The Serpent Path

The thousand steps of the serpent path shimmered in the morning heat. It was customary to walk the path at dawn, before the sun cleared the tel, but when the summons came then customary was no longer the order of the day. When the summons came, you answered without hesitation.

She kicked off her sandals and closed her eyes, remembering the rules.You are standing on sacred ground. There were a thousand steps in the serpent path, and it was beyond customary to walk them barefoot. It was the law.

The first step burned as she laid her bare foot on the carved white stone, and she hurried to shift her weight to the next foot, and the next step, and then the next, until she was running the serpent path, every step a searing agony, her lungs burning along with her feet. She gasped for air, unable to catch her breath, but the idea of pausing, of standing on the hot stones for even a moment, was unbearable.

When the path ended, high on the tel, she barely noticed it. Stumbling on the sudden elevation of the temple threshold, she sprawled flat on her belly in the cool shade, panting, stripped of the energy to move.She could feel the sun beating down on the scorched soles of her feet, but after a thousand steps of pain it was barely worth the effort to draw them in.

After an infinity of time, she found that she had moved them; she huddled on her knees, sucking the coolness of the temple floor into her overheated body, pressing her cheek into the smoothly dressed stones. She didn’t even look up at the sound of the priests’ measured steps as they gathered in a semicircle around her.

“You have been summoned.” a voice intoned.

She kept her face down, not daring to look. “I have answered the summons.”

“The god angers,” a different priest murmured, and she closed her eyes, clinging to the temple stones as a chorus of agreement echoed softly around her. She could feel her heart fluttering against her chest, her breath growing suddenly short. “The god demands sacrifice.”

“I serve the god,” she managed, her head spinning.“I serve the will of the temple.”There was a crack in the stone. She wondered if it would suddenly grow large enough to swallow her, but it refused to move.Her hands were trembling.She could see blackness at the edge of her vision.

“Then you will serve as sacrifice.” There was no menace in the priest’s voice, but there was no regret either. “You have walked the serpent path.Now you will walk it to its end.”

A hand fell on her shoulder, lifted her. It was dark in the shade of the temple, but she could see the white gleam of the path continuing onward through the portico and out the other side, the cracked stone one of a dozen white steps that would carry her back out into the blinding sun. She had never known the path continued.

“I–” Her voice faltered.

“You have walked a thousand steps.You will walk a thousand more, and then you will be in the hands of the god.” She couldn’t see the priest’s face beneath the pale hood; she couldn’t see any of their faces. “You serve the will of the god?” It was barely a question.

“I serve the will of the god.” She had no other choice.

“Then walk.”

There were a dozen steps, cool and pale, and then her foot came down on the sunlit stone and fire lanced its way up her leg once again.She felt tears sting her face at the pain, but her body moved without thinking and she took a step, and then another, and then she was running once again, a thousand more steps of fire and sunlight, until there was nothing left of her but the fire of the serpent stones and the fire of the air in her lungs and the fire of the sun on her skin.

And then there was nothing beneath her feet, and nothing but the wind around her. She saw something falling, tumbling and bouncing down the edge of the tel, but the god was there, with her, within her, and she flew.


There are an infinite number of suns in the expanding universe. Old suns, monstrous and crimson; and even older ones, dimming slowly into blackness. Stable yellow suns and suns still buried in the birthing grounds of nebulae. Suns that were and are and are yet to become, and around some fraction of the infinite suns […]


June only got one present that mattered for her birthday. She kind of liked the big white rabbit with the pink bow and the satin paws that caught on her hangnails with a sharp tingling roughness, and the three books with dust jackets bearing citations from the New York Times Best Seller List looked very […]

Going Home

It was the rhododendrons that were the problem, really. The tulips were certainly obnoxious — damp, mostly — and nobody ever quite knew what to do with the bells other than hold your breath while you were passing through them. But the rhododendons. The rhododendrons were a problem. It had been okay when Sam was […]

Bandwidth Reset

It's 12:01 AM on September 4th, and Bryn's bandwidth has just reset. She's got her cheap little government-issue tablet out and she's been waving it around like a ten-inch diagonal injection molded kite for the last thirty seconds, waiting for the little chirp that means free Internet. We've been standing there watching her do the […]


Today’s prompt from Alissa Leonard’s Finish That Thought is the opening sentence I ran for the door, but someone had taken the keys.  Bonus challenge: include a ticking clock or countdown.  Normally Tuesdays are bad writing days for me – bad days in general due to work – but I have not been writing much […]


The clock on the wall in her grandmother’s house goes tick tick tock tock; always has, at least since she remembers it.  It goes tick tick tock tock and every time the pendulum stutters time shifts a little bit more out of sync in her grandmother’s house.  Every time the second hand jerks back and […]


There were a thousand places Bill could think of with a higher probability of results.  A cave.  The middle of the primordial forest.  Under Loch Ness.  Places without security guards and binoculars and camera surveillance.  Places with a population exponentially less than eight million.  Those were the sort of places she would have taken the device: […]


Ten minutes to midnight. He tightens his grip on the stock of the pop gun that came in his stocking last year this time, the plastic warm with his body heat and slick with sweat. He wipes his palms against the rough polyester fleece of his pajamas and picks up the pop gun again, adjusting […]

Fairy Wine

There are fairies in the garden. They are not the nasty dragonwing biting kind and they are not the pointyhat curdlemilk vicious kind and they are not the tuppence under the bridgetolling goateating kind. They are little men little men littlemen with little greenglass bottles of amber liquor and you know what they say about […]