I am seriously loving this story! Hope to see more chapters posted soon (but obviously take as much time as you need to!) The stakes, suspense, everything gets better and better it seems. Probably my favorite story of yours to date, Marlow!
Bridget and Miranda stared wearily across the kitchen table at each other.
The refrigerator had been mostly empty, but Bridget had found a few boxed dinners in the freezer and a can of chili in the pantry. The comforting hum of the microwave and the aroma that soon wafted out from the kitchen had been enough to finally lift Miranda from the couch. She’d showered and wrapped herself in an undersized bathrobe and on returning downstairs found an ample spread of cheap food waiting on the table. The two fugitives had sat in silence, slowly and methodically eating their way through everything Bridget had managed to prepare.
Miranda had brought a stack of files in with her and continued reading as she ate, skimming through pages of disconnected rambling about the realm of dreams, the ancient origins of hypnosis, and the wisdom of the dead. There were more letters from the professor at Thalia, though all in a cypher Miranda couldn’t parse, and occasional sticky notes written in the ubiquitous red pen: “Groundskeeper at Kade cemetery voicing suspicions. Invite him to seminar,” or “use long chant on page 751 of the complete edition,” or “the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet.”
The periodic sweeping of headlights had stopped, but the early rays of sunrise began to creep in through the windows instead. Eventually, too exhausted to read any further, Miranda shoved the texts away. She and Bridget sat for what felt like another hour, rubbing their bleary eyes and listening absently as their gurgling stomachs irritably digested their meals, until a new, unfamiliar sound broke the stillness, drifting in from outside.
“Is that…music?” Miranda wondered, pressing a hand her belly.
Bridget blinked, cocking an ear toward the window. “I think so.” She pushed herself up from the chair and padded over to peek through the blinds. Her free hand reached to massage her modest gut; she’d eventually traded the towel for a sheer nightgown, translucent enough to show just how much of the meal she’d eaten.
Miranda scraped up the last of the chili. She’d outdone Bridget’s appetite considerably, but still felt an urgent need for more.
“I can see down to main street,” Bridget reported. “There’s a big gathering in town. Like a party starting or something.”
“Little early for a party.”
Bridget squinted. “I can’t see their faces, though. They’ve got…oh, they’re all wearing, like, masks or something.”
“Yeah. You know, maybe it’s that big, like, festival Buck invited us to. The one I was trying on that corset for.” She turned away from the window. “But that’s not supposed to be till next weekend.”
Miranda grimaced and tried to push her chair away from the table. The table moved instead, but it made enough room for her to get up. She hobbled back to the living room and returned with the photo of Ros and her husband.
“Like these masks?” she asked.
Bridget peered at the photo. The couple’s masks were tilted up, but others in the background were wearing them. They covered the top half of the face and were largely blank, save for eyeholes and an elaborate design on the forehead. She nodded.
Miranda gazed out through the blinds. “It’s the play. This festival or whatever, they do it all the time here. Maybe it’s how Diana got people to start going to her seminar things. And the big event is a performance of that…play. Looking at these flyers…it’s been going on forever, but lately it’s been getting bigger and bigger.” She narrowed her eyes, watching the obese townsfolk waddling around the square. “Like everything around here.”
She paced across the kitchen. The robe flapped open, exposing her paunch as it wobbled with each step.
“So, we know Ros and her husband had these masks,” she muttered, looking at the photo.
Bridget nodded. “I saw some up in the closet.”
Miranda folded her arms. “That…could be our chance to get out of here.”
“Now? They’re all out and about. They’ll see us right away.”
“They won’t know it’s us. We’ll just be part of the crowd.” She pursed her lips. “Yeah. We can mingle our way through the square, hidden in plain sight, looking like we belong. That’ll get us into the center of town…and that’s close enough to grab your car keys from the motel and drive the hell out of here.”
“And everybody’ll be too interested in the play to pay any attention to us. Wow.” Bridget bounced with excitement. “Oh my god, I’ve never not wanted to be the center of attention before. This will be so weird.”
“Just keep it together until we’re home. Then you can run naked in the streets for all I care, as long as we’re safely away from here.”
“Costumes! I like this plan. I’ll get the masks. And maybe we can wash those overalls so you can wear something that fits.”
“Wait. Actually, no. We’ll need to find things that don’t fit…find the smallest clothes in the house.”
“I thought you were done being in denial?”
Miranda sighed. “Yeah, but…we don’t want to stand out. We need to look like everyone else in town, right? I need to look like I don’t know I’m fat.”
“So we look like we’re all hypnotized and stuff, too,” Bridget realized. “Right. Wow. Good idea. I should find something fizzy. If I get really bloated maybe it’ll look like I’ve put on weight, too…”
“Bridge—” Miranda coughed, stopping herself. She glanced at Bridget’s food-baby. “Uh, sure, yeah. Go for it. Whatever you think will help.”
The sun was up by the time they emerged from the house. It bathed all of Kade in a golden haze. The sky was overcast, but the summer morning glowed with warmth and steam floated up from the rainsoaked cornfields.
Dressing had taken longer than expected, but Bridget and Miranda were relieved to see they hadn’t missed the crowd. People were still filtering into the square as they approached and it became clear there had been no need to worry: Kade’s was a slow-moving populace.
Cars and trucks had been parked in a ring surrounding the town’s main intersection, blocking the roads to all but foot traffic. Herds of rotund bodies circled ponderously within the square, masks gleaming in the morning sun.
Miranda had seen very few people in Kade who weren’t at least somewhat overweight, but until seeing the entire population—at least, the remaining population—gathered in one place, she hadn’t realized just how pervasive their obesity was.
It was a wonder that, outgrown as all their wardrobes must have been, they were dressed as well as they were. The smaller among them had managed to pull on full outfits, though snugly fit: crop tops rode up from pooching bellies and plump backsides stretched black leggings to transparency. Modesty dwindled as weight rose: the larger partygoers wore unbuttoned shirts and unfastened jeans. The bottom swell of a hairy gut flopped out from beneath one man’s polo shirt while the swell of one woman’s breasts flowed out to the sides from her narrow tank top. The largest locals wore only the tatters of what had once been clothes, but seemed, as ever, entirely unaware of their indecency.
One couple waddled about hand in hand, completely nude save for their masks, seemingly as wide as they were tall and barely staying on their feet. It was likely just a matter of time before they were shunted to the pens to live out their final days as docile livestock, slurping pudding from a trough.
Bridget and Miranda paused behind the shuttered library to collect themselves and check over each other’s costumes.
