A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes
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by Elisabeth Waters
Category: Fantasy/Young Adult
Description: Nine sisters have to free their mother from a curse. This might be easier if they were not all rattlesnakes.
eBook Publisher: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 2011 Past Future Present 2011
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [13 KB]
Reading time: 5-7 min.
"A really funny fantasy told in first person from the POV of a rattlesnake with human intelligence... Can nine rattlesnake sisters evade cars, nuns (they live at a convent), and security guards with flashlights in time to break the curse? Totally adorable, and just the right length to not overstay its welcome." --Rachel M Brown, Dangerous Jam
My sisters and I are the product of a mixed marriage. Our father was Crotalus oreganus, more commonly called a rattlesnake. Our mother, well, she was born human. She said that Medusa got a better deal--at least only her hair changed to snakes. Our mother was cursed--and changed into a snake--a long, long time ago. I don't know what kind of snake she was originally; every time she sheds her skin she's something different. At the moment, she's a rattlesnake, so my sisters and I were born in that form because the curse extends to her children, which I think is totally unfair. We have human minds and rattlesnake bodies. It's quite a combination. Our father, being an ordinary snake, is no longer in the picture. By the time we were born our mother had moved to a convent, that being the nearest thing to a goddess's temple available these days. There are nine of us, named us after a group of Mother's childhood friends. I'm Terpsichore, and my sisters are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Thalia, and Urania.
We adapted quickly to life at the convent; the grounds are large and mostly wooded, with a couple of streams and plenty to eat. The nuns don't have any problems with "church mice"--we think mice are yummy and take care of them long before they get anywhere near the church.
While we don't see the nuns often--they're strictly diurnal and we try to stay out of sight during the day--when we do see them they treat us with respect, and we return the favor. Unfortunately, they have a security guard who doesn't like us, and he does prowl around at night. Do you have any idea how upsetting it is to have somebody point a flashlight at your eyes when they're adapted to night vision? In case you're as clueless as he is, it hurts!
But we stay here, because our mother is convinced that this is where we need to be. When she was cursed, by some god who has been gone for millennia because nobody still worships him or even remembers his name, a goddess created a counter-curse. It involved a prophecy that said mother would someday bear nine daughters who could free her and themselves through the Great Dance. The prophecy, being vague as prophecies generally are, never said that her daughters would be human. None of us knows exactly what the "Great Dance" is, but we dance as hard as we can. The one thing all of us know is that this is the last chance. The prophecy didn't just say what we had to do to succeed, it also said that if we didn't succeed... Well let's just say that if we don't break the curse before we go into hibernation in a few weeks, none of us will live through the winter. And we've barely had a chance to live at all--we're less than two months old!
So every night, after the nuns have gone to bed, my sisters and I go to our dancing ground. It's almost black and we're dark gray, so we blend in pretty well and don't have to worry about being seen. We practice at night because our dancing ground is a section of the parking lot. True, it's at the far end, away from the entrance and next to the woods, but it's still too dangerous to dance there during the day. Our dance has a specific pattern, and we can't stay in any pattern when we're busy dodging cars.
At night the pavement stays warm for a long time. We can still move easily, and there is nobody around to disturb us. So we tend to sleep by day and practice the dance at night. It has to be perfect when we do it to break the curse. The movements of the dance are instinctive--at least for me, which is a good thing. Mother doesn't know the dance; all she knows is the prophecy. She taught us that, but it's the only help she can give us. The rest--and our survival--is up to us. Mostly, it's up to me, because I seem to be the one who does know the dance. I don't know how I know, or why I'm the one, but I had to teach the dance to my sisters.
As I led the practice two nights before the full moon, I was feeling reasonably optimistic. The dance was coming together well; we all knew the movements, and everyone stayed in the proper pattern. When the full moon came and we did the dance for real instead of for practice, I was confident that we could all do it properly. There was only one thing that bothered me: what if this was not the "Great Dance" of the prophecy?
It turned out, however, that there was something else I should have worried about.