I didn't notice the snake at first. I was outside, tasked to get rid of all the fruit that Faust and I hadn't picked on time and had fallen to the ground. The fruit was mushy and gross and was starting to rot, so I just tossed it over the fence, figuring that so long as it was out of our yard, it wasn't our problem. I was watching a half-molded apple go soaring over the fence when I stepped on something that felt like an oddly-soft branch.
There was a sharp hiss. “Excusse me,” said a pained voice down by my feet. “I beg your pardon, but you sseem to be sstepping on my tail.” There was another hiss. “It’ss quite painful, as you might imagine.”
I‘d already moved my foot and the oddly-thick branch I’d thought I stepped on curled into a ball and shook.
“Thank you,” said the voice.
I bent down. “What’re you?” I said stupidly.
The ball unclenched itself and looked at me. What I had thought was a branch was actually a green snake about as thick around as my wrist and as long as my arm.
"A sserpent," he said. "Can't you tell?" He smiled. The damn snake smiled, and the smile he gave me wasn't just the usual one snakes are stuck with, but a real one with genuine warmth I'm pretty sure most reptiles couldn't manage. He had an unusually expressive face for a reptile.
"Right. And what're you doing in our garden?" I didn't know how Faust would react to the snake. I knew he disliked gophers and moles and rabbits and squirrels and basically anything that would eat his plants, but I had no idea how he felt about talking snakes.
"I was in the tree a moment ago, but I fell."
"Alrighty. Well. I'll let you get back to it, then."
I watched him slither up the tree and weave himself into the branches. Once I was sure he was up there all the way, I went back to tossing fruit. A second later, there was a thunk as he fell out of the tree again.
"Are you alright?" I said.
"Fine," he said, a little breathlessly. "Ssorry. I just have to get the hang of jumping. Onsse I've gotten that down, I ought to be fine!"
"Uh. Okeedokee." I stayed, watching.
"Don't let me keep you!" he said, back on his way up. "I don't mean to be a disstraction."
"Yeah, okay. What, exactly, are you trying to do?"
He peered down at me from the branches. "Trying to fly."
"Oh. 'Kay." He fell again. "Welp. Good luck with that," I said.
"Thank you," he said.
I left him to it and finished getting rid of all the fruit. When I went back inside, he was still at it.
* * * * *
It was sometime around noon when Faust noticed the snake. I was in the living room, watching Animal Planet. I didn't want to be watching Animal Planet, but Faust had put up another parental lock and so it was a choice between watching lions maul zebras or watching the history channel's complete lack of historical fact. At least the lions were having fun.
"Hey! Imp! Come look at this."
I slid off the couch and went to where he was in the kitchen. he was looking out the glass slider door, watching the tree with the snake, and sipping a mug of something hot and plant smelling.
"Look," he said. "He sounded amused. “There’s a snake that keeps falling out of the walnut tree. I thought there was more than one, but no, it’s the same one doing it over and over.”
“Huh,” I said, joining him by the glass slider door. “I guess he got sick of falling out of the apple.”
“You knew it was there?”
There was movement in the tree, and then –Bam! Snake out of the tree.
“He’s going to hurt himself this way,” I said.
“What on earth do you think its doing?”
“He said he was trying to fly.”
“Oh. Of course.” Faust sipped his coffee for a moment and then said, slowly, “He said?”
"Yeah. He's a real polite little guy."
"Oh." He stared out at the yard for a long minute. "Well then." He set the mug down. Then he opened the door and went outside, taking long strides towards the walnut tree. I followed.
We got there just in time to see the snake fall out of the tree again. I winced as he hit ground.
"Snake!" he called once we were by the tree. "Snake, what are you trying to do?"
"Ssorry!" it said. Faust and I looked down at it. "Hello. Was I dissturbing you?"
"You're talking," said Faust.
"Ssorry," whispered the snake. "Was I sspeaking too loudly?"
"No, no. It's just- what are you trying to do, snake?"
"I'm trying to fly."
"Ah." said Faust.
"Told you," I said.
"Was I bothering you?"
"No," said Faust. "I was just curious. And you don't have to keep whispering. Why are you trying to fly?"
The snake coiled itself up, and then raised its head up until it was about waist high for me. It looked embarrassed, which is a difficult feat for a snake to pull off. "Well, and thiss iss going to ssound ssilly, but I woke up the other day ssertain I could fly."
