dungeon, a lair where something must be lurking, waiting just for you. Do not be afraid. Light your torch. A beautiful pale light will shine from it, illuminating your surroundings, she has been next to you the whole time, tugging at your shirt. Do not be afraid. If you fall through the floor, you will wake up beside her, buried alive in the blankets of your bed. Do not be afraid. If you collapse from exhaustion, she will drag you to the inn, and you can return here again on another endless night, an endless night that will keep recurring—like a dream—until you find what is waiting for you at the end. You can hear a song playing somewhere, a phantom melody, and you feel like you could sing it if only you remembered the words.



Think of all you have acquired: Six hours alone with her, maybe a week, maybe years, if you managed to make this night last that long. Magic on your fingertips, on hers, too. A separation you hope will be temporary. A silver tea set and a golden orb, your father’s stern face reflected in both. As you begin your journey home, your father will tell you that you must never do that again, that there is danger in this world. But you know that. You have seen it, and though you promise him never, you know, even now, a time will come when you will. You look back to the town entrance where, between the guards’ towering stances, there she is, waving her hand in a wave to you, for you, back and forth, until she is out of sight.

image: Caleb Curtiss