I had breasts — well, they’d warned me I might be a girl of some kind. And it was hard to be sure in the dim light, but I thought my skin was darker than it was in my real body. But the really important thing was that below the waist, I wasn’t human at all.
The Family that Plays Together
Part 2 of 10
This story is set, with Morpheus' permission, in his Travel Agency universe. Thanks to Morpheus for his feedback on the first draft.
I'll be serializing it here over the next few weeks, but if you don't want to wait, the whole novella is available as part of The Weight of Silence and Other Stories, along with thirteen other stories, including several that haven't previously appeared online.
When I came to, it felt like waking up from a normal sleep — I held on to vague images from a dream for a minute or so, as I became aware that I was lying in bed, with a blanket drawn over me. But then I realized I wasn’t in my own bed — this one wasn’t as soft, and it was wider but seemed to be shorter, because it felt like my feet were dangling over the edge of the bed. And then I realized my body felt off, and when I sat up, that felt all wrong — the sensations from the muscles in my legs and hips and back were really weird.
It was pretty dark in the room, but there was dim light coming from a window, shaded with something translucent. As I sat up and the blanket fell off me, I remembered going to Mr. G.'s travel agency, and realized exactly what had happened.
I had breasts — well, they’d warned me I might be a girl of some kind. And it was hard to be sure in the dim light, but I thought my skin was darker than it was in my real body. But the really important thing was that below the waist, I wasn’t human at all. I pulled the blanket off completely and saw that I was scaly down there... was I a mermaid? If so, why was I out of the water?
But no, once I got the blanket off all the way I saw that I was a snake from the waist down.
Just as I was pulling the blanket off I heard a voice from off to my right, a quiet high-pitched voice not unlike Maella’s. “Oh, you’re awake. Stephanie? Taylor? Leslie? Is that you?”
“I’m Leslie.” I looked and saw a tiny woman, larger than Maella but smaller than a human baby. She was nude, like I was — like Maella had been — but she wasn’t proportioned like Maella; she was more like a human with dwarfism, only smaller than any dwarf I’d ever met.
“I’m your dad,” she said. “I think I’m a dryad — at least, I can feel a connection to my tree, and you don’t forget what that feels like, even after twenty years. But I’m not sure because everything looks huge, and the dryad I was that first time was just a little shorter than your mom in her elf-body.”
“I think I’m a naga,” I said. “Have you seen anything like me before, when you were here before?” From what he — or she — had asked me, I gathered she hadn’t found Mom or Taylor yet. They hadn’t said anything about us getting separated; we were supposed to swap with a group of four people who wanted to travel to our world together, right?
“No, but like Mr. G. said, there are a lot of intelligent races here, and some of them only live in a few places, while others, like humans and elves and pixies, are all over.”
“How long have you been awake? Have you explored any?”
“No — I woke up just a minute or two before you did. I was wondering whether I should wake you... Let’s find my tree, and then find your mom and Taylor.”
“Um... Is this it over here?”
I’d been looking around the room as we talked, and experimenting with my new snake-tail, coiling and uncoiling and shifting around. In the corner to the left of my bed (which was very low, like a futon), there was a pot with what might have been a bonsai tree, or might have been some non-woody house plant — I couldn’t tell in the dim light. Dad eagerly scrambled across my bed, jumping over my tail, and touched its gnarly branches. “Yes, this is it! I was worried that I’d tie the rest of you down, not being able to go far from my tree, but if it’s in a pot...”
“Let me see how heavy it is.” I leaned over — with the leverage my long tail gave me I could lean way over without falling on my face — and picked up the pot, which wasn’t too heavy; it felt like lifting a gallon jug of milk would have felt, in my scrawny fourteen-year-old boy body, but I suspected this naga body was stronger.
“Careful!” she said. “Don’t drop it!”
“Maybe I’d better put it back down,” I said, and did so. “Do you think it’s safe to leave it here while we explore? Where do you think Mom and Taylor might be?”
“They’re almost certainly nearby. I’ve gotten separated from her when we arrive, a few times, but usually we find each other within minutes. Let’s go.”
“Should we find some clothes first? Do people wear clothes around here when they’re not sleeping?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve been to a bunch of places in this world. The elves and dwarves usually wear clothes, and the dryads and pixies and centaurs generally don’t, and the humans can go either way depending on the climate and the culture, like back on Earth... I don’t know about naga.”
I searched as well as I could in the dark, and I couldn’t find anything that was obviously a shirt or blouse. “Come on,” Dad said, going to the door and reaching for the latch, but it was too high for her. I opened it and we exited into a long corridor, where it was even darker than in the bedroom we’d woken in.
“Did you see any kind of candle or lamp in that room?” I asked Dad.
But just then we heard voices from behind the door directly across from ours. I knocked, and a few moments later the door opened.
The man who opened it — he looked human at first glance, until I noticed his pointed ears — was tall and slender, wearing something like a bathrobe, and holding a lit candle. There was another figure standing behind him, whom I couldn’t see as clearly.
“Hi, we’re looking for Stephanie and Taylor,” Dad said.
“I’m Stephanie,” the elf said. “Which of you is Ray and which is Leslie?”
