It's What's Inside
The girl had been so long in hell that she couldn’t recall her name. Couldn’t recall where she’d come from or why fate had handed her down this particular eternity. She could remember dancing – her agile, supple body spinning and leaping, and how the grace of her body was at odds with the distorted form of her countenance. She couldn’t remember what terrible calamity had befallen her to destroy her face, but she could remember eventually wishing for death. None of it mattered now – only this new performance. Night after night she swung from the vaulted ceiling of the big top, entertaining faceless shadows with her skill on the trapeze and high wire. Sometimes they applauded, sometimes they just screamed. But when she fell they would always laugh, shaking droplets of blood from their claws in cruel mirth at her misfortune. The countless years somehow both drifted and flew by because time had no meaning, and with every broken bone and torn muscle, her body sharpened and twisted, warped and withered. Eventually she could no longer walk, but instead moved everywhere in a hunched, stuttering crawl. None of the demons thought to fix her – as long as she continued to entertain, it mattered not to them. She slept in a cage, slowly becoming more deformed until she could have been easily mistaken for an obscenely large spider, swatted, dead, and contorted in the furthest reaches of her cell. Yet on it went, and every night she hoisted aloft, and flew. It was the only freedom she knew.
One night, after the most brutal of falls, whilst hugging torn flesh and splintered bones to her chest, she felt something rise within her. It was a strange fluttering, buzzing sensation like a wasp trapped in hair. The feeling increased and expanded until it became like lightning in her blood and acid on her skin. She felt her flesh begin to tear – snapping, cracking – something emerging from within. She began to scream a long, wordless outpouring of agony and anguish as her body finally gave out and a nightmare erupted. She rose on insectile legs until her now hairless skull brushed the roof of her prison, arms unfolding mantis-like to claw at what was left of her face until it fell away like a mask on the stones below. Her scream became the shriek of metal on ice and she threw herself forward, the bars and chains that had for so long held her buckling outwards and then exploding in a shower of molten iron.
The demons ran, first towards the deafening crash, then even faster away as they saw what had been birthed. Their cries increased as she tore her way through them – skewering, ripping, savaging indiscriminately. A minority tried fighting back, but their knives and teeth struck against her scales with no effect. She burst into the dank big top, watching her shadowy audience take flight in terror, whirling upwards as one to hide in the upper recesses of the tent. She threw back her head and roared, lifting blood-soaked limbs to the invisible sky as she continued to grow to immesurable size. Grow until her dripping pincers tore canvas and souls alike. Until the tent dropped away, festooning her protruding ribs with ribbons of smoke-soaked black and red. Trampling the last survivors under claws and barbs, she fled that place and away into an all-consuming night that seemed to have no end.
She surged forwards through the unnatural darkness for untold eons, her cries of triumph and wails of sorrow bursting perversely forth in a human voice. The girl behind the eyes of the monstrocity cowered in terror, only wanting home. Only wanting comfort. But she’d forgotten what those were. What they looked like.
Then. A shaft of gold and silver in the black. Her heart, which until now had remained dead and cold, stuttered deep down in her chest and she pushed toward the light. As she grew closer she saw a glowing ladder reaching into unfathomable heights, and somehow knew that salvation lay at its furthest reach. Arriving at her escape, she clawed and scrabbled at the rungs, her hulking, brittle body barely able to hoist itself aloft. The ladder began to shake and splinter beneath her weight, wood cracking in her claws until she sobbed with frustrated desperation and fear. Her tears landed upon the rungs, and without warning she found it easier to ascend. The petrol-black carapace of what she’d become began to fall away into the darkness like rusted armour. She moved faster, limbs shortening, softening, flexing, until she could see her arms and hands clearly. Human limbs. No trace of corruption or injury. She flexed her legs, now free of pain – strong and sure and lithe. Spirit soaring, she turned her face, now full of innocent beauty, to the sky which had burst forth a billion stars and promises of hope. She climbed.