Snakes

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I am still me. That’s all I know at first. Everything else has for some reason vanished from my memory. My mind struggles for a bit, trying to figure out what’s happening and where I should be.
Backtrack. Can I recall anything? Where was I last? Do I remember a yesterday at all?
Yes. I remember a yesterday. It’s not the right one but it’ll be enough.
Now that I’ve found a memory – a fragment of substance I can cling onto for now – my once frantic brain is soothed. And gradually, gently, I calm. My mind calms. Like the stillness of a silent, motionless ocean.
Ocean. Water.
Suddenly I know where I am; the yesterday is revealed to me. The sensation floods back. I’m five years old again. I’m in my paddling pool… and everything’s OK. I place my small little hands in the bottom of the blue pool and feel the blue chilly waters wash my arms. The air is thick with summer and noises are mingled and distorted around me. I can only see as far as my garden gate – the rest just isn’t important now. The scenery around me is blurred and faded at the edges like an old photograph.
…I love my paddling pool. I fall backwards and lie in the crystal water, letting it fill my ears and muffle my hearing. Sunshine lights up my little body as I rest on the water’s surface. Eventually I sit up and see the red. It’s my red shorts – white striped down the side. I am wearing them in the pool. I watch the material gradually move and sway in the water.
Red.
Before my eyes, the shorts’ watery red darkens and solidifies to red leather, shiny and shaped around my fist. Two of them are before me, and I have buried my face in them, preparing myself what comes next. My boxing gloves. I suddenly know.
The fight of my life. This is it, they’ve said. Show ‘em what you can do – this is everything you’ve worked for. Right here. Now.
I throw my head back, flicking beads of sweat off my face and letting them dissolve in the ring’s bright lights. I am exhausted – the taste of sweat and blood is on my tongue. My hair is wet and heavy. There’s a vicious gash in my forehead and black bruises on my cheeks but no pain follows.
Everyone’s counting on me. Wife, kids…
A faceless man throws water over my head and suddenly I’m up on my feet. I am strong. I am confident. I have everything under control.
And suddenly I’m fighting him. My faceless opponent has no name, no nationality… no features. Just my meaty punching bag until this match is over. A crowd of shapes bellow and shout muffled sounds from outside the ring. Out of the corner of my eye I see them move and jump oddly in excitement; they can see I’m winning. This is it. A flash of red, which I recognise as my fist, streaks past me and throws my opponent to the ground. I feel no contact – I hear no sound… but I’ve won.
The crowd roars. From outside the ring, flashes of light burst up all around me like a thousand suns. Fatigue now leaving me, I throw my large arms up in triumph as someone places a trophy into my view. It glimmers gold in front of me but I see no reflection. It’s mine.
Heavyweight champion – that’s what I am now. The best in the world. I have become the man I have always wanted to be.
The fuzzy noise from the crowd seems to sharpen suddenly and I focus on it. They are shouting something I can recognise now. I can hear them bellow one word: my name.
“Seth! Seth! Seth!” Over and over and over again…
Seth.
The sound seems to carry me. I can hear the voice behind the word changing and altering through hundreds of different pitches until it finally rests on one voice.
She continues to call me. “Seth! Seth!”
I know who she is.
The scene forms around me again. Now I know where I am. I can feel my large hands freeing of the red leather prisons – they are now placed calmly on a brown desk in front of me. My bruises have gone; my cuts have vanished. My school uniform has dressed itself around me.
I remember this scene well – it’s recent. English. January. Final lesson. I’m sitting on the left hand side of my classroom, front row, second in line.
“Seth!” Tiffany’s voice echoes strangely. I turn my head to see her sitting next to me. Everyone else’s face around me is blurred slightly. She is the only one I can focus on – the only one who seems to matter.
“Seth…” She says again, her lips moving so slowly. I drink in Tiffany’s long brunette hair and doe-like features. Her large chocolate eyes watch me tenderly.
Tiffany speaks to me, but I hear no voice. I speak back, but I have no voice. We have had this conversation yesterday and I remember every word. I don’t need to recollect this. But, why does this scene appear to me? It isn’t special to me at all – I barely remember what we did in the lesson. Why do I remember Tiffany here so well?
