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She had no memory of how she got here.
Deep within a labyrinthine dungeon, in a multitude of cold, rocky, undulating passages, intertwining and stretching in every direction, dimly lit with torches but still somehow as dark and sinister as a moonless night, The Girl, barely eight years old, found herself cold and alone, wandering the passages as she quietly sobbed to herself.
In the place of that memory, a flood of savage fear took hold. Thoughts of her family came to her, together in unison with terrible, oppressive thoughts of what may have happened to them.
She thought of her mother; the kind woman who held her as a child, for whose embrace she now longingly wished. She thought of her father; the strong, brave man, who would surely protect her and take her away from this horrid place. She reminisced about the happy times with her family, and prayed there would be more. She was also reminded of the bad times, of the fights and the struggles, and wrestled with the guilt that perhaps this was her punishment for her misbehavior. She silently prayed that God had not sent her to this place to suffer for her misdeeds, pleading and begging to be removed from this Hell.
Had her family suffered the same fate as The Girl? Would she ever see her mother and father again? Would there be any escape from this frigid and dreary dungeon? And most importantly, what kind of suffering lay all around her, in the depths of the caverns surrounding her?
In the darkness she drifted, alone and afraid, with only the imaginations of what horrors may lurk within the blackness and the harsh echo of her sobs to keep her company.
But she was not as alone as she thought she was.
As the sounds of her soft cries and light, padding footsteps reverberated through the passages, The Girl thought she could hear soft breaths in tandem with her weeping. The breaths soon turned to hushed whispers, voices speaking in languages she could not understand.
At every corner she turned, over every small hill she climbed, and at the bottom of every slope, shadows would dance across the walls just out of the corner of her eye; black, shapeless forms, darker even than the gloom of the dungeon, exuding terror from their mere presence. The Girl knew there were many eyes upon her, eyes she could not see, but eyes that would follow her every move.
The more she wandered, the more blatant the presences around her became. What once were soft words drifting upon the dark soon became a rumble of voices, all speaking in a language she couldn’t understand, yet all with unmistakable fury. The rumbling soon became a roar, filling the passages, screaming in the dark like demons reveling in a hunt, screeching and bellowing a furious tirade of hellish noises and condemnations.
The Girl began to run.
Unable to focus, the howling of the shadows filling the void, she forced her hands against her ears in a desperate attempt to fend off the horrible wailing as she sprinted blindly down the passages, frantically trying to keep away from the encroaching shadows as their long, lingering arms reached out from the darkness to drag her to a fate unknown. The more she ran, the more furious the voices became, a hurricane of horrible wails, driving The Girl mad with fear as she dashed blindly throughout this cold, gloomy hell.
Then all at once, it stopped.
With the sudden cessation of the noise, The Girl, taken by surprise, yet with fear still seizing her, stumbled to the ground, wildly searching around her, for some sign of the terror that had pursued her. But only blackness met her gaze now, the sounds of her frantic breaths the only sound she heard.
The Girl shakily rose to her feet, precariously supporting herself against the wall as she panted and sobbed in terror. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she slowly looked up into the passage that yawned before her.
That’s when she saw The Woman.
A towering, horrible being stood above The Girl, frighteningly tall at over twice the girl’s height, with limbs and appendages that were impossibly long and thin, like the twisted branches of an old, rotting tree. The Woman’s body was cloaked entirely in black, covering almost her whole body in a long, flowing dress that trailed behind her.
The only part of her left uncovered was her head. But where a disgusting, monstrous visage should have sat, there, instead, was the head of a stunningly beautiful motherly woman, with gorgeous blond hair that cascaded across her shoulders and down her back. The juxtaposition of her horrible body and her magnificent head both astounded and horrified The Girl, who’s breath was now caught in her chest, her eyes unable to produce tears any longer.
The Girl stood before The Woman, her eyes absorbing the twisted conglomeration of beauty and revulsion that greeted her gaze. Her stomach twisted as bile rose in her throat, The Girl did not know whether to scream or vomit, though she doubted she could do either.
