The place? The forest outside the city. The time? Noon. Or a few hours past it, maybe. Honestly, I forgot to charge my phone. I ain’t heading back yet, though. This is the last day in a long time I’ll have a chance to come out here, and I’m not going to lose my chance to break this story.
I’m not going to give up my chance to find a lamia.
We get stories coming in all the time, reports of snake people, huge snakes, usually muddled or disjointed. Everyone at the office considers them the ramblings of drunks or stoners. Most of them are confused, only half-remembering what they saw, but if you encountered a potentially hostile mythological creature, you’d be in too much a panic to remember the details, too. That’s why we have to go out and investigate this ourselves. Every time I say this I just get laughed at, stared at, or told to get back to work. Well, now I am working, out in the field.
My name’s Belle. I’m an investigative journalist. Or I will be. I’m just an intern right now. “Get back to work,” usually means get the coffee. But once I break this story I’ll finally show them I’m ready to be hired on for real.
I jump up and climb the sturdy branches of a tree taller than my apartment building. Any investigative reporter knows what you’ve got to focus on is the big picture. The details don’t make a story. The details just make a profile, or at best a funny anecdote. In this case, the big picture is the forest. There’s a big forest out here, with plenty of places for a lamia to hide, so you gotta search the entire place at once. It’s like looking for Bigfoot.
Bigfoot, by the way, isn’t real. Wouldn’t make sense. Its niche is taken by humans. Half-human half-snake, though? That makes sense. Mermaids, too. The Loch Ness Monster isn’t real because its niche got taken by whales. No, what’s in the Loch Ness is only the ghost of an ancient creature. And ghosts aren’t real. You stop being real once you die. Ghosts are just fiction that the real world can interact with.
Atop the tree I sit on a bench-sized branch and look out across the sea of leaves. Perfect positioning. I can see so much of the forest from here that I’m bound to spot a lamia. They won’t be able to hide from me. I’ve got keen senses. Nothing gets past me.
Huh, my arms must be numb from all that climbing. I can’t move them.
I look down and flinch at the zigzag scales around my abdomen, stripes pink and blue like bright berries. Where’d this tail come from? It rests on my legs and holds my arms down, squeezing around me—not painfully tight but with a strong grip, though it’s no wider than my arm. I push against it, flexing my muscles. Despite the transition my muscles are still impressive—a field reporter has to stay strong, after all. Still, the tail holds firm, flexing as if it’s got more muscles than my whole body. A pair of hands grip my shoulders.
“What, you don’t want to leave already, do you?”
I stare up at a short, scruffy gal—maybe some sort of gremlin, but with that scaly tail from under her dress she’s undeniably a lamia, and the owner of the tail around me now. She grins as if I’m an old chum, her tanned face smudged with dirt. I think so, anyway—her dark hair tumbles halfway down her body and obscures her face.
I grin—this will really show those naysayers at the office. “I’m gonna get promoted so high their heads are gonna spin!”
The lamia raises her eyebrows. “Eh? What are you talking about?”
“Sorry, let me introduce myself.” I sit up. “My name’s Belle, a reporter for The Daily Tramp. I came out here looking for evidence of the very thing now in front of me.” The lamia snickers and settles her hands over my face, her fingers gentle and dexterous over my skin. I pull away—I need my journalistic integrity.
“Oh, you mean a cute girl? You could’ve just looked in the mirror for that.”
I blush. Her face is close, and while I wouldn’t exactly call her pretty, she does have a charm to her unkempt style. Through her round orange glasses I see her eyes are two different colors, the left amber and right blue. Details like that aren’t important, though. I grimace.
“You—You can’t win over a reporter with sweet talk.” I smirk. “I won’t go easy on you, no matter how cute you are. I mean—” I sputter. I did not just say that!
The lamia giggles and releases my face. “Oh, I get it. You came out here to interview me.”
I rally with a straight back. “Yes! There are rumors of your kind, and I want to confirm them.”
