It slithered, and she liked that. It coiled and slid, and she liked that too. It turned its head, as if sensing her eyes on it, flickering its tongue out, testing the air. She held still, even her breath pausing, and it never flinched, its arrowhead nose pointing directly at her. She could see the white flash of fangs within its mouth, and she definitely liked that.
“I’ll take it.” She reached into the basket, ignoring the hissed warning of the serpent-seller, and clicked her tongue, softly. The serpent bobbed, recognizing her, and coiled its way up her arm, its dry leathery scales soft against her flesh, until its head rested on her shoulder. The little flicker of its tongue against her ear made her giggle.
The serpent-seller cleared his throat. She smiled, and paid him, and then she took her serpent and walked through the marketplace, hearing it whispering in her ear. The wicked little tongue danced, scenting, speaking. This one is a fraud. That one drinks too much liquor. This one beats his wife.
She turned her head to look, studying the merchants as they passed, noting their sins on the serpent’s breath, feeling the thrill of forbidden knowledge heating her blood. And then the serpent said something that made her stop.
This one’s slaves are children.
She turned, letting the serpent scent the air more fully. “Show me.” Her voice was low, letting the words carry only to her shoulder, and the serpent responded in kind. She moved slowly, following its directions, through the turns of the marketplace, past baskets and closed pottery jars, unguents and jewelry, ignoring the cries of all the other merchants.
Down these stairs. The serpent’s voice was hungry, now; its tongue brushed her ear as the arrowhead head lifted, bobbing. There is a dog.
She knelt as the hound came howling out of the darkness, caught its eyes, touched her fingers to its muzzle as it fell back. She heard the whimper in its voice, and shook her head. “Hush.”
I hunger, the hound whined at her, and the serpent turned from her ear, slithering across her shoulders and down her arm. Its tongue touched the foam on the hound’s jaws, and she saw it draw in its breath.
I will show you food.
She waited while the serpent settled itself back on her shoulder, beckoning the hound to heel beside her. It came, whining, its tail low and docile. Through the door. It hunched, waiting, while she worked the lock, the serpent whispering directions in her ear, attuned to the soft click and snap of the tumblers. As the door swung open, the hound’s hackles raised and it came up, growling soft and low.
She heard the warning and stepped back, catching the improvised club an inch from her head. “Hush.”
He stared out of the darkness at her, his hands still clutching the club. She twisted it down, trying to hold his eyes, stretching her skills. “I’m here to help you.” The serpent shifted on her arm. To your left.
She dodged the second blow, wrenching the club out of the boy’s hands to block it. “To set you free.” Now two pairs of eyes stared at her, and as her vision adjusted to the gloom she saw more peering out of the fetid darkness behind the door.
“We don’t need you,” the boy challenged, his eyes bright with rebellion, and the androgynous wraith beside him bared broken teeth at her, hissing. The serpent lifted its own head, hissing back, and the children stepped back into the darkness, murmuring. She took the moment, took her own step forward. The boy blocked her way.
“What do you need?” She held his eyes, felt his resolve waver, then steady. They were still human, no matter how animal they seemed. He bared his own teeth, snarling, then backed down warily, turning to his companion.
She waited while they discussed the matter, their voices too low for her to follow; the serpent seemed content to leave her guessing. Its breath was slow and even, a gentle squeeze and relax of her arm. Waiting. At last, he turned back, and his expression was feral. He hungers, the serpent murmured. They all do.
“Give us the hound,” the boy said, and smiled. His teeth were brittle, yellow; the eyeteeth broken into points. “Bring us our master. We will free ourselves.”
Prompt: Flash Fiction Project, February with a Twist day 3