by Karen Holt.
I fell from a height, and the thud as I landed flat on my back oomphed the air from my lungs. Breathing in felt like splintered glass rattling in my throat. Rolling quickly, I regained my feet and scuttled to the safety of a corner thick with foliage. Resting back on my haunches, I coiled the warm snake of my tail around me, putting my paws over my eyes. I could barely breath. I could smell blood where my claws had torn slices into the thick pink stumps the monster used to grip my tail. It hurt, but I was lucky. I put up a fight. I scrabbled as the world swung back and forth, and my stomach performed a sickening roll. I heard a harsh hissing noise when I dug my claws into the bald pink flesh, and then my tail slipped through the pudgy stubs.
Those stubs were firm and dry, like my rat-tail, but there was a cluster of them… what kind of creature has five short, stumpy tails? The kind of creature who swings rats around until their heads hit something hard. That kind.
The glass walls around me reflected the green fronds of plants. I sniffed. The scent of rotting flesh crept up my nostrils. My stomach rumbled. Yummm. But another smell, a musty, dry smell, pinned me to the spot. Keeping my head still, my eyes rolling in an anxious 180 degree inspection. I heard sawdust rustle, but I didn’t see any movement… not yet.
I jerked round when Wilhelmina hit the ground beside me. Her slick black coat gleamed beneath the orb of light shining from above. The twisted lengths of twigs scattered over the ground smelled dry, like wood, just before a fire starts inside them. I’d seen that happen before, when the monster used those thick, pink tails to make a stick glow with bright colors. It crackled, and the colors, like lapping tongues, danced until the twig crumbled to black ash. I twitched my whiskers, feeling nervous as the dry heat inside this glass box made my skin itch.
“C’mon, Wilhelmina, we gotta find a way out of here.”
Surveying the green fronds and listening for the shuffling of sawdust, I prodded Wilhelmina with my paw. She didn’t move. The world blurred as wetness filled my eyes and my throat burned. No. No. The monster had grabbed her tail, too. I saw it, even as I swung through the air. I always looked out for her, and I’d let her down.
Curling my body around, I prodded her with my nose, recoiling at the sweet smell. Her black fur was too wet, too slick over one side of her skull. Her eyes stared at me. I stared back into black beads with no gleam inside.
“Wilhelmina, move. Please. C’mon…” I poked her harder with my nose. Just say ‘Reggie’… What I wouldn’t give to hear my name at that moment.
The sawdust rustled, and then I saw it. The thick rope snaked along the ground. I froze. My brain shrieked ‘move‘, but my legs felt like lumps of lead. The copper-colored skin undulated as though it rippled over a row of large pebbles. The rope coiled silently around Wilhelmina, and as it tightened, her body shifted.
Panic burned in my stiff muscles. The sinuous embrace turned Wilhelmina around. I saw her head flop back, and the twin pools of her open eyes swam with accusation. Do something.
The snaking creature opened its mouth, revealing pale pink padded flesh. Two long, ivory-colored needles protruded from its gum-line.
“Do something,” I yelled at my muscles. The sound of my squeaking shout made the snaking rope stop moving and lift it’s head. Wilhelmina’s flopping head was a mere inch away from those sharp teeth.
A warm rush of fear surged through me, but there was no question of flight. Wilhelmina’s face disappeared as the hideous snake seemed to breathe her in. The shiny scales undulated as the snake’s throat swelled, while her skull eased into its gullet.
“Wilhelmina,” I squeaked, rushing forward with my own needle fangs bared. I buried my claws in the creature’s face. Its skin was tough. It kept sucking on Wilhelmina. I bit down on the scaled surface, but my teeth skidded over it. The black slit of its eyes glittered with menace. In desperation, I struck out with sharpened nails.
The snake’s jaw jolted as yellow liquid gushed from the slit I tore in its eye. The muscles convulsed, and Wilhelmina oozed out of the mouth, exposing, for a moment, the puffed pink flesh inside. Darting in, I bit down on the open jaw and blood rushed into my mouth. It stung my eyes, and my vision turned red as the liquid flowed faster.
The scaly head jerked back, dragging me with it. When my teeth tore through the flesh, the undulating rope slithered away, but then stopped, as the pool of blood soaking into the sawdust grew bigger.
“Wil…” I rushed back to her side, swiping the blood from my muzzle with frantic paws. I nudged her with my nose. I poked her body in sharp bursts, desperate for her to make a sound. Suddenly, she did. A sigh. A splutter. And then her eyes opened. I had my Wilhelmina back. Lying beside her, I pressed my body to hers and wrapped my tail around her. I would not let anything happen to her… I swore it.