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BOOK REVIEW – AMBROSE BIERCE – THE MAN AND THE SNAKE

 

A clever little horror story. Harker Brayston is a scientifically minded layabout, who finds himself confronted by a snake that he discovers under his bed in a San Francisco apartment. There seems to be a perfectly good natural explanation for this, in that Brayston is an occupant and lodger at a house that also contains a reptile house run by a zoology professor friend of his. The Professor’s snakes have a habit of escaping from the laboratories.

 

Brayston knows little about snakes, so he has no way of telling if the snake under the bed is harmless, poisonous or a constrictor. He wisely decides to leave the bedroom to escape from its glowing baleful eyes.  At first he is too scared to move, but he eventually steels himself to do so, and makes a few faltering steps towards the door leading out of the bedroom, never taking his eyes off the staring serpent.

 

Brayston stumbles into some bedroom furniture and falls over. He lies almost paralysed, expecting the snake to lunge at him, but instead it seems to hypnotise him and Brayston moves towards the snake, feet first. As he gets near to its jaws he screams.

 

The story cuts to the Professor as he hears the terrible scream.  He has just been telling his wife about his latest specimen, a snake that eats other snakes. He rushes upstairs to give aid to Brayston.

 

Readers will now expect this to end with Brayston being swallowed by some kind of python. In fact, the Professor finds that Brayston has died of fright. The snake under the bed is just a harmless children’s stuffed toy.

 

A clever ghost story with a neat twist and no explanation. Well written and memorable. The tension of Brayston’s efforts to escape is very well handled.

 

Arthur Chappell

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