Content warning: non-consensual hypnosis and snake coiling, peer pressure (not actually peer pressure)
Belle tugged down on the rope, and the branches that the grappling hook clasped to groaned. She gripped the rope and stepped onto the tree trunk. Satisfied that the branches held her weight, she tied the other end of the rope around her torso.
Her thick caulk boots gripped the hard bark as she climbed the tree, her auburn ponytail dangling from her head. Hidden in the night by her dark pants and jacket, she’d have been stealthy if not for her groans and stomps. She wanted to blend into the night so the Mushroom Turtles wouldn’t notice her and she could snap a picture.
The Mushroom Turtle: a larval fairy that sprouted from trees at night. Belle hadn’t found much documentation, but she extrapolated information from her research on fairies. She wasn’t sure if the Mushroom Turtles looked more like mushrooms or turtles, but she was certain they hatched into full fairies. Recent scientific evidence of electrical mushroom language provided further evidence that fairies hatched from mushrooms, and Belle wanted photographic proof.
She hadn’t told anyone at the news agency, not because she didn’t want to share the prestige of the find—she’d make it a team effort if she could—but because they’d probably laugh at her. What, did they think mushrooms just grew on trees? That those lights in the forest were just fireflies? That shadow in the lake wasn’t a sea monster?
Well, okay, that last one hadn’t been a sea monster. It’d been a haunted ship. Inhabited by the ghost of a sea monster. Regardless, once she brought photographic evidence to the office she was sure to be promoted full time. No more intern, she’d lead the story and organize a team of science reporters studying the Mushroom Turtles in more detail.
Belle climbed onto a thick tree branch. It held her weight with nary a tremble, and she sat down against the rough trunk. She opened her backpack and took some test shots with her digital camera. Satisfied with the settings, she looped her rope around a higher branch and tied it for safety before she settled in for the long night. She munched on some pretzels and took a swig of water. The Mushroom Turtles would come out late, and she would stay awake all night if she had to.
A moment later she jolted awake. But no, she didn’t fall asleep! She was definitely still wide awake and not dozing off despite digging at the beach all day looking for evidence of ghost crabs (she’d found one but later learned the animal was already scientifically described and public knowledge).
At a tap on her shoulder Belle spun around. She hoped to see a mushroom or a turtle, but only the still, dark tree presented itself. She felt another tap behind her and turned back. Something rustled the thick foliage above. Belle inched forward for a better look. She expected the Mushroom Turtles to glow, but she wasn’t certain. She only saw branches among the leaves.
Belle spun around. Before her stood a dark lady in a darker hood. From her yellow tunic emerged a scaly tail striped in murky red and blue, coiled like a snake around the branch near the tree trunk.
“My name is Mira. I’m glad to meet you.” She grinned under her green hood and leaned closer to Belle. “Visitors are always welcome in my tree.”
“Oh, great,” Belle grumbled. “A lamia.” She turned away and sat on the branch.
Mira watched her. She put a hand to her chin and uttered a single laugh.
“Interesting. Most humans would be in awe to meet a lamia. I understand there’s rarely contact between our species. Are you familiar with us, I wonder?”
Belle glanced at the lamia, who’d slithered closer. She’d removed her hood, revealing piercing yellow eyes and leafy-green hair. Belle looked at the leaves for any sign of Mushroom Turtles. There was no story in lamias. Everyone knew lamias were real. Just because nobody knew anything about them didn’t mean it was a story. The Mushroom Turtles—the public didn’t know they were real, and Belle wanted to make her name by proving it.
Mira grinned and grabbed Belle in her strong, supple hand to pull her up close. Belle shouted and yanked her hand from the grasp. Mira chuckled.
“Come now, don’t be sulky,” she said, “you have a host to entertain you tonight.”
“Go away!” Belle said, maintaining a forceful whisper to not scare off the Mushroom Turtles. She pushed Mira away and stumbled back. “The Mushroom Turtles avoid people, and they won’t show up if someone else is here.”
Mira sat on the branch and blinked.
“The . . . Mushroom Turtles?”
“They’re fairies,” Belle said, watching the leaves for movement. “They look like mushrooms. Or maybe turtles. I’m not sure, I’m here to confirm they exist, so go away.”
Mira laughed. She reached for Belle’s hand.
“Silly girl, I can show you something much more interesting than–”
Belle waved her arms at Mira to shoo her away. She wasn’t taking what this lamia was selling.
“No! Just get out of here!” she whispered. She stepped back, glared at the end of the branch behind her, and stepped forward. The lamia had cornered her.
Mira scowled. She crossed her arms and turned away.
“You’re going to come up to my tree and tell me to leave?” she said.
“Yes. Whatever. I don’t care. Just go away,” Belle insisted.
“That is terribly rude, you know.” Mira smiled, just for a second. Her tail shifted and rustled the leaves above. “My last guest was much more polite. See?”
