An excerpt from the novel in-progress Mounting Olympus
Alyson followed; a lamb to slaughter. Why didn’t she just turn and run now, get the heck out of there while she had a chance? Don’t be ridiculous, she thought. Euryale was obviously seducing her, that was all: the touching, the leaning close, the meaningful looks. That was it. She was really losing her mind. Was she going to start thinking every woman who took an interest in her was some kind of monster? Hah. That was just nuts. They slipped through a gap in the hedge and found themselves in a thickly forested park. The alligator’s rumbling call reached a fevered pitch.
Ahead through the twisting trees and tangled vines was an ivy-covered building. They passed an old greenhouse that looked as though it was still in use. Nearing the house, Alyson realized this was the dilapidated mansion she’d stopped in front of earlier: the reptile zoo.
“You live here?” She was feeling better, her fears dissipating like fog in sunshine.
“I have my whole life.”
“It’s impressive.” Alyson meant it. Up close, it didn’t look quite as spooky as it had from the road. It was enormous, fronted by Delphic columns, and around back, statuary dotted the overgrown lawn. A fountain, not spouting, but filled with thick mossy water and lily pads, sat in the center of the lawn. Euryale let them in through the back door, led Alyson through a junky utility room and into an unexpectedly sunny kitchen.
“Have a seat,” she ordered. “Take those pants off.”
“One strip search wasn’t enough, huh?”
“Hmmm. I’m not done. Really, take it all off; I’ll throw it in the wash.”
Alyson untied her sopping tennis shoes and set them next to her chair. She looked around. The kitchen was large but basically a normal kitchen, if not a little dated and faded.
“I can’t believe you live here. I saw this from the road and thought it was deserted.”
Euryale laughed, eyes flashing.
“Do you live alone?”
“Pretty much. My sister comes by now and then, but doesn’t stay long. You like daiquiris? I’ve got a pitcher from last night. Strawberry?” Euryale filled a plastic tumbler and handed it to Alyson. “She got tired of running the menagerie and left it all to me. It’s a lot of work.”
“A reptile menagerie? That’s for real?”
“Oh yes. We used to get a lot of business, tourists would come from New Orleans to see it, but we had to sell a lot of them—just the upkeep—you wouldn’t believe how expensive it is.”
“I can imagine. Where…where do you…”
“Keep the reptiles? Oh, don’t worry, they’re not in the house. There’s a separate building past the greenhouse. Mostly snakes, a few crocs. We had to sell some of the more exotic ones to pay taxes on this beast.” Euryale’s eyes shot upward, implying the crumbling mansion.
“Crocodiles? What’s the difference between crocodiles and alligators, anyway? I always wondered.”
“Well to start with, crocs aren’t native to this area, alligators are. Crocodiles live in salt water, they’ve got a different shaped snout, and they’re more dangerous than alligators—they’re a lot more fun than gators.”
“I always think of that poem by Lewis Carol, you know, in Alice in Wonderland. Do you know it?”
“How cheerfully he seems to grin, How neatly spreads his claws, And welcomes little fishes in, With gently smiling jaws!”
“Yeah, well. Poetry’s big in our family. Plus…it’s about a crocodile, and we do reptiles.”
The kitchen door opened and in walked Alma; her eyes avoided Alyson. Alyson felt a surge of rage. She still didn’t trust that woman—or Jay. She knew they were guilty of stealing her wallet. The injustice of the situation stung.
“Jay brought the truck around. It’s in the front.”
“Thanks Alma. Tell him to put the keys in the regular place. Now go draw a bath upstairs, would you?”
Alma trotted past Alyson and up the stairs.
So Alma was not only a procurer of alligators for Euryale, but her upstairs maid as well? What was their relationship? Very odd.
“Come on, get those jeans off!” Euryale ordered. “I’ll get you a robe.” She disappeared into hallway and thumped up the stairs after Alma. Alyson could hear her upstairs, rummaging around. She unzipped her pants and slid them off. She still wore her tank top. She slung her pants over the back of a kitchen chair.