I hear the muffled sound of a bell go and I pounce up – rucksack in hand – and start to head out of the classroom. I’m going to boxing practice. I seem to brush past Tiffany as I leave – something I do not remember doing at the time, but now is as clear as day. At my touch, Tiffany blushes red and smiles secretly into the books that she huddles up to her chest. …But how come I suddenly know this? At this point my back is turned as I am just leaving through the doorway but… somehow I can see – from behind me – that Tiffany had just blushed.
Somehow I know this. Maybe I had partially seen back then but just never took it in. But I now understand. It is so clear to me.
I only get to take another step out of the classroom until suddenly I am pulled back, repeating my steps backwards as I brush past Tiffany once more. I walk past her again and again, repeating Tiffany’s startled look and secret smile over and over, until the image is stuck in my mind. And then I’m back in my seat. Tiffany’s sitting beside me and again we start chatting, but this time not of things said before. As our mouths whir, what was the classroom around us now blurs and becomes completely out of focus, leaving just me and Tiffany talking on and on nonsensically. No sound touches my ears; no lip motion made makes sense. Somehow I say something – Tiffany laughs. She leans forward and whispers something in my ear. I’m not told what she said.
What did she say? What did Tiffany say to me? Why can’t I know??
The possibilities of it fill my mind and where we both go next mirrors that. Now Tiffany and I are sitting on a bench in a park somewhere, still talking endlessly into the night. Next it melts away and we are at a busy train platform, strange steam blowing at our ankles and faceless figures rushing past us to and fro. And then a large, light clean kitchen, – a shiny floor and white table tops – where Tiffany and I still stand and talk. We only speak to each other, unaware of any location change at all.
Is this our kitchen? Where are these places I’m seeing? Am I dreaming of some form of future?
All of a sudden my mind is uneasy. The calm ocean it once was is suddenly disturbed by something and slips away into darker thoughts. The scene that was present is pulled away... falling back into nothing.
…Tiffany’s not with me any more. I can feel that. I search around with my arms through the dark, waiting for the next scene to fall around me so I will be able to see her.
But a man is before me.
I stand there, staring at the young man who has stepped out of the shadows. He has the same long face as my own, the same pale skin, the same blue eyes and the same black hair.
Is it… myself?
No, it’s not me. I know who it is.
Lee.
The studded piercing below his eyebrow was his own. The strange grey birthmark on his neck was his own. The loathsome, bitter scowl on his face was his own.
Lee looked down at me. A look I had known from him all my life.
And for the first time, I could feel emotion swell through me – ice cold fear slithering down my back. Just from his presence. Lee was my brother – my own family – and yet I couldn’t bear to look at him for fear of what he’d do to me. It had always been this way. This was my older brother’s way.
I feel the scene settle around us, along with another figure joining us two. It is a dark alleyway: somewhere I might have been before – I don’t know. Again the scene is distorted in some places but it doesn’t matter; all I need to know is that it is dark and menacing here. I set my eyes on the new figure now present. Tiffany. Somehow I know who she is, although she looks completely different. Her hair is short, her eyes are dulled. She is wearing different clothes although I don’t know what. Tiffany is much older now. Knowing this, suddenly I realise that I am old too – way past fourteen. I cannot see myself but I know it to be true. We are both much older than what we were; now separate adults with our own separate worlds.
And yet, Lee was the same. He hadn’t aged at all. Still seventeen before me, not a day older. Suddenly he speaks. I cower a little at his powerful voice, which makes no sound and yet echoes in my head. I don’t know what he says but it doesn’t seem to matter; I understand the situation. With that, Lee stretches out and takes Tiffany’s hand. Her expression is blank and neutral. Out of nowhere a large snake slithers over their feet, leaving a trail of slime after it. With one final piercing look at me, Lee turns and leads Tiffany away from me into the alley’s darkness.
Where are they going? Where is Lee taking her?
I try to cry out for them to stop but I have no voice. Is he taking Tiffany away from me?
…Does she love him now?

I shout again and try to run but my feet don’t even move on the pavement below me. She can’t love Lee – they’ve never met before! So why are they leaving me? Why?? Why does Lee take away everything I love?!
Another emotion fills me, controlling and twisting my body. Rage pumps through me like a disease and suddenly I am trying to scream at them, trying to run as fast as I can in order to catch them. I shout and curse at Lee – anything to get him to turn back. Just so I could punish him.
