The second thing you notice is that she’s beautiful.
The first thing is that she’s horrifying. You see the rotting flesh peeling back from ancient bones. You see the one working eye, ghastly bright in the ruin of her face. You see the tips of skeletal fingers clasped around the black sceptre, poking out from pale, frozen flesh.
The smell is the smell of a thousand thousand reeking corpses, mixed with old blood and rot. You can see the rot, too – a black stain climbing up what’s left of one leg, sprouting febrile tendrils that further poison her dead meat.
Her voice, when she speaks, comes through rotten lips, a soft plashing noise that makes it hard to hear the words. Perhaps, though, it would be easier to hear her if it wasn’t for the click of the deathwatch beetles that infest the rags she wears, a living robe of black shells and waving legs. Perhaps it would be easier to hear her if not for the wind – the tugging, restless wind, even on calm days. The cold, hungry wind that she brings with her from the lands of the dead.
You have no time to notice anything else – no time to spend on the legions of silent soldiers behind her, with gums drawn back from teeth and still, silent chests. No air mists out from their lips, no minor gusts to compete with the half-real wraiths that float and twine around her, filling the cold night with their whispered promises of vile things. Your eyes take all this in, but you are unaware – unaware that every one of the army behind her was once like you, and once thought that they had a hope of survival.
After the first screaming horror of the sight of her, after the sharp stink in your nostrils of vomit, after the fear that grips your mind and squeezes, sending you fleeing wildly away, scrabbling at walls and floors to prevent yourself being dragged back, feeling your nails split and rip as you dig them in, you have no time at all. Wild, animalistic, you struggle against the vice-like grip of long-dead hands, too mazed by panic to notice anything further as your are slowly brought back before the ageless queen.
It’s a relief to give in, to close your mind off from the endless abomination and to lose it, to slip from life into her endless, loving embrace. The second thing you notice, gazing up as you kneel at her feet, is that she’s beautiful.
This story was written for this prompt on Reddit.