Water was running upstairs, old pipes groaning, more thumping. Alyson could hear Euryale snapping at Alma. Alyson took another sip of her drink. It was strong, sweet. A delicious warmth flooded her. All was right with the world. She looked out the window into the jungle beyond the stone veranda. A gray building, past the dilapidated green house—must be the menagerie. Maybe she would ask to see it.
“You ready for your bath?” Alyson turned to find Alma in the doorway. “She’s waiting upstairs.”
“Bath, oh yes, I…” Alyson had forgotten what she was supposed to be doing.
She followed Alma through an antique-filled dining room. A patina of dust covered everything. Alma turned at the bottom of a wide staircase. She thrust something into Alyson’s hand. Alyson looked into her palm. It took a moment to determine what she was looking at. Car keys, her own. She’d forgotten about her truck. They’d found it on Riverside, in front of the mansion. Where was it now? When did they get her keys? She remembered Euryale’s search, her pat down, and flushed. She reached down for a pocket automatically, and then remembered she was in her underwear. Great, in front of Alma. Where were Jay and the rest of the gang?
Alma leaned in close and hissed, “I would get outta here as soon as I could if I were you.” Her frizzy orange hair shook with earnestness.
“Why should I trust you? I know you guys took my wallet, damn it.”
“Look, just get out while you can. Don’t go up there; you got your keys, your truck’s right in front. Just leave.”
Alyson studied Alma. The older woman’s eyes looked afraid.
“Alma!” Euryale called from upstairs. Alyson and Alma both jumped. “Show Alyson the way up!”
“Yes ma’am.” She turned to Alyson, “She’s right on up there, top of the stairs, to the left. Just don’t blame me. I warned ya.”
Alyson climbed the stairs. They were padded with ornately woven carpeting. Her hand slid up the smooth winding banister. Each balustrade, she noticed, was a carved replica of a snake. She stopped at the top of the stairs and looked down. Alma was gone. Why had she acted so mysteriously? Get out while you can…should Alyson be concerned? She looked down at the keys in her hand. She spotted a vase sitting on a table and slipped the keys into it. She had the feeling Euryale would be upset if she knew Alma had given her the keys. That would be fine for now, although she felt Alma was overreacting. Why she was protecting Alma she wasn’t sure. She had to put them somewhere, she had no pockets. She turned left and went down the hallway.
The bathroom was high ceilinged and tiled with black and white tiles. An enormous claw foot bathtub was filling with hot water, a mountain of bubbles nearing the rim. Euralye stood next to the tub, naked.
Alyson’s eyes lingered on Euryale’s breasts then slid down to her narrow waist, the patch of dark hair. Alyson would be crazy not to want her. Her body was responding naturally to Euryale’s exquisite form; it wanted what it wanted. Her body didn’t care that Alyson still loved Olympus. Alyson’s body was ready to jump in that tub with Euryale, to jump into bed with her. Was she really so deficient in moral fiber as to sleep with another woman while professing to be in love with Olympus? Why shouldn’t she enjoy herself with Euryale? Olympus had lied to her, led her on. Olympus was with that musician slut. It didn’t matter, her emotions were stuck on the Olympus button. It was crazy.
“I put bubbles in it, I hope you don’t mind,” Euryale said, smiling sweetly.
“That’s fine.” Apparently, she was that morally deficient.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
Alyson shook her head. Damn. Her body was betraying her. She’d meant to say Yes, I do mind. I am in love with someone else, but instead, her head said No, fine, jump in with me, baby. How could she even think this way? Wanting someone else, while being promised to Olympus?—What? Promised? Had she really just thought that word? How inane. She hadn’t even heard that expression since middle school. Kids talked about promise rings. She was definitely not promised to Olympus. There was no commitment whatsoever, just an arbitrary date set for Lady Lake. Olympus had never really meant Alyson to actually show up. It had been a flirtation.
Of course she was hurt and disappointed about Olympus, but she needed to move on. It would be good for her to have another lover, get back on the horse, so to speak. She’d tried hooking up with Chimera and that hadn’t gone so well, but then maybe it had been too soon—the same night she found out about Olympus being with that band chick. It had been over a week, enough time to mourn, even though she’d been unconscious for most of it. Time to get over Olympus once and for all, and if anyone could do it for Alyson it would be this beautiful creature standing in front of her.
