How was I to know that love would be my own undoing?
Love for my town. Love for its people. Love for its safety. Love for a woman.
Love for Belle.
I had never been the most conventional of people. I was an adventurer by heart, desiring nothing but to take on the next greatest challenge while ensuring the safety of my poor, provincial town with its many citizens too oblivious to know the obvious threats of the surrounding French countryside, including wolves and beasts of all shapes and sizes. But I kept them safe, and what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them as long as I was on watch. I guess that’s why they all loved me. It was by my trigger that game was provided for the butchers, who then produced enough food to feed our entire little town, which had been suffering drastically ever since the king and queen had disappeared mysteriously ten years ago. It was to me that people came when they needed advice, me to whom people came whenever they were in need of a favor. “Dreamy,” “mighty,” “egotistical”…these are the things that the people of the town called me on a daily basis. I wasn’t sure what the last one meant, exactly, but given my many positive attributes (which is to say, all of them), it must have been a very high compliment.
However, my entire viewpoint on life began to change on the day I first caught a glimpse of Belle. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was no stranger to women – they practically threw themselves at me on a day-to-day basis – but something about her was different. She was beautiful, yes – the most beautiful girl I had ever seen – but she was also keen, intelligent, and somewhat reserved. She stood out amongst the other women, who, as I said, simply threw themselves at me. For somebody who loved a challenge, I found Belle’s reserved nature strangely attractive, something I could take pride in wooing. And after seeing the way in which she tenderly cared for her elderly, fading father, I was taken; I wanted to grow old with this woman. All those other women had thrown themselves at me, yes, but I had never been very keen of such trivial matters; with Belle, I saw the potential of a grand future, where I could settle down and, at last, be happy. The greatest adventure of all.
Resultantly, I made a few blunders. Don’t all men do this when we are faced with love? Like a young schoolboy, I found myself acting a bit cocky and cynical in those times I found myself around her, trying so hard to impress her that I’m afraid I came off as a bit of a…well, a jerk. It started with good intentions, believe me, but oh how good intentions fail you when you are as smitten as was I.
One particular instance comes to mind. I had just finished geese hunting with my right-hand man, Lefou (a short, rotund quack of a man who is quite enjoyable in his own, unintentional way), when I caught a glimpse of Belle walking down the road reading one of her books, and I knew that it was time to make my move. After discussing this with Lefou for a moment, I stepped in, planted my fists on my hips, and conjured up the most confident voice I could muster:
She looked up from her book. “Bonjour, Gaston.”
I walked around her and teasingly plucked the book from her hands, flashing her the smile that I had been told could make women melt.
But Belle was no ordinary woman. “Gaston, may I have my book, please?”
I laughed, feigning interest as I flipped through its pages. Reading had never been my forte. “How can you read this? There's no pictures!”
“Well some people use their imaginations.”
I smiled again. “Belle, it's about time you got your head out of those books and paid attention to more important things… like me.” The moment her book left my hand and landed in the mud, I knew I had perhaps taken things a bit too far, but I couldn’t back down now. If there’s one thing I knew, its that women like a man who exudes confidence. “The whole town's talking about it,” I said jokingly as she picked up her book, “It's not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas...and thinking...” I winked, but she didn’t see it.
“Gaston, you are positively primeval.”
I took that to mean that I was doing things perfectly, as if straight from a history textbook. “Why, thank you, Belle! What do you say you and me take a walk over to the tavern and take a look at my trophies?”
“Maybe some other time...” she pulled away. “I have to get home to help my father. Goodbye.”
My heart ached at her dismissal, but Lefou came in to liven me up. “That crazy old loon, he needs all the help he can get!” We chortled together.
“Don't talk about my father that way!” Belle said sternly.
I immediately stopped laughing, then turned and conked Lefou on the head. “Yeah, don't talk about her father that way!” I hadn’t realized how sensitive the subject was to her.
Just as Belle continued to defend her father’s sanity, an explosion went off from their house, where good ole Maurice was most likely performing another one of his famed “masterpieces.” Belle turned and ran to her father’s rescue, leaving Lefou and I to laugh at the irony of the situation.
Still, I knew that the conversation could have gone far, far better.
