Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ambrose Bierce - The Man and the Snake

It is of veritabyll report, and attested of so many that there be
nowe of wyse and learned none to gaynsaye it, that ye serpente hys
eye hath a magnetick propertie that whosoe falleth into its svasion
is drawn forwards in despyte of his wille, and perisheth miserabyll
by ye creature hys byte.

Stretched at ease upon a sofa, in gown and slippers, Harker Brayton
smiled as he read the foregoing sentence in old Morryster's
"Marvells of Science." "The only marvel in the matter," he said to
himself, "is that the wise and learned in Morryster's day should
have believed such nonsense as is rejected by most of even the
ignorant in ours."

A train of reflections followed--for Brayton was a man of thought--
and he unconsciously lowered his book without altering the
direction of his eyes. As soon as the volume had gone below the
line of sight, something in an obscure corner of the room recalled
his attention to his surroundings. What he saw, in the shadow
under his bed, were two small points of light, apparently about an
inch apart. They might have been reflections of the gas jet above
him, in metal nail heads; he gave them but little thought and
resumed his reading. A moment later something--some impulse which
it did not occur to him to analyze--impelled him to lower the book
again and seek for what he saw before. The points of light were
still there. They seemed to have become brighter than before,
shining with a greenish luster which he had not at first observed.
He thought, too, that they might have moved a trifle--were somewhat
nearer. They were still too much in the shadow, however, to reveal
their nature and origin to an indolent attention, and he resumed
his reading. Suddenly something in the text suggested a thought
which made him start and drop the book for the third time to the
side of the sofa, whence, escaping from his hand, it fell sprawling
to the floor, back upward. Brayton, half-risen, was staring
intently into the obscurity beneath the bed, where the points of
light shone with, it seemed to him, an added fire. His attention
was now fully aroused, his gaze eager and imperative. It
disclosed, almost directly beneath the foot rail of the bed, the
coils of a large serpent--the points of light were its eyes! Its
horrible head, thrust flatly forth from the innermost coil and
resting upon the outermost, was directed straight toward him, the
definition of the wide, brutal jaw and the idiotlike forehead
serving to show the direction of its malevolent gaze. The eyes
were no longer merely luminous points; they looked into his own
with a meaning, a malign significance.

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