Belle jumped as Mira’s tail, wound in thick coils around a bundle, dropped from the foliage. The bundle in question had fuzzy caramel hair sticking above the top coil. Belle lifted her head to see the human Mira held, the highest coil nestled around their neck. Their small, pudgy face looked frozen in a wide smile, and a steady rhythm of red, blue, and green rings pulsated through their wide-open eyes. Belle wondered if they were wearing some fancy glasses or contact lenses.
“Oh, Wren here was a nervous little ball of worries, at first,” Mira said. She beamed as if Wren were an obedient pet. She patted their head and their smile seemed to widen. “But that all goes away when you’re polite and give your host your full, undivided attention.”
Belle sighed. At this point she thought she should just find another tree, but this lamia and her “guest” were in her way. She looked at the silent human wrapped by Mira. They weren’t wearing glasses, rather their actual eyes appeared to glow. The colors looked striking, as if each ring filled Belle’s mind for a moment. She found them both hard to look at and hard to look away from.
“What is with their eyes?” Belle asked.
“Oh, you noticed?” Mira laughed, a hand to her mouth. “They have very pretty eyes, don’t you think?” She lifted the coiled human forward, tilting Wren’s face towards Belle’s. “Such pleasing, pretty eyes, aren’t they?”
“They look . . . weird,” Belle said. Yet staring at them, she felt a buzz in her head like an internal massage. Strange as their flashing eyes appeared, Belle found herself staring deeper. With the dark forest around them Wren’s eyes appeared to glow, and Belle forgot she was staring. The colors looked pretty, and she wanted to stare. They rippled across Belle’s vision like a lens flare, blurring into a piercing kaleidoscope spinning through her sight into her thoughts.
Pretty colors . . .
“You could have pretty eyes, too.” Mira’s voice sounded far away.
“Yes,” Belle said without thinking. “Wait, I mean . . .”
Belle turned away and clenched her eyes shut. What was she doing? She rubbed her eyes and blinked hard. She felt a sudden wave of drowsiness, but she’d planned to stay up all night out there. She couldn’t be tired yet. She’d started focusing on the wrong things. She was up there to find Mushroom Turtles!
A scaly limb curled around Belle’s head and pulled her gaze to Mira.
“Yes, you want pretty eyes just like Wren, don’t you?” Mira said.
“No, I . . .” Belle lost her sharp retort. Mira’s eyes pulsated the colors now, a burning red, a swallowing blue, and a shadowy green. While Wren’s eyes only held Belle’s attention, Mira’s eyes immediately grabbed her entire mind. Mira grinned as her expression dropped to an empty gape.
“Come now, I can give you pretty eyes, too, it’s no trouble at all.” Mira leaned closer over Belle. As she occupied Belle’s space she lifted Wren aside. “All you have to do is give me your complete and utter attention.”
Mira slipped the end of her tail down Belle’s face. Belle whimpered at the gentle stroke of scales massaging her skin. The forest and whatever Belle was doing there faded from her thoughts as Mira invaded. Her tail streamed to Belle’s legs and looped around her pants. Belle couldn’t glance down, her gaze focused to Mira’s beaming face as the colors rippled through her sight and seized her mind, but she felt the gentle, growing pressure as Mira wrapped around and grasped her legs.
“That’s right, just let the colors flow through your eyes and seep into your mind,” Mira said.
Belle shivered as Mira’s long tail squeezed around her thighs and wrapped under her butt. She pulled Belle to a seated position on her slithering tail and coiled around her hips, holding her in a seat that slithered around her body. As Mira gyrated around Belle she slid Belle’s pants against her. The seated position forced Belle to stare up, her gaze locked to Mira’s ensnaring, entrancing colors.
“Such pretty colors make pretty eyes,” Mira said. She scratched Belle under her chin. Belle’s eyelids dropped as Mira’s spell wrapped around her mind like her tail wrapped around her body. Protest bubbled in Belle’s mind.
“Wait, no . . .” Belle groaned. This lamia was tricking her somehow, messing with her head. Trying to take control. She didn’t want to stare. She didn’t want her tail around her. That thought repeatedly slipped from her grasp as Mira’s pulsating colors flooded her senses. As Belle’s gaze remained hooked to Mira’s she felt the lamia’s tail squeeze higher, wrapping around her torso as if squeezing her senses to her head to be hypnotized. As Mira’s scent twirled around Belle her soft voice drizzled over her mind.
“Pretty eyes, you like to stare,” Mira crooned. “Pretty eyes, you want to stare.”
Belle tried to resist Mira’s words, but they played through her mind more than her own thoughts. She’d forgotten that she had wanted pretty eyes. No, that was wrong—she’d forgotten that she didn’t want to stare. She continued to lose track of her thoughts, her own wants forgotten as she repeatedly mistook Mira’s stronger words for her own thoughts.
