Propped up on the pliant, leather sofa, iced coffee and a bag of Dove chocolates near at hand, I tried to concentrate on the open textbook braced against my raised thighs. Meta-ethics, normative ethics, applied ethics…
Why did I need to study philosophy to be a molecular biologist? What did philosophy have to do with genetics? I sure as hell didn’t know, but the counselor had said if I wanted to supervise research projects in vector construction, I’d need to hold a Doctor of Philosophy, along with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology.
I had to agree with Daddy on one thing: you can’t fight city hall. So I hadn’t argued, just signed up for the required classes because…
Because someday I wanted to fiddle around inside the human DNA, discover which gene did what, which ones produced murderers, rapists, child molesters. I wanted to ferret out the genetic factor that made people turn out like my Daddy: mean to the bone. And I wanted to turn them off. For good. Better yet, introduce an improvement, something like the spider-silk goat milk.
My mind swam with possibilities, the changes and enhancements that could be made to the human race, creating a society where fear of your fellow humans didn’t exist. Utopia. Well, almost. There’d still be—
A soft thump broke the silence.
My fingers clasping the caramel-filled morsel stopped an inch from my lips. My eyes scanned the row of floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out upon the front porch. The night stared back. Nothing more.
Feeling as if I were being watched, though my eyes and common sense told me no one was outside, I peered harder into the darkness. I was just being a “Fuckin’ dumb-ass…” I mumbled Daddy’s words, then popped the chocolate in my mouth.
I flipped to the next page and started reading.
But I couldn’t focus, couldn’t shake the feeling of eyes crawling over my skin.
Time and again, I found myself glancing up from the open book to the blank windows. Was I hoping to surprise someone? Catch them in the act of spying on me? And who in hell did I expect to see anyway? That occasional trespassing hunter? At 1:00 am? Get real.
The noise I’d heard…maybe just a raccoon looking for a late-night snack. More than likely, though, just my imagination.
I tried to concentrate on the black words stamped on white, but it was no use.
“Shit!” I slapped the book shut and plunked it down beside the chocolates. I sprang to my feet and made my way around the cavernous living room, snapping off all the lights except for one small lamp. Now I didn’t feel as if my every movement was spotlighted on a stage.
I crossed the room and starting at the far left, strolled by the bank of windows, pausing before each to scan the darkness beyond. Now that nearly all the house lights were off, I could make out the wide, plank boards of the porch bathed in the soft glow of the half-moon. The empty porch.
The heebie-jeebies retreated. Somewhat.
My feeling of unease surprised me. I had always loved the darkness, the shadows, places sunlight didn’t reach, places like the closed space beneath the sagging boughs of the old cedar tree that sprawled in all its pungent glory behind the barn—my childhood hideout. Countless times, I had curled up on the soft, nettled ground there and dreamed of a world filled with smiling mamas, kind daddies, and happy, shiny-eyed sisters.
Lord, I missed home. Mama. My sisters. The woods and fields and dusty, dirt roads.
Tears sprang into my eyes. I swiped at them with the back of my hand, sniffed my nose, trying to pull them back inside. But it was no use; sometimes sadness will have its way.
It had been a mistake to stay here by myself, test be damned. Aloneness let memories slip in; lack of concentration allowed them to set up housekeeping.
Another noise from outside—a soft, sibilant swish followed by a sweeping rasp.
My heart bounced into my throat. Something was out there.
I started to turn, march straight to my phone and call the police, but a little voice inside me muttered: It’s probably just a ‘coon. You gonna call the cops about a ‘coon? Have them drive all the way out here over a hungry ‘coon? I could picture burly, uniformed men laughing at my skittishness, like Daddy had laughed when I begged him not to lock me in the closet because it was dark and small and scared me—before I had learned darkness was my ally.
I’d take another look…
I retraced my steps, staring intently into the midnight world beyond the windows.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Buck-ass naked boards. Nothing more.
