The Tallest – No, Make That the Cleanest – Tower
In which Darren is naughty…
The long summer evening was well underway by the time Chris and Darren emerged from the Dwarf Forests and spotted a tall tower in the distance. “Rapunzel’s tower!” Darren cried.
“Or whoever Rapunzel has become in this weird, Glee-infested version of my book,” Chris muttered.
“Oh, come on,” Darren said. “You cannot tell me that you weren’t impressed by Kurt Hummelocks. Did you get a look at the way he moved? That has got to be the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Chris could feel a blush creeping up his cheeks. “I don’t feel qualified to judge the hotness of Kurt Hummelocks… But I will freely admit that his sai sword skills are a million times better than mine.”
Darren grinned at him. “Did you notice that he said we both looked familiar? Blaine must be here, too.”
“If he is, I can’t imagine that he’d recognize you.”
“Yeah, I guess I am a lot older than Blaine.”
“Yes, yes, Darren, you’re so much older, and wiser, and more mature.”
Darren stuck his tongue out.
“And so much scruffier and more homeless-looking, too.”
“Hey! You love my scruff,” Darren pouted, grabbing Chris and rubbing his stubbly cheek against the younger man’s neck.
“Ow! Get off of me, you animal!” Chris laughed. “You’re scratching up my delicate skin.”
Darren pulled back and looked at the faint redness on Chris’s neck. “Ooh, we can’t have that. Want me to kiss it and make it better?”
“No, you goofball,” Chris said, giving Darren’s shoulder a playful shove. “Come on, let’s go check out that tower.”
By the time they reached the tower, the sun was low on the horizon, casting shadows that seemed to stretch on forever. Darren gazed up at the impressive structure. “Is this the part where I scale the tower?”
“No, Dare. This is the part where we walk around to the other side, find the door, and climb up the stairs that Rapunzel had installed after she became queen.”
Darren looked disappointed, but followed Chris around the base of the tower. Sure enough, there was a doorway on the far side. Above the door hung a large, golden plaque:
WELCOME TO QUEEN EMMAPUNZEL’S TOWER
Posted on the door below was a neatly lettered sign.
All visitors to the tower will kindly follow these instructions:Please wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water at the well.
Remove your filthy shoes or boots and leave them outside.
Clean slippers have been provided for you in the entryway.
Please leave everything exactly as you find it.
Thank you for your consideration.
“Wow. Emmapunzel sounds like Ms. Pillsbury on steroids.”
“Or off her meds.”
Chris and Darren dutifully made their way to the nearby well, where they found a basket of little pink soaps, shaped and scented like roses. After washing their hands (“The sign said ‘thoroughly,’ Dare,” Chris reminded him) they returned to the tower and pushed open the door. Immediately inside was an enormous rack on which sat sheepskin slippers of all sizes. Chris and Darren sat down on the bench, removed their shoes (which, although not strictly clean, certainly did not deserve to be called ‘filthy’) and placed them outside. Then they each put on a pair of slippers.
“Ooh, these are so comfortable. I need to get a pair when we get home,” Darren sighed.
“Speaking of which, tomorrow we need to start figuring out how we’re going to do that. But for now, let’s shut the door and climb to the top of this tower, so we can get some sleep tonight without worrying about being eaten by wolves.”
The spiral staircase seemed to go on and on, higher and higher, until Chris and Darren were both feeling dizzy and a little bit out of breath. Finally, they reached the large, circular room in which Rapunzel (well, in this world, Emmapunzel) had been imprisoned. Chris looked around, bemused.
“I distinctly remember writing that this room was completely empty, except for some hay and bird droppings littering the floor.”
“Well, let’s be glad that Emmapunzel changed things up a bit.”
The room was not only free from hay and bird droppings; it was immaculately clean. On one side, there was a large, old-fashioned desk with a wooden bench in front of it. On the other side was a neatly made bed, with a small bedside table on which sat a vase of fresh flowers.
“Yeah, I guess it’s good that we don’t have to sleep on the floor,” Chris agreed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.”
“Me too. I like to think I’m in decent shape, but we must have walked over 20 miles today. I’m not used to going to bed so early, but the sun’s already gone down, and it’ll be completely dark soon, anyway.”
Chris and Darren pulled off their jeans and crawled under the covers. The bed was wonderfully comfortable, and in a matter of moments they were both fast asleep.
Chris awoke first the next morning, roused by the sound of birdsong and the early light coming in through the window. Moving carefully, so as not to disturb his sleeping friend, he got out of bed and stretched. He was pleased to note that he didn’t feel at all sore after the previous day’s exertions. In fact, he felt more refreshed than he had in a long time.
Taking the journal out of the sheepskin satchel, Chris went over to the desk and sat down to read. He was curious to see how much had remained as he had written it, and what had changed.
