I suppose you could attribute it to my curious nature but I can’t stand a secret. The quickest way to irritate me is to say, “I’ve got a secret, but I can’t tell you.” It really drives me nuts!

Maybe, if I could control that impulse, this story would never have happened. Maybe I should be less inquisitive in the future. Maybe …

It all started when I was walking through the hills … as a result of my excellent navigation skills I’d managed to miscalculate a minor detail in the terrain. Like a mountain. Oh well, this trip SEEMED like a good idea at the time.

In the surrounding hills of my old city still remain echoes of old colonial times. Manors and even small keeps abound in the highlands, not tourist attractions but still noble family estates. To see one of these grey and forbidding edifices up close had always been a dream of mine, so when I actually saw the mammoth cast iron gate yawning wide, a tall white tower in the distance, you can understand my temptation.

I wondered whether entering would be considered trespassing. Unconsciously I was already strolling through the beckoning portal, I didn’t feel worried by any laws of the land. To hell with the rules; if later asked I could always respond “Hey, your gate was open.”

I’m normally very cautious, but sometimes I get the impulse to do something REALLY reckless. I think everybody has a very contrary element in their nature, a counter to the everyday.

Reckless. Like what I was doing now. I half-expected snarling, savage security dogs to pounce on me and rip me to shreds. But my passage was undisturbed. Slightly disappointed that my actions had gone unnoticed, I headed to the white tower that crested the knoll.

Does anybody feel invisible? If we were suddenly removed from Life, would the world notice? Does anybody notice the individual in the crowd? Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. When an ant dies, nobody seems to care, but in ant society that ant may be sorely missed. Maybe that ant has friends that miss them now, and reminisce about things they did together. Who can say? Maybe I’m just projecting ants with a little too much personality!

The sun finally peeped through the cloud and the meadow lit up and sharply reminded me that it was spring. It had been a wintry day, an overcast sky full of dark harbingers of rain. My sodden clothes were testament to the fury of the storm. Now … the sun struck down upon the white tower – a dazzling, radiant spire was born out of that bleak, austere structure.

At that moment, I felt I was in the presence of destiny. Something special was happening … I felt that this vision was mine and mine alone. Knowing within my heart that I had done the right thing, I quickened my steps towards that shining abode. The black oaken door reverberated with my knock, a knell of doom.

Startled, I jumped, regretted my decision. It’s strange how one can be so sure one minute and so uncertain the next. The booming of that door seemed to have woken me from a pleasant daydream, abruptly bringing cold reality back into sharp focus. What the hell was I doing?

Then the door opened and my heart leapt. A glorious girl stood in the doorway, her demeanour; childlike and curious. The vision of purity and innocence beamed brighter than her ivory tower.

(Later looking back on it, I could analyze why she was so lovely. Her goodness suffused her features; a heavenly glow that made her beautiful beyond earthly ken.)

Serenely she presented herself as Ariadne. Charmed, I greeted her in kind and waited for her to ask why I was trespassing. Instead she invited me into the surrounds of her tower. My fears had departed me – I no longer worried about the logic of the situation. I just let it carry me.

Walking into her tower I stepped back in time. The tower’s furnishings were Victorian in nature, all in excellent condition, a very intricate slice of life in the 1800’s. I’ve always been fond of the Victorian in terms of style, so I chose a large stuffed armchair to deposit myself in. Ariadne sat opposite me, only a small table separating us.

She began to speak with me on an array of subjects, however it was obvious that although trained in conversation she had little practical experience. She seemed to hunger for knowledge of the outside world. It appeared that Ariadne had never left her ivory tower.

This was apparent by her responses, since I had to explain the most basic concepts of life. Having little human contact, Ariadne seemed to have been raised from books.

The only other person on the property lived in a small stone cottage closer to the gate. Ariadne spoke of Jeremiah, the groundskeeper, with warmth and obvious affection – he had virtually raised her when she was a child, talking to her and teaching her enough to read the trove of knowledge stored in the tower.

A true treasure it was! She displayed her collection with total modesty. There were texts on art, principles of thought, early science and the fables of literature. Unlike me, I knew that she’s read all those classics that I’d bought, but never got around to reading. I guess I was caught up in the hustle and bustle, too busy to sit down and appreciate these literary gems. But Ariadne, in her ivory tower, had the peace and tranquillity to clearly hear the evocative messages from those long-dead writers, without the interference that we call life, obscuring those immortal voices.

That’s when it hit me. This was a person never afflicted by the vicissitudes of life, an individual raised in a stable, caring and comfortable environment for her entire existence. This sweet girl was as close to perfect as a human being could ever come.

I then decided that I could never destroy those illusions that Ariadne had built around herself. That the world made sense; where the good were rewarded for their kindness and the evil were punished for their cruelty.

I have seen the truth and it makes no sense; too often the good are downtrodden and reviled while their evil adversaries are respected and esteemed. That’s what breaks a good person, I think. Doing good generally brings no reward but pain, while evil laughs all the way to the bank. Why would any rational person choose to be good?