“You wanna take this?” asked Miranda, handing Bridget the silver pendant. “I’ve got the bracelet. I figure if we do manage get out of here, we’ll need to pawn something for gas money.”
Bridget nodded. She slipped the chain over her neck. The pendant disappeared into her cleavage. “Been a while since someone gave me jewelry.”
“Show your manager the dance I saw you doing at the bar. You’ll have more admirers than you know what to do with.” Miranda pulled out the pair of masks they’d found. “Today, though, I’d prefer not to get noticed. You ready?”
“I’m not big enough,” Bridget murmured, peeking around the corner. “I’m the only one here with a flat stomach. I knew I should’ve had more soup.”
Miranda passed her a mask. “You’re…um. It’s, uh, it’s gonna be okay. Just hide behind me and maybe they won’t see you.”
“I’ll try to puff out my tummy or something. Hm. How do I look?”
Bridget had found a tight checkered blouse and frayed denim shorts. She’d fastened only one of the shirt’s buttons, allowing her braless chest to sway freely and her navel to peek out below. The shorts were unbuttoned and her pooching beer gut had pushed the zipper down a few notches. She’d pulled her hair into pigtails, for some reason, and had raided Ros’ makeup drawer for blush and an excess of lip-gloss.
Miranda had given up on Ros’ wardrobe, which had apparently never been updated from that of the svelte bride in the wedding photo. Rummaging impatiently through the husband’s things, she’d pulled on a pair of sweatpants that proved less elastic than they appeared. They weren’t loose enough for her to tuck her paunch into their waistband as she usually did and they could do little but hang halfway off her broad hips. She tugged at them frequently as she walked, trying to keep her butt at least somewhat covered.
For a top, she’d squeezed herself into a preposterously tiny hooded sweatshirt. The sleeves had been torn off, but she had to rip the seams further to fit her flabby arms through. It barely reached over her chest before surrendering to the girth of her abdomen: the entire enormity of her midsection hung exposed, the rolls of her paunch spilling over her waistband and her saddlebags sagging out to their full, wobbling width. She’d ripped the collar open, allowing more space for her neck.
It seemed a ludicrous costume when she’d stuffed herself into it, but, looking out at the crowd, she admitted that she looked the part. As she pulled on the plastic mask, she could feel its edges pinch against her pudgy cheeks.
She rearranged her golden hair around the mask’s string and glanced over at Bridget. “All set?”
Bridget nodded and tugged her mask down over her face.
The masks were porcelain white. They were molded in the shape of a featureless face, adorned only with a familiar design on the forehead: the seven-armed curling sigil, painted in glittering gold.
Pigtails? If the town anthem is "Oops I did it again" then the fetish trifecta is complete and the hellmouth shall open. Hmm Hell|Mouth. Perhaps there's something there. Looking forward to more writing
Miranda almost felt small, weaving through the corpulent crowd. She fidgeted with her mask, glancing at each of the blank faces she passed.
She was used to feeling too large for any space she occupied. Anything she touched in life she touched because her lovehandles were too wide to fit, because her belly jutted out too far after a satisfying meal, because her hips simply took up too much room. She was accustomed to brushing up against her surroundings. She was not accustomed, however, to her surroundings brushing up against her.
No one in the crowd of locals seemed to realize the extent of their girth and rubbed up against one another with abandon, standing as close to one another as they would have two hundred pounds ago.
Miranda squeezed herself between a pair of flabby derrieres, trying to twist sideways. The gap closed once she had gone, forcing Bridget to wriggle through with a hurried flail.
“Sorry,” Bridget squeaked, ducking.
“Stop apologizing,” Miranda hissed.
“We’re trying to fit in. That means pretending not to realize that we, you know, don’t fit.” She slid past a woman wearing only her mask and a pair of cowboy boots. Their stomachs met in greeting. “Come on, I think the motel was this way.”
The aroma of barbecue drifted overhead. Ribs, hot dogs, and burgers were disappearing into the crowd’s oblivious maws and the pavement was littered with discarded Styrofoam plates. A stereo somewhere was blasting the Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” and the rhythmic jostling of flab seen here and there could have been generously called dancing.
“Miranda,” Bridget whispered.
“Stop saying my name.”
“Sorry. It’s just that…uh, your pants are falling down. People can see your butt.”
Miranda winced. “I know. But…”
“Oh, right. Pretending not to know.” She followed Miranda around a rotund man sucking sauce from his fingers. “Should I take my shirt off? I could pretend not to notice.”
“That’s not—oof—” A distended paunch swung round, nearly bowling Miranda over.
She recoiled and braced herself to shove it back, but quickly reminded herself not to react. Swearing under her breath, she glanced up and found herself belly to belly with an enormous cook.
“Morning! Can I tempt you?” he implored through his mask, gesturing to the opulent spread on the grill behind him. “We made sure to include plenty of diet-friendly options.”
Miranda tore her eyes from the sizzling meats. “Oh, no, that’s alright, I’m…” She caught herself. “Just something light, maybe. I’m already down…fifty pounds and wouldn’t want to, uh, throw off all my progress.”
“No, no, of course not. I get it. I used to worry I’d get so big the apron woudn’t tie around me, haha. Not anymore! Here, I’ll get you something guilt-free.” He turned, revealing the unfasted apron strings, and loaded up a plate with a stack of gristly ribs and a pile of potato salad.
“Yeah, thanks. Keep…keep up the good work.” She looked back for Bridget, but was greeted only by the sight of more locals. Miranda spun around, craning her neck and peering between their bulky bodies, but there was no sign of Bridget.
The cook clapped Miranda on the shoulder. She stiffened, but he merely pushed the overloaded plate into her hands. Cheese and barbecue sauce dribbled down.
“Dig in,” he said, biting into a burger of his own. “What an occasion, right? After all these years, I finally get to see the last act.”
Miranda shuffled her feet, eyes darting desperately across the crowd. “Last act?” she asked absently, hoping it sounded conversational.
“Didn’t you hear? They’re doing the whole play, all the way to the end. It’s gonna be huge!”
“Wow, uh, no, I hadn’t heard that. Lucky…us?”
He beamed. “Right? Finally. You always hope, you know, but you never think this would be the generation!”
“Uh-huh. Listen, I…I gotta go find my friend. Gotta…tell her the good news.” An opening had finally appeared in the throng of partiers. Miranda shoved her way in, instinctively clutching her plate.
The forged cautiously through the crowd. It had only grown more tightly packed as more locals had waddled into the square. The milled about with dreamy smiles, their undersized masks pinching against their puffy cheeks. Several carnival-style booths and activities sat ignored as the revelers orbited the cookout area.
