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¬The Grotesque And The Paper Princess
¬The Grotesque And The Paper Princess

© Steve Downes


19 Minutes   25.8K    386

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Both before and beyond the physical world, our world, made of things you can see, taste, hear and touch, there is another world; the World of Forms.  Here, everything that has been created in our world, now and in the future, exists in a prefect and everlasting Form, a template for all of its kind.  Every dream that has been dreamt, every night that has been visited by a black mare and every story that has been told, resides in the World of Forms. 

This is where the metaphysical becomes real, where paintings are people, statues are stirring and where even a childish doddle, scribbled during a boring school lesson, has consciousness.  The World of Forms is filled with every image and icon that has ever been envisaged.  But there are still more, waiting to be imagined; they are the formless ones, Forms to be … if only someone would dream of them.


            Conflict constantly racks the World of Forms. Those who have been imagined huddle together in the light, their numbers giving them safety, their shapes defined against a sea of moving blackness. The unformed ones, countless in number, are continually trying to isolate a Form, any Form, drown it in their shapeless mass and take its shape for themselves.  If a Form is lost to the blackness then it can never exist again: oblivion, extinction …. death.

The faceless and bodiless mass is not the only danger in the World of Forms. Some of the Forms themselves have evil natures, given to them by those who concocted them; they crave power, wishing to transform all others into shapes like themselves, to make the world uniform, dull, void of imagination; one shape for all things.


            Where the light is strongest, and the Forms are gathered in their most numbers, a city, of sorts, exists, but it is like no city mortal eyes have ever seen.  The Forms who live here, protecting each other from the darkness outside and from dangerous Forms inside, call the city Urbis. 

Urbis floats in the abyss of formless nothing, its outer walls appear like a great cracked sphere of living rock. Its interior is filled with a maze of half-finished buildings, rising up from the concave walls at every angle; some are forgotten ancient temples, others dreamy spires of uncompleted cathedrals and some are the fairy-tale castles from children’s fantasies. 


            In the spaces between the buildings some Forms drift like clouds in a light breeze, occasionally colliding and forming new entities, hybrids of one Form and another, before parting again like two galaxies that unfurl before your eyes. Other Forms choose to live in or on the buildings themselves. Living paintings adorn the walls, acting out great battles of history or the birth of Gods and Goddesses.  Statues stand on the floor or emerge, half-sculpted, from raw rock, and all around, like great flocks of birds, paper Forms fly in and out of the windows of the massive structures.


            Inside the greatest of the cathedrals many statues and carvings reside in the light of the arched windows, and in the darkness of the recesses and rafters.  In the wide open center of this building a microcosm of the World of Forms itself plays out; here there are animals, people, Gods, metal, stone and flocks of paper images. 

The Paper Princess dwells in this place, many thousands of similar Forms following her swoops and curves as she moves through the great space, a fleeting flight here and there for fun, as is her nature.     


            The Paper Princess is a drawing, in beautiful pastel colours, the result of fanciful hours of an innocent mortal mind; she has butterfly wings and a gentle, kind heart.  From her Form much light emanates, dispelling any darkness it comes into contact with, so a great flock of lesser Forms, less defined and less luminous follow her every movement.  She is, for all intended purposes, their princess and they love her dearly.


            Among the many eyes watching the flock of paper Forms dancing in the light of the cathedral’s empty belly are two grey, hollow, half-moons.  The eyes follow the flock as it moves in swift but gentle arcs across the wide open space, the grey stone lips of the creature form an ‘O’ as it sees the thousands of paper pieces loop in a tight circle and pan out into a wide wing across the cathedral floor.

The Grotesque is a Form created by a Master Mason many centuries ago, to sit high upon a great church and look down on the sinners below.  His body is roughly hewn and sown into the fabric of the raw stone wall behind, his wings are stubby and flightless, heavy mockeries of feathers crudely chiseled into them, and his body is that of a snort-hog, barrel-shaped and un-aesthetic. The Grotesque has a horrible face, for he was made that way; angular features and an upturned mouth with sharp pointed corners, a flat wide nose covering half his face and teeth, like broken nails, that show when his lips are parted.


            The Grotesque watches the flock of paper Forms spread out across the Cathedral’s many high walls where they split into groups; a few hundred, then a few dozen, handfuls resting in niches, on stairwells and the outstretched arms of statues, looking less than impressed with their companionship. 

The Paper Princess breaks away from the descending flock and flies up, high into the eaves, dispelling the natural darkness as she rises. Wood carved faces, eaves droppers and night crawlers shy away from the orb of her presence.  She stops where the supporting wall of the cathedral’s great arch reaches the outer wall.

“Hello,” she says. Her voice is light, barely above a whisper. 

