Once Upon a Spinning-Wheel — A Hiss in the Dark, part 2 of a story I published over at Ricochet.com:
I could count the number of times that I’d fallen to my death on the fingers of one hand (which was still bleeding after cutting it open on that blasted spinning-wheel) — but the number of times something like this had happened to me … well, I was running out of fingers … Although at least they were all still attached to me, there was that. Always look on the bright side of life, that’s me — nameless hero, courageously fighting against the odds, grappling with beautiful yet oddly creepy snake-women sorceresses (all right, one sorceress, and she threw me off a tower, but still), bravely eluding capture by guards that should have been thrown out of knight school or, preferably, out that tower window instead of me, and not to mention — erm, well, this is kind of embarrassing, but I think I may have been at least slightly dead for a moment there. Sure, all the cool kids end up “mostly dead,” before storming back to whatever glorious future awaits them — me, slightly dead. And maybe all dead, if I didn’t figure a way out of it. It was like this:
… I remember falling … and then blackness, endless blackness mixed with ripples of green light cascading over my vision. That enchantress must have laid a heck of a curse on me as I was going down. Super strength and sorcery? Something was afoot, and no mistake. Plus, I didn’t like the way she kept smiling at me when she was torturing and half killing me to death. I’m funny that way. Anyway, there I was, floating in blackness and slow-motion green strobe lighting when … I suddenly wasn’t there at all. And I kept thinking back to that kiss. Who blows a kiss to someone as they’re throwing them off a tower? Especially after making with the voodoo mojo and magic spells and whatnot. I shuddered in the nothingness that I was struggling for existence in and —
— ‘Here’s you’re milkshake, hun.’
I was sitting in a diner — looking at my hand, where it was still cut and bleeding from where the spinning-wheel’s spindle had got it. A pretty waitress was smiling over the counter at me as she put a chocolate malt down in front of me. ‘You should get that looked at,’ she said, her voice edged with concern and a warmth that made me tingle inside and all over. I found myself blushing, and if I’d been standing I would have walked into a wall or something. I looked at her, and then back at my hand, and then back at her — but she was …. gone? I felt sure … wait, there had been a castle … and magic … and magic mirrors and guards and …
‘Ssomething wrong?’ an amused voice whispered sibilantly in my ear. Something tickled my earlobe as that voice spoke. I was sure I didn’t want to find out what. I turned, slowly, and there was the waitress, only, she was the snake-lady, only she was the waitress — it’s complicated! ‘Sseeing thingsss that aren’t there is alwayss a bad ssign,’ she hissed — but for a moment there, I caught an odd expression in her eyes, as if something was puzzling her, but it seemed to fade almost as quickly as it had appeared. My own eyes followed her as she stepped sinuously around and sat down with her back facing the counter on the stool next to me. ‘What’ss the matter? Serpent got your tongue?’ She smiled, leaning back on her elbows, and flicked her own, forked tongue out at me. A snake was sticking its tongue out at me — or a snake-woman, anyway — do you ever get the feeling the universe is mocking you? … Er, me neither … why do you ask?
She smiled again, and continued, ‘You know, you’re going to wake up and find this is all a dream.’ A whispering that wasn’t really there cut through the air in my head. Serpent’s curse, serpent’s curse, serpent’s kisssss … I reached up on instinct to my cheek, and then to my heart. Something burned there on both of them when my fingers reached them. ‘Oh, yess,’ she said, ‘there’ss a curse. And what fun it will be when you find out just what it isss.’ Her voice faded away into a bubbling, rolling laugh, which seemed faintly gratuitous, in the circumstances.
‘Who are you?’ I managed. The words didn’t seem to want to come out. I was half-frozen to the spot, and I could barely move.
‘Who am I?’ she whispered. ‘Oh, no, no, no, no … — the quesstion, is who are you?‘
‘I—‘ I couldn’t remember. I raised my hand to my head.
‘Yess, that’ss part of the cursse too. Enjoy your milkshake …’ she said, sliding off the stool and walking away with a vaguely sinuous swagger. She paused as she was turning to leave, her head angled to one side, posing in the doorway (posing, I ask you!) with a smile, and then taking out a magic mirror to take a reflection of herself posing in front of me, ‘I’m sure you’ll work it out eventually. If you live that long …’
She started humming to herself as she left, and then singing in a soft low voice, ‘The wheel spinss ever on and on … The thread rolls out in time … Who spins the thread, controls the tale … And then, the dreams shall fail …’ She gave me one last smirk, ‘Time to wake up, little hero … it’ss going to be fun sseeing you twisst in the wind …‘ She snapped her fingers, and POOF! A cloud of thick green and yellow smoke engulfed her, and when it cleared she was gone. What was all that supposed to mean? Did that just happen? And if that was really her, and she wanted me dead, what was she hissing around for?
It was just all the randomised background magic sloshing about in this screwy world, that’s what it was — or something. Maybe it had all been building up for a long time and something had just snapped into place. Maybe … maybe I was mad. Maybe it was all in my head— No. Snap out of it. Snake lady — evil. She knows how to push your buttons. Even if it’s news to you, pal, that you have buttons to push. No wonder she — different she — but never mind …
… And why was I all wet all of a sudden? I was soaking. Drenched to the skin, dripping all over the diner floor. And there I was again, floating in water this time, and not very sweet-smelling water, either. It smelled like a guards’ locker room where no one had cleaned the chain mail in months. My head hurt, and my heart, and my neck — I drifted back into the soft embrace of numbness to hide the pain … All the vague sensations that were overwhelming me, all the things I could feel but not feel, sense but not sense. A voice seemed to call out to me over the waves and through the darkness and the pain, ‘Wake up … please wake up …’ Something inside me made me yearn fiercely towards that voice, but before I could think to do anything, it was gone, and there I was, still floating — probably upside down and drowning, knowing my luck — out like a light, in water or waters unknown.
Something strange — stranger than usual, anyway — was afoot. There was an evil enchantress with the mind of a serpent and the tongue of snake (when it suited her) on the loose, probably looking to take over the world — or whatever evil snakey enchantresses do for fun these days — and I was the only one who seemed to know anything about it, and who maybe could do something to stop her. You know … just once, it would be kind of nice to have something to look forward to …