The following story is a guest post by Mitchell Porter. Mitchell is junior at Roger Williams University, minoring in creative writing.
Jack felt himself being dragged out of the sweet embrace of slumber when something poked him in the face. “Go way,” he mumbled turning over and snuggling deeper into his blankets, attempting to fortify himself against the unwelcome intrusions of the day. He felt another, more insistent poke.
He blearily opened his eyes to find his vision dominated by a purple snake bearing its fangs at him in a feral grin.
“Go away, Slink. M’tired,” he grumbled again, lazily swatting the serpent away from him, closing his eyes in an attempt to shut out the world once more.
“Well alrighty, then boyo, you go ahead and sleep. I’ll just go eat yer mama’s waffles all by me self.” The snake chuckled, the rough hiss of his voice slowly burrowing its way into Jack’s ears. Jack shot bolt upright, smacking his forehead against the monstrous snake’s face. He ignored the reptile’s complaints as he fully registered what he had heard.
His mom’s waffles.
His Mom rarely made him waffles; he only ever got them on special occasions, like his birthday or something. He always looked forward to them. Those waffles were the single most delicious things he had ever eaten in his seven years of life.
Jack zipped out of bed, tripping over the mess of his room in his hurry to the confectionary delights that awaited him. Slink gave a hissy chuckle as he flapped his tiny wings, slithering through the air above Jack’s head.
Jack rushed to the top of the stairs; Slink hadn’t lied, he could smell the sweet syrupiness of the waffles already. He was pulled from his food daze when his foot missed a step, sending him falling into open space. Or he would have, if Slink hadn’t darted in front of him, wrapping his long body around Jack and hauling him backwards. “Slow down there tiger,” the snake chided, “Gonna crack yer skull open if ye don’t.”
Jack nodded abashedly. This wasn’t the first time Slink had to catch him. He took care to place his feet on every single step the rest of way down, his friend still wrapped around him. Once he reached the bottom, he raced off to the kitchen. “HI MOM!” he said, beaming up at the towering apron-clad figure.
“Good morning, Jack. You’re up early.” She gave him a glowing smile as she took in his disheveled appearance.
“Slink told me you were makin’ waffles.”
“Of course, he did,” his mother replied, smiling absentmindedly. “And he was right.” She pointed to the table. There they were, sitting on an orange plate and topped with the perfect amount of whipped cream and syrup.
Jack rushed to the chair and started digging in, tuning out everything from his mother’s words to Slink dunking his head in the milk and chugging it.
It took several minutes for him to come down from his little spot of heaven. His mother had taken a seat across from him and was slowly eating some waffles of her own. “We are going out today, Jack,” she said, catching his attention.
“What?” he asked, spraying some bits of waffles across the table.
“Well, since your father isn’t home today, and I don’t have any work that needs doing, I thought it might be nice to go to the park.”
“…The park?” Jack asked. Why did she want to go there?
“It will be nice to get outside. We can enjoy the sunshine, listen to the birds, make some friends…” she trailed off.
“… Oh.” Jack swallowed, that’s what she wanted. “But Mom, I don’t need any more friends, I have Slink!” He gestured at the purple snake, who had slithered over to the fruit bowl on the table and was busily trying to fit three strawberries in his mouth at once.
“Yes, Jack,” she replied, her tone gentle, “and I’m sure he’s a great friend, but I still think you could do with some others.” She waved her hand, cutting off his protests. “Please, Jack. Just go get dressed. We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”
Jack nodded, quietly leaving as Slink followed him. The snake settled on the boy’s shoulders, rubbing affectionately against his cheek. Jack could feel a slight bulge of the strawberries pressing against the back of his neck. “So we’re goin’ to the park are we?” The serpent chortled. “Bet yer happy ‘bout that.”
“I don’t get what the big deal is,” Jack complained. “I’ve got you, you’re all the friends I need. Why doesn’t she think you’re good enough?”
“Well,” the snake drawled, curling around Jack’s head and humming to himself. “It’s prolly ‘cuz she thinks I’m a figment of yer imagination.”
“That’s dumb.” Jack mumbled. “Why would she think that?”
“‘Cuz she doesn’t need me.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Eh, don’t worry ‘bout it, boyo. Let’s just go have a good time. We can run around till we drop, harass some squirrels, maybe chase the birds, it’ll be fun. Don’t you worry none about the making friends thing. After all, yer friends with me and I’m not so bad right?”
Jack sighed. Thinking it through as he got dressed. No. Slink wasn’t so bad. Every day had been an adventure ever since he’d slithered through Jack’s bedroom window a year ago. Jack had been home alone and bored out of his mind. Next thing he’d known, this giant scaly reptile was in his room doing cartwheels through the air and challenging Jack to a game of tag. They’d chased each other around the house until they’d collapsed. He’d been Jack’s constant companion ever since.
Maybe it really wouldn’t be so bad.
So Jack put on a nervous smile and went back downstairs, following his mom as she led him out the door. The park wasn’t far away, so they always walked there. It really was a nice day; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so the sun made everything warm. Jack sighed in contentment as Slink wrapped around him again. Slink’s cool skin always felt good on hot days.
At least the park wasn’t too crowded. That was nice. The playground was only half full of other kids laughing together, while all the moms sat off to the sides chatting with each other like a group of tired hens. Occasionally calling out to their chicks in a reminder to play nice.
