Wider and wider the snake’s mouth opened, until a slimy red sphere bearing the numeral seven began to emerge from its oesophagus. Battle neared; wings rustled, claws stomped; Victor breathed curses. With a heave, the python expelled the seven ball from its gaping mouth. Its head flopped as the giant, glistening cherry slid onto the floor and rolled. A violent screech and the magpie launched itself at Victor, who was now almost dislocating his knee reaching back for something—anything—with which to defend himself. The seven ball rolled over the tiles—over the threshold—and stopped just inside the hall. The magpie flew like a spear at Victor’s chest; he yelled and braced himself for imminent impaling. He shut his eyes. A rifle crack boomed, and what seemed like a bucket load of jelly instantly plastered his face and upper body. Victor opened his eyes and saw the final magpie had exploded into a blast of superglue.
The thick, fast-setting gel covered his mouth and nose, and had riveted his hands—one to the floor and the other to the side of the pool table. He shook himself tried to yank his arms free, but he was stuck, in a warped, half-horizontal sort of crucifix position. And he was suffocating. It all had the appearance of a sexual bondage experiment gone horribly wrong. Precious seconds passed and Victor was not an inch closer to escape. His eyes bulged from their sockets as he made his final desperate (and futile) surge at freedom.
A golden light, brilliant yet gentle, washed over his eyes. His body became suddenly weightless, and he sucked a long breath of sea air into his lungs. He floated down, onto soft, cool grass rushing beneath his bare feet. An inspiring wind blew against his face as the hooves of dozen galloping horses thundered up behind him: it seemed he was running a horse race on foot, and winning. Suddenly he lifted from the ground and found himself upon the corrugated tin roof of a house. Rain poured down, drumming a soothing beat and bringing a sweet smell. He tilted his head back and opened his mouth, letting the raindrops fall upon his tongue. The rain was lime cordial. A humming kaleidoscope of a million brightly coloured damselflies swirled past; the air warmed to the smooth clarinet of “Strangers on the Shore”; an enormous, living cinnamon doughnut rolled up and embraced him. Everything became as dark as night, and Victor’s skin sparkled like a