Walk in the Park

by lurking_latinist [Reviews - 0]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • General, Vignette

Author's Notes:
Originally published June 5, 2021, on AO3, as a gift for quietspace.

You weren't supposed to be attacked when you were out for a jog in the safest park in town, certainly not by a terrifying giant snake-thing with an enormous shark-mouth of huge pointy teeth that came out of nowhere. It had tried to eat her dog. She suspected it had wanted to eat her.

But if you were attacked by a terrifying snake-thing, you weren't supposed to expect rescue, certainly not from a slight figure in fancy dress. At first she thought he was in charge of the thing: he ran right up to it, skidded to a halt in front of its (dripping! snarling!) mouth, and stared into its beady eyes. But he wasn't giving it commands; he was just murmuring to it.

"We'll get you out of here," he was saying. "You don't need to hurt anyone." And, incomprehensibly, "Humans. They're called humans. They're safe to be around. It's all right." Maybe the thing was soothed by his voice, because it dipped its huge head.

Then Mocha burst into terrier yaps, and the stranger noticed them—for the first time, she realized. As soon as he noticed the terrified jogger with her back to a tree, he was by her side in a blink. He had one hand on her dog's head—the barking stopped, and she could feel the thump of Mocha's tail on her side. Only then did she notice how hard her heart was pounding. The other hand was extended towards her, and she grasped it instinctively. It was soft and cool.

"Are you all right?" he said. He made this question sound deep and eloquent, or maybe it was just the adrenaline.

She nodded. "Yeah, it just—it scared me. I'm not hurt or anything. Sorry, I probably look silly."

"But you're bleeding," he said. She glanced down and, indeed, her calf was running with blood. She didn't like the sight of blood, and felt herself blanching and going dizzy. The stranger took her by the shoulder and helped her to a bench.

"I think I tore it on one of those bushes," she said faintly, "while I was running."

He produced a handkerchief and what looked like a bottle of iodine, apparently from his coat pocket, and gestured toward her leg. "May I?"

She nodded again and scratched Mocha absent-mindedly behind the ears. The stranger gently cleaned her wound—it wasn't big, but it bled freely—and tied it up with his handkerchief (who carried a white handkerchief in this century?), talking while he worked. "You did the right thing," he said, "running away. It was clever of you to get out of its way. You must be a quick thinker. And to protect your dog, too. What's her name?"

"Mocha," she said, and tried to think what else to answer. But the stranger continued: "It was afraid, you see," and at first she thought he meant Mocha, but apparently he meant the snake-thing.

"I don't think I would be afraid of anything," she said, "if I had a mouth full of foot-long knife teeth."

"You'd be surprised," he said. "The universe is frightening." And it could've sounded grim or cheesy, but here and now, the way he said it, it made her feel better: she wasn't stupid to be frightened, and she wasn't helpless just because she needed help. And the world still made sense, even when—well, that—appeared on her morning jog.

The snake-thing made a mournful sort of hooting roar. "I'm on my way," he called over his shoulder. "We'll be ready to leave in just a few moments. I'm just talking to my other friend here for a bit."

"What is it?" she asked.

"Not what, who," he said. "It's a little bit lost. I'm going to give it a ride home," he said.

"You must drive one heck of a people mover."

"Something like that. Are you feeling better now?"

"Yeah, thanks." She stood up, adjusting Mocha in her arms. She still didn't feel quite ready to put her down. "Will you be safe?"

"Safe? Never. But I'll get where I need to go. And so will you." He smiled softly before they both turned to leave.