by Arnold Snyder
I looked around. I had no idea how to find my way back to my tunnel. I could go up the same way she did, then find my hole in the ground easily once I was aboveground. But that would mean I’d have to get from her hole in the ground to mine completely naked. And she might still be there and her aunt might be there.
I decided to try to find my way to my tunnel through an underground passage. I was sure there would be a route. I had an idea of the general direction. I’d just have to look for a glimmer of light.
But whereas traveling through the earth as a snake was not only easy, but an immense pleasure, crawling naked through dirt, rocks and roots in tight underground tunnels was not at all pleasant in naked human form. I was getting scratched and scraped all over.
The first tunnel I entered branched in three directions and the direction I went soon branched into more directions. At this point, it was pitch black and very tight. I was navigating entirely by feel and not very successfully. I felt that I’d made so many twists and turns I no longer had any sense of direction.
What scared me most was that I doubted I’d even be able to get back to Brandi’s lair where there was a modicum of light and I knew the way up to the ground. My twisted body was lodged in a tight crevice in the earth and I was lost. And the moment the word “lost” entered my mind, I became claustrophobic.
I got an eerie feeling I’d already passed by a certain root some 15 minutes earlier and I was going around in circles. These tunnels were much better suited to traveling for snakes than humans. At one point, the dirt behind me caved in, which made it officially impossible for me to turn around and go back.
I was covered in dirt. My face, my hands, my arms, my front, back, sides, legs, and feet. I had gotten dirt in my mouth. The pitch blackness was getting to me. I had gotten dirt in my eyes which I mostly washed out with tears by squinting and unsquinting them, and now I was trying to hold them closed to keep the dirt out. I could hear scratching sounds, occasionally too close for comfort. I did not want to meet a rat down here.
It was starting to occur to me that to get out I had to return to my snake form. Otherwise, I might end up being buried alive. The thought of going through Hell once more was distressing, but I knew it was the only way to save myself. And it was only temporary. I had to keep telling myself that. It’s temporary. When I open my eyes it will be gone, and I will be a snake and I can get the hell out of this underground prison.
I already had my eyes closed. I took a few deep breaths. Okay, Hell, here I come. I tried to concentrate on falling, to get that feeling again that my body was dropping into a bottomless pit. But it wasn’t happening. I was just lying there uncomfortably in the dirt, my body twisted to accommodate the inconvenient shape of the tunnel. And I wasn’t falling.
I didn’t know how to get that falling feeling. I didn’t know any other way to get to Hell. Somehow, I had to fall in. Why hadn’t Uncle Luke explained this better?
I tried breathing very slowly. Maybe I could meditate myself into Hell. The sounds of the rats scratching at the walls nearby me were disconcerting. That’s why I couldn’t concentrate. The goddamn rats were clawing at the walls, digging their own tunnels and they were getting closer to me.
It suddenly struck me that the rats smelled me, right through the dirt they smelled meat and they were coming for me. If I could just fall into Hell and become a snake, I’d have this thing under control.
I thought I felt the dirt moving next to my ribcage on my right side. Jesus Christ. Do I really have to try and fight off a rat down here? Then I felt the dirt moving next to the toes on my left foot. Then I felt the dirt moving next to my cheek and the sound of the scratching was right there, next to my head.
The rats came through the tunnel wall en masse with their horrible high-pitched screeching. I had no room to move. They were on top of me and surrounding me with their needle-sharp claws and their filthy furry smelly bodies. As I was trying to cover my face with my hands, getting dirt in my mouth. I felt one bite into my abdomen and another into my big toe that sent pain up my leg and into my spine.
I reached both of my hands down to grab the rat that was gnawing on my stomach and immediately a rat bit into my face. I felt its teeth puncture the hollow of my cheek and begin scraping its razor-sharp teeth on my gums.
Goddamn I’m being eaten alive by rats! Why can’t I fall into Hell? I could feel their teeth biting into me all over my body, ripping at my flesh. I couldn’t get my hands back up to my face to protect it because the tunnel was too tight and the muscles in my arms were being shredded by multiple rodents.
