Your story has a dead woman at its center. This is the first rule of storytelling. A woman in a tower, who doesn’t yet realize she’s already died. Maybe she will never realize, and maybe her years after the escape will be just as happy as if she had been alive. Maybe she will never catch the dank sweet smell of her own decaying flesh, or find in the mirror the empty space where her face belongs. You think she will be happy.

Your story has a man – that is the second rule of storytelling. A man who wants good things for himself and better things for the woman who is calling him. Nothing is more appealing or appalling to him than a woman who cannot decide whether she would like to climb down to his unknown arms, a woman who doesn’t have likes or dislikes, loves or non-loves. Every day after he visits the woman who doesn’t know she’s dead, the man will wonder if there are other routes, ones to women who live and breathe. Or maybe he doesn’t, because this is a story and one of the best rules of storytelling is that the man doesn’t feel doubt, because he is there to act.

Here is the fourth rule of storytelling: the man and the woman fall in love immediately, before they speak, the moment they set eyes on one another. Love is a thing that can be created as quick as you can scratch its four letters on the page, and so when the woman climbs hand over hand down the fraying segments of her own braid, she is already in love with the man who waits for her with a broken comb and a hand swollen around a wretched brown thorn. I love you, she says, because this is what the man hopes for her to say, and because she knows it is what she must say. In some versions of the story he kisses her awake but in this version she is awake already, she kisses him first as though it is her choice, she waits for a spark, a glint, a sign of life to alight on her lips.

Over the nights to come the woman will lay beside him in bed, watching the close ceiling as he sleeps and trying to recall if sleep is a thing she knows. She will see her body crumpled at the base of her father’s tower, again and again and again. She will hear the damp breath of her children in the next room, the snores of her husband at her side, and know that that was not the place she lost herself, if indeed she has lost herself, if she was ever even a thing to lose. And because this is a story, this is where you can leave her – not out of spite or authorial negligence, but because it is the only place a woman could find herself, in this world you’ve made her. It is a place where she might be happy.
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Ellen Rhudy lives in Philadelphia, where she works as an instructional designer. Her fiction has recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, cream city review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and Monkeybicycle. You can find her at ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.