The Devil Himself
Isabella’s mind ignited with images of her former self. She watched the grand events of her life unfold like pictures on a silver screen. She smiled and cheered quietly at every beautiful breath of life that fluttered by. It was all good to her; it was all wrong, and at the same time… it was a complete train wreck. She had done some embarrassing things in her life that caused her to cringe and look away. Arguments she had once had with Gwen about past boyfriends filled her thoughts and seemed to linger like a bad smell. Isabella rolled her eyes and deliberately ignored these stupid mile markers. Gwen couldn’t tell her what to do with her own body. Gwen could barely keep her own personal relationships from falling apart...
“Hypocrite” thought Isabella sharply. She focused her attention on more critical things developing downstream... things that didn’t involve her diving into pools of ugly introspection. There really was no point in recalling such conversations with her bossy sister. They only ended in frustration and tears!
“You know I’m right!” Echoed Gwen’s voice from somewhere in the darkness. Isabella didn’t turn to greet it. She just let the sound dissipate into the ether like smoke. After a while, her body relaxed again, and she felt more at home.
You only live once, Thought Isabella. You better make the best of it.
Time passed quickly in this strange silver dimension. Isabella could feel there was a deeper meaning to it all that couldn’t be described in words; this wasn’t random. She saw these images of her life because they were converging upon a single point in time. Something had happened to her… something dreadful.
“I died!” said Isabelle softly as she reached up and clasped her mouth. It was the strangest thing to witness as a spectator. She somehow knew, deep down inside, that this was all leading to her death. Why else would she be watching all these things?
Isabella’s body was suddenly brought into the last scene of the silver picture. The transition was seamless, as if she were coming out of a dream into the real world. She couldn’t get the voices of her teenage friends out of her head now. They were laughing and talking about some stupid joke they had heard in third period. Something about the size of a man’s hands…
Isabella ignored them all and looked around her franticly for the danger. She suddenly felt nervous and scared on the inside. Something terrible was about to happen, and she couldn’t quite predict what it would be. They were all heading in the wrong direction! This whole damn school bus was heading in the wrong direction!
Isabella gripped the seat in front of her as the school bus shifted back and forth on the road. Her head felt like it was 10 feet underwater. Her arms shook with exhaustion as she pulled herself forward in her seat. She couldn’t recognize the landmarks outside the window as they passed. Where they even in Southern California anymore?
Isabella felt like she was going against some unseen narrative. Every limb of her body felt like it was being strapped down with a 20-pound weight. She gritted her teeth and suppressed a scream forming in her throat. Her ears were ringing slightly from the pressure that was building in her skull. She lunged forward and shook the girl in the front seat. Her own voice sounded distant and weak as she spoke, “Where are we going on this field trip again? What was the place called?”
The atmosphere suddenly changed in the school bus. It got colder, and the monochromatic colors seemed to smear slightly into another spectrum. Everyone stopped talking. Isabella fell backward into her seat like a stone at the strange silence that filled the air. She had done something terribly wrong, something she shouldn’t have done. The girl in the front seat turned around and stared at her contemptuously. Her voice was harsh and mean. Her fingers were now digging into the back of the leather seat.
“To Prewitt Labs for the STEM fair. I hear that Evelyne Prewitt will be the guest speaker at today’s event. All students must be registered and processed as a group. I keep hearing that we are the future of Prewitt Labs.” The girl loomed over Isabella like a tall willow tree. Her body seemed to grow bigger and broader with each passing second. Her brown eyes went solid red. She breathed in Isabella’s smell and smiled, “aren’t me just so lucky to be a part of something bigger than ourselves for a change…”
Isabella shuddered inside as the school bus’s interior dropped away like a lead weight. She closed her eyes tightly and let the horrific images of Prewitt Lab’s playout without her seeing them. She knew something bad was going to happen to her. She knew that if she opened her eyes for a second, she would relive all the horrors that she had been through before. The sound of her classmates screaming and running through the grand hall filled the air. The sound of pale white monsters hissing and giving chase… the sound of silence when it was all done.
There was nowhere to hid!
Isabella couldn’t suppress the tears coming to her eyes. They had all died this way. She clasped her hands over her face and shook her head. She didn’t want to believe any of it was happening. It would be her turn soon… It would be her turn to die like the rest of her classmates!
