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Ink and Scales

By: Corrine Watson


The rain pelted Edward Baker’s head as he weaved his way through dark alleyways. Barely able to see through the downpour, he dove into the first bar with a blinking florescent open sign and let himself drip in the doorway. As the door slammed shut, he realized that the room was empty, save for himself as the only sodden bastard in the city who forgot a god-damn umbrella. Assuming they must be closed as well, Edward turned to slip back out into the deluge to find a more populated sanctuary.

Then, from behind the bar a melodic voice pulled him back. “What’ll it be then,” called the voice.

"I’m sorry,” he said. “If you’re closing, I can leave.”

“You can leave after a drink.” Her lip curled to form a flirtatious half smile as she leaned over the bar. “What can I get you?”

Edward’s face grew warm and he looked down quickly. “Just a pint,” he said. He stepped over to the bar and removed his jacket. After giving the drenched coat a rough shake, he draped it over a stool to dry. It didn’t help much. His shirt was soaked through and the drafty bar gave him chills.

As Edward took a seat, the bartender pushed a strand of smooth black hair behind her ear as she slid across the bar and grabbed a glass. “You’re not from here, are you?” she asked. Her loose purple flannel flowed around her as she swung herself around to hold the glass under the tap. Beneath one of her rolled sleeves, Edward could see the black lining of a tattoo on her forearm.

“No,” he said. “I’m only in the city for work. Is it so obvious?”.

“Afraid so love,” she said with a wink. “No local would have gone out without an umbrella or at least a half decent hood.”

When she reached out to place the beer on a coaster, he considered asking her about the tattoo. Before he could speak, he could have sworn, he saw the tattoo wriggle farther up her sleeve. Startled, Edward’s gaze darted to her green eyes and a shiver run through his body.

With a smirk, she pulled a rag out of her back pocket and wiped down the bar. Edward felt unsettled, but he told himself it was only the dim bar lighting playing tricks on his eyes.

“What’s your name, love?”

He took a sip of his beer. “Edward. Edward Baker.”

“Ed,” she smiled.

Edward flinched. “That’s what they call me at work.”

“It’s simple, but I can tell you hate it.”

Edward watched her closely as he drank his beer, trying to get a closer look at the tattoo, but he could only make out a thin black line. Once he finished his pint, she passed him another. “So, you’re a businessman then,” she asked.

Edward took another swig. “More like a glorified secretary. I doubt anyone would notice if I drowned in this rain.”

“I’m sure they’d notice.”

“Ya, they’d notice that there’d be no coffee, no one to stay after hours to file reports.”As

Edward finished his second pint in a few long gulps, he swore he heard whispers echo through the bar. Startled, he put down his glass and twisted around on the stool to find the source, but discovered the bar to be just as uninhabited as the moment he walked in.

“Everything alright?” asked his hostess.

“I thought I heard something, but I suppose it’s just the wind.”

She didn’t respond, but took the empty glass and ran it under the tap, allowing some foam to froth over the side as she placed it in front of him. When she moved from behind the counter to stack the chairs on the tables, Edward turned to his focus back to his beer. After a few long gulps, he placed the glass back on the counter. Then, his eyes caught a glimpse of a distorted face reflected in the glass. Edward’s blood ran cold and he spun around, only to find the bartender stacking chairs. His body broke out in a cold sweat, and he felt as if he was being watched. Quickly, Edward chugged the rest of bitter brew and wiped his mouth. Foamy residue slid down the side of the glass.

When he turned on his bar stool to ask for another drink, he noticed the hostess had removed her layer of flannel to sweep the floors. In solid black ink, a tattoo of a snake was wrapped around her arm. It seemed to coil tighter the more Edward focused. Just as he was about to admit to his insanity, a reptilian head slithered up from the back of her shirt.

Nearly toppling over the stool, Edward jumped to his feet.

“Leaving so soon,” she asked.

“Um, yes,” he muttered. “I’m pretty sure the rain has cleared up by now, and I wouldn’t want to be in your way.”

She propped the broom against a table and walked towards him. Edward felt a lump rise in his throat. The tattoo on her arm slowly slithered up her shoulder and across her chest. As she moved closer, Edward backed away until he collided with the wall. The room seemed smaller as he broke out into a full sweat. Her warm breath hit his face and heard a menacing hiss from the snake.

“It’s not often we get visitors like you,” she said. “And we think you’d make a fine addition to our collection.”

“Collection?” he stuttered. “Please, just let me leave before I’m missed.”

The woman smiled and stroked the ink on her shoulder. “Nice try, love, but you said it yourself; no one’s going to notice the disappearance of someone so insignificant. We’re offering you the chance to be something more, and join a world beyond your imagination.”

“W – we? It’s just us here.”

With a crooked smile she gave me a wink. “You’ll understand soon enough.”

Edward’s eyes darted from the bartender’s menacing stare to the slithering black ink, until a diamond shaped head wrapped itself around her neck. Thick beads of sweat rolled down Edward’s face and he quivered as he locked eyes with the creature. With a hiss, the bartender leaned in closer, and the head of the snake leapt from her shoulder, striking Edward on the side of his neck. Startled, he clutched at the bite and slid to the floor as the venom burned through his veins. As if her work was done, the woman turned to leave Edward writhing on the bar floor until the world faded to black.

When Edward awoke, he found himself lying on the bar floor. As he blinked, the room came into focus, and he found the bar filled with people. Dazed, he sat up, and a burly man walked towards him.

“Welcome back lad,” he shouted. His red hair cascaded around his head and blended seamlessly with his beard.

Edward’s neck was crusted over with dry blood, and his limbs ached. Holding the wall for support, he rose to my feet. “What happened,” Edward asked. “There was this woman, and – I must have been hallucinating.” As his vision came into focus, he clearly saw the man in front of him and his eyes grew wide with shock as he stared into the face of a lion.

“Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense soon enough.” The man smiled wide, revealing his long, pointed teeth.

Edward jumped back and bumped into a woman. She pushed him off with the brush of her long white wings while her companion with the legs of a goat laughed at his surprise. Spinning around the bar, he saw people with claws, reptilian skin, wings, and beaks.

For a moment, Edward thought he might vomit. Stumbling, he made his way to the bathroom. As he stood bracing myself over the sink, he began to splash cold water over his face. Drops of red splashed against the porcelain. Afraid he might reopen the wound, Edward dampened the rough brown paper towel and began to wipe the blood from his neck. Once the blood was gone, he didn’t find a bite or a wound of any kind, just a patch of smooth scales that coiled at the touch.



 

Corrine Watson is a freelance editor based in Charlotte, NC with her baby dragon, Ophelia. Corrine enjoys writing speculative fiction that hovers on the edges of reality and dares to dip into the mysterious.

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