“Well, the name’s Enna,” the lamia says. She looks up, a hand on her chin. “But if you’re gonna interview me I ought to look my best.”
I look her over. The one part of her appearance I would say has any class is her outfit, a kimono of colors like cosmos, an outer pink and inner purple, with an indigo sash. It’s so ornate it doesn’t look like it belongs in the forest at all. Yet she doesn’t wear it with any particular class, wrinkled and rolled up and folded around her like a wild martial artist’s robe.
Enna embraces and twirls me in her arms, spinning the world around me. I shout and shuffle against her embrace, but despite her smaller human body her strong tail lets her hold me in this impromptu dance. Before I know it I’m plopped back centered on the branch with not one but three loops now around me, each thicker than the last.
“What are you doing?” I shout, pushing against her squeezing coils. She grips my arms down; I suspect she has stronger muscles in her tail than I ever had in my whole body.
“It’s for your own safety,” Enna says; her grin shows safety is secondary in her thoughts. “Don’t want you to fall, right?”
I blush at the tickle of her scales against my belly. I glare at her. “And the loop you got under my shirt?”
Enna shrugs. “Well, you’re warm, I’m cold, it feels nice?” She leans close and grins. “Doesn’t it feel nice?”
I look away but she slithers the end of her tail over my face and pulls me back. She snickers. I’m not about to admit her tail does feel nice, like a cool massage after walking through the forest. I would’ve thought those tight loops would be uncomfortable, but the squeeze actually kneads my muscles and bones nicely. I wonder if she’s a masseur.
“Lamias can’t regulate their body temperatures as well as humans, you know.” Enna rises. “That’s the only lamia tip you’ll get until I pretty myself up. Just a sec!” She disappears into the foliage above. She lifts the two upper loops of her tail off me, leaving just the one under my shirt as thick as my waist. “Oh, I’ll need this. Don’t worry, I’ll keep your seatbelt in place.”
I scowl on the branch. I may have this gal where I want her—agreeing to an interview—but I’ll bet coins to cashews she has me where she wants me even more. I need to score an advantage. She’s up there to pretty herself up? From the looks of her she won’t do much. Besides, we’re up a tree. I’ll throw her off by subtly hinting she’s still a mess.
“I’m ready.” Enna descends from the foliage. “My apologies for the delay, but I do hope I’m quite presentable now.”
My snarky words catch in my throat as I stare at her. To say she’s “gussied up” would be an understatement. Her hair is twirled up in curls, and whereas her scattered hair looked like a rat’s nest before it now flowed, smooth and soft and wavy as a stream. Her skin is clean, glowing, radiant. Even her kimono is smoothed, loosened to drape from her like she’s a princess with all the elements swirling around and draping from her, heeding her royal call. Before she was at most cute, the way a street urchin is, but now she’s full-blown beautiful.
“You look”—I try to get a cutting remark in but find none—“nice. How did you do all that up there?”
“Now, now, my dear friend,” Enna says, leaning in close, “I’ll discuss lamias with you, but I must be allowed my own secrets, mustn’t I?”
A flowery, fluttery scent smacks my senses when she nears. Did she perfume herself? I sit up—now I gotta know what she did up there.
“No way! An investigative reporter finds out everything! The whole picture!”
“I suppose I could reveal my secrets,” Enna says. She chuckles and reaches around to my sandy-red ponytail to pull a few twigs out. “But not yet. Allow me to divulge more pertinent lamia information first.” Her hand brushes my face, and it’s like she moisturized. Does she have a whole washroom in this tree or something?
I find myself sinking as Enna slips the end of her tail over my shoulders, like the softest of pillows squeezing my weary muscles. I try to shrug her off, wanting to not be lulled, but she stays on. I glare at her.
“This isn’t a very professional interview environment,” I say.
“But it is quite cozy, is it not?” Enna caresses her soft tail over my face; my eyebrows lift and I tense to try and not shiver—how is her tail so velvety? Something seems off about her eyes, but those details don’t matter. She still has an amber eye and a blue eye, no change there.