She felt herself drop suddenly into a nightmare. She kept her eyes closed as her back smacked into something smooth, soft, and wet. The air around her body grew hot and humid as her heart raced in her chest. This was the moment she had been dreading from the beginning. This was when her world would change into the silver screen dimension that robbed her of all happiness. Her skin suddenly came to life with the sensation of burning and itching. The pain was too much to bear.
Isabella opened her bright red eyes and screamed out in pain. It felt like her very soul was on fire now. Thick round bubbles escape her throat as she thrashed around in the fluid that surrounded her on all sides. The images of her past faded rapidly into the darkness of her new mind… never to be fully realized again. She hissed as this bizarre amnesia washed over every aspect of her existence like a tsunami. She was no longer trapped in the hellish reality of the silver dimension. She had somehow been transported to a new way of life. One that puzzled her beyond description and caused her heart to skip a beat.
Is this how it always was? Thought Isabella. She looked down at her pale white flesh and studied all the weird patterns forming on her body. The light brown lines seemed to swirl in Fibonacci Corkscrews. She watched the strange marks as they traveled over her abdomen and danced down her limbs. The skin seemed to shift slightly as it welcomed the magnificent patterns into the flesh. The forming of the vascular fingerprint felt good for some reason. Isabella didn’t want the sensation to stop. She frowned slightly once every brown line found its place and solidified. Her physical creation had become completed.
What Am I? thought Isabella as she turned her attention to her hair. The bright white strands were floating in the liquid all around her. She reached out, pulled a few lochs toward her, and examined the structure more closely. Her new eyes were sharp and powerful. She could see how everything came together… from somewhere within the long protein chains; there were shimmers of light built into it all, or at least it looked like shimmers of light.
Isabella let go of the hair and tossed her head back and forth. Thick fluid rushed past her pointed ears as her hair extended outward. She stopped moving and watched transfixed as the individual strands turned around her like seaweed. The strange proteins sparkled and shimmered with light. She smiled at the display of biological beauty opening up before her. This couldn’t possibly be coming from my own body, thought Isabella incredulously. She reached out and pulled all the strands of white hair back behind her head. She held the hair in a ponytail and brought it to the front. She paused for a second as her thoughts condensed.
To Isabella, it felt like the world had changed in some unknown way… as a matter of fact, she knew it had changed but couldn’t explain how she knew it. It was her own body doing all these magnificent things; only something had been lost in the process of creation. Isabella had been something else prior to waking up… but couldn’t quite remember what it was. Her lungs contracted and expanded with fluid as she shifted her gaze to the white glow of the walls that enveloped her on all sides. She was in some strange biological pouch.
Isabella was going to reach out to it when something ignited inside her chest. The sensation was shocking! She held a clawed hand over her ribcage and took in the rhythm radiating from the pale flesh. There was something inside of her, giving her life. She reached out to it with her mind. The mysterious energy obeyed her as she increased its vibration slowly. The more it surged outward, the brighter the walls of the biological pouch got. This energy inside her somehow linked them together. She could control it!
Isabella played with this new ability for a second. She caused the light on the pouches surface to go wild and crazy. It strobed on and off like a disco ball. With each passing pulsation, Isabella grew more confident in her new power. She could open this thing if she wanted to. She could reach out to the thick membrane and tell it what to do. Her black claws sprang from her feet as she pushed against the soft floor of the pod and floated upward toward the ceiling. Her hands reached out and touched the apex. The strange energy in her chest surged again and lit up the walls like a lightbulb. Isabella pulled away and squinted.
The ceiling suddenly ruptured open and peeled away like a zipper. Thick fluid drained from the pod and crashed upon the ground all around the outer chamber. Isabella braced herself as cold air rushed to greet her from all sides. Without the comfort of the warm liquid, her skin tightened, and she shivered in protest. She clasped her arms over her chest and kneeled into a ball for warmth. The sensation of being cold was beyond uncomfortable. Isabella leaned forward as her lungs contracted violently in her chest. She opened her mouth and threw up the thick liquid onto the black soil just beyond the pod. The earth absorbed the fluid like a sponge.
Isabella’s eyes watered as she coughed uncontrollably. She crawled off the pod base and dug her claws into the soft soil. Her pointed ears felt waterlogged as she breathed in the fresh air and winced at the taste of the forest. Her enhanced senses were overwhelming her with information about her new habitat. The world had gotten a lot bigger in just a few short seconds. The smell of earth and rain washed over her as she squinted at the dark trees that hung overhead. Great stone structures stuck out from the underbrush like monuments. They curved upward into the air like petrified seashells. It felt like she was in the ruins of a forest temple.