"You dreamed you could fly?" said Faust.
"No, that'ss the thing, issn't it? I don't remember dreaming. I don't remember falling assleep. I don't remember anything exssept waking up the other morning and being ssertain that I could fly. I was in a tree, and without thinking I tried to fly out of it." The snake looked abashed. "I couldn't manage it. But ssince then, I've been trying. I keep thinking that, if I try hard enough, eventually I'll get it right." He chuckled. "It must ssound ssilly."
"A bit," I said. "Hard work or not, you're kinda missing some vital components." I held my hands up to my shoulders and made wing-flappy motions. The snake looked hurt. Its face fell in an almost cartoonish way that I was damn sure regular snakes couldn't pull off. Faust elbowed me.
"What? I'm not going to apologize; it's true."
"No, you're right," said the snake. "It'ss jusst- hope sspringss eternal, I ssuppose." It looked wistfully up at the tree. "Well, it was nisse meeting you." And with that, he'd slithered back up the tree.
"What do you think?" Faust said.
"I don't know. You ever hear of anything like this?"
"Why are you asking me? You're the one whose been around since the dawn of time."
"Yeah, but I haven't been paying that much attention." The leaves rustled as the snake tried to jump from one branch to another. There was a thump as he hit the ground. "Actually... Tell you what, though. I don't think he's a snake."
"Oh really?" said Faust. "What gave it away? The fact that he can talk?"
"No," I said. "The fact that he's so damn polite. Most of the snakes I've met are assholes."
Faust opened his mouth like he was going to say something. Then he closed it, thought for a second, and said, "No. Later."
"So what do we do?" I said. "Leave him to it?" The snake had recovered from his fall and was winding his way up the tree again.
"We can't just leave him out here like this. He'll kill himself."
"What do you intend to do?" I said.
"Help," he said simply. "Hey, snake! Come down here."
Rustle. Rustle. Thump. There was a sudden weight around my neck and shoulders as the snake obliged Faust and fell out of the tree again, this time landing on me rather than the ground.
"Oof," I said.
"Ssorry!" said the snake. "You called?"
"Yes," said Faust. "We want to help you with your little problem. We've come to the conclusion that you're not actually a snake."
The snake lifted its head and looked at itself as best as it could while still being on me. "Well that'ss a relief," he said. "What am I?"
"Surprisingly heavy." I lifted him off me and handed him to Faust.
"I think you might've been a bird," said Faust. He gently lifted the snake to get a look at its belly, then examined its head. "Possibly a bat. But I'd need to do some tests to be sure."
"Will you be able to change me back?"
"I'd need to find out how you were turned to begin with, but after that, it should be easy to undo. That is, if you're willing-"
"Oh yess!" said the snake. It beamed in a way that I knew damn well snakes should've been able to pull off. "I would dearly like to fly again."
"Then it's settled."
Faust stiffened out his arm and shoulder and the snake wrapped itself around him so that they were both more comfortable, and we headed for the house.We took the snake inside, and Faust started with the experiments.
We cleaned up the kitchen floor and the snake sat with cheerful patience in the middle of a hastily-drawn circle while Faust dumped spells on it. Since we had no idea what kind of transformative spell had been put on the snake, what he had been before, or who had put the spell on, this meant a lot of guesswork for Faust and legwork for me. Every time he had a new idea, I'd run around the house and garden getting the necessary ingredients.
The place soon filled up bags and jars and tied bundles of plants and powders gathered from everywhere Faust thought to store plants. Some were dried, some I had to fresh cut. The air was full of noxious smelling colored smoke coming from the specially spelled candles he'd set up, and no matter how many charms, cures, counter-curses, hexes, smells, or bottled blessings Faust dumped on the snake, he remained entirely snake.
It was about six PM when Faust cracked.
"It's useless!" He collapsed onto a dining chair and ran his hands through his hair. "I've tried everything I can think of, and nothing is working. I don't know who did this to you, snake, but they meant business."
The snake shrugged. I swear to all things above and below this earth, that little fucker bobbed its head and it shrugged, even though it was a fucking snake and didn't have any shoulders. I still can't figure out how he did it, and I watched it happen.
"I'm ssorry," he said. "It'ss alright, really. I don't mean to be a bother."
"Way to make him feel worse," I said. I dumped an armful of purply-spikey weeds Faust had me get onto the floor by the counter beside the other piles of plants.
