I was walking in my favorite park when the strangest thing that ever happened to me occurred suddenly and if it hadn’t been so scary I would have had time to think about it, but I just reacted to my fear and ran away behind a tree from where I saw a horrid snake, with a white face that looked like some kind of burnt pudding with red eyes. Its tongue flickered hungrily and it appeared to be blind, which is maybe the only reason it did not strike me when I first threw down the stick that I picked up by the bench. It was a long, gnarled kind of bent stick which, I remarked to myself before I threw it away, looked a bit like a snake, but I never expected it to turn into one.
I was quaking behind the tree and could not take my eyes off the snake which kept writhing as if it were cheated out of something. There was no one else around and I was afraid to move because it might sense me and strike so I just stood there in panic when the strangest thought came into my head.
“It is just a stick. It may look like a snake, but it is just the stick you threw down so go pick it up and throw it in the pond over there.” A variation of that thought kept running through my head. At first I was even more terrified as the snake seemed to be becoming more hostile and was the ugliest snake I ever saw. I remember when I was younger having snake dreams and there were always three snakes in them and they were all hideous and one of them looked like the snake on the path before me.
I was frozen and had no idea what to do, but the thought to go pick it up began to repeat over and over and the more it repeated the more calm I got. I cannot explain that. Even now as I think of this scene, it makes no sense and makes me shudder, but I did go over to the snake, which actually rolled over like it was a cat or a dog as if it wanted me to pet its belly. But I didn’t pet its belly, of course, and reached down grabbing it just below its head. It began to writhe violently and I began to run with it held out in front of me toward the pond.
There were two teen-aged girls by the edge of the pond and they screamed in unison as I ran past them with this white nightmare in my hand, struggling to bite me. I reached the pond and hurled the snake into the air and, as it plunged into the water, it turned into the same stick I found and then floated to the top and began to drift across the pond.
I found myself shaking violently and saw that the girls had run away leaving me alone. I went over to the park bench and sat down and saw another stick which I had not seen before lying in front of the bench. I did not pick it up, just stared at it a long time.
Then I remembered the only other time I had heard of a stick turning into a snake. It was in the Bible and it was one of the ways Moses tried to show Pharaoh that he had God on his side, which he did by throwing his walking staff down, turning it into a deadly viper. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing so it appears it was not that big a deal, but they weren’t able to do any of the other magic Moses was able to do after that like turn the Nile to blood or bring swarms of frogs or gnats or any of the other terrible plagues.
I sat there for a long time pondering that tale. I did not know what to do. Then I began to weep. I did not sob or cry heavily, just a mild but persistent sniveling and I did not know why, but I could not stop the emotion either. This crying threw me into a kind of reverie, a kind of day nightmare, maybe you might call it a daymare, but I thought that word up later when I decided to write this account down after this whole incident was over.
In my dream—it must have been a dream because things happen in dreams that aren’t real and don’t make sense, but appear to be more real than reality— a group of people came up to me in that park. It seems they were brought there by the two teens who approached me with this group of adults. The girls were pointing at me and whispering and I was really taken aback. But then I saw that other stick before me and I picked it up quickly and threw it in front of the group, making sure that it was far enough in front of them so that, if it turned into a serpent, it
would not be able to strike. It was a good throw. When it hit and turned into a snake and began writhing and hissing—this one was a putrid green with a black diamond like shape between its eyes that made it look especially fierce—it was far enough away for the crowd to have room to jump back screaming. They were in no real danger because the snake was definitely away from them and, unlike the other snake, it did not seem like it would attack.
The group began to shout at me all at once: “Who are you! What did you do? Get that snake out of here. Are you crazy?”. Things like that.
I found myself unafraid and just went over and grabbed the snake and threw it toward the bench I had been sitting on and it became a piece of wood when it clunked against the bench and fell down on the other side.
A man approached me. He was large and angry.
“How did you do that! Why did you do that? You better not do that again!”
I tried to say something but nothing came out of my mouth. I knew I did not do this on purpose and did not want to do it and couldn’t figure out why it even happened or if it would happen again.
I tried to speak and finally some explanatory words did come as I tried to tell them what happened, but they did not want to hear what I had to say and it sounded made up even to me so I just stopped talking and we all just looked at each other in silence for a bit.
