by China DeSpain
“Welcome to a night at the Cabernet Cabaret,” coos the smoky voice of the emcee. “Please, pour yourself a glass of red, sit back, and enjoy the show.” A waiter appears, all silence and smoke, and places a bottle of house wine and a glass at your table. You pour your drink and sip; the wine is smooth and the tastes of black cherry and licorice slide across your tongue. There’s something else, a unique flavor you can’t place. The taste of the cabaret itself, perhaps.
The cabaret is circular, and your chair rotates so that you can take in any of the six stages. You’ve never been here before, and you don’t know which show to watch.
As if reading your mind, the invisible emcee whispers in your ear. “Have you browsed our menu of delights? Perhaps we can interest you in a dance by the Feathered Lady? Or maybe you prefer something more magical? Lady Belladonna’s Poisoned Performance might be more to your taste.”
You purse your lips in thought, and she chuckles low in her throat. “Oh, I know what you want. Sandrine’s Snake Show. Turn to stage 4.”
Your chair pivots, and you honestly don’t know if you’re the one moving it. But it doesn’t matter. Stage 4 captivates you instantly.
The woman on the stage is tall, with auburn hair so long it can’t possibly be real. She wears a bra and panty set in shimmering green sequins, and vines are painted all over her body. A python as long as you are tall curves around her shoulders. It seems as though the rest of the lights have dimmed; only Sandrine is spotlighted, and she begins to sway, sinuous and slow.
One by one, small doors in the stage floor open, and a snake rises from each. They join her in her dance, undulating in unison.
Sandrine extends her hands, palms up, and bright sparks of light bloom there. As if drawn to the light, the snakes on the ground begin to grow, until they are all six feet in height.The surround Sandrine, a living circle that revolves around her.
And then she begins to sing.
She has a classic torch singer voice, low and lush, and you take another sip of thick, rich wine. Time seems to have slowed, and the air in the cabaret feels hazy. Dimly, you remember that you had other plans for the evening, something about meeting friends for coffee at Vine and Bean, but now the thought of leaving the cabaret is ludicrous.
Sandrine needs you here. Sandrine wants you.
Her voice wraps around you, a sensual hug, and you are certain the two of you are the only people left in the world. She’s singing directly to you, spilling her heart out.
It’s obvious that she’s in love with you. You must go to her.
You finish the rest of your wine and stand, gliding slowly toward the stage. It feels as if you are floating. Sandrine extends a hand to you, and you step up to join your beloved.
She opens her palms again, and more light sparks forth. She’s still singing, but you can’t hear the words anymore; there’s the just the light and the heady scent of Sandrine and her snakes. She runs her hands along your arms, and that’s when everything goes dark.
When you wake, your first thought is that you had too much wine. But no, that isn’t it. What you feel now isn’t a hangover. You’ve lost all sensation in your arms and legs, and the world around you is blurry. But the rest of your senses are sharper than ever before. You can hear each creak of the floorboard, each breath of the person in the room with you. Your nose is still full of Sandrine’s scent, which makes you think of a warm rainforest.
“Ah, you’re awake,” she says in that low voice. “Welcome.”
You try to respond, but your voice comes out in a hiss.
She runs a hand along your back, and the sensation is strange. That’s when you begin to realize something is terribly, terribly wrong.
“Don’t try to speak,” she murmurs. “Your voice is gone. You belong to me now.”
She sways again, that same undulating dance, and without conscious thought, you rise to your full height and begin to move with her. Your arms and legs aren’t just numb; they’re gone. Your skin is now scales, and you will never sip wine again.
She’s right. You are hers now, forever doomed to dance with the Serpent Queen.
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