“Plant the snake eggs, slave” Molly demands. She makes a whipping motion at me, along with the sound effect with her mouth.
“This fucking kid, I swear to God,” I murmur to myself as I bury my tennis balls in the backyard. Now I can’t play tennis because my crazy little niece thinks they’re eggs that will hatch into snakes to do her bidding. As I smooth out the dirt over my tennis balls with my shovel, she rubs her hands together like a maniacal villain. I take out my phone to text my sister, Nicole, who’s in the middle of her two-week romantic getaway with her husband.
She immediately sends me a laughing emoji.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asks Mr. Waterson, my next door neighbor. He pokes his head over the wooden fence with a glare at my direction.
“We’re planting snake eggs,” says Molly. “And when they hatch I’m going to name them Pocko, Tulip, Chucky, Wilma, and Greeny, and they will do everything I say.”
His gaze shifts from Molly back to me. “You know that’s against the law, right?”
“Is everything against the law to you?” I ask.
“It is against the law to own exotic pets.”
I walk up to him as Molly skips over the patch of dirt my tennis balls are buried under. “You know we’re just playing pretend, right?” I whisper to him. “Five year-olds do that. They like to play pretend. I don’t actually have snakes.”
“If I see a snake anywhere near my property I’m calling the police,” he says. And I know he’s serious because he calls the police for every little thing, and the cops in this town have nothing better to do than to listen to him bitch and moan before questioning me over what they know is nothing. I hate that bastard more than anything else in this world! I beg him not to call the cops again, but he just storms back inside.
“Is he your husband?” asks Molly.
“What? No, he isn’t. That’s disgusting.”
She starts to sing. “Aunt Ivy and Old Man sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…”
The thought occurs to me that Nicole and her husband, Jeff, allow Molly’s fantasies to run amuck. They’re not teaching her what’s real and what isn’t. So guess what? Aunt Ivy’s going to give little miss imagination a reality check.
There’s a cave outside of town—about two hours from here—that’s supposed to have a ton of snakes, called the Serpent’s Lair. Molly’s face light up when I tell her we’re going on a fieldtrip after breakfast. She eats her bacon and eggs so fast I thought she might choke on them. While I do wish to stop her from acting like a little maniac, it’s not like I want her to die in achieving that feat.
I throw on a black tank top, cargo shorts and some fingerless gloves to feel badass like Lara Croft. Molly wears her favorite pink princess dress…and my fedora. I love that fedora. It gives me a sassy-yet-sexy look, but on her it looks like a ten-gallon hat.
“What have I told you about wearing Aunt Ivy’s clothes?” I say to her.
“But I like it,” she says in a pout. “I look like a mob boss.”
“Well, you can play mob boss late—” She starts screaming the moment I try to grab my hat from her head. Like, an ear-busting shriek. “Alright! Alright, you can wear it.” She does that every single time I try to keep her from doing something she wants to do. No wonder she’s spoiled; no one can stand that freaking noise. She skips away with the satisfaction of victory and I’m left wanting to strangle her.
We pass Mr. Waterson as we walk through the driveway into my car. He waters his lawn and scowls at me. I don’t need this right now. He’s a bitter old man who probably hates women because he never got laid. I ignore him, but I’m not entirely sure Molly did the same.
Molly is full of energy for the entire two-hour car ride. She’s bouncing around in her booster seat while snacking on animal crackers, making me actually afraid she’ll choke. Her chipmunk voice sings along to my hip hop playlist—"So many battlefield scars while driving in plush cars / This life as a rap star is nothing without guard…”
She asks where we’re going.
“It’s a surprise,” I say. “Trust me, you’ll love it.”
“I hope we get to see flying dogs. If you see a flying dog you get to live forever. I want to live forever with my snake army.”
“But then you’d only talk to snakes forever. That doesn’t sound fun.”
“Snakes are good at playing pretend, so it’s okay.”
I drive through a pathway in the woods. Along the way there are “warning” and “turn back” signs erect, but I ignore them. I’m a daredevil explorer today, baby! I inch close to the cave before putting my car in park. When we exit the car Molly is unusually quiet. When I reach for her hand she grips mine tight. The frightened look on her face makes me question my discission.
“Is there a demon in there?” she asks in a whisper.
I shrugged. “Let’s find out.”
Too late to turn back down. Time to scare Molly straight. I’m armed with my LED camping lantern. We’ll walk into the Serpent’s Lair, see a few snakes (they’re supposedly not venomous, so it’s okay). She’ll realized that snakes are scarier than she thought and that she can’t control them. And FINALLY she’ll shut the hell up.
A little white snake with green eyes pokes its head out of the cave, bobbing its head like it’s part of a disco. It’s…kinda cute, as far as snakes go.
“SNAKE!” Molly cries before breaking away from me and dashing after it. Man, can her little legs go. I sprint after her. The little snake retreats into the cave and so does Molly, then me; into the cave that’s so dark I can no longer see in front of me.
