Chapter Four: Walter Gets an Admirer

His Fourth Mistake

Walter made a huge fuss trying to free himself from the thorn bush, which was a hard task since it was so enormous that his feet didn't even touch the ground. All he saw were brambles, and every time he tried to unhook his sleeve from a thorn, it got even more tangled. His briefcase fell out of his hands and got wedged between two branches by his feet. He cursed loudly.

"Wot's all this commotion about here?" an irritating male voice trilled.

"Oh, wait, can you help me?" Walter called. He tried to turn his head but a thorn caught his ear. He twitched uncontrollably and he could have sworn the bush was sticking him in all the most inconvenient places on purpose.

"It's a person, it is!" the voice continued, getting closer. Walter could tell it was somewhere underneath him. "Who are you and wot is your purpose up there? You're not trying to storm the Tower, are you? 'Cos you're not doing a very good job of it."

"I'm not!" Walter said, struggling. "I'm trying to get out of this bush, that's all!"

"Wot were you doing in the bush in the first place?" Walter was really getting annoyed with this person.

"Will you help me?" he repeated, kicking indignantly. His briefcase dislodged itself and fell away from him. He heard it land with a "pomff!" and didn't know what kind of terrain could make that noise until he heard a small shout of protest.

"Hey, wotch where you're dropping your junk, you!" the voice said shrilly. "Now I run a tight schedule here so you'd better give me a straight answer. I won't help you 'til you do. Wot are you doing in that thorn bush if you're not here to storm the Tower?"

"I was thrown out of a window, okay? Now get me out of this!"

"Touchy," the voice muttered. "Why were you thrown out of a window? 'Twasn't your wife who did it?"

"I don't have a wife and I really don't feel like explaining right now," Walter said. "Will you just get me out of this infernal weed?" That infernal weed was deeply offended. Walter, of course, didn't notice.

"Oll right, oll right, o'll get you down. You act like you've never been caught in a thorn bush before, really. Here."

Walter could hear the person shuffling for a minute or two beneath him before he felt a sharp yank at his ankle. He braced himself for a rush of cuts and snags, but he fell to the ground surprisingly unscathed. It was a soft landing, too. Kind of squishy…

"Hey, get off me, will you?" the muffled voice called jovially.

Walter rolled over to see a stocky, ragged man in a brown cape, with scraggily gray hair rolling down to his dirty shoulders. He had a whiskery face and two small yellow eyes that gave off an insane glint.

"Sorry," he said finally as he heaved the coarse man off the ground. "Thanks for saving me, sir."

"Sir?" the man wrinkled his face in disgust. "I'm a woman, you twit! The name's Hester, and o'm a witch by trade and reputation, I am! And if you're not trying to break into my Tower then you'd better tell me a little about yourself, too."

"I'm Walter," he said, still trying to get over the fact that this "man" was actually female. He struggled to see any womanly traits. He failed rather quickly. "I'm a traveling salesman and I'm on my way to Heerlen to sell some cleaner."

"Wot's it called?" Hester asked, genuinely interested. She shifted a little closer to Walter. He eyed her warily, inching away.

"Wipe and Look It's Clean," he muttered. The witch hunched closer and grinned with rotting teeth.

"Sounds fantastic," she said. "You want to come up to the room and show me how it works?"

"Not especially," he said a little too harshly. He eased it with, "I'm in a bit of a hurry."

Hester looked disappointed. Her wrinkled face distorted itself in such a way that she looked like she'd swallowed something sour, then changed again so that it looked like her face was caving in. Her beady eyes closed up and her mouth sunk into her neck, buried in a pruny chin.

"But-" Walter added quickly, his stomach churning at the grotesque display, "I'm sure I have time for a quick demonstration. Though just for a few minutes, I'm late as it is."

Hester cheered up immediately, clapping her hands and hopping up and down so that her brown cape bounced, and her folds of ragged robes rippled as if they were about to burst. She stopped to sidle up to Walter and whisper in his ear bristly, "After you show me your cleaner, o'll show you something of mine!" She tried a giggle, but it sounded too much like a man choking. Walter wished he was back with Goldilocks and the bears.

"You'll like this, Walter, you will. Wotch, now." The witch stuck her grubby pinkies in her mouth and gave a shrill whistle. "Oy, Rapunzel!" she bellowed, craning her floppy neck as far back as it would go. Only then did Walter notice that they were standing next to a tall, cylindrical tower. It was perfectly smooth stone with just one tiny window at the very top.

