Ouroboros Part One - The Molting

Submitted into Contest #112 in response to: End your story with a character standing in the rain.... view prompt

1 comment

Fantasy Science Fiction Friendship

Ophi wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. It had certainly changed his view on things. Some of the things. It gnawed on the back of Ophi’s head just enough to irritate him. Once again, he felt the pressure to warn everyone.

Ophi limped out of his den. The spines sheathed under his skin still felt awkward. Ophi scanned the bushes. As much as the bushes made a tight circle around his den, their branches did a poor job filling themselves in, and the gray sand so visible beyond them made everything look ghostly, and to top it all off, nothing could be heard except for the slight whistling of the wind.

That was just too much. Ophi missed the days when this place was busier.

The bushes outside Ophi’s immediate circle rustled. Ophi clambered out to have a better look. He could see a candy red ear sticking out of a bush. Ophi walked past the bush and flashed a smile. It was Heidi, with her sprite in the form of a deer. Classic Heidi, happily fulfilling her role in the Internet as a browser. She may have grown a few fangs, but that was all that changed.

Ophi muttered a greeting. None of his friends liked to start the conversation.

Heidi turned and stood there.

Ophi felt his spines slide out a little. Now he hesitated. Ophi cocked his head to the side.

Heidi tapped her foot against the ground. She only stumbled, right? 

Wait, no. Heidi lowered her head. “It seems my family was struck with a curse! First my mother, now my sister!”

Ophi fell silent and paid more attention to the slight tickling in his mind. While Heidi talked and talked, Ophi realized he knew just what she needed to hear. “Things haven’t been so great for me either,” The user said. His pores tightened around the newfound spines.  “as I’ve overheard the park rangers talk about using darts on us...” 

It was easier to let them slip out. The more Ophi said, the more he got excited. Heidi’s outline blurred and buzzed in Ophi’s vision. Ophi’s eyes bulged out of his head and his heart raced in forced thuds. Ophi just kept talking and talking until he felt his pores rip open. That’s what got Ophi to stop and look at his flanks. The crimson spikes were out, but none seem to be missing. 

Ophi noticed the still air. “Heidi?”

Even the distant ads fell silent. After a moment, Ophi heard branches crashing and caught a glimpse of a large animal scampering away.

Ophi felt the quills droop. He crept back into the rotting log framing his den. The fire inside him burned with shame. 

Ophi made his way out into the clearing and spotted Heidi. She was sitting in a sagebrush so that only her head could be seen. Ophi felt the urge to tear out his quills. He didn't have them for very long and he's already threatened his friend's life.

Ophi’s heart pounded in his chest. “I’m… really sorry about what happened last night.”

Heidi froze in place. “It’s fine.”

Ophi continued. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It was a stupid thing I did and I have no excuse for it.”

Heidi made no movements whatsoever. “No hard feelings.”

Ophi sputtered, and searched the bush with his eyes. He couldn’t see if Heidi was injured. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Heidi kept the same wooden posture. “We already made our decisions.”

Ophi fell silent. The knot in his stomach grew more and more with Heidi’s behavior. The red deer kept her nose pointed at her friend like it was a gun. The little fangs looked more like boar teeth.

Ophi turned with shaky knees. Trotting out of the bushes, he felt he should spend the day elsewhere. That one day turned into one week, that week into a month. It had got to the point where Ophi had to dash out of his den before the thorns on his bushes could close in on him. The dips in the sand made scowling faces and so many ads have ceased their chirping.

Worst of all was Heidi. She still made her way near Ophi’s home, only to stare everything down. Ophi felt a growing emptiness during this miserable time. 

When on the verge of despair, Ophi would strike a conversation with Heidi.

She only shot words like bullets. “I’m fine.” “Okay.” “Nothing important.” And it never lasted long, for Heidi would dart away suddenly. 

