You first see him in the summer, when the rivers are dry and the heat is a physical presence in the air. His shirt sticks to his skin, and his face is haggard. You learn later that the well in his village had run dry three days ago, and he is looking for a river, a stream, anything.
You decide to slink away, the sound of his footsteps is loud enough that you can make out his approach. They speed up the farther you move away, though, and soon you are moving quite rapidly through the forest, with this man in pursuit. You do not want to harm him, but if he leaves you no choice…
A strange thump in front of you makes you hesitate, and move forward a little more slowly. And then you round a corner, and see. Your enemy is mating, here, out in the open. Interrupting him now would mean a fight to the death. The female beneath him is thrashing, moving wildly, and his own movements are frenzied. He seems to be laughing, and you realise that this is the sound that has the drawn the attention of the man following you.
Your enemy chooses that moment to look up. You take a fighting stance, but before you can strike –
A sudden movement, and you are flung out of harm’s way. You have just enough time to realise that the man following you has saved you, and you wonder why.
You see him again the next day, again on his fruitless search for water, and you think: perhaps the time has come to return the favour.
‘There is a river near here. I can show you.’
He draws back when he first sees you, and then averts his eyes. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asks the ground, and you frown. Only later you realise that it is not customary for women to be completely unclothed.
You lead him to the river, and he is transported into delights of gratitude. It is a new experience for you, and when he reappears in the forest the next day, you go to him again, like it is natural.
Soon he is spending nearly all his time with you, until one day he says, ‘I love you, you know. Won’t you be mine?’
You look at him quizzically, because hadn’t it been obvious, that he was yours and you were his? Perhaps it is done differently in his world.
‘Of course,’ you reply. ‘We belong to each other.’
He takes you in his arms, and into his house. The days pass in a haze of passion, and soon you are round with child.
Then, one day, a terrible pressure bears down on you: it is time. Leaving your house, you stumble through the dark forest, trying to ignore the pain.
In your state, you don’t realise your husband is following you.
When they are out of you, the pain eases, and the world comes back into focus. That is when you notice your horrified husband, staring at the eggs that surround you.
‘What-what are you?’
In reply to his question, you change before his eyes, drawing back into your snake form, and he gasps.
After a long moment, he reaches out, daring even to stroke your scales. He whispers that he still loves you, will always love you, his love for you is timeless and eternal.
And you think: perhaps this can work, after all.
Featuring cross-dressing assassins, were-snakes, gods and goddesses, demonesses and asura kings, Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul retells age-old tales from Indian mythology—with a twist. Rearranging myth and legend to create new plots, these short stories will delight lovers of the unusual.
Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
[music| Hole in the Soul: ABBA]