I stood in the middle of the cell, listening as the hissing drew nearer. Widening my stance, I prepared to fight whatever came my way. I may have been captured and held against my will, but I would not die without defending myself. Clanging came from the other end of the corridor, along with a feral sounding growl. The hisser and the growler met near my door with a standoff. To me, the two still unseen creatures were still just hissing and growling, but there seemed to be some kind of animal communication taking place between the two. The growling became louder and more intense when suddenly, the hissing faded slowly into the distance.
The growling slowly stopped, but never got any further from my door. I could hear more clanging and then fabric rustling, as if the growler was straightening itself for presentation.
The brindle cat who had so presumptuously placed herself in my yard last week was standing upright at my cell door wearing a full jacket and leather boots. I assumed she was fishing a set of keys out of her coat pocket by the jangling. The strangest part was that she stood as tall as I did.
I was speechless. Had I been shrunk? Had she grown? How was she going to use the keys once she got them out of her pocket?
She noticed me watching her and said, “Your Majesty, my name is Sasha. I’ve come to rescue you. Are you injured?”
I understood everything she said, but the understanding shocked me so badly that it took me a moment to respond. “No,” I was finally able to respond. “I’m not injured. Who are you? What are you?”
Normal, proper formalities were simply beyond me at this point.
“Madame Petra, if we stay to discuss all of this, that snake’s friends will surely be on their way soon. We must leave now,” said the cat while she opened the cell door.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the cell. To my right, the passageway was clear. Sasha turned to the left and started scrambling over something. As she reached the top of the obstruction, I could finally see what it was. It was the head of a dead snake, the scales of its face still moist and covered with mucus and it’s body presumably following behind the head. A droplet of venom hung from the snake’s right fang. The dim light provided by the lightning bugs’ backsides showed only that the color of the snake matched that of the earthen walls.
“Sasha?” I called out, alarmed.
“Madame,” she said, “The other direction promises a live snake. This direction definitely has a dead snake and only the threat of more. We need to go now.”
Sasha was quickly disappearing behind the head of the snake, so I pulled up the skirt of my muslin dress and put one foot on the snake’s snout and started climbing. The snake’s scaled flesh was still warm and moved under the pressure of my feet. Deciding to put my initial repulsion behind me, I realized climbing over the snake was really just like climbing over a hill like I had done so frequently as a child. The only difference was that the snake’s head and body were warm and moved slightly different than dirt. I had to get down on my hands and knees as the snake’s body filled most of the space of the passageway. Sasha continued lithely ahead of me, appearing to easily scramble over the carcass of the snake. I had more difficulty, but I’m positive that my difficulties were due to my shock at the whole situation and not to any physical limitations.
I saw Sasha reach the end of the snake’s body and stop to wait for me. It took me a few moments more before I reached the end of the snake. At the end of it’s body, I noticed the rattle. I counted the rattles and came up with eighteen. We were in a tunnel that had been filled almost by half by a snake that could only have been around ten feet long.
“Sasha, I want my questions answered now. Where are we? What has happened to me?” I needed answers before I continue through the corridor.