Another rat crawled up onto my face and started pecking at my eyelids. I kept them clenched tightly closed. I can’t live through this. I wanted to be dead. I didn’t want to be conscious while a rat was eating my eyeballs.
Then it struck me … this is Hell!
And the moment I thought it I forced my eyes open …
And the rats were gone. The screeching, the biting, the tearing of my flesh, was gone.
And I was a snake.
The tunnel felt good on my scales. In the distance, I could still hear the rats scratching, but they weren’t that close. And they’d have no interest in meeting me now.
It was still pitch black, but I knew exactly where I was. I could smell where I’d left my clothes. I knew exactly which path to take to get there most efficiently.
I slithered through the rocks and roots and within two minutes I was looking at my t-shirt and boxers. Damn it felt good being a snake. Damn it felt good to be out of Hell.
I managed to get both articles of clothing onto my head, which I couldn’t do without covering my eyes, so I could transport them up a few levels to wherever I’d dropped my jeans.
When I found them, I decided to pick them up also, and carry all my clothes up as far as I could before transforming back into human form and dressing. I did not want to travel these dirt tunnels any more than necessary, not in human form.
When I was almost at ground level, I dropped my clothes in a pile and coiled beside them. I couldn’t put them on until I transformed, but the thought of returning to Hell yet again had me immobilized. I hated the thought of it. I’d had enough Hell for one day.
I knew Uncle Luke had been expecting me back much sooner than this, but I had to think this thing through. Hell got worse every time I went back, and I feared one of these times I wouldn’t be able to get out. All you have to do is open your eyes. But what if I couldn’t? What if I forgot how?
It was such a pleasure to be a snake. Just a few yards above my head was an orchard. Why can’t I just live here? Why do I have to be human again? As a snake, I feel like the real me. This is who I am, the offspring of devils, bound for Hell—except when I can avoid it. Like this.
And I have a girlfriend here now. Brandi. I know she’ll be back. Maybe I could convince her to stay in snake form with me. We could be happy down here with an orchard above us.
But then what? This snake body is not eternal. It will age and die. And then … Hell? Eternal Hell? Would Uncle Luke ever forgive me? Would he decide I was untrustworthy and could never be his right-hand man? He was offering me a permanent position on Earth. Could I blow that off?”
I had to go back to Uncle Luke and I knew it. This daydreaming about being a snake in paradise is just that. A daydream. I have obligations and a future to consider. This is not the time to act the rebel.
I stared at my dirty clothes piled beside me. In order to dress I had to transform. In order to transform, I had to go through Hell. I’d already spent far too much time down here. Uncle Luke is probably considering coming to look for me.
I didn’t want that. I had to do it now.
I closed my eyes.
Instead of going into darkness, however, as in my prior excursions to Hell, I found myself in a large well-lit room with concrete blood-splattered walls, where I was looking into a pit full of butchered snakes, snakes cut into slices, heads lopped off and also alive, the forked tongues tasting the air nonstop, eyes wide in horror, nestled among the still squirming, chopped-up, bleeding bodies.
A dark creature like a shadow with a fat belly and frightened eyes was wielding a sword, chopping and stabbing at the helpless pile of living snake pieces. The creature’s eyes suddenly looked directly at me. It started to come toward me.
I opened my eyes and the scene was gone.
It was quiet.
I was back below ground sitting beside the pile of my clothes.
But I was still a snake. I had not transformed.
And I knew what had happened.
I had not gone through Hell. I saw Hell coming, but I didn’t go through it. I chickened out.
Do I have to watch myself being sliced and diced in a pile of squirming snake pieces before I can open my eyes and find myself transformed?
Are there no shortcuts through Hell?
So I have to do it again. This time, I can’t let myself be scared away too soon.
