This story is by Caroline Goldsworthy and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Rapunzel leaned out of the window as far as she dared and heaved her hair up. Hand over hand, she tugged at the thick plait but, as she pulled the smell grew worse. Once all her hair was in the tower and curled around her feet, she saw the problem. In her haste to depart, the witch had caught the end of the thick blonde braid in a fetid puddle, which was beginning to form at the base of the tower.
Marvellous, Rapunzel thought. Now I’m going to have to wash it again. She sighed. Pulling up enough water from the well to wash her hair, let alone rinse it, would take most of the day. And then, there was the drying… However, apart from staring out of the steeple window, looking at smoke from distant towns and imagining the exciting and busy lives of the people there, what else did she have to do? There were no appointments in her diary.
Galeh, the witch, would not return for a week or two, three at the most. Tears pricked her eyes; the old witch was the only person she ever saw. At least, she thought, washing her hair would help to pass the time, and her stomach was beginning to rebel against the smell.
Throughout the day, Rapunzel heaved water from the well, warmed it, shampooed her hair, and rinsed it. Combing through the conditioner was always the trickiest part. Once she had almost fallen down the stairs to the tower’s basement, but these days she hung her loose hair out the steeple’s window, rinsing out the conditioner and letting her tresses drip dry. At its wettest her hair was extremely heavy. The combined weight of hair and water almost pulled the skin from her scalp. The first time she had hung the hair out of the tower to dry it, she’d nearly fallen out of the window. Since then she had fashioned a hook on the wall to take the weight. It was also handy now that Galeh was getting heavier. Once upon a time she’d believed a witch would be able to maintain her figure, but apparently not. Although Galeh also liked to flaunt conventions.
As her hair dried, Rapunzel began the task of re-braiding it. She toyed with the idea of trimming the ends, but the last time she had done that, Galeh was unable to climb up and Rapunzel had no fresh food for a month. Remembering the diet of salt-laden canned food was sufficient punishment to curb most of her impulses.
Her deft hands wound the tresses around and she sat in a meditative state gazing at the town as she worked. A thrush hopped on to the window ledge.
“May I have some of your beautiful hair for my nest?” the thrush asked.
“Of course,” replied the girl, for she was nothing if not generous.
The thrush flew down and plucked a few strands and flew away. It returned within the hour and begged for more hair. Rapunzel agreed and the bird took more of her golden hair and flew away with it to line its nest.
When it came back for a third time, Rapunzel said, “Madam Thrush, I have been most generous and yet here you are again asking for more. What will you do for me in return?”
The thrush hopped from foot to foot whilst it thought of an answer, then it fluttered its wings and tilted its head to one side.
“I see you here, day after day,” the thrush said, “you stare at the distant town. I can see you are dreaming of another life. What if I could help you escape?”
“Escape?” Rapunzel laughed aloud. How could such a small bird help her escape? But all the same her curiosity won her over and she agreed.
“I will return when my eggs have hatched,” replied the thrush and off she flew, taking more strands of hair with her.
Rapunzel waited in her tower; day followed night, followed by day and there was no sign of the thrush. Just as the girl had given up all hope of seeing the bird again, it fluttered into view and perched on the window ledge.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Not quite,” Rapunzel said. “How am I going to get out of the tower?”
“Let your hair down,” the thrush replied.
Rapunzel did as she was bid and felt a tug on her hair. Quickly she wrapped a section around the hook to help take the strain and not pull her out of the tower. It was not Galeh, that much she did know, this person was far heavier. She gritted her teeth until the face appeared at the window.
To her surprise, her visitor was an exceptionally beautiful young man. Quite the most beautiful man Rapunzel had ever seen – and she had seen a few.
“Are you ready?” he said. “I’ve come to rescue you. You’ll have to pack light and cut off your hair so we can both climb down it.”
Rapunzel stared at him for a moment and looked around her tower room at all her books and the treasures that the witch had bought for her over the years. Which could she choose and which to leave behind? She could not decide.
“You must hurry, for I am a prince and I do not like to be kept waiting,” said the youth. He stood feet apart and hands on his hips. His luscious, full lips formed a pout. Perhaps he wasn’t quite so beautiful after all? the girl pondered.
Rapunzel stroked her long hair, thinking of the time it took to wash it and how long she had been in this tower alone.
“Do hurry,” said the prince. “The witch will return soon, and she will kill us both if she finds me here.”
Rapunzel nodded, picked up a bag and placed in it her favorite books. It was time to leave. The smell from the base of the tower was more than she could bear. She took a large pair of scissors and cut her hair close to her head. Shaking out the shortened tresses, she felt lighter than she had in years. The scissors she plunged into the prince’s chest and pushed him down the steps to decompose with the others who had irritated her over the years.
“Why do they always talk so much?” she mused. Not for the first time she worried about how noisy the townsfolk might be. She loved her silent tower, but the bodies of so many potential rescuers had altered the ambience. It was no longer a restful refuge and the flies were becoming a nuisance. She knew it was time to move.
Lowering the books out of the window, she climbed down and called to the prince’s horse. Nervous at first since it could smell the prince’s blood on her, the grey stallion stepped closer until she was able to grasp its bridle. With her bag of books, she clambered into the saddle and taking one last look at the high tower and the fetid pool at its base, she rode off in the direction of the town.