Monday, February 24, 2020

Dancing Naked With The Serpent [Flash Fiction/Short Story]

Dancing Naked With The Serpent

The forest, that old observer, had tricked me into thinking she wasn’t there, that it was just me alone that day. All the while, I had wooed myself into believing society had been switched off, as if it were a mere lamp shining insignificantly in the corner of the great and wide universe while I ran.

I was 10.4km into my trail run. No other cars were parked at the trailhead. 17 degrees Celcius at sunrise, the cedars and pines swayed gently in the damp morning air. With each bend and jostle they revealed a different pattern of tree and sky, kaleidoscopic designs dancing on the purely blue canvas up above.

It was moments like these that got me up and out of bed while the Normals, as I liked to call them, were still sleeping soundly, deeply breathing in and out the idea that they deserved said rest, as if it were the last of the pompous and circumstantial hoops to jump through for the week. For these moments I had reserved a morsel of reverence for my own vitality. And this time of year, too, was spring, when life was abounding: coon dogs, weasels, pheasants, and deer.

Just then, as I was soaking into life’s warm bath of wonder all the way down to my philtrum, she threw me her signature curveball of irony.

A dead snake. A pitviper no less. Spotted and clean, it lay straight across the edge of the path as if someone or something had started measuring the width of the trail with him then given up suddenly, perhaps to go boil some water for tea, or maybe to pick wildflowers for his lover the mistress of the oaken shade.

The Japanese pitviper. Him and his ilk did not amass many fatalities each year -- 20 or thereabouts I would guess -- but his fangs and the venomous sacks they were connected to, instilled me with an acute blend of awe and fear which I drank down like a stiff shot of medicine.

I stopped in my tracks and looked curiously at the snake, cocking my head to one side, eyes steely alert, instinctively scanning for danger. The sun threw itself over the reptilian corpse after a sudden shift in the breeze adjusted the angle of the trees. Its rays glinting in the eyes of the serpent, I took a cautious step towards it. My heart rate was still elevated from running, but there was a newfound pounding present, more connected to the imminence of death than to the liveliness of exercise.

“Touch its tail,” prodded a voice in my head. “Do it,” it implored.

Where was this voice coming from? That was not me. I abhorred snakes.

“Just a little rub of the index finger. Then be on your way,”

A fiendish consciousness had invaded my thoughts, an interloper.

I heeded its call and reached down with my trembling outstretched finger. I dabbed my finger firmly on its backside and meanwhile tickled that spot in my brain that lights up with mischievous glee. A few times in my youth I had played with that fire, chased that dragon. Minor episodes of shoplifting -- a Heath bar, Voltron’s sword, a Playboy (Special Vuluptious Vixens Edition), but the repercussions -- a spanking, a grounding, a heavy sense of guilt like a lead blanket on a patient in an x-ray room -- had conditioned me to be wary.

I’m not sure which order (or for which crimes) those punishments came. I surely didn’t care about the oh-so-minor decrease in profits that the various stores I stole from incurred, but being locked in my room or kept from my friends? Those moments of pain kept me in check. In some small way, seven-year-old me could empathize with prisoners who’d been sent to the hole. In some facet, I had been damaged. Now that I had become a father, would I choose to be the warden? I wondered.

So there I was, petting a dead snake. It didn’t twitch back to life like my imagination flickered to me. It felt smooth and pleasant, like a meaty couch cushion.

The voice spoke again.

“Pick it up,” it persisted. “Pick it up and run with it.”

My devilish impulse caught hold like a hook to the lip of a ravenous fish, and like the fish I splashed around chaotically along the trail. The dance had begun. At first, I dragged the dead snake along behind me, crouching low with back bent at ninety degrees and legs at forty-five. In a way, I was no different than a boy playfully pulling a toy car on a string. You know the type. Hand-made. Hand-painted. Pure innocence to the tune of vroom-vroom. However, presently, my sound effects were more guttural, primal high-pitched whoops, a cross between a crane and a wildcat.

The excitement possessed me fully. I darted and dashed, hopped and skipped. I swung my toy snake like a lasso in circles above my head. I dangled it like a pendulum between my legs and changed my tone to a caveman-esque grunt. Consumed by the wildfire of excitement, I succumbed to the carnal urge to rip off my clothes and continue my ritual in the buff, to commune with nature in full.

I couldn’t remember ever feeling so alive. Pure bliss with my newfound friend, the dead snake (more description of dancing around??).

But the joyous insanity all came screeching to a halt.

I saw the whites of his eyes first, those of the man kneeling in the underbrush on one knee. Other than the flicker of the eye, he was purely still, voyeuristically taking in my display as if a paying customer, like he knew that any movement would have him found out, and the show of a lifetime would be gone and done with, carried briskly along into the past like dry leaves on the wind. He dared not say anything, but when he knew that I knew he was there, he flinched ever so slightly. Then the corners of his mouth curled into the smallest of grins.

My heart then pounded identically to the way it had when I ran from the bookstore security guard who had witnessed me slide the Playboy (Special Vuluptious Vixens Edition) under my Triple Fat Goose down winter coat. I dropped the snake and overflowed with shame. Warblers and wrens called from all around, but their melodies fell on my deaf ears, for I was in full flight then as I scrambled to pick up my clothes and retreat the way I had come.

Never had I run with such ferocity, such fear. I turned to look back at the empty stage of my ritual and I spied the dead snake one last time, but now it was not beautiful like when I had first discovered it, because it lay overturned on its back, and because I perceived my display of hedonism tarnished by the observer. The gray skin and the horizontal lines of its underbelly made it look wormlike and pallid. It was as if my observer had spit in my soup or taken a razor blade to my silk drapes. He spoiled my magical moment, but as I reflect back on it later, I do feel that, in some inexplicable way, his presence was necessary.

I don’t know whatever happened to that old man dressed in workman overalls, nor where he came from in the first place. Perhaps he was a lumberjack or a forestry worker of some kind. Or maybe he lived off-grid in an unmarked, unknown cabin deep in the woods, away from the distractions of society, the very ill wind that had blown me out to the trail that day in the first place. Or he could have been a forest spirit disguised as a man.

Had my observer told anyone the story of the insane naked white man dancing wildly with the dead snake? Would he dare? Who would believe him? So, after all, I like to think that he and I share that morning in a very special way. If our lives could be boiled down to a single day, that time spent together, the observer’s and mine, was like a firm handshake with deep, conviction-laden eye contact, where a pact beyond words was made, where courses were changed radically. I’d like to think that anyhow.


1 comment:

  1. I wanted to write a flash fiction piece. My goal was really to just get some of my writing out into the ether again. It's been proofread, but may need some more fixing. Apologies in advance. Feel free to comment and let me know if you notice anything worth changing.


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