I’d learned something though. You don’t always enter Hell through darkness. And you’re not always alone in Hell. But I had questions. Were those chopped up snakes I saw other devils, or were they just a horrible vision in my own mind? I would have to ask Uncle Luke to explain the visions I saw in Hell.
Uncle Luke was waiting for me aboveground. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I savored the aroma one last time of the fruit in the orchard above that was perfuming the air even down here. Oh how I loved being a snake.
I closed my eyes and found myself back in that same blood-splattered concrete room, filled with writhing chopped up snake pieces. The shadow creature was fixed on me and coming at me with his sword raised.
I opened my eyes.
I hadn’t been expecting to see that same scene again. It had seemed that every time I’d gone to Hell before, Hell had changed. This time it had remained identical. I didn’t want that scene. I hated that scene. Maybe going through Hell was like a video game. I couldn’t get to the next level until I’d gone through this one.
That’s how I had to think of it. Like a game. Just a game.
I closed my eyes.
That sword came down on me hard, slicing my body in two. I saw one of the little green Macintoshes I’d swallowed earlier come plopping out of my sliced stomach. The apple was quickly snapped up by one of the decapitated snake heads, and just as quickly came spurting out of his sliced neck.
The pain where I’d been chopped in half was unbearable and I could feel it in both halves of my body. I watched my tail end flopping and twisting in agony and I could feel the pain in my severed half just as acutely as in my top half.
The sword came down again, this time lopping my head clean off. I’d been struck with such force that my head went flying across the room, smacking into the cement wall so hard I could hear my skull crack, then dropping into the writhing mess of chopped up snake pieces on the floor. The fiery pain in my neck was excruciating.
I wanted to open my eyes, to get out of Hell now, fast. Surely I’d been at this level sufficiently to pass through. But how do I open my eyes? My eyes were already open. Wide open. And I wasn’t transformed. I was a decapitated snake head.
The shadow creature was staring at me. He raised his sword then brought it down in a sweeping slice to cut open his own fat belly. The bloody gash gaped open and an army of small bats began skittering out of the gut wound and streaming bloody onto the writhing snake pieces.
The bats were crippled, unable to fly, their wings broken and moving spastically.
It was a natural instinct for the snake heads to snap at the bats, attempting to eat them, and I too snapped at the first ones to get near my mouth. My natural hunger was for fruit, but there’s something about injured rodents that is extremely appetizing. You just have to pop them into your mouth.
But I was no match for them. Their jagged teeth started piercing and shredding my tongue and the soft tissues inside my mouth. I had no defense against them, other than to swallow, which simply shot them out my neck still alive, never having to deal with the acids in my stomach designed to dissolve the bones, hair, and meat of living animals.
The bats were scraping at the roof of my mouth, working their way through the soft tissue up into my brain and attacking my eyes from the inside. I remembered once more, my eyes, I had to open my eyes, which were still open. How do I open my open eyes?
I clenched my snake eyes shut and held them that way as the bats punctured one eyeball then the other, and as the fluid drained from them I opened them as wide as I could.
And the crippled bats were gone. Hell was gone.
I was sitting naked in my human body, looking at the pile of clothes beside me in the dark underground cavern where a small amount of ambient daylight was filtering through the passageway that led up to the apple orchard that was now only a few yards above me.
I had to file that trick firmly in my brain for future excursions to Hell. If your eyes are open and you’re not transforming and leaving Hell, then close your eyes tightly and reopen them. Bye-bye, Hell.
I was filthy and drenched in sweat. My legs and arms, back and stomach, were covered with scrapes and bruises. But I was out of Hell and that was what mattered most.
I dressed slowly. I needed a shower. I felt like I’d been beaten up.
Uncle Luke was waiting for me. I didn’t have time to rest or think about what I’d been through.
I climbed up out of the hole I was in. The sunlight was too bright, but the fresh air energized me. I wasted no time walking to Uncle Luke’s Caddy. I opened the door on the passenger side and got in.
He had the engine running and the air on.
“Wow,” I said. “Those little apples sure are good.”
Go to Chapter Eight . . .