She ran headlong into the night. Her head forward, her neck locked, her shoulders transformed into wings of stone and metal girder. Her neck stretched and lengthened into a colossal structure, supported by iron beams, and thick metal rafts and industry. A bridge that carried her thoughtless mind across the ocean of night. Cutting into the darkfall and teasing out stitches of heat, burning aching threads of futurelight.

Her neck bridge juddered forward, interlocking pillars of concrete and ego. Her hands and feet reassembled themselves into caterpillar treads, cascading over one another in an endless wheel. Moving her up the towering pillar that her mind became.

The bridge twisted and turned, corkscrewed, bending into a helix. Breathless, she glanced down to see her reflection on the dark glassy ocean slab.

The two touched one another in strange and assuming ways, twins twisting in distant solitude. Embracing the other in the silences between the crashing of waves. And then on the pillars of the two intertwining structures she smelled the chemicals, leaking off the struts and beams in a rinse of toxic vapour. The wet stench pinned her flesh to the mossy ground beneath her feet. Red string and twine wound around the pinheads and tied together proteins and chains of polymers together.

Familiar and sickening. Between her heartbeats she realised what it was. She was dead. And this was the horrifying rank odour of life, biochemistry fighting against the sweet, comforting wash of organic decay and necrotic breakdown.

She’d always been dead, she’d never been alive perhaps, and what she’d thought was the fear of death was really a fear of life. She had the two backwards in her heart, which wasn’t a heart at all. Four empty stone chambers quivering in spasmodic terror, knocking in vain on their neighbours’ walls to find warmth. Endlessly searching and reaching, one the next to the next to the next to the first.

She had certainly always been dead. But she was alive now, and living, and relieved to learn that death hadn’t even been discovered yet, and walked in waving crisscross lines over the bridge. She was careful not to step on the yellow broken lines, as they weaved in out of one another. Blue lines slashed at purple rings, all painted in wet ink that had started off dry and dusty, coughed from the mouth of a strange crawling creature in a cloud and had been growing darker and wetter ever since.

She played hopscotch with the lines. Some were slippery and wet and dripping with colour and life, vapours of hope and happiness and sadness sliding off them in sheets and storms. Crab’s blood, sprays of purple slickness. Some were chalk circles, floating fractions of an inch of the surface of the road. Birds wheeled in the sky above, as she hopped and skipped and jumped into the glossy sunshine on the distant bank.

Concrete and steel sank into soil and sand, and sponge. Moss again, she felt the moss creep into her legs, needling into her veins and filling her blood with sponge. She gently rolled into the earth, and emptied out the stones and grit that she hadn’t even realised had become trapped inside her. Her heart was a pebble that spilled out of her and rolled away down the sloping green bank into the sea, which had narrowed and shallowed into a bubbling river.

It was then she noticed that the riverbed was filled with pebbles. She assumed that they weren’t all hers, but she couldn’t be sure. She paused for a moment to decide if she could devise a way of learning the truth of the pebbles on the riverbed, and then she realised that even though the river was a narrow thing, the distant bank had vanished altogether.

Straining to see the distant shore, shrouded utterly in the impenetrable mists of loss, she peered into the churning waters of the river. The water flowed swiftly over hundreds of pebbles, all different hues and colours, browns and ochres and fawn and tan and black and silver and marbled green and blue and crimson. In the gullies and valleys between the stonemounds she could see a scream collecting. The water brought fragments of a great and shattering scream from the mountain’s peak, and now it accreted slowly in tiny parts, burrowed into the grooves along the river bed.

The water flowed more quickly and the river broke its banks, washing up over the moss-rich soil on the sloping river’s edge. The scream sloshed up against her legs, her feet had driven into the earth like roots. They snaked down into the bedrock, wound around the stones and crawling insects, spitting brown dirt in all directions. The smell of wet clod earth stabbed into her pores in a frenzy. Blood soaked peat, burning smokewet wood and damp rags draped across smouldering embers in a dying fire pit.

Trapped by her own nature, unable to move from the fast-flowing screamtide, she began to vibrate in terror. Every fibre of matter, every atom, every molecule, shaking violently in its fixings, in it moorings, desperate to tear itself apart from the sacrificial bulk, doomed to be consumed by the fold of rivernight, and flee.

The water found her easily. Draped itself around her root stems like a mercy shawl. Blindly entered into her pores and bluntshaved bare follicles, steadily filling up her insides with the shameful, groggy, waterlog of shrieking fear that had gradually made its way down from the mountain, to the ocean.

It swirled up inside her, spinning in a cyclone until is spurted up out of her open mouth, in a spewing jetstream. The empty air was replaced completely with the scream. But the piercing noise was only part of the scream, that rippled out across all the states of matter and being that she possessed, in sight and touch and smell, the scream consumed all the substance of her world and replaced it with itself. Endlessly replicated and looping, copied on top of itself, at different frequencies and amplitudes, until the nature of the scream disappeared into its own omnipresence. It was no longer discernible. She could no longer recall a version of the world that didn’t contain her endless scream.

She hung in that moment of fear and volume for an impossible age. The entire fabric of the universe was burning, rippling in searing heat, as the scream ignited the crackling fibres of reality, sheared electrons away from nucleons in a blind rage, smashed the world into an acrid cloud of atomic dust. Her physical form was forced together by the snarling bonesnap, pressed inwards on all sides like sun-baked clay, yearning to crack apart from the pressure. Her nervous system shredded into a white-hot sea of fire ants, devouring her chalky, blistered bones like sweet lava.

Her consciousness extruded from its brittle cage in coiling loops of slippery mindrope, spewing out in all directions and splattering apart over the tightening drumskin of the world. It cinched in close about her in a thick plastic film choking out her air like a painless candle snuff. A low rumbling, deep delirium gushed up from somewhere dark and secret, as she felt herself suddenly, vividly, gloriously die.

And with a delicious gasp of joy she burst open like a water balloon, exploding into a billion brilliant starlight needles. And the lights became stones, and the stones became nothing.