Miranda squirmed through any opening she could find, quickly losing all sense of direction. Looking up, she caught sight of a storefront’s awning and desperately forced her way forward.
She emerged, panting, at the base of a porch. Balancing the plate with one hand and pulling up her sweatpants with the other, she climbed the steps and caught her breath.
Turning and resting her weight against the railing, she found that the porch was just high enough to allow her to gaze out across the crowded square.
“Bridget?” she mewled, squinting and scanning the congregation. “Bridget, please…”
Far to her right, she could see the parking lot of the motel. Every spot was taken, but between a pair of minivans Miranda saw what looked like the faded yellow of Bridget’s decrepit pick-up truck.
“Oh my god. We’re so close. So close. Bridget, come on.” Miranda turned back to the crowd. “Come on. All these fat people and I’m looking for the one…skinny little…” Her eyes narrowed. “…bitch.”
Far to her left, at the edge of the crowd, a pair of partiers separated themselves from the others. The unmistakable figure of Bridget bounced into view, pushing up her mask with a coy smirk to kiss her dance partner. After a moment Miranda recognized him as the bearded firefighter, Buck. He pulled Bridget closer, pressing her modest gut against his pot-belly and locked his lips with hers.
“Oh my god.” Miranda pushed her hair back with a quivering hand. “Fuck. Fuck. Bridget…what…fuck.”
The last fanfare of horns faded out as the song ended. Those in the crowd who had been swaying with the music grew still and conversations fell abruptly silent. Bridget and Buck continued their passionate kissing a moment longer and she reached to unfasten her tiny blouse, but they paused just before the last button could be released.
A shadow passed over Miranda, followed by several more, as a flock of crows suddenly sailed overhead. The birds—there seemed to be hundreds of them—circled the town square, crying in their horrible voices, and then flapped away to the west along Kade’s main thoroughfare.
Without a word, the crowd turned to face west. Those on the far side of the square began waddling ponderously down the street. Others fell in to follow in order behind them in a slow, wobbling procession.
Hand in hand, Buck and Bridget joined the parade. Bridget’s diminutive form disappeared behind an apple-shaped matron, but Buck’s tall frame kept his head in view.
Miranda stared. The crows flew on along the road, toward the rise of the Whately farm hill.
The procession moved sluggishly but without pause. The inexorable march took them out of the town center and down the farm roads, following the birds overhead to the base of Whately hill. The paraders snaked their way up the path and filed through the rusted gate.
The celebratory atmosphere had evaporated as they left town. No one spoke, leaving only their wheezing and shuffling to echo over the withered cornfields.
Miranda held back a breathless groan. Her vision swam from exhaustion and her heartbeat pounded in her head. Her bruises throbbed and the fire in her feet flared with every ponderous step. She was too lightheaded to do the math, but she was certain she’d walked more in the previous two days than he had all month and run more than she had in what was probably years. To follow that up with an agonizing march uphill seemed liable to kill her.
She’d rushed into the crowd as they departed in the hope of weaving to the front and pulling Bridget away, but as their ranks closed any progress proved impossible. Their bodies were too wide and too tightly packed in their rows. As her fatigue quickly mounted, Miranda had managed only to slip further back. When the procession finally reached the Whately homestead, she found herself in the last rank of the column.
They came to an abrupt halt and Miranda doubled over, pulling off her mask and gasping for breath. After a moment she forced herself to straighten up and reassume her disguise, glancing about to see if she’d been noticed.
No one showed any reaction, but she quickly stared ahead. Blindfolded farmhands had appeared on the periphery, brandishing various weapons and peering over the crowd.
The procession had stopped on the sprawling lawn, beside the smoldering remains of the Whately farmhouse. No one seemed to take any notice that the building had burned to the ground, their attentions fixed ahead.
On the far side of the lawn, the makeshift outdoor stage had been erected again, set for another dream seminar. The curling sigil was painted on the yellowed curtains; the old barn loomed atop the hill behind the stage.
There were no rows of chairs this time, but the audience arranged themselves accordingly on their feet. Miranda moved to shove her way forward, eyes darting about in search of Bridget.
The crowd suddenly spoke, all in unison. “We come to honor the ancient bride,” they declared, throwing up their arms.
Miranda stumbled, ducking under the outstretched arms. She craned her neck to see the stage.
“Divine from the dreamlands,” the crowd continued, “she who smothers the fields, she who drowns continents, she who sunders the sun…”
Miranda tried to mouth along with the words, guessing at random syllables, glancing around to see if anyone was watching.
“Exiled but never expunged,” they intoned, lowering their hands. “Too vast for mortal vision, too much for one world…the last true sovereign: our yellow queen.”
The curtains parted. The stage’s set had changed dramatically: the shelves and props were gone, replaced by a ring of candles and a stone altar. The painted backdrop of the ziggurat had been removed and behind the stage could be seen the path leading uphill toward the barn.
The willowy form of Diana Whately writhed up from behind the altar. She looked haggard and at least as weary as Miranda felt, covered in soot and mud and missing her usual dreamy grin. She clutched a gleaming dagger in one hand.
“Let us honor her,” Diana echoed, her voice shaky and uncertain. “Let us awaken and call forth the fantastic power of personal growth…unstoppable and…and…uncontainable.”
She extended her free hand and beckoned to someone behind her. Miranda cautiously snaked her way to the edge of the crowd.
Bridget emerged onto the stage, entirely naked save for the silver pendant. She beamed with a grateful smile and waved with adoration to the silent crowd.
Miranda froze. Two pairs of farmhands stepped up to either side of the stage.
Diana slipped out of her sundress and kicked it away. She strode over and took Bridget’s hand, her wan frame almost skeletal beside Bridget’s plush, curvaceous figure.
On an unheard cue, they started into a dance together. They ducked and swept their feet and spun about, hand in hand.
With all eyes on the stage, Miranda resumed carefully picking her way forward.
The dance had little sense of rhythm or tempo. Whatever silent song led their steps, it followed a different set of musical rules than any Miranda recognized. The pair moved in perfect unison, though, with unearthly grace, a jarring departure from Bridget’s typical enthusiastic but uncoordinated bouncing.
They spun together into the center of the stage and swayed to a stop behind the altar, pressed close to one another. Bridget bowed graciously to the crowd.
Diana carefully set her dagger on the altar. She reached down and produced from behind it a stone bowl, raising it to the sky before passing it to Bridget.
Bridget took a long breath and raised the bowl to her lips. She tilted her head back; her eyes closed with blissful relief. She gulped as only Bridget could as Diana reached over to place a delicate hand upon the soft swell of her stomach.
