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Just to Talk

by Susie Hawes

Of the three planets that could summon me, the humans on the third planet were the rudest.

I tried to ignore the beckoning spell, I really did. I took a hot bath in the solar winds, played marbles with a few stray asteroids, but it was no use. The spell opened a mystical portal that followed me wherever I went.

At last, I gave in. Swimming into the portal, I did a little thing that altered time and space so I could arrive seconds after being summoned. Sometimes having a god’s powers can be handy. They smooth out the rough spots in my life and, when you live forever, that’s an awful lot of rough spots.

At least this time they’d opened a door that was long and wide enough for me to get through comfortably. Most humans had no idea how large a goddess can be. I get tired of squeezing through their puny, man-sized doors. My tail always gets stuck, and I have to jerk at it to pull it through, tearing a hole in the fabric of space. It looks so messy, leaving all those black holes lying around, and they usually wind up eating the planet where the spell was cast. Entire civilizations have died summoning a god incorrectly.

I found myself flying in the violet-hued sky above a dry, dusty planet. Directly beneath me sparkled the beckoning spell, a deep yellow pentagram that tugged on my soul, requiring me to go. Heat flushed my body, and I darted down, reckless of any damage I might do.

As I pulled up short of the ground, I had to blink. The light was harsh in this realm, and I had raised dust, diving down on the hilltop like that. “Oh, my God,” I heard a deep, shaking voice exclaim and looked around. A priest had fallen to his knees and was gazing up at me. I found him in the midst of the shadows cast by a circle of standing rocks, looking up with awe at my sun-burnished magnificence.

“Goddess,” I corrected him petulantly. The red sun burned in the distance, giving the sky a purplish hue and hiding the stars I loved to play among.

Ignoring the human, I looked around. The hill was rocky, bereft of grass and not too tall. I could see a horse, a quadruped the humans liked to ride. It was tied to the base of the hill, stamping the ground and bleeding fear like a fountain of water.

Humans had a strange odor they emitted when they were afraid, and this priest reeked of it. “Well, what is it?” I snapped, whipping my tail in irritation. I accidentally knocked over a rock or two in the process.

The circle of blue stones must have been placed by a god, I thought. The smallest of them was seven times the mass of the priest who kneeled before me. I doubted his race could have cut them out of a mountain and dragged them to this spot.

“Um... sorry about that.” I looked at the rocks I’d knocked over, then wrapped the tip of my tail around them and set them up straight. “Silly place to put a bunch of rocks, anyway.”

“It’s a Sacred Circle,” he croaked, then swallowed and said it more clearly.

“Sacred to whom?” I felt sarcastic, but my voice was as sweet as butter. We stayed that way for a moment, there on the hilltop. He crouched and trembled and I loomed, glaring down at him. My wings beat a rhythm in the air, holding me aloft, creating a wind that tore at his robe and caused the blue stones to shake.

Presently I lowered my body into the little clearing inside the stone circle. I had to coil myself carefully to fit all of my length within it. Resting my chin on the packed soil, I said, “Um...this really isn’t getting us anywhere.”

He cleared his throat and said, “Oh, mighty serpent of the stars, we have need of succor.”

Of course. What else. My eyes misted over with tears. I sniffed as he continued talking. “A great and terrible demon beleaguers us, and though we resist his awful might, it availeth us naught.”

“Do tell.” The tip of my barbed tail flicked back and forth, knocking over a monolith. Or was it an obelisk? Silly humans and their silly rocks. “And I suppose you want me to kill the nasty thing for you. You called me all the way out here to do a little demon slaying, is that it?” I felt a tear roll down my cheek.

His eyes widened, and he looked around the hilltop as if he could find a clue there. “Uh... well, yes.”

“Uh... well, I don’t feel like it.” I took a perverse pleasure in his confusion. “I mean, really, doesn’t anybody ever call me just to say hello?”

“What?” The man took a step back, as if I’d slapped him.

“You didn’t even bother to ask how I’m feeling,” I fussed. My wings flapped as the hurt made me restless. “No, ‘Hello, nice to see you.’. No flowers, not even a box of chocolates or a cup of tea. Just, ‘Oh, Great Snake of the Stars, go out and kill a demon for us.’ And then what, may I ask?”

As I rose up, hissing, I heard the horse scream in fear. One of my tears splashed on a stone to his left, showering him with moisture. The wind created by my beating wings knocked the priest off his feet.

He sat there, clearing his throat a moment, then stuttered, “I don’t know. Then what?” His eyes were wide and his brow wrinkled with confusion. His hands clutched the front of his robe tightly, their knuckles blanching as the wind tugged furiously at the cloth.

“Then it’s ‘Oh, go away now, we don’t need you anymore’.” I blinked. “You’ll never call me after this. You don’t care about me at all. What about my needs? I feel so used.”

“Does she need anything?” he asked, more to himself than to me. “What could a god need?”

“Actually, I do need something.” I settled back down and tilted my head over until my left ear was close to the priest. “There’s an awful itch just under that scale, and I can’t reach it. My tail has seven barbs, you know, which is great for killing demons, but I just can’t reach the itch.”

“I could try,” he offered, his voice trembling. He stepped up to me. I could have snapped him up with one bite.

The bright sun cast deep shadows on the ground. As I watched his shadow, the priest stepped behind my head and pushed aside my long flat ear. “Look for a scale that’s out of place,” I told him.

“I see it.” His voice was steady as he leaned against my neck, but I could feel him trembling against me, smell the fear coming from his body. “You’ve got a stinger embedded in the flesh under this scale.”

Alarmed, I gently pulled away from him. “Don’t touch it, then.”

