In the third installment of the FPDA series (publication pending), Medium Monsento and Zeaflin encounter Mara, an Empusa selling snakes at the UnderWorld black market. In Greek mythology, Empusas were female shape-shifting phantoms with flaming red hair and one leg made of brass, the other leg of an ass.
Mara stared down the dusty pennant-lined path of the UnderWorld black market, her smoky-gray eyes barely able to make out her fellow vendors through the thick misty fog that always swirled around this gloomy nether realm of the afterlife. From what Mara could tell, every ghost was busy, diligently setting up their booths of illicit wares for yet another day of haggling with the demons, ghosts and Skeletals who frequented the market. Mara hoped this day would be a better day for sales than the day before. She’d adopted the most attractive female form she could muster for today’s customers. Of course, the Demons–who often adopted false forms of their own–would probably just scoff at Mara’s attempts to flirt her way to a sale, no matter how beautiful she looked. The hooded-cloaked Skeletals were a bit more malleable than the demons, but they tended to be skittish and they often shied away from Mara’s advances. That left only the run-of-the-mill male ghosts for Mara to target and, while those were easy to wrap around her little finger, ghosts tended to be a vast minority of the black market customers. The ram-horned venomous snakes Mara sold for pets were considered pests here in the afterlife and that made them almost as difficult to sell as trying to hawk a sewer-rat in the living realm. Mara needed as many marks as possible if she was going to make even a single sale.
A low drawn-out whistle nearby drew Mara out of her thoughts. “I see you’re going all in today, huh, Mara?” the wolf-whistler remarked.
Mara turned to find Stu, the demon trap vendor, standing beside her, his beady eyes roaming up-and-down the curvaceous body Mara had chosen to entice today’s customers: a sultry, raven-haired vixen with an ample bosom and large hips, scantily clad in a two-piece dress that left little to the imagination. When Mara first arrived at the black market, she had used this exact same form to try to seduce Stu into purchasing one of her snakes. But, even though he was a ghost, Stu proved impervious to Mara’s wiles. His true love was money, not women—one of the primary reasons Stu wound up in the UnderWorld after he died.
Mara shrugged. “I sold nothing yesterday–too many demons, not enough ghosts.” She jerked her chin toward Stu’s booth. “But it looked like you had a good day yesterday.”
Stu grinned. “Yeah. The demons sure do love my novelty traps. I can try sending a few of them your way, if you make it worth my while.”
Mara glared at Stu, whose ghostly hand was now rubbing her right buttock, wondering how he’d like it if she took on her natural form right now and he was suddenly rubbing a hairy donkey rump. Would he be so bold if he could feel the searing heat of her flaming crimson hair?
Mara pushed Stu’s hand away. “Sending demons to me is a waste of both our time. I told you before, they do not buy my snakes,” she said with an annoyed snort.
“Well, they might if you’d stop trying to use a pretty face and er,” Stu’s eyes roved around Mara again, “spectacular body as your sole sales tactic. Demons aren’t dumb, Mara. They know behind all that pretty packaging, you are one of those shape-shifters with weird legs trying to play them for a pigeon.”
Mara narrowed her eyes. “So? Why should it matter what I am on the inside? I am not asking them to marry me, only to buy a snake,” she retorted.
Stu grinned. “I like you Mara, so let me give you a bit of advice. Know your customers. The ghosts down here are rubes—they’ll do almost anything for a pretty face. But the demons don’t care how the merchant looks–they’ll only buy what they need or what they think will impress other demons.”
Mara frowned. “I doubt I could convince them they need a pet snake,” she replied haughtily.
“Then focus on the demon’s vanity. Take one of your snakes out of its cage, maybe drape it around your pretty neck or wrap it around one of those shapely arms. Show the demon how fashionable it can be to own a snake,” Stu’s gaze moved away from Mara to look down the street. “Customers are coming, Mara. It’s showtime,” he said.
Mara watched Stu float away toward his booth, then squatted down to pull one her snakes out of its cage. Couldn’t hurt to try, I suppose, she thought. Rising to her feet, Mara lifted her arm high, allowing the snake to curl around her forearm like a serpentine bracelet. “Come try on a snake—the very latest in UnderWorld haute fashion!” she called out to a passing demon, who paused in his stride toward Stu’s booth and abruptly veered her way.