To Be Human Again
Written By Daniel Roberts
The virgin snow crunched under Rozabelle’s feet as the silhouette of a large castle materialised through the blizzard, its tall towers reaching for the sky. She tried to move faster, but she could only muster up so much energy for she had very little of it. The injuries she had sustained earlier in the evening were hardly fatal, but the blizzard – whose cold tore at her skin like unforgiving claws - had for her other plans. Despite how much it had cost, her long snowy-white leather jacket didn’t do much to keep her warm, nor did the light-blue velvet scarf or winter hat to match.
She soon found herself treacherously climbing a broad set of steps – rendered smooth like glass by the ice – up toward the building. Through the white blur she could barely see, so she moved with care, despite her urgency to get inside. Once at the top, she caught her breath; each one sharp and painful as the air cut her throat and lungs like razors. The giant oak doors looked uninviting. There were no lights on, either, at least not in one of the dozens of windows on this side of the building. She knocked the door a good number of times. A few moments passed but there had been no sign of life on the other side.
Perhaps he’s up in the west wing or something, she thought to herself sarcastically.
She knocked again, this time louder, for twice as long, and twice as impatiently. She wasn’t the kind to give up so easily. Then she realised that if no one was to answer, she’d have no choice but to break-in, else she faced certain death out in the storm. That, or she would snap her neck on the steps going back down. She was no thief, though, but she was also no stranger in bending the rules somewhat, either. This situation wasn’t so different, except that her survival had selfishly taken priority. For the time being.
She was rummaging inside her bag to find her phone which she would use as a torch once inside, when suddenly a bolt on the inside of the doors was lifted. With a creek the doors slowly opened inwards, presenting to her an abyss of darkness. She moved forward with caution, but only so much as the blizzard was hellishly cold. Once inside, she turned back to look behind her but by then the doors had already slammed shut, dunking her in a featureless black void.
Girl wanders into a creepy old haunted mansion, she thought, trying to maintain a state of calm. It’s a tale as old as time. The only cliché missing is I’m not wearing red. Except of course for the blood.
She quickly retrieved her phone and turned on the light, though it revealed to her nothing. All around her was seemingly eventual darkness. No surprise really given the size of the place.
Then there was a sound, soft like a breeze. Perhaps it was the draft from the doors shutting, she thought, but she was quickly told otherwise when a suited man appeared right in front of her in the dark. She could have quite easily jumped out of her skin had he not looked so immediately harmless and rather friendly. In the faint glow from the candelabra he held in his hand she could see he was tall, slender, with a long face with an almost-equally long nose. Perhaps the most curious thing about him though was that he was dressed like he was from a different time. That, and he appeared to be somewhat transparent.
Like a ghost.
“Sorry about the excitement,” he said in the most pleasant voice, “but the Master seldom answers the door. He’s become rather shy over the years – and there have been many. And sorry about the lights, too, but the blizzard seems to have knocked out the power. I am Lumi. My colleague, Cogs,” – he said with his voice suddenly raised, “is still currently trying to fix the generator to get some lights on in here! But then timing has never been his forte!”
“I can hear you!” came an irritated voice from somewhere high up in the mansion. The echo bounded off the walls for some time.
“So easily wound-up,” Lumi said with a smile.
“Well I hope your Master is available,” Rozabelle said, almost slack-jawed at the apparition that was stood before her, desperately trying to control the sudden pounding of her heart. But it was hardly the strangest thing she had seen this evening, she quickly accepted.
“Why did you come here?” said a voice deep like thunder, from somewhere in the darkness.
Lumi quickly retreated into the darkness with his lights.
Rozabelle looked all around her with the light from her phone. She saw nothing but she could already hear his heavy footsteps and his deep grunts draw closer. Suddenly, she felt his presence before her; his warm, harsh breath fell on her face. But while she was expecting the smell of blood or raw meat, she could smell only beer.
She held her phone upwards, using the light to scan the dark around her like the beam from a lighthouse. “C-come into the light,” she said nervously
Oh my god, she thought. I’m not crazy – he is a monster!
Every inch of his face was covered in thick brown hair – like that of a bear; his open mouth – from which she could see his warm breath - revealed a set of wolf-like fangs, though two at the bottom protruded upwards and out of his mouth like small tusks; his nose was flat and brown, just like a dog’s, but perhaps the most distinguishable feature – despite the monstrousness – were his piercing blue eyes that almost glowed in the dark and with which he intensely studied this young girl who had wandered in out of the cold.
“Your butler let me in,” she said, her voice shaky. “I came here to thank you for saving my life back in the city. From those men.” She slowly stepped backwards, her light still fixed on him.
