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Towered

Day 1

I think I’ll grow my hair.

 

Day 2

Should my hair be growing this fast? I wish I had someone to ask. But yesterday, it was above my shoulders, and today…well, today, it’s brushing the small of my back.

How does hair even work, anyway?

 

Day 3

I’ve got really good at braiding.

 

Day 4

I’m baking bread. We’re all baking bread. I live at the top of a tower block of apartments, twenty floors high. The scent of fresh-baked bread comes in through the vents, through the barely cracked windows, through the floorboards.

I eat bread, and braid my hair, and watch the tiny people out of my window.

This is my life now.

 

Day 5

They used to explain why, with every lockdown, every enforced isolation period. There used to be charts and maps and lists. TV—remember TV?—was a non-stop broadcast of why, and when, and what to do next. Who was essential enough to leave their homes. Who must stay put, until told otherwise.

This time, there wasn’t much at all. A leaflet under the door. A siren in the air.

I think perhaps they don’t want to explain because then they’d have to admit what is happening. It’s not a virus this time. It’s something else, something no one wants to say out loud.

I can’t say for sure. But last time I looked out the window, watching the tiny people below, the small handful of emergency personnel (uniformed, masked, geo-tagged) or licensed delivery people allowed to walk across bridges, cross each other’s paths, exist in the real world… I’m certain I saw one of them transform into a bear.

A while later, another grew large, too large, teetering on giant feet.

One security guard outside our own building grew so small I could no longer see them at all. Shrunk to the size of a mouse? Or actually transformed into a mouse?

I’m so high up. I can’t be sure.

And yet.

I know.

 

Day 6

It’s possible I’ve been reading too many fairy tales.

 

Day 7

Can anyone ever really read too many fairy tales?

 

Day 8

I do not consider myself a collector, and yet I have so many books, in every room. Fairy tales, all of them: classic collections, picture books, vintage tomes, modern retellings.

If I’m a collector, does that mean I’m not an obsessive?

All I have to read is here. Which is fine, because this is all I have ever read, for as long as I can remember. Fairy tales on fairy tales on fairy tales.

But now we can’t go out, now the broadcasts have turned into static and the internet has given up the ghost…

(How many bars do you have? My devices flatlined on Day 1.)

Now we live in a new world order where ordinary citizens can’t leave our apartment towers, and those essential workers still allowed outside keep transforming into things that aren’t people…

There’s no way to get new books.

So, this is it. All the books I’m ever going to read, here against my walls in shelves and stacks. This is the final collection.

And I wonder: if all I have to read is fairy tales for the rest of my life, then either that’s a terrible coincidence, or somehow I knew the future was going to look like this.

 

Day 9

It’s possible I am in fact a collector of books about fairy tales. What other explanation is there?

 

Day 10

I saw a person today. He flew past my window, tiny as a bird with buzzing wings. His face was quite clearly the same as the last delivery person who brought me noodles from the local place.

(The local place no longer answers my calls. I still have a landline, but no one’s ever on the other end. It rings and rings.)

Perhaps if I make friends with the tiny flying people, they’ll bring me acorns and sugar water and keep me alive.

 

Day 11

My grocery order, made by phone eight days ago, finally arrived. I did not see who delivered the bags to my door, but I heard hoof beats and what sounded like a horse’s neigh just around the corner, heading for the lift.

I have to think it was a magical horse. I don’t think anyone’s ever convinced a non-magical horse to use a lift in a tower block.

At least I have ramen, and apples, and eggs. Life could be worse.

 

Day 12

Today it rained rose petals, from 11am until 4 in the afternoon.

I have questions.

 

Day 13

Today I turned a teacup into a frog.

I turned an egg into a tiny baby dragon who hid from me behind the spoons.

I turned a handful of my own hair into a plate of shortbreads that I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat.

Apparently, I am a witch now.

That feels like progress.

 

Day 14

My hair is now so long that it doesn’t always follow me from room to room. It swirls around the lamp and the chair, stays put while I walk from the bathroom to the fridge and the bookshelves and back again.

