“He is the Monster-husband who comes to Psyche in the darkness of her wish-palace”.
Robert Duncan, the Truth and Life of Myth
She will not beg.
She will not give them the satisfaction. And so, Psyche is damned to be wed to a monster. The oracle her father consulted decreed it so – she is to be married to a hideous, winged beast, a cruel fiend that inflicts horror and misery on gods and humankind alike.
Her own wings twitch feebly against her back. Pitiful crippled things, she has never hated them more. They have made her an outcast, a freak, and now, they make her a monster’s match. Their flimsy membranes bear the scars of her attempts to cut them off with her mother’s dressmaking scissors – she’d tried many times over the course of her adolescence, always relenting, sobbing, the scissors smeared red.
What’s the point of having wings if you cannot fly?
She stares straight ahead as her father’s attendants dress her; a traditional gown of pearl-grey gossamer, almost as transparent as her wings. Their fingers braid daisies into her heavy dark hair and secure a veil over her widow’s peak, the comb digging into her scalp. The veil floats over her face, and her tears fall down like stars.
Her father leads the procession to the cliff-face. The witch-wind screams atop the bluffs, lifting her dress about her knees and sending her veil fluttering, a breathy gasp against her cheek. The only light comes from the ballooning, crimson-tinged moon above – a blood moon on her wedding night.
Every hair on her arms stands on end as the bitter wind bites at her skin, her nipples pebbling indecently against the film of her dress. Her body’s unconscious sensuality sickens her, but she cannot contain it – and now, she is to be damned because of it.
Thought to be more radiant than even Venus in her prime, as if to make up for the misshapen peculiarity of her wings, her beauty was enough to make the scorned goddess take notice, and to arrange her ruin.
They reach the precipice and her father beckons to her sisters, who take her by her elbows and bring her forward, onto the rock shelf, where she stands, swaying, a spectral figure against the backdrop of the night.
Her father will not meet her eyes. This injustice stings worse than all the others. She turns her face away.
She knows what comes next. They will strip her, cut her palms and offer her, bloodied and exposed, to the insatiable gods of the abyss below. Ceremonials she had witnessed in her youth.
A sudden squall of wind rips the veil from her face, sending the scrap of fabric drifting over the cliff’s edge. Psyche understands.
She yanks her arms up, out of the clutches of her sisters, who scrabble ineffectually at her dress, trying to hold her back. The gossamer tears as easily as paper, leaving them holding nothing but scraps as she sprints for the cliff, her loose hair whipping at her back, her eyes tearing in the violent wind.
She leaps, and for one heart-breaking, exquisite instant, she soars, her wings seeming to buoy her in the night air.
And then she falls.
She closed her eyes and grit her teeth, but there was no impact, no bone-crushing end to her descent. Instead, she opens her eyes into a spray of gelid stars, closer than she has ever seen them, as some unseen thing carries her through the night sky.
She can feel its arms around her, but they are insubstantial as smoke, and she worries that if she turns to glimpse its face, it will disintegrate. She watches the stars wheel by, marvelling at the way each asterism branches out from another, an insensible crystalline grid, until the lights blur and fade.
When she wakes, she is lying on her back, under an arching ceiling of citrine wood. She blinks, confused, and rolls over. Her shrivelled wings hang against her shoulders as she sits up, examining her dress. It is torn all down the back, drooping from her collarbones in tatters and displaying the curve of her bottom. She bunches it up, holding the back closed, and stands, her eyes darting in every direction, uncomfortably aware.
She stands, a jilted bride, in an immense hall of golden instruments, its silver walls embossed with chimeric animals: snarling griffins, cowering jackalopes, satyr and phoenix alike, all outlined in gilt. She glances down – she’s barefoot on a mosaic floor, milk-white marble inlaid with veins of topaz.
Somewhere, in the distance, a harp is being played. She can hear its faint song, pick up the vibrations of its strings like a tuning fork in the still air. She follows it, at a loss for anything else to do in this silent citadel.
The train of her soiled wedding gown whispers to the floor.
Psyche has walked through what must be every room of the house, but she cannot find the source of the melody. The harp, like all inhabitants of this palace, is concealed. Instead, she passes through multiple rooms containing an embarrassment of riches: dyed silks over every chair, curtains festooned with jewels, artists’ busts erected on pedestals of solid bronze.
