By Rori O’Keeffe
Copyright © 2016 by Rori O’Keeffe
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The metallic thuds she’d been hearing all morning from the direction of the new neighbour’s property began to distress Megan. She wondered if the new owner, Mark, was putting a fence in between the lots – that would explain, perhaps, the sounds she had been hearing. Megan decided to investigate, and set off from her log cabin through the woods towards the clearing that was on Mark’s side.
She crossed the property line and saw to her relief that there was no sign of a fence going up. She saw no need for one in such a spacious place as they were in – besides, respectful people make good neighbours, and there’s no line that holds back the disrespectful. Fences, she thought, have no good purpose out here in the countryside.
What she saw next as she peered into the clearing on Mark’s land took her breath away: Mark, who she had met the day he closed the deal on the property, was bringing a spade down onto a defenceless snake. Thud! the shovel rang out as the snake died in a gory spasm. Megan’s gaze went back and forth in the clearing; she counted fifteen dead snakes.
What could compel a sane person to do such a thing? The snakes clearly weren’t poisonous, as there were no venomous snakes in this region. They were milk snakes and garter snakes – no threat at all. Megan thought quickly, and while Mark was poking in the bushes and under logs to flush out another victim, she appeared in the trees near him as a crow. She waited several minutes until he had raised his spade over another snake, and began to speak, in as low and rumbling a voice as she could muster:
“Leave…the…snakes…alone,” she intoned from a branch behind Mark. He spun around, dropping his spade, and looked all about for the person who had said that. All he saw was the black crow, staring straight down its yellow beak into his eyes.
“Creep!” Mark shouted into the forest, presumably to the person who had spoken. “This is my damn property, and I’ll do what I want with the snakes!” He then retrieved his spade and resumed his hunt.
“These creatures were here before you, and they shall remain after you are gone!” Megan said from the high branch. Mark stiffened up and turned around, ready to swing the spade at whoever it was that tormenting him. He completed his turn just in time to see the crow flying straight over his head, rapping his skull with a bony wing, and leaving a warm, dripping smear of crow dung in his hair. Mark was ready to fight, but all he saw when he jerked himself around was the crow in retreat, rising over the trees and flying out of his sight.
Defeated and looking a little insane, he walked back to his camper by the laneway, dragging the spade behind him with one hand, and running his fingers through his hair with the other. “Crap!” he shouted, looking down at his soiled hand. Things wouldn’t get any better for Mark, as long as he planned on building a home on that land.
After dark, Megan crept up beside Mark’s camper, a pillowcase full of the snakes he had killed that morning in the clearing slung over her shoulder. She waited until the lights were out, then squeezed herself into the camper through an air vent on the bottom. Megan sat in the dark by Mark’s bed, as small and silent as a mouse. After forty minutes, his breathing was deep and regular, and he began to snore. She returned to her human form, and placed fifteen snakes’ bodies in various places on the bed around Mark – the snakes’ severed heads she kept aside, save for one, which she took between finger and thumb – and shoved it with a great force into Mark’s gaping mouth, and into his throat.
A tiny mouse in the corner watched Mark fumble for his flashlight, heard him choking and regurgitating the snake head, and witnessed with delight as he catapulted off the bed at the gruesome sight of the decapitated snakes. Mark’s eyes glazed over, and he began to wobble to the toilet, hand over his mouth. Invisible now, Megan followed him and waited through one, two, then three retches before quietly slipping the other fourteen snake heads into the toilet. After a moment, Mark raised his head to look into the bowl, and saw the snake heads in there along with his dinner.
“Who do you think you are?” a low, throaty voice said behind him. Terrified, confused and helpless now, Mark rolled over to look up at a huge brown owl in the camper’s doorway.
“No,” he whispered – “No.” The owl then spun its head and flew off silently into the night.
Mark awoke at dawn on the floor by the toilet, and tremulously removed the snakes’ remains and threw them outside. He was gone from the property before noon.
Megan heard the news in town a few days later. It turned out that her new neighbour didn’t like the countryside much after all, and wanted to sell off his land – ASAP. It was the turn of events she had expected, and she hummed a happy tune that day as she returned home to her cabin.
Long before there were people, there were shape-shifters. Before there were shap-shifters such as Megan, there were the animals. She looks out now from her cabin in the country at a very, very crowded world. Megan is frightened.
The best fairy-tales, I think, are the ones that can illustrate moral principles in the context of an inherently amoral world. Shape-Shifter is in this category, and though it may seem to convey an environmentalist message for our contemporary world, I think it actually tells a timeless truth. Megan comes across her new neighbour in the countryside, killing snakes on his property without good reason. She decides to give him his comeuppance using her shape-shifter abilities, and tries to drive him off the land, if not off his rocker. Flash-fiction, ~920 words.