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O by Wendy Newbury

They appeared in kaleidoscope colors, in the form of Siamese fighting fish, gliding about the room, performing graceful pirouettes. She’d lie there surrounded, suspicious yet spellbound, in limbo, between sleep and wake, mind racing nowhere.

Within weeks, they morphed, resembling Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers, the gummy treats she still avoids down candy aisles. Their bodies composed of micro-beads, fine like sugar that disintegrated when touched. She never intentionally touched them, but racing towards the bathroom some nights, an accidental brush while tiptoeing past them, she’d notice that slight detail. She researched it as an adult. They say post-traumatic events can cause such hallucinations.

By month’s end, hundreds more roamed. Vicious, with well-defined scales on their slithery skin, no longer a strange and elegant wonder. One night, she sprang out of bed at the sight of some writhing beside her, throwing off the covers and landing in an awaiting pit on the floor. They swarmed and nipped, slithering up the bedposts, gnawing at the occupant on the top bunk, but they never flinched. This is for her, designed for her screams alone.

Upstairs, the grandfather clock announces some ungodly hour in its ominous tone. Then, their kryptonite. A stream of light flooding in with the quick flip of a hallway switch. They scatter. She scrambles to the doorway and into arms, glancing back at the half-lit room, some of them lingering on the edge of that brightness, taunting, unexposed, waiting. They say these non-nightmares are common, a child’s fear can take on any shape.

When dawn slips through cracked window sills, its faint glow pulsing from behind thick drapes, she waits, eager for the full bloom of sunrise to color the basement morning gold before exhaling. Feet dangling from the lower bunk, careful not to let her toes graze the lush calico carpet beneath, she scours for traces. Like clockwork, she hunts them down in every crevice before scurrying out into day which makes her a little brave. They say it’s temporary and in this case, they are half right.

But my kids will never own this pet under our roof. Ask me, a grown woman and mother of three, to google search fear of snakes, and because of what might pop up, I’ll need to type list of phobias and scroll down in alphabetical order to O instead. They’ve left marks.


Wendy Newbury is a music teacher and writer living in Pasco, WA. She is currently writing a memoir. Her work has been published in The New York Times Tiny Love Stories column, and Roi Faineant Literary Press, with forthcoming words in JMWW Journal.

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