Natalie longed for a permanent position so she could stop subbing classes the tenured ditched. When she asked the lithe Suzanne to give her oral report per the regular’s instructions, the class groaned like a sick wolfhound and Natalie knew she should have stayed in bed. Suzanne’s voice, a prison-gray monotone, driveled facts as profound as rats have tails, so Natalie chose not to reprimand the students who stared out the window or doodled or checked their phones. She even let two in the back row sleep, one slumped with his head and fully tattooed arms on the desk while the other’s torso seemed to be attentive but with each deep breath her head bobbed like those spring-necked animals that line cars’ rear windows.
Suzanne never glanced from her cards to notice even when a crimson snake’s head poked from between her lips, further impairing her enunciation. Natalie tried to rise but was unable to rouse or shout as she watched the snake slide down Suzanne’s body and realized she must be dreaming—not her first lucid one so, wanting that skin to skin, she reached for Sam—until someone gasped.
That startling sound snapped all eyes onto the slender serpent, its slick tongue tasting air as it sidled the yellowed linoleum. Natalie wanted to flee but could only move her eyes and saw that everyone appeared equally immobilized, statues with moving eyes in molded chairs. Not even a finger twitched as three blue racers whipped out of Suzanne’s wide mouth, followed by a slither of snakes that seamlessly skimmed down her barelegged body to the floor. The crimson snake wrapped a girl’s red boot as if having found its mate, but when scales met skin the girl leapt from her seat and shrieked, her desk slamming the floor as the snake twisted through air, smacked the blackboard and fell with a thwack.
Suzanne finally glanced up, clamped her lips round a coral serpent writhing to escape, and swallowed furiously till it disappeared back in her gullet. Soft rattles mesmerized the class and the booted girl sank to the floor, eyes glassy, head at a peculiar angle. Suzanne stretched tall and spread-eagled, as the renegade snakes throughout the room slid from pockets, packs, sleeves, to stream up her pale skin and under her loose clothes till the last slender tail slipped in the basket of her mouth. When the bell rang, the students yawned, stretched, then rose as if from a refreshing nap, and Natalie resolved to never sub again.
Thank you to the editors at Doorknobs & Body Paint for first publishing this piece as well as choosing it as the Dorsal Contest winner.