After some time pining after Belle, I decided that I push the schoolboy out of me and be a little more direct with my intentions: I was going to ask her to marry me. It was customary to go to the father first to ask for his blessing, but I figured that Belle would appreciate it more if I instead came to find her interest first. Plus, of course her father would approve of me: I was the most able-bodied and stabilized man in the entire town. I was “more egotistical than anyone in the entire world” according to his own daughter, so that had to lend credit to me!
And so I had spared no expenses. Three years wages had been spent on a single hope, all of which I had laid out before me with utter confidence; the moment I began to doubt myself would be the moment it fell to shambles. I had hired a band and had spent enough money to set up the finest wedding that our little town had ever seen, for that was the greatest surprise of all: upon accepting my proposal, I would not make her wait to become my wife. She had woken up the daughter of a poor, senile inventor, but she would go to bed the bride of the most revered and well-respected man in the entire countryside. I could not wait to hold her in my arms at last.
With all things in order, I made my approach. I knocked on the door and excitedly listened as her footsteps grew closer and closer, and the moment the door opened I excitedly stepped into the entrance, excitement overtaking my entire frame. “Gaston, what a pleasant surprise,” she said in that reserved tone I had grown to love.
“Isn't it, though? I'm just full of surprises.” She stepped back to give me more room, obviously not understanding that in truth I desired to be closer to her. However, her eyes never left mine, so I continued. “You know, Belle, there's not a girl in town who wouldn't love to be in your shoes. This is the day ... uh ... hmmm...” I nervously glanced at myself in the mirror, making sure that my fright wasn’t as visible as it felt. I licked my teeth and prepared myself, trying to some up as much courage as possible. “This is the day your dreams come true.”
“What do you know about my dreams, Gaston?”
I rolled my eyes, enjoying the back-and-forth of it all. She was making it a lot easier by sounding so sarcastic and relaxed. “Plenty! Here... picture this.” I sat down in a chair and propped my feet up, once again trying to feign relaxation. Going perhaps a little too far, I kicked my boots off as well, revealing my well-worn socks. “A rustic hunting lodge, my latest kill roasting over the fire, and my little wife, massaging my feet...” – of course, I would be happy to massage hers too, but that went without saying— “while the little ones play on the floor with the dogs.” I smiled at her, wanting to make my intentions as clear as possible (everyone knows that clarity is key in a relationship). “We'll have six or seven.”
“Dogs?” she asked, smiling innocently.
Oh, her sense of humor. I could hear the wedding bells chiming. “No, Belle! Strapping boys... like me!”
“And do you know who that little wife will be?”
“Let me think...”
Her reaction was exactly what I expected, perhaps even better. She leaned against the door, placing her hand against her heart. “Gaston... I'm... speechless! I really don't know what to say.”
“Say you'll marry me.” This was the happiest moment of my life. She was in between me and the door, and I used the opportunity to lean in for a kiss.
“I'm very sorry, Gaston... but…but... I just don't deserve you!”
With that, the door opened behind her, and I spilled past her into a puddle of mud.
The weeks that followed were rough on me, simply because I didn’t know what to make of the situation. Three years wages had gone down the drain on all the wedding preparations, yet I was still without a bride and Belle was no more mine than she had been before; in fact, I didn’t even see her for the few weeks that followed.
Had I been too confident, too cocky, once again? Did she really feel undeserving of me? These thoughts – and a thousand others – panged my soul.
But more than that, the story had spread around town, and it was hurting my public image. Not only had Belle disgraced me by publicly rejecting and humiliating me, but now people knew of how I had pined after the one girl who I couldn’t have. This put me through a sour spell of somewhere between agitation and depression, but luckily Lefou would find a way to cheer me up; at one point, he and the entire people in the local pub broke into an entire musical number just to lighten my mood. It had worked, but perhaps it was overkill.
But then things began to change. As the last beats of the melody still reverberated through the tavern walls, Maurice barged in, a frantic look covering his mustachioed face. “Help! Someone help me! Please, please, I need your help! He's got her -- he's got her locked in the dungeon!” He was running crazily throughout the pub, grabbing taverners by the collar and shaking them with that crazed look upon his face.
“Who?” asked Florine, the Venetian merchant who had been in town for the last two weeks.