“I guess the interview setting is up to you here,” I say with a glance at her tail. “Let’s get started. How many of you are there?”
“There is but one of me.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Really? There’s only one lamia in this forest?”
Enna laughs. “Oh, my apologies, I misunderstood your question.” Her tail slips off my shoulders. “There are many lamias in the forest; truly, more than I could count single-tailedly.” She chuckles.
“Single-tailedly. I get it,” I say in a stony voice. “Because you have”—her tail slides around my torso, forming a second loop above the first—“one tail.” She slithers until the loop is wider than my leg. I didn’t look at her pattern too closely before, but those wobbly zigzags sting my eyes and waver like some sort of cursed Magic Eye picture. It’s hard to look at for too long, yet it’s easy to keep looking at the attention-grabbing scales. I glance back up at her. “Do all lamias have scale patterns like yours?”
“Oh my, no, my pretty scales are quite unique. Beautiful, aren’t they?”
I glance at the scales again. “Sure are.”
Enna’s smile deepens. “Some might even say dazzling.”
“What of local politics?” I need to get to other topics. “Do you have a governing body out here?”
“We do,” Enna says. She furrows her brow and her smile fades. “It’s a rather open arrangement, one that satisfies very little of what we need and oft leads to issues. Many sneak past the lax laws, with an ineffective leadership.”
She goes on for a while, actually. I keep glancing down at her scales; the lower loop moves out from under my shirt and I can see it more. One loop’s pattern zigs left, and the other zags right; I can feel they’re still, but the patterns appear to move. It’s hard to focus on, yet it keeps drawing my focus, alternatively scattering and holding my attention. I glance at Enna but keep dropping my head to those scales; it’s like they color my thoughts blue and pink.
There’s a story there. I can tell. It’s drawing me to it. I snap my head up realizing Enna stopped talking.
“So the scales in the pattern of power are a poorly-scaled pattern in your, um, opinion.” Some of those words seemed to get away from me.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Enna says. She waffles a hand and shrugs. “But it’s not really that important.”
I peer at her—for as long as I don’t look at her tail, anyway. She looks different—her hair is tangled and dress wrinkled again. Minor details, though—I can tell her tail pattern is what’s important.
“Right, agreed,” I say. I glance at her tail, the scales pattern ebbing and flowing. They seem to move every time I look away and I glance back to check. “Do lamias have any sort of special tailent—talent, I mean? Scales— Say, something with the tail, scales?” I blink—I’m staring down at her tail. I look back up. “Sorry. Your tail is distracting.”
“It’s quite all right, my scales pattern is fascinating.” Her hair is coifed again—I must have seen it wrong before. “We lamias do have some special abilities, some more so than others. I could give you a sample, if you like.”
“Yeah, let’s see it,” I say. I’m here to learn everything important. I’ve got to focus on the scales—story—scales . . . Her tail slithers around me, the loops moving in opposite directions, and I stare wide-eyed at the bright, swaying pink and blue stripes. They look more vivid than before. As her scales slide around me her pattern moves faster than the tail itself, and it fills my sight. Maybe my eyes aren’t focusing, getting double-vision. If I stare intently I should be . . . able to . . . see it clearer . . .
That swaying pattern. It’s so hard to follow as the loops spin around me, but it’s even harder to follow anything else. I need to follow the scales for my story, that’s what’s important. A tale of the tail slithering and swirling. My eyes droop; I breathe heavily, mouth hanging open. Why am I so dizzy? I must be winded from climbing the tree. That’s it. Need a rest . . . Gotta stay alert . . . Gotta stay focused on the pattern. Follow the tail tale . . .
A pressure builds around me. Enna’s tail circles higher, squeezing a soft massage over my body and filling my eyes even more with the prepossessing pattern. I struggle to look away and get back to the interview but my head feels so sluggish. I glance at her a few times, smirking, giggling, permed hair, tangled hair, caressing my cheek, sticking her tongue out, kissing my forehead. I always drop back to the pattern filling my head.