She was aroused but feeling awkward, shy. Of course, the situation wasn’t exactly normal. She’d just gone for a swim with an alligator; she’d been robbed recently; she’d been manhandled and searched by this same woman…this woman whom she’d feared and mistrusted just an hour ago. Was she losing her mind? What was off here? Women who look like Euryale didn’t generally go for Alyson. If fact, Alyson had never seen a woman like this before—exotic beyond description—even the memory of Olympus was starting to wane—just a tinge. Euryale’s sea-green eyes were not of this world. Her lips were voluptuous, full and ripe, her nipples dark burgundy. Her golden dreadlocks seemed to writhe around her slender brown shoulders.
Euryale kissed her on the mouth, and the flow of words in Alyson’s head stopped. Her body woke up. Euryale started pulling Alyson’s top up over her head. “Nice abs, by the way.”
Alyson flushed. She really should stop Euryale, not let this go any further. It wasn’t like Olympus and she had been in a committed relationship or anything; they hadn’t even dated. They’d never even had sex. She was not being unfaithful. There wasn’t any issue of fidelity at all. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Alyson shoved the conflicted thoughts down deep and let them gasp for air. She was going to fuck Euryale and that’s all there was to it! To hell with Olympus!
Euryale began lowering Alyson’s underwear, smiling mischievously. “This is what I wanted to do earlier, when I was ripping those smelly coveralls off of you. I didn’t want to stop there, but we had an audience.”
Alyson laughed, shivered with anticipation. Euryale had moved on to Alyson’s bra, unsnapped it deftly, sliding her hands around to Alyson’s breasts. Her sensuous mouth covered a nipple. Alyson moaned involuntarily. Euryale looked up at her. Alyson mechanically touched the labrys pendant hanging between her breasts.
“Why don’t you take that off,” Euralye said. “You don’t want to get it wet.”
Alyson looked down at the pendant. She hadn’t realized she was holding it. It was important, although she couldn’t remember why at the moment. She felt very strongly that she should leave it on.
“I think I’ll keep it on.”
“As you wish. In you go, cher.”
Alyson obeyed, sinking into the steamy suds, her eyes closing with pleasure. When she opened them Euryale was slipping one pink foot into the water; she slid her long legs over Alyson’s, pulling their torsos close so that their breasts were pressed together. Their skin was slick and they slid against one another deliciously. They kissed impatiently. Alyson had never felt so turned on, out of her mind with lust. Euryale had some kind of power over her. Eventually, they climbed out of the tub and made their way into the bedroom. Alyson was all nerve endings and raw flesh with this snake-haired woman.
In the night, Alyson woke and Euryale was gone. She stretched luxuriously. Her limbs were relaxed from lovemaking. Recent images of Euryale between her legs, bringing her to climax flashed though her mind, making her tingle. The sex had been incredible. Euryale was surprisingly gentle, not what Alyson had expected. The strength, agility and dexterity necessary for wrestling with alligators did come in to play, however, in the most interesting ways. And ooh, that thing she did with her toe, oh boy! Alyson slithered under the silk sheets, touching herself, reliving the pleasure. She listened for Euryale, floating blissfully in the moon-lit bedroom. She hoped everything was all right. She felt silly for worrying earlier, for actually thinking that Euryale was dangerous, that she was going to kill her. Geez, she must have been Looney Tunes—talk about paranoid. Euryale was so generous and affectionate in bed, such a responsive and gentle lover, how could Alyson have thought so badly of her before?
She was thirsty, so she got up and slipped the clean t-shirt Euryale had brought out over her head. She went down creaking stairs lit by the moon and into the kitchen. Euryale wasn’t around. It was possible she went outside for some reason. Alyson found a pitcher of chilled water in the refrigerator. She downed a glass, then found her way out the back door, onto the veranda. The moon was full. She didn’t see Euryale, but the night was so pleasant she thought she would stay a while before going back to bed. The world around her was ethereal. The cypress trees seemed luminescent. The back lawn was strewn with animal statues. She’d noticed them earlier, walking in, but in the silvery light they seemed real, a picture out of the Chronicles of Narnia, creatures turned to stone by the ice queen.