The Woman extended her long, gruesome hand toward The Girl, and slowly beckoned The Girl to follow her. The Girl, both grateful for the presence of The Woman driving away the demonic screams, yet afraid of what would happen if she refused The Woman, nervously nodded her head in acceptance. Almost in a trance, The Girl followed.
The Woman did not speak a word, only silently led The Girl deeper and deeper into the inky blackness of the Labyrinth, seeming to glide upon the ground with disturbing grace.
The Girl feared The Woman, and wept at the thought of what fate she could be led to. The Girl wondered what would happen if she were to run away from The Woman, to sprint in any direction as fast and far as she could. Despite the temptation, and the revulsion at the sight of The Woman, The Girl somehow knew The Woman had driven off the howling shadows that tormented her, and that without The Woman’s presence, she would once again have to face the roars and screams of the demons in the shadows.
Though The Woman kept her safe, The Girl wondered if it was to save her from them, or if it was merely a predator protecting it’s prey from the parasites who may challenge it. With no other choice than to hope The Woman would be her salvation, The Girl cautiously followed behind her, deeper into the catacombs.
How long they traversed the passages, The Girl did not know. As the minutes turned into hours, with only the monotony of cold, gray stone, pitch-black shadows and the dim glow of the torches, The Girl forced herself to continue to put one foot in front of the other, taking each step with apprehension and fear, wrestling with the maelstrom of thoughts flooding her mind.
Just as The Girl thought she may go mad, The Woman led her around a corner, and into a cavernous chamber; a wide, circular dome, with no torches and no other visible entrances or exits than the one they had just stepped through. In the center of the chamber, a broad ring of stone pillars surrounded a bright circle of light that shone down upon the ground from an unknown source. The light was almost blinding after the hours spent traversing the dim and gloomy passages, and the light shrouded the edges of the room in total darkness.
The Girl jumped at the touch of The Woman’s long, spindly fingers upon her shoulders. The Woman began to gently push The Girl forward, urging her to step forward into the glowing white light. It became clear to The Girl that this was the purpose for which The Woman had led her through the endless, rolling corridors. As The Girl’s eyes adjusted to the light, she struggled to take in her surroundings, hoping against hope that she could see some sign of her salvation from these catacombs, praying her ordeal would soon be over.
She would not have to wait long to find out.
As she stood within the edge of the circle, with The Woman behind her just outside the glow of the light, from the darkness of the opposite side of the circle, The Girl heard a low, terrifying, guttural growl, that filled her very soul with dread. Petrified with fear, unable to force herself to move, The Girl stood in silent horror as, slowly, The Creature made its presence known.
Creeping into the light came a revolting abomination, loathsome and horrible, unlike anything The Girl could have ever imagined. A vast, slug-like monster slowly crept its way into the light. The Creature supported itself on dozens of short, viscous tentacles, which inched The Creature forward with a disgusting, vile noise like running mucus. The Creature’s face was reminiscent of some kind of appalling insect, with segmented eyes like those of a fly, and serrated, drooling pincers that dripped slime upon the ground. Upon The Creature’s back, The Girl could see several oozing, rotting pustule-like lumps, secreting a repugnant mixture of blood, mucus, pus, and other foul-smelling fluids.
As The Creature lumbered into the light, The Girl finally broke down in horror. She fell to the ground, screaming in abject terror, unable to control her limbs as she desperately scratched and kicked at the ground, frantically attempting to get as far away from The Creature as fast she could. As she sobbed bitterly, her eyes nearly blinded by her tears, she could just barely see as The Woman reached down to collect The Girl. But what The Girl saw was no longer The Woman she had first laid eyes upon.
Transformed into a new, wretched monstrosity, The Woman’s arms had been replaced with tentacles like the repulsive monster that had crawled from the darkness. Where there once was a beautiful face of a loving maternal figure, there was now an obscene replication of The Creature’s own face, with massive segmented eyes that covered much of her head, and drooling, serrated pincers snapping viciously at The Girl as she struggled in frantic desperation to escape the loathsome figure that now had her in it’s grasp.