She speaks but it’s hard to focus on her words. “Pretty scales, ain’t they?” “You’re a good girl, aren’t you?” “Heheh, you’re adorable when dizzy.” “Hmhm, she fell for the scales quite heavily, did she not?” “We found us a cute one.” “You have eyes only for our beautiful scales, don’t you?”
It feels nice to feel so dizzy, like I can let another focus override my normal focus. I don’t have to think so hard. I can just let my thoughts drop away . . . if I want . . . and I do want . . . My mouth rises in a lazy smile. The interview can wait. It’s so nice to follow the swirling delight the enchanting scale pattern gives me. I can feel a weight lifting off my shoulders, replaced with the weight of Enna’s soft, heavy, caressing tail coiling up my weary body. Each loop increases both the deepening massage from her squeezing tail and my dizzy smile.
I glance up for a second but she’s gone. I hear her voice in my ear—both ears—her sweet, warm, snickering voice.
“You’re sooo sleepy, aren’t you?”
“You must rest after ascending the tree.”
“You just wanna drop and sink into my coils, don’t’cha?”
“And allow our pattern to sink into your mind.”
“A nice nap in our cool coils is great, ain’t it?”
“But alas, it cannot last forever, so perhaps now it is time for you to . . .”
“WAKE UP!” she shouts into both ears at the same time.
The shout snaps me from the reverie of her pattern. Scales under my chin push my head up, breaking my sight from Enna’s tail. I blink; when my sight returns to focus I shake my head. I’m staring at not one but two Enna—one with tangled hair, one with fancy curls.
“What? What’s going on?” I shout. I glare between the two. “What did you—why are there two of you now?” The messier Enna giggles, arms akimbo.
“Come now,” the fancier Enna says with a calm smile, “a hostile tone is no way to conduct an interview.”
“Interview’s cancelled!” I say, pushing against the coils now squeezing up to my neck, but all the human muscles in the world couldn’t break free of their sinewy tails. “This is an interrogation now!”
The fancy Enna chuckles, a hand under her chin like an artist evaluating her work. “I’d rather think we would be in the position of interrogating you, were that what this was.”
“Just what do you”—I glance at their scales pattern and find myself staring, dizzy—“do you, take . . . me for . . .?” The fancy Enna tilts my head up, her fingers under my chin. I blink my senses back.
“How should we answer that question?” The messy Enna winks and smirks.
“I believe the usual consideration for that inquiry is”—the fancy Enna grins, leaning closer—“a fool.”
I glare at them, struggling against their coils. The messy Enna pulls the other back.
“Aw, don’t pay Anne any mind, she just thinks she’s a princess.”
“You’re the one who made for me this regalia, dear sister,” the other says with a laugh and a lift of her kimono-draped arms.
I look between them, eyebrows twitching in suspicion. Their eyes don’t match—blue and amber, but each in different eyes. “Anne? Enna? So you’re two different people? Conjoined at the tail?”
“Oh, dear, no,” says Anne. Enna chuckles like a gremlin.
“We’d drive each other crazy if that were the case!”
“We’re merely twins,” Anne says. Two tail ends slither over and squeeze my cheeks. I shift to push them off.
“Let go of me!” I shout. I don’t want to let them lull me no matter how soft they caress.
“Aw, but don’t our scales feel so nice and cool?” Enna presses her fists against her chin. I gasp as an alternating set of the loops tighten and rub my skin; the lowest loop slips back under my shirt. They constrict into a squeezing, powerful squish.
“Now, dear Enna, don’t crush our guest,” Anne says as if watching a puppy play with a toy. “It’s not very polite.” The loops slacken back to the relaxed but immobilizing embrace before—like a full-body massage that can switch to a crushing force at a moment’s notice. Rather puts an edge on any relaxation it gives. Enna scratches her face and looks away.
“Sorry, sorry. I just love human warmth,” she says. “I always get cold.”
I peer at them. “Is that just what you’re after? Someone warm to hold?”
