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by Colin Chapman

In nomine Patre, et Filidh, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen'. The priest's prayers echoed in her mind as she departed from her traditional Sunday Mass. Of her 16 years she could scarcely recall when she had not revelled in attending these regular sermons, praising her Lord, Jesus Christ, with every ounce of her heart. The extravagant ceremony of mass: the aroma of burning incense; the voices raised in song. She smiled, as she began to make her way on the short path home.

The air was crisp with the first fingers of winter as the she walked under the golden boughs of the oaks; a yellow brick road of dying leaves scattered beneath her feet. The sky ablaze with rose fading to azure, dappled clouds lit with hints of fire in the setting sun. Surely God has blessed the world with such an exquisite day, and he must smile down radiantly from Heaven on his devoted.

Sharp pain and blackness.

She awakes prone, shutting eyes and blinking back tears under the harsh light above her. She feels cold and numb, her head roaring with thunder, splitting with pain. Something sticky on her cheek. A weak groan escapes her lips. They feel dry. The blur comes into focus. A room she does not recognise. A harsh, unshaded bulb glares down above her. She goes to move, but feels unrelenting pressure holding her down. A glance: dark straps of leather, stained with something darker. Cold stone beneath her. Walls, dark, shadowed, bare concrete. Windowless. Slivers of light at the other end of the room, the cracks around a door, slightly ajar.

She licks dry lips, no moisture. "Hello? Is anybody there?"

Silence.

"Where am I? What do you want with me?"

A cold chuckle, from… nearby? A voice: harsh, rasping, male.

"Oh please, at least say something original when you come to. 'Where am I? What do you want?'? How pathetic".

"Who are you?" her voice quavers: alien, fearful and small.

That laugh again: hollow, humourless.

"Me? Oh, I'm the Devil himself".

Cloven hooves, twisted horns and a malicious smile ooze forth from the shadows.

"Save your breath child, I've brought you here to play with me and me mates".

She begins to scream.

She jolts upright, her voice tearing raggedly from her throat, her sheets clinging to her sweat-soaked body like a desperate lover. The room around her assails her senses: white walls, small cabinet, television, flowers and disinfectant. A hospital?

Awareness of self permeates her, she feels sore, aching, her left eye won't open. It hurts. Subtle nagging pain. She feels defiled. She clutches the sheets in white knuckles, sobbing, wretched.

Motion. Mother rushes to her side, embracing her baby frantically, trying to shield her, protect her, shuddering with tears.

Daddy, where is daddy? He stands there, rigid, like a pillar of stone. Something in his eyes… revulsion? Daddy, please, I need you. Please. He turns and leaves, dutiful wife in tow. Alone.

Why did he not come to her, comfort her? Daddy, why have you forsaken me?

It whispers a single word: Sin. Yes, she must be vile and sinful, and he saw the stain on her soul. God didn't love her enough to protect her, why should she expect her father to? She was unworthy; a blemish on all that is good and pure. Sore eyes cascade with tears, salty like blood. She whimpers, vomiting into a cold steel basin. Her throat burns with bile.

A distorted reflection, her face, leering, horns upon her brow gazing intently above the polluted pool of vomit. She screams, drawing back from the basin and its terrible revelation. She staggers from bed, hysterical, collapsing as she gazes upon the stain of her evil, the cloven hooves and bestial legs that mar her young body. Nurses rush in, bedlam and chaos, they pin her down… like bonds of dark leather. A stabbing in her arm, darkness rushes up to greet her.

Eyelids flicker open. The room is dark, save for the icy light of a shrouded moon. The things in the shadows gaze at her without eyes; the air is laced with anticipation. They whisper, roil and twist, rolling words seductively at her. Vile. Wretched. Unclean. Foul.

She pulls back the sheets, the moonlight gleaming dully on ivory hooves, turning dark fur to pitch. Standing, she dresses in silence. The things in the shadows gibbering to her, eager, taunting. Stained, Sinful. Whore. Unworthy.

The window opens easily, a portal to an unsuspecting world. Yes, she is evil, twisted, foul and unclean. A whore. She will show all the shadows that dance in their souls.

She leaves, the things clinging to her like a whispering cobweb of darkness.

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