by Stefan Slater
Read by Kaitlin Bellamy
Listen to the audio version
I asked the Lady once why I needed to stay locked up. She only laughed and stepped on my
"Isn't it obvious?" She yanked my hair with her heel, pulling me to the cold floor.
I am all sorts of things, the Lady told me. I was broken. Unnatural. A walking crime.
The proof was my hair. The roots are golden, but it's so long, and never stops growing. It
crushed spiders wherever I walked in the tower, and gathered so much dust and filth it darkened
to mud-brown. My neck ached constantly from dragging it.
She never helped me carry it.
Whenever the gnarled Lady visited my tower, she brought food and sharp words. Cursed, she
called me. My parents had been thieves and fate had punished them -- they gave birth to me.
The curse turned me rotten. My bones went crooked, and my nose fell off and my hair kept
growing and growing and growing.
"Your mother never hesitated," she told me once. "She saw you that first time and paid me in
silver to take you away--easy as breathing."
If the villagers down in the valley ever saw me, she said, if I ever wandered from my tower
with my twisted face and my terrible hair dragging across the forest floor, they'd shriek and beat
me until my bones turned to powder.
When the Lady visited, she shouted my name, and I dragged my hair to my only window and
pushed it out. She yanked hard when she climbed. She made a great big show of saying her hands
smelled sour after touching my hair.
She never brought me water for washing.
And the Lady always laughed.
She laughed when I tripped on my hair. Laughed that one time when I found all those
smothered mice in my hair and I screamed. Laughed when I tried to cut my hair and the curse
broke all the scissors and knives.
And she laughed when I said, one day, that I would jump from my tower and let it end.
Some days, I couldn't stand looking at my hair, so I flung it out my window.
Things inevitably got caught in it.
Twigs. Leaves. Beetles. Sometimes, birds tried to roost in it. But then they always got tangled
up and crushed.
Once, a buck ran past the tower and its antlers got caught in my hair. Part of me felt sick,
watching it struggle, yanking hairs from my head. But then it tripped and smashed its head into
my tower and went still.
I felt a lightness rise through me like I'd taken a drink of cold water, spreading from my
belly up my throat, touching my cheekbones, to the top of my skull. My hair curled around that
deer, swallowing it up, and I laughed. I'd reached out and hurt this strange world, and now it
knew I was real. I wanted to shout. Sing. My hair seemed to flow and I felt alive--not just alive,
but limber and ecstatic and clean and joyous.
Then I looked to see the buck at the base of the tower, monstrous hair curling around its
face, its teeth, its eyes.
I felt so guilty that I threw up.
After the buck died, no animals ever came near my tower.
I heard a man's voice one day. I leaned out my window and he was standing at the base of my
He was smiling and handsome. I felt my heart flying.
But he looked up at me and that smile vanished.
His hand touched his sword. "What are you?"
My face--I tried to cover it. "I . . . don't know."
He looked at my hair hanging from the window. He sniffed it and gagged. "I thought I smelled
something foul." He leaned closer.
"There are bones in your hair," he said.
After a moment, he laughed.
I heard the man's laugh when I woke up. I heard him when I tried to read. I heard him when
the Lady told me for the hundredth time that I was a broken thing.
I don't remember how my hair got twisted up under her feet.
But I remember when she tumbled and I remember the sound her head made when it hit the
She was still alive. Moaning.
My hair moved. I just watched.
First it climbed up her legs and around her arms. Then up her body and around her throat. She
never moved. She had her eyes closed right up until the moment when my hair tightened and then
she started screaming.
When I pulled the Lady from my hair, I only found bones.
She never let me have a mirror. But I found one in her bag.
My face wasn't broken.
My skin was soft and tan, my eyes sharp and green. I had a wonderful nose and full lips and I
looked like something from my dreams.
I couldn't stop staring. I couldn't stop smiling.
I realized how hungry I was.
The young man came back to my tower and he brought friends. He shouted up for me to show
"My friends need a good laugh."
I leaned out and counted. Three men. Two women.
They went silent when they saw me.
"I thought you said she was a nightmare," one man said, mouth agape.
One of the women said, "She's beautiful."
I was more alive than ever before.
The young man cleared his throat. "Where is the monster?"
"She is dead," I said. "I am all alone."
My young man smiled. "We'll keep you company."
I told them to climb my hair. They all did in a mad rush.
They didn't get far.
My hair wrapped around them and they begged and pleaded and kept screaming until I was
I felt life, like sunshine, sliding through me.
I looked out my window.
I couldn't see the village from my tower.
But I felt it was time to pay them a visit.