His grey eyes narrow at the bright yellow glow before him, and for a moment he turns his head away from her as much as the confines of the walls he is built into will allow. But soon he turns back, smiles, without opening his mouth, for fear of showing her his crooked teeth, and replies, “Hello, Princess, so kind of you to visit again.”


            His voice sounded to her like gravel being drawn across uncut stone, but she pretended it didn’t bother her.  She smiled back at him and lets the hot air, raising from the brighter parts of the building below float her Form. When she turned side-on in the breeze all he could see was the slender line of the thin paper she was drawn on.

“You must get so lonely up here,” she asked him, “high above the light and the voices of others?”

“You would be surprised, Princess,” he replied. “From here I can see all; all that enter this vast building, all which leave, what they do, with whom they speak and all they say. The softest of words drift upwards and into my shell-like ears.”

“I think you have pretty ears.” She smiled at him and came closer so her light illuminated all of his ugly Form.

“It’s kind of you to lie, Princess, but I was made to be frightening, horrid and nightmarish to those who dared face me.”

“You don’t give me nightmares, and that is not a lie,” she stated, “I do wish you were not attached to the wall, you’ve never known the freedom of movement in all your life.”

“I see you swoop and fall and rise in the breeze; it is enough to please me,” replied the Grotesque, “while you are here there will always be some light in this world.”


            The Paper Princess laughed and drew closer still to the wide stone face of the Grotesque and then, without a word, kissed him on his nose.

Forgetting about his crooked teeth he smiled a wide stone smile and asked, “What was that for?”

“For just being you,” she said and let her Form drift downward, away from the darkness of the rafters and toward the ball of light that was the other Paper Forms.

“Being me?”

“Beautiful you … on the inside,” was the last she said as she fell.


            Many times the Paper Princess would visit the Grotesque, all the while telling him that he was beautiful to her and he would smile and watch her float down and away.  Happiness grew inside him, mirroring the pride of the Master Mason who created him.


            The Grotesque was not alone in the darkness of the rafters; jealous stares were following the light too.  The Gargoyles of the cathedral had broken through its roof and sat watching the dance of the Paper Forms, growing bitter and hateful of their freedom and happiness. 

The Gargoyles appeared much like the Grotesque but for their constantly open mouths; water had poured through them but now they had freed themselves from their moorings only a revolting green slime dripped down their faces.  Rain and wind, bitterness and hate, had deformed their faces, smoothed their lines; they were becoming formless.  The Gargoyles craved Form. They desired above all else to make all others like themselves, cold and heartless. 


            They watched with their green eyes glowing in the inky blackness as the Princess of the Paper Forms drifted back to where the light was strongest.  Their minds were slow, they had watched for a long time and now, after much debate and argument, they had a plan. Rumours had reached their stone ears of a flaw in the World in Forms, a gap through which a Form could travel into the real world, become physical, and become free.

Grunt, self-appointed leader of the Gargoyles, believed that the Paper Forms were hiding this gap, down on the floor of the cathedral, covering it with their light, guarding it with their numbers.  Long had he craved to go down into the light, to bring with him the Formless Ones from beyond the city and convert all those below into his own kind.  He could shape them, control them, rule them.


            Grunt and his Gargoyles could not go to the light alone, they lacked the power to resist its goodness; it blinded them and made their stone skin crawl like it was made out of mortal meat.

But Grunt, after a long time of sitting still in the darkness, could see another way to get through the light, reach the floor of the cathedral and find the gap into the real world.  He approached the Grotesque.

“What do you want, Grunt?” asked the Grotesque without looking around. He could sense the presence of malevolence above him but he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the light below.

“Why so aggressive?” hissed Grunt, stagnant water escaping from his open mouth as he spoke, “ah but aggression is in your nature.  How ugly you are, how beastly you must seem to her.”

“Do not speak of her with your filthy mouth. Go back outside and sit on the roof under the starless sky, where you belong,” snapped the Grotesque.

“Would if I could. Like you I am mesmerised by her beauty. Would you deny a simple the chance to gaze upon her? For I have only ever seen her from afar.  Allow me to sit next to you so that I can be closer to her light,” hissed Grunt.

“You will frighten her away,” stated the Grotesque.

“If she was not frightened by your appearance she will not be frightened by mine.  Do not be greedy old friend, let me see her?”

The Grotesque picked out the Princess, drifting in and around her subjects.  She had no idea of what real malice was; perhaps she could see something beautiful even in the Gargoyle.

“Very well,” said the Grotesque, “you may sit if you remain quiet.”    

“My lips are sealed … figuratively that is.”


            Time, such as it is in the World of Forms, passed slowly in the darkness, much more slowly than it did in the light below.  The Paper Princess tipped her right wing ever so slightly and with just that movement she turned in a great swift arc. The others behind struggled to keep up with such a manoeuvre and several of the paper forms spun uncontrollably across the wide open space.