“I’m Leslie,” I said. “I think I’m a naga.”
“A nagini,” said a voice from down the hall. We turned and looked; there was a tall woman, with Asian features and red hair, wearing a blue and green kimono and holding a lamp. “I see that the Gray One cast the transference spell while your hosts were asleep. I apologize, but when we have been waiting so long for hosts, it is difficult to be alert at every moment. Welcome to our world, and to my home.”
“You’re our guide, then,” Dad said. Mom came out of the bedroom, and I got a better look at the figure behind him.
“Taylor?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s me.” He was shorter than the woman in the hall, but he had the same Asian features and red hair. And his ears were high on his head, and erect and pointed, like a wolf’s or... a fox’s? I glanced down and saw a couple of bushy red tails sticking out from under the hem of his robe.
“You’re a kitsune! I wanted to be a kitsune.”
He shrugged and grinned. “You look pretty cute as a nagini.”
“Thanks.” If Daniel could see me now, or any of the kids at school, I’d be mortified. But with just my family around, I could handle being a nagini. It wouldn’t have been my first pick, but it could be pretty cool. And I didn’t mind Taylor seeing my breasts; I’d seen hers often enough.
The other kitsune invited us to come down the hall into another room, where she gave us little gold bracelets that flowed like mercury and shaped themselves to fit our wrists perfectly. “They will show people that you are under the Gray One’s protection,” she said. “And they will help me find you if you get separated from the group.”
“The Gray One is Mr. G., right?”
“Yes, that is one of the names he uses in your world. I am Kinuko, and I will be your guide for the next eight days. I know you’re wide awake right now, with the transference spell having woken you, but your hosts' bodies had just gotten two or three hours of sleep, so you should probably go back to bed soon... we can talk in the morning about where to go and what to see.” She yawned.
Going back to bed right away might have been a good idea, but we were really wired, and felt like we wouldn’t be able to sleep for hours. We bombarded her with questions until her yawns became so frequent that Mom and Dad apologized and said we’d see her in the morning. By “we” I mean mainly Taylor and me, but Mom and Dad had a few questions as well, since they’d never been to this part of the Gray One’s world before, or seen a nagini like me, or a dwarf-dryad linked to a bonsai tree like Dad.
“You’re not actually a dryad,” Kinuko explained, “but a kodama. Dryads usually link with oak or ash trees, and kodama with cherry or maple. Being a bonsai kodama means you have freedom to travel, but you also have to work harder to keep your tree healthy. Your host told me that her cherry tree won’t need to be fertilized or pruned in the next eight days, but you will need to water it every day — whenever you feel thirsty, she said.”
We also found out that we were in Kinuko’s house, and that she lived on the outskirts of a big city, the capital of an empire. Mom and Dad had visited some outlying regions of this empire on their anniversary trips, but they’d never been to this city. There were a lot of kitsune in this quarter of the city, and a lot of humans in some other neighborhoods. “And there are sea-elves like your host in the waterfront district, and tengu, and kappa. Watch out for kappa; the ones who live here in the city are more law-abiding than the wild kappa of the mountain lakes, but they’re still predators at heart.”
“So are we, aren’t we?” Taylor ran his tongue along his sharp canines. “And so’s Leslie, I’m guessing.” I’d noticed what seemed to be fangs in my mouth, and I wondered if I had venom sacs behind them.
“We are civilized predators,” Kinuko said primly.
Naga (“nagini” were the girls, and “naga” were both the boys and the whole species — so sexist) weren’t native to this region, apparently; just a few had immigrated here within the last few decades.
After Kinuko went to bed, the rest of us stayed up, drinking the tea she had made us, comparing notes, and listening to Mom and Dad’s stories about their previous vacations in this world.
“I can’t believe I’m an elf and you’re a dryad, just like our first time,” Mom said. “You’re so cute!” He was holding Dad in his lap by that point.
“You’re looking pretty scrumptious yourself,” Dad said, tracing her finger along Mom’s chin.
Taylor rolled his eyes and said, “Should we leave you two alone for the rest of the night? I can take the other bed in Leslie’s room.”
“Dad should probably sleep close to her tree,” I said. “I’ll come over to your room.”
So Taylor and I went down the hall to the room he and Mom had woken up in, and went back to bed, but we lay awake in the dark for a while, talking about how awesome and weird this all was.
“I think I’ve figured out why Mom and Dad wanted to raise us the way they did,” Taylor said after a while.
“Hmm?” I was finally starting to get sleepy.
“It’s so we wouldn’t freak out the first time we came here. So you wouldn’t feel castrated or something if you wound up in a girl body like this, and so we wouldn’t be embarrassed if we wound up in a culture where they don’t wear clothes, like Maella’s people or some others they told us about.”
“You’re probably right. Man, we put up with all that bullying the first couple of years in public school for this?”
“Totally worth it.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think it was.”
Three of my novels and one short fiction collection are available from Smashwords in ePub format and from Amazon in Kindle format.
|Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes||Smashwords||Amazon|
|When Wasps Make Honey||Smashwords||Amazon|
|A Notional Treason||Smashwords||Amazon|
|The Weight of Silence and Other Stories||Smashwords||Amazon|
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.