The snake wasn’t still either. Its head, initially facing mostly toward Mr. Kaley and Bryan, stretched up and shook side to side, clearly taking in Layla as well. Then about two feet below the head, its upper body somehow divided into several neck-like cords, and from behind its big head, six smaller heads spread out like a fan, each of them with a two-foot neck that could extend its head in different directions.
Bryan shook his head in disbelief as he saw the new heads emerge, but he continued to move slowly into a crouch, his right foot almost imperceptibly shifting back a little.
“No!” said a strong female voice suddenly and with authority. Hamelin looked straight at Layla, who had also taken another step toward the snake! “No!” she said again, louder than the first time, her eyes fixed on the large central head. The snake then twisted its upper body, and all seven heads focused fully on her.
What is she doing? Hamelin thought to himself. He wasn’t sure whether it was the glare of the sun or something he had just never seen before in her, but her skin, always fair, took on a faint glow. Hamelin glanced back to his left, and the sun was almost midway in the sky. He looked back at Layla. Her lips moved faintly.
Is she talking to the snake?
The low hiss from the snake grew, but Layla in her head heard more. She understood the creature’s words: Are you speaking to me?
Her mind answered sharply: Leave my friends alone.
You dare to tell me no? I have heard of you. The stories of your grandmother and your impudent commands have been passed down. Your family—you’ll never see them again.
Layla laughed inwardly. Your prediction is not only wrong but confused! I’ve never known a grandmother, and my parents are already gone, killed by evil men. And I won’t let you hurt my brother and friends.
The snake’s eyes narrowed, and the edges of its mouth widened slightly, its oval face hinting at a sneer.
Layla raised her right arm to about chest high, her elbow slightly bent and the palm of her hand facing outward toward the snake.