Jesse and Snake from “Exile’s Escape”
Jesse Johnstone, frontiersman, physician, man-killer and the first of the “old ones,” after years in the Scorch, has come back to Saint Louis and stayed at the behest of his commander and long-time friend, Gage Thomas, despite the dangers. As their hated Agnomen, the Synopians are vowed to Jesse’s death, seemingly from natural causes.
Jesse & Snake (500)
Environs of Tower Park, Saint Louis, RSA
12:05 AM July 6, 2129 (AU78)
In the darkness, the old man gave a shout, the bed erupting in legs, arms, pillows, and sheets. Sitting up, his fist clutched around the throat of a light blanket, the old man stopped, shook his head and looked at the time, floating a foot above his bedside table, invisible until it sensed his motion. He released his death grip on the bedclothes and, naked, swung his feet to the floor, stood, and shrugged into a tatty plaid bathrobe.
That was different! Jesse thought
At least Malila was not trying to die in this dream.
Instead it had been a frightening kaleidoscope of hideous colors and obscure menace, crowded with serpents arched to strike, fangs dripping venom.
Jesse walked out into the sitting room, hearing the noise that passes for urban quietude beyond the windows. He took down the bottle on the mantel and splashed a wee dram into his orange juice glass before sitting. He could feel his heart still racing, his face yet burning from the dream.
A sensation of disquiet, untethered and unnamed, pervaded him. The disquiet became dread as he watched the faux grape vine that wound around the wooden pilaster next to the fireplace slowly resolve into a serpent.
The reptile, a violent green with scarlet diamonds along its back unwound itself almost gently from the painted pillar before it focused its unblinking stare upon Jesse and began to slither along the floor toward him.
Let’s not act crazy, old man, Jesse heard himself think. Not a real snake. Can’t be a real snake.
The serpent paused and lost focus, winding itself into a seething coil of loops. It again turned to Jesse, unwound and slithered nearer.
Heart pounding as if to beat its way out of his heaving chest, Jesse felt his tongue plastered to the roof of his mouth, choking a cry for help. Terror, like a flame, burst into a blaze within him, as the cool dry beaded skin of the snake wound around his ankle and begin to ascend his leg, disappearing from view briefly before gliding into his lap. It coiled briefly before once more slithering toward Jesse’s left arm. The snake, heavy, gaudy, cool and muscular, twined around his arm. Fascinated, Jesse watched his arm begin to mimic the slow swaying contortions of the snake as if under its control. The pain surprised him, wrenching muscular cramps moving up and down his arm as he watched the snake make his own flesh dance.
Not a real snake. Not a real snake.
The serpent halted and regarded its own body before it started to morph into the brown, gray and black of a diamondback rattler, the body thickening, becoming more substantive and menacing. Giving its tail a small shake to turn the last few scales from scarlet to brown, it turned to look at Jesse.
“Overplayed your hand there, Figment,” Jesse said, gritting his teeth as he reached for his comm device.
The snake, seeming to shrug, evaporated.
They found him there, writhing uncontrollably on the floor, delirious, and unresponsive, repeating the same phrase:
“… red beet, dry bone, hot poker, mad hat, red beet, dry bone …”
There was little they could do.