Jenny Pox

By: JL Bryan

CHAPTER ONE





Jenny sat in the red dirt and played with a plastic dinosaur. She liked the front yard, with all its mysteries--the high clumps of weeds, the big fallen-over tree trunk shaggy with scrub growth, the shiny bottles and cans Daddy left everywhere. She liked all the funny pieces of machinery and broken furniture around the shed. People brought things to Daddy’s shed, and he fixed them, sometimes. Daddy was a Handy Man, except when he was Drinking.

Jenny heard a funny, shaking noise, like one of the old rattle toys in her room. It was from somewhere near the fallen tree. Maybe on the other side of it.

She crawled on the sandy, oil-stained dirt, through high weeds. She startled a chipmunk near her knee and he skittered away from her. She giggled at the funny little striped creature.

The rattle sounded again and she crawled to the tree. She turned and crawled along its length, stopping every foot or so to poke her fingers into the weeds and ivy that had grown over the fallen tree’s bark. She pulled aside stringy plants to peer into dark places under the tree, and she squinted her eyes to peer into knotholes.

She found the place where a narrow, weed-choked gully had washed out underneath the trunk, creating a kind of dark cave underneath. She leaned her face in close, cupping her hands around her eyes to try and shield out the sun. She couldn’t see anything, but she heard the rattle again, longer and louder this time, from the darkness right in front of her nose. It was in there somewhere.

She reached her hand deep into the gully, pushing and tearing through thick weeds. The rattling grew louder. She touched something cool and muscular. It pulled away from her fingers, and now the rattle went crazy. She reached her arm all the way into the narrow gully, up to her shoulder. Her fingers brushed the mysterious muscular thing again, and again it pulled back. She pawed around in the dirt. She could hear it rattling, but she couldn’t find it again.

She wondered if it had moved all the way to the other side of the tree. Maybe she could find it over there. Jenny drew her hand out of the gully. She scrabbled up onto the trunk, which was nearly as high as she was, clawing her way to the top with her fingernails and toenails. She leaned out over the other side of the tree, looking among the weeds and brown bottles, her bare feet dangling in the air behind her.

She tilted forward until her head was almost upside down, her thick black hair hanging down like streamers. She watched it emerge from the gully. Triangular head, black eyes. Its head looked like her dinosaur toy. Its body looked like a living piece of rope, unspooling from underneath the trunk to slither off through high weeds and towards the woods, where Jenny wasn’t allowed to go. Its long body kept coming out and out, and Jenny snickered. The creature was just so long, it was almost silly.

Its skin was olive, with pretty black diamonds all over its back. Jenny reached down and ran her fingers along it as it passed. It writhed at her touch and gave another long rattle. She wrapped her fingers around its body and picked it up to play with it, thinking it would be a good friend for her dinosaur. And she liked that rattley sound, it was like whispering, like telling secrets.

Its head arched up and twisted around to face her. It opened its jaw and hissed, revealing huge fangs.

Jenny shrieked and tumbled backward off the fallen tree. One hand tightened its grip on the ropey creature, while her other hand grabbed uselessly at the air for something to stop her fall.

She landed hard on the dirt, flat on her back, dragging the long creature over the tree with her, and its long body landed across her stomach. It was thrashing hard and rattling faster, and she could see the rattle now, a fat cone of shell-like rings at the tail end.

She lifted the creature’s long belly off her with both hands. The fanged head raised up, dripping fluid from its teeth, and then swooped towards her bare, dirt-crusted left foot. She cried out as the head struck her ankle.

But it didn’t bite her. Instead, its head slid off her leg and into the dirt, and Jenny held her breath and watched it, keeping herself very still. The creature didn’t move again.

Along the segment of the snake’s body that drooped between her hands, its scaly skin had busted open all over and dark blood seeped out. The blistering infection spread out along its skin in both directions from her hands, towards its head and towards its tail. All her fingers felt sticky and gross.

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