A stone rabbit in a top hat, glancing at his watch to see the time, sat on the edge of the porch. The Mad Hatter stood next to him, chatting companionably. More lions sat along the back of the house as sentries. She remembered seeing the stately lions at the front gate the day before. She never dreamt, looking at this house then, that she would be in it that night, rolling around in bed with its mistress. It was magical, a fairyland, whoever put these in was imaginative and playful.
Alyson recognized other statues: the goose laying a golden egg, a lovely art deco statue of Diana, bow stretched taught, in the center of the fountain, rabbits hopping and dove gray deer prancing around her, hounds chasing the hares. Circling the courtyard, Alyson noticed other well-known figures: the Virgin Mary, Tallulah Bankhead, the Buddha, all enjoying each other’s company. What she found most intriguing, was how human these statues looked. Aside from their costumes, their faces were astonishingly life-like. Marylyn Monroe looked like she would squeal if Alyson pinched her. The Buddha’s belly seemed to jiggle. Was it her imagination? His face was so human, so regular, like the cop she’d seen the morning before, in front of the Stop and Go. She inspected the Buddha/Cop closely. She could swear that was him: the puffy cheeks, the bulbous nose. Maybe the cop moonlighted as a sculptor’s model. Maybe she was just overtaxed.
She’d made her way around the yard and was back at the porch, the Mad Hatter and the white rabbit in conversation. Funny, she hadn’t even noticed them yesterday when Euryale brought her in this way. Of course, Alyson was in shock, not running on all cylinders. The Mad Hatter looked exactly like Jay. She looked closer; he was tall and gangly, he had the long ponytail, the scraggly chin hair, the potbelly, the long nose. Now she really was seeing things. She glanced at the rabbit, studying his watch, and almost flinched. It was Alma! The rabbit had her frizzy hair, her droopy eyes, her thin lips. It was Alma with ears and a tail. What the hell? Was everyone in Baton Rouge posing for Euryale’s statues? She’d only met three people in town and here they all were—in stone.
A bit of vertigo washed through her. What did it mean? She didn’t know what to think. She heard a noise, a twig snapped. She turned—nothing. Just more Alice in Wonderland creatures: the Cheshire cat and a crocodile next to a toadstool. Alyson recalled the poem from Alice in Wonderland that Euryale recited the day before, about the crocodile. An image flashed before her eyes: Euryale, with charming grin, welcoming little fishes into her smiling jaws. Alyson shook her head. She thought she saw something near the crocodile’s eye, just at the corner of its eye. A tear? Had the sculptor added a crocodile tear, just like in the novel? Alyson started toward the statue. The crocodile blinked.
It was alive. A real crocodile, or was it an alligator? Her mind went back, crazily, to the conversation in the kitchen. Alligators are less aggressive. Their snouts are rounded, or is it the crocodile snout that’s rounded? Crap! It didn’t matter. But, Euryale’s crocks should be in the reptile house. This could be an alligator—the lagoon is just a little way beyond the yard.
The thing was watching her, not moving, but it’s eyes were real, not stone—not the gray dead look of stone—but the dark, moist yellow of live reptilian eyes. Alyson was frozen, like the statuary around her, her muscles refusing to move. Her heart thrummed in her chest. Coming out here at night was a very stupid thing to do.
The alligator groaned, or something like a groan and growl—she’d heard that sound in the canoe yesterday. A rumbling vibration traveling through the ground and up into her legs, causing her body to quake. Why didn’t it attack? It was watching her. Perhaps it had just eaten. She stepped backwards, slowly, barely moving. She made another step back, and another. It was agony.
She could hear the reptile’s breathing, see its sides swell out and then go concave as it inhaled and exhaled, as if panting, lifting its head, pushing up on its awkwardly splayed arms, howling its passionate moan. She took a larger step and her heel smacked into stone. She yelped. She turned and was face to face with the rabbit statue, looking into Alma’s frightened eyes. Get out while you still can.
The alligator growled again and she ran as fast as she could into the utility room, slamming the door shut behind her. She peered out the window, she couldn’t see it; it was probably blocked by something, the St. Francis statue.
