I let out a deep breath, feeling a second of the slightest bit of relief before I needed to gasp again. My house groaned around me softly. I listened to its sighs, echoing the pain I felt, the throbbing of every part that was left of my body. The clashing of the spikes down the hallway, the bones rattling in the cellars, even, far away, the soft dripping of water.
The house was me and I was the house. I'd forgotten what it was like to live without it.
I waited, listening for the tapping of her shoes echoing through the hallways. Hearing was the only sense I could depend on now. I reached up and touched my cheeks, making sure the blindfold was perfectly adjusted. The bleeding had slowed, and I checked for any moistness on the soft cotton, making sure none had leaked through. She would know something was wrong if she saw it, and would insist on tending to me, making me comfortable. A feat that was absolutely impossible.
I hated that about her.
The house let out another breath in unison with me, and there was a soft rumble as rocks adjusted themselves. I hadn't noticed it changing at first. I had been too focused on my pain, my distress at my parent's complete lack of feeling for me, the rage I felt at the disgust they'd glared at me with even as I sobbed in agony and begged for relief. I suppose they blamed me for the sickness, for being born imperfect. All my pain disappeared when I'd killed them, for just a moment.
I could not wait to feel that sweetness again.
I heard it. The tapping of her shoes was as rhythmic and upbeat as she was. I could hear her steps echoing through the house, the safe hallways I'd created for her to reach me. She had yet to see the horrors my house truly held—I smiled. She never would see them, actually.
The steps stopped and I heard my door cautiously squeak open.
Her voice was a hushed whisper. She was so considerate of how sound caused me agony. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. I assumed it was to seal the darkness in. She must be thinking I had a migraine again. What a wonderful, sweet girl she was.
I couldn't wait to see her face—my face--contorted in agony.
“I'm in bed,” I croaked. I didn't intend for my voice to come out so weakly. It was the way it sounded, trying to change it was too much effort.
She walked quietly to the bed, her footsteps like thunder in my ears, and sat down in the chair next to it. She took my hand. It felt like her soft grip was crushing it. “How are you feeling today? Is the pain really bad?”
I was happy at how well I hid my irritation. Pain was always bad. Saying one got used to pain was a complete lie.
“It... it's not so bad today,” I said, attempting to sound brave. She squeezed my hand gently, and I bit the inside of my lip to hide the agony of the feeling.
“Ellen, I'm so happy that I'll be able to relieve it, even if it's just for one day,” she whispered. “Maybe, if this works out, we'll be able to do it more often, so you can enjoy life more.”
I bit harder to stifle a laugh and coughed to compose myself, then burst into a bout of real coughing. Viola put her arm around my back and I almost vomited from the heavy feeling. I struggled to regain control, finally inhaling a calm, shaky breath.
“I... I wouldn't want to do that to you, Viola. I feel so guilty even suggesting this,” I lied, wheezing slightly. I felt no regret, no guilt whatsoever. Only intense excitement. I hid it well.
“I'm so glad I can help you, Ellen,” she said. She let out a sigh, and I could clearly visualize the ashamed expression on her face, the same face she made every time she'd rejoiced in her body around me, feeling guilty at having everything I could not Til now.
“I... I am afraid though. Your pain is so hard on you, I... I'm so selfish... I'm afraid I won't be as strong as you.” She sniffled softly. “You're so strong, Ellen... and so brave.”
A twinge of fear shot through me. I could not let her have second thoughts. I mustered some strength and squeezed her hand, my muscles screeching at the effort.
“You're really strong too, Viola,” I said, faking a weak smile. “I know you'll be able to handle anything. You... you really are an amazing friend. I'm so... I'm so grateful I have you in my life.” At least the last part was completely genuine.
I heard a rustle and realized she was wiping her eyes, sitting up straight and firming her shoulders. “I love you, Ellen.” She took a deep breath and let it out in a determined huff. “Okay. What do I have to do?”
