“I must have died and gone to hell” was all that went through her mind
Her eyes did not open, her body did not move, did not obey her. She was paralysed, and did not know for how long – it seemed like it had always been this way.
But everything else stirred, she felt everything stirring, the sensation of viscous scales rubbing against her skin every second of every minute of every hour. Things stirred inside her that she did not even want to think about identifying, things that she could feel making their nests inside her body; clawing, burrowing. The occasional flash of pain from a bite was a light of hope, a vague hope that she might die, and it would end.
Sometimes Alison lost consciousness, and sleep was a blessing, but it never lasted, or at least never seemed to last. Soon she would wake up, with the pressure of something forcing itself into her oesophagus, or snaking up from her nether regions into her lower gut.
The girl had become less and less aware of what was going on, was losing whatever was left of her humanity, was about to become a simple block of flesh inside the darkness that had engulfed her.
But then she heard the scream.
It was a single cry, but she felt it in her mind as well as in her ears, and it was as if that single cry had been moulded by the pain of a thousand mouths.
The intensity, the concentrate of pure agony in that single sound muffled all her other senses. And then, as the buzzing in her ears receded, she began to regain her sight, and then her touch, and so she saw the light and she felt the warmth in her skin, and she smelled the smoke and – how wonderful – felt the floor with the palms of her hands.
A sense of nausea gripped Alison. The girl vomited on the ground, and to her horror, snakes came out of her mouth, landing on the black rock and crawling away.
And her horror increased as she realized that whatever was inside her was now restless, was stirring, struggling to free itself from her body.
The girl tried to get up and run, only to crash to the floor, her numb legs uncooperative.
From the corner of her eye she could see the chaos that surrounded her, a burning cave, its walls covered with thousands upon thousands of serpents and snakes sliding in panic, most of them on fire.
But her focus was completely directed to the one goal of escape, no matter where to. Anywhere would be better. She took a few steps, she fell again, and then she crawled; she dragged her numb body through the scratching, rocky floor, always in the same direction, a direction she had chosen instinctively.
Although the night air was dry and as hot as the inside of an oven, leaving the cave made Alison feel as if she had been reborn.
With tears in her eyes, her naked body bitten, bruised and trailing blood from several gashes, she managed to smile as she half-fell, half-rolled down the slope that exiting of the cave had led her to. She skid to s stop at its base.
The snakes’ death kneel was distant and seemed to be abating.
The mere thought of snakes led her to put her fingers in her throat, trying to force herself to vomit. She had to get rid of the filth, of whatever
was inside her!
Alison felt as if her body was about to burst, she felt as swollen as a balloon. But no matter how far she put her fingers in, she would only start to choke, and nothing came out.
But once again, pain blossomed through her body in a bolt, knocking the girl to her knees. Her hands and eyes went to her chest, to her breasts, which seemed about to burst. And for the first time since the nightmare began, she felt an emotion that was not fear nor pain, but simple confusion.
These were not her breasts; these were not her hands.
These hands, wounded and scrapped as they were, were slender, with thin, bony fingers, which ended in pointed black nails, nails that looked more like the claws of a wild cat.
These breasts were larger than her own, and the skin, the skin was not her skin, it was not of a natural color. It was purplish, and it was not soft as she remembered, it had a leathery touch to it.
But before she could better consider this strange new discovery, Alison was once again stunned by pain.
Her chest, her breasts began to throb as if they were being thorn in half from inside out. The girl felt something, no, she felt many things moving inside. At that instant, a new snake, smaller than its predecessors, flew from the inside her nipple in a spurt of black blood, and hit the ground. The pain made Alison fall immediately, slamming her face into the ground.
Her body began to convulse, and Alison realized that now it was she who was screaming. She screamed as she felt reptiles of all sizes fleeing from inside her, tearing out through all the openings in her body – through her nose, through her nipples, through her sex, through her mouth, through the ducts at the corners of her eyes.
The girl did not understand what was happening to her, could not see anything through the veil of pain and tears, felt her own eyes being displaced from the orbits to give way to the monsters that had somehow nestled inside her skull.
But by some miracle, Alison decided she would not give up. With renewed vigor, he clasped her hands and punched at her own stomach, over and over, until the pain was unbearable. But it had to be so, she had to get rid of whatever was inside her, or all of it.
Or at the very least, she had to die, and it would end.
Once more, Alison lost track of time. She lost even the notion of how many times she lost consciousness.
Had it been hours that she had lain prostrate, giving birth to abominations through every pore of her body? Or had it been years? Alison did not know.
But at some point, perhaps after centuries of torture, the snakes stopped coming out. Her body had become a deflated balloon, an empty, inert husk. For the first time in an eternity, Alison was able to open her eyes and see, again.
She managed to look up at the night sky.
As a child, Alison dreamed of visiting the stars, of traveling through space and discovering new galaxies. But all the stars in this sky were unknown to her.
And then, something new: a figure covered the stars. A pale man with green eyes and long white hair was staring at her, his wrinkled skin glowing in the starlight.
Alison’s eyes fixed on the stranger’s, but before she could say anything, a new wave of fatigue gripped her, and once again the night fell for her tortured soul.
Painting: “Triptych of the Garden of Eathly Delights” (detail) by Hieronymus Bosch