Towering - By Alex Flinn



I had not been outside in years. I wasn’t sure how many, exactly, because I didn’t keep track from the beginning. I didn’t realize I’d need to. But my dresses had been replaced many times, at least six or seven, and I could tell I’d become taller. The top of my head didn’t reach the bottom of my window when I came here. I could see the sky, the sky and nothing else, blue sky some days, gray sky most. Then, I could see out only if I stood on my toes. But finally, at seventeen, I could see out easily. The birds, which are often below me, the clouds above, and the tall, green forest with miles and miles of trees.

But no one could see me. My window was high, high above the ground, and no one ever came this far, no one but Mama.

Mama wasn’t my real mother. I knew that, but it felt better to call her Mama. My real mother was killed when I was a baby, murdered like the woman in white or Rebecca, people in books I’d read, and the person who killed her might come back for me. That was why Mama spirited me away in the night and brought me here. To protect me. Mama promised that when my real mother’s killer was found, she would let me go out into the world, but only when I might go without fear.

That was also why she cut my hair.

When I was little, before I came here, I had beautiful, wavy, spun-gold princess hair. Mama would sit up every night, brushing it a hundred strokes, then braid it into two long, shiny braids that ran down my back like a train going nowhere. This was our nightly ritual, and I loved it. I knew that my hair was special, and that I was special because of it.

Sometimes, I’d wake in the early morning and find Mama there, pressing my braids against her wrinkled lips by moonlight, whispering, “Sleep, my lovely, my only lovely.” And later, when I woke for good, she’d brush and braid it again. My hair grew fast, and once a week, Mama cut it, so that it would grow no longer than my waist.

Mama kept me out of sight even then. I didn’t go to school but read at Mama’s knee. Sometimes, I was allowed to go outside and play, on days that weren’t too sunny, days when people weren’t out. Mama watched me carefully, as if one of the hawks in the sky might take me in its talons and carry me off.

But, one day, I was playing and Mama was tending her garden, not paying much attention to me. I was digging my own hole. It was May, and I was planting carrots. We’d gotten this wonderful thing, a tape with carrot seeds on it, so that they could be planted exactly the right distance apart. I dug a little trench like Mama had taught me, and I was about to show it to her, so she would give me the tiny, golden carrot seeds when, all of a sudden, I saw a face at our gate.

A little girl! She was about my age, I thought, with curly, brown hair and spots on her face that people on television called freckles. I should have said something to Mama, but I didn’t. I knew, with a child’s instinct, that if I said something, she would pull me inside and I didn’t want to go inside. I went to the gate.

“Hello,” I said. “Who are you?”

“Are you Rachel?” Though her hair was drab brown, her eyes were a beautiful shade of blue, almost purple like the irises Mama grew.

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”

“I knew by your hair. They said it would be yellow. It’s so pretty. Can I touch it?”

I hesitated. I did not want this strange girl to touch my hair. It was mine. And yet, I wanted her to stay, to talk to me. I’d never met any other girls before.

“Please,” she said. “You’re just like a princess. I’d love to be friends with a princess like you.”

I made my decision. I nodded okay and leaned forward so she could reach her hand out to touch my hair. I thought it would hurt. Only Mama touched my hair. But she was gentle, twirling the ends between her fingertips.

At least, at first. Then, she touched it higher up, nearer the roots, and held it tight.

“Stop that,” I said, whispering