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I watched a fairy tale last night. It reminded me of something I wrote but never shared. I intended to turn it into a book, but that may never happen. This is my take on the events leading up to Beauty & the Beast.

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Once upon a time

That is how all good stories begin.

The castle looms above me into the moonlight, all white turrets and gold towers. Leaving the gate open behind me, I tap my way forward on my old, rickety cane. The doorknocker rumbles through the entrance hall; I let it fall three times, in a loud boom against the weathered wooden door.

It creaks open to reveal a maid. Her lip curls in disgust. “What do you want?”

“Shelter for the night.”

She starts to slam the door and I jam my foot into it.

“We don’t take uninvited visitors here!”

I offer a gap-toothed grin. The hand gripping the beastly cane handle is weathered and sun-spotted. “Call your master.”

“No, he won’t be bothered.”

Darkness enters my eyes, sparks of magic. “Call your master.”

The girl’s confidence fades. “Stay there. Don’t you dare come inside!”

Glancing back at me, she crosses the gloomy, massive hall and disappears through a far door. I cross the shining marble floor and stare up the winding staircase, toward the candlelit rooms above. The wind stirs the end of my frayed, tattered cloak.

Haughty footsteps return the girl to me. “He won’t see you.”

“I won’t leave until he does.” Reaching out with my cane, I knock over a trinket on a table.

She hastily picks it up and glares at me. “You need to leave!”

“No, I need to speak with your master!”

Scowling, her mouth opens and—

“What is the meaning of this?” The Prince stands before me, perfection in motion; chiseled features, a prominent brow, square shoulders, every inch magnificent.

My bent over form hobbles toward him. “I seek shelter for the night.”

Disgust is evident on his face as he eyes my misshapen jaw and the gray hair protruding from my wart. “Then go to the church.”

“It is far and my legs are old.”

My hem touches the end of his robes; he draws it away. “No.”

“Have mercy on an old woman, sire… it is bitterly cold.”

Flickering lamplight show the cruelty in his face. “Get out.”

My left foot drags on the floor as I hobble toward the door. I turn, plunging my hand into my threadbare robes. “I can pay for my stay.”

“Can you?” Scorn surfaces in his voice.

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I draw out a perfect rose. “This, in exchange for shelter.”

He laughs. “What use is a rose to me? It will die in a day!”

“But its beauty will give you pleasure for the night.”

Gesturing to the ornate walls, he says, “What can you offer me? My roses are made of gold!”

“They are not alive.”

Icy air blows in the doorway, causing me to shiver. Snow falls gently from dark skies.

“Take your rose and get out!”

My eyes darken. “Appearances can be deceptive, sire.”

“But it is still a rose, and you are still a hag. Get out!”

Shadows slither around us. I lean on the cane. “True beauty is found within.”

His handsome face snarls at me as he points at the door.

I offered him three chances: one out of kindness, one for payment, and one for wisdom.

He refused them all.

Storming across the hall, he seizes my scrawny arm. “Out!” he cries, dragging me to the door.

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It slams shut without any assistance. The Prince falls back in shock as I straighten from my hunched position. Haggard, cracked fingernails shrink into lovely fingers. Dry, weathered skin fades into a healthy glow. Warts disappear, gnarled limbs strengthen and I stand above him, taller than he is, hair bursting from my skull and flowing down my back.

“An Enchantress,” he cries, and falls to his knees.

“Three times I asked for shelter and was denied.”

Fear invades his blue eyes. “Forgive me.”

“Beauty lies in your face, but not your heart. You must learn to love. I leave you this rose. Before its last petal falls, you must love, and another must love you in turn, hideous as you are.”

He stares at me in terror.

Magic descends on him; his eyes widen as fur sprouts on his arms and face, his features slide around on his head, clawed feet break free of his fine leather boots, and the fabric of his rich blue jacket shreds under his massive shoulders. His screams turn into guttural snarls. Enchantment enters the castle, turning cherubs to demons, roses to thistles, gold to rust. Years of decay creep across the marble floor, dulling its shine.

Pulling up my scarlet hood, I leave him there, writhing.

The gardens change around me, over-growing and overrun with brambles. Stately iron gates twist into new, grotesque shapes. Wherever beauty resides, the internal hideousness of its master replaces it.

The doors slam, silencing howls of anguish and rage. Soon, the road is empty of all but falling snow.