Miranda stumbled forward to the base of the stage, but the farmhands blocked the steps. She wrung her hands and hissed Bridget’s name. Bridget only continued gulping. Whately pudding dribbled from the corners of her mouth.
She finally set the empty bowl down with a repleted sigh and a stifled hiccup, her little beer gut tautly distended. A few of the farmhands closed in to either side of the altar.
Diana patted Bridget’s belly with grim approval. She smiled and reached for the dagger.
Miranda cried out and moved to hoist her bulk onto the stage, but hands from the audience seized her waistband and hauled her back.
Diana’s hand stopped before it could reach the blade. One of the farmhands had seized her wrist. Another moved to grab her other arm; her smile disappeared and terror filled her eyes.
Bridget, her own eyes suddenly blank, calmly reached out and took hold of the dagger. She held its hilt against her stomach and stepped back while the other farmhands moved in.
They wrestled Diana onto the altar and laid her face-up. She thrashed for a moment, but then fell limp in surrender. The blindfolded men released her and backed away; she lay on the slab, panting.
“It’s too soon,” she pleaded, not to Bridget, but to backstage, gazing desperately up at the old barn. “Please…you’re not ready.”
Bridget stepped up to the altar.
“You owe me better than this,” Diana continued, jabbing an angry finger at the barn. “I’ve done everything you wanted. I gave you…I gave you everything…”
The earth trembled beneath them, rattling the boards of the stage and knocking some of the more topheavy townspeople from their feet.
Bridget raised the dagger, eyes staring absently ahead.
Miranda tried to lurch forward but stumbled against the grasp of the crowd and toppled to the ground, losing sight of the stage.
Diana’s voice rang out. “But…you need me!”
Another tremor shook the hill. The shrieking of crows echoed in the distance.
“You don’t understand! You’re not ready! You’re not—”
Thousands of crows flapped over the desiccated fields of Kade. Their shrill, derisive cries echoed throughout the plain.
They swirled around emptied silos. They soared over abandoned sties and stockades. They rested on wrecked carts and trailers before continuing across cornfields stripped of any crop. Ruts and tire tracks gouged the fields, worn deep by months of urgent deliveries, all leading in the same direction and converging upon the same hill.
The crows swept over an orchard, picked clean of its fruit, over a ransacked greenhouse, its torn canvas flapping in the breeze, over a pair of delivery trucks, overturned on the side of the road, and finally over the face of Whately Hill.
Their cawing rang in Miranda’s memory. Her breath catching in her throat, she forced her eyes open, twisted onto her side, and tore away her mask.
The crowd had released her and retreated back into an orderly column. They stood inhumanly still, staring at the stage. Those who had fallen in the earthquake remained helpless on their backs, limp, at the edge of the audience.
Miranda pushed her hair back and rolled over with a wince onto her elbows. Her paunch sagged out, but tightened with a sudden gasp.
Bridget stood over her, her supple shape silhouetted against the midday sun. She was still naked, save for the dangling pendant.
She reached up to tie a blindfold over her eyes. Miranda squinted; in the brief moment before they were covered, Bridget’s eyes seemed to have changed from their usual sparkling blue to a hateful yellow.
Blindfold in place, Bridget reached a hand down toward Miranda. Her other hand hung at her side, covered in blood.
A faint tremor rolled through the hill.
Miranda glanced back at the farmhands and their weapons. After a long, shaky breath, she took Bridget’s hand and hauled herself gingerly to her feet.
She eyed Bridget. Her posture had changed and she stood with an uncharacteristic cross-legged stance, back haughtily arched and nose turned up with self-assurance.
The crowd, in perfect unison, bowed their heads and slowly lowered themselves to their knees.
Bridget’s grip grew firmer. She pulled Miranda forward, leading her past the farmhands and slowly up the steps to the stage.
The boards creaked under Miranda’s weight. She tried to keep her eyes away from the altar, but Bridget tugged her closer.
Diana’s body was gone. All that remained on the stone slab was the ancient dagger and a think pool of blood, dripping over the edges.
Bridget positioned Miranda behind the altar. Miranda stood as stiffly as she could manage, sucking in to keep her jutting belly from touching the slab.
On the sides of the stage, the farmhands followed the crowd’s example and knelt, heads bowed in reverence.
Bridget knelt as well, reaching into a shelf below the altar. She rose again, holding a crinkled strip of parchment, stained and yellowed, one of its corners partially burned.
She proffered it to Miranda. Miranda reached and cautious hand to accept, but it was swatted away. Bridget calmly shook her head and pointed a bloody finger at Miranda’s other hand.
Miranda raised her right hand, the silver bracelet gleaming, and accepted the parchment. Bridget nodded and reached to adjust the bangle, turning its sigil up toward the sun.
The crows grew quiet overhead. Miranda glanced at the writing on the page and back to Bridget in confusion; it was scrawled with cuneiform markings.
Bridget gestured for her to read. She turned to face the crowd, setting her palm on the roll of Miranda’s back.
Miranda swallowed and looked back at the writing. Words floated into her mind.
“How long you have starved for power,” she choked, each syllable forcing its way through her lips.
Bridget nodded again. The crowd rumbled with approval.
“You suffered, forgotten, left to toil and die and disappear in your fields,” Miranda continued. “The gods warred amongst themselves and the great cities of man…only followed their example. They laughed at…at your despair.”
She looked up. The sky seemed to darken, though there was no more cloudcover than before. Bridget motioned for her to read on.
“The q-queen…heard your cries. She came forth from the deep chasms of the dreamlands, where she’d slumbered since a time beyond even the memory of the gods.”
Bridget bent down and began pulling on Diana’s discarded dress. Miranda watched her for a moment, glanced at the knife on the slab, and returned to the words.
“The gods trembled before her as you had once trembled before them. They were cast down and you were made kings. She gave you dominion over your enemies. She gave you a thousand generations of descendants…filled with her divine blood and immortal…hunger.” A warmth flared in Miranda’s stomach and her voice quavered. “The weight of her blessing tipped the balance of this world.”
The crowd stood. Bridget stretched up; she’d managed to squeeze into the sundress, but it strained to contain her. She looked down, running her hands over her bulging curves, studying her own body with bemused curiosity.
Miranda stammered on. “Today we call out to her once more. We pour her blood upon the soil raise our voices to the black sun. Her great eye turns to us.”
Bridget sidled up beside her. She placed a delicate hand on the exposed swell of Miranda’s stomach.
“Let us…let us receive her blessing,” Miranda concluded. “Let us go up now to the temple and behold…her gift.”
