Evil’s Day Off by Johanna Harness
He was a snake letting loose its coils on the still-warm volcanic rock. Relaxing, growing plump with ease, he was evil on its day off.
She’d gone walking. The petroglyphs along the Snake River stilled her mind and helped her focus. This one glyph she’d gone back to time and time again: a bathtub overflowing with bubbles. It filled her happy cells. She traced its graceful curve with her eyes and she hummed an old song. A long time ago, someone pounded bubbles into rock. The very thought of it made her smile.
She scrambled up the sunward side of weathered basalt, wondering how her ancestors made bubbles. Or bathtubs for that matter. How did they even have time for baths? In other glyphs she found domed huts and she wondered how heavy those massive tubs might be. Could she drag one inside?
No. Of course not.
She lay back on the rock and closed her eyes. She’d bathe outside amongst the massive boulders. Her shoulders relaxed into the warmth of the stone, melting downward into heat and earth and desire. She’d slide naked into the granite tub and transform into a goddess of the Snake River plain. She’d fill Lake Bonneville past the top, tumble boulders toward the primitives, and welcome their offerings to make it stop. Mastodons, tripping along on extinct limbs and aching joints, would shake their too-large tusks when they saw her. All would fear her power. No one would disturb the goddess.
Her fantasy tumbled skyward until she felt the presence of the snake. Slowly she opened one eye, then the other, staring at the next boulder over. Fat and swollen, the rattler licked the air. She felt the world between them despite their level eyes. Then she blinked and opened her eyes to see a man leaning over her, strong and lean and gorgeous. Dark hair, darker eyes, chest muscled and brown.
“What brings you here?” he asked.
She should have been afraid. She caught her breath, which could have been construed as fear, but fear wasn’t the cause. She stared at the markings on his skin, tangled lines at the edges, but a distinct geometric pattern at the center. Long hair fell straight down as he lowered his head, his lips near enough to kiss. Was that a flicker of his tongue? He drew back with narrowed eyes.
“You think you should be nesting here?” he asked.
Nesting. Mmm—yes. That’s just what she felt she might be doing. She might in fact be nesting. She wriggled in the sudden heat of the rock, feeling a deep need to lose her skin.
“In the days before days, I knew a girl like you,” he said. “I chased her though canyons, up ravines, but she was sure-footed and always she kept a step ahead of me.”
She felt her lips moving but didn’t hear her own voice when she asked, “What happened?”
“I ravished her.” He bent toward her—smoothly, gracefully. She wriggled on the rock again, unable to quench her restlessness. “When I finally caught up with her, I ravished her.”
“And then?” she asked, breathless, still not hearing her own words.
“Our passion shook the mountain. The sun glanced off the red rocks and they fell. Then a wall of water came for us. I went under.”
He shook his head. “The ewe? Escaped or lost. I sense her presence still.” He dipped and raised his head, never touching. “I thought you might be her.”
“And if I’m not?”
He smiled, revealing gorgeous teeth and two large fangs. “You might try to convince me that you are.”
“And why would I do that?”
Tongue between his teeth, he pouted. “I like to play with my food. Why won’t you play?”
Slowly, she stretched arms upward, breathing deeply, considering his request. With mesmerizing fluidity, she moved hands back down until his focus could not waver. Pressing palms hard against the rock, she eased herself from under muscled thighs and bulging pelvis. She was a dancer, in full control of every muscle. First one leg and then the other came free. Smiling lightly, she pushed a toe forward, dangling it between them. “You like my boots?” she asked.
Recoiling, he hissed. Sarcasm dripped from hungry fangs: “Nice.”
“I like snakeskin,” she said. “Doesn’t bother me a bit.” She trailed a finger up his chest and tapped his chin. His tongue darted at the touch. “Shapeshift much?” she asked. He stared. He looked like he wanted to blink but could not remember how.
“Your ewe had a child?” she continued. “I think I know this one. Learned it from my grandfather.”
His head rose and his chest puffed out. “Rumors,” he whispered.
“Your rumor did well. Fat and happy: that’s what I heard.”
“Unaware,” he corrected. He slipped backward. “I’ll find him, introduce him to his power. And, for the record, you know nothing.” He released himself from the rock and tapped the petroglyph. “Bubbles? Seriously?”
She didn’t look, didn’t dare take her eyes from him. “What about dinner?” she asked.
“I’ve lost my appetite.” He hissed and moved a distance from her before meeting her eye. “Anyway, it’s my day off.” When he crumpled into dust, his rattle echoed like thunder and then he vanished.
Slowly she released the tension from her legs. Boots sliding on hot rock, she dropped to the ground and turned to see the glyph. From this angle she saw perfectly—not a bathtub filled with bubbles—a sheep, a ewe. She felt the word, “mother” bubbling up and heard it leave her body: “maaa.” She startled when the rattler revealed himself.
White wool on dark mountain caught a child’s attention. The child pointed and her grandfather began the tale again.
Johanna Harness writes middle grade and young adult novels in both Northwest and fantastic settings–often forgetting which is which. She homeshools her kids, explores out of the way places in Idaho, and hangs out with other writers in the #amwriting community she started on twitter. Short stories from the life of her young adult character are available on her Claire Morgane website.