There are marvels, wonderful things whose existence would better and brighten the world if they could be shared; but for each miracle there are a thousand secret horrors.
Even the most common types of teratoma, tumours formed from differentiated tissues like muscle and bone, hair follicles and teeth, are seen as both horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. They speak to fears of the uncanny and the other that are only amplified by our ability to attribute human qualities to things that share - or appear to share - even the smallest semblance of our aspect or our experience.
The most clinical understanding of these tumorous growths sparks our irrational fears; the idea that we could, with only the slightest change in circumstances or fortunes, have been corrupted into a similarly pale and monstrous mockery of life - a mass of meat and gristle with only patches of teeth or hair or crude lumps of bone to show that we were supposed to have been living, breathing creatures.
While the visceral revulsion that they cause is terrible enough, even as we share and gossip and scandalise over stories of the most awful and extreme examples, there is an exceedingly rare condition - Lilith Syndrome - which causes the constant and continual growth of teratoma. Worse still, these are teratoma that can live for some time outside the afflicted person: Benign, but still almost unspeakably terrible.
The sickness is sometimes called Idiopathic Metastatic Teratogenesis; a name which, when broken down, first admits ignorance as to the cause of the malady and then roughly summarises its nature. Affecting people of all sexes, despite the connotations of its name and its Talmudic roots (in which Lilith was the first woman and the mother of monsters), this nightmare is not limited to the purview of dreams.
Lilith Syndrome usually becomes evident in early adulthood when small cysts begin to form in someone’s deep tissue, growing gradually at first before ballooning over the course of a few hours. This causes swellings which are deeply uncomfortable, and often debilitatingly painful, as the teratoma migrate through the body towards the skin, forming temporary connections to the hosts blood vessels as they go.
Eventually they are expelled, erupting gradually through skin and revealing themselves to their host and anyone else with the misfortune to be around. Finally breaking off and leaving loose skin in their wake. The configuration of their ultimately unviable forms is wholly unpredictable, each monstrosity unique in their expression of the basic materials from which a more complete form would be created.
Like their more common cousins, these teratoma differentiate themselves from other growths and tumours in the breadth of complex tissue types that form their masses; their approximation of something like life. Unlike other teratoma though, those created by Lilith Syndrome are prone to being semi-organised, even somewhat more sophisticated in their still-loose facsimile of a human form.
Fully-formed eyes, shallow and useless mouths, even diffuse cerebral matter and rudimentary versions of other organs have all been found within their irregular corpuses. The amount of time these homunculi - an appropriated but appropriately unsettling term, given that the teratoma are made of the same genetic material as their former host - live beyond the grim and eerily bloodless sloughing of their parturition can vary wildly.
Almost always without any means of replenishing the energy they exert in their aimless twitches and tics, blind eyes darting sightlessly and maws chewing softly on nothing, they cannot survive independently for long. Nonetheless, as if they were sustained by the horror and disgust with which they are faced, the homunculi live longer than reason would allow for.
Even those that should pass most quickly, the ones which are able to shuffle about under their own power or keen, mindlessly mournful, often manage to cling onto their half-life for several weeks. Some have remained alive, hauntingly pathetic and yet so helpless that people seem hesitant to put them out of their misery, reflexively responsive to stimuli for months.
In addition to its links to cancers and cystic disorders, another mundane condition that can be linked to Lilith Syndrome is leprosy; the teratomic issue of the former being gradually weaned and cut off from its connection to the nerves and blood supply of the afflicted person by small, self-contained pockets of the same mycobacterium leprae that causes the necrosis of tissue in the suffers of the latter.
The same drug therapies used to cure leprosy were once also given to a sufferer of Lilith Syndrome, but this only crippled the mechanism by which the homunculi separated from their host. Without this, they instead continued not only to multiply, but to live indefinitely on borrowed blood; writhing and pulsing and growing until they crushed the organs of their host, trapping themselves inside a poisoned prison of dead flesh.
Lilith Syndrome is so rare that, in each of the eight known instances found over the last two-hundred years, it has been mistaken for a new and previously undiscovered condition. With neither rhyme nor reason to the pattern of its victimology, the circumstances and methods in which it has been managed or treated vary wildly, playing into the prevalent practices - both medical and religious - to which the sufferers and their societies ascribed.
The scope of these reinterpretations is also due, in part, to the understandable and undeniable psychological trauma that the syndrome inflicts, and the different ways it has cowed and broken its sufferers. Some have retreated into comforting delusions, others into depersonalisation and detachment, and some have even chosen the cold comfort of oblivion over living with such a nightmarish disease.
In one case an already agoraphobic hoarder became convinced that his homunculi were his children, divinely gifted to him to raise as the nascent form of a new and perfect species, and was found to have discovered a method of keeping them alive indefinitely. Having made a crude medical kit from things in his home, he fed them through transfusions of his blood, replacing what they were unable to make for themselves.
He named each and every one of his so-called children, until - eventually - he was keeping nearly fifty of them alive, with still more draining him from within. Finally, having to give more and more blood as his brood grew, his organs began to fail. He died surrounded by the shivering and mewling horrors he considered his family and - unfortunately - his is not even the most grotesque fate endured by a sufferer of Lilith Syndrome.
That unbidden infamy falls on Helene Sauer, born in the late nineteenth century in Provinz Westfalen, Germany. The daughter of a small-town butcher, a cruel and cold man who was injured and discharged from military service during the early days of the First World War, Helene was locked away and forgotten once the condition manifested. Her father - her only visitor - would come to take the homunculi away, and his stores never ran short again…