“Belle, Maurice bellowed. “We must go – no-not a minute to lose!”
My stomach felt hollow at the words, and my recently uplifted spirit fell away in the blink of an eye.
“Whoa, slow down, Maurice. Who's got Belle locked in a dungeon?”
He ran over to me, his arms still flailing. “A beast! A horrible, monstrous beast!”
Everyone in the tavern laughed hysterically, but I was not so ignorant. My body stalk-still as I remained planted firmly in my seat, I felt chills wash over my body as the towns people mocked the old man.
“Is it a big beast?” one asked.
“With a long, ugly snout?”
“And sharp, cruel fangs?”
Maurice looked terrified. “Yes, yes! Will you help me?”
I sat there, thinking. The love of my life was in danger. “Alright, old man. We'll help you out.”
“You will? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” However, the taverners had taken my words literally, and together they grabbed Maurice and threw him out into the cold snow. They walked out with jolly expressions, feeling accomplished, I’m sure. “Crazy old Maurice,” they called him.
I simply sat there thinking. I heavily doubted that Maurice was being truthful when he talked about Belle being captured by a hideous beast, but perhaps his insanity would allow me another chance to win Belle over. “Crazy old Maurice, hmm? Crazy old Maurice. Hmm.” I turned to Lefou. “Lefou, I'm afraid I've been thinking…”
The man looked nervous. “A dangerous pastime—”
“I know. But that wacky old coot is Belle's father and his sanity's only so-so. Now the wheels in my head have been turning since I looked at that loony old man… see I've promised myself I'd be married to Belle and right now I'm evolving a plan!”
And then I shared the plan with him. He turned to me and smiled, and then together we cheered.
Perhaps things would work out for me.
A little while later, I found myself sitting with Lefou and Monsier D’Arque in the corner of the pub, finishing my last mug of beer as I prepared myself to lay out the plan. D’Arque, the owner and headkeeper of the nearby asylum, was most definitely not the most jovial of fellows – just being near him brought with it this ominous and sinister overtone – but he was my only option for getting the job done.
“I don't usually leave the asylum in the middle of the night,” D’Arque began, “But they said you'd make it worth my while.” I pulled out a bag of money and begrudignly slid it over to him. He grasped it in his long, creepy finger and inspected one of the golden coins. “Aah... I'm listening.”
“It's like this. I've got my heart set on marrying Belle. But she needs a little...” I hesitated, knowing that the words sounded sinister even to my own ears, “Persuasion. Everyone knows her father's a lunatic. He was in here tonight, raving about a beast in a castle!” I hated talking bad about her father, but I needed to have him admitted into the asylum, even for just the shortest amount of time, and this was the only way to do it. D’Arque had a twisted mind, so I had to make him think that I was turning Maurice in for some despicable reason only the craftiest of villains could think up. Otherwise, Maurice would likely try to go off and save Belle himself, and if there was a beast, he would surely die. I couldn’t let that happen. The only way to protect him was to have him locked up, just until I got back with Belle.
“Maurice is harmless,” D’Arque stated bluntly, knowing the towns people as well as myself.
“The point is, Belle would do anything to keep him from being locked up….”
“Yeah! Even marry him!” said Lefou. He was playing the part perfectly, but I looked at him threateningly, as if I hadn’t expected his comment.
D’Aque looked hesitant, but I knew I had played my cards exactly to his liking. “So you want me to throw her father into the asylum unless she agrees to marry you...Oh, that is despicable. I love it!”
The plan was going perfectly. I could already imagine Belle’s look of love and appreciation as she realized that I could be as cunning as herself.
But of course, there always has to be a glitch in the plan, and our glitch arrived when we found not only Maurice at his house, but Belle as well. This having been obviously unanticipated, I had to come to terms with the fact that getting her father committed for the time being was now utterly pointless, and Belle would never see me as anything more than a villain. I had hired D’Arque only so that I could go save Belle, but it turned out she needed no saving at all, and I was having Maurice locked up for no reason at all. I watched silently as the scene unfolded, until I could hold back no more.
“No, you can't do this!” my love cried, her face pain stricken.