Her stomach rumbles, and as if on cue, the next room she enters is a parlour, with comfortable chairs and a low table bearing several silver platters. She draws closer – how bizarre – the platters are loaded with her favourite foods. Summer fruits; split papayas, apricots and Hesperidian apples, alongside a loaf of buckwheat bread and a jar brimming with honey.
She frowns, but steps into the room, kneeling down by the table, inspecting the jar – the honey is dark, glutinous, freshly harvested from the comb.
She picks up one of the golden apples, bringing it to her lips, and before she has time to reconsider, she bites. The flesh is as blonde as the skin, and twice as sweet. She is ravenous.
A sudden voice issues from the walls, a disembodied rumble that startles her, making her drop the apple. It rolls away on the carpeted floor.
You are in the monster’s kingdom, child, and you may remain here as long as you wish. You may make yourself comfortable in his rooms – he asks only that you are in bed, with all lights doused, by sundown.
The monster’s kingdom.
How idiotic she’d been to think she might have cheated fate. Her virgin suicide delivered her straight to the bed of her betrothed. Was he the amorphous being that flew her here?
Psyche knows of monsters. Of lions and their lambs, bleeding and bleating for mercy.
This feast is not the only thing being offered up.
She stands and flees the room, leaving the half-bitten apple on the carpet – core exposed, wet and glistening, a bed of cyanide seeds.
Psyche moves through the house’s rooms now like a mouse trapped in a maze, scuttling from chamber to hidden chamber. No harp’s song accompanying her now, just the unsteady cadence of her breaths.
Her fists clench as she recalls the words of the oracle, the viper who poisoned her father against her. She remembers the wedding march, the funeral procession, the anima of her not-quite-corpse. Offered up to the black, Plutonic death gods, the last unmarried child of her house.
The girl with fairy blood, with withered wings, doomed to be devoured by some perverse, wild thing – the beast that reigns in this kingdom.
She shivers, hugging her elbows, folding over and into herself like an origami bird. Like a bird, she has wings, but they are useless, clipped like those of a caged pet – she cannot fly.
She can only scream.
Exhausted, bruised, she at last stumbles across a bedchamber, decorated with the same burnished gold accoutrements and lemon-scented wood. More wish-fulfillment.
It is approaching dusk; she can tell by the way the silence settles around her, another beast entirely. The air itself is sluggish, inert like gas – it makes her sleepy.
She pulls back the sheets, thin yellow silk, and slips into the bed, not daring to take off her ruined dress, her last scrap of armour. She lies stiffly, arms akimbo, under a sheet like a burial shroud.
Despite her body begging her to rest, her eyes are wide, almost lidless as she watches the dark congeal, shadows solidifying and squirming at the corners of her vision, until the blackness is absolute.
In the morning, as she walks through the palace, longing for fresh air, she finds the entrance to a little walled-in garden, teeming with butterflies. Their iridescent wings flash in the sunlight, and Psyche watches, spellbound, as glittering powder shakes off with each wing-beat, magical.
She is jealous of their working wings, but they are too beautiful to capture, so she just watches them, until they cluster together and fly away, a swarm of solid rainbows.
Wistful, she returns to the gilded hall – surrounded by untold riches, but unhappier than she has ever been.
The zoomorphic wallpaper has taken on new, frightening shapes: the griffins’ claws and eyes glint with malice; the satyrs wear jeering expressions and the phoenixes’ wings are aflame with bright gold. Heralds of the monstrosity that lives in this house, the beast that is as yet invisible to her.
For how much longer?
There is a pit of anger in her stomach, as though she had swallowed an apricot whole and it is sitting there, rotting into golden pulp and stone, growing heavier and heavier.
Twilight, and no birds sing. Psyche sits by the window to the garden, hugging her knees, careless of the way the back of her dress gapes open, an exoskeleton peeling away to reveal her delicate skin beneath, her dragonfly’s wings, the column of her spine. Everything naked and new.
She is resolute – she will not go to the marriage bed, not again. She will not consent. If the monster comes for her, she will run outside and find some way over the wall, even if it means plunging to her death. It is better to be dead than to exist in anguish, lost inside this catacomb.
Somewhere in the castle, so quiet as to almost be inaudible, the harp is being played again. Its sweet, tremulous song sets her teeth on edge.
It sounds like a requiem.
Eventually, hours past sundown, she startles awake, curled on the hard floor where she’d fallen asleep. Something has aroused her – her skin tingles, feeling the prick of unseen eyes on the back of her neck.