At bedtime I have to walk backwards, retracing my steps, to unravel myself from the furniture. It’s time to cut my hair.

 

Day 15

Cutting my hair was a mistake.

 

Day 16

Yes, yes, every time I cut it, it grows faster, I get it now. I’ve read that story.

Thanks very bloody much, E. Nesbit.

 

Day 17

Today I pushed my hair out of the window. It billowed and fell in tumbling, golden waves. Some of it braided. Some of it tangled. Some of it threaded through sleeves of garments and indoor plants and sewing projects I’ll never see again.

My hair fell and it kept falling, over the edge to the street below.

I’m not getting out of this tower any other way. I know that now.

 

Day 18

Last time I walked as far as the lift, the buttons failed to respond. There used to be a set of emergency stairs, but the door has disappeared.

That was days ago, before I gave up on escape. When I thought perhaps my final hope was pushing my hair out the window.

Maybe someone would climb it. Maybe someone would solve my problem for me. Maybe someone would pull me to my death.

Fairy tales are all about innovation and hope. Aren’t they? Sometimes they’re about kindness.

I’ve read so many fairy tales, it’s possible that I failed to take the most important message of all away from them.

Stories are not real life.

No one’s coming to save me.

 

Day 19

Today, I climbed out of the window.

I wound my hair around and around the curtain hooks to hold it fast, then I hung from it, so I could cut myself off my hair and not the other way around.

Then I climbed out, clinging to the window ledge, as my body began to grow instead of the hair. Faster and faster. I grew heavy, leaden. My limbs extended. My weight made the building creak.

Finally, large enough, I stepped down into the street.

Safe. Free.

Now I am a giant woman, standing astride the city, still growing.

I saved myself, but who will save the city from me?

 

Are you wondering how I knew I could make myself grow? The answer is simple: I read it in a book.

Day ???

Here we are again.

What did you miss?

I grew so large that the city broke beneath my weight, so large that air went thin and breathing became impossible. When I fell, I became a force of nature. Destruction. Damage. Earthquake. Cavernous ravine.

I fell, and the continent screamed beneath me.

Act of—well, no. Not god. Fairy tale, perhaps.

Act of fairy tale.

Do I regret it?

Ask me again in the future.

 

After I fell, I slept. And when I awoke—now, whatever day this is—I found that someone, some brave and hardy soul, had cut my hair in my sleep. Don’t ask me what they used. Helicopters? War planes. A single axe, over and over, cutting through a single hair like it was an ageless redwood. Something clever like that.

 

Now my hair is growing again, and I have returned to standard human height. Here I sit. Weighing next to nothing, comparatively speaking. Trapped in another tower.

This one is not an apartment block.

Someone built this tower out of the remains of a city that fell to the fairy tale plague. It’s made from spindles and gold balls and thorns and dead wolves. It’s made from straw and sticks and bricks.

My hair whorls out beyond the walls and windows, ever-growing, an ocean of myself, pushing outwards. The world will drown in my hair, eventually.

Here I remain, trapped inside, with nothing to read.

 

Day 31

They sent a prince to solve the problem that is me with mathematics and measuring. Apparently, he read the solution in a book. A good sign all around: people still read fairy tales.

I probably shouldn’t have turned him into a frog, but I was having a bad day.

 

Day 47

Today, no one came to save me or to kill me, which makes a change from recent events.

It’s time to save myself. Again.

If that means saving the world from me at the same time, well. Things can be two things at the same time.

They have left me nothing—no food, no water. Nothing I could possibly work magic upon. Nothing I could transform. Except the tower for itself, the hair on my head, the skin on my bones.

I bit a piece of fingernail from my hair, and transformed it into a gleaming, shining sword.

And then…well.

You know what I did next.

You probably read it in a book.

I cut my hair from my head, and my head from my hair, at the same time. The sword swished. The blade cut.

And after that…

I was unstoppable.

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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of the Creature Court trilogy, and a series of cozy gaslamp fantasy novellas including Tea & Sympathetic Magic. She is a co-host on the marvelous Verity! Doctor Who podcast. Find her on Twitter, Instagram and Patreon as @tansyrr

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