Monday, September 26, 2011
Another day, another second grade. Suzanne Coates hefted carriers into her van in the elementary school's parking lot. No one, not even the school custodian, had volunteered to help her. "You make them nervous, babies," she cooed to her charges. "Don't let it bug you. The children think you're awesome."
Her charges weren't bugged in the least. But then, reptiles weren't normally given to huge shows of emotion. School students, college zoology majors, museum curators, it was all the same to them. Give them a rat every couple of days and they thought life was peachy. Suzy had a few nervous nellies back at the rescue center, but she never brought those on public outings. Only the non-biters got to go on field trips.
She'd just placed the last carrier in the van and was about to shut the door when she realized she was being watched.
Suzy froze. Her tongue flicked briefly over her lips in a lifelong automatic gesture. She'd checked the parking lot before she started loading up, and seen no one. Her hand crept toward her pocket and the pepper spray she carried at all times. Too many break-ins at the reptile rescue center by animal smugglers and activists had left her paranoid on her charges' behalf.
She wasn't the only nervous one. Richard the iguana circled his carrier, making high, thin noises she'd never heard from him before. Homer, the laziest snake on the planet, had coiled himself into a corner and peered through the carrier's mesh, more alert than Suzy could ever remember seeing him.
Chiquita, in contrast, slid languidly around her carrier, making low, whispery hisses. Her movements reminded Suzy of ... no. No way. Snakes weren't that complex. But damn, she'd swear the way the albino python slithered around looked almost ... seductive.
A sudden hiss that hadn't come from any of her reptiles made Suzy whirl around. The author of the hiss stepped forward. Suzy's tongue washed over her lips again.
Good God, the man was gorgeous. She thought at once of an ancient Aztec warrior, brought to vibrant life. Tall, well-muscled and slender as a snake, just the way she liked her men. Smooth-as-scales copper skin unmarred by scars or blemishes. No body hair. Suzy couldn't stand body hair; it was so ... bestial. Head hair, though, that she liked. His fell like an ebony waterfall past his shoulders. It moved as if stirred by an invisible breeze, or like the flutter of feathers. Each tiny movement sparked a cascade of rainbow colors through the black. Those colors were echoed in his wide, unblinking eyes. Were they gold? Were they green? Were those really slitted puplis? She teetered on the brink of falling into them.
The need to breathe, and the slitted pupil question, finally broke her fascination. Suzy slid a protective half-step closer to the van and shut the door. Nobody was getting his hands on her babies without one hell of a fight.
So far he'd said nothing. He stood utterly still and stared at her. Chiquita got like this when she had her eye on a rabbit. Suzy swallowed thickly. "Can I help you?"
At the sound of her voice the warrior sighed. A smile appeared, full of perfect white teeth. "Like birdsong," he said. He started toward her.
"Stop right there." Suzy took up a defensive stance and assessed her chances. She had her pepper spray and her self-defense training from the Y. A few narrow escapes from reptile thieves had sent her to the gym, where she discovered her own unexpected, sinewy strenght. If she struck fast and hard enough she could take him by surprise. He had no weapns on him that she could see.
He had no clothing on him either. Son of a snake, he was naked. How the hell had she missed that?
He froze at her warning. A scowl replaced the smile. His tongue darted out, imitation of her own habitual gesture. Her gaze instinctively dropped below the belt, or where a belt should be.
More than a belt was missing. Her menacing Aztec had no spear. A smooth expanse of skin stretched from sculpted thigh to sculpted thigh. Not so much as a hint of a dangler. Where was she supposed to aim her knee?
"This is sudden, I know," the warrior spoke, "but it was meant to be. You are a daughter of the mighty sky god, and I am -- "
"A woman?" Suzy blurted. "You're a woman?"
Nonplussed, he gawped at her. Slowly his stare followed hers down below. His dazzling smile reappeared. "Ah, of course. We are not mammals, to parade our shortcomings before all strangers' eyes. The scaly folk keep our deadliest weapon safely tucked away. You wish to see? Of course you do. All brides want to know if their husband will bring sufficient attributes to the marriage bed. Practical. I like that."
He set his muscled legs apart. The slit between them peeled back. A wedge-shaped head emerged, followed by a thick,coppery body. Suzy half expected to see a forked tongue poke out of it.
"This really isn't necessary," Suzy said hastily. "I don't need confirmation. You need some pants. That thing needs a leash. And I -- "
The anaconda between his legs reared up to study her out of its single blind eye. Suzy backed against her van, unable to look away. "Oh my god."
The Aztec beamed. "Precisely."
Where the hell were the cops when you needed them? Assuming the police would even bother booking someone over a minor infraction like indecent exposure. This was, after all, Talbot's Peak.
Nor was he indecent. Quite the knuckle-biting opposite.
Suzy made a choking noise. Her legs trembled. "What do you want from me?"
"What all men want from a beautiful woman. Your acceptance of my troth." He held out his hand. "Join with me, my bride. We are meant to be. It is destiny."
"Who the hell are you?"
A little indentation appeared between his brows. "I am Itzcoatl, the Obsidian Serpent. And you are -- " He peered at the logo on the side of her van. "Suzy the Snake Lady. Is this a description, or your sacred title? Are you a priestess of the Feathered Serpent?"
"Rick hired you to fuck with my head, didn't he?"
"I know of no 'Rick.' I know only that you are for me. We are meant to rule this wrold together, our coils entwined through eternity."
Great. A naked nutcase, coming on way too strong. However, he'd been nice enough to provide her knee with that hefty, unmissable target. Suzy struck like one of her snakes, with blinding speed and deadly accuracy.
So much for godhood.
With the "Obsidian Serpent" coiled upon himself in a well-muscled ball in the street, Suzy threw herself behind the wheel and sped off in a squeal of protesting rubber. The minute she got home, she would lock her door and alert the police. Then she'd phone Rick and give him the verbal version of what she'd just delivered to his flunky. Three months after a nasty breakup and he still couldn't just let it be? The nerve of some people.
# # #
The world Itzcoatl intended to rule gradually came back into focus. He picked himself gingerly up off the street. His nut-pouch throbbed in agony like a heart ripped from a sacrifice's chest. He'd forgotten these fleshly monkey-suits came with limitations.
Feathers of the sky god! He'd actually made a mistake. The divine essence of Quetzalcoatl coursed through his intended's veins. Of course she would be a warrior. That did not, he thought with gritted teeth, excuse such mistreatment of her lord. She deserved chastisement for her sin. Preferably delivered from a distance.
He levered himself upright and swayed on naked feet. His teeth flashed briefly, in spite of the pain. No serpent could have made a quicker strike. Or a more well-aimed one, he thought ruefully. The Snake Lady would prove a most able queen of creation, once he schooled her into showing proper deference.
He eased his abused spear-shaft back into its pocket and peered up the street. Her noxious chariot was long gone, but her taste remained on his tongue. He would find her again, and approach her again. More cautiously this time.
Shifting form from man to giant snake, Itzcoatl rose into the air. The encounter had taught him much, including the need for discretion. This was a new and possibly dangerous world, even to a god. His feathers shimmered to match the light around him, rendering him unseen. Now cloaked from mortal eyes, he soared in pursuit of his mate.