The mask of thorns was almost a part of her now, as if it were growing out of her skin instead of inexorably piercing it, boring through muscle and bone. Blood, thick as syrup, slowly described glacial paths across her face, then down her delicate throat and onto her chest and shoulders.
Julia’s body was paralyzed in a sea of stones. At first, they felt crushing, and she impotently thrashed and screamed in claustrophobic terror. Now she could barely feel them, just like the thorns, her nerves disconnecting from pain, or for that matter, from pleasure as well.
Was it irony that brought her the tiny, yellow bird, or was that Vaughn’s idea of a joke, like the parable of the Zen Monk, the Tiger, and the Strawberry? No, that’s not right. The real meaning of the parable was not to let yourself get distracted by pleasure when you need to save yourself from imminent danger.
But the bird was the only kindness in a world of horror, and trapped as she was, Julia had no hope of saving herself.
“Don’t be stupid,” chirped the bird. “Vaughn didn’t do this to you. You did.”