The sun touched the horizon as the party came to a stop, each member taking a short breather before they set up for camp.
“Right, now we can eat,” said Adrina, wheeling over to the cart that held their heavier survival equipment and their water.
“Too tired,” moaned Cheng from her position face down on the ground. “Should skip.”
“Rina, honey, let’s wait for everyone to collect themselves,” Violet ordered. “Cheng, don’t fall asleep just yet. We need to set up camp first.”
“If by ‘set up camp’ you mean roll out the sleeping bags and pass around the canned food,” commented Nero.
“Well, at least we don’t have to cook anything,” replied Cheng, getting up under Violet’s glaring eyes.
“Though it would all likely taste better that way,” said Giovani from the front of the group.
“Red, would you mind passing out some of the cans?” Violet asked.
He sighed, standing up from his position by the cart. “Alright.”
He passed out a can to each, along with silverware. Then he sat himself on the armrest of Adrina’s wheelchair, while the rest scattered themselves around the area.
“Goodness. Your sister can be so bossy sometimes,” he muttered to Adrina.
“Tell me about it,” she replied.
“I’m not bossy!” snapped Violet from some distance behind them. “I’m just…I like order.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Albus cut in. “A big trip like this needs some organization.”
* * *
As the light of dawn illuminated the hills and mountains around them, in the closer vicinity the party blinked open their eyes to find a huge, deep purple coil wrapped around the perimeter of their campsite.
“It appears to be some kind of snake,” Nero observed, crouching over it and examining the scaled pattern.
“Pretty big snake,” Cheng remarked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one able to wrap around eight people relatively spread out more than ten times.”
“Which probably means we should kill it,” said Red, taking a hatchet from the cart. “Where’s the head?”
“I have no idea,” Nero told him. “Just whack it somewhere.”
Red’s hatchet descended upon the violet body, cutting the first of many coils in two.
* * *
Adrina’s eyes opened wide with the surprise that had jolted her awake. She heard something, very faintly. She propped herself up, trying to confirm the smooth crunching of dust and rock and the near-silent hiss.
Despite the myriad of stars displayed above her and the moon slowly moving through the heavens, the only thing she saw in the darkness was movement, the rippling of a reflection.
“Vi?” she said apprehensively.
“WhudizitRina?” came the muffled reply. “Mtryintusleep.”
“I think that snake is back.”
There was a ruffling of a sleeping bag, and Adrina saw Violet’s form rising from the ground, the night lights reflecting off her jewelry. Violet looked at her watch, and then crawled over to Adrina.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Violet grumbled.
“Look!” Adrina pointed out at another sight of movement, this one a quarter of the way around the camp from the last sighting.
“Ugh! There’s nothing there. Go back to bed.”
“Don’t you want to be sure, in case something’s stalking us?” Adrina looked straight into Violet’s eyes, her own deadly serious.
“Fine.” Violet crawled back to her sleeping bag and to her backpack, from which she produced a flashlight. She crawled back to Adrina, clicking it on. “See, there’s nothing–”
Its jaws opened wide as it reared back, eyes squinting in the sudden flame of the flashlight. Violet’s own jaw dropped, her eyes bulging at the sight. Then the snake lunged, striking the flashlight and knocking it out of Violet’s hand.
The body followed quickly, passing through the air until it reached Adrina with a hiss that made combat with the girl’s scream. In a moment the head disappeared and reappeared on her other side, the body curling around her waist.
Around them, the rest of the party were waking up, some more quickly than others. Nero, Albus, and Red where already on their feet, racing toward Adrina’s voice and the flashlight, still partially illuminating the scene. Violet quickly recovered, lunging for the snake’s head. She missed, falling to the ground as the snake made another circuit around Adrina, who in vain tried to pull the snake off of her.
“Get off of me!” she growled.
Red picked up the hatchet from the cart, wielding it wildly as he rushed at the serpent.
“Rina, calm down,” said Nero. “Puff out your chest and your stomach – that’ll make it harder for it to choke you or crush you.”
Those already not in the middle of the action were beginning to realize what was happening, and they began scrambling for their weapons. Red brought the hatchet down on the serpent’s body, severing it. But it didn’t fall slack. The head turned toward Red, hissing angrily, before continuing its coil around Adrina. Red looked back at the wound he had made: it had vanished.
“Go for the head!” Nero barked.
The serpent had pinned Adrina’s arms to her sides and was working down to her legs. Her eyes bulged not just with fear, but also the slowly increasing pressure the snake put on her.
“Get off of my sister!” shouted Violet, scratching at it with her nails in a vain attempt to pry it off of Adrina.
“Do we have any acids or fast-acting concrete?” asked Cheng, wielding a pistol.
“Do I look crazy?” Giovani replied as he rummaged through his things in search of a weapon.
“Maybe you should have added them to the packing list,” said Nero, stepping back from the main action, looking around at the coils that encircled the camp. “Red, sever the snake again!”
“Just do it!”
Red sliced the snake right where it was beginning to coil around Adrina. The light illuminated it as the tail end wiggled free for a moment, before reattaching itself, as though there had been no cut in the first place. Red looked back at Nero, but he had vanished into the darkness.
Adrina was wrapped up entirely, from her shoulders to her ankles. The head rested on the ground as its coils raised Adrina into the air, poised right over the wide jaws. Her feet entered its mouth, making it near impossible to get at the head.
“No!” screamed Violet, trying to throttle any part of the body she could get her hands on.
Adrina’s mouth was wide open as she took deep breaths, trying to accommodate for the serpent crushing her ribs.
All at once, the snake fell limp. Adrina fell to the ground, coughing as she began to climb out with the help of Violet and Red.
“So the brain was at the tail,” came Nero’s voice.
“How are you feeling?” asked Violet, craddling Adrina.
“I think I broke a rib.”
“Well, sounds like you’ll have to stay in a wheelchair and avoid physical activities,” said Red with a wry smile. “Now I just hope this is the worst we come across on this trip.”