You Should Smile More

basilisk [basuh-lisk, baz-]

In European bestiaries and legends, a basilisk (/ˈbæsɪlɪsk/ or /ˈbæzɪlɪsk/, from the Greek βασιλίσκος basilískos, “little king”; Latin regulus) is a legendary reptile reputed to be a serpent king: a hybrid of a rooster and a serpent, who can cause death with a single glance.

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Just seconds ago, Jim had been eyeing up a wee dirty with long, dark hair. Now, he was lifeless and colourless on the ground.

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In an airy, plant-filled flat on a leafy, cobblestoned street, a young woman born of feather and scale waits for her kettle to boil. A dour-faced reporter speaks solemnly from behind a screen.    

“…and the man was found dead outside Primark on Glasgow’s Argyle Street in the early hours of Saturday morning. Police are yet to comment on the mysterious circumstances surrounding his fate but say they have no reason to suspect foul play at this stage. The statement has surprised certain locals who believe the recent spate of unexplained deaths of men in the area is not coincidence, but the work of a twisted serial killer. They are appealing to the public for help in the investigation. At a press conference earlier today, Detective Inspector Jake Battle asked any potential eyewitnesses to come forward —”

Ariadna yawns, stretches, and switches off the TV.

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“WIT IN THE NAME AE CHRIST DAE YE THINK YER DAEIN’? FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ARIADNA!”

Ariadna sighs.

“Hi, Mum.”

“DON’T YOU ‘HI, MUM,’ ME, YA DAFT CUNT! YER DA’S MOULTIN’ FEATHERS ALL ‘ER MA BLOODY KITCHEN FLAIR HE’S THAT STRESSED!”

“Aye, awright, calm doon — it’s no lit anyone knows it’s me.”

“THAT’S NO THE FUCKIN’ POINT!”

There is silence. She hears her mum take a deep breath.

“Look, hen. If they find oot wit’s goin’ oan, we’re done fur. Yer da’ll end up oan a plate in Nando’s and they’ll turn me intae a handbag or some shite. Fuck knows what they’ll do wae you.”

Ariadna brushes a thin cluster of dry, scaly skin from her thigh. She needs a good shower and a good shedding.

“Aye. Okay, okay. It’s just… aw these stupit men keep tellin’ me tae smile! Ah try tae ignore them but —”

She hears her mum soften, imagines her angry shoulders dropping with compassion.

“Is that why ye’ve been daein’ this? Is that why, hen?”

“How dae girls that urnae like us deal wae this, mum? Ah cannae even imagine…”

“Ah know. Ah know, hen. But think aboot how many times ye’ve moved in the last year jist tae cover yer tracks. Ye huv tae get a grip ae yer temper.”

“How dae ah dae that but?”

“Jist fuckin’ dial it back a bit, gonnae? Wind yer big snakey neck in. Fur yer da’s sake, please. He’s startin’ tae look lit wan ae they mad bald cats. Wit d’ye call those again… sphincters?”

“Sphynxes, mum.”

“Aye, well. Same hing.”

“Okay. Okay, mum. Ah promise ah’ll stop.”

Ariadna tells her mum she loves her, hangs up, and crosses from the downy carpet of the living room to the slick, cold tiles of the bathroom. She fiddles with the taps, flicks a newly sprouted feather away from her ear, and steps into the warm hiss of the shower.

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As she steps out the door of her flat into a golden Glasgow morning, Ariadna feels the eager sun drop a glowing halo of warmth and light atop her head. She squints up beyond the sandstone buildings and closes her eyes in appreciation of the rare early summer heat.

Since the conversation with her mum three weeks ago, Ariadna has been laying low. Well, mostly.

Yesterday, she’d posted a photo on Instagram of her with a guy. The guy’s ex, a girl she’d been close with in school, had commented a snake emoji. Ariadna had replied: “if only u fkn knew ya wee cow :)” then, remembering her mum’s words, had swiftly deleted it.

Aside from that, she was actually beginning to enjoy being a normal girl — or a pretend normal girl, at least. Now that murder was off the table as a potential response to harassment, she was experimenting with new ways to deal with it.

One day, she’d feign ignorance, headphones in but not switched on. “Can’t hear you,” she’d mouth silently at the lecherous idiot telling her she had nice tits or a nice arse or nice legs. Then she’d point at her ears and shrug helplessly until he gave up and loped off down a piss-streaked alley.

The next, she’d choose to hear every single word. And then repeat them very loudly and very publicly to her harasser. This strategy usually resulted in everyone within her immediate and not-so-immediate vicinity turning to look at whatever moron had been stupid enough to whisper obscenities in her ear in the coffee queue until he got embarrassed and left.

“YE WANT TAE PUT YER WIT IN MA WHERE?” she’d scream.

That worked a lot quicker than the headphone thing did.

Other days, she was tired from working or hungover from drinking and chose to react to these delightful specimens with just a very simple but very rude hand gesture. Sometimes, if she could be bothered, she would throw in some growly expletives for good measure. Not as effective as her other defenses, but a good back up to have in her arsenal.

Today, the weather is unseasonably and unreasonably pleasant for this time of year. Her skin feels fresh and new and her bare legs are drinking in the sun for the first time in months. A lazy breeze brushes Ariadna’s shoulders and tugs at the hem of her dress as she walks down the street towards her favourite coffee shop.

Waiting to cross the road, she hears a male voice shout something in her direction. She can see its owner from the corner of her eye: middle-aged, bald, in a car with its window down. She decides to ignore him and silently wills the traffic lights to change.

They don’t.

“Did ye no hear me? Ah asked ye how ye wur!”

Ariadna keeps her gaze fixed to the unchanging lights, her mouth stuck in a straight line. She feels her pupils narrowing to vertical slits.

“Why so sad, hen? Ah bet ye’ve goat a killer smile!” he says.

Ariadna looks at the curved glass of his car window cutting into his fat, hairy forearm. She looks at the cigarette hanging from his fat, yellow fingers. She looks at the greasy moustache straddling his fat upper lip. She sees his pink, rat-like eyes as they travel down the length of her body.

“Ye fuckin’ bet ah do. Wantae see?”

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