"Oy!" Hester shrieked when nothing happened. Walter stuffed his fingers in his ears, raising dust as he shuffled further back away from the witch, trying to make it look as if he was getting a better view of the window.

"Whaddaya want!" A girl's voice floated down from the tower. At least, Walter thought it was a girl's voice. He couldn't be too sure anymore.

"Wrap that mop of yours around the hook and shut up!" Hester's voice carried so far that birds a giant's stride away took flight into the midday sun. Walter suddenly realized that after all his misadventures, it still looked as noon as when he'd started.

Before he could think too much about the passing time in New Tailand in relation to regular time, a cascade of corn-colored hair waterfalled its way down the stone wall. It was so long that even having to fall the length of the Tower, Rapunzel's hair almost reached the ground. The hair gave a sweeping wave as the girl wrapped it a couple times around a jutting, metal hook.

"You have to climb her hair, see?" Hester clamped her hands around the silky locks and hoisted herself up off the ground. The hair strained taut but didn't rip. Walter watched as the witch scaled the Tower, a feat he undoubtedly believed a person like that would not be able to physically achieve. The old hag was halfway up before she glanced, panting, down at Walter.

"You're not afraid of heights, are you?" she called down to him.

"No, it isn't that," he said, giving the hair a nervous glance. Hester noticed this.

"Rapunzel's hair is very thick and strong, mind you! O've climbed it loads of times, trust me! She uses my own special recipe of shampoo and conditioner, makes her hair as tough as rock. You couldn't even get a pair of scissors to chop through this, no you couldn't!" She gave Rapunzel's hair a few good tugs to demonstrate.

Walter didn't move.

"You're not backing out on me, are yeh sonny? Because I can get nasty real fast!" Hester sent Walter a piercing glare, that looked like she just needed thick glasses.

"Er, no, I'm coming," he replied, gathering handfuls of the girl's hair and hoisting himself up. He didn't like it one bit. Then again, he didn't know the full extent of this witch's powers if she decided to turn bad on him.

"Oh good, love," Hester said brightly, cheering up so that she looked like a Galapagos turtle who had just bitten into a lemon. "I would never do anything to you, though, just hurry it up a bit! O'm in such anticipation for this cleaner of yours!"

As Walter slowly made his way up the rope of hair, Hester heaved herself through the window, muttering what sounded to Walter like several catch phrases for Wipe and Look It's Clean. He could have sworn that one of them was, "Rotting putrid moldy green, leaves with Wipe 'n Look It's Clean!"

Walter could see the hook just above his head, and reached to hoist himself up with it. Instead, a withered, bony hand shot out and grabbed Walter's outstretched fingers.

"Let me help you!" Hester said.

"Augh!" Walter cried, trying to wrench his hand away. Hester's skin felt like cold rubbery layers of soggy cornflakes. Her grasp on him was too tight though, so, revolted, Walter heaved himself through the window with the help of the witch. He landed on the stone floor of the room on his back.

"Oh, poor wittle Walter! O'll help you up!"

"No!" Walter said, rolling over to escape Hester. "No thanks." He brushed himself off and turned back toward the window to see a beautiful young woman untangling her hair from around the hook. She began to reel it back into the room, muttering things like, "Hate throwing my hair out there like it's some common twine," and "Takes such a long time getting all the twigs and bugs out."

"Now deary, don't get oll up about it! We have a guest, let's rejoice! We don't see many of those now, do we?" Hester sent Walter a lustful look right on cue and gave a soppy grin. A bit of drool gathered at the corners of her mouth. Walter's eye twitched a little.

"So, give us your pitch young man!" the witch demanded. "Rapunzel, wotch."

Rapunzel sighed deeply as she gathered the rest of he hair around her and with a twirl of her lavender dress, flopped boredly onto her bed. "Whatever," she grumbled.

Walter began to perspire under the lovey eyes the witch was giving him. He turned his back to her and snapped open his briefcase on the edge of the bed Rapunzel wasn't taking up with her dress. He removed one bottle and cleared his throat.

"It's really quite simple, actually," he said, twisting the bottle in his hands so that the label could be read clearly. "This cleaner comes in a convenient bottle with a built in nozzle. The siphon tube is flexible and curls along the bottom of the bottle so you can even squirt upside down and all the way to the last drop. It contains fruit essences to improve odors as well as remove any stain on regular carpeting, clothing and household items. Wipe and Look It's Clean works not only as a general cleaner, deodorizer, and stain remover, but also restores and buffers furniture and jewelry."

