I have a recurring series of dreams that snakes are thinking of new ways to kill me.
In my last apartment, a studio, my bed was up against a wall that was basically all window. I moved in the summer, so it was really hot, and I kept the window open to get some air. My very first night in the apartment, half-awake and trying to adjust to new noises, like you do the first night you sleep in a new place (especially going from a quiet dead-end street with no traffic, to a window that looked out on Burnside), I had a hard time drifting off and had a weird succession of half-awake, half-asleep dream/hallucinations. The most vivid of them went something like this:
IF my new neighbors across the alley had a pet snake, and IF that snake was kept loose in their backyard, and IF that snake escaped through their fence and slithered across the alley between their house and my apartment, and IF the snake could scale walls and get up the side of my building, and IF that snake was poisonous, then it could come right into my apartment through the open window and kill me.
In half-awake hallucination land, that got shorthanded to: Oh my God, snakes are trying to kill me. I didn’t sleep at all that night, torn between not wanting to get up and shut the window because a) it was a billion degrees and b) that would mean I was a crazy person, and fixating on the open window and how much space there would be for pretty much any kind of runaway snake on the lam from its owners to come in and kill me, including a giant anaconda or one of those tropical snakes that can climb a tree and thus would have no trouble getting into my window which was less that 20 feet off the ground.
I did feel pretty stupid the next morning. But I had the same dream several times and it always seemed totally plausible at 3 in the morning. Then, a few months later, there was another one, which went something like this:
IF there existed a snake that was both super-tiny and super-poisonous, and IF one of them escaped from a home or exotic-pet store or lived in the wild, and IF a giant bird swooped down to eat it, thinking it was a worm, and IF that bird grabbed it in its talons and flew away, and IF the bird let go or the snake wriggled out, and IF the snake fell from the sky and landed on my windowsill, then it could slither right in through my window and kill me in my sleep with no warning.
This one, upon waking, was even more bizarre and ridiculous, but still terrifying in the middle of the night.
I don’t get my thing with snakes. I have this kind of terror/fascination with them. When I was a kid I used to imagine that snakes lived at the bottom of my bed and would eat my feet if I slept stretched out, which is why to this day I can’t sleep unless I’m at least partially curled up. When I was a kid, I used to look at pictures of snakes to scare myself on purpose; in our set of Encyclopedias, under S for Snake (or possibly for Scare the Shit out of you) there was a giant, full-page-sized photo of a cobra about to strike – like, right up close, with its fangs wide open, about to pounce and kill you. Basically a vivid image of what would be the last thing you would see before you died. The striking cobra was one of the three pictures from informational books I used to scare myself with as a child – the other two being as follows: a massive, garishly-colored illustration of an archaeopteryx (still my favorite prehistoric creature) swooping down from the sky towards you, talons outstretched like a reptilian harpy, to attack a cute harmless little prehistoric lizardy-type thing; and St. Sebastian on the rack, arrows protruding from his heart, from my Children’s Book of Saints. (Side note: May I just say that a book of saint pictures that includes blood and gore is infinitely more interesting to children than anything published by the good people at the Precious Moments franchise . . . one of the best parts of growing up Catholic is the early exposure to all kinds of bizarre violence that your parents would never let you see in movies but which are totally kosher in the Bible or saint stories – beheadings, crucifixion, starvation, rape, dismemberment, evisceration, medieval torture devices, being burned alive, etc.)
Digression. But anyway, the cobra, the archaeopteryx and Saint Sebastian (poor guy) were my three secret childhood fears, but I kept looking at those books anyway. I think when I wasn’t looking at them, I was thinking about them and imagining them, and maybe looking right at them and seeing them for what they were was less scary than imagining them. Maybe the giant cobra about to strike from the pages of the S Encyclopedia was less scary than, like, a tiny and crafty snake slithering through my window, utilizing stealth and cunning to sneak up on me. At least the cobra was kind of a blunt instrument – or the picture was, anyway. It did not sneak. I chose when I wanted to look at it, or not. I was in control. So maybe it was that.
Or maybe I’m just totally nuts and have terrible judgment. (I did once bring “The Collected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe” to read while babysitting, after the kids went to bed, and about had a heart attack when the family’s grandfather clock struck midnight while I was in the middle of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I would not wish that ten seconds of blind terror on my worst enemy.)