Interlude 17 – The Collapse

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Zogzhesh flicked his tongue out and tasted the scents–the many unremarkable human scents, the strange and artificial scents of the creatures surrounding the humans. In the midst of all those unexceptional smells, four of the humans stood out–a strange, otherworldly edge to their ape pheromones.

There were two more humans with the power of the terrible ones?

It didn’t matter. There were more urgent things to focus on than that. The mature female human had pulled something from her bag, and the metallic smell made him think it was a weapon.

She was puny, but size could be deceiving. More importantly, dozens of the artificial creatures stood behind her, some nearly as large as him.

Zogzhesh felt his mouth begin to yawn open involuntarily as the unfamiliar sensation of fear crept in.

Oh no. Not this.

He had to make his retreat. He would go back, find Angelina Bianchi before she’d accumulated the entourage, and she would help him get home. He had to get away from these dangerous creatures before–

It was too late. He felt his head bend backward, his body convulsing as he dropped to the ground.



Mona watched the snake man writhe around on his back for a few seconds, then grow still, tongue lolling out of its mouth. A few drops of blood trickled onto the cobblestones. Moments later, a rancid smell filled the air.

“Um,” said Jen. “What the heck just happened?”

“Is he okay?” said Angelina.

“I’m pretty sure he’s not,” said Sam.

One of the sisters poked the snake man with her foot.

“I think he’s dead,” she said. “Why don’t we eat him?”

“It’s no fun if he’s dead,” said the other sister. “I like my meals screaming in terror.”

Mona did her best to ignore them as she looked down at the snake man. She walked behind him, and leaned down to look at the top of his head. His eyes moved, following her as she walked around him.

“Hm,” she said. “Interesting.”

“Interesting is one word for this,” said Lachlan.

“What’s with the smell?” said Sam. “He died two seconds ago. Why does he already smell like roadkill?”

“He said he was a time traveler,” said Angelina. “Maybe it has to do with that?”

“He’s not dead,” said Mona. “He’s in a state of thanatosis.”

“I remember that word!” said Jen. “Thana-whatchamacallit. You said it to that monster right before I met you!”

“If you’re calling it ‘thana-whatchamacallit’, then you don’t remember the word,” said Mona, “but yes. The Dave fabrication you saw was in a state of partial thanatosis. This is a much more elaborate deception.”

“What is thanatosis?” said Jen.

“It’s an adaptive behavior in which animals take on the appearance of death,” said Mona.

“Oh!” said Jen. “So basically he’s playing possom.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” said Mona. “Virginia opossums do something similar.”

“Is he trying to lull us into a false sense of security?” said Jen. “Should we be like, running away?”

“No,” said Mona.

She sheathed her axes and leaned down at the snake man’s side. She pushed, rolling him over so he lay face down. Tongue still hanging from his mouth, he flopped back over onto his back.

“Um, what are you doing?” said Jen.

Heterdon platirhinos,” said Mona. “The eastern hog-nosed snake.”

“Okay then,” said Jen. “I’m still totally confused.”

“It’s a species of snake with an expandable neck, sometimes mistaken for a cobra by idiots who don’t realize cobras don’t live in North America. It’s known for its very convincing ability to play dead when threatened. It spasms, flips onto its back, and even emits a foul-smelling glandular secretion.”

“Ew,” said Jen.

“Wow,” said Sam. “That… is actually really interesting.”

“It is,” said Mona, “and pretty funny for something that claims to be all-powerful.”

“What should we do?” said Angelina.

“We do nothing,” said Mona. “We pretend he’s not even here.”

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