“She said, ‘I am glass; there is nothing I fear more than shattering.'” A fantasy short story inspired by a psychiatric disorder called the Glass Delusion.
Bryer was thirteen when the traveling troupe of entertainers came to the city. His father, knowing how much his wife loved the mummers and minstrels, had, of course, invited them to perform every night while they were in town for the Swan Festival. Each night passed by in a blur for Bryer. He had heard so many poems and songs, and he had seen many impressive feats. His younger sister had fallen in love with some of the animals who had performed tricks, and it had fallen to him to cover for her so she could sneak out to see them during the day.
On the last day on the Swan Festival, Bryer had hurried out of the castle when he heard his sister’s maid searching for her. He had to bring her back to the castle or else they would both be in trouble. He weaved his way through the thick crowd of people preparing for their last performances.
“Belle!” Bryer hissed when he saw a girl standing by the cages housing the animals. She was watching a few large white birds when Bryer caught her attention. Belle turned around, giving Bryer a confused look.
“Why are you here?” Belle asked as Bryer walked up to her, catching his breath.
“I’m here to take you back, you lost track of time. Your maid is looking for you, to get ready for tonight.” Bryer pulled on her sleeve.
“Oh!” Belle gasped. The two siblings then hurried back through the throng of performers. His little sister clung to his hand as he led the way, not paying attention to those around him. Bryer didn’t see the girl until after he had bumped into her.
She let out a shocked noise as she threw her arms out to regain her balance, as if they were wings. Bryer looked up to see an older boy steadying her. The boy bore a striking resemblance to the girl. They shared the same thick wavy dark hair and clear grey eyes. The boy glared at him. “Watch where you’re going!”
“S-sorry.” Bryer flinched and gave them a quick bow. He recalled what one was supposed to do when meeting other nobles. He assumed he should show them the courtesy despite the fact that they weren’t noble because he had committed an offense to them.
“I’m fine, Alvaro.” The girl shook her brother off. She turned to Bryer and gave him a bright smile. “Don’t worry about it; it will take more than an accident to break me.”
Her comment caught Bryer off guard, leaving him staring at her. Belle tugged at Bryer’s sleeve, and before he could respond, the two of them were back at the castle. While he got dressed for the feast, he tried to remember what performance the girl was a part of, but he had a feeling if he had seen her before he would remember.
It was when the first minstrel started to sing that Bryer decided she probably was too young to perform. She had seemed like she was close to his age. Bryer resolved not to think about her and enjoy the last night as it would be another year before the next Swan Festival.
Performer after performer went, trying to make their final performance memorable. His sister struggled not to squeal when the animals performed their last tricks. Belle had grabbed his arm when the swans had appeared. Bryer chuckled, but as the night went on he could feel himself tire. As much as he enjoyed it, he also hoped it would end soon for fear he’d fall asleep during the next song.
“And to end the night, we have a dance dedicated to our lovely hostess, Duchess Brezetta.” a man had taken the floor. He was dressed in an elaborate silver costume with a woman dressed in blue on his arm. Bryer caught a glimpse of dark hair and grey eyes behind the pair, and he sat up straighter. The girl and her brother took to the floor as well, and Bryer saw their resemblance to the pair of adults. The parents took to one side while their children took to the other. The musicians started up the song. The notes were clear, but slow and haunting. The older pair held onto each other loosely as they leapt across the floor. Bryer struggled to follow their large sweeping movements.
The siblings did not leap about like their parents did. They stayed mostly on the ground, the exception being a few lifts. The brother held onto his sister tightly as if he were afraid of what would happen should he let go. He twirled her about, and she danced delicately. She seemed to barely touch the ground, as if she weighed no more than a feather.
Bryer found himself completely entranced with the dance. All too soon it was over, and Bryer was shocked to see the dance had brought tears to his mother’s eyes. Bryer could hardly process everything that he had seen, and before he knew it, the performers were gone.
In the weeks that followed, his mother could not stop talking about the dancers. Bryer couldn’t stop thinking about them either. His mother had started favoring blue dresses, and commissioned several glass makers to create figurines of dancers for her to decorate her rooms with. His mother did not stop at just glass dancers; she soon had several glass animals and magical creatures. When Bryer asked his mother about it, she had told him that there was something so pure and lovely about glass that reminded her of that dance.
He never told anyone that he snuck into his mother’s room to look at his favorite of her figurines, a glass swan.
