The Tower [short story]

This is a story, never before published, written during my first years of high school — most likely in 1958, when I was a sophomore. I’ve done some light editing. The illustrations, which I realize are not always consistent with one another or precisely congruent with the story, are all gleaned from the Internet. This story is the first in a series of three to be posted here, all fantasies and all written when I was in high school . — J.R.

The Tower

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

When I first woke up in the tower, I looked around, feeling strange and disoriented. I’d never been there before – never been anywhere before, as well as I can recall – and I’d just woken up, yet I’d never gone to sleep. I felt clean and fresh and wore plain clothes, but who was I, and what was I doing here?

I was in a small room that was empty except for the cot I was lying on and a chair. A huge window went all the way around the room, covering the top half of each of the walls. Through it I could see a thick white mist. Was there anything else outside? My mind was a complete blank.

There was no door, but I noticed a trap door a few feet from my cot. I opened it and gazed down a long spiral stairway directly below that seemed to lead to infinity. Still bewildered by my surroundings, I started to descend.

At first the stairs seemed to lead to nowhere, but after climbing down them for thirty minutes or so, I finally reached the bottom. But it was a dead end — just another room, only this one was without a cot, chair, window or trap door. Obviously it was the bottom floor of the tower and there was nowhere else to go, so I climbed back up the stairs to the upper room, and lay down on the cot, exhausted.

Days dragged by and nothing happened — it must have been several days, but I can’t be sure because the mist outside the windows never grew lighter or darker. I spent most of my time either sleeping or staring tiredly at the white mist. I found that I needed no food for nourishment nor water to keep clean. But still the answers were not there.

Finally one night I had a dream. I dreamt that outside the tower the mist was clearing away, and it revealed a rich green valley that spread way off into the distance, covered with forests and fields of wheat. I dreamt of people who lived in the valley, quiet people who tilled the land and lived in simple farms.

When I awoke I felt a great excitement surge through me, for this was the first thing that had come to me other than my knowledge of the tower and of my own existence.

I got up from the cot, and then suddenly saw a great change in my surroundings. There outside the window was the valley of my dream, exactly as I’d dreamt it. There was a beautiful green everywhere except for the far-off fields and the fresh water streams that came from the surrounding mountains. It took my breath away.

Why had it come to me in a dream first? I pondered this carefully. Had the valley been my creation? Had the tower been? Or had the tower been built by the people below? I was more bewildered than ever.

I looked at the valley again, and turned as I looked, taking in the vast enormity on all sides. A fresh yellow sun shined in the distance over a mountain. It was nearing dusk. The sky was changing from blue to a florescent pink and then red as the sun began to sink behind the mountain. I saw smoke coming from a distant chimney and knew it was from one of the farmhouses, with a wife cooking a good meal for her husband after a hard day’s work at the field.  I wished even more then that the tower wasn’t such a complete prison to me.

I lay in my cot that night and watched the twinkling of the lights from the far-off farmhouses. The moon and stars were both out, and it was a pleasant sight to see after the days of the mist.

But then I noticed something. From one of the farmhouses I saw what looked like a flaming blue bullet shoot up in the sky and then explode. It gave a blue glow to the whole sky for a few seconds that was awe- inspiring. But then I realized what it meant: It was a signal for help.

The cause of the flare was now clearly evident. The farmhouse was on fire. Only a moment before it lay inconspicuously in the distance, but now its flames were spreading and seemed to light up the sky.

I felt a sudden twinge of panic then, for I knew instantly that the flare was sent for me. I was the one they were asking help from. I saw another explosion in the sky and I knew I had to help these people.

I opened the trap door and rushed down the spiral stairway, not stopping for a moment. When I finally reached the bottom I pounded at the walls until my hands were numb. It was no use — I was needed by these people, but I couldn’t help them.

I went back up to the top room of the tower and wept. I knew that these people needed me and that somehow I was their only hope. But I was completely helpless.

I watched the fire grow bigger and brighter through the hours of the night, until early morning when it was no more than a long black skeleton.

From then on I watched the world outside almost constantly. My eyes grew stronger and I could see greater distances. For some reason people never wandered anywhere near the tower, but I still watched them from a distance while they plowed their fields and lived their lives. It was like watching a huge panorama of drama every day.

But during the nights there was often tragedy. One night I saw a red flare shoot up from another farmhouse, and I immediately knew that these people needed me very much, but there was no way I could help. A few nights later a yellow flare went up from the east, and the next night a green flare from the north.

And I sat and watched the flares, feeling very sad and defeated, as I still do today, and perhaps always will if I never grow older — and somehow, in the back of my mind, I sense that I will always be here in the tower, watching with tired eyes the many colored lights in the sky at night.

I have not yet found my purpose in life. Perhaps I have none.

Yet often, in the night hours, when I look at the distant flares, I feel like I’m God. Maybe I am.

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