"Oh no!" said the snake who, of course, sounded really, truly, genuinely concerned. "I didn't mean to, I'm ssorry."
I cackled. "Not helping."
Faust glowered at me. "Stop it."
"Relax, Faust." I leaned against the counter. "It's not the end of the wor-"
I tripped. I tripped and to catch myself, I threw my hands out. Because of that, I hit the candle which hit the other candles, which all rolled almost onto the floor. I say "almost" because the of course landed on the bundles I'd just put there. And since there was so much nice, flammable magic floating around in the room, instead of just bouncing off the bundles and maybe singing the floor, the candles flared up, and the bundles went up in blazes.
Purple and red smoke mushroom-clouded and filled up the room. Bolts of white lightning zipped in the smoke and made the hair on my arms stand up.
"Boss?" I said.
"Here. Snake?" He coughed. "Snake are you alright?"
The snake didn't answer, but something else did. It's hard to exactly portray what kind of sound this was. Imagine a lion's roar and a man's scream and the sound Mephistopheles makes when he's chewing us all out for bad work ethic- oh, you've never heard him. Well he sounds like an angry rhino mating with a rototiller. Add all that in with the sound of a jet engine and you get something sort of in the neighborhood of the roar Faust and I heard.
A dark figure rose up from the smoke. It didn't rise because it was standing, it was growing, slowly filling the kitchen until its back hit the ceiling and the room started creaking from the weight of it. For a split second, I caught a glimpse of eyes burning like the interior of a furnace. I stared, stunned stupid, and part of one great leathery wing swept across the room and hit me in the chest. I was knocked down, and then a second later I was flung across the floor like a hockey puck when a long, spikey tail longer than Faust was tall hit me again while I was still down.
I didn't see what happened next, due to both the smoke in the kitchen and the obnoxious cartoon tweeting birds circling in my head, but the I hear the noise of wood splintering, plaster crumbling, glass shattering, and the creature roaring in either triumph or annoyance. The room shook. It felt like a semi-truck had crashed through the wall.
Outside, a voice boomed, "I REMEMBER EVERYTHING!"
It was as though someone had turned on the bass too loud. The voice rattled my teeth and made my heartbeat go froopy.
"THEY WILL PAY FOR THIS."
Then there was a wumph I knew immediately to be the sound of large wings beating the air. The smoke was blown back and apparently Faust was too, because I heard him hit the floor. The noise he made was somewhere between an "oof" and an "augh."
Then, it was quiet except for the crackle of the little fires still burning in the kitchen. The smoke cleared and we both sat up and looked at each other.
"Dragon," we said simultaneously. Then we scrambled to our feet and over to the giant gaping hole where the wall used to be.
"Well shit," I said. There was no sign of the dragon. "You think he's coming back?"
"I don't know. How should I know?" He kick at a loose chunk of plaster. "
I went outside and looked around. There wasn't even a little dragon-dot in the distance. He was gone, gone, gone. "I wonder where he went?"
"To cause trouble, most likely." Faust kicked another piece of plaster outside. "Dammit!"
"Dang. He seemed like such a nice little guy, too."
"Either it was a ruse which we both fell for-"
"Both of us? Excuse me, who was the one who put his good Samaritan boots on-"
"-Or that iteration of him was nice specifically because of the absence of the memories tied into his dragon body and dammit dammit dammit!"
I went to examine the charred remains of the plant bundles.
"What the hell was this stuff?"
"Dragonsbane, it smells like. Dammit!"
"You seem a little upset."
"I," He threw up his arms and gestured to the world at large, "Just let a dragon loose. Dra-gon. An apparently angry dragon."
I shrugged. "Yeah. See what happens when you do good deeds? That's probably gonna bite us in the ass later." I walked back over to him. "You know. After it's done biting everyone else first. You live and you learn. No sense worrying. And, hey! At least he's not mad at us, right?"
He stared at me like I'd sprouted horns and a few extra eyes.
"Just-" He rubbed his head. "Just clean up this mess. I'm going to call a contractor to see about getting this wall fixed."
"Sure thing, bossman."
He took one last look up at the sky just to make sure, and then went to go make calls. I started picking up some of the bigger pieces of wall that had landed outside. About ten minutes or so after I started, I thought I heard another, slightly-less-earth-shaking roar in the distance, but Faust didn't notice, so I decided not to let him know. No use upsetting the guy, after all.