“Hail to the new Princess of the Black Forest!” said a cheerful voice from the stone path.
Isabella looked over to the female nightshade and studied her for a second. The energy in her chest was telling her that they were kindred spirits, born of the same process. The woman was holding a long white garment over her right arm.
“My name is Iris. I am a daughter of the Erlking,” Said the nightshade woman as she placed her arms awkwardly together and bowed. She looked up and held a clawed hand to her chest and extended one foot outward, “I look after the royal garden of the Erlking and Erlqueen. This soil was chosen especially for you, High Princess Isabella. Not very many nightshades have had the privilege of growing under such rich conditions... but the Erlqueen insisted it was important.”
“The Erlqueen?” asked Isabella confused, “Where am I?”
“Sort Skov Kongerige,” said Iris as she approached Isabella and placed the white garment over her matted hair. She helped the young nightshade princess cloths herself in the colors of the Royal Laendeklud. She tied the sash about her waist and pinned up the excess folds. When that was all done, she pulled out a wicked-looking comb from her white pouch and ran it through the threads of hair. Her soft voice hummed an American County music tune as she went to work on the new Princess of the Black Forest. Iris was careful not to hit the pale skin with the sharp prongs of the comb. The markings on Isabella’s flesh were unique and incredible; much would be said about her beauty in the future… There was a strange story written in it all.
Isabella winced with each pass of the barbaric comb. It felt like Iris was playing tug-a-war with her scalp. She gripped her thighs and hissed softly at the pain. After a few seconds, the thick strands gave way and obeyed. The hair became as smooth as silk. Isabella breathed out a sigh of relief and relaxed. She waited patiently as the nightshade woman braided her hair into a peculiar pattern. With time the thing became more manageable.
“Tak skal du have,” said Isabella softly as she reached up and ran her fingers over the patterns. She smiled on the inside, “Det er smukt.”
Iris nodded her head in agreeance. She stuck her tongue out and finished the weave, “Det var ikke nogat… Sta stille… Jeg er naesten faerdig.”
Isabella held still as she finished. The smells of the forest crept back into her senses and caused her mouth to water. Something beyond the dark woods was producing the best smell she had ever tested. Images of creatures hiding in dens filled her mind and caused her to shift in her seat. If she looked carefully… she knew she would be able to find them. Isabella clutched at her abdomen as it rumbled.
Iris saw the gesture and smiled. All new nightshades were hungry when they hatched from the Baba-Baelg; Princesses of the Black Forest were no exception to this rule. She stopped fidgeting with the hair and placed her hands on Isabella’s shoulders. She let their energies communicate warmth and acceptance, “I bet you are hungry from your udvikling. Your gizzard will need kod to survive in the black forest… lots of kod to make you strong. Come to the black basin and feed like a true daughter of the Erlking.”
Isabella could feel the warmth of the woman’s friendship and kindness. The energy they shared with each other spoke louder than the words. She nodded her head as Iris help her to her feet. Her legs felt like rubber underneath her. They wobbled back and forth as she walked over to the stone basin with a curved center. She sat down and made herself comfortable against the green moss. There was a strange heat radiating from off the stones of the black basin. Isabella sighed with relief and closed her eyes. She reached out to it slightly and opened her fingers. She let the warmth washed over her appendages and torso. It was as if the rocks were on fire somehow.
“That feels nice,” said Isabella.
Iris laughed at her. She was turning out to be a peculiar sister indeed, “The Atta Rocks were heated with the breath of the Karoon Dragon. Once heated, they retain their warmth for hundreds of years. We build them into the bason’s for comfort and ease of eating kod. The Black Forest can get cold sometimes.”
“I like that name,” said Isabella as she took in the scenery all around them. She hummed and sang the name to herself, “Sort Skov Kongerige.”
“Yes, my sister,” Said Iris as she put her effects away, “It is a beautiful name!”
Isabella smiled as her nose took in the sweet odder of fear coming from the strange table. Small creatures from all over the black forest were struggling to get free from the center. Their tiny voice called out for help as they jumped and crawled over each other.
“Take and eat kod until you are full,” said Iris as she reached in and grabbed a small deer from the center of the struggling mass. The thing kicked violently between her fingers as she placed it into Isabella’s open hand, “The Erlqueen is away on ‘forretning’ with Azoth Undrende. She will want to speak to you when she gets back. She had been waiting countless cycles to see your udvikling. I’ll send word to her that you are finally here.”