The Princess laughed. 

“Don’t be cruel,” said one of her subjects with a big grin on her lips.

“You’re laughing too,” retorted the Princess with a smile.

“Not all of us are so well drawn as you, my Princess. Maybe you should slow down a little.”

“Maybe, … but where would the fun be in that?”

As she was speaking the Princess looked up into the roof space of the building.

“Not again!” exclaimed her subject in a scolding tone.

“He’s so lonely up there, it will only take a moment,” replied the Princess.

“But you’re only back from up there.”

“To us it seems like that, but for him, in the darkness, it seems much, much longer.” The Princess began to drift upward.

“But he’s so …ugly!”

“That’s a matter of opinion.”


            The Grotesque watched as the Form of the Paper Princess circled upward from the floor and came close to him, surrounding him with a frayed sphere of yellow light.

“Hello again, old friend,” she spoke in her kind voice.

“Hello, Princess. The dance today was particularly delightful. How wonderful it must be to be able to dance like that,” he replied.

“I do wish you could move from here. Then you could come down into the light with us.”

“I fear, my Lady, that if I were to go down into the light it would not shine so bright,” the Grotesque smiled without parting his lips.

“It is a shame that you and the other Forms are stuck up here in the darkness,” she drifted closer to him and her tiny paper hand reached out to touch his cold hard skin.

“We’re not all stuck up here,” said a slobbering voice from the twilight behind the Grotesque.


            “Who are you?” asked the Princess, withdrawing her hand in fright.  She tried to hide the trepidation in her voice as she didn’t want to offend any other From who dwelt up here.

“I told you to be quiet,” snapped the Grotesque.

“I only want to speak to the Lady,” said Grunt.

“I will speak to you,” replied the Princess.

“Not all of the Forms high in the rafters of this place are built into the walls; some of us have made ourselves free to move as we wish”.  Grunt moved in his awkward way from one of the mighty wooden beams that supported the roof to stand at the edge of the Paper Princess’s sphere of light. 

“You’re a Form just like my friend here,” said the Princess as she made out the rough features of the Gargoyle’s face.

“He’s not like me,” said the Grotesque grumpily, “he does not appreciate what is beautiful.”

“Nonsense!” retorted Grunt, “it is only that I have not seen beauty up close.  Come closer so I might admire your Form, Princess, for I have never been so close to the light and I am a little afraid.”


            Nervously the Princess flew higher, passed the eyeline of the Grotesque and into the darkest reaches of the pitched roof.  Slowly the full horrible Form of the Gargoyle was revealed by her light, which here was faded so much as to only cloak her own body.  She tried her best not to appear repulsed by his Form, but it was difficult.  He was not like the Grotesque, smooth and carved by a Master’s hand; this Form was weathered, irregular and oozing slime from an open mouth.

“There you are,” said Grunt, “just as pretty as can be.” He grinned manically with his wet mouth.

“I must return to the light,” replied the Princess, “the darkness hurts me, I cannot stay. It was a pleasure to meet you, sir.”    

“A pleasure I would not deny you,” answered Grunt as he jumped, swiftly as if flashing from one place to another without having to move at all.  His wet stone talons grabbed the Princess and enveloped her in their cupped darkness. 

The Grotesque heard her cry out, but her cry was muffled and soon lost completely as Grunt vanished into the darkness above.


            The yells of the Grotesque echoed across the cathedral. Each of the forms below, stone, metal and paper cowered in fear.  The ball of light evaporated as Forms panicked and dived for cover, separating and leaving the floor in twilight for the first time ever.  As the Grotesque watched helplessly on, the dark shapes of the Gargoyles climbed down from the roof space, down the tall slender columns to the floor.

Grunt stood in the center of a circle of his stone brothers holding tight to the Paper Princess. She cried out that he was crushing her, but her pleas were ignored. 

“Now, Princess, my pretty one,” slobbered Grunt, “where is it?”

“Where is what?” cried the Princess.

“The gap, the flaw, the crack that leads to the real world!” roared Grunt so that his demand could be heard bellowing through the great building.

“You can never go there, none of us can! Once we are created in the real world our Form is here and here it stays,” replied the Princess. She could feel Grunt’s crushing claws around her. “We are immortal here,” she added.

“Oh, not immortal, Princess, not in the true sense of the word,” spoke Grunt slowly as his brothers gathered closer and with one swift movement of his stone fingers he tore one of the Princess’s wings from her.


            The weeping of the Princess reverberated from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling, and each Form of the light that heard it was driven further back into darkness.  For the first time they knew real fear.

“We have it!” called out one of the brothers.  

“Show me,” said Grunt and he carried the Paper Princess toward a crack in the ground, a thin slice across the grey stonework of the cathedral floor.

