Week 3: The Tower

5 Dec

         Imagine an island. And on this island the most exquisite white tower, its top lost in the fluffy clouds, the stone as smooth as polished ivory. No one remembers who built it or why. It had always been there, growing out of the sand; part of the scenery everyone saw through the kitchen window. There were the palm trees, the sunrise, the European expatriate’s yacht in the southernmost point of the marina, and there was the tower.

         Of course, a grandmother or two claimed it was haunted. On moonless nights they swore they could hear the shrill laughter of a restless spirit of the female persuasion ringing out through the thick walls. So they went to see if there was anyone inside, living or dead. But the tower had no door, no windows, no apparent beginning or end. Dig as they might, nothing yielded an opening.

         Then they knocked on the stone and heard that the tower was hollow inside. So they went home and ate, and slept, and at the crack of dawn, returned with their pickaxes, and their drills, and a soap-sized piece of C-4 the European had generously donated for the cause.

         Three days they besieged the tower. With every blow of the pickaxe, and every turn of the drill the circular wall seemed to grow ever thicker, until the clear, hollow echo turned into a ghostly sigh. The men fell to their knees, and the women wept as their children danced and danced around the white tower that suddenly seemed to glow from the inside. This happened again after some twenty years, and again after twice as many, until finally, people saw the tower no more. Because they could not conquer it, they refused to acknowledge its existence. Some say it was selfish. Others that it was only human.

         The years passed untroubled by anything greater than the occasional burglary and price increase. The inhabitants of the island steered clear from the tantalizing shine of the tower and took to wearing sunglasses till way past sunset. In the end, no one remembered there was something to ignore on the island so they took off their glasses completely and went on living.

         Sometimes packs of school boys went on expeditions with little plastic shovels and little plastic buckets, to try and dig out the tower. They chased each other around the smooth wall and tried fruitlessly to scratch their initials into the stone with little, Swiss pocket knives. But one evening the tide came higher than ever before and the littlest of the boys drowned. His legs were short and he was mortally afraid of water though his father was a fisherman and his mother a true fisherman’s daughter. But the little boy wanted to be a hairdresser when he grew up. The sea in its glory spared his family that particular shame. It also uncovered a wooden door six feet underneath the beach. The sun warmed it dry and the sea salt crystallized in between the tiny splinters, giving it a dull yet sparkly appearance. All in all, the door seemed to have grown out of the tower itself because it had no hinges and the sides blended seamlessly into the stone.

         The only way to go in was to break it down, and that was exactly what the people thought when they came to pick up the lifeless body of the little boy. But they did nothing of the sort. They just eyed the door incredulously and built layers upon layers of self-deceit about a curse laid upon the founding rocks of the tower by its prisoner. The door asked for a sacrifice in exchange for being revealed, and the tiny windowless holes that started to appear higher and higher into the tower wall asked each for a life. There were fifty-three openings like fifty-three eyes, and just as many people died, as many as those who tried to bring down the tower three times twenty years before.

         By the end of the summer almost all the people had moved away to another island. The light that pulsated through the tower’s windows at night drove everyone away in fear. The deaths didn’t help either. It didn’t even matter that the deceased were old people, half mad and arthritic. The power of the white stone tower was indisputable. It shone like a beacon in the darkness that stretched deeper and deeper once the sun dipped below the horizon, and fear bloomed in the hearts of men under the day’s dying embers.

         They all upped and went, to the last fisherman. He, however, would not budge. He sat and fished through the darkened hours, and sang forgotten songs to the white stones until, one night, the grown-in door creaked and swung open. The milky white light spilled onto the beach and fragile seedlings sprouted from the sparkling grains of sand it touched. The fisherman nodded and went to sleep next to his fishing rod. The following nights followed in the same way: old songs sung, new sleep slept by the entrance to the tower of light. And with each song the windows grew wider, and with each slumber the wall thinned further, until it was merely a sheet billowing in the breeze.

         The fisherman pulled it away with a warm hand and standing on tiptoe buried his face in the fragrant petals of the blooming peach tree that waited beyond the veil. Then, and only then, did the man smile. From afar he seemed to be glowing pure white, and as his arms encircled the tree trunk sandpapery walls of gold grew around them and curled into turrets and walkways of the most exquisite kind. Now imagine a sandcastle.

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