The girls on the playground all shrieked, scattering like so many frightened birds. Emma knelt, the cool grass, still dewy, tickling her bare knees. A row of maples cast their thick shadow and leant a chill to the air. The little creature lay still.
She watched it for a moment, nearly holding her breath, the squawks and squeals of the flighty girls fading to the background. Emma reached out one tentative finger. At her touch the raspy scales constricted and coiled, tensed into an anxious lowercase e. She gently slid her fingers under until the coil lay in her palm. Her warm skin marvelled against the cool underbelly. A tiny forked tongue flicked in and out, assessing, sensing, wary but not aggressive.
As her heat transferred, the wee serpent twisted on itself and hugged closer to her skin.
“You’re just looking for some warmth, aren’t you little guy?”
She felt the motion before she saw it, the displacement of air as something whizzed past her head, knocking her hand. The little body writhing through the air. The musk of sweat. Grass-stained knees and scuffed shoes. Dirt under fingernails clutching sharp rock. A blow, then two, then three.
A triumphant cry. The limp and lifeless form, discarded in the dust like an old frayed shoelace.
With fists clenched and jaw clenched and eyes clenched harder not to let them spill, Emma stood.
“It wasn’t hurting anyone! Why do you hate them so?”