Throughout the spiel, the witch gave several "oohs" and "aahs."

"Does it work on hair?" Rapunzel asked tonelessly, not bothering to turn her head in Walter's direction.

"Er… I don't think so," he said.

"Let's try it!" Hester squealed. Walter winced. "Ooh, let's see if it can clean Rapunzel's hair!"

"I don't think it's supposed to do that," Walter said.

"Try it on me, then," Hester said. Walter nearly fell over.

"On - on you?" he repeated faintly.

"Right here," she said, indicating a sinewy shoulder. "I have a rather bad stain right here, see?" Walter couldn't see where her clothes weren't stained, but he nodded anyway.

"Er…" Walter said. Hester pursed her lips and began to mutter a curse under her breath. "I'll do it," he added more happily than he felt, squirting some of the cleaner onto her shoulder. She closed her eyes like a happy dog.

Walter retrieved a clean handkerchief from his briefcase and prodded the spot cautiously.

"You might want to try rubbing a little harder," Hester cooed. That did it for Walter.

"End of demonstration," he said stiffly, slamming the cleaner back into its place and snapping his case shut. "I have to go, really. Now if you would kindly show me the stairs…"

"Ha!" the witch cackled. "Stairs! Oll we have is Rapunzel's hair, darling, and you'll go when I say you'll go!"

"Oh please, you old bat!" Rapunzel snapped. She turned to Walter. "You're not going to let her walk all over you, are you, chump? This kook is as nutty as an oak tree."

"Shut your trap, you little brat!" Hester snapped back. She too turned to Walter. "You see wot I gotta live with? Ungrateful little outcast!"

"You're a selfish furry pig!" Rapunzel shouted, standing up to stomp her point.

"Don't talk to me about furry, you hairball!" Hester shrieked. Walter could only stand and watch the insane display of insults being thrown between the pair before someone interrupted them.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!" a charming masculine voice called from far below.

"That'll be my boyfriend," Rapunzel said hotly, flipping her hair out the window for him to climb up.

"It's olways that chap these days!" Hester cried passionately, whirling around to talk to Walter now. He backed himself into the wall. "Prince Charming this, Prince Charming that, well now I have my own man, don't I! Don't I?" Her voice took on a collected tone.

"Look, Hester, I'm sure you're a great woman and all…"

The witch gave a cry of anger and made to strangle Walter, but he was saved by a pair of burly, beach-tanned hands.

"Unhand the defenseless businessman!" the charming voice said from behind the witch. She ripped herself from his grasp and turned so that Walter could see a tall, dark-haired male-model type.

"Excuse me," Walter said. "I'm not defenseless."

"Of course you aren't, meeky," Prince Charming chuckled.

"The name's Walter," he said.

"Super," the prince replied with a bored look, spinning gracefully to embrace Rapunzel. "Come away with me," he said to her, his nose a pixie flutter away from hers. "We'll ride over the landscape where we shall be free away from this awful prison, where we may bask in a thousand sunsets and roll in the flowers of foreign lands!"

"Sounds good to me," Rapunzel said in her usual toneless voice. She snapped a bubble of gum. "See you around, Hester."

"Wait!" she protested as her unofficial daughter looped her hair around the hook again and tossed it over the windowsill. "O'm your mother! You can't leave me! Walter, you'll stick around, right?"

"Stay away from me!" he said, rushing past her to leap out the window ahead of Rapunzel and her prince.

"O'll catch you sooner or later, my love!" Hester vowed, throwing herself at the window only to be yanked back by Prince Charming.

"Give him a fair start!" he reasoned. The trio watched Walter slide down Rapunzel's hair and disappear in a cloud of dust below. "Rapunzel and I will go next. Wait your turn, woman."

"Fine! Just be quick about it!" Hester pouted, crossing her floppy arms over her chest.

The prince slid down after Walter, and Rapunzel loosened her hair from the hook enough so that she could repel her way onto the back of the prince's horse. Once she was seated, though, the rest of her hair fell down around her.

"Whoops." She shrugged and bunched her hair into a saddlebag. "Let's go."

They galloped off toward the wood. Hester cursed her bad luck and wished she'd built a set of emergency stairs down the length of the Tower. Then she noticed that Walter had forgotten his briefcase and her eyes went misty.

"O'll return your cleaner to you, love!" Hester vowed, scooping up Walter's precious product and grasping it firmly in her crinkled hands. She gazed out the window, inspired.

"O'll find you yet!"