Anne looks at her sister. “Well, that is what my sister Enna typically seeks.”
Enna grins. “Guilty as charged!” She leans forward. “But forget what we’re after. You were after some answers, weren’t you?”
“A little explanation of our special talent?” Anne says. Their tails rise before my face and I look away, not about to fall for their dizzying spectacle again. They laugh. “Don’t worry, we won’t fill your head with our prepossessing pattern again.” I open my eyes after their tails shift down.
“How does it work?” I ask.
“A mere optical illusion, really,” says Anne.
“But it’s so hard not to stare at it,” Enna says, “people just start to zonk out as it fills their thoughts.” She grins. “Nice, isn’t it?”
I grumble, certainly not about to admit that. “So do all lamias have patterns like yours?”
The sisters put their arms over each other’s shoulders. “Just us!”
“Well, strictly speaking,” says Enna, hand on her chin, “maybe others elsewhere, but it’s not a common sort of thing.”
“It is a rare talent,” Anne says. “It makes up some for our relatively short tails.”
I shift in the coils. “Don’t seem short to me.”
“How long’s your tail?” Enna asks.
“As long as you can tell the tale,” Anne says. She smiles; Enna rolls her eyes. “But the fact is, we have both tails around you. Were it but one of us, we could only just manage to coil fully around you. Most lamias have longer tails.”
“But I dare you to find one prettier, softer, more caressing”—Enna squeezes again. I groan until she relaxes her tail and frowns. “Sorry. I’ll try to control myself.” She grins.
“One of you mentioned the governing body earlier,” I say. At this Anne perks up, while Enna shakes her head. “Are there laws regarding how lamias interact with humans?”
“Hardly,” Anne says. “It’s quite a free-for-all in those relations. Not that I believe the law should be strict, but some organized rules for how to approach and what is allowed would—”
“My point is,” I say before she goes on a tangent, “we get stories from people who claim to have seen lamias. They’re usually pretty confused accounts.”
Anne smirks and scoffs. “Had they met a lamia, it was truly an amateur who let them leave.”
I raise my eyebrows and repeat, “Who let them leave.” That’s concerning. Enna pushes Anne aside.
“With that knowledge, she means!” says Enna. “It’s preferable to have someone forget everything they saw about lamias. Keep it secret, you know.”
I peer at them. “Then what are you going to do about me? You didn’t let me interview you just to make me forget.”
“Uhh…” The two ramble at once, and the gist I get is that, No, they won’t make me forget, and in fact both believe that lamias should become wider-known to humans.
“You tricked me already,” I say. “A lot of times, in fact! How am I supposed to trust you?”
Anne smiles. “You have little choice at the moment, I would say.” Enna pushes her aside.
“By that she means, we’re so trustworthy that you, uh, that is—” She pulls Anne forward and the two lean close to me. “Well, you can trust faces like these, can’t you?” They both smile, Enna with a toothy grin while Anne smirks.
“Yes, indeed,” Anne says, “look into our eyes. You can trust in us.”
“I really don’t . . . think . . .”
“It’s easier that way,” says Anne. My eyes widen at a deep violet emerging from Anne’s eyes. All my thoughts feel violet until a new color emerges, a bright azure shaking my thoughts. I blink the colors out of my head as if a pressure was building on my brain.
“Wait a minute, what was that?” I ask. Enna shushes me.
“Hey, take a look,” she says. I stare as the same violet emerges from her eyes. I try to push the color out of my head, but a soft red follows, and my thoughts feel like they’re being colored over. I shudder and manage to blink again.
“Wait . . . Hold up, you’re . . . something again . . .” I gaze wide-eyed, mouth agape, as the sisters look at me with the flashing rings, violet and azure in Anne’s eyes and violet and red in Enna’s. The rest of the world blurs away as the sunset of colors causes a sunset of my thoughts. It reminds me much of staring at their tails, but with horror I realize it’s stronger. That horror ebbs; somehow, being stronger makes it okay.
