By Hunter’s Moon
People streamed by. Colours, voices, always subtly shifting, always the shadowed same. Dreamer
didn’t see them.
The world was warm and green, except for jeweled birds flashing and
crying in the treetops and the monkeys, tawny and fast. He was not coiled in a
cramped cage but hung lazily from the limbs of a tree. His tongue tasted not
the sharp tang of metal and stale air, but the humid heat of dank earth and
growing things. He would think when he chose, and eat when he chose, and visit
who he chose.
The feeder man’s hand reached in and dropped off a cold slab. His dreams
People crowded around, babbling. The thunder of the glass began; waves
of noise ricocheted off his scales and earthquaked
through his brain.
They would stop for a while, but it would begin again. It never truly
He knew what they wanted. He opened his jaw and swallowed the meat, pretending
that the meat was still warm and had just finished its death-throes. The humans
hooted and clapped. He finished quickly. People left, but many stopped to point
out the barely-noticeable lump that had been his meal.
Dreamer dreamt of things long gone.
He had been born to a family of seventeen. His mother told them stories
of her homeland to pass the time, time that had seemed so short back when he
was waiting for his skin to slough off and his body to grow. He didn’t remember
who had first called him Dreamer. All he needed to know was that it was his
name. He dreamt as he grew, as his mother and siblings (four of whom he’d
eaten), were taken away, as he was put into the zoo exhibit.
While his mother had measured time by moons and suns, rains and heat, he
measured time by people and feedings. In a primal, unerring way Dreamer knew
that this was not right, but he could do nothing. The only being that had ever
helped him was the Voice.
Dreamer dreamt about his liberation, when the glass had fallen. He had
offered gratitude to the Voice before sliding over smooth, cold ground. He had
snapped at the heels of the glass-thunderers. They
shrieked and bawled like the prey they would have been, if he had not been full
from a feeding two weeks ago and more interested in freedom than food.
The sun was glory. It made everything harsh and sharp and so real he
could have burst out of his skin with the joy of seeing it. He slithered in wide
arcs; the humans made room for him. Their reedy terror was on his tongue.
He had pushed his way past cages filled with large and small animals.
Some came closer, curious, while others skittered away. Dreamer had little
thought to spare for them. The sun enveloped his scales, lending heat to his
blood and unused muscles. He was free, and he was going home.
Then men surrounded him, and they were unafraid. He slithered, they followed.
One had a long stick. Dreamer had neither known nor cared what it was until the
tip of it touched him. Then red and white filled him from nose to tail-tip.
He could not resist as they loaded him back into a small cage. It seemed
eons before the ache in his head and scales subsided.
The glass on his display was put up, and Dreamer was put back in his cage,
where things were wrong. There had only been one being who could set this
right. Dreamer waited for him. He would come again.
One day, he did. The Voice.
He must have shed his skin a few times, for he was bigger and taller
than Dreamer remembered. But the black scales on his head were still messy, and
his eyes were still the green of ferns.
Dreamer raised his head.
The Voice did not look at him. He was walking past the cage without a
Dreamer felt a something wriggling like a live mouse in his gut, colder
than anything he’d ever known. He could not let the Voice get away. He
raised his head and hissed, “Ssstop!” with all his
But he was no rattlesnake, able to be heard by humans a distance away.
And no snake could scream. The Voice walked by.
Some of the humans watching Dreamer pounded the glass, hoping to get
more movement out of him. He immediately put his head down and rested – slowly
they filed away, a few sending him hopeful glances.
People streamed by. Dreamer watched them all, no dreams in him, only
The Voice came back. Dreamer raised his head. The Voice looked down at
him, flicked his eyes to the sign, and sighed.
“I actually thought you’d escaped,” said the Voice.
Dreamer brought his head closer to the glass. “I wasss
caught. Help me essscape again.” He was quite good at
reading faces; he’d seen enough in his lifetime. The Voice looked worried. Dreamer
would have to persuade the Voice.