Then came the shadows. One stiff ghost would stand in the bushes with Heidi, and then another, and another. Those beady eyes came at Ophi like a rogue wave. He would have drowned if he had not shut the den hole in time. Ophi pushed himself against the splintering wood blocking the hole and strained against his ribs to breathe, but alas, he spotted the white dots on the bark lining the den walls.

Ophi just laid there, curled in a ball. He was worried about his new spiny skin beforehand but he never thought it would lead to him being shut off from the rest of the world. Ophi then began to think. If someone else knew about his crime, they’d expect Ophi to ditch the spines. 

Ophi remembered. 

One year, a user took on the form of a lionfish, and made the same mistake as Ophi. Once the crowd surrounded the user and demanded he ditch the spines, he complied. Alas, the crowd still painted a target on his back and their victim was last seen getting butchered by hackers. Those axe-wielding maniacs showed no mercy.

A streak of bright white stopped Ophi’s train of thought, with the jagged edges cutting the streak off reminding Ophi it was his makeshift mirror. He could see the squiggly white spots in his own eyes. Doe eyes on a hideous pin cushion? Five users were attacked for that in the last year alone. No explanation was enough to fend off the mob. When Ophi wasn’t lost in the waves of torpor, he lay dazed with more such examples keeping him stunned.

The more and more Ophi mulled over this, the more and more he swelled with anxiety. He was not the sharpest creature in the scrubland, but he knew anything that looked wrong, they could punish him for it. “What kind of monstrosity has a hellish body and tearful eyes? He must be a sly, corrupt beast! We can’t trust anything he says!”

Ophi felt an intense tingling all over. He could barely move his limbs.

That was all Ophi remembered before the heat did him in.

A chunk of wood jabbed Ophi in his side, ending his dream. The first thing Ophi noticed were the intense cramps in several points of his body. He couldn’t see anything aside from the faint lines in the wood shoved against his face. 

A harsh chop broke further into Ophi’s prison. 

That was enough to set him off.

Ophi blasted out and roared with all his might. He could see the hacker running away, like a tiny thug. Ophi reared up and lunged at the intruder. Both brutes slammed into a huge stump. Everything roiled under the impact. Ophi chomped on the dry stump and used his new coils to crush it until the hacker pinned under him stopped moving. Crunching branches alerted Ophi to two rangers running into his field of vision. Another threat!

The rangers pointed their guns. Ophi hissed and bristled his quills. The rangers fired anyway, and Ophi threw himself at them. When Ophi’s vision cleared, he saw the rangers sidling around him. Ophi snorted and allowed his eyes to follow the smaller one. Ophi reared up and brandished his cumbersome fangs. The targeted ranger was now flinging themselves at the landscape like a pinball. Ophi jolted and jerked, slamming his huge teeth at anything that resembled a dark leather jacket. The last yell stopped short and Ophi slowed, satisfied. He looked around to survey the area, whose bushes and other plant life were reduced to sticks lying on cold grey sand. The new monster turned to the path leading to the rest of the park and saw users walking out from the connectrees. Ophi sneered at them but only a few fled. 

In fact, one led a group charging toward him, and this one was bright red! 

Ophi shook his head in disgust. “She just couldn’t stop coming back, could she?” 

Ophi rammed through bushes, slithering with new fury. The last bush gave way and Ophi could finally see the group, with Heidi leading them. Ophi kept pressing forward.

And so did Heidi! She slammed her hooves and galloped harder.

Ophi lunged for the huge branches covering the broken fence. The branches burning under him expelled a peppery scent, which only made him cry harder. He just couldn’t do it. Not after all that he and Heidi had been through. Heidi was the only one that followed Ophi out of the thickets of their youth. Ophi’s eyes followed the ripples in the sand, only to watch them get erased by the incoming raindrops. Ophi could only hope by sparing Heidi, she would understand. She always had.

September 17, 2021 23:40

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Shawn Clark
18:13 Nov 29, 2021

Nova does it again! Drew me in right away. Thanks for sharing your talent Nova!


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.