“Molly?” I call for her. I can’t see her. I can’t hear her. “Molly!” I stop sprinting since I’m basically blind in here, so I turn on my bright-ass lantern. My jaw drops at the sight of them. Snakes. Everywhere. Slithering in all directions. They all look the same. I can’t even tell which is the one Molly was chasing.
“Molly!” I yell one more time.
“Aunt Ivy, look!”
She is turned away from me. I rush to where she’s standing, but when I catch up to her she’s pointing up, like this is the part of the horror movie that reveals something really dangerous right in front of us. I lift my lantern, and sure-the-fuck enough, there a giant snake staring down at up. Like, its head is the size of a house!
“I am the SSSSerpent King,” it says. “It has been so long since we’ve sssseen a human. This is truly a sssspecial day.”
The smaller snakes slither around our ankles. My skin crawls all over from their touch. But I don’t say anything. I can’t. I’m too scared. I made a huge mistake coming here. I’m going to get myself and my niece killed. What’s Nicole going to think? Even with my death she’ll never forgive me for what I’ve done to her daughter.
“Mr. Snaky Snake,” Molly says, “I am your new master. Obey me.”
Shit. We’re dead. She’s so cute when she’s brave. I wish I could enjoy this moment more.
“Assss you wishhhh,” the Serpent King says. And now I’m officially confused. Can she really command snakes?
“Mr. Staky Snake, I want you to scare everyone so bad that they poop their pants.”
“Your will sssshall be done. Climb onto my back.” The little snakes climb only each other to form a stairway.
I whisper to Molly how crazy this is, but she ignores me, dragging me by the hand onto the Serpent King’s back. I don’t know what to think. I’m afraid to do anything that might get Molly and I killed. When we straddle the giant snake’s back like a horse it begins to move out of the cave. It’s moving back to the direction we originally came from when I spot my car. It’s so much smaller from up here, like one of the plastic remote control cars.
“Wait!” I shout loud enough so the serpent can hear me. It stops. “Mr. Snaky Snake, sir, please don’t crush my car. I need it.”
“Is thissss your will assss well, little girl?”
Molly thinks for a moment before giving the command to spare my car. The serpent takes it into its mouth and carries it in its jaw for the rest of the journal back to the town.
The giant snake is as long as a building, leaving a long trail shape of its stomach. Of course, everyone runs for their lives. They abandon their cars and bolt out of the way, for the giant snake moves well past the speed limit and tramples everything in its path. For whatever reason, however, the police are brave enough to pull over in its path, get out and open fire. I shield Molly’s body with my arms at the sounds of gunshots at our direction, but the Serpent King doesn’t seem to even register the bullets. The cop cars are crushed underneath it. I just hope the cops got out the way in time.
The Serpent King stops. It drops my car onto the street. It’s fairly crushed now. One of the doors falls off the hinges.
“How do I know if they pooped their pantssss already?” it asks.
“When they sit on the potty but they forget to pull their pants down,” Molly says.
“Oh, yeah,” says the Serpent King.
“I knew it! I knew it all along.” Mr. Waterson stands beside his parked car next to the giant snake. From where I sit he looks incredibly small. He looks up at Molly and me. “I knew you were nothing but trouble from the moment I met you, Ivy. I’m calling the police.”
Did he not just see that the cops had no effect on this thing? Even now I’m so annoyed with Mr. Waterson. He always thinks I’m a bad person. What’s his deal? Why can’t he go away?
“Eat him, Mr. Snakey Snake,” Molly commands. I didn’t mean literally!
“Okay,” the Serpent King says. It arches its back so we slide off it and onto the street. Then, with a quickness, it snaps at Mr. Waterson and swallows him whole before he even has a chance to scream.
Mr. Waterson is dead.
A giant snake killed Mr. Waterson.
Molly, a five year-old girl, told a giant snake to kill Mr. Waterson.
I’m the one who took her to the Serpent’s Lair, so does that mean it’s my fault he’s dead?
I look at Molly, to see her reaction to all of this. She’s rubbing her hands together like a maniacal villain again.
The snake turns to me. “Thank you, woman. I love playing pretend with children. This hassss truly been a fun day for me. But I am tired now, so I must go back home.” It then notices the cops surrounding it, their weapons still drawn. “I’m the SSSSerpent King,” it says, “and I don’t give a fuck.”
It slithers away, leaving behind another trail of destruction.
Molly runs to my totaled car, not noticing the broken glass she’s stepping on, and retrieves her box of animal crackers. She digs her tiny fingers into the box to give a handful to each of the officers.
“Nothing to see here, see?” she says in her best mob boss impression. The cops say nothing. They take the bribe without question.
Molly then runs back to me and wraps her arms around my waist. “Thank you, Aunt Ivy. This is the best day of my life.”
I say nothing, but instead wonder if I’m in a dream, or part of a movie, because none of this feels real. I hug Molly back, but I’m afraid I made a monster out of her. A very cute, very imaginative, very real monster.