The beast followed at equal speed, in a threatening manner, as if he were ready to lunge at her like a predator. Though he was slightly hunched over, like a grizzly bear or a bull, he towered over her, and was thrice the width of the average man.
“But how did you find me?”
“It’s really not that hard,” Rozabelle said, still in retreat. “You can find anyone these days. Despite what you might want, anonymity and invisibility aren’t possible. Not anymore. You can find breadcrumbs virtually anywhere.”
“Damn technology!” he growled furiously.
“Well, what do you expect,” Rozabelle said somewhat stiffly, suddenly calmer, “when you’ve been playing vigilante with that gang these past few years.”
Suddenly, the beast relaxed too and looked longer ready to attack. He stopped moving. “They’d have killed you. You were one of the lucky ones. But a fool, nonetheless. Do I not frighten you?!”
Rozabelle shrugged. “What’s scarier? A violent, murderous gang of men who only call themselves the Wolves, or a man who just so happens to look like a wolf but actually saved me? Half-saved me, by the way.” She presented to him her bloodied and bruised knuckles, smiling nervously but proudly.
With his eyes wide, the beast seemed to study Rozabelle intently; her long curly brown hair with dustings of snow, her big brown curious eyes, and her supple olive skin. Then he turned away, as if ashamed. “Lumi,” he called. The friendly man appeared once again with his candelabra in hand. “She looks hurt,” the beast said to him. “And cold, too. Have our maid make her some soup. Then we’ll see she is gone.”
Rozabelle followed the flickering flames through the dark hall, passing what she could only make out to be a grand staircase. She knew not much of this beast besides all the stories from over the years, from a brief encounter some hours ago, and now this very moment. And though she was still trembling – probably from the cold that still clung to her like death, she told herself – she would tell the biggest, most profitable story of all.
Sometime later, Rozabelle, suddenly exhausted, was alone, huddled under a thick blanket in a small corner of a large library, sat before a warm, crackling fire, nursing a hot cup of tomato soup that a giddy, dumpy little maid had brought her. “You really are putting our service to the test this evening, dear!” the maid had said excitedly, “We don’t often get many visitors!” Like Lumi, the maid also appeared rather ghostly, almost not there at all, and she too was dressed like she had belonged to a century long-since passed.
When no one else was around, Rozabelle quietly pulled her phone back out from her handbag and opened the recording application.
“Not much of a reader, then?” the beast said.
Rozabelle jumped, almost spilling her soup. She turned around and there he was; his huge, hairy, hulking mass lit up by the roaring fire. In a large blue nightgown he stared down at her, his eyes seemingly lost in hers. How long has he been standing there? she wondered in a panic. “More of a writer,” she said awkwardly.
“Well that’s a shame,” he said. “There are plenty of interesting stories for you in here, some of which date back centuries.”
There’s only one I’m interested in, she thought.
“Anyway,” the beast continued, “sorry about the maid. She gets quite potty when we have people around. Her young boy is just as bad; a chip off the old block. But the servants don’t get out much. In fact, they never leave.”
“What happened to you?” she asked him, discreetly sliding her phone under her blanket.
He took a seat on an old armchair behind him, the wood creaking under his weight. “I was attacked by a wolf of the same curse a long, long time ago. He killed my servants, though their curse is that their souls are bound to me forever. It was so long ago, in fact, that you could say this world remains very new to me. To all of us. But I’ve occupied it for some time now, so I’m wise to many things.”
Rozabelle slowly shuffled closer toward him until she was sat near his giant hairy, clawed feet. She placed her hand on his large foot and said, “Tell me more.”
Not very subtle, Rozabelle.
The beast leapt angrily from the sofa and then stomped across the room to a window at the far end, where he cracked open a bottle of beer with his teeth. “Your overfamiliarity can get you killed,” he said before sinking the entire bottle in one gulp. Then he wiped the froth from his jaws with the back of his large paw. “Just like how you recklessly approached the Wolves earlier this evening! What were you doing anyway? Surely you were aware of their reputation? It’s almost as if you went looking for trouble!”
“Oh, stop,” Rozabelle said, quickly deflecting. “If you were going to eat me, you’d have done it back in the city.”
“You assume that just because I was human, that I’m a good person.”
The beast looked longingly out into the storm. “I suppose I was something of a womaniser once. It’s all I lived for at the time.”
“That was a long time ago. People change.” But can I? she wondered with much guilt, as her phone recorded their entire conversation.
“Agreed – as I was also terribly handsome, too.”
Then you must also be terribly frustrated, she thought.
“But perhaps you’re right,” he said. “After all, I’d give anything to be human again. Does that make me so bad?”