Psyche struggles to stand up, her own eyes straining in the dark. Her breaths come fast and shallow, and she is acutely aware of each blink, each whistling intake of breath, the liminal space of her as she moves through this starless kingdom like a ghost.
She bumps up against something hard and nearly bites through her tongue, stifling a scream. Her hands skitter like blind mice over the surface of a bench, or a desk, searching for anything sharp.
She combs sightlessly through drawers and rattles boxes, her heartbeats like those butterflies, spilling shimmer in her chest, until her fingers close around something angular and cold, with a pointed tip. It’ll do.
She brandishes her invisible knife, piercing the heart of darkness.
In the crimson wash of dawn, she can identify the object she is holding – a pair of ornate scissors, the colour of plutonium, bejewelled at the blades’ crossing with a single yellow gem. A tiger’s eye. Its sister blades are tinged pink in the sunrise, almost blooded with it,
She tests them, picking up a hank of her dark hair and slicing. The hairs separate in her hand, a clump of dead threads that she discards on the desk. She does the same with the rest of her hair, hacking until it is a short crop of spiky strands, barely touching her ears.
Scissors sharp enough to cut hair are surely sharp enough to slice flesh. She clenches them in her fist so tight her knuckles turn milky.
It is the third night. There will not be a fourth.
Come sundown, Psyche stands by the bed. Slowly, painstakingly, she sheds her clothing, her spoiled wedding dress, as a butterfly sheds its chrysalis. Her wings rise, translucent and filmy, over her back. She is naked, her skin as clean and soft as a newborn’s, her legs shaking as she lifts her feet off the floor, climbs into the bed.
Sighing, she arranges herself atop the covers, her nude form opalescent in the night, every facet of her bared, wet and glistening. A seduction, an offering.
It doesn’t take long.
A shape enters the room, a mere sketch amongst the shadows. A being of monstrous height, with the twin curvatures of heavy wings, hanging so low as to scrape the floor. She feels its nocturnal gaze run across her form in repose, and she feels its breath graze the skin of her breasts as it looms over her, her areolae blushing invitingly as she breathes, feigning sleep.
Psyche opens herself to the beast, her thighs falling apart to expose the core of her, a honeyed trap, a feast for flies.
And she strikes.
The beast moves atop her; with a scream, she slashes at his wings.
She hears the scissor blades tear through tissue and muscle, blood spattering the silk sheets, as the caged bird attacks its keeper.
Psyche stabs the creature, again and again, taking more and more savage pleasure in each strike, her heart singing as blood sprays her face, her eyes, her open, wanting mouth; until, with a shriek of agony, the beast retreats, and the room is suddenly aglow, a candle by the bedside bursting into flame, illuminating them both.
In the candlelight, the monster is beautiful. Undeniably so – a cherubic, golden-skinned young god, with ruined, bleeding wings. They hang like shredded cobwebs from his back, dark blood oozing from the stab wounds, clotting on the bedsheets. He will never fly again.
He cowers away from her, raising a blood-smeared arm to shield his face, as Psyche realises she is still holding the scissors, blood caking the blade, her hair and her skin, christening her virgin flesh. She licks her lips.
She has never tasted anything sweeter.
She kneels on the bed, crawling closer as the creature twitches and moans. She studies her victim, triumphant as her eyes track up from the roots of his wings, to his broad shoulders, to his mop of flaxen hair.
A real angel. And he would have raped her, here in this bloodbath of a bed, because he believed she belonged to him.
In the darkness, they were inequal.
In the light, she is queen.
Her wings unfurl, finally, finally, glorious as they shake themselves out, blood droplets raining on the floor like glitter, like jewels.
Psyche left love alone, bleeding and mutilated in their marriage bed. She had no use for him. She was enough on her own.
Instead, on the morning of the fourth day, she opened the door of her cage and joined the butterflies, a fairy amongst the kaleidoscopic swarm.
The healed scars on her wings glimmered in the daylight as they unfolded, strong and unbreakable, kissing the air as she flew.
Rachel Hehl is a demonic circus clown from the darkest regions of space (otherwise known as Melbourne, Australia). She likes horror movies, fantasy stories and coffee. The My Chemical Romance reunion has convinced her that she has wish-granting powers, so visit her for all your magical needs at glitter-ature.tumblr.com.