writing from
Scars Publications

Audio/Video chapbooks cc&d magazine Down in the Dirt magazine books


This writing was accepted for publication
in the 84 page perfect-bound issue...
Down in the Dirt magazine (v120)
(the November / December 2013 Issue)

You can also order this 5.5" x 8.5" issue
as an ISSN# paperback book:
order issue

Down in the Dirt magazine cover

Order this writing
in the book
(a Down in the Dirt
collection book)
Drowning (Down in the Dirt issue collection book) get the 297 page
July - Dec. 2013
Down in the Dirt magazine
issue collection
6" x 9" ISBN#
paperback book:

order ISBN# book


Ryan Priest

    Robert woke up at twelve-thirty in the afternoon and made an a-line directly through his small studio apartment and into the four foot by five bathroom, carefully dodging old beer bottles and plates. He yawned, smacking his lips and casually relieved himself. More bottles, cans, wadded up pieces of paper and stiff dirty clothing littered the floor so badly that it was impossible for one to stand completely level while inside. Tammy, his girlfriend, had been on him for weeks to clean.
    He was about to finish his morning drain. His eyes still heavy with sleep scanned along the piles of trash looking for nothing in particular, only passing the time. Starbucks’ cup, chicken bone, a dirty ladle, snakeskin, balled tissue paper stained with makeup. Like a cartoon character Robert’s head jerked back. His feet and eyes froze in place as he absently missed the toilet bowl, covering the wall and floor. His heart began beating fiercely in his chest while the little voice inside his mind desperately fumbled for instructions.
    Was that really a...with an uneasy, trembling toe he shyly pressed against the top of the small, thin translucent pile lying amidst the assorted trash. The clear pile made a crunching sound like a dried leaf.
    Robert was halfway out the door, barefoot with shoes in hand before he could even process what was happening. Something inside was controlling his movements, some form of primitive instinct. Yep, it was a snakeskin.
    Some people are afraid of rats. Others are afraid of spiders and if they see one, even if they are normally a calm and reserved person, will begin screaming and do whatever it takes to put as much distance between themselves and said spider as possible. That’s how Robert felt about snakes.
    He frantically shook his black work boots upside down while hopping from foot to foot on the cold concrete outside. Satisfied that no snakes were lying inside the boots he slipped them on and took a deep breath. He was so far handling this quite well considering his biggest fear had just come true.
    Here are the facts. He told himself. There’s a snakeskin inside, that means that there’s a snake somewhere inside. The idea made his skin crawl, that some no eared, no limbed, cold blooded creature was crawling around in his apartment.
    The way he saw it there was only one immediate option. Heaving a big sigh, Robert threw open the apartment door and ran into the middle of the room while grabbing a broom. Without missing a step he began to fling the assorted clothes and trash at his feet to the sides creating a four foot circular perimeter around himself. His eyes wide with frenzy began scanning the entire room for the snake.
    He then took three big leaps making it into the ten foot hallway separating his efficiency living room/bedroom and the bathroom. Once clearly inside the bathroom Robert jumped on top of the toilet and slammed the door behind him. Like a dog chasing its own tail he began spinning circles atop the toilet, broom in hand, ready to smash at the first sign of movement.
    Nothing so far. Robert grabbed some of Tammy’s many pairs of tweezers from the medicine cabinet and slowly reached down for the snakeskin. He snatched the skin in the tweezers and immediately stood back up for another quick perimeter check, in case the snake had slithered out while he was busy with the tweezers.
    His right leg began twitching uncontrollably and his breathing began to speed up. A lump rising in his throat told him that if he didn’t calm down he might start crying. But how could he help it? With the skin in hand it was undeniable. A snake had penetrated his domain. Nothing else could have created such a replica of once living tissue. The individual scales were even discernable in the shreds of tough paper thin skin.
    Okay Robert, this is it, it’s really happening. He told himself while forcing his breath to slow down and his nerves to calm. He looked at the skin and around the floor of the bathroom. Now, what can we figure out from the evidence at hand, think.
    The snakeskin wasn’t tubular, so that meant it’d either been there a while, drying out, getting shredded by the hustle and bustle of a shared bathroom or that the snake was shedding now and the skin was just coming off in pieces.
    Robert had despised snakes all of his life but he wasn’t ignorant about them. He could spot the difference between a viper and a python, between venomous and none venomous merely by the shape of the head. He knew roughly what snakes to expect where, always know your enemy. The problem was that in Los Angeles it could be any type of snake. So many people loved buying exotic creatures and then they lose track of them letting the beasts out to terrorize the rest of the city.
