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In the Bottom of the Tower Where All Beasts Roam

Michelle Muenzler, known at local science fiction and fantasy conventions as "The Cookie Lady," writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her short fiction and poetry can be read in numerous science fiction and fantasy magazines, and she takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets. Her weirdly dark and squidgily humorous novella, The Hills of Meat, the Forest of Bone, is available at Amazon, and you can also check out more of her work at michellemuenzler.com.

In the forest, there sits a tower, and in the bottom of that tower, a prince full of beasts. They are not small beasts, by any means, but a prince's heart is the kingdom, and as such there is always room for more. The prince spends much of his day singing over the beasts' cacophony and whittling bits of wood into tiny birds. The shelves are full of birds. Sparrows, larks, and wrens aplenty. Also a pair of rarer catch-me-nots and a single cracked withering-want.
On the shelves, there is also a crown.
Not a regular crown, of course. No hammered gold for this prince, nor heavy gems locked in eternal orbit. Those are for princes who live outside of towers. For princes whose only beasts are their own.
No. This prince's crown is made of teeth.
On the first day of every week, two guards climb the steep stairs ringing the tower. Once they've achieved its summit, they fill the bucket there and unwind the hempen spool that lowers it to the prince.
The prince does not speak with the guards. Nor the guards the prince.
In the bucket is the week's supply of food--simple fare, for there is little in the manner of cooking in the bottom of the tower--as well as several blocks of wood for carving. And do not ask about the removal of waste, for when one's heart holds this many beasts, there is very little wasted.
There also may or may not be a tooth.
This is how it has always been for the prince. This is how it will always be.
Ever so often, the prince will approach the crown, and with quiet reverence, he will count the teeth. He will note the brown sheen of some, the golden ardor of others. He will glance more swiftly past the smaller teeth, too fresh to have born much responsibility in their short lives, yet never so young they've born none at all.
And if he has been delivered a new tooth, he will find a home for it midst the bristle of the others. This is not a difficult task--much like the prince's heart, the crown always has room for more.
And when he is done, the prince will carve himself a new bird. And he will sit in his little chair. And he will sing his little songs.
And he will not wonder at the new beast unfolding in his breast, its nascent yip joining the seasoned rest. No. For this prince has always lived in the bottom of the tower. Has always been full of beasts.
But eventually, even a prince's heart must fail.
However, it is not the end. The week begins anew, as it always does. And as always, a bucket is lowered. Only this time, in it will be a boy. Old enough to have a name, young enough to not remember. And in his hand will be a tooth--one of his own, perhaps. Or perhaps another's. It does not matter so long as he places it in the crown as he has been instructed, bribed in whatever manner appropriate for a boy his tender age.
And, should the crown of teeth accept his gift, he will be named a prince of the kingdom. Savior of all. And within his breast, a new beast shall be born.
As for the previous prince, who lived here so many years, whittling his little birds and singing his little tunes?
Best not to think upon it.
For when one's heart holds that many beasts, there is very little wasted.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Author Comments

I have a soft spot in my heart, a point squished and bruised through incessant poking, when it comes to stories of place, those near-narratives that hint at larger worlds of our imagination. And I find flash fiction to be the perfect medium for exploring such places and still escaping with skin intact. Here, the tower came first, inverted and strange in a forest of beasts, followed closely after by the broken prince (for what purpose is our tower without some occupant to be trapped within?)... and only then did I discover that it was not the beasts without that were so frightful in this world, but rather those multitude beasts within.

- Michelle Muenzler
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