BAD SNAKE DAY • by Beth Cato

For most people, the dry Phoenix heat left their hair as limp as over-boiled Top Ramen noodles. However, it made Molly’s full head of snakes absolutely crazy with joy of the sun — the electrified poof of ’80s Weird Al Yankovic with the thickness of Jamaican dreadlocks.

Just with lots of happy little tongues tasting the air. And fangs.

“Been a gorgon my whole life and still clueless,” she muttered to the mirror as she coaxed her fingers through the snakes. They writhed against her hand, slick and hissing and totally uncooperative. It had been a telecommute day, so she’d done the lazy summer thing and pulled the long snakes back into a ponytail. Now she had an hour until her blind date.

“Molly, you are going to fall in love with this guy!” her sister had said. Vera had been the one to set the whole thing up, and she had an odd knack making things fit. She had arranged three marriages so far, and her talents even extended to assembling IKEA furniture.

Honestly, Molly would have preferred a new Expedit bookcase for her living room, but Vera was living it up in L.A. Dates can be arranged via text. IKEA furniture, not so much.

Molly grabbed her cell phone.

“This is Toni at Magic Moments Hair Care!” The receptionist always sounded like she mainlined caffeine pureed with rainbows and kittens.

“Hi Toni, is Jess available for an emergency?”

“Oh, sweety, I’m sorry. Jess is out of town.”

“Oh. Um. Is there anyone else there who can handle gorgons?”

Magic Moments specialized in supernatural clientele — women with Rapunzel syndrome, minotaurs (not easy to work around horns), dryads, ghouls, etc. Most folks knew gorgons didn’t really turn people to stone, but the snake thing still kinda freaked them out.

“Sweety, Jess is the only one we have. There’s a place over in Scottsdale…”

“No. I can’t drive that far. Thanks.”

Molly disconnected and stared at the mirror. Dozens of lush snakes stared back, but the whole back of her head basked in the sunlight coming in through the high window.

One time in college she’d gone to one of those strip mall budget haircutters. She had been happy when one stylist agreed to see her, only to have the dude Aqua Net her snakes into some spiked look like an Akira Toriyama character. After her snakes unfroze, they spent the next two days sporadically yakking. Which is kind of a bummer in the middle of English 201.

But, Molly was desperate. She knew Vera had been hunting for a good match for her for years. If Vera said this guy was a good fit, he was. Molly couldn’t blow this.

She threw on her favorite summer frock, a shimmery brown maxi dress that complemented the green sheen of her snakes. She smiled at herself as she put on lipstick. If not for her unruly snakes, she looked pretty darn good.

Maybe there was still hope.

Before It Was Cool was a salon she drove past several times a week. In a metropolis where most buildings came in one of ten shades of brown, this place had doused a quaint ’30s bungalow in black paint. As she stepped in, the interior was equally dark, with Tim Burton and Justin Bieber posters for added horror.

The snipping sounds and low conversations stopped.

“Hi,” said Molly, doing her utmost to sound perky. “I was wondering if anyone here could style me?”

The guy at the counter was heavily pierced. If he’d been a voodoo doll, the other guy would be dead. Tough as he looked, though, he turned pasty as he looked at Molly. “Hi,” he squeaked out. “I um, we do try to serve everyone here, we’re very inclusive, we have nothing against gorgons or anything, but…” He looked like he was about to cry.

A few stylists approached, their smiles wobbly. She waved them back. “It’s okay. I know you would if you could. If someone wanted me to style a head full of spiders, I’d totally freak out.” Her snakes hissed, as they often did.

He whimpered and ducked behind the counter.

She retreated.

“You guys make life very difficult sometimes, you know?” she said aloud. She braced herself against the steering wheel. The air conditioning caused her snakes to coil closer to her scalp for warmth.

Thirty minutes left, and the restaurant was twenty minutes away. Molly moaned. Vera had sworn this was the best guy ever, but maybe Molly should just reschedule on a day when she could be sure to get her snakes styled.

No. She was already dressed up, and by God, she wanted a margarita.

Her nerves writhed as much as the snakes as she walked into the Mexican restaurant. Mariachi wailed over the sound system. “I’m here to meet Dev?” she said to the hostess.

“That’s me.”

She turned to face the man as he stood. His grin was brilliant against his deep caramel skin. Molly’s heart gave a small lurch. Good grief, the man came complete with a Clark Kent black curl on his forehead.

“I’m Moll… Molly,” she managed.

She was still tongue-tied as they faced each other over a basket of tortilla chips. Judging by the slowness, the staff had to drive to Florida for the lime for her margarita.

“So what do you do?” Dev asked. Odd, really, how he showed no reaction to her snakes.

“Website management. I know, it’s dull.” Her snakes squirmed and she wanted to slap them. “So what do you do?”

“Coding’s not dull. It’s necessary these days. Me, I do a rather ancient occupation in comparison. I’m a snake charmer. Runs in the family.” He leaned forward. “You do have a lovely head of snakes. Checkered garters, right?”

He liked her snakes. He knew them. Her sister Vera had indeed made the perfect match.

“Yes! Tell me more about your job, please.” She smiled as if to charm him in turn.

Beth Cato‘s novel THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER will be released by HarperCollins Voyager in September 2014. Her stories can be found in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, InterGalactic Medicine Show & other magazines. Her website is


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