He looked up at his mother, catching another of her bright smiles. “Jack,” she said, “I see a friend of mine over there. I need to talk to her about mommy stuff, so why don’t you go play?” Jack nodded glumly. Knowing there was no escape now.
Without his mother standing next to him, the day didn’t seem as bright. The happy cartoon faces decorating the playground looked more sinister. The slides loomed above him like mountains too vast to conquer, and the swings transformed into slumbering beasts that would throw him off the moment he dared sit on them.
What was he supposed to do now? Jack’s head swung left and right, but none of the other kids were looking at him. He could feel his shoulders slumping as he tried to shrink in on himself. Just as the laughter around him began to turn mocking he felt something poke him in the head. Startled, he looked at Slink, who was staring him in the eye.
“You doin’ alright there? Jackie boy?”
Jack took a deep, shuddering, breath and hugged the snake as hard as he could. “… No. Slink, I don’t want to be here,” he muttered, pressing his face into the coils and trying to make his friend understand. Slink hummed, his body vibrating and drowning out the sound of the other children. The snake glanced around, his tongue flicking in and out. Suddenly Slink went still and chuckled.
“Well alrighty then, kiddo, that’s an easy fix. Lets just go somewhere else. Come on.” The snake uncoiled himself and took off; tiny wings flapping as he wrapped his tail around Jack’s wrist. Pulling him away from the mountainous slides and slumbering swings. Jack let the snake lead him past the sandbox, towards an apple tree sitting at the top of a hill. Jack sighed in relief as the laughter faded behind him. This was better; he could just sit under the tree until his mom was ready to go. He walked around the tree and froze.
There was somebody else here.
A girl was sitting at the base of the tree reading a book. He hadn’t even noticed she was there until he was right on top of her. She looked up from her book and caught his eyes, causing both of them to freeze at the unwanted presence. What was he supposed to do now? He wanted to run, but the girl was staring at him. What was he supposed to say?
“Slink, you silly snake, is that you?”
Jack blinked as a high-pitched voice came from the girl, even though her lips hadn’t moved. A pair of pointy ears, followed by a pink furry head and beady eyes, poked out of the girl’s long black hair. Slink’s head bobbed as he gave off one of his hissy chuckles, flashing one his fanged grins at the bat. “Hishishis, indeed it is. Fancy seein’ you here, Sasha, ye old bat.”
The little face pushed itself the rest of the way out, followed by pink leathery wings. A pink bat climbed up the girl’s head, settling itself on top.
The girl glanced up at the bat perched in her hair. “Sasha? Who is this?” she asked, her voice quiet; she was blinking at Slink in wonder, her face half hidden by her hair.
“That purple slinky is Slink, an old friend of mine. Don’t know who the kid is though.” The pair looked at Jack expectantly, the girl gazing at him through curtain her hair.
“Well, go on then, buddy, don’t be shy. Introduce yerself.” Slink insisted, poking Jack in the head.
“I-I’m Jack,” he stuttered, raising his hand and waving.
“It’s nice to meet you Jack.” The girl’s voice was still so quiet he could barely hear her. “I’m Clair.” Jack nodded. He gestured at the ground. Silently asking if he could sit down. Clair nodded, and he sat. Sinking into the lush grass.
“So Slink,” said Sasha, stretching out her wings. “Are you still terrible at flying?”
“What?! I can fly circles around you, you winged mousey!”
“Oh yeah?” Sasha flapped her way off of Clair’s head. “Prove it.”
Slink looked back at Jack. “Hey Jackie boy, you mind if I leave you alone for a bit. I need to put this here rodent in her place.” Jack nodded, and the snake launched himself into the air.
The pair flew off, leaving the kids alone. Clair occasionally peeked out from behind her hair at Jack, before looking away, saying nothing. He squirmed as the silence lengthened. He wasn’t really sure what to say.
Clair looked at him again, and then gave him a tiny smile. “I’ve never met someone else with a talking animal before. I thought I was the only one,” she said.
“Y-yeah. Me, too,” he stammered, caught off guard. Giving her a shaky smile back. They lapsed back into silence. The awkwardness melting as they watched their friends try to fly circles around each other.
Okay so maybe it really wasn’t so bad after all, Jack thought.
One year later:
Slink slithered lazily through the air, settling on the roof of the house, just over Jack’s window. He heard the sound of flapping wings, and glanced over, seeing Sasha settle beside him. They sat together and watched. Down below, Jack and Clair were running around. Chasing one another in a wild game of tag and laughing all the while.
“Looks like those two are having fun,” Sasha said, watching Clair tag Jack on his head before darting back around a tree. “Hard to believe they’ve already known each other for a year.”
“Yeah… s’nice to see the kiddo with some proper friends of his own.”
“…He can’t see you anymore. Can he?”
“Nope,” Slink replied, sighing as he settled down a little more against the roof.
“That’s too bad. Clair can’t hear me anymore either.”
“Aw well, it’s always sad when the little tykes don’t need us no more. But just look at how happy they are.”
Jack darted straight through a bush, finally tagging Clair and ran off laughing as she pursued, hot on his heels.
“We did just fine.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes longer.
“You know…” the bat started. “I heard there’s a little girl three houses down. Parents are always busy, word is, she’s awfully shy.”
“That right?” Slink drawled, a grin starting to grow on his face, “Sounds to me like someone who could use a friend.”