She woke with no memory of how she had arrived in this place. Her tongue clung to the roof of her dry mouth and her head throbbed as she sat up and looked around the cheap motel room. The place stank of mildew and pine scented disinfectant. Pain in her upper arm led her to discover the dirty bandage wrapped around her bicep. She picked the sticky tape loose on one side and traced the pattern on her raised flesh.
“Ah! The Little Princessa awakes!” The man appeared as a dark silhouette against the bright sunlight in the open doorway. She blinked at him and scrambled to wrap her naked body with the bedsheet. Recollection came then, of the days confined to the suffocating trailer, pressed standing against a wall of sweat stinking bodies as they rocked and bumped over miles of back roads. And the arrival at the motel, hustled into the room during the darkest part of the night and forced onto the bed, tied, drugged, and gagged. She choked back the rest, but the bruises and dried blood on her thighs could not be imagined away.
The man grabbed her arm and ripped off the bandage. His calloused fingers dug into her muscle as he jerked her toward him.
“Looking good. That’s my mark there, girl. You belong to me now, you’re one of the Gecko’s ladies.” He released her and stepped back, hooking his thumbs through the belt loops on his sagging jeans. He was a short slim man in middle age, twice her age at least, his size masking a ferocious strength. In his youth he might have been handsome, but acne scars marred his face as though the evil inside him were bursting through his skin. She kept still, watching him through lowered eyes. Her jaw throbbed with the recollection of pain, the lesson delivered by his swift punch when he threw her down on the bed and she tried to bolt.
With a snort he turned and left the room. She rose and hobbled to the bathroom. The chain looped around her ankle and fastened to the bedframe had just enough slack so she could bend to drink from the sink. She glanced in the mirror. The face gazing back was barely recognizable, her wavy black hair had been lopped off at her chin. Bruises and swelling distorted her mouth and jawline. She turned her arm toward the mirror and studied the tattoo. The symbol inked into her flesh in vivid orange and black resembled a lizard with splayed feet. She supposed it was a gecko, a little harmless animal.
Back at the bed she eased onto the mattress. Her gaze drawn to the nightstand, she saw the dark green dried buttons, little nubs she recognized as the plant her auntie, the bruja, called the Divine Messenger. A cup with dark dregs staining the bottom sat beside the dried pieces. She lifted the cup and sniffed an odor like smoky musk, like desert plants dried in the hot sun.
She stroked the tattoo. Gecko, he had claimed her with this mark, the ink stabbed into her skin. But no, she thought, he called forth the wrong lizard. Her hand brushed the shriveled musky fragments, and she plucked up several and brought them to her lips. She grimaced at the bitter taste and spoke through the bile rising in the back of her throat.
“Monster,” she said.
Remembering the incantation her auntie taught her as a child, she chanted sounds older than words, a guttural growl from the time before language, when giants walked the earth. Her dreams floated through visions of scorching deserts and small furry creatures whose sweet blood called to her.
Her skin cracked and rose in pebbled scales, black, white, and red. Her limbs shortened, the nails on her hands and feet thickened and curved out in sharp claws that ripped through the bedding as she clenched and pawed at the mattress. The chain wrapped around her foot dropped away and she slipped to the floor. Her tongue flicked out, tasting the air. She stretched her jaw open and her bones popped and ground into place. A powerful swipe of her tail cleared the tangled sheets, and she slithered backwards, under the bed. Cold blooded now she filled her mouth with venom and closed her eyes to visions of wind whipped sand that blasted flesh from bones. She waited for the man to return.