I stepped up, trying to appear confident yet fighting an inner battle waging within my head. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Poor Belle. It's a shame about your father.”
She looked to me. “You know he's not crazy, Gaston.”
“I might be able to clear up this little misunderstanding -- if...” What was I doing? I hadn’t meant to take this route, but now it was too late. She was going to despise me enough as it was…
“If what?” she asked.
I hated myself even before the words left my mouth. “If you marry me.”
“One little word, Belle. That's all it takes.” I had never loved a girl more than I did Belle, but I saw now that mere miscommunication on my part had ruined all my chances with her. As if to affirm this, her retort pierced the night:
Conscious of the crowd, I turned away. “Have it your way.” She could steal my heart and my happiness, but I would not let her steal what remaining dignity I had left. This was all my fault.
“Belle?” Maurice called as he was dragged into the wagon. I considered asking D’Arque to stop, but once he had set his mind to something, there was no going back. “Let go of me!” Maurice yelled as Belle stormed into the house.
“My father is not crazy and I can prove it!” Belle yelled as she emerged from the house once again, a mirror in her hand. “Show me the beast!” she yelled at the mirror, which began to chine magnificently as she turned it towards us.
A snarling, brown monster with fangs and horns stared back at us, exactly as Maurice had described. Chills flooded throughout me again, the safety of my people flooding immediately to my mind. I had never seen a beast so monstrous.
“Is it dangerous?” one woman asked.
“Oh, no, no, he'd never hurt anyone,” Bell said reassuringly. “Please, I know he looks vicious, but he's really kind and gentle. He's my friend.” I recognized the tone in her voice…
…it was the same tone of voice I used when I talked about her. The blood drained from my face and I grabbed her by the shoulder, turning her around to face me. I felt betrayed, scarred. This beast that had kidnapped her father and then kidnapped her, held her captive…yet the tone she used for him was one of affection…
“If I didn't know better, I'd think you had feelings for this monster,” I said brokenly, looking into her eyes.
“He's no monster, Gaston. You are!”
Her words stung me. A million thoughts flashed across my head at that very moment, and I knew that something must have happened at that beast’s lair that had vitally changed Belle from the woman I knew into…into this. The beast was a kidnapper, a raving lunatic and horrifying monster that I had no reason to believe would stop his heinous crimes, and the fact that she could show affection towards this animal…she was not of right mind. Something was wrong. “She's as crazy as the old man!” I said to the crowd, snatching the mirror from Belle and waving it in front of all of them. Amidst Belle’s protests, I felt my obligation towards my town take over; once all of this was finished, perhaps Belle and I would be able to reconcile.
But for now, my people were in immediate danger. As the darkness loomed overhead, I showed them the mirror once again, the raging and snarling beast’s reflection scaring those children nearest me. “The beast will make off with your children!” I said with a roar, passion heaving at my throat. “He'll come after them in the night! We're not safe until his head is mounted on my wall! I say we kill the beast!” They all thundered in agreement. “So it's time to take some action, boys, it's time to follow me!”
And with that, we took off into the forest, an entire mob of us, ready to rid the world of this horrifying creature that had already begun to terrorize our town and drive its inhabitants insane.
It was time to kill this beast once and for all.
The battle was a furious one. As soon as we broke into the castle – that mysterious castle which we had never seen before – I knew something was awry. Enchanted furniture and dishware began to attack us from all angles, the result of some dark sorcery I had never encountered in my life. As proud as I am of my achievements, I have to admit that I could not have faced this alone. I knocked my bow and let the mob take on the furniture, keeping my eyes set out on the one foe that truly mattered to me: the beast. I began to prowl the castle, searching for my dreaded adversary. To say that I wasn’t fearful would be a lie, but at the same time, I tinge of excitement surged in my chest. I was on the hunt.
We had left Belle and Maurice locked up back in the town, my choice in doing so rooted in the fact that, once again, I wanted to keep them safe. They might both be insane, sure, but they were still my towns people, and if I had to be honest, I still had an underlying hope that I would be able to win Belle over eventually, nurse her back to health even if I had to do it myself. But for now, she was too emotionally involved; her affection for the beast would get in the way of things, and I didn’t want to place her in harm’s way. It’s what had to be done.