I began turning away—have another go at the books—and sensed movement in my peripheral vision. Slowly, I pivoted, wide eyes probing the night and saw…
Rising up out of the darkness at the edge of the porch, the most beautiful face I had ever seen. Awestruck, all I could do was stare.
“Oh my God…”
Such perfection. Jet-black hair dancing with purple glints fell in soft waves, framing an exquisite face colored silver in the cold light of the half-moon.
With an enigmatic smile, the apparition pulled back and disappeared into the shadows.
Feeling as if it didn’t belong to me, my hand reached out, twisted the deadbolt, and opened the door. I stepped out onto the boards, my breath preceding me into the cold night. I wrapped my arms around my body.
With guarded steps, I moved out to the edge of the porch. My eyes combed the darkness. Still and silent, the darkness gave nothing back.
What the hell was wrong with me? Was I losing it?
I took a deep breath of the frigid air. Another. And another. Slowly, a sense of calm returned.
I’d stand out here a little longer, let the cold invade me like a virus, then go inside, wrap up in a blanket, and in my mind, curl up beneath that cedar tree. I’d sleep and sweat out the poisonous memories and imagined specter, and by morning—
A noise to my left…soft…scraping…
And fear rushed in, demolishing my new-found composure.
I wasn’t alone.
Stumbling backward toward the door, my eyes searched the now-treacherous darkness for the source of the muted rasp. No one. No thing. Nothing! And yet the noise continued, becoming louder by the second.
My clawing hand found the doorknob, twisted, then…once again, I saw the face.
And as the entrancing visage drew closer, and closer still, I noticed the eyes: golden and elliptical, the pupils vertical slashes as dark as coal. Full, plum-colored lips widened in a smile, exposing a mouth-full of needle-like teeth.
I knew I should jerk open the door—my fingers still circled the knob—and rush inside. I still had time to escape. Barely. But that face, the flawless, seductive allure of it turned my insides to jelly, and my feet into bricks.
The face drew closer, moving into the faint light cast through the window from the solitary lamp I had left on.
A forked tongue emerged, licked the full lips, then tasted the air.
And it was then I knew…
My gaze shifted from the face. Lower. Took in the glistening olive-green scales, the double row of oval black spots running the length of a snake’s body whose girth was bigger than my own.
This was “It”.
The snake-woman slithered across the last few feet separating us. Her face swayed in front of mine. Once again, her tongue flicked out, brushed my cheek, then raked with a cold heat across my lips.
My hand fell away from the doorknob.
“I have wanted to do that for weeks,” she hissed.
“W—what?” I stammered.
“I have heard you talking with the professor. Your voice . . .” She sighed. “I knew you would taste as good as you sound.”
“I…uh…” My brain was having trouble forming a coherent thought. Her golden eyes mesmerized me. “You are…the foam…what the professor wants to keep in.”
“Yes, I am his creation, his child. There were twenty-five of us. Only I survived.”
My brain fog expanded. “I don’t…understand…his child?”
“The professor’s DNA was inserted into my mother’s eggs. He is my father.”
“She was a beautiful green anaconda. Unfortunately, she died giving birth. My siblings shortly after. Now there is only me.” She smiled, showing her pointy, back-curving teeth.
The logical part of my brain told me this couldn’t be happening. I wasn’t standing on the professor’s porch talking to a genetic experiment. But the proof of the reality gently ran her tongue over my throat, curled it around my ear, then flicked it over my lips, coaxing them open. The twin forks slipped inside my mouth and mated with my tongue. I gasped.
I think I must have blacked out, for the next thing I knew she was coiling her enormous body about me. Half in a daze, I was aware of being carried along down the porch steps, around the house, and through the black maw into her room. Wrapped in her embrace, she took me back into the darkest corner of her nest.
She held me throughout the night. And I felt like I had when curled beneath the old, droopy cedar tree: Hid. Protected. Safe. And when the first hint of dawn grayed the doorway, she opened her jaws, and willingly, I crawled into the dark haven inside her.
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