The Gray Tower

After many seasons of traveling, the young damsel arrived at the foot of the great round tower. It was built of luminous gray stones and rose to heights that only hawks and eagles have tasted. One could barely see the crenelated battlements at its crown. There seemed to be no discernible windows. A single tall gate with a portcullis yawned before her. Trembling in her dark cloak, the damsel went forward into the tower. The sergeants in chain mail holding crossbows and guarding the entrance barely noticed her. Inside, she met a cleric who whispered that she should mount the stairs. Crossing the wide flagstone lobby, she began her ascent of the spiral staircase that wrapped around a thick column, a tower within the tower. There were no landings or chambers to encounter; the stairs wound all the way to the top. Cold and breathless, the damsel thought she would fall asleep before arriving at her destination. Suddenly, the staircase terminated in a wide chamber still encircling the thick round column at the centre. Off to the side, a princess dressed in white sat on a small throne before a large table upon which rested a candelabra, a few letters and some writing tools. The damsel bowed deeply before the throne. The princess rose, and approached the table, inviting the damsel to come forward. She took a letter from the pile of papers, inspected it and asked the damsel if it were her letter. The damsel nodded, still scarcely able to breathe. The princess announced that the damsel’s request to be a nonperson had been approved. Her relationship with the state would be severed at once; she would owe no taxes; she was no longer subject to the laws of the realm. She would be anonymous. She would not exist. The princess laughed happily and congratulated the damsel, and bade her to follow. They came to a door in the round wall of the central column. Above it, there was a black signboard with something written in white letters and roman numerals. The princess took out a key ring, searched among the many keys, and then unlocked and opened the door all the way. It was pitch black beyond the threshold. It seemed to be a bottomless cistern. A strange and haunting scent like an invisible herbarium wafted up from the depths, a scent of cold water, ammonia, old trees, weeds, night skies, eel skins, mountain stones, worn out boots, fireboxes and matches, charcoal, dust and straw. It was the heady fragrance of infinite black night. The princess looked intently into the damsel’s eyes, her own eyes electric and a slight blush rising to her cheeks. The damsel stepped closer to the darkness. Without warning, the princess embraced her, almost crushing their cheeks together, and then leaped into the cistern. The damsel fell to her knees and stared in disbelief as the princess changed from an effervescent gossamer cloud into an angel, then into a pale death mask, a white crane, a bleached butterfly, and, last of all, a fragile snowflake caught in the black whirlpool of eternity.

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