The crowd answered in one voice. “May her power be as vast as her hunger.”
Bridget plucked the parchment from Miranda’s hands and tore it in half. The hill shook beneath them and the crows launched into a shrieking chorus overhead.
Miranda recoiled, but Bridget seized her wrist. She turned Miranda around and they gazed uphill together.
The old barn stared back at them. The farmhands turned to bow toward it.
Bridget stretched out her bloodied hand, pointing Miranda to the path behind the stage.
Miranda shuddered and frowned at her. She looked back to the crowd, then at the farmhands and their weapons. She shuffled her feet for a moment, let out a long, defeated sigh, and stepped onto the path.
Bridget followed alongside, blindfolded face watching her attentively. The farmhands closed in behind them and together, they began to make their way up.
Atop the hill, an otherworldly moan echoed out from the barn.
The fields were sparse around the barn. Miranda furtively glanced around, biting her lip.
Whatever crops there had once been had wilted away. The hillside was instead covered with bones, bleached in the sun, piled haphazardly along the winding path. Interspersed among the mounds were gigantic bulk containers: barrels, kegs, crates, burlap sacks.
Near the top of the hill the path passed a flatbed trailer, its axles rusted and its wheels half submerged in the mud. Heavy chains had been bolted to its corners; one of the links had been snapped.
The swarm of crows circled overhead; thousands of them, shrieking and swirling, their numbers blocking the sunlight. More flocks were flapping toward them from every horizon.
The hill finally leveled out as Miranda reached the peak. The path opened into a dirt yard, piled with more bones and detritus.
The barn was a huge timber structure, framed with trusses and a gambrel roof. Its walls were painted a fading yellow. Windows lined the long side Miranda approached, covered by heavy wooden shutters. On the short side two massive sliding doors were latched shut. Whitewashed crossbeams warned away visitors.
On the opposite short side, a reinforced ramp led to up to the hayloft. A space was cleared around the base of the ramp and a familiar cargo van was parked alongside.
Several wheelbarrows and a pair of garden trailers sat in a loose ring behind the van, surrounding a mountainous stack of unmarked crates.
Miranda crossed the yard, stepping carefully around animal skulls and rotting cardboard.
The crows tightened their circle; their incessant cawing seemed more distant, as though from some other sky. What little breeze there had been finally dissipated.
Reaching the clearing, the farmhands dropped to their knees.
Miranda glanced at Bridget. “What…is all this?”
Bridget simply motioned her forward.
Beneath the noise of the crows, a faint creaking caught Miranda’s ears. She turned back to the barn. The ground trembled again, shaking dust from the structure’s old beams.
Miranda crept up to the side of the building. Shoving a keg aside with her foot, she leaned against the wall between two of the windows and pressed her ear to the boards.
She could hear gurgling inside. There was a low, rasping sound whistling out with a faltering rhythm: the breathing of some angry, impatient creature. A guttural, rumbling growl resounded faintly.
The timbers groaned as something huge pressed against the wall from within. Miranda recoiled, tripping over a pile of collapsed cardboard boxes.
“My god,” she wheezed, clambering back to her feet, “there’s something…it’s…oh my god…there really is something in there.”
The farmhands stared back in silence. Bridget gestured for her to continue forward.
Miranda pressed her palms to her temples. “What could…there’s…there’s no way…”
She slid along the wall to one of the windows. The heavy shutters were latched closed, but not locked. She gritted her teeth and lifted the latch.
The shutter swung open. Miranda turned to peek inside, dreading what she might see, but found that something else had blocked her view.
There was no glass in the window. Instead, a pallid mass pushed out through the opening, a veiny membrane that completely sealed the frame.
“What…the fuck…” Miranda panted.
She moved to the next window over. Its shutter popped open with the same force as she released the latch; the same gelatinous mass bulged out from within. Miranda squinted at its quaggy surface: pallid and ashen, but splotched with delicate pinks.
A terrified glance at Bridget provided no answers. Grimacing, Miranda reached up a hand and, after a shaky hesitation, pressed it against the swell.
It was taut, but pliable, and rather warm. It felt disconcertingly fleshy and wobbled in a frighteningly familiar way. She could feel the throbbing of a terrible heartbeat.
“Oh my god…”
The crowd of townsfolk filed up the path, spreading quietly into the clearing.
Miranda looked around, casting a glance up at the crows, and tugged at her waistband. She padded away from the wall, paced a moment, and then rounded the corner to the front of the barn.
Bridget followed her and together they eyed the barn’s huge sliding doors.
After a long hesitation, Miranda stepped forward and reached to unfasten the latch. She was barely tall enough and had to stretch awkwardly; she could feel the seams of the sweatshirt straining as it rode up even further from her abdomen. Her paunch pressed against the door’s crossbeams.
The latch finally clicked. Gathering herself, she grabbed hold of one of the doors.
Leaning her weight against it, she began to shove the door aside. The rails were rusted and the doors were remarkably heavy, but once they were a few feet apart they slid the rest of the way on their own as a pressure from inside forced its way out.
Miranda fell back. The pale mass, round and smooth, surged through the door, spilling several feet beyond the walls of the barn and oozing out over the mud.
“Oh my god,” Miranda sputtered, struggling to her feet.
Bridget stood stiffly behind, gazing reverently at the door through her blindfold.
Miranda approached the swollen mass. She reached out a trembling hand and pressed it against the supple surface.
Something deep within the barn growled at her touch.
She poked at the bulge, tracing spirals along the membrane. It jiggled at her touch. After a minute she turned away with a shuddering breath.
She turned back to Bridget. “What…what the fuck is this?”
Bridget remained silent.
Miranda bit her lip, then looked down at her own midsection, at the pale, quaggy mass that spilled over her waistband.
“No,” she said, voice faltering.
Miranda wrung her hands, backing away. “That’s…that’s all…fat.”
The mass wobbled as the ground shook.
“But…there’s no way. That’s…oh my god. How could…what could…how could something…”
The waddling crowd stretched themselves into a wide ring around the clearing.
“Something…” Miranda whimpered. Her eyes widened. “…someone.”
She looked out over the fields below, stripped bare. She stared at the detritus around the barnyard, at the bones, the tankards, and the ruts in the dried mud. She hung her head and studied, with a defeated pout, the bracelet on her wrist.
Miranda turned back to the barn. “Juliana Whately.”
“Juliana was the first to go in,” Miranda recalled. “The man said…he said they carried her in and she never came back out.”
She stepped back from the oozing flab and gaped up at the barn, trying to work out its volume. She glanced back at Bridget.