Bryer was sixteen when his mother decided she wanted to keep a few minstrels, musicians, and dancers in the castle permanently to perform for her own events. His father had no concern with the cost of keeping a few performers on hand. It would make his wife happy, and he could afford it. He had no reason to refuse. Bryer’s mother held auditions, and while Bryer could not attend them, he knew they went on for weeks as people came from across the land to audition. Bryer tried to keep his mind focused on his duties as heir, but found himself wondering who his mother would choose.
It wasn’t until his mother threw a feast for Belle turning thirteen that his mother had the chance to entertain guests. His mother had held nothing back for her daughter. She had only the finest food and the finest guests there. She used the opportunity to introduce her children to other important nobles and their children. Bryer was happy to see his sister form an acquaintance with another a girl a few years older than her.
Belle was conversing with her new friend, Lady Ilona, and thus left Bryer to his own devices during the celebration. Bryer soon found that he did not mind as he saw her again. Music began to play. She was still dancing with her brother, but the older couple was gone. The years that had passed showed on the brother’s face as he was still ever so gentle with his sister. The girl was older as well, but she still retained her youth and beauty. There was no weight on her shoulders. As Bryer watched, he realized the dance was different. The boy was slower, but he still danced as if he was dancing with glass. The girl was ever so slightly reckless in her movements. She was faster and leapt across the floor with a self-assured look upon her face. Bryer realized there was nothing reckless about it. The girl knew what she was doing. She was calculated, calm, and confident in each movement. Bryer thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
The day after, while Bryer looked at the glass swan, he realized he did not know her name. That night he asked his mother who the dancers were. She grinned with a sparkle in her eye. “The brother and sister? I believe they’re called Alvaro and Atonia.”
Bryer remembered vaguely seeing them around the castle before, but never truly seeing them. It was as if every time he had seen them, he had looked straight through them. He couldn’t imagine why he would do that.
It was the next day that he passed the siblings as he walked down a hallway. He took a deep breath and introduced himself. “Hello, I’m Bryer, I just wanted to say that your performance the other night was wonderful.”
Atonia’s face lit up. She nudged her brother and gave him a look as if she had just won an argument. “See, wonderful he says.”
Alvaro huffed and glared at her. Bryer had the feeling he was missing a piece of the story. Alvaro continued on his way. Atonia curtsied. “Thank you for your compliment, Lord Bryer.”
As Atonia joined her brother, Bryer couldn’t help but notice she was wearing a thick long-sleeved, high cut dress during the height of summer. Another odd observation he made was in the way she walked. She never quite put her full weight down on one foot, as if it would hurt her should she do so. Of course, Bryer made other observations such as how long and lovely her hair was.
Bryer struggled to keep from turning red with embarrassment as he realized how long he had spent staring at nothing.
In the following days, Bryer made it a point to greet her every time she passed by, and they would engage in polite, if distant conversation. Bryer had to wonder if Alvaro had anything to do with Atonia’s hesitance to speak with him.
He never told anyone how silly he felt voicing such concerns to the glass swan in his mother’s room.
Hardly a few months had passed after Belle had turned thirteen that one day he heard someone frantically call his name from outside his room. “Lord Bryer! Lord Bryer!”
Bryer leapt from his desk, accidentally knocking his chair over. He answered the door to see Atonia standing outside. She was taking shuddering breaths, hands clasped in front of her as she had to stop herself from beating his door down.
“What’s wrong?” Bryer asked.
Atonia gave him a clumsy curtsy. “I’m sorry to bother you, my Lord, but it is Alvaro. He has fallen ill so quickly, and I do not know where to find a physician. You are the first person I thought to ask. I’m sorry to trouble you, my Lord, but I did not know what else to do.”
Bryer looked her in the eye and said, “It is no trouble, Atonia. I’ll send for a physician immediately.”
Atonia smiled, and Bryer felt his heart skip a beat. He quickly located a servant and sent them off to bring the physician to Atonia and Alvaro’s quarters. He went there as well with Atonia; he could not think of letting her go by herself. Once they were there, Atonia resumed tending to her brother. Bryer felt horribly awkward standing there, but he was certain he would feel worse if he left. He glanced around the room, and saw a second bed which looked to be far more comfortable than the bed Alvaro was on. There was a soft couch and chairs around a table placed near a window. His mother believed in only the best. As he made his observations, Bryer noticed the peculiarly large pile of thick quilts and comforters in the corner.
“Be careful,” Alvaro rasped as Atonia hurried to him with a damp rag for his ever increasing fever. Alvaro was drenched in sweat and had his eyes screwed shut as if he was in great pain.
Atonia glared. “Don’t worry about me, worry about yourself for once.”
