The vipers lieMature

She crawled around the rubble in a seemingly endless search for the man she had seen. Her arms began to weaken and her head began to sag, but still Melinda searched for the oil drum man. Her voice was weak and quickly swallowed by the gloom and yet she still called out for him, “Hello? Hello?!”

Finally, a shape emerged from the murk – dark and slumped. Melinda called to it in hopes it might be the man, but it didn't move Breathing was becoming a monumental effort, but her will was strong, and she covered the remaining distance quickly enough. When she got near, she could see through the smoke that the slumped form was indeed the man whom she sought. He lay face-down atop his overturned barrel, unmoving and silent.

Melinda's voice was now a croak. She spoke, but barely heard her own voice; how could the man hear her?

Mister?”

She was about to reach out to him when his head rotated in the opposite direction. It continued past his backbone, until his skull had spun about 280 degrees, amid a series of startling, sharp crackling noises.

Melinda gasped.

The man opened his eyelids to reveal dark sockets of fire. Flames did not spew forth, but there was a deep red glow emanating from within as the embers heated. The man raised himself from the barrel and turned his body to face her. Most of his skin had been seared from his face, and what remained was charred and smoldering. His lips were gone, and his mouth pulled back to reveal his teeth, which clacked as he tried to speak. He ran his blackened tongue over them, but it fell from his mouth to the destroyed ground at his feet.

Melinda tried to scream but couldn't.

The man's fiery gaze was solidly fixed on her. He leaned forward and brought a hand to his face to pick at the flayed flesh along his cheek. He was missing several fingers. A strange hissing sound escaped his throat, dull and echoing like wind in a culvert, and twin vipers, both tiny and green, slipped from his mouth and undulated between his chin and his nose cavity as Melinda watched, transfixed. She wanted to run, to scream, to do something.

But she remained statue-like on her knees, frozen with terror as the man rose above her and looked down upon her with those eyes of fire. Melinda could only shudder as he regarded her with that eternal expression: the Death's Head Grin. There was a voice, like a whisper in a tin can phone, and she blinked and missed it. Her eyes must have conveyed this, for the voice spoke again – not from the man, but from one of the vipers which slithered from his grinning maw, “Come with us, Melinda. You don't belong here. We can take you oh so far away from this.”

The man looked down, as if to shield her from the glow of his gaze, and held out one hand.

No,” she whispered, her voice inaudible with the whispering of the vipers.

The man seemed not to hear her, and spoke through the snakes again, “Come.”

The End

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