And then I saw him. At last I had kicked open a door to see a giant, brown-furred animal sitting in a chair amidst the waning moonlight, easily ten feet tall with shoulders five feet wide. He turned to me calmly and looked away without a second glance, underestimating the threat that I posed.
He would not make the same mistake again.
I released my arrow, and it caught him in the shoulder with the satisfying sound of tearing flesh. He screamed in agony and I used the moment of surprise to push him out the window, where he landed out on the rain-soaked balcony. I kicked him over the side of the balcony onto a ledge below and then jumped down after him, happy at how easily the mighty was falling. I had expected more of a fight, but my people would be safe in no time.
“Get up! Get up! What's the matter, Beast? Too kind and gentle to fight back?” I ripped a jagged spike off the rooftop and raised it like a club to bring down on the beast once and for all, but then a voice called down from below:
The sound of Belle’s voice froze me, and terror flooded me as I realized that she had escaped her temporary prison. She called out her protests, but this fueled me all the more, realizing that I had to kill the beast even quicker, if only to prevent her from being placed in harm’s way. I brought the spike down—
But the beast caught it. The furry monster that up until now had been peaceful and cooperative in his death now raised to his feet, and I found myself face to face with what surely was the most terrifying being I had ever faced in hand-to-hand combat. Lightning quaked and thundered roared as the monster and I exchanged blows, and motivation recycled its way through my mind as we bound and tarried through the slippery rooftops of the rain-soaked castle. I thought of Belle and my need to protect her. I thought of glory and all that could be achieved.
thought of all those people below and back home, who trusted me to protect them above all else.
And so we fought.
“Were you in love with her, Beast? Did you honestly think she'd want you when she had someone like me?” I didn’t know whether or not the monstrous thing could understand my words, but I had to try. I needed answers. I needed to know.
But he said nothing. Instead we exchanged blow after blow, until at last I had him cornered with nowhere left to run. I raised my makeshift club and smiled. “It's over, Beast! Belle is mine!” I knew this wasn’t necessarily true, but I said it as motivation for myself if anything. However, this seemed to provoke the beast even more, because he picked me up by the neck before I could prevent it and hung me out, dangling, over the far expanse below. For the first time in my life, true, utter terror overcame me, and I, Gaston, the men of all men, became a coward.
I am not proud of what I said next, but I plead for my life. I plead dearly, making promises that I never would have thought myself to make when faced with death. But it was not my fear of death that bid me be a coward…it was my fear of being away from Belle forever. I could not die now, not yet. Not until things were right. And so I plead like a schoolboy again, pandering to this monstrous beast to let me go on living.
And then the beast placed me on solid ground. “Get out,” he growled.
I can’t explain the thoughts that consumed me in the next few moments, but they are the starkest of my memory. First, his two words – “Get out” – showed me that he was more than a mere animal, and the fact that a human being could be so vile took away all sympathy I had for him sparing my life. Second, I heard Belle’s voice, calling out his name (but she only called him “Beast,” for apparently even she saw him as only that), and I realized that somehow she had attained roof access as well. Third, I saw the beast crawling towards her, scaling the roof in a direct line towards the only woman I had ever truly loved. Fourth, I found myself rising to my feet, jumping onto the beast’s back, and planting my knife in his side, a smile of victory on my face as I knew, at last that I would be able to keep my village safe.
But then, fifth, I find my grip on the beast’s cloak falter, and though I fought and fought to right myself, I could not. I found myself falling to the depths, down hundreds and hundreds of feet of air, a shriek emitting from my mouth as my failures flashed before my eyes. I saw Belle, the most beautiful woman in the world, and the rejection I had faced thanks to her misunderstanding and my miscommunication. I saw Maurice, the old man who had thought me cruel though in fact I only sought to protect him from the calamity to follow. I saw the townspeople, who had all trusted me to protect them and had willingly followed me into battle against this monstrous being. And I saw the beast, the monster who had kidnapped both my future father-in-law and the love of my life, only to seduce them into thinking that he was kind and gentle.
All these things – all these failures – I saw as I plummeted through the depths, sinking lower and lower at ever increasing speeds, the water below growing closer and closer as the chilled air pressed against my skin.
And then I saw no more.