“Is that really all…her?”
Bridget nodded. A tremor shook the earth and a low, yawning sound reverberated out from the barn, sending a faint ripple through the mound of fat.
“She must take up the whole building. And this pressure on the walls—it’s—it’s like the barn still isn’t enough room. That’s…” Miranda shook her head. “This is impossible.”
The crows flocking overhead began to circle, coalescing above the ring of masked townspeople.
“But how?” Miranda protested, her voice cracking. “Bodies don’t—you can’t—it’s not—how could a human being be that fat?”
Bridget stiffened. Her lips opened and began to move, but the voice that issued from her mouth wasn’t hers. “Because…”
“Because I am much more…than a human being.” The voice carried a strange, assured confidence, but came in short gasps. “So much more.”
The barn rumbled. Bridget paced over to the exposed wall of belly, bent down to pluck a stick from the ground, and began poking at the flab.
“So much better,” she sighed. “You have no idea…what it’s like…to get an itch at this size.”
“Oh my god,” Miranda breathed.
“And thanks for getting…that door open. Needed more room. And daylight feels…nice.”
Miranda shuffled closer. “…Juliana?”
Bridget stood and gave her an awkward smile. “Hi, Miranda. I’m really glad…you to came to see me.”
“Is this really you?” Miranda stammered, eying the barn. “This is all you?”
“All me,” Bridget replied. “Wall to wall, floor to ceiling. All me…all belly. You know how we Whatelys…always carry our weight…in the midsection, after all.”
Miranda grimaced. “The family curse.”
“You aren’t the only one…who’s put on a few pounds…since the reunion.” The wall of blubber burbled and a bizarre laugh escaped Bridget’s lips. “Can I ask you something?”
“Would you give your cousin a hug? We all went so long…without seeing you.”
Miranda paled. She shifted for a moment, but tentatively spread her arms and turned to Bridget.
“Not her, Miranda, me. She’s just…a voice.” Bridget gestured to the barn. “Diana had these doors shut for so long…and I never get human contact…these days.”
Miranda gaped, staring at the wall of fat.
“Please…neither of us has much family left…at this point.”
Miranda swallowed. She stepped forward, probed tentatively about with her hands for a moment, and finally leaned her body against the mass with a wince. Arms outstretched, she tried to squeeze herself around the jiggling blubber, her own naked midriff squishing helplessly against it.
“Thank you,” sang Juliana’s voice. “I can feel…your belly. Does it feel…heavy?”
“I-I used to think so,” Miranda choked, letting go. She backed away, straightening her sweats and pushing hair from her face.
“Does it feel…shameful?”
Miranda tugged her sweatshirt back down over her stomach. “Sometimes,” she admitted. “A-a lot of times. Sorry, I—”
“And now? Now that you see…what it can…become?”
Bridget sidled closer and caressed the still-exposed roll of Miranda’s gut. “How do you feel…about it now?”
Miranda pulled away. “I don’t—I don’t know. I’m scared.”
“That’s okay. I was scared…when we started.” Bridget took her hand in a firm grip. “Ashamed, too. Just like you. But then I could finally hear…the voice of the queen…and I understood.”
The crowd had finished waddling themselves into a giant ring around the edge of the clearing. The crows circled above at the same remove. In pairs, the blindfolded farmhands crossed to the back of the barn.
“Miranda, I sense…you miss who you were…who you used to be.”
She sputtered for a moment, trying to watch the farmhands. “Sometimes.”
“What? Because...because I could have had everything.” She took a long breath. “But I gave up. And I lost it all.”
“You’re seeing it wrong. You haven’t lost…anything.”
Miranda glanced down at her belly. “I know.”
“No, see…I remember…when we first started. I outgrew…my favorite pair of jeans. Fifteen pounds. I asked Diana…if we could stop. I was worried I wouldn’t get…my normal body back.” Bridget smiled. “My old apartment in uptown…my rich friends…”
“Then I hit…three hundred pounds, maybe. I asked Diana again…how much further…when could I stop. I had to accept…I’d never get to…go back.”
The crowd linked their pudgy hands.
“Then I couldn’t walk. I wanted to…give up. But then…as we finally came home…back here…the queen spoke to me. I heard her voice…in the growling of my stomach.”
Miranda pulled in vain against Bridget’s grip.
“She helped me…understand. You can worry…about what you were…or you can wonder…about what you’ll become.”
The sky darkened. A thicker layer of cloudcover rolled in.
“I stopped asking Diana…how much bigger I had to get. Started asking the queen…how much bigger I could get.”
“Bridget, please,” Miranda pleaded under her breath.
“I outgrew the chair. I outgrew the bed. And then I outgrew…the room.” The barn creaked. “I gave up on walking. And then on…sitting up. And then on lifting my arms…or my head. And now I’ll never…need to move again.”
“Please tell me you’re still in there somewhere.”
“I stopped asking Diana…and started telling her. She’d read all the books…she’d talked to the mystics…and the professors…and the dead…” Bridget paused to release a sudden belch. The ground trembled faintly. “But I’m the one…who hears the queen…not her. It was Diana’s turn…to be scared…to doubt…to want to stop.”
Miranda turned back to the barn. “But…but why?”
“Why?” Bridget giggled, gesturing to the swell of fat. “What do you mean? Look at me. I realized I had so much more in me. And now there’s so much more…in me. The queen will be…so pleased.”
“No, but…” Miranda shook her head, breaths coming in heaves. “All of this…what’s all this for? How is this possible? Why is this happening?”
Bridget pulled her close, taking both her hands. She stared at Miranda through the blindfold and waited for her to be calm enough to listen.
“Because I’m hungry,” she explained, grinning. “I’m the hungriest there’s ever been.”
Bridget ran her fingers across the bracelet on Miranda’s wrist. She cocked her head for a moment, thinking.
“You mentioned…the family curse,” she continued in Juliana’s heaving voice. “It’s actually…a blessing.”
Miranda stared back at the blindfold.
“It’s not some…inevitable doom. It’s our destiny, Miranda. It’s the greatness…that we’re meant for…as a family. It’s our history…ready to become…our future.”
“What history?” Miranda whimpered.
“A time before time…when our queen ruled. We are her lineage…she is in our blood. The promise of power…she made to our ancestors…in their temples…” Bridget held up Miranda’s wrist, turning the bracelet’s sigil toward her. “She’s made us that promise, too.”
“I don’t understand, Juliana. I—”
Bridget frowned. “Your mom really tried…to keep it all from you. To keep you…from the family. But you…” She poked Miranda’s stomach. “You are one of us…in every way. You are part of our…divine dynasty.”