I almost laughed. So easy. A mere year of trickery, and she trusted me completely. Instead, I let out a deep sigh. “Are... are you sure, Viola?”
“Yes,” she said, squeezing my hand firmly. My teeth gritted against the sensation.
“Okay,” I said. I reached over with my other hand, clasping it over hers. “Then, let's switch.”
I took a deep breath.
It didn't hurt at all.
I opened my eyes. The faint light shining in through the crack around the door revealed a hands, a lap, two legs. I twitched them experimentally, surprised at how what I thought was a tiny movement brought them to nearly kick the bed. So effortless. A smile spread over my face. I stood up easily. I hadn't been able to do that in years.
I ran to the mirror, nearly knocking it over as I clumsily adjusted to how well the body responded to me. There it was, soft, golden braids, big green eyes, a sweet smile as I admired myself. I ran my hands over the hair, down over soft breasts, gently curving hips, bringing them back up to my face, watching the movements mimicked in the mirror. Mine. It was mine!
I laughed. A soft moan came from the bed.
“Ell...Ellen?” the voice croaked. A sob came out, and then a cough and a squeak of pain. “It... it worked?”
“Oh, Viola,” I said gently. “The pain must be unbearable, after having such a strong body like this.”
“I can do it,” she said bravely, her voice shuddering. “It'll... it'll be okay. Can you take off the blindfold, so I can see? My eyes.. .my eyes hurt terribly though.”
Of course they did. They were just empty sockets now. I smiled again, delighting in the sensation. “I'd better not. The light is very painful.”
I took my—her—hand, squeezed it gently. I felt her body shudder, and I tightened my grip just slightly. Now she knew how it felt, didn't she. How every kind caress she gave me sent ripples, no, tidal waves of pain throughout my entire body. She shook more as I squeezed it tighter, and then suddenly began to scream.
I pulled my hand away hastily, covering my ears. That... that was what I sounded like? I could almost feel the pain again as her agonized voice screamed again and again.
“Ell...llen... It hurts!” she managed to gasp out. “It hurts so badly!” She coughed and blood appeared on my--her--hands. “Ellen... I can't... I can't feel my legs!”
So much for her bravery. She hadn't had the slightest clue what it felt like for me. I smiled again. The violent screams didn't scare me now. It wasn't my voice anymore.
“I'll get you some medicine. Wait right here,” I added as I moved to the door. She let out a muffled whimper that rose to a scream of agony in reply.
I laughed as I closed the door. OF course she'd have to wait right there. How on earth would she move?
I made my way down to the medicine room, the house moving and shifting to make the path easy for me. A black cat hopped down from a pedestal as I passed and began to walk with me.
“So, you've really done it,” he said, holding his tail up like a flag as he casually trotted beside me. “I'm truly impressed. It takes a person who's heartless through to the bone to betray a friend like that.”
“Thank you,” I said, turning and curtseying. His tail twitched, and he let out a short purr.
“My best student,” he said, his voice rumbling through the vibrations. He flicked his ear. “Well, now, what are you going to do?”
“I can't have her telling anyone about this, now can I?” I said, opening the door to the medicine room and dancing lightly over to the shelves. “I'll just have to make sure she can't speak before I go. Besides, those screams are disgusting.”
“Most excellent,” he said, hopping up to the shelf and poking his nose against the bottle I was looking for. “I had expected you to kill her, but this is even more marvelous. I will truly enjoy watching her angst over your betrayal as she dies.”
“I know,” I said, brushing my hands over his soft fur, enjoying the sensation. “I must reward my teacher, after all.”
“You are most despicable,” he said, closing his eyes and rubbing his face against my hand. “I am truly proud.”
“I hope I continue to delight you,” I said, turning to step out of the room and starting back down the hallway. “I have so many plans for this body.”
The cat gave out a slight chuckle as he sat in the middle of the hallway and watched me enter my room. “I will look forward to it.”
Her screams had become sobs. I smiled even more broadly. I closed my bedroom door.
“Viola?” I said, opening the bottle. “It's time for your medicine.”