    Judging by the pieces of skin he did have the snake was small, no greater than two feet and thin. For most people this would be a relief but Robert would have preferred a twenty foot anaconda. At least a big snake you can see, you can see it and fight it. His fear dramatically increased the smaller the snake got. A little snake can hide in your clothes or under your covers, it can slither unnoticed through your house and crawl up your nose in your sleep. Robert shuddered as he considered all the things the horrible little snake might do...or worse, already have done to him in his sleep.
    Making matters worse was the limited size of the efficiency apartment, a fact not helped by Tammy’s moving in a few months before. Not only that but they had absolutely no furniture, not even a bed. The two watched TV, ate and slept on a two inch thick futon mattress lying directly on the floor. No effort whatsoever for a snake.
    “Hello is this animal control?” Robert asked twenty minutes later into his phone. He was still on top of the toilet with his broom in hand. He’d batted it around the floor, overturned some clothes and shaken around the overflowing trash can, so far no snake.
    “Yes, how may I help you?”
    “Uh, I think there’s a snake in my house. I found a snakeskin.” Robert said. He figured he’d bite the bullet. He hated anyone seeing his messy house, he was lazy but not without his pride. However if the choice was between someone seeing his house and a snake as a roommate he didn’t have to think twice.
    “Sir can you see the snake?” The woman asked casually, completely unconcerned that as they spoke some cold blooded, vile snake was somewhere in his house.
    “No. In fact I haven’t seen it per se. I only found its skin.”
    “Well sir, animal control can’t come out unless you have the snake in your sight.”
    “That makes sense...well...what can you do?” Robert asked feeling his heart sink. The long and short of her answer was that they couldn’t do much of anything. He was on his own with the snake.
    Tammy got home from work around five. He tried to think of what he could do until five. He could go to the movie theater and hang out there. Then, come five o’clock Tammy could look for the snake...he’d kill it if she could find it. He just didn’t want to be in the house until there were eyes on the snake. That plan wouldn’t work though. Tammy, the woman who screams over ladybugs would never be able to handle going through the house on a snake hunt by herself.
    Look, you can either be a prisoner in your own house or you can find the little bastard. You find it and you kill it. He told himself pursing his lips together and puffing out his chest as he hopped down from the toilet seat and began smashing his broom handle against anything that looked like it could possible have a snake underneath.
    “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Robert screamed like a crazed animal realizing that there were too many places for the snake to hide, he needed to clean.
    Moving quickly as if his life depended on it Robert grabbed a garbage bag and began throwing away trash piece by piece. He didn’t want to run the risk of grabbing a pile only to have a snake waiting for him.
    “Honey?” He heard Tammy coming in from work.
    “In here, watch your step.”
    “Oh...my...god.” Tammy said drawing out each word in disbelief. “You cleaned the bathroom.”
    Not a speck of trash was on the floor of the bathroom. The cabinets had been completely emptied, cleaned and reorganized. The clothes from the floor were now all folded neatly in a laundry basket and the floor had been swept and mopped.
    “Babe, we have a problem.” Robert said. He was shirtless but wearing his jeans tucked all the way into his boots and his brow clung with sweat.
    Tammy took the news much better than he had but that was no big surprise. She was scared of everything, he was only scared of one thing. That made it worse, having only one earthly fear all of his anxiety fixated on a single animal.
    “Wait here and watch my back.” Robert said sitting Tammy down in the middle of the mattress so she could watch TV, he wasn’t about to stop.
    “Honey...maybe the skin is old and the snake left.”
    “Do you want to take that risk?” Robert said popping his head into the living room. At this point he’d cleaned the entire bathroom, hallway and the two small closets in between.
    “How does mopping help you catch a snake?”
    “You’ll see.” Robert said sloshing a mop across the linoleum. “Take my flashlight and shine it under the fridge.”
    By the time Tammy was ready to go to sleep Robert still hadn’t stopped. He was on fire. When she woke up in the morning he was still at it. He had to find the snake before he slept.
    “Awww honey.” Tammy said giggling at his quest.
    “It’s not funny.” Robert said as he staggered around the room. He’d now even cleaned up some of the living room but he wasn’t even half done yet. “And another thing, don’t ever let the house get this messy again.”
    When Tammy came home from work she found him lying, fully clothed with his shoes on in the bed. His head spun and his eyes opened as the door opened.
    “Find him?” Tammy asked throwing her stuff in her usual corner only this time she noticed that the corner had been completely cleaned. All of her things hand been neatly stacked and piled in order.
    “Not yet.”
    “Why is there flour all over the hallway and bathroom floor?”
    “Don’t touch it.” Robert jumped out of bed and ran to the hallway where a thin layer of white flour covered the floor. He knelt down and examined the flour. “He hasn’t slithered across. There’s no tracks.”