“Why me?” asked Isabella. “Why am I different?”
Iris bowed, “Because you are her sister in more ways than one.”
Isabella didn’t quite understand what the nightshade woman was talking about. She paused for a moment as a weird sensation washed over her… fractured images of her teenage past ran through her head and jumbled together like moths to a flame. The whole thing was nothing more than a tangled mess of shadows. Isabella didn’t understand what any of it was supposed to mean to her. She was a nightshade now, a princess of the black forest.
Isabella turned to Iris, “I am looking forward to meeting her.”
“She will explain everything when she arrives. Farvel,” Said Iris as she withdrew her energy from the fledgling nightshade, “I shall return soon.”
Isabella felt sad inside as the energy dissipated in her chest. She watched as the nightshade woman retreated down a stone path into the forest. The underbrush eventually concealed her from few. She turned her attention to the deer struggling in her closed fist. The hunger in her gut was overpowering now. She tossed the helpless creature into her open mouth and closed her jaws quickly. Her tongue subdued the thing while her teeth tore lightly at the flesh. The wonderful flavor of fear washed over her taste buds and sent her mind soaring. Where all creatures of the forest rich with emotion and experience?
Isabella closed her eyes and took in the life of the deer… after a few minutes, the sensation depleted from her body and left her wanting more. The animal was still alive but no longer putting up a fight. She swallowed the thing whole and eyeballed the table in front of her. Isabelle was going to reach into the basin and grab another creature when her eyes rested on the man sitting across from her. His chest was bare, and his waist was clothed in the robes of the Royal Laendeklud colors… only he didn’t look like a nightshade. He looked different from her or Iris. His skin was an interesting mix of light colors. His hair was golden, and his eyes a dark blue color. Isabelle held her head up and tried to breathe in his scent.
Was he edible?
She could not detect him in the air around her, yet she could see him. She frowned at this conflict between her senses. There were probably hundreds of animals in the black forest that she couldn’t identify… but why was this one dressed like a nightshade?
“What are you?” asked Isabelle cautiously.
The man smiled, “I am a human.”
“A human?” said Isabella, “what is a human?”
“That is a very profound question.” Said the man as he stood up and slowly rounded the table. He was dragging his finger on the edge of the black basin, “I suppose I could answer it by quoting some of the writings from the French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, but I won’t bore you with the details of Existentialism. In short, we are humans.”
“I am not a human,” said Isabella with a hiss that seemed to coat her speech. Her keen eyes could already detect the asymmetry in the stranger’s body. He was far from being the paragon of perfection. This thing was definitely not cut from the same cloth as she was.
The human man chuckled at the reaction, “I would say something witty, but I believe the irony of your words is completely lost on you… but I will seek none the less to help you rediscover yourself and find that potential within. I believe you will come to learn that a human can be many things if they wish. I like to think of us as being fluid like water or gas… capable of taking the shape of whatever vessel we chose to enter. We are multifaceted creatures.”
Isabella watched as the human transformed before her very eyes. His body grew pale, and his eyes went red. The hair on his head turned white as his ears took on a different shape. He had become what she was. He transformed into a nightshade.
“How did you do that?” said Isabella in shock. She watched as he stopped in front of her and folded his arms. The energy in her chest was now radiating with feelings of friendship and warmth. It felt like they were somehow linked together like kindred spirits… kind of like how Iris had linked up to her moments ago. Isabella felt like she could somehow trust him with everything, “I am not sure I understand what all this means…”
“Let me explain everything,” said the human as he extended his hand and created a massive portal next to the black basin. Beyond the cosmic rip could be seen a world made out of steel and glass, “I have walked this path before, and I can give you all the knowledge you need.”
Isabella stood up slowly and looked into the portal. The sweet smell of fear wafted up from the 4th dimension. It was the most heavenly thing she had ever experienced. Her mind felt slightly clouded and sluggish. She turned and looked at the stranger, “What is your name?”
“I am The Giver of Knowledge,” said the human with a smile, “But my friends call me Issyk.”
He held out his hand to her and waited…
Isabella’s heart fluttered with excitement as she took the appendage and walked through the portal. She could hardly wait to know what it meant to be human.
The cosmic rift collapsed, and the black forest went still…
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