I felt I was in the presence of an angel; a wondrous, exquisite but delicate angel. And I wondered if Ariadne could feel sympathy for the pain of others, having no knowledge of suffering herself. How do you explain colours to the blind? What can you relate it to without true experience?

I visited her often after that. She gave me a key to the outer gate, with an invitation to visit any time. Ariadne was obviously so lonely, so starved for human contact. I made a weekly ritual of visiting her and giving her a carefully screened and beautiful façade of the world outside. She seemed happy to receive reinforcement to her carefully crafted illusion – my commitment to honesty was that I brought only truth, just not all of it. I brought the few happy endings, not the ninefold majority where the endings were not so happy. Meagre scraps though they were, I was bringing the best my world had to offer.

Then … I knew one day it would end. It’s strange how some small detail that seems so meaningless, so insignificant, can have such a harrowing effect.

I left my bag behind.

That statement looks so innocuous, sitting there on the page. But as I will reveal, its impact was shattering.

Tears. Flowing down those sweet features, knives piercing deeply into my heart. It pained me to perceive her pain. In a tortured, choked voice, such a tragic mockery of her angelic tone, Ariadne asked me whether it was true.

She lifted the newspaper from my bag. It was a relatively normal example of a newspaper – the occasional murder, accidents, war reports and starving children.

To one who had never experienced death or pain had now seen the truth of Life. Fundamentally cruel, that everything didn’t wrap up nicely in the last chapter.

With reluctance, I verified the newspaper’s stories. I felt like a parent explaining to their child why their pet couldn’t play with them any more. I wasn’t in the best state of mind either. I felt like a monster; that I had unleashed such agony within her, albeit unwittingly.

I told this pure innocent of the ways of the world. I bestowed on Ariadne knowledge of death, pain and hate – all these things which we deal with every day. It came out in such a rush – I told her of my pain, my failed hopes, my unrequited love. I just couldn’t help it, just a release of everything weighing down my soul.

When I finished, Ariadne just gazed at me, her eyes full of love. Even though she was distressed by this horrendous pain, pain that I had thrust upon her, she could still bring herself to care for her tormentor.

The simple beauty of the act brought me to tears.

Ariadne stroked my shoulder tenderly and my own pain dwindled, eclipsed by her agony. With love in her eyes, Ariadne gave me a faint smile; a brave, sad, little smile.

Nothing would prepare me for what happened next. She aged within moments, her pained features withering centuries in minutes. It seemed like the wind blew and Ariadne fractured – flaked away, piece by piece, and she was gone. All that remained were her empty clothes and grey dust on the breeze that was already dying down.

Shock. I dropped to my knees in confusion and anguish. Ariadne was gone. Forever. Looking at the dust that was the remains of Ariadne, interspersed in her white dress, I could do nothing but weep.

Zombielike, I made my way from the ivory tower. Even as the storm broke, I felt shattered and helpless. Although I had never met him, I decided to inform Jeremiah as to the state of his mistress.

Naturally, Jeremiah was devastated and I became the focus of his ire. He explained that Ariadne had been raised from birth with no knowledge of death; since she was ignorant of death, she was immune to its dread touch.

She had been in a state of budding womanhood for over a hundred years.

Her parents, long dead, had wished to preserve her from the agony of life; they had wanted her to be truly timeless. Ever unchanging, ever beautiful, ever perfect. He further spoke of his bloodline, which had altered their features to resemble the first Jeremiah – when Ariadne was growing up. He was of an age similar to myself, not the grizzled 60 year-old that he seemed. His true age showed now, his pain, his anger, his sadness. I had brought about the destruction of his family’s legacy to Ariadne – I had revealed the concept of death to her and that had called the pale rider to claim her.

I’m sure that Jeremiah burned with the wish for retribution towards me, but for the moment his sorrow outweighed his wrath. I’d already done enough damage – I left him to his grief.

Let me tell you, I felt totally worthless. Through such a minor mistake, I had caused so much damage; I had destroyed something that would have been truly eternal.

As the sun pierced the tempest, I was struck with an epiphany:

The true beauty of Ariadne was revealed at the end of her life. Knowing that the world was fundamentally uncaring, she could still care for others. She could ignore her pain and still manage to love. That we can love one another in this cruel mockery of existence is truly miraculous. A miracle of which we all are capable.

We appreciate beauty more when we know that it will be gone some day. The rose, while beautiful, will wilt, the plant will die. While the rose blooms, we love its beauty, because it won’t last forever. The metaphor for human existence. We grow, we bloom and then we die. We are all the more precious to one another since we know it will all end one day.

I do not regret my actions. I did what I thought was right. I may have disturbed the universe, but such is my right, such is my duty. I live in it, after all. Whether I enrich the cosmos or ruin it is up to me. Ariadne had a mockery of life, she was only truly beautiful from her own mortality. Ariadne was only truly in our world for a short time, but she enriched this world before she left it.

We have turned our back on paradise – it is now up to us to create our own paradise.

Copyright ©2000 Cailean Darkwater. Reprinted with permission.