    No one had ever been able to explain his fear and he certainly had nothing to offer other than snakes seemed to him to be the very essence of evil. He did know that he’d had the fear his entire life. A story that his parents loved to tell whenever they had the chance, as parents do, concerned his first encounter with the scaly reptile. Apparently at the age of two his parents had thought it’d be fun to buy him a fake rubber snake. They brought it home and young Robert is said to have immediately hissed like a cat upon seeing the thing. As the story goes he ran off crying and wouldn’t come out until the rubber snake had been removed from the house. The fear only got worse from there.
    For the next few days Robert remained consumed. He slept sitting upright, next to Tammy and every creak, every breeze, every little sound woke him and in the same motion he’d lunge for the light. It was the same every time, flip on the light and search the floor, starting close and moving outward. When you let down your guard. That’s when he’ll come.
    Even leaving the house was no respite from the terror of the hitherto unseen snake. Tammy had taken him to the movies to give him a rest but midway through the movie when she tried to take his hand he jumped up in his seat screaming.
    “Damnit Robert.”
    “Sorry, I thought the snake had somehow managed to get in my pocket and was now trying to get me.”
    “You’re getting ridiculous. I thought you said it was a small snake anyway.”
    But there was no way to explain to her the hell that that little snake was putting him through. His eyes both looked bruised from lack of sleep and his stomach burned with every breath, a sensation he recognized at the onset of an ulcer.
    He had to remain in a state of complete readiness. If the snake surprised him he’d be done, his nerves would flip out and the snake would have him. He knew he couldn’t be trusted so he had to find the snake first. He’d find it and go at it with everything he had. He knew that if he stopped he’d lose his nerve and run and then the snake would go back into hiding again. No, when he found the snake he’d have to kill it.
    “Don’t leave that there, the snake!” Robert would say running after Tammy to pick up a dropped shirt or piece of trash. The tiny apartment had gone from pigsty to surgically clean but still there was no sign of the snake. There were also no new signs of him, no more pieces of skin or other evidence that he still lived and breathed.
    “He probably left a long time ago honey.” Tammy said one night after coming home from work and finding her boyfriend going through the box of Christmas decorations with a flashlight in one hand and a small pocketknife in the other.
    “He wants me to get sloppy.” Robert said in the tired drawl that had replaced his everyday speech.
    “Awww honey.” Tammy said walking up to him and stroking his head. “At least the house is always clean now.”
    “I’m never going to let it get messy again.” Robert said putting the Christmas box up and grabbing a box of old clothes.
    “No, go take a nap. I’m making chicken tonight. You’ve taken this thing way too far.”
    “You won’t say that when you wake up with the snake burrowing into your eye socket.”
    “Do you think that’s really rational?”
    “Rationale’s got nothing to do with it. This isn’t a snake, he’s the devil and he’s come to drive me insane...but I’ll find him. I’ll find him and I’ll take his snake head off.”
    Robert put the boxes up and went and lied down on the bed. He was only getting a few minutes of sleep here and there anyway.
    “What? Is he here?!” Robert said jumping up from his bed and running into the hallway with his now ever-present broom handle.
    “There’s something I want to show you but you have to promise not to get mad.” Tammy said hunched over a small hotplate frying a pan of drumsticks.
    “What?” Robert said taking his cursory scans of the floor in all directions.
    “Well, first off I want to say thank you for keeping the house so clean, I know you’ve been working really hard.”
    “Yeah, well thank him.” Robert said with a sneer.
    “That’s what I wanted to tell you...” Tammy said handing Robert the Styrofoam platter the raw chicken had arrived in. “You see...?”
    His eyes took a few seconds to focus before he dropped the tray with a small shriek; the tray was full of snakeskin.
    “When you take the skin off of raw chicken it looks just like snakeskin when it dries.” Tammy said cringing behind an apologetic smile.
    “You mean to tell me that...”
    “Sorry...I didn’t think you’d take it so far but at least you finally cleaned the house.” Tammy said with a sheepish grin. “You mad?”
    Robert merely turned around without another word or even an expression and walked to the bed allowing himself to fall face down. He’d pay Tammy back later, he’d have to make it good too, maybe he’d put a mouse in her purse. That was all for later though, for now he just wanted to sleep. The nightmare was over and it was kind of nice to have a clean house for once.

Scars Publications

Copyright of written pieces remain with the author, who has allowed it to be shown through Scars Publications and Design.Web site © Scars Publications and Design. All rights reserved. No material may be reprinted without express permission from the author.

Problems with this page? Then deal with it...