I hovered nearby, alone and alien, staring at them sliding around on the clean, fresh-cut grass, peeling away their shirts like skins, passing around an egg-colored ball, and dripping sweat that gleamed from the moonlight pooling into their long, pale bodies.
I watched as they abandoned the ball, hurling it into the dark, and as I moved in closer, I saw two of them pull on capes made of thick brown fur that cascaded down their backs in the sticky summer night. One donned a helmet topped with sharp white horns. Another’s face had been painted in streaks of red and blue, with little white stars that danced above his eyes.
Their voices whispered old words high into the air as they cavorted on the field, laughing, slithering around each other, beer gushing from the cans glinting in their fists, and splashing into the earth to poison the grass beneath their stamping feet.
I turned away, only once, to stare at a girl who had emerged from a shadowy spot on the far side of the field. The newcomer wore glass bangles on both wrists, and she had a bronze- colored shawl slung over her shoulders, and in her hennaed hands, she carried a clay pot that contained a tiny plant bearing a single bud, heavy-purple and surrounded by a halo of long, grassy leaves.
As if detecting her scent on the breeze, the white boys all turned and tore toward the girl. I watched as they hounded her, folding their hands above their heads like hoods, leering, baring their teeth, stretching their faces, twisting their long pink tongues so that she walked faster and faster, the bangles clicking, and then she ran, the wine-drop head of the plant bobbing, until she finally disappeared into the safety of the library.
Look at us, the boys called after her. We are the descendants of plunderers and raiders and berserkers. Bear! Boar! Wolf!
That is when I stepped from the air and commenced the transformation. They were turned before the last dregs of their laughter had fully withered from the night.
They were small and fast, their bodies flat against the earth, hurtling through the grass, but they were confused and afraid, and it was quite simple to pull them from the ground—as easy as ripping out weeds. Their beady black eyes shone in the moonlight as they hissed and writhed and tried to wrap themselves around my hands, but I swallowed them whole before they had a chance to bite.
Later, when the girl came out of the library, she scanned her surroundings before starting on her path again. She smiled at me as she strode past, but I remained impassive due to the uncomfortable sensation of the snakes, coiling and uncoiling themselves within me.
Then she was gone, and I was left with the sky, and the empty field, and the library, and the many other buildings on the campus, all high and vast, and obscure, and shining white in the evening.