Lisa peeled off her sweaty clothes to reveal the bikini underneath. She piled her shirt and shorts on top of her shoes next to her notepad and waded into the crystal blue lake, sighing at the cool refreshment the water brought her. Too hot today, she thought as she dunked herself underwater. She floated in the water for a while, eyes closed and ears open to the sounds of nature: the chirping of the birds, the rustling of the squirrels, the hissing of a snake... Hissing of a snake? She bolted upright in the water, splashing all about in a panic and searching for the source of the hiss. She soon found it. There was a snake lying atop her discarded clothes.

"Shoo!" she spat at the snake, "Get lost!" She knew that she was so far in the middle of nowhere that if the snake bit her, she wouldn't be able to find help before the deadly bite took her life.

The snake reared up as if it were going to strike. It opened its mouth and said "Hey, if you wanted your clothes you shouldn't have left them here."

"You... you can talk?!"

"Of course I can talk. And I can understand you, too. Don't get all excited. Sheesh."

"Well, it's not everyday I meet a talking snake," Lisa said, all the while thinking The heat's gotten to me. That's gotta be it.

"I'm the only one," the snake said, "And believe me, all the other snakes are jealous."

"You won't bite me if I come out of the water, will you?"

"No way. You're the first person I've talked to in two years who hasn't tried to crush my head. I'd be happy to make chit-chat for a while."

I can't believe I'm going to trust a snake, Lisa thought as she splashed out of the water and sat on a nearby large rock. "So... are you here to grant me three wishes or something?"

"Wishes? Do I look like a genie to you? This isn't a fairy tale."

"I'm sorry, it's just... well... I mean, come on. You're a talking snake. You have to be magic."

"Magic? Yes. Wish-granting? No."

"Magic how? Are you enchanted? Were you once a handsome prince?"

"I see my reputation precedes me," the snake said. If such a thing were possible the snake was smiling. "Yes, I used to be the great Prince Graymalkin, next in line to the throne of a little European kingdom that you've probably never heard about that probably doesn't even exist anymore."

"How did you get this way?" Lisa asked. "Did you tick off the wrong witch?"

"I told you, this isn't a fairy tale. Witches turning handsome princes into snakes just doesn't happen. Princesses on the other hand..."

"You cheated on your girlfriend and she turned you into a snake?"

"I never cheated!" the snake said, getting riled up. "I was as loyal and loving a man as any good woman could have hoped. She was the one who cheated. On our wedding night I found her in bed with her secret lover. The two of them turned me into a snake and took over the throne."

"That's horrible!" Lisa said, taking more and more pity on the snake. "And you've been living out in the wilderness ever since?"

"That's about the gist of it. Well, except for the months I spent at sea coming to America. And contrary to popular belief, snakes do get seasick."

"Isn't there some way to change you back? If I kissed you would you become a handsome prince?"

"I keep telling you, this isn't a fairy tale. You don't want to kiss me."

"I know it'd be gross, but if it lifts your curse then I'm willing to help."

"If you want to help you could take me home with you. Winter's coming and it gets damn cold out here. I think you'll find I make a good roommate. I don't eat very much and I've learned enough about modern culture over the years by eavesdropping on humans. We can talk about all kinds of things." The snake moved aside to allow Lisa to get to her clothes. She dressed while she considered the snake's request and a plan came to mind as she finished slipping on her shoes.

"C'mon, I'll carry you home," she said.

The snake spread out to allow Lisa to lift him easily. She picked him up carefully and, before the snake could protest, raised him to her lips and kissed him square on the mouth. "What the hell did you do that for?" the snake asked, "Do you realize what you've just done to yourself?"

"I wanted to lift your curse."

"How many times do I have to tell you? This isn't a fairy tale! I'm so sorry. I'd really hoped we could have been friends."

Lisa suddenly felt dizzy. She dropped the snake and fell back against the large rock. "What... what have you done to me?! My vision's blurry... I... I can't feel my legs... my throat... it's swelling... you're turning me into a snake, aren't you? You've cursed me!"

"No, you're not cursed," the snake said sorrowfully as he licked his fangs clean of the spot where Lisa's lips had been pricked, "You're poisoned."

Written for The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest.

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