“Beautiful eyes, you must stare. So late, sleep with nary a care.”
Mira’s deep voice echoed in Belle’s mind. Her own scattered, shattered thoughts became difficult to follow, while Mira’s melodious rhyme flowed her thoughts down a spinning river.
Mira’s tail lifted Belle’s backpack off from behind her. Belle’s mind shouted; the lamia was outright stealing her stuff! She managed to scowl at Mira and wiggle in an attempt to shake her off. Mira lifted Belle’s shirt with her tail, sliding her coils around her exposed skin. Belle’s scowl dropped and her eyes jolted as the cool scales slithered against her torso in circles, each successive loop pushing her shirt higher. Her shouting thoughts faded into the mind fog.
The pressure around Belle’s thighs grew heavier the further Mira’s tail wrapped her up. The squishing coils dragged her down as the thick tail seat slithering under her butt pushed her closer to Mira. Belle grumbled; Mira was becoming frisky with her tail. She tried to ignore the intruding thoughts saying that the slithering scales felt sublime.
Belle gasped; her mind jolted as the colors stopped flowing from Mira. Another source of pulsating red, blue, green from a blank, smiling face appeared in front of her.
“Why don’t you give me a big smile like Wren?” Mira said. She tilted Wren’s head to nod in front of Belle. Belle’s head followed in a nod on its own. “They look so happy that they have such pretty eyes. Just like you . . .” Mira drifted back into Belle’s sight, eyes pulsating bright as a sun. “Just like me. You should smile, your eyes are becoming so pretty.”
Mira’s tail squeezed Belle’s upper arms, coils now wrapped around her chest. Belle groaned and shuffled to free her arms, but her lips twitched into a smile like her friends. Her heavy eyelids drooped up and down as dizzy sleep flooded her. She yawned, briefly grinning wide as Mira shushed and sang to her.
“Sleep so deep, don’t make a peep. Keep your eyes open to stare as you sleep.”
Belle struggled in the encroaching coils and briefly scowled in a dizzy act of defiance, but she lost her voice, Mira’s words etching silence into her mind. Mira swayed her head clockwise, lifting Wren so their head swayed counterclockwise. Belle’s head lolled as she followed Mira, then Wren, then Mira, back and forth, dizzy from swapping, sleepy from swaying.
As the languor settled over Belle her eyes drifted shut. She opened them, heavy in her head as Mira told her to stare. She wanted to shut her eyes and go to sleep, but she had to keep them open to gaze at Mira. She wanted pretty eyes like her friends, after all.
“Sleep,” Mira whispered, “in a blanket of me.”
As Mira’s tail wrapped over her shoulders Belle settled into the tight blanket of coils. From the snug loops squeezing her arms down to coils as thick as her waist hugging her legs she sat enveloped in Mira’s body. The lamia’s firm tail wrapped tight below to seat Belle’s behind, and the scales massaged the skin under her shirt in a gentle wave.
Belle couldn’t shut her eyes, but she could still drift into the blissful sleep of Mira’s pulsating colors, sinking into the heavy blanket of her scaly squeezes. She just had to sleep with her eyes open, and she could stare into those perfect colors forever.
“Trust me entirely,” Mira whispered in a voice louder than all the world. “I will give you what you want.”
Mira wrapped up Belle’s shoulders and coiled around her neck. She massaged her scales against Belle’s neck and chin and face as she squeezed and held her body firmly in place. A few scattered thoughts left in Belle’s head said No, but an overwhelming voice commanded her mind: Yes.
Belle’s last thoughts popped, and she smiled, her eyes shimmering as bright and fast as Wren’s now. She dropped into Mira’s power, lost in her overwhelming colors, coiled up to her chin in Mira’s tail. The hunter laughed and pulled Belle and Wren closer.
“I do enjoy when my guests trust my eyes,” Mira said, holding her guests’ heads in her arms. “And two guests opens lots of fun possibilities.”
She moved towards Belle to kiss her, but something hard and rubbery plopped onto her head with a gurgle.
Mira scooped the object in her hand to look at it. It glowed a faint blue and looked like a mushroom, but with a turtle under the cap. Or a turtle shell with a mushroom stem inside?
She cracked a smile. “Well what do you know.” Maybe whatever nonsense Belle had been talking about had more to it than she thought.
The Mushroom Turtle shook and jumped out of Mira’s palm, spreading a tickling powder of spores. Mira sneezed.
“Oh! What . . .” Her eyelids drooped. She felt a wave of drowsiness fall over her. “Oh, no,” she mumbled. She yawned. “I ought to stab you for that . . .” She wanted to have fun with her guests, but she was in no shape to do so now. She rested against the pair of coils. At least she had warm guests to snuggle through the night. She could have her fun in the morning.
She dozed off, her guests’ eyes drifting shut soon after, and the three slept through the night.
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