I walked down the frozen food aisle looking for dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for Teddy when I felt the scales, the muscular length tightening around my waist. My eyes burned, and I looked down. Tears of blood fell from my eyes onto my hands. I froze.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” The kid with the price gun wearing a blue apron stared at me, jaw dropping. “Your eyes…”
“I have to go!” I abandoned my cart, purse, everything, and bolted out of the grocery store, my heeled pumps clacking and sliding on the tile. I burst out through the automatic doors, and ran into a nearby alley.
My wings, long hidden, burst through the skin of my back, and the silk blouse he’d bought me for our anniversary. Black and red feathers, the color of burnt flesh, I knew that without seeing them. I bit down on a cry of pain, and lifted my eyes to the heavens. Holding up my hands in supplication, I whispered “Take me there!” in my native Greek.
I appeared in the bedroom, where Nathaniel was shushing Teddy, while he wiped blood from his face. On seeing me over Nathaniel’s shoulder, Teddy screamed, “Mama!”
Children always know their mother.
Nathaniel looked over his shoulder, a lie forming on his lips. It died there when he caught sight of me.
“Jesus, what the hell?” He scrambled back from the bed, and Teddy, bloody washcloth falling forgotten on the bed next to Teddy. Teddy, my darling baby, my heart, sobbed on the bed, blood dripping from a split lip, cheek purpling.
“I was going to ask you the same thing.” I lisped through fanged teeth, and he turned white, whiter.
“Irene?” His eyes grew wide as the serpents girdling my waist pushed out from under the tattered remnants of my blouse. “This can’t be real.” He shook his head.
“You hit Teddy. Why?”
“No, I, I would never!” He tossed the bloody washcloth at the hamper. “He fell!”
“He did not fall.” I spoke slowly and deliberately. “Do not compound your sins by lying to me. I felt the intent to the very core of my being.”
“Do. Not. Lie.” Blood poured down my face, the snakes hissed, one struck at the air, frustrated by its inability to reach Nathaniel. “I trusted you with my child, my son, our son.”
“I… was just punishing…”
“He is two. What could he possibly have done that necessitated splitting his lip?” With all my heart and soul I wanted to tear his soul from his still breathing body, I wanted to splash in his life’s blood and play in his viscera. I wanted him to hurt.
‘Police. There will be questions. The modern era doesn’t make allowances for one’s mythological status, or species-specific vengeance requirements.’ I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The fangs, claws, wings, snakes, those weren’t going anywhere until, if, I calmed down. The snakes hissed, squeezing my waist.
“I’m going to try to understand what happened. Tell me why you hit him.” I opened my eyes again, to look at Nathaniel, who cringed in the corner next to his nightstand.
I looked away from Nathaniel, to look more closely at Teddy, at the way he held one arm close to his body, guarding it with the other. “His arm? What did you do to his arm? Why isn’t he at the hospital?” The snakes wove patterns around my waist, tight, cool, angry patterns. “You were going to try to hide this from me? You can’t. You can’t hide from me. Tell me the truth!” I shrieked the last, my hands forming claws as I leaned toward Nathaniel. Teddy slipped off the bed and ran to me, hiding behind my legs. One snake paused in its snapping and weaving to hover protectively over his head.
“It’s all right, darling. Mommy’s here.” I lowered a hand, careful of my newly emerged claws, stroking his hair. He sniffled and looked up at me, smiling.
“Mommy.” His arms tightened around my legs.
An explosion and a burning pain in my chest. It faded quickly, the hole left by the bullet closing almost as rapidly as it had opened. I turned back to Nathaniel, holding the gun and staring at me.
“What are you?” He stared.
“Vengeance for family betrayed.” I disengaged Teddy. “Wait in the living room, sweetie, and Mommy will get you some ice cream.” The snake hovering over him disengaged from my waist and slithered down to coil around Teddy. He grinned and toddled out to the living room, petting the snake coiling around his waist.
“Shut up.” I kicked the door shut behind Teddy’s retreating back. I flexed my claws. “The time for talking is over.”