“No, I can get it,” he protested, and gripped my ear to keep me close.

“Mortal, it’s venomous. That stinger must be from the insect demon I killed a while back. The poison on it would eat right through you.”

He gripped my ear tighter, and said, “Let me try wrapping my robe around it.”

I waited patiently, watching his shadow. He pulled the robe off, and I could feel his smooth skin against my scales. Putting one foot up against my neck, he grunted. I felt the stinger move, then come out of my tender neck muscle. “Got it,” he said triumphantly.

“Be careful.” I thought about the venom that could eat his flesh like acid. “Throw the robe away.” I could smell the cloth burning as smoke drifted around to me.

Cursing, he flung it aside. I heard the robe land in the dust behind me. Curious, I watched its thin dark shadow as it shrank, then looked around to see the cloth sizzle and burn as the venom did its work.

My vision blurred. “No one’s ever done such a thing for me before,” I sniffed.

My priest shrugged. “It was nothing.”

“No, really, it was very kind. Thank you.”

“Does that mean you’ll help us?” The eagerness in his voice made my blood run cold.

I could feel my eyes narrowing as I looked at his naked body. He was scarred and wiry, ugly even for his species. “I thought you were different when you removed the stinger,” I hissed, “but you’re just like all the others, aren’t you?” Writhing with displeasure, I added, “Is that how you treat your friends?”

He looked up at me, irritated. “Well, I brought you a sacrifice.” Waving one bronzed arm, he indicated a cow, another of the quadrupeds the human’s favored. “Isn’t that enough?”

“You didn’t even cook it,” I complained, the tip of my tail flicking. “It’s just a dead beast. What am I supposed to do, rip off its head and hooves and pick my teeth with its bones?” I couldn’t keep the acid out of my voice.

“Well, what do you want, then?” he yelled, and I turned my head from him.

Arranging my coils so they caught the sun, I sniffed, “I like pretty things. I told you.” Hurt, I angled my third coil so that the light played along the length of it, like a stream of liquid fire. “I should just eat you.”

“I don’t have any pretty things,” he said. “Besides, you don’t need them. You’re pretty enough on your own.”

My head whipped around, and my eyes narrowed in suspicion. “You’re just saying that so I won’t eat you.”

Lines formed around his mouth and eyes, making him look old. He gazed at me without fear, and replied, “No, I’m not. You’re quite beautiful, Lady Snake. You’re like a fiery necklace.” Turning, he began to walk away. “Women,” he muttered as if I couldn’t hear him. “No one told me it was a female snake.”

“A goddess, if you please,” I huffed. “I don’t believe you. You just want me to kill your nasty old demon.”

He stopped walking and turned around. Crossing his arms he surveyed me thoughtfully. “Breathtaking. It’s too bad I’ll never see you again.”

I couldn’t help but preen a little. He watched me, smiling. “Don’t worry about the demon, Lady Snake. I’ll take care of it.”

“Are you sure?” I felt warmth in my veins at the thought of a kill.

He just turned, muttering, “It’s not your problem.” His sweat left the odor of fear in the air as he went, lingering like a dark cloud on the hilltop. I watched him walk back to his horse and ride off.

“I think you’ll die,” I whispered, though I knew he couldn’t hear me. Humans only called me when they were truly needed me. I felt funny... reluctant to leave. It would be so easy for me to kill the demon, while he could only die trying. He had called me Lady Snake, and said I was breathtaking. Wasn’t that just like a mortal?

Hissing, I slipped into the air. Oh, bother him anyway. It couldn’t hurt to take a look at this demon. I could feel heat in my belly at the thought of a fight; excitement singing in my blood. I loved a good kill.

I followed his smell, and overtook him quickly. Swimming through the air, my body casting a long shadow on the ground beneath me, I passed him and found the demon quickly enough.

One could hardly miss it. Red and foul, its three heads lashing the air as it cut a path through a cornfield, the thing was a six-legged beast rather like a dog, one of the animals the humans kept as pets. It belched fire, burning their food as the humans stood by watching helplessly. On a dry planet like this one, food was scarce.

I could see my priest, naked on his horse, heading toward the demon. His scarred body leaned forward. The lines around his eyes and mouth looked determined and grim. Riding to his death, he waved a pathetic little sword. The demon tore around and faced him, screeching.

I shot down out of the sky and wrapped its warped body in three of my coils. I hated demons. They were such filthy, destructive things. Crushing its tough body in my grasp, I methodically bit off each of its heads, one at a time. My mouth filled with the bile that flowed through the demon’s veins. I spat out the nasty stuff, using it to bank the flames. This corn was ruined, but the next field over wouldn’t burn.

As I lay there, coiled around the twitching body of my prey, smoke from the banked fire pouring into the sky like an omen of death, my priest rode up. Dismounting, he watched his horse bolt in fear, then made his way across the ichor-soaked field to greet me. His brown eyes were smiling.

“Well, I haven’t made a good kill in days,” I muttered defensively. The demon’s body convulsed and I tightened my grip till the bones snapped.

He winced at the sound, then looked up at me. “Are you all right, Lady Snake?”

“Yes, but don’t get too close,” I warned him. “It takes a while for demons to stop moving, even after they die.”

“The next time I summon you, I’ll have flowers,” he promised me.

“And chocolate?” I prompted hopefully.

“I’ll call just to talk,” was his solemn response.

Hissing with pleasure, I released the pulped demon. The sky was heavy with smoke, but I could see a portal open. I swam up, and it took me home, back to the stars. Maybe he would keep his promise. Then we could sip tea and have a nice chat.

Copyright © 2015 by Susie Hawes

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