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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #10 of 12

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In the Year of the Snake, Jin-Hua was bitten by a tiny green viper with black pinprick eyes and sharp needle teeth. It bit her in the hand as she bent to pick a flower from her garden, so she grabbed the little snake instead.

"You must release me," the snake hissed at her, "for my brothers and sisters are many, and quick to anger. They will avenge my death with poison and fangs, and ferry all those you love into a land of living nightmare from which there is no escape."

"That's quite enough of that talk," Jin-Hua said, and shoved the little snake into her thick leather pouch.

A week later, Jin-Hua opened her pouch and fed the snake the head of a mouse. It said, "Even now, my brothers and sisters are leaving their nests and holes, their shadows and their dark places. They are winding their way over mountains and across seas. They will find you and those you love and you will all be plunged into the insanity of never-ending pain."

"Right," Jin-Hua said. She closed the pouch, but not before the little viper grabbed the mouse head and swallowed it.

It continued like this for almost two months. Jin-Hua opened the pouch to feed the snake, and it hissed a vile curse involving her, her loved ones, and immense torture and discomfort.

One morning, Jin-Hua looked out into her small yard, and it seemed as if the very grass itself were moving. The snakes had arrived. Jin-Hua went outside to greet them.

Thousands of snakes surrounded her house in a great green mass. One slithered forward and spoke.

"You. Human. You have one of ours," it said, with its whispering tongue and pinprick eyes.

"I have your runaway prince," Jin-Hua said. "He has dined on the finest mouse heads and been kept warm and safe, despite his vile and unprovoked attack on my person."

"Lies, all lies!" hissed the viper in her pouch.

"They are not lies," the leader of the snakes said. "We had been looking for you for years until your captivity led us here."

And so Jin-Hua gained the respect of all the snakes in the world save one, and was immune from poison her whole life long.

Jenn Reese photo

Jenn Reese has published stories in cool places like Polyphony 4, Flytrap, Strange Horizons, and various anthologies. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she practices martial arts, plays strategy games, and laments the loss of Buffy. You can follow her adventures at her website. To contact her, send her email at Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.
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