They call this place an infirmary. They act as though this is a place of medicine, as though they offer treatment for the illness that saps us of strength and dignity and independence.
It is not. It is an altar on which they sacrifice us for the sake of worthier souls.
These people dressed in immaculate white offer prayer books in place of medicine. They pray over us with clasped hands and eyes squeezed shut in a devout expression of worship. Some of us even take up their books and embrace their faith, hoping for the mercy of their god.
We are not permitted to sully them with our touch, even then. Such purity is not for the hands of we dying wretches to stain.
They stand aloof and above us, praying to their god for us whether we agree to join them in prayer or we do not, and even if I reject him.
Their god is not as merciful as they claim.
I see his angels sometimes. The hideous agony of my suffering manages, occasionally, to plunge my mind through the surface tension of the world and see past the veil just enough for me to view them in their visits.
The angels disgust me, weighing our souls with their eyes, passing judgment over each of us in a blink.
When they arrive, they rank and they evaluate and might—just might—take note of a particularly fervent worshipper and choose that one to offer their god’s mercy to.
With a contemptuous gesture, the angel plucks the illness from one’s body, and the next day they are miraculously cured. Oh, what an example of this god’s great power and mercy! Our captors advertise the miracle to all, and it sets off a great wave of fervent prayer.
The angels could cure us all any time they want, but more of us die than ever receive their attention. Better to keep us terrified and desperate and prayerful, I imagine.
How I hate them. I would rather die than seek the mercy of such a god.
I will soon get my wish, surely. I am lucid less often these days. My mind rarely finds itself tethered to the material world. The angels do not visit so often, but when they do, I give them my best sneer to let them know I will not play their game.
On the eve of my death, she arrives, an angel of another kind altogether. She bears no harsh blast of light to squint my eyes against, nor does her gaze descend on me like a hawk upon its prey. She greets me with an affectionate smile and settles herself at the edge of my bed.
It is not wings she bears at her back, but the countless undulating tendrils of glistening scarlet give a similar impression, stretching out behind her in a wide fan on both sides. The top of her head projects a corona the color of fever and infection to cradle her skull.
She does not speak, but I understand her completely. I have already embraced her in my utter rejection of divine healing, and she comes to offer a blessing altogether different from the one usually sought after here.
This one I accept.
We do not need words, she and I. We communicate on a level far deeper than the language of my captors or their hideous prayers.
When her hands touch my body, I feel my illness advance. Her tendrils caress my legs, my breasts, my face, and I feel my own fever raging harder.
With each caress, that fever burns higher, becoming a raging inferno that scorches my mind and turns all rational thought to ash.
She pins my frail body down and fucks me ruthlessly. It feels like blasphemy and bliss and painful tearing and deep communion.
She must look like she is devouring me, and perhaps she is, and perhaps my screams don’t sound like they are of pleasure at all, and perhaps they aren’t.
When she kisses me she tastes like sickly sweet rot and bitter bile, and I gag even as I return for more.
She bites the end off one of her own writhing tendrils, her sharp teeth ripping it easily. Bending back down to my head as she would for another kiss, she lowers the still-squirming part of her into my open and eager mouth.
It slides over my tongue, and the taste is so much stronger than even her kiss. I retch, but there is nothing inside me to vomit, while the thing fills my mouth and throat and crawls down, down, down.
She finishes inside me. I don’t need to thank her.
With a kiss on my forehead bringing my delirium into full bloom, she takes her leave.
I dream or I don’t. From here, the line between awake and asleep seems too blurry and academic to matter. Reality becomes a distant, minor nuisance for a period of time.
I do not die after all. At least not yet. My angel’s blessing did not cure me, but it strengthened my body, allowing it to house infection more deeply and intimately than ever.
I feel her gift wriggling inside my belly, devouring me from within, sending tendrils throughout.
At night, when these god-loving captors are not up and about, and their angels do not deign to show themselves, I choose the sickest of us left and share my gift with them.
Fever guides me like the opposite of divine inspiration. Her tendril puppets my body for support.
I leave my bed and attend to them. I speak to them without words, just as she spoke to me. I lay with them, and I touch their bodies in all the intimate ways they have been unable to feel in all the time they have been forced to spend here.
I kiss them, and her profane tendril reaches up through me and passes from my lips to theirs. They gag on it, just as I did, but they accept it, just as I did.
I bite the fresh growth off at the tip and let it slide into them, spreading her blessing.
Our captors complain about the stench here. The very air tastes like my angel, now.
The deaths have slowed as well. We linger. We persist in our illness. We revel in it, even. And we do not pray to their god, yet we also do not die.
They hate that.
They call upon their god to cleanse us, and their angels arrive again. Fever guides us, soothes all doubts, assures us that we are ready. We all can see them now.
Instead of frail victims awaiting their mercy, the angels find themselves overwhelmed by us avatars of disease.
I gorge myself on angelflesh like a woman who has never eaten in her life.
That which slithers under my skin, straining to burst free, is but a larva. It needs the right diet to reach its full potential and become itself, and its hunger has become my own.
Only I eat. The others have lesser gifts, and they offer their support to me, bringing me the dead angels one at a time so that I might be the one who eats and ascends.
The fever tells me that this is how it must be, that their service to me is what I deserve.
So many bodies. I eat, and I eat. I tear into them with my teeth. I crack open their halos and drink their light, feeling it transforming into something else within me.
My body softens under the fever’s incredible heat, slumping down like a wax figure in the summer sun.
Time passes like this, feasting and feasting, though the bodies have started to rot. My bulk is immobile, but my servants bring more angels to devour. Where do they keep getting more? It does not really matter. What matters is eating, filling myself with more light to taint.
I grow. I become less a woman and more a living, festering sore upon the world, expanding larger each day.
My body fills the room where I was once held captive for “treatment.” It is hard to believe I once sought to cure myself of the touch of my goddess.
I do not need limbs or teeth for them to feed me anymore. My servants throw angels—alive or dead, it makes no difference—into my mass, and they sink into me. The tendrils growing throughout my body tear into them and suck out their nutrition for me.
They also plunge deep down, into the earth, rooting me here. Do they blight the land? Do they bless the water underground so that all those nearby may drink from our wells and experience the exaltation of disease?
The fever tells me they do.
One final transformation awaits.
I drift off into sleep, dreaming wild dreams of finding where the god of these angels lives, dreaming of cracking even him open and feasting on the blood of a Divine One.
What will I become then?