School: Boroughmuir High School, Edinburgh
He looked out of the window into what lay beyond. The guard of the watchtower would never grow tired of this sight, this small miracle that could make his heart stop just as easily as a match is devoured by flame when struck against the side of its box. Some would argue that one should not describe him as a guard, for the watchtower was no longer used for spotting invaders or unwanted company, but instead was known for providing the most spectacular view that the world had ever seen. It is peculiar that the tower received so many visitors, as no one that had not already seen the wonderous sight that the tower had to offer actually knew what there was to see. This is because the guard swore every single guest to secrecy, no matter how much they begged or pleaded, the cobbled floor of the tower shredding the skin on their knees.
Not even I can mention what lay beyond that window. What I can mention, is a story that would otherwise go untold, the story of a puppet guard, his master and a china doll girl with a thunderstorm for a head.
Life was still in the sleeping city. A silence flooded its entirety. The air was sweet, and the dark was bitter. And the sky? The sky was something which can be most simply described as unimaginably beautiful. Three knocks came to the wooden door of the watchtower. The first unsure, the second courageous, and the third hopeful. With a howl, the door opened. The girl stepped inside, following the guard’s beckons and gestures. At first glance, he would have described her as a china doll, anxious and delicate. But as soon as she spoke he knew there was more.
“I’m sorry if I surprised you. My coming is rather unplanned, if I’m being honest.” That voice, it could make mountains quiver. Waves tumble. Lightning strike. That voice could have made the earth tremble as it knelt at her feet, ears bleeding and all.
“No, no, come on up.” The guard lead the way, expecting her to shadow his path. Instead she stopped.
“But, don’t you want any money?”
‘’I’m not here for money, I’m here for good company.”
This made the girl wonder whether there truly were good people in the world and not just in the books she read. She would often use her books to escape from the real world, letting them consume her. Still deep in thought, she followed as the guard led the way up the winding iron stairs.
After reaching the top, she froze. A whisper escaped her lips, “I can’t believe you let people up here for free.”
The guard chuckled in response to this. “Well, there is one thing I do normally ask my guests.”
The girl nodded, not taking her eyes off the window.
“I’d like you to describe it. What you see.”
She hesitantly took one step closer to the window, then another, and so on until her entire upper half was out of the window, hair streaming behind her as a gust of wind dashed by. Several minutes passed as she leant out of the wide opening.
“I can’t describe what I see. I don’t yet know words that could describe this.” She spoke slowly.
The guard couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed, he had expected more. In some ways he suspected that the girl knew this, her face shadowing discontent for a fraction of a second, then falling back into her daze of disbelief.
Much of the rest of the time spent in the tower that night was in mute, stillness. However, after several hours of rushed thought, the girl spoke again. “I can describe how it makes me feel.”
The guard’s head snapped around. “Sorry?” His inquiry was strained, he did not yet want to disturb the serenity of the quiet.
“Earlier, I said it wasn’t possible to describe what I see. But I can describe how it makes me feel.”
The guard sat up a little straighter.
“It feels like coming home.” With this last sentence her expression saddened and her eyes clouded. “Not a physical home, but the sense of home in our heads.” She glanced down at her hands.
“You’re a long way from home, huh?”
She gave a nod that was barely visible, and shaking, her arms cradled her body, a final attempt of holding herself together before she shattered. For the first time in months, tears trailed down her face, dripping onto the floor, pools of broken china.
“I just don’t know why I’m here. I don’t mean here. Just anywhere at all. I don’t know what I’m living for.” She took a shaky breath. That girl had a head like a thunderstorm. But storms aren’t all about the lightning and thunder, eventually the rain comes too.
“Well, then,” the guard paused, not entirely sure of what he was to say. “If you don’t already know what you’re meant to do, then it is completely up to you to decide, is it not?”
The girl did not move, and showed no sign of responding so, he continued, “Why don’t you start by living for that?”
The girl turned to face him, as if to see what he was pointing to. “Thankyou.’’ She muttered the word over and over. Time crawled by. What was outside the window seemed to fill the whole room. Both the girl and the guard waited for the other to say something.
It was the girl who spoke first. “It’s so beautiful. Almost as if it has feelings itself.”
The guard smiled. “Ah, yes. Why, of course it feels. To strip it of feelings is to strip a lung of its breath.”
The girl now understood that she was conversing with one of the wisest people alive. With that understanding came great respect, for both watchtower and guard. The guard saw the change in the girl’s face as he did with all of his guests, this change was caused by the desire to visit again. Having dreaded this moment all night, he could sense that she was about to ask, but he forced his words out before she could.
“No, you may not visit again. One visit per person, that is my only rule.”
Her voice seemed hard. He could see cracks that had started to mend reappearing. A surge of regret struck his mind, but still, there was nothing he could do. After the girl had gone, leaving without taking a last glance out the window, the guard sat and mourned. He mourned the brokenness of one fixed china doll girl, and the many others who had been similarly toyed with by the watchtower. It had always been the same, a puppet master controlling his toys. The saddest thing of all was the largest puppet of the collection, the guard himself. Drawn in by beauty as a young man, then trapped, never able to leave, instead made to punish those who deserved it the least.
For what was left of that night, the air was sweet, and the dark was bitter. And the sky? The sky was sad.