There was nothing particularly un-human about this beast, though, Rozabelle thought. Except of course for his exterior. He wanted to be human, and that in itself was a very human characteristic. “Be careful what you wish for,” she said. “It’s even harder to hide when you’re human. Privacy has long-since become extinct. Speaking of which, do you mind if I have a look around? You’ve already fed me, so surely it’s time for the grand tour, right? You’ve been very hospitable so far, so you can’t be that bad now, can you?”
The beast sighed. “Be my guest,” he said. “You seem like the kind of girl who always gets what she wants, anyway.” He turned to leave, gesturing for Rozabelle to follow him.
You have no idea, she thought, but with much less pride than usual.
As they both crossed the main hall, led by Lumi, the beast suddenly stopped at a fountain where the water trickled gently. Under the gentle light from Lumi’s candelabra, Rozabelle saw that the statue in the middle of the structure was a beautiful, naked, voluptuous woman, over which the water coursed, falling into the small pool below. He’s definitely more human than he thinks, she thought, fighting a smile.
“So why do you live like this?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Like nothing has changed since whenever it was you were cursed.”
“Well, people have too many eyes now. And it’s not as if I can just hire a redecorator. Besides, I’m not one for attention. Much like the curse, this place was inherited, though there are of course some contemporary modifications – where it’s been possible. But no phones and no computers and such nonsense.”
“Then you ought to think twice about visiting the city playing Batman.”
“I can’t let young, innocent women fall prey to the Wolves.”
“Then you really are no beast,” she said. “All of those stories about you protecting people from those scumbags, racing in on your motorbike in your big red hooded cloak prove that. They call you ‘The Red Riding Hood’, you know? You’re a hero. Everyone talks about you but they don’t know who or what you are. They just know you by the name. Don’t you want your story told, for the world to know who you are?”
Or do I just want them to know who I am?
“I’ve done well to remain hidden for this long,” the beast said. “I don’t wish for the world to know me. Not as I am. No matter how human I might be on the inside, people always look at what’s on the outside. I have a mirror – one which possesses magical qualities – and it shows you exactly what it is you are, in your heart, and what you might forever be. I’m shown to be how I appear to you now. It’s the most terrifying prospect.”
“Well maybe it’s not actually magical, then. Anyway, it has nothing to do with what you are - it’s what’s inside that counts.” So what does that make me? she thought. Rozabelle suddenly imagined looking at herself in that mirror, wondering what she might see staring back at her. This beast had risked his privacy – his life - to save hers as well as countless others - and she was going to repay him by exposing him to the world.
“That’s easy for you to say,” the beast said, looking deeply into her brown eyes. “You’re… breathtaking.”
“So what would it take to fix you? Let me guess… love’s first kiss?” She found herself speaking rather playfully. Am I falling for this… beast? I barely know him! He doesn’t even know my name! I’m a liar and a hussy.
“Life is no such fairy tale,” he said. “I must eat the heart of an anti-lycanthrope in order to return to my human form. And that’s what you are.”
Rozabelle frowned. “I’m a what?”
“It’s a very rare gene some humans carry in their blood. Your DNA contains a serum that can restore me back to my former-self. Legend calls it The Rose’s Blood. You’re the first one I have ever come across. You see, I wasn’t looking for the Wolves tonight. That’s how I was able to sense you. But it’s also why I left you back in the city.” He turned from her and stared into the darkness.
Much to her surprise, Rozabelle didn’t feel at all uncomfortable. After all, he had been hospitable and not to mention he had saved her life earlier that evening. And perhaps his openness suggested that he trusted her, something she was currently betraying. “Well, I guess that’s what makes you different to the Wolves,” she said. “They choose to act on their desire to cause harm to others - but you chose to fight yours. Perhaps you’re more human than most. Like you said, most of us are practically half-machine now. Maybe that’s why your mirror shows you as a beast. Maybe that is the better part of you. Maybe you’re destined to stay a beast forever – and that might not be a bad thing.”
With the beast’s back still turned to her, Rozabelle quickly pulled out her phone and held it above the water. Maybe I’m the one who needs to change, she thought. Even though it was all to draw him out tonight, I’d still be dead now if it wasn’t for him. And then she dropped it into the water.
When the beast turned back to face Rozabelle, he extended to her his paw, smiling graciously. “Would you care to join me for dinner?” he asked nervously. “I want you to know who I truly am. And I’ll have the cook make you something quite delicious.”
Rozabelle smiled softly. “I’d love to,” she said, suddenly feeling rather weak at the knees. Perhaps it’s the cold and the exhaustion, she thought. Or perhaps there’s something there that wasn’t there before. She took his paw and he led her back across the hall through the dark.
“It’s one of my favourite dishes,” he said to her as they walked. “It will simply make your heart melt.”