“Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t.” — Neil Gaiman
Indigo had shed her skin. It lay scaly and dull in forgotten snatches of interrupted motion, leaving a gossamer long trail, a remnant of what had once fit, snug as a close-fitting glove. Where it began, it had ended. The silver skin was hidden from view, simmering in the warm and humid air which trapped the fragrance of mothballs. Not even Indigo would revisit it now, or know where it lay, lost forever. She did not care to. She had walked out of it, a free woman, simply ceasing to exist in that which-was-left-behind.
I suppose one could concede that her exultation proceeded from an impish exaggeration to be the travesty of her former self. Heaven knows! The process had taken several days of inertia, as hunger built, and she had lain awake in gnawing apathy, waiting to be extracted. She would leave a trail, as her kind do, her tattoo of a hissing beat slithering forward. Peering at her there was nothing much to see, except fragments of stealth from a hula-hoop in motion. She had sloughed herself into a voluptuous new U.
She was her new self. Trapped indoors she could no longer hide. The more petrified and irritable she grew, the more treacherous her energy turned. Only a stopwatch pinging desperately could record her intense moments of chaos and complication. Dying of starvation, craving for food, she tested the reeking air first hand– orange tongue darting in split arrowed forks, to appease those desperate pangs. It was unlikely she would truly starve. Her kind seldom did. Nevertheless the beauty of her movement was that hunger could send powerful messages for that first darting nibble.
As the gnawing eroded into her passage of time, Indigo grew uneasy, quietly mired in tasty smells assailing her eager heat sensors. She knew how to glide towards it, the malodorous indoor air unwinding her uncertain coils of ample length. She smelt bird eggs and chunky cheese, termites and geckos, crayfish and driftwood grasshoppers. She smelt fermenting potato and milk-waters. The odors that were upon her were too intimate to ignore. She was starved and dangerously hungry.
In one silky unruffled movement this unexpected visitor of the elastic jaw-line twisted her scaly body around, slithering out of hiding in smooth swathes, from between piles of boxes and junk that filled the limited spaces of the dusty attic. She did not make a sound. She never did. She was a tranquil creature that way. At the tiny window she paused, but only for a fraction, glimpsing in waxy pallor the bright outdoors to which she would return. That moment was not now. For now she glistened in the summer sunlight, in her brand new iridescent skin, reflecting the color of amethyst fracturing on stained glass. Indigo blue.
“Ma! Look what I’ve found!” yelled a tiny voice from somewhere in the cob-webbed interior, holding aloft what looked like a shed snakeskin. It could have been a piece of nylon. Eight feet of bleached distemper, pale as a tallow candle fluttered convulsively. The grubby chubby roamer of the garden flower pots was searching for giant green caterpillars. He figured the snake skin would do.
“What is it? yelled the unmistakable voice of distracted authority from far below. How often do I tell you to stop rummaging through the attic alone?!”
“See the pretty ig-uan-a, Mummy!” He had newly learnt of dinosaurs and thought it would sound grown-up.
Mothballs and snakes! Mystical vibrations expressing the inexplicable!
“A lizard??? Don’t touch those nasty creatures, They’re poisonous. Gave Pa boils, remember?
“But Ma! . . .”
“No buts. NOW! Playdo is going back up. You hear? And so is tumble train! Such a mess!”
Mothballs and mice! Hurry! Hurry! Exterminate! Exterminate!
It disintegrated in fistfuls in his grubby hands caked in bitter gauze. Indigo, famished to death, trapped in her satin stare, intrigued beyond point-of-no-return, gravitated slyly–zig-zagging towards voice vibrations bouncing off the floorboards. Limited by her prism sight, methodically dancing her head back and forth, too-much-of-a-good-thing was but mere moments away from formalizing her overture.
She could only drool at those fluttering fingers within striking grasp. In an instant she struck, her brobdingnagian struggle complete, the unobstructed elasticity of her voluptuous folds distending and contracting as she made the connection, sinking dripping fangs tipped in liquid gold. Grubby chubby screamed in shock, gesticulating wildly like a flying insect with no lift. He stumbled over an indigo blue blur lying coiled and cowering, in his blind haste to retreat past the stacks of empty boxes, rakishly askew. He would later say what he saw were giant blue mothmen which came at him like flying machines.
A diminished undulation prolonged the contours of the snake’s smoke-blue shadow. Indigo disappeared in shriveled deportment, her enlightenment complete. In less than a blink of an eye she was nowhere to be seen. Mystifying creature, destructive yet deserving, cloaked in her own subliminal mask, bent on playing out her true nature, spontaneously, like a leopard that cannot change its spots–which chips away, but never really sheds in the end.
For she could not see. Not her mirrored beauty, or any of it. Indigo was blind!
Blind snakes usually did not have long to live. A rare defect afflicted her eye caps, such that they were eternally translucent. She could never shed. Without eyelids or friction to peel the dead skin away, layer upon layer had coagulated over time in a sticky rubbery coat, mimicking phlegm, caking her unblinking gaze. It had taken less than a blink of those lidless pinpoints of dull vision to muddy over, rendering her jittery as a June-bug, the mastery of her striking crouch coming unhinged with savage menace.
Rekha Valliappan is a Bombay-born New York-based multi-genre writer of short fiction and poetry with an MA in English Literature from Madras University and an LL.B. (Hons) from the University of London. A former university lecturer at three colleges in two countries, her prose, poetry and prize-winning stories have appeared or will be appearing in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Thrice Fiction Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Boston Accent Lit, Across The Margin, Liquid Imagination, Locust Magazine, Indiana Voice Journal, Eastern Iowa Review, Coffin Bell Journal, Third Flatiron, Intellectual Refuge, Friday Flash Fiction, Ouen Press Anthology, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Vestal Review, New Reader Magazine, Lackington’s Magazine, others.