Her legs wobbled beneath her. She thought she might faint. She wanted nothing more than to climb the stairs and crawl back into bed with Euryale and sleep. Something wasn’t right, though. That warning of Alma’s, the odd statues. She started back to the stairs and heard voices. Euryale and another woman’s. Was it Alma? It was coming from a downstairs room. Alyson could see into the room; it looked like a library, and would have been dark but for the brilliant moon shining in through the French doors. Euryale’s back was to her; she wearing a flowing green robe. She couldn’t see the other woman, but the voice did not belong to Alma. Could it be the sister Euryale mentioned earlier? Their voices rose. Alyson jumped back out of sight and hid. No, not a sister—although there was something similar about them, the way they stood, the way their hair, lit by celestial light, seemed to slither around their shoulders. It sounded more like a lovers quarrel—oh great, Alyson thought. Euryale has a girlfriend and she just caught her in bed with Alyson. She looked around. How could she get out? Her clothes had been taken to be washed. Did she have time to run back to the utility room? Where was her truck? Oh, right! Jay had left it out front, according to Alma. And her keys? Alyson remembered placing them in the vase at the top of the stairs.
Maybe she should just confront them, be an adult, walk in there, meet the issue head-on, and then leave with some dignity instead of slinking away. She hadn’t done anything wrong, it was Euryale who’d cheated. Somehow, she didn’t think that approach would work out in her favor.
Their voices rose, taking on a spiteful quality.
“You are so possessive,” Euryale hissed. “Have I told you that? It’s pathetic.”
“And you’re impulsive. Why couldn’t you wait? You just can’t stand…”
“Why can’t you accept that it’s over? It has been for years. Your obsession is sickening.”
Alyson didn’t like the way this was going, they were getting more heated, spitting out more and nastier accusations. She turned and slipped up the stairs, grabbed the keys, and ran back down. She fumbled with the latch on the front door.
“Where is she?”
“Sleeping. Don’t worry, she won’t wake up. What? Do you want to see? You suspicious bitch!”
“She was supposed to be mine.”
Alyson wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but she wasn’t going to stick around and find out. She pulled the door open and ran out into the night. Tank sat in the circular driveway. Two other cars were parked in the drive as well. One must be the girlfriend’s. Alyson didn’t come in the front door earlier, so she didn’t know which car belonged to Euryale. Both were luxury cars, one black, one white, like chess pieces. She ran across the lawn and heard a loud hiss, felt something slither over her foot. She screamed, jumped away. A snake! It was long and black. She saw another to her left, then another. Two snakes twisted together a few feet from her truck. Panic flooded her mind. She stood frozen.
She heard her name, and her head whirled toward the house.
“It’s not what you think, Alyson.”
Euryale stood in the doorway. The other woman stood behind her. Alyson couldn’t make out their faces because they were backlit, but she could tell they were both extremely angry, and a strange green energy surrounded them. She wanted to scream for help, scream out that she was surrounded by snakes. She could see three coming toward her on her left. She wanted to ask Euryale for help but something stopped her. She realized what it was. The snakes were pouring out in a black mass from Euryale’s open door, they slid around Euryale and the other woman’s feet, into the yard. What’s more, Euryale’s hair had come alive, hers and the girlfriend’s too. Their hair was full of snakes, writhing, coiling, and slithering around on each woman’s head.
In a bright burst of panic, Alyson turned and ran toward her truck, leaping over the copulating snakes between her and her Isuzu. She pulled the door open, grateful it hadn’t been locked, and dove in head first. Her key went into the ignition, she turned it, and it started up.
“Come back, Alyson. We were so good together. I can explain!”
Alyson did not need this kind of lesbian drama in her life. She pulled away, tore down the driveway. She had to stop and push the gate open. She scanned the drive for snakes and didn’t see any. She looked behind her. It appeared that the ground was writhing, a dark mass moving toward her. The gate wasn’t locked. She had the feeling that Alma had something to do with that. She sent up a little thanks to Alma. She hoped Alma got out, hoped it wasn’t too late for her. Alyson didn’t stop driving until she reached the outskirts of New Orleans.