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by Danielle Coombs

From her body there roared a cataract of blood, bronze-red, hissing its heat into cool subterranean air. It ran quick as life over the stone floor and corroded his winged heels as he fled.

He burst from the cave's mouth into the sunshine. The blood gouted after him, drowning the silvery roots of the surrounding olive trees and withering the grass away to nothing. He flew, spinning in the salt-scented fumes, clutching at the bundle of sacking in his arms, sure he would die. But the sandals took him higher, into air that was fresh and clean, and the cascade of blood slowed to a trickle. The sun began to cook it into clots.

Somewhere far behind him, from deep inside the earth, he heard her sisters screaming.

He flew along the shore with the gulls, using the sharp lip of his shield to fend off their greedy beaks before he outpaced them, and kept her swaddled head cradled in the crook of his free arm. He was thirsty, but there was a desert of saltwater beneath his feet. The waves rose high enough to touch his face with sea spray, and he dragged his thick tongue across his lips. He tasted blood.

He'd survived her reflected face, but he'd still seen something too potent for mortal eyes. His arms and legs felt stiff and heavy, as though ossified. His heart was a millstone.

He'd never killed anyone before.

The sisters caught up with him when the tide began to recede. They roared in anguish and trampled cliffs into rubble. They transmuted a nearby coastal village into a lapidarium. Something writhed and susurrated in response beneath the sacking in his arms, like worms turning in a grave.

The wind buffeted him further out to sea, to where the faces of the sisters dwindled to winking lights that threw a sickly sheen over the water. The sacking was wet with brine and gore. His arms were drenched too, stained the colour of sunsets and apricots. He flew low, barely above the foam that creamed the tops of the waves, and watched brightness drip from his fingers onto the spume.

The memory of her face kept him rigid and cold. He'd imagined it a thousand times: a hag's visage, raddled with disease, the eyes burning red with fever and hate. But that wasn't what he'd seen in his shield. His recollection was all pieces, a tessellation of perfect bronze lines that defied all reason, the bell-like curve of a jaw stretching to horrendous infinity. Her eyes were diamonds, her pupils hair-thin cracks in the façade of the world. He remembered emptiness.

His tears were gritty with dust. Salt-scoured and freezing, his hands eaten raw by caustic blood, he almost missed the fresh coast and the woman in its teeth. She lay on the rocks like an oyster poured from its shell, though more akin to a pearl than the flesh. Her skin was ebony, shining, and her hair a wild tangle of twisted locks. Her shrieks seemed weak and mewling after the cataclysmic screams he'd left behind.

From under the water, the great black body of the monster humped its back and threw off the sea itself like an old cloak. Dread teeth, dread eyes. It was squamous, it was ravenous, it was calamitous to look upon.

Finally he'd found something he could understand. A woman. A monster.

He reached into the sacking with one tortured hand. Something cool and sleek coiled around his wrist.

* * *

Danielle Coombs is an office worker by day, and a Creative Writing MA student at the University of Surrey by night. Whether she's working or writing, it's pretty much a guarantee she's drinking Diet Coke. Her short fiction has also appeared in Ideomancer.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

I do most of my writing when I'm supposed to be working on something else. I find the best motivation for getting words on the page is if I have some other important task looming over my head.