Daddy sold me. He sold me to pay for something he'd stolen. He's a monster and a thief. That's what the beast keeps telling me.
But that can't be. Daddy's a good man. He would never steal. He'd never hurt anyone. He'd never hurt me.
It's the beast that's evil. It's the beast who wanted to kill Daddy. Daddy did nothing wrong, he told me so himself. He took an apple from a tree, just one apple, and he didn't even know the tree belonged to anyone. It's the beast who wanted a life in return for a single apple. It's the beast who's a monster.
And it's not true that Daddy sold me. I wanted to be the beast's prisoner in his place. How could I let the beast hurt him? He's my Daddy! He raised me, worked our land by my side, brought home wool for me to spin and weave so I can make new clothes, pretty new clothes to wear at mass. My Daddy is the best daddy in the world. We were so happy together.
It's the beast who's evil. He doesn't let me go to mass, doesn't let me see Daddy. And he does horrible things to me. He locks me in my room at night, a room high up in the tower, with bars at the window so I can't run away. And he yells at me when I talk about Daddy, yells and screams and growls and scares me out of my wits. He's evil.
I tried to run away once. I snuck into the garden. There's a fountain there that speaks, with a real, human voice, but it says nothing but lies. And there's a bird made of fire that doesn't burn, and a tree that makes apples of pure gold, and a white horse with wings and something like a spear on its head that shines in the dark, but I didn't stop to look at any of them. I only had eyes for the tall, dark garden wall that stood between me and my freedom and Daddy.
And then I heard the beast's breath behind me. I didn't turn to look. I just ran as fast as I could, and I heard the twigs break and the pebbles screech under his paws, closer and closer. Then I felt his claws close around my arm and he yanked me back so hard I though my arm would break. He spun me round and put his arms around my shoulders and pressed me against his chest until I couldn't breathe. I chocked on his fur and I screamed, but there was no one to hear me. I could feel the beast's breath in my hair, his head lowered over mine and something warm dripping down from above and I thought it was drool and I thought it was gross, but when it dripped on my cheek it felt like rainwater. The fountain says it didn't rain that day, but the fountain says nothing but lies. It says Daddy stole the beast's gold.
"I have a daughter," the man said. "She's the most beautiful, most obedient little thing. And she'd do anything for her Daddy, anything."
He gave a look at the gold apple he'd dropped and licked his lips.
"What d'you say? You can use a good woman. Deep down, you're a man, aren't you? Just like the rest of us. And every man needs a woman, at least one."
He gave a short, raucous laugh.
"So, what d'you say? One gold apple. She's worth more than that, you know. But for you, because you're so persuasive…"
He pointed at the claws closing around his neck.
"Is she worth more than your miserable life?"
"It's not for me. I've had other offers. I'll have to give their money back, unless you want her used. And you deserve the best, and you deserve to be first, but it's a lot of money. And I don't have it anymore, I swear."
I should have wrung his neck. The fountain said he deserved it, and the fountain speaks the truth, always. But I thought of the girl. I let go of his throat and kicked the apple to his feet.
"Take it. And send me the girl. If she isn't here by nightfall, unharmed, I will hunt you down and kill you."
He picked it up, wiped it on his coat and bit it to make sure it was real gold.
"Send her back when you're bored of her," he said. "Daddy can always find some use for his little girl."
"She's mine for life," I growled, and he smiled a wicked smile and nodded and went away.
"She will hate you!" the fountain screamed. "She will miss him. She'll want to run back to him. She'll be miserable here. She'll ask me about him and she won't believe me and she'll throw rocks at me and curse you."
"But will she be safe here?"
The fountain gurgled and spluttered.
"She will hate you. She will hate me. She will hurt us."
"But will she be safe?"
"She will be."
I haven't asked if she'll ever be happy here, if she'll ever stop hating me. I already know the answer, I don't need to hear it. I am her jailer, not her guardian. I'm the beast that keeps her away from her father, that's all I'll ever be to her. But I can never let her go back. I'll always keep her here, keep her safe, for as long as I live.
Diana Părpăriţă lives in Bucharest, Romania.