Alvaro didn’t respond as the physician came in. Bryer gave the physician an approving nod and the man set to work inspecting the bed ridden man. Bryer moved to Atonia’s side, and he felt his heart clench at the doctor’s grim expression. The physician stood up and pulled Bryer and Atonia to the side.
The physician told them that it was unlikely Alvaro would survive because of how far the disease had progressed and because of Alvaro’s already weakened state. He gave Atonia instructions to give him water, and told her the symptoms that preceded death. Atonia took it all in with a face as hard as stone, but Bryer knew she must be in pain.
The physician had begun to gather his supplies when Alvaro gasped, “Wait.”
Atonia rushed to her brother’s side. “What do you need?”
“Atonia, once more, while he’s here.” Alvaro was barely able to speak.
“Don’t, it’s not going to help, we’ve already tried.” Atonia shook her head.
“I know I’m dying, please, for me,” Alvaro said.
“What is it? Is there something that ails you, miss?” the physician asked. Atonia glanced Bryer. He could see the hesitation in her eyes, and he nodded, encouraging her to go on. The physician couldn’t help Alvaro, but if he could help Atonia, Bryer would feel better about the whole affair.
Atonia turned to the physician. “I suppose you could say something ails me.”
“Go on,” the physician said.
Atonia took a deep breath and removed her glove. Bryer didn’t see anything at first. He blinked and focused his gaze so he could see clearly. It was then light from the window reflected off her hand, and Bryer realized what he was looking at. Atonia’s hand was clear. It was made of glass.
The physician gaped and gently took her hand. He looked at it this way and that, but he did not seem to reach an understanding. The physician said, “Never before have I seen a disease like this.”
“That’s what everyone says.” Atonia grinned as if he had told her a favorite joke.
The physician shook his head. “I am sorry, I have no idea how to treat such a thing. I do not know how you can even survive with such fragile organs. I do not understand how they can still operate like this. I do not even know how to ease your pain.”
“My guess would be magic.” Atonia’s eyes danced. She took her hand back from the physician. “Do not fret. It doesn’t hurt.”
Bryer wasn’t sure if that was the truth, but the physician took his leave soon after, as there was nothing he could do. Atonia slipped her glove back on and tended to Alvaro. It was only when she had slightly eased Alvaro’s pain did she step outside with Bryer. She took one look at his face and said, “Please, don’t look at me like that, my Lord. I don’t want to be pitied.”
Bryer didn’t know how to respond, and Atonia disappeared back into her room.
Alvaro died the next day. Bryer didn’t see Atonia until the day after. She didn’t cry, nor did she fight him when he gave her a comforting hug.
He never told anyone it wasn’t long after then that every night he would look at his own glass swan on his desk.
He visited Atonia as often as he could. They would normally have short conversations as he was very busy. They talked about anything and everything. Bryer would tell Atonia stories of him and Belle, and even one day introduced the two. It hardly took Belle a day before she asked Atonia about the various animals she had seen in her travels. Belle asked Atonia what about her favorite animal, and Atonia said the swan. Belle asked Bryer if he was feeling alright and if he needed some water.
One day, when it was just Atonia and Bryer, Atonia asked, “Why haven’t you asked?”
Bryer turned his gaze from the window back to Atonia and responded, “Asked about what?”
“About this.” Atonia lowered her collar to show him where her collarbone was slowly turning to glass.
“Because you’ll tell me when you’re ready,” Bryer said, keeping his eyes locked with hers. Atonia smiled and started her story. It had all happened when she was very young and her parents were still alive. They had been in a large city, but Atonia did not recall the name. She had snuck away from Alvaro and ducked into an expensive looking shop. She had accidentally knocked over a glass figure. The woman running the shop hadn’t always been a shopkeeper. The woman, enraged over the damage done and the profit lost, cursed Atonia so that she would slowly become glass, telling her that when someone shatters her, she will know how it feels.
“She’s wrong though,” Atonia said while looking out the window. At Bryer’s unspoken question, Atonia turned to him. “No one is going to break me. I won’t let them.”
He never told anyone of the night he shattered the glass swan in his room by dropping it.
As time passed, Bryer felt a pain in his heart whenever he thought of Atonia turning completely into glass. Whenever she danced, Bryer watched with bated breath. His heart did a wild dance in his chest. He simultaneously wished he could watch her dance forever and wanted her to stop lest she hurt herself.
One night, Bryer’s mother commented on how modest Atonia’s costumes were. It was then Bryer confided Atonia’s curse to his mother. The next morning his mother came sweeping into Atonia’s room, announcing that she will do anything possible to assist her favorite dancer.
