She faced the beast and the pale, distracted haze left her eyes. Her gaze was as shockingly clear as the beast’s first terrible pounce.

Her clothes grew spikes and her fingernails became claws. Her teeth lengthened into knife-like fangs. There was no fear—only a faint, hungry smile. Nothing would stand between her and the place that called her.

The beast was so purely beast it had no capacity for fear. It only enlarged its attack to face the scissoring devil that heaved toward it. As they neared each other and the thrill of the battle consumed them, pungent steam rose from their sweat.

The beast’s face filled her entire vision, making it hard to remember why she was there at all. But it was also its face that reminded her, because in it was smug confidence that the place she yearned for did not exist, mockery—mockery!—that she should desire such a foolish thing, and at the same time, loud laughter that she should dare believe that of all beings, she was allowed to enter.

She, grown old and furrowed in her petulant, dream-clouded wait by the sea. She, a thief and a whore. She, destitute and homeless, ignorant, ungroomed, crowned and tattooed by years of crawling on her hands and knees looking for a thing she could not even remember.

Its face sparkled with contempt at the fantastic idea that she could possibly know or understand what lay beyond, and it was this that raised the sharpest and most dangerous of her spiked hackles.

She took one fierce breath, and her right hand shot forward. She grabbed hold of the folds on its gray, festering forehead. With a second breath, she pulled down hard, ripping all the skin from its leering face. The monster screamed and slashed, but it had lost the advantages of shock and surprise. With a hard jab of her knee, she had it on the ground and tore it to pieces.

It never stopped slashing. Her skin was in bleeding shreds. Summoning what was left of its life, it pulled itself up, more ghastly and terrifying in its faceless fury, and a great wind began. As if the monster was sucking into it the elemental forces of the earth, air and heat, a hurricane of wind and debris spiraled around it and into its mouth, chest and genitals.

She did not wait to see what all this was for, grabbed the creature’s throat, and squeezed.

In that moment, the beast exploded—a mine blast that split the ground, leaving her covered in fine dust and smelling of rotting flesh.


About penina

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