Miranda instinctively tried to suck in her paunch at the touch. Bridget straightened, as though listening for something in the distance, and turned around, pulling Miranda’s hand with her.
“You saw the vision. You saw the temple…in the dreamlands. You remember?”
“Oh god. How—”
“You’ve felt the power…that lives inside it. You’ve felt the hunger. You’ve dreamed…of the satisfaction it can bring.”
Miranda recalled the sight of the vast yellow eyes, staring out from the temple gate. Her stomach tightened.
“Do you remember…why you came here?”
“I—we—it was—the checks had stopped.” Miranda swallowed. “From the trust.”
“You came…for your inheritance.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I didn’t…I just…”
“Here. Follow your friend.” Bridget released her hand and sauntered around toward the backside of the barn. “You’re family, Miranda. You’re an heir. You have a right…to your portion.”
Miranda twisted on her feet, casting a nervous glance back at the farmhands. After a moment, she cautiously followed Bridget around the corner.
They proceeded along the long side of the barn, opposite the path they’d climbed. A small secondary structure had been set up next to the building, sheltered by a half-finished awning and partially surrounded by a short, gated cattle-fence.
Behind the gate, bolted to the barn’s wall, sat an enormous wooden bench. Handcuffs hung from each armrest and a manacled chain had been bolted to a concrete block below. Several ropes and chains dangled from the beams; a collection of gleaming surgical instruments, carpenter’s tools, and dirty mirrors hung from them, twisting in the air.
A pair of hoses had been fed through the wall behind the bench. The seven-armed sigil of the Yellow Queen was painted above the backrest.
“Oh god,” Miranda breathed, recalling the chairs in the farmhouse basement. “What is all that for?”
Bridget paused, but didn’t turn to look. “The chair? It’s for—what did Diana call it?—it’s for amalgamation. It isn’t part of the script…but Diana found the plans…in one of those old books…from the Thalia archives. It’s been a huge help.”
“Oh, yeah. After a while, I got so big…that even if I ate non-stop…as much as possible…it wasn’t enough. Still fun and I still do…as much as I can myself…but I have a big appetite…and it just takes more.” Bridget turned and smiled. She patted her pooching beer gut. “So we started…guiding the townies…to do some of the eating for me.”
In unison, the crowd of locals circling the barn gave a friendly wave and patted their more sizable stomachs.
“So there’s this ritual with the chair…once they’re big enough…and I get to absorb…the fruits of their labor.” She waved back at the crowd. “It was tough, at first…getting them to want to get…that big…but the bigger I get…the farther my powers reach. I miss out…on some of the fun of eating…but it all ends up in my belly…in the end.”
“And now the whole town’s part of it.”
“And soon…part of me. And I can feel…how close I am…to some minds across the county line.”
She beckoned Miranda onward. They continued toward the back of the barn.
“We’ll have more construction to do,” Juliana’s voice mused. “I’ve already about…outgrown the barn. And we’ll need…another chair soon. One mortal per cycle...just isn’t as filling as it used to be.” She poked Miranda in her plush side. “We’ll build you one, too. It’ll help you…catch up.”
Miranda choked. “Catch up?”
“Probably not…all the way. I have a pretty big…head start. But I bet…you could get really big…really quick.”
They rounded the corner. Bridget looked up at the ramp to the hayloft. Miranda took a nervous step back.
“Me? You…y-you want me…to…”
Bridget laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s what you came for. You dreamed it…remember?”
“I dreamed…and then Diana said I had to die.”
“Diana never understood…our real calling. She always thought…too small. Wanted to keep me secret…wanted to keep…everyone else out. I think she thought…she could use me.”
Bridget took Miranda’s hand again and pulled her onto the ramp. They began slowly making their way up.
“She always…wanted to wait. Wanted to follow…the script. Always tried…to limit me. Contain me.”
Panting, Miranda fought to keep up. The metal grating of the ramp wobbled concerningly beneath her plodding footfalls.
“Diana…forfeited her claim. But you, Miranda…you are still a part…of this family. I’ll be taking the crown…but there is a place for you…in the yellow court.”
They reached the top of the ramp. Miranda bent over, catching her breath. Bridget rubbed her back.
“You’ll love it. And I’m so excited…to share it with you. There’s power…there’s glory…there’s satisfaction…a fullness that’s unlike anything…you’ve ever felt in your life.”
Miranda watched as Bridget unlatched the door to the hayloft. She glanced down; the farmhands had gathered at the base of the ramp.
“What you felt…in that dream…was just a taste, Miranda…of our queen’s blessing.”
She wrenched open the door.
The loft had been removed, rendering the entire building hollow. There probably weren’t even any support pillars left, given what now held up the roof. All that remained of the loft’s floor was a short particle-board platform below the door.
Beyond the platform, pressing against its edges, an immense shape loomed in the shadows. It filled the cavernous space, covering the beams on the ceiling and the timbers of every wall, swallowing the entirety of the barn’s volume like an insatiable void. In the darkness, all Miranda could make out of its surface was a delicate smoothness.
The shadow jiggled. “There’s a real family resemblance, isn’t there?” Juliana giggled.
Miranda started. The voice hadn’t come from Bridget, but from somewhere deep in the shadows, muffled but unmistakable.
Bridget stepped to the edge. She knelt solemnly, then dug into her cleavage and pulled out the silver pendant.
Arrayed on the platform were five other trinkets, all made from the same untarnished silver: a ring, a chain, a buckle, a brooch, and, in the middle of the arrangement, a tiara. The headpiece of the tiara was sculpted with elaborate curling designs, all emanating from the sigil at its crown. At the center of the sigil was set a small, amber-tinted gemstone, glittering even in the dim light.
A gurgle echoed through the structure.
Bridget pressed a hand to her own stomach. “Sorry,” said the voice below, “like I said…I get hungry.”
She set the pendant next to the other pieces, taking care to aim its engraved sigil upward. Standing, she turned to Miranda and reached out her hand.
Miranda recoiled. After a long, shaky breath, she followed Bridget’s blindfolded gaze and pulled the bracelet off her wrist.
Bridget plucked it from her fingers and set in alongside the other jewelry.
“Fit for a queen,” huffed the voice, “a queen nothing fits. Now. No more waiting. It’s time…to call for her.”
“Can I go back down now?” Miranda murmured, gazing over the side of the ramp.
The belly behind her quaked. “Down?” Juliana scoffed. “You want to descend? When it’s finally time…to ascend?”