Atonia refused to talk to Bryer for weeks. Bryer was alright with it as he saw well-known and well-respected physicians come to the castle. He even saw some witches and warlocks brought in as well. Bryer was patient, but could not help but despair as one by one they left with no idea how to help Atonia. They said it was too late, and Bryer lost all hope Atonia could be spared.
When they had gone through everyone who might’ve helped, Bryer found his mother crying. Bryer held her and pretended he didn’t feel anything rolling down his cheeks.
He never told anyone, not even Atonia, that the sliver necklace she received during all the examinations was from him.
Bryer went to Atonia the day after. Her neck was turning to glass. She had her quilts and comforters spread across the floor as she practiced dancing across them.
“I’m sorry,” Bryer said. Atonia finished her spin and turned to face him. A slight glint of silver settled around her neck. He said, “I just don’t want to see you in pain.”
Atonia straightened up. She had gotten rid of her previous uncomfortably modest clothing and started to wear normal dresses. She could no longer hide her affliction as everyone in the land had heard of the so called Glass Dancer by then. She said unconvincingly, “I’m not.”
“Can we be friends again?” Bryer asked.
Something flashed across Atonia’s face. “Of course.”
As she resumed practicing, Bryer asked, “Why do you still dance? It is so dangerous.”
Atonia grinned. “Life is dangerous, simply walking is dangerous for me. I’ll not stop living my life simply because there is risk.”
As Atonia landed a leap perfectly, Bryer asked, “But aren’t you afraid of shattering?”
Atonia came to a stop and gave Bryer a look that meant many things, but at that moment Bryer knew not what. She started to play with her necklace. She said, “I am glass; there is nothing I fear more than shattering.”
He never told anyone he kept the pieces of the broken glass swan in a cushioned box that he could never bring himself to open, too afraid to see the broken pieces.
The two grew ever closer as Atonia ever more continued to turn into glass. They talked often, telling each other things people only said to those closest to them. Sometimes Belle would join them, and on those days, Atonia would show both of them how to dance.
Before either of them realized it, two years passed, and Atonia had become fully glass. Every noble in the land wanted to be invited to an event hosted by the Duchess Brezetta. Everyone wanted to see the Glass Dancer. Atonia never complained. She said she was quite fond of the recognition. Bryer didn’t ask again. He tried to push aside his worries and responsibilities whenever he was able to spend time with her. He didn’t want to weigh her down.
One day Bryer’s father pulled him aside, and they discussed a future match for him. Bryer had no wish to marry, but he knew he must. No matter how free he felt at times, he had obligations and duties. He knew he couldn’t afford to be distracted from his responsibilities any longer. He also considered he knew the lady his father was proposing. She was kind, quiet, but friendly. She was not like Atonia, who was all sharp light and sharp tongue. Lady Ilona was not like Atonia, who made him wish he could fly like she could, but Bryer knew no one else was quite like Atonia.
So with a heavy heart, Bryer consented to the match. He saw his mother shake her head sadly, but she did not say anything.
He never told anyone of how his mother had found him that night, in her room, carefully cradling a glass swan with tears leaking from his eyes.
Bryer couldn’t tell Atonia of the match. He didn’t know how. A few weeks later the Lady Ilona came to the castle, and the engagement was official. Belle told Atonia.
Atonia looked at the window. “When, not if, she said. I wonder if I really had a chance.”
Belle didn’t know what she meant, but Belle could feel Bryer and Atonia’s pain. Atonia smiled and distracted Belle with a dance movement. Atonia had always considered herself to be great at being distracting, even when she wasn’t trying to be.
When the engagement party drew closer, the Duchess told Atonia to take the night off. Atonia refused.
As the last performance of the night, Atonia came forward, causing the audience to ooh at the girl who was shining and reflecting the light of the room. The music began, and Atonia danced. Bryer had never before seen her dance like she did that night. For the first time, Atonia danced as if something was weighing her down. Atonia avoided his gaze and focused on her movements. She would stand by her earlier declaration. Atonia wouldn’t let him. Her dance was fast and flowing. She leapt through the air. Despite the weight on her, Atonia danced better than she had before. There was almost an air of finality about her movements, but Atonia shook the feeling off and continued on. Atonia was reaching the end of her dance. She pushed herself into the air for her last leap. It was then she realized she was wrong. She had lost. She was terrified.
Belle realized what was about to happen and covered her eyes. As Atonia landed, her foot slipped. Bryer jumped out of his seat as Atonia fell. Someone screamed. Atonia didn’t think it was fair. She had already learnt how it felt, why did she have to go through it again?
The Glass Dancer shattered.
He never told anyone about the box in his room that held shattered glass pieces and a silver swan necklace.