Stranger in the Dark
Maybe the creature chose me for my beauty, but I certainly didn’t feel beautiful now. My knees were wet and stained muddy as I huddled on the rocky crag. My eyes were red and sore from my weeping. Through the mist of my tears, it was difficult to make out the dark shapes in the distance: trees, and rocks, and eventually maybe a monster coming for me.
I cowered under a sudden buffet of wind, fearing that it was the draft from gargantuan wings. I squinted at every irregularity on the horizon, and my mind made out mirages of dragons and demons, tiny and twisted in the distance.
But as the minutes crawled past, I felt a glimmering of hope. How long had it been since they’d brought me here and left me alone, cowering on the rocks? Maybe he wasn’t coming. Maybe the oracle had been mistaken. Maybe I wasn’t going to be claimed by some beast or demon, massive and ugly with power.
Eventually I grew tired of my tears. My fear faded, and my eyes dried, leaving me empty. I flattened myself on my stomach and peered over the edge of the crag that hung out like a cruel beak over the drop. I gazed down into the plummeting depths, apathetic to the danger. I pressed my cheek against the damp cold granite, and squeezed my eyes shut.
I fell into a torpid state. And when I opened my eyes, I was no longer on the cliff’s edge.
I sat up, clutching at tufts of grass.
The courtyard was lush, and vivid with fruits and flowers. But my eyes flickered from shadow to shadow, looking for the grotesque face of my new master. But the shadows were empty, and as far as I could tell, I was just as alone as before, when the whole of my family and friends had left me clinging to the rocks, a present for some nameless eldritch thing.
I shivered. Through the arches there were dim corridors stretching into darkness. I was apprehensive of discovering my keeper, but waiting to find out seemed worse. So I stood up, gathering my feet under me, and padded through the arches.
The marble was cold under my bare feet. I stepped silently, so that the slaps of my soles didn’t echo through the halls and announce my exploration. But room after room was empty. I wandered, wondering if this was the demons’ own home – or nothing more than an elaborate cage for me to stay in. A generous cage, no doubt. But still a cage.
Still I didn’t find him. Eventually I ended up in a bedroom. The canopied bed was wide and plump, layered with wool and satin covers. I had an urge to crawl into it and pull the covers over my head, hiding like a child from the dark. I turned away from the bed and glanced around the room. It seemed better furnished, as if more care had been put into this chamber than the rest of them. But for all the lavishness of it, there were no windows, and only the one door.
Which swung shut behind me.
Before I even heard the thud of the door closing, I saw the light ebbing away. The only light in the room was the sunlight streaming through the doorway, and now there was none. Not even a thread of light coming through the crack under the door. The room was made for darkness. I padded quickly over to the door, feeling at the wood until I found the handle. I pulled, but it was stuck. I felt a draft, as of someone passing close to me. I spun, putting my back to the door. I caught my breath, holding still, listening.
I wasn’t alone. I heard gentle breaths, in front of me. And the light brushing sound of sandaled feet on the floor. But my heart, rioting in my ribcage, was louder than any other sound. I quivered, my back planted against the door, my hand clasping the handle.
“Psyche,” said a low voice, “you needn’t be afraid.”
Perhaps the demon was ugly enough to hide in the dark, but his voice was the opposite of ugly. The words were rich and resonant. I swallowed a deep breath, calming myself.
“If you didn’t want me to be afraid, you shouldn’t have trapped me in the dark,” I said, my voice quavering. I peered hard into the room, trying to make out the shape, or size of him.
“Ah, Psyche,” he said, “was there ever a woman more beautiful?” The voice was closer this time. I wanted to reach out a hand and feel the void in front of me, but I was afraid of what I might touch.
“If you like how I look in the dark, you should see me in the light,” I quipped.
“I can see you just fine, dove,” he rumbled. “Now undress for me.”
I froze against the door. My tense grip on the handle tightened.
“Undress, Psyche,” he said, firmly.
I lifted a shaking hand, and fumbled at the clasp of my tunic. The metal pin came undone, and the cloth slid against my skin as it fell loose. I gripped it tightly to my chest, squeezing the handful of fabric in my fist. It was a small comfort, that thin layer hiding my naked skin from him. But I heard a low laugh, and then I felt my tunic being tugged away.