It’s hard to focus on either sister, harder as their heads rotate in opposite directions; their violets match, but the blue and red pull me in different directions. It’s dizzying, hard to keep up, but a desire to follow drags me towards them as if there are strings from their eyes to mine.
“You wanted to know all about lamias, right?” Enna asks.
“I . . . yes,” I mutter, eyelids drooping, hard to focus. Questions. Interview. “What is . . .?”
“Here’s your story,” Anne says. “Beautiful lamias are utterly irresistible.”
“No,” I say.
“Yes!” says Enna. She grins and shushes me. “Just relax, you’re so tired, sink into a nice, soft bed of our coils.” They squeeze me, enveloping hug. I smile, try not to, so nice. Cozy. Soft. Hug. Snug. Squeeze. Cool. Scales. Massage. Sink.
“Follow us,” Anne says, “follow the colors.”
Heads swaying, follow, so hard. Around and around, opposite circles. Follow who, follow both, can’t, must, sway, round, around, left, no right, no up, down. Coils sliding, massaging, caressing face, so soft, squishy, squeezing, nice, wonderful, guiding, give in to tails, thank you.
“She doing super well, ain’t she, Anne?” Enna pats my head. I beam. Nice, wonderful, follow. Soft squishy happy.
“Yes, dear sister.” Anne holds my chin, strokes my cheek. I sigh, touch caress tender pet loving gentle serenity. “I think she found her story.”
Story. Story. Story? This isn’t right. Supposed to get the story, not become the story. Fight, resist. I frown, groan; gotta snap out of this.
“Ah-ah, don’t fight your desire.” Anne leans in closer; Enna snickers. “You don’t want to leave us, do you? After all . . .” She slips an arm behind my head. “It’s so easy to fall in love with me.”
She kisses my lips and squeezes in closer, slipping her snaking tongue over mine. The shock snaps me awake but stuns me, and I stare into their blooming eyes as the colors snuff out each thought. Warmth spreads from my mouth to my head and through my body. The world spins; my focus fails. Can’t think straight. Head warm, stuffy. Eyes droop, so sleepy, tired, weary. Head twirling, swirling, colors blurring, world is whirling, lips are curling. Sinking, sinking, draining, sinking . . .
Coils squeeze around, caressing, tight embrace, resistance dissolves. Pretty colors. Soft scales. Bliss kiss. Trust friends. Trust lovely lamias. Trust Enna. Trust Anne. Sleep. Sleepy sleep. No sense resisting sleep. No sense resisting lovely, trustworthy friends. No sense thinking anymore. Smile for friends. Smile. Sleep. Trust. Love. Scales. Coils.
Violet, violet. Red, azure. Violet. Red. Azure.
Duth here. Belle doesn’t exactly have enough conscious mind to continue, so I gotta finish this story.
Anne and Enna smile at Belle, her eyes wide and spinning, her mouth wide and grinning.
“That was fun!” Enna says, holding Belle’s warm cheeks in her hands.
“It was, I must agree,” Anne says. She taps her chin. “You know, a reporter may prove useful. Perhaps once she’s sufficiently infatuated with me to not need—”
“You?” Enna looks at her sister. “What do you mean infatuated with you? I saw her first!”
Anne laughs. “Dear sister, it was my kiss that finished her. Besides, you know you will cease caring once you’re warm again.”
“No I won’t!” Enna crosses her arms. “You just think you deserve everyone.”
Anne scowls. “You do not even desire a partner.”
“Maybe I do.” Enna looks away. “You don’t know that.”
“You do not even care for sex.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want a partner.” Enna glares at her sister. “Just because I don’t obsess over catches like you–”
“I do not obsess!”
Enna laughs. “You almost choked your last beau.” She shrugs, mouth flat. “You scold me for squeezing too tight, you tend to go crazy with it.”
Anne looks away. “I will not hang here and listen to slander from a gremlin.”
Enna shouts and tackles her sister.
Well, I’m sure they’ll settle this argument somehow.
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