The pomp and festivities traveled with them down the ancient granite steps, but once they entered the bar, and its heavy wooden door closed, the entire world from which they came was abruptly silenced.
There were those who claimed the place was a thousand years old, and it was easy to believe them. For the room was dark, and quiet, and had a smell all its own. Everything behind the door, everything outside was bright, and shiny, and antiseptic, and had been constructed after the war.
So Mylar and the bent old doctor entered that place, stepping carefully between the lacquered oak tables, and moved toward the bar.
A radio was playing, and there were some who huddled closely around it, listening. There was news to be heard.
A great thing had happened, and Mylar thought of that great thing as she climbed onto an empty stool.
The old man said something to the bartender, and presently two glasses were set upon the counter.
“What’ll it be, Doc?”
The beer was poured, and Mylar watched the frothy, amber liquid climb, slowly, the rim of one glass, and then the other.
“To us!” shouted the doctor, hefting his glass in front of him.
“To us,” Mylar repeated. And she held her glass up also.
The two of them drank in silence, sometimes aware of the reporter droning on about the thing that had happened.
Mylar listened distractedly for some time before noticing a growing agitation in her companion. His hands were trembling.
“Is something the matter?” she asked.
And the doctor, returning from something like a dream, faced her, and blinked his watery, troubled eyes.
“Is something the matter?”
“Yes. Your hands.”
“My hands? Yes. I suppose there must be.”
“But, Doctor,” Mylar said, affectionately, “why should something be wrong? Your calculations were perfect. We’ve done it. You’ve done it. It’s a time to celebrate. We should be celebrating with the rest of them out there. Not down here, in the dark.”
“And why not? Why not down here? It reminds me of being young. I was a child once, you know. And when I was a child, the world smelled differently. It smelled like this—like wood polish, and smoke. Like an old church. No offense, lad.”
“None taken,” said the bartender, who had been eavesdropping.
“But you were born after the war, dear, weren’t you? You kids don’t go to church now.”
“You know very well that I don’t.”
“When I was young, we all went to church. And church smelled like this. It was made of wood, and it smelled old. And there were old things in it.”
“Come now, Doctor. It’s getting late. We will be late for the ceremony.”
“In a minute, dear. I want to remember… Once upon a time, people liked old things. Old ideas, too—which is what they kept in those churches, I should tell you. They believed all kinds of things. And some of it was true. But as a child that didn’t interest me much. I was more interested in the stories.”
“Tell me as we walk, Doctor.” Mylar stood, and straightened her clothes.
“Listen, dear, let me talk for a while. Let me tell you. Have you read the Bible?”
“I have. You instructed me to, if you’ll remember.”
“Yes. Well, it’s good for you to know the old stories.”
“And now you’ll tell me one, I suppose?”
“We have time. There’s still time.”
Mylar relaxed her weight back onto her stool. “All right. One story.”
“Not much of a story. More of an idea.”
“Once, they believed God made man. And from man, he made woman.”
“Yes. And the heavens, and the earth, and all the animals great and small.”
“Yes. That’s right. And they lived in Paradise. A verdant utopia without good, or evil, or sin.”
“Then along came the serpent, and, shortly after, man’s exile from Eden. Yes?” As the doctor’s apprentice, Mylar was used to his dialectics.
“Huh? Yes. Yes, that’s right. That’s how the story goes, isn’t it.”
“Unfair, if you ask me.”
“I say, it’s unfair. The way they were thrown out.”
“Yes. I think you’re right…”
“But, suppose it was necessary.”
“How do you mean?”
“Suppose… Suppose that… Sin was part of what gave them life?” The doctor’s eyes darkened. “Suppose it was disobedience that completed the equation?”
“They were alive in the garden, Doctor. At least, that is how I read the story.”
The doctor’s hands were trembling again.
“Doctor, what is this all about?”
“You wouldn’t blame an old man for being curious, would you? You wouldn’t blame an old scientist for testing a theory?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“The children were so lifeless in their obedience. I couldn’t love them. They had no souls in their little hearts.”
“They do not have hearts, Doctor. They are an equable, synthetic labor force. Your words. Designed and manufactured to remedy post-war population deficits.”
“Yes, yes. And all that.”
“They are not Adams and Eves. And they are not children. The implication is heretical.”
“Yes. Heretical. See? If you read it differently, it was the serpent who gave them life. It was the serpent who tested their obedience. He is the real hero… So, I tested the program. I tested them, until they came to life.”
“Tested them?” Mylar let her thoughts loose upon the laboratory trials. One in particular she remembered. A numerical anomaly in the altruism matrix. A hint of recalcitrance, but well within the margin of error. Test 066.607. “Six-six-six,” she said, quietly. Her face a portrait of confusion.
“A fitting number, I thought,” said the old man. “An old number.”
Something shook above their heads, and a precipitation of dust rained down over them.
The lights flickered and went out.
“Doctor, what have you done?”
“I never claimed to be original. I was only curious.”
There was another sound above them. The radio went to static.
Someone turned it off. Then they all stood quietly in the dark, unsure of what to do next.
“Do you suppose there was anyone to applaud? In the beginning? Or were the children born into silence?” the doctor asked. “Did the serpent feel as I do?”
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
6 thoughts on “The Serpent by Chuck Smith”
A very esoteric, chilling tale in what seems to be set in a kind of regressed, but also scientific future. I like how your story doesn’t reveal everything and builds questions in the reader’s mind (it did in mine at least!).
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This one really challenges one to think–which is always a great thing. Well thought out and extremely interesting.
I love when any of my stories go off on a tangent in the readers mind. Some folks get a wee bit insulted but I just think that no matter what I meant, there is another life in my words.
With that in mind…
I took from this that the Doctor was the guy who developed the workforce. But instead of making them perfect he programmed a flaw in them that would cause defiance to grow.
I think he was confessing to her and trying to explain that he had simply put in an old ‘value’ that he believed had to be there.
The celebration that they were going to was the unveiling of the workforce. (???)
What the Doctor believed he had done was what happened in our creation according to the bible. He followed those ideas, flaws and all. He did the job of the serpent.
I may be a mile out but I enjoyed adding my own logic even if I’m completely wrong!!
As Leila has said, this one really does make you think!!
Very enjoyable, Chuck. I think one of my neighbours has ‘a numerical anomaly in his altruism matrix.’ Thank you.
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A thought-provoking sci-fi with a well-paced reveal. Open to interpretation, but I think Hugh’s comment nailed it.
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Ah, very nice! Well told & a cool riff on that old Bible story, updated and refashioned. Great stuff!