“I’m sorry. I…it’s just, I—”
“Miranda…this is my coronation! It’s the day…we’ve been waiting for!” Bridget clutched her head. “This is where all the signs…have been leading us. It took generations…and generations…to give us this chance. We’ve brought together…the royal emblems…we’ve connected the minds…of so many families…living and dead…”
Miranda tried to back away. Bridget seized the folds of her sweatshirt.
“I’ve devoured so…so much! I’m outgrowing the boundaries…of our pitiful…mortal…sphere. Don’t you get it? Don’t you see…what’s at stake? Don’t you see…how big this is?”
“I…I don’t, Juliana.” Miranda shoved Bridget back. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t want to. I’m scared. I just…I just want to go home.”
Bridget straightened and clenched her fists for a moment. Then, with a long sigh from the voice behind her, she went limp, buckled, and collapsed at Miranda’s feet.
“But we are…going home, Miranda,” the voice assured her. “We are. Just look.”
Miranda bent down to grab Bridget. Bridget was below her on the ramp, though, and Miranda had trouble reaching past her own bulk. She twisted awkwardly and managed to partially kneel.
“Bridget,” she panted, desperately shaking her by the shoulder.
Her voice nearly disappeared in a sudden rush of wind, a gale that seemed to howl directly down on them from above. Bridget murmured something unintelligible, but remained limp.
A peal of gleeful laughter rang out from the barn. Miranda steadied herself and looked up.
The crows continued to circle above, flying in so tight a flock that they had all but coalesced into a black ring. Outside the ring, the sky remained overcast and grey, but the sky within was cloudless and clear. Its hue was a sickly yellow, though, the sky of some dead world, and at its center was a cold, black sun.
Miranda gaped. The wind strengthened, almost knocking her from her feet.
Bridget flopped over and slid from her grip. Miranda scrabbled for her, but succeeded only in snapping the strap of the sundress. The unconscious Bridget rolled helplessly down the ramp; Miranda hefted herself up and hurried after her, metal buckles complaining with each footfall.
“Through!” sang Juliana’s voice, piercing the wind. “Through the barrier…across the threshold…beyond the wall…”
Miranda reached the bottom of the ramp and fell beside Bridget, gasping for air.
“We are through…to our divine home…and our queen…she hears our call!” Juliana’s ecstatic laughter echoed out again. “Two worlds…one future! One big, fat future!”
One by one, the blindfolded farmhands buckled over and collapsed. The crowd of obese locals in their masks slowly raised their arms and began to oscillate and sway.
Vibrations pulsed through the ground. The piles of discarded bones rattled faintly.
“Free my power!” cried Juliana.
The barn quaked, its timbers shuddering enough that nails could be heard popping throughout the structure. One of the heavy shutters fell from its hinges, allowing a pocket of fat to bulge through the window.
Miranda pushed herself up, eyes locked on the ring of crows. The black sun had grown larger, as though looming closer and closer, like the pupil of a yellow eye.
On the long side of the barn, a plank split from its frame and toppled outward. The loose board, caught by the rushing winds, sailed across the clearing and cracked against an overturned cart.
Pale flesh immediately swelled into the opened crevice in the wall. The pressure grew and the wall began to bow out. Timbers groaned and cracked around the building.
Wooden shakes were yanked from the roof. They spun in the swirling winds, soon joined by detritus from the yard.
Another plank flew overhead, nearly striking one of the masked locals. They paid it no heed, but Miranda wailed and hauled Bridget up.
She wrapped her arms around Bridget and hugged her close, pressing Bridget’s face into her belly. She shuffled frantically backward, nearly tripping over a skull.
A beam shattered in the far corner of the barn, near the front doors. Much of the wall gave way and Juliana’s belly fat flooded through, oozing out across the yard. The building began to lean and fissures opened along the opposite wall, each exposing another sliver of flesh.
More shingles exploded up from the roof, joining the others in a growing cyclone of debris that danced throughout the yard.
Puffing, Miranda dragged Bridget toward the cargo van at the edge of the clearing. She fell against it, panting. She propped Bridget up with one arm and with her free hand felt around for the driver’s side door.
A board smashed into the windshield. Miranda screamed and recoiled. Seizing Bridget, she hobbled around to the far side of the vehicle and collapsed behind it.
She sat back against the wheel well and waited for her breath to come back. Bridget lolled beside her, head on her paunch. Miranda’s heartbeat throbbed in her neck and ears, as loud as the roaring of the wind and the cracking of the barn’s frame.
A crash of wood and shrieking metal sounded as the hayloft and its ramp fell free from the barn. Juliana’s voice, half chanting, half laughing, rang out more clearly. Miranda craned her neck to look back over the hood of the van. She couldn’t see the barn—or what little remained of it—but she could see the ring of yellow sky.
The black sun had indeed grown nearer. As Miranda stared, it descended into the ring and hovered overhead: a glossy, obsidian orb.
“Oh my god,” breathed Miranda. She felt Bridget murmur something against her stomach, but was too transfixed to look down.
“She hears me!” shouted Juliana. “Miranda, she sees me! She sees my fullness…she sees…my hunger!”
A new, thunderous blaring joined the roaring of the wind, like a deep, distant horn.
“I’m the biggest…there’s ever been…I’m the hungriest…of all her heirs. And still…growing! Growing bigger…growing fatter…growing more powerful!”
The dancing crowd grew still, their pudgy hands held aloft, oblivious to the debris of the barn’s wreckage flying past them.
“We’ll grow this whole world…and outgrow it. Grant me…my inheritance…give me…your blessing…and all our gains…will be yours!”
The otherworldly thunder pealed again. Shadows danced across the hill. Miranda stared up in horror.
Arms had stretched out from the black sun: seven thin, coiling tendrils, spiraling out into the sky.
“My friends…” Juliana droned, “…all of you who…have shared this dream…”
In unison, the townspeople tore their masks from their faces. Their yellowed eyes gazed reverently upward.
“Go out…into the world. Announce…my ascension. Tell them about…their new queen.”
They bowed, as much as their rotund midsections would permit.
“And then, eat.” she concluded with a laugh. “Eat everything…you can fit…in your bellies. And bring me…the rest.”
The crowd straightened and opened their mouths.
“Our queen!” they proclaimed.
“Reward my hunger,” Juliana replied.
They erupted with sudden activity, ripping clothing and discarding accessories. Finally, at some silent cue, the whole naked, obese crowd turned and waddled out from the clearing. They shuffled down all sides of the hill, lips curled into ravenous grins, and disappeared into the withered cornfields.
The orb watched from above. Its tangle of shadowy, ethereal arms stretched out and twisted around themselves, coiling their way down toward the barn.