Soon, he heard Darren stirring, and a minute later his friend plopped down beside him on the bench. “What does it say?”
“Well, so far it’s mostly the same as I remember. Although the Traveling Tradesman has apparently become Stoner Brett, and Hagatha is Hag Terri.”
“I’m assuming that’s Terri Schuester, Will’s ex-wife.”
“Uh huh. And what about the Wishing Spell? Can we still use it to get back to our world? And do we need to find the exact same items?”
“I was just getting to that part. Here, I’ll read it out loud.”
“Glass that housed a lonely soul, up ‘til midnight’s final toll;
A saber from the deepest sea, meant for a maiden’s mortality;
The bark of a basket held in fright while running from a bark with bite;
A stony crown that’s made to share, found deep within a savage lair;
A needle that pierced the lovely skin of a princess with beauty found within;
A wavy lock of ginger rope that once was freedom’s only hope;
Glittering jewels whose value increased after preserving the false deceased;
Teardrops of a Warbler true, who is feeling rather blue.”
“Well, I certainly don’t know your book inside and out the way you do, but I think I can remember most of those. The “lonely soul” is supposed to be the sole of Cinderella’s foot, right? So we need to get one of her glass slippers. And the basket we’re looking for belongs to Little Red Riding Hood. Then there’s the needle on the spindle from Sleeping Beauty’s spinning wheel, and the jewels from Snow White’s coffin. What am I forgetting?”
“Well, the stony crown is one I made up. It belongs jointly to the Troll King and the Goblin King.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that.”
“But the others are all changed slightly. The ‘saber from the deepest sea’ is supposed to be the knife that the Sea Witch gave to the Little Mermaid to kill the prince. But this version says it’s for a maiden’s mortality instead of a groom’s, so I’m not sure what that means. And then the ‘wavy lock of golden rope’ I wrote about is now a lock of ginger rope. But I guess that makes sense, since Rapunzel is now Emmapunzel. So we’ll still need a lock of her hair.”
“Hey! Didn’t the twins find that right here, between the floorboards?” Darren asked excitedly. He hopped off the bench and started searching the floor for stray hairs.
“Have you seen how freakishly clean this place is? There’s no way you’re going to find loose hair lying around, Darren.”
Darren continued crawling around on the floor, peering into every nook and cranny, but eventually he had to admit that Chris was right. “Damn. I thought that was going to be an easy one. Oh well. What about the last clue?”
“Well, it was supposed to be ‘teardrops of a maiden fairy,’ and now it’s ‘teardrops of a Warbler.’ God only knows where we’re supposed to find a Warbler around here. Or how we’re supposed to make him cry…”
“Hey, I’m a Warbler!”
“No, you’re not, Dare. Blaine is. At least, in our world he is. Who knows whether he is one here…”
Darren was about to argue, but they were interrupted by the arrival of a woman who could only be Emmapunzel. She looked remarkably like Emma Pillsbury, with the exception of her hair, which was piled high on her head, and still tumbled down her back nearly to the floor. She was carrying a vase of fresh flowers, which she almost dropped when she spotted Chris and Darren.
“Oh! You startled me. I didn’t realize there was anyone here.”
“Sorry. We needed a safe place to spend the night. I hope it’s okay that we slept here.”
Emmapunzel’s eyes widened, darting over to the unmade bed. Chris quickly tried to reassure her. “We’ll make sure to put everything back exactly as we found it before we leave,” he promised.
“Well, I suppose that’s okay,” she said, sounding uncertain.
While Emmapunzel’s attention was on Chris, Darren had inched around behind her. Chris looked on in shocked amazement as he saw Darren pop something out of his mouth and stick it in Emmapunzel’s hair.
Sidling casually back over next to Chris, Darren said innocently, “You seem to have a wad of chewing gum stuck in your hair. Would you like me to cut it out for you?”
Emmapunzel couldn’t have been more horrified if he’d announced that there was a spider the size of a dinner plate in her hair, about to sink its giant, venomous fangs into her neck. She whirled around, trying to see the back of her head. “Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!” she shrieked.
Darren quickly grabbed the Swiss Army knife (and where the hell had Froggy gotten that? he wondered) and whipped out the tiny scissors. “Hold still, I’ll have the gum out of your hair in no time.”
Emmapunzel did her best to stand still, but she was trembling violently. Darren quickly snipped off a lock of her hair and held it up. “Look, I got it,” he said reassuringly.
Emmapunzel gazed in revulsion at the wad of pink gum stuck to the hair in Darren’s hand. “I need to go home and bathe,” she gasped, and quickly disappeared down the stairs.
“That was cruel,” Chris chided.
“I’ll give you that.”
“Come on,” Darren urged, buoyed by his success. “One Wishing Spell item down, seven more to go. Let’s get a move on.”