“Snake Season,” by Erin Roberts, is a claustrophobic story about love and loss and being forced to make do.
Content Note: child death
Marie, a pregnant woman with one living child, is visited pretty regularly by the ghost/spirit/manifestation of her first child, Sarah. Sarah slowly, over the course of her childhood, turned monstrous and ultimately Marie killed her and buried her. That’s what she claims, anyway. As we read the story we find that Marie, well meaning and full of love, isn’t exactly a reliable narrator. Time passes and pregnancy after pregnancy results in a baby girl who “goes wrong” until she’s forced to put them out of their misery when her husband Ray is away from home. Now, though, they have Junior… their only son, nearly a year old, and perfect as perfect can be; and they have the baby in her belly who she assumes is also a boy. Everything looks good, right? And then Sarah comes for a visit.
Ray is worried about Junior and about the unborn babe. Reading between the lines it’s clear he isn’t worried about them being monsters — shrunken tiny heads, bulbous eyes, arms that reach the floor– he’s worried about SIDS, about babies who fall asleep and never wake up. It’s easy to kill a baby. It’s easy to kill a baby and never be found out. Sure, people might talk, but will your loving husband believe them, or just consider the two of you tragically unlucky? So Ray has the local Conjure Man come up with charms and poultices and elixers to help keep Junior, Marie, and the unborn baby safe. Marie doesn’t believe in the Conjure Man’s charms. They’ve never worked in the past, after all.
One night she’s awakened by Sarah’s small voice and finds Junior out of his crib and outside, crawling toward the water. She’s grateful to Sarah for saving her child. She still loves her first born daughter, ugly and repulsive as she finds her. But Sarah touches Junior, and taints him, and Junior starts changing to be monstrous, too. Or so Marie tells herself.
It’s obvious that something is going on, that Marie believes that her children are becoming monsters and that she’s doing the right thing in killing them. What’s unclear is why she thinks that. Is Sarah really visiting her? Is she perceiving her children as being monsters because of guilt, or because she’s mentally ill? Is Sarah real and forcing her to perceive her children as monsters? Was Sarah even “monstrous” at all?
“Snake Season” is a creepy thought provoking story, most of it contained within a tiny house and within Marie’s mind. The constraints add to the creepiness and the wrongness. Marie is isolated, gets attention from others after her babies tragically die. She wants Ray with her, but sometimes he has to leave to work in different areas so they have enough money to live in. It’s when he’s gone that things start to go wrong. It’s a pretty harrowing story that’ll stick with you. “The Dark” is a really great magazine and we’re lucky to have a market for stories like this.