Then an older woman with blazing white hair came out of the crowd and said to me: “Do it again!” The crowd gasped and one of the teens half-screamed.
“Do it again,” she commanded me.
“I don’t want to.” I said. “I hate snakes.”
But the crowd began to whisper to each other and finally turned to me and enjoined, as if one: “Do it again! Do it again! You are special; do it again!”
They kept chanting and chanting. I went over to the bench and picked up that same stick. Nothing happened, but then I realized that I had not thrown it down. I threw it down. It instantly became a skinny, brown viper this time, with an exceptionally mean face, and it immediately darted toward the group that ran screaming away. It stopped short as if it knew what it was doing and sidled over to me and began to rub against my terrified leg.
I picked it up. I did not know what else to do. I threw it at a tree and it swirled through the air but when it hit the tree it was still a snake and began to slither down toward the group who were slowly coming back but when it touched the ground, it became a stick again.
I just shrugged to the crowd and then I snapped out of my dream and just sat on the bench for a bit getting my bearings. But when I looked down I saw the stick lying in front of me and I did not know what to do. I just sat there and looked at that stick wondering, if I picked it up, would it turn into a snake again?
What if it did? What if every time I picked up a stick and threw it down it would become some kind of snake? What would that be like? How would people treat me? Would they be afraid of me if I didn’t throw the sticks near them? Would they put me on stage or television or make a movie? Would it make me rich and famous!
I began to be really afraid. What if I picked up the stick and threw it and the snake attacked and killed me? But I knew deep down that it probably would not do that even though I did not know that for sure. It was just a snake and they were afraid of people and did not ever purposely attack anyone. No, it is people who attack and kill snakes because they are afraid of them.
I remembered how the snake had talked to Eve in the garden, but then it was able to walk on two legs until it told that lie and was cursed to crawl the rest of its days on its belly and be despised and feared by all. I wondered if that is why God turned Moses’ staff into a snake instead of a rabbit or a cat or something harmless? The people would have been just as
amazed and Moses would have still made his point for God, but maybe the magicians could only turn sticks into snakes and not other animals.
These are some of the crazy thoughts I had as I sat before the stick for a long time deciding whether to pick it up and become dead or famous. Because there was little doubt in my mind that if I could keep changing sticks back and forth onto serpents I would become rich and famous and wouldn’t have to do my boring job any more and maybe a girl would like me enough to want to marry me, though a lot of girls don’t like snakes. I wondered, if I did marry, if my wife would also be given the power to change sticks into snakes. Maybe my family would have to live in a herpetarium or have one attached to our house and away from the kids. What if we could do this with more than one stick, even a lot of sticks? Maybe the only stick that would do this was the first one in the pond, the one I actually threw, not the one in the daymare? Maybe that stick was enchanted and the one before me now was just a regular stick that would not turn into anything? Yet I knew I could not know unless I picked it up and threw it.
I also had no idea how long this power would last. Did Moses ever have to turn his staff into a snake again after Pharaoh let his people go? I know later he hit a rock with the same staff and water gushed out. Maybe my stick would do that too or even other miracles?
But why was I able to do this at all? Why had I not done it before? Who or what had caused this to happen? Was this a gift or a curse and where had it come from? How long would this power last? What if I did it for a year and all these things happened and then the magic went away? And, I kept thinking of course, what if a snake turned on me and killed me or my wife or one of my children or all of them or another relative or friend or even just a pizza delivery man?
Should I keep the stick locked up? I reasoned I would have to because I did not think my wife would want the stick in our room even if it never turned into a serpent on its own. I mean, what if it was on top of a low dresser and our dog knocked it off and it turned into a snake and killed our dog or hid somewhere in the house where we could not find it. No, it would have to be locked away when we were not using it. All these crazy thoughts went through my head while I was sitting there gazing at the stick as the evening shadows began to fall. I finally just got up and went home, throwing a backward glance at the stick, which was just lying there.
A retired teacher, Vern Fein has published over one hundred fifty poems and short pieces on over seventy sites. He has non-fiction pieces in Quail Bell, The Write Place at the Write Time, and Adelaide, plus a short story in the the online magazine Duende from Goddard College