She knew not to drink the water. Nothing except what came in sealed bottles. Don't even brush your teeth with it, friends warned. There was no telling what might be carried through the antiquated pipes. Alcohol was best, which suited her just fine. Made the entire business trip pass by in a blissful haze. Her clients didn't seem to mind - they conducted business in restaurants and bars, all their deals concluded over drinks.

She washed her hands religiously. Never could be too careful in a country such as this. Filth in the streets and everywhere. One of the restaurants she caught a busboy sleeping on one of the back tables. When she scowled at him he got up, wiping it off with an edge of his stained and sweaty shirt. Scandalous!

She knew not to drink the water, yet still she got sick. It happened at one of the nicer restaurants they took her to, on the rich end of town. The place bustled with the wealthy and well-dressed. She tried to play it off as her stomach churned around the third course of the lavish feast. Then she felt herself pale and little beads of sweat prickled across her brow.

No avoiding it then. Muttering excuses in a halting mix of languages, she slipped from the table. She had to run the last few yards to the lady's room, rushing past a startled waiter and nearly upsetting his tray.

She leaned over the sink, wretching violently. It couldn't be the water. Maybe something she ate? There'd been eggs of some kind on the hors d'oevres but they hadn't tasted quite like caviar. Should she be sick from that so soon? An allergy she hadn't known about, maybe? She could barely think, her gut was spasming so violently. She thought she was finished, and then she wretched again and again until everything was only dry heaves. Her legs trembled beneath her and her blouse stuck all over with sweat. And still that pain in her belly...

Then she did bring something up, but only part way. It was long and solid, and she could feel it still there, halfway down her throat. She tried to gasp but found she couldn't breathe around it. Panicking, not even trying to think about it, she wrapped both hands around it and started pulling. She continued to wretch around it until finally the thing came free, the whole wet length of it coiling at the bottom of the sink.

What the hell?!?

Disgusted and amazed, she reached down to poke at it. There was no resemblance at all between this long, twisting thing and anything she could have eaten. It resembled nothing so much as a snake --

And that was when its eyes opened and it wrapped itself around her wrist faster than she could think.

Ohgodohgodohgodohgod

She cried out in her head, but her throat was so raw from bringing up this impossible monstrosity that no audible words passed her lips.

"Silence!"

And that was it. The commanding imperative resounded not through the bathroom, with any sound perceived by her ears. Instead, she heard the voice inside her head. With an impossible certainty, she knew the voice came from this thing.

She looked down at the aberration wrapped about her arm. Its tail twined tight against her flesh. Underneath a sheath of mucus and slime, it had hard, sharp scales. The tail was sectioned, and the edges bit into her skin, spikey cilia pricking her untl she bled.

And yet a strange ease washed over her even as she watched it wrap itself up her arm. A spike at the tail sank into her flesh at the elbow, and this must have carried some toxin into her system. Everything was going all light and dreamy and she hardly felt the need to object to the presence of this hideous, impossible thing.

The head was plastered over her hand, and then it twisted, looking up at her. It had a grotesque little face, complete with a pointed grey beard. It regarded her with eyes that were a strange mix of reptile and human.

"Are we done panicking now? Can we get down to business?" That incredible non-voice ringing beyond her ears.

Swaying on her feet, Theresa could not find the desire to do anything but nod.

"Right then. Out to the kitchen. I've many eggs to lay and this restaurant is brimming with hosts."

It grinned as it burrowed into her, its little face now cupped in the palm of her hand. Wiping her mouth with a crumpled towel, she numbly turned to the door and carried out her new master's commands.

-- M. Belanger

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