“It’s dangerous,” warned the Princess through her tears, “We were not meant to go to the real world, we were meant to live in dreams!”

“Silence!” roared Grunt.

“It’s too small,” said one of his brothers, “only the paper Forms could fit in there.”

“Is that true, Princess?” asked Grunt as he peered into the inky black of the tear in the floor. He scratched at it with his thick stone talons but the floor was made of hard material, much harder than anything else he had seen in this world.

“None of us go there, it would be foolish to try,” replied the Princess.

Grunt leaned his ugly face down to hers, “But you know how, don’t you Princess?” he toyed with her one remaining wing and laughed hideously.    


            High above, the Grotesque could bear no more. His Form was that of a stagnant carving, a figurine that would never move beyond his anchorage. Now a great anger overtook his senses.  He loved the Paper Princess, loved her as no Form like him had ever loved anything before. The Grotesque bawled out an agonised bellow as his back tore from the living rock of the cathedral wall.  Loose stones fell from a great height and smashed on the floor far below.


            “Something is falling,” called out one of the Gargoyle brothers as they all watched the heavy figure of the Grotesque plummet down.

The Princess gasped and closed her eyes at the final moment so as not to see the impact.




            The dust began to settle.  Grunt and the others peered through the cloud of dust. “That’s not possible,” screamed Grunt as he looked into the face of the Grotesque, whole and unbroken and standing over the crack in the floor.

The Princess opened her eyes and her heart rose in delight.  He lived!  His back was torn and rough, but he lived.

“Release her,” said the Grotesque with great menace.

“Never,” said Grunt, “I will tear her to shreds first. Stand aside from the crack.”

“No,” said the Grotesque, “no one travels to the other world, not good, not bad and never you.”

“Wait,” cried the Princess, “let them go if they wish, I will show them how.”

“Princess?” said the Grotesque.

“But first you must release me to the protection of my friend,” she added.

Grunt laughed again, “You’re friend? You mean this pathetic thing that thinks it loves you? This abomination, as vile as I?!”

The Grotesque’s heart sank on hearing these words. They were true, love between such a hideous Form as himself and a delicate creature like her was impossible.


            “He is not vile like you,” said the Princess, “you are vile to your core. He is as imagined by the mortals only to the depth of his skin.”

“Enough of this!” yelled Grunt, “Show us how to travel through.”

“Release me first,” said the Princess.

“Then he must move away from the crack as I let go your Form,” demanded Grunt.

“He will.”

The Grotesque nodded his head in agreement.


            As the Grotesque, with great effort, moved his bulk back from the thin opening in the floor, Grunt unfurled his fingers and the Princess, wounded as she was, flew up in a shallow circle above their heads.

The Grotesque sighed in relief that she was now safe from their clutches.

“Show us!” demanded Grunt.

“Do not try and force your way. You must stand over the fault and allow yourself to sink into it. Then you will appear on the other side, in the mortal world,” spoke the Princess.

“Princess,” whispered the Grotesque, “are you sure?”

“If they want to see the mortal world, let them, but no good will come of it,” she answered.

“You are right there, Princess,” said Grunt, “we will rule the mortals, we will force them to imagine more Forms like us and then I will rule both worlds.”


            The Gargoyles, one by one, led by Grunt, stood over the thin flaw on the cathedral floor and one by one they sank into it like smoke being sucked through a pipe.

“What now?” said the Grotesque, with great concern, as the last of the Gargoyle Forms vanished.

“Watch,” replied the Princess, “look deep into the flaw and watch.”


            In the darkness between worlds Grunt was the first to reach the other side of the flaw, his hideous Form stepping out onto a grassy plain in the mortal world.  For the first time since he was created centuries ago he could feel wind, rain, cold, he could hear living things, birdsong surrounded him.

“What a world!” he said in wonder.

He tried to step across the grass but his leg wouldn’t move, he tried to raise his arm but that was stuck fast to his side too.  He tried to scream, but he couldn’t because now he was nothing but a lifeless statue lying on the ground.


            The other Gargoyles, still in the flaw, panicked, they turned around and tried to crawl back out of the gap in the cathedral floor. They could see the face of the Grotesque above them and over his shoulder the tiny Form of the Princess.

“We were not meant for that world,” she said, “we were meant for their dreams.”

It went dark.


            “Oh! Old friend, why did you do that?” asked the Princess as her subjects, all the other Paper Forms emerged from the shadows and once again the floor of the cathedral was enveloped in a ball of yellow light.

“It is nothing,” replied the Grotesque. His back, rough and uncarved, had now melded with the floor.  He was as one with it, solid and immovable.  

“But now you must lie there forever,” said the Princess as she circled above him.

“If I am lying beneath your light then forever is but a single moment.”






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