An essay by Professor Chester Willis, as provided by Calvin Demmer
Art by Shannon Legler
How does one ask forgiveness for potentially killing the entire human race? That is a question I have pondered all morning. Would you believe me if I said it all started because of a simple request from Clara, my blue-eyed niece? The internal question lost its appeal for an answer by lunch. Still I feel the need to write something down, maybe just as catharsis for me, maybe just to stave off boredom, as I do not intend for anyone to read my scribbles.
Two years ago, summer decided to leave early one day, but not without taking things that did not belong to it. One of these things was my nephew, Timothy. He’d been playing catch by himself under the retreating rays of sunlight when a snake appeared from out one of the bushes in his yard. Being young and innocent, he approached the creature, only for it to strike.
Timothy’s parents found him under an hour later, inert, pale, no heartbeat, no breathing. By the time he’d arrived at the local hospital, Timothy had passed away.
At his funeral, I wandered away from the proceedings to collect my thoughts, only to feel a small hand grip my own.
“Uncle Chester, where are you going?” Clara, Timothy’s sister, asked.
“I’m just taking a moment,” I said.
Clara smiled. It was not a smile of joy, but rather one of understanding, but before I could sketch the image in my mind, it was gone.
“Everything will be okay,” I said, knowing the words were not true, nothing could bring her brother back, but I felt like I needed to say something, and it was all an aging mind could find.
“Uncle Chester, may I ask you to do something?”
“Sure, anything,” I said.
Clara smiled as before. “Kill all the snakes, for me?”
Clara’s request was not one of fantasy. Though most will know me as a boring biology professor, I have made money on the side with some other products–mostly illegal poisons I have concocted in my basement to help farmers protect their crops from insects.
Clara, who knew me well, and who was also one wise beyond her years, knew I’d begun experimenting to target certain insects. I didn’t want to harm any insect or other creature that stumbled upon the field in innocent curiosity, so through many sleepless nights of research, I began to prepare poisons that targeted certain species.
I’d been successful, but for fear of attack from the wider population, I kept the knowledge to myself and a few trustworthy family members, Clara being one of them. It was always a humorous experience when farmers would walk me through their crops complaining that not all the bugs were dead.
“But are the harmful ones dead?” I would always ask.
Most would just nod.
So you see, Clara’s request was one that was quite doable. Sure, it would take some time. But I believed it was possible. I could kill every snake on the face of the planet for her.
“Yes,” I said. “I will kill all the snakes.”
“When will the poison be ready?” Clara said.
“By my birthday?”
I looked at Clara, her blue eyes haunting in the dim light escaping the midday clouds. “Yes, Clara. I will have it ready by your birthday.”
Fortunately, Clara’s birthday was eight months away, as I needed every free moment to work on the task. But once started, I do not know an end until I’ve succeeded.
Two weeks before Clara’s birthday, the poison was ready. I made a note to see her the very next weekend. The day before I left, I received the phone call that stole the final meaningful beats of an ancient heart. Clara and her parents had been involved in a motor accident; her parents, my brother and sister-in-law, were dead. I would soon find out a drunk driver had in fact smashed into them.
I went to go see her in hospital. I shuddered when I saw all the tubes attached to such a small body. They told me she was in a coma, and that they didn’t know if she’d ever awaken. If she did, they didn’t know if she’d ever be the same–spinal damage, possible brain damage–my world rocks on its axis at the recollection of words I heard that day.
Once I’d returned home, I drowned my sorrows, and went on with my routine existence. I stopped all experiments until one night when I realized what must be done. I began work on my most difficult challenge ever.
As I prepare for dinner, it is done. The last poison I would ever make, and enough supply of it hidden away to do the job. Writing these words has not soothed me, in fact it has brought me no satisfaction on any level, but it has delivered a frigid clarity. I also intend to hide these words beneath some old bills in one of my desk’s drawers.
If it is found, I don’t know who you are, reader, or how you came to possess that which is mine, but know this: your life hangs by a thread.
I shall travel once a week to check on Clara. I take two vials along in preparation for the day that she awakes, which I know will come, and that she will have the capacity for the next step: one question that I will ask her.
“The snakes or the humans?”
Professor Chester Willis was a biology professor until he resigned after the death of his brother and sister-in-law in a tragic car accident. Not much is known of his actions or whereabouts since, but it is believed he moved to the state of Nevada to be closer to his niece, who survived the aforementioned car accident but remains in a coma.
Calvin Demmer is a crime, mystery, and speculative fiction author. When not writing, he is intrigued by that which goes bump in the night and the sciences of our universe. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Sanitarium Magazine, Morpheus Tales, and Mystery Weekly Magazine.
Shannon’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://shannonlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“The Snakes or the Humans?” is © 2017 Calvin Demmer
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Shannon Legler