The boy never imagined snakes but there were snakes. Not the sort that bite, but the kind that compromise your ankles, like a bed of roots. He has grass stains stretching from his shins to his shoulders and a mascara of purplish berries, which I can only imagine would be poisonous if consumed. I ask why he’s trespassing on my property. He tells me he’s coming back from the garden of girls. “I’m watering the girls into women,” he explains. “It’s what I do, a service I’ve been trained to provide. They’re not there yet. Give it time. Weeks. Months, maybe, depending on the balance of rain and sun and my own diligence. I can show you then if you like.” I tell him there are no women anywhere around here. This I know with certainty. “Exactly, sir,” he says. “As I’ve said they’re girls. My job is to water them into women.” I tell him females aren’t plants. He asks me to prove it. From my pocket I extract a dense literature of evidence on any number of subjects. None of it relates to the topic at hand, I’ll admit, but I submit it in earnest. The young man wraps his glasses around his ears, presses the papers to his face, makes a hmm hmm unsuited to his age and manner of dress. After a few minutes, he fans himself with the pages, then brings out his phone and breathes into it. A noise returns like raccoons stuck between walls, skitters and thuds. “Aye aye, captain,” he responds and snaps to attention. I notice then a hospital band around his wrist, with its codes indicating he’s both a fall and flight risk. At this, a match of sympathy should be struck at my temple, a guiding light of kindness. Take him by the elbow and return him, I think. But it just makes me dislike him more. I look several times up and down the path that cuts through my property, from one end to the other start, like shaking my head no, no, no. Through the trees, each side looks like a hole you can’t see the bottom of. I tell him I don’t care where he goes but to go. I’ve lost my patience. It’s possible to lose more, I know this from a lifetime of losing things. The boy goes easier than expected. The darkness is like a cloud of gnats. It enters his mouth and ears. I see it happen. I bear witness as he’s consumed.
Michael Seidel writes in the basement of a very tall house situated between a public library, a McDonald’s, and Lake Michigan. His stories have appeared in publications like decomP, Dogzplot, JMWW, Kill Author, and Metazen.