Slowly The Woman carried the girl, kicking, screaming, and sobbing hysterically, through the light and towards The Creature, its body throbbing disgustingly, the halls rumbling with the guttural noise of its growling. The Girl thought for sure she would be devoured by The Creature, its serrated pincers tearing apart her flesh and crushing her bones as her blood leaked onto the floor in union with the flow of oily fluids dripping from The Creature.
Her fate was much worse.
The Woman carried the girl around The Creature, past its mouth, and stood beside the creature, now heaving in anticipation. The Woman held The Girl above The Creature, her long, tentacle-arms fully extended, containing The Girl’s mad thrashing with ease. The Woman slowly lowered The Girl onto the back of The Creature, seeming to revel in the horror the girl felt.
As soon as The Girl’s feet came into contact with the back of The Creature, pain exploded in her body like a bomb. Looking down in wide-eyed horror, The Girl saw that her feet, clothing and all, were slowly melting into the creature, her flesh and blood sizzling off her bones, her muscles singing and liquefying as the boiling back of The Creature slowly absorbed her limbs.
Now applying a constant force down upon her shoulders, The Woman screeched in delight at the sound of The Girl howling in hysterical pain, as the rest of her body slowly sunk into the body of The Creature like quicksand. As she sunk further into The Creature, past her waist, The Girl begged and pleaded for death, to lose consciousness and stop feeling the scorching pain, to have any kind of release from this torment. But her prayers went unanswered, as some unknown force kept her conscious and in acute awareness of the feeling of every ligament, bone, and muscle in her body being melted and absorbed into The Creature.
Further and further she sank, soon up to her chest, as The Woman grabbed hold of her wrists, and forced her arms to become one with The Creature. The strange, unknown force that kept her alive and kept her conscious continued working its horrible effect on her, as even though her lungs, heart, and every vital organ had been liquefied, somehow The Girl stayed alive and awake, and even as her neck began to be swallowed up into the mass of The Creature, still, she felt and saw everything.
As the skin of her head likewise began to melt and fuse with the creature, The Girl only hoped it would absorb the final piece of her quickly, praying that the absorption of the last piece of her body would release her into the death she longed so horribly for.
Yet one, final horror remained.
The boiling slowed. And slowed further. Soon, it would stop altogether; the half-incinerated, partly liquefied head of the girl remained, sticking out of the back of The Creature, oozing and rotting; her head decaying, patches of skull appearing through the putrefying flesh, but her brain was kept alive, and her consciousness remained.
As The Girl looked wildly around with her remaining, un-melted eye, the only comfort she had now were the sobs she was still mysteriously able to produce. Why she was unable to experience the release of death, she did not know, nor did she understand how she was able to continue seeing the terrible Creature of which she had now become a part.
The Girl would soon also notice that her cries were not merely echoing around the chamber. She could hear distinct voices from her own, also shrieking and sobbing in pain and terror. The Girl’s eye darted wildly around, looking for some clue as to the source of the cries.
The final horror revealed itself when she made eye contact with a young boy. Perhaps the same age as her, perhaps older. She could not tell, as his head had putrefied and rotted beyond recognition, but still she could see the terror and hopelessness in his eyes as he, too, had been absorbed into The Creature. As the voices swelled and filled the hall, the realization finally came to The Girl: the dozens of lumps she had seen on The Creature’s back, which had secreted all manner of foul-smelling bodily fluids, were the decaying, melted, yet somehow still-living heads of children who had met her same fate.
As The Woman stood and watched, The Creature slowly slunk its way back into the darkness beyond the ring of light, into total blackness, its feeding now finished. As it crawled away into the shadows, The Girl realized now the horrible fate that had befallen her, knowing that she would remain as the decaying head of a corpse, never allowed to die, with only the screams of those who shared her fate to keep her company in the darkness, forever.
Credit: Dan Whitmer