by Jodi Ralston
Of course, upon surrender, the nightmare came. Nightmares were the yawning pits of despair from which none and nothing could escape. In his case, the pit was endless blackness, a void in which nothing existed, not touch, not smell, not sound, not sight. Nothing. Just the oppression of eternity.
In the beginning, he ran.
But nothing changed; he wasn’t sure he even moved.
Oh, his limbs tired and his body weakened, precious signs of effort expended, but not of progress, just utter defeat. Not in distance gained, but in futility. And when he could move no more, he collapsed onto a “bed” of nothingness.
Within a breath, he was no longer alone. The touch came to keep him company.
In the nightmare, he expected it to run true: too many dry “hands” with too few “fingers” plumbing him in ways no human touch could, creating “holes” where none should be, all without pain but never-ending.
That touch didn’t come. Instead, the trespass was different: damp, silken, but itchy. Tickles along an arm suddenly rendered naked. With it, a scent like watermelon.
A cool, ruby-red serpent made of close-knit hairs instead of scales claimed his now bared body. She slid along inch by inch, winding around, under, over, around, under, over, mesmerizing until she struck upon the first “hole.” Hairs quivering, she forced her head against its lips, pushing against the mute resistance.
The effort it took to open himself and let her work her way in shook him. And when she laughed, he wanted to crush her, let the toothless mouth grind her to pieces, but that would be a mistake.
He had spent a long time learning from “yesterday’s” mistakes. He would not make another now.
So he denied the urge and bore her presence with gritted teeth-his own, at least-when her head poked at the roof of the next mouth, seeking exit. He feigned a struggle before letting her muzzle peek out like a wet hatchling. Onward she braided, slow, steady, working her way through the path of least resistance he laid before her, which led her through his left arm. That arm he could sacrifice, but he would need the right for what came next. He feigned another helpless shiver as she blinked at him from his forearm.
Her laugh, however, he cut short, when he clenched that arm, locking three little mouths tight around her form.
She was stronger than he had expected, almost twisting free-see, the plan to masticate her had been a mistake-before he could wrap his fingers around her thrashing throat. He expected fangs to sink in and loose their poison, but the New World had its own twist on things. Poison came from within, a thousand pricks like glass quills; they skewered mouths and flesh alike. His arm numbed, but he did not stop squeezing until he felt her throat grind. Tough, she did not break, but she did still, and then he could slip her out, inch by inch, her corpse sloughing hair like his dawn goddess streamed water.
It even smelled the same but with one difference: rotten instead of achingly fresh.
And the gurgling sound her form made as it slipped free, like stepping on unexpectedly sodden ground, sickened him, but he had won. She was out.
Slapped upon the ground.
And he was free.
Best yet, he was down a few mouths. Oh, the others quivered at the loss, keening in their grief, but that was music to his ears, a rocking lullaby that lulled him to sleep once more.