“You did once before, amigo. I
want to go home.”
The Voice sighed. “So do I. But I can’t. I’m not allowed to let you
loose. And,” he looked behind him, seeing the feeding man walk by, “you’d just
get captured again.”
“Then you mussst free me when the humansss are few. I will hide with you. Then,” he savoured the words like flesh in his mouth, “we will go to Brazil, the Voice and
The Voice raised the black scales over his eye. “The
Voice? Is that what you call me?”
“We know you as the Voice. You ssspeak
to usss. You know usss.”
The Voice’s face became wrinkles, crags, bared teeth. “I don’t want to
know you,” he hissed. Then his voice crumpled and sputtered, as if he was
trying to force a large rabbit down his throat.
Dreamer remembered that this was what laughter sounded like. He so
rarely heard laughter. Only the truly young children laughed when they saw him;
they laughed without comprehension. When they were older they were bored, or
frustrated when he did not perform tricks on demand.
The Voice spoke.
“This is the last time I’ll come here. After the attack last summer they
thought they’d bring Dudley here – something about happy
childhood memories. Not in this particular part of it, obviously, but the rest
of the zoo. Even he thinks it’s a stupid idea. I’m not here for you.”
People were beginning to look at the Voice. The Voice must have felt
their stares, for he turned around and said something to them in human-tongue.
A few of them nodded, but there were those who eyed him warily as they moved on.
“In my world your kind is evil. You’re everything dirty and wrong. I
fought your King in my second year. I fight against snakes. I fight against
Another laugh. Not a child’s laugh, but a dry one,
one Dreamer felt he would produce if a snake could laugh. “Even those I care
about get…hurt, even if I become what I can’t ever become, I still fight. I
have no choice.”
While the Voice was connected to serpent-kind, he was still very much a chattering
human. Dreamer had to ponder the many unfamiliar words.
He took too long in thinking. The Voice looked him over, huffed, and got
up to leave.
Snakes did not ask questions once they were grown. They knew what they
knew, and if they did not know it they would learn it when the time was right. Snakes
did not ask questions. But there were few snakes who met The Voice.
“What is thisss ‘evil’?”
The Voice looked back at him and then crouched down.
“It’s...well, people who kill other people. Who hurt other people and
keep them alive so they can hurt them again. Who…” he made a frustrated gesture
with one of his hands, “…look, evil is evil, all right? You either know it or
“Isss evil alssso men who keep me in a cage, far from home?”
The Voice was surprised. “Not really. I mean, they can’t understand you,
so they don’t know where you want to be.”
Dreamer pondered this. A sunbeam of thought burst in his mind, kindling
every inch of him. “You underssstand
me. Tell them.”
The Voice’s eye-scales rose. “I couldn’t do that. They’d think I was
crazy, talking to a snake.”
“Not like people are supposed to be.”
Dreamer pressed his nose to the glass. “Then I am crazy, because I am
here. Thisss, amigo, isss not normal. Thisss isss
evil. Ssset me free.
Help me go home.”
He had already asked three questions. He would not go so far as to beg.
He had his dignity.
Time was long and soundless before the Voice spoke.
His words were the words of the cobra, with poisoned fangs. “I can’t
even help myself. How can I help you? And why would I want to? You’re…you’re
just a stupid snake, and – I guess I’m sorry, really, but even if I could get
you out, I couldn’t get you all the way to your home. You’ll have to make do in
your cage, and I’ll make do in mine.”
With the hurried, heedless movements of all things short-lived and
warm-blooded, the Voice left.
Dreamer watched him go. He dreamt of that conversation, of should haves
and would haves, of his home in a forest he had never seen and never would.
The zoo lost its boa constrictor on the
25th of June, 1997. Cause of death: failure to thrive. They replaced it
a month later with an anaconda. Harry Potter read the article celebrating zoo’s
new acquisition. Two days later, he remembered the boa constrictor. He thought
briefly of Brazil.
Then he ate his cereal, read the
Daily Prophet, and started another day.