I recently learned of a lovely competition in which entrants must retell the story of Beauty and the Beast. If you are interested, HERE is the website. (The prize is publication in a book of collective novels called Five Enchanted Roses). I am not sure as yet if I shall enter, but I thought it would be fun to write it at any rate. So, without further ado, here are the first few paragraphs of my version f Beauty and the Beast (just to get you curious... :P )
School’s out! The cries ring through the streets as children, eager to get home and begin the holidays, dash crazily though the square and alley ways. I charge through the thick of them with my comrades all around me. We are the gang of the school and although we are only ten, the entire neighbourhood recognizes our prestige above any other gang to ever exist in the town. We are not a malicious bunch, and will run to the aid of an ailing widow or a helpless shy school girl if we thought we could do any good. No, we are not spiteful or mean, but we often end up in trouble from lack of fore-thought in our activities.
We run through the square and down the lane that leads to my house. Like all German families in the twenties, my family has suffered a good deal of financial loos, but we are fortunate in that Father had some stable investments. While those investments are not worth much now, we are somewhat better off than most. That is why Mother promised us cookies and lemonade when school was let out for the year.
We break off into two groups halfway down the lane – those who hurry and those who creep past Dame Kansvier’s house. We are all rather frightened of her, although we have no cause to be. Perhaps it is the way she stands at her window and gazes out at the happenings of the neighbourhood. Day in day out, she stands and stares. We children firmly believe that she neither eats nor sleeps, and last week Emilia Hooseburg told us that her bother said Dame Kansvier was one hundred and fifty-seven years old, and that she hadn’t eaten or slept since she was ninety. All this flashes through my mind as I slowly drag myself nearer the ‘witches hut’ as Hans Gruttel calls it.
As I approach, I steal a glance at the window. I stop in surprise. The dame isn’t there. I am not sure what to think, but by now, my fellow creepers have passed the house entirely and are trooping confidently down the road as though they have never been afraid of anything in their lives. I pick up my pace and go to follow when a voice, distinguishable as neither male nor female, and gnarled and creaky with age stops me in my tracks. “Come here, a moment, lad – I have something I must tell you.” Slowly, I turn and find myself face to face with the dame herself. My first impulse is to run and vomit the hideous picture from my mind, but I seem to be rooted to the spot. Dame Kansvier reaches out and grasps my hands in a cold, knobby clasp. I try to pull away, but her grip is surprisingly stubborn.
“Listen here, Karl Austerlitz,” she says, and I wonder how on earth she knows my name. “I don’t like the look of the weather, Karl.”
It looks perfectly fine to me – a perfect summer’s day.
“There’s a storm coming – a mighty storm – a storm like what no one in history has ever seen, or will ever see again, Gott will.”
I am truly frightened now and struggle harder to free myself, but the dame holds on. With one hand, she pushes the hair off my forehead and peers into my eyes with an expression I can never forget. It is akin to wistfulness, sorrow, tenderness, and – oh! – such extreme pain.
“Listen to me Karl. You will be swept up with the storm, but whether you survive is entirely up to you. Hatred is an incurable disease, Karl. Nay – there is but one cure. Love, Karl – only love can conquer hatred. If you cannot love, hatred consumes you. It eats you from the inside out and turns you into a despicable monster.”
I stare at the dame in astonishment. Not only is it a perfect summer’s day, but I am ten years old. I love my mother, but that’s all I care about the subject. Dame Kansvier is not finished. She pulls out a scrap of paper from her pocket. For the first time, I notice that she is dressed in little more than rags.
“This will be your sign, Karl. You must learn to love before it falls, or you will remain an infamous monster for the rest of your life.”
I take the paper and gaze at it. I have never seen anything like it before. I look up to ask Dame Kansvier what it means, but she is nowhere to be seen.
The next morning, I awaken to the sound of church bells. Dame Kansvier has died in the night.