That’s all I wanted – just to hit Lee over and over and over… to make him pay for everything he had done to me. I wanted to hurt him so much – I wanted him dead in front of me.
All of a sudden a slimy snake appears at my feet – it rises up and hisses at me, bearing its fangs. I try to shout out and step back but do not do either. My eyes are fixed on the snake, which glares back at me demonically, jaws wide. I do not watch the scene around me change again and I only look up when the snake turns his head away from me, slithering away across the floor and up someone’s arm. I look up and suddenly rage consumes me again. It’s Lee.
He is back, this time on his own, watching me as narrowly as always. But this time I’m too angry to be scared of Lee. He was going to pay. Lee’s eyes do not leave me as he lifts his bare arm up and lets the snake wind up around him, wrapping itself firmly around the end of Lee’s black boxing glove, like a second weapon attached to his wrist.
Then I realise where we are. I am back in the boxing ring, the crowd still jumping around excitedly outside the ring like they had never stopped. But this time my opponent had changed to Lee, and this time I wanted to hurt my opponent. This is what I had wished for – to give him pain.
The crowd screams. The match starts.
Instantly Lee throws a black fist in my direction and I dodge away just in time, but not quick enough to miss the snake’s venom spat at my cheek. As Lee draws his fist back I see an opportunity and try to punch back, aiming for the side of his face. But I don’t. My hand doesn’t even move from my side. I just can’t punch him. Again Lee tries to hit me and I duck away at the last second, barely able to avoid the punches. I couldn’t feel the snake’s slimy skin against my shoulder as Lee retracts his arm.
I couldn’t help but shudder. There was nothing I could do. Lee had always been better at boxing than me – better at anything than me – and he had always known I despised snakes. I had nothing but hate and pain on my side… which wasn’t going to be enough.
Lee would gladly kill me.
The fist came back at me and I could feel my reactions getting slower with each punch Lee gave. As Lee’s punch came towards me I dodge side wards, stumble over my own feet and grab the floor to steady myself. I can’t get up. I just can’t. My body isn’t obeying me; it is as if it isn’t my own. Lee pulls his arm back for the final blow, his expression straight-faced but his eyes glistening with pleasure. The black of his fist flies towards me as the snake darts forward and hisses in my ear. The punch hits me in my temple and cracks my head to the side. I cry out but again no sound – just the sound of hissing ringing in my ears. Limply I fall to the floor.
Suddenly I am thrown back – back into my last position – with Lee retracting his arm again, repeating the final blow. It happens again. The sudden blow to the side of my face and again I am crumbling to the ground in defeat before Lee. And again. And again. Over and over I am dragged back up as the punch is repeated; over and over I am humiliated before the one person I could never beat.
I could never match Lee. I could barely look at him.
Finally I am left alone on the floor. I think I’m sobbing but I see no tears on my cheeks. The boxing ring around me fades away, Lee’s icy stare being the last thing to disappear.
I just want to be left alone – for the thick surrounding darkness to just isolate me away from everyone... They’ll only hurt me.
But my mind still cannot rest, still tormenting me in its relentless anguish. Even when everyone else is gone, my mind can always hurt me.
The ground slithers. Under me I can feel the chilling touch of wriggling, slimy bodies, moving over my arms and under my legs, hissing in both my ear. Snakes. They had never really left my head.
I am too tired to try to call out – too defeated to squirm. All I do is close my eyes and let them slide over my skin… eventually covering my body in their masses… slowly sucking my final breath from my lips…

And suddenly my conscience begins to surface, like a balloon from under water. It floats to the top of my mind and I stir.
Where am I? Where have I really been all this time?
Without opening my eyes, I feel the pillow under me and the duvet across my chest. I feel my face crease into a sleepy frown. What’s happening? To what have I just surfaced to?
Snap. I realise.
I panic, throwing my head into my warm hands under the duvet. I cry out in despair.
No… no, no, no! Not here! I want to go back – just let me go back into my head! I’d rather go back and let it all happen again – living in the grief of losing Tiffany again and again, or the constant fear of Lee’s cold stare… I want stay in those moments forever than live another second in this life of mine.
I roll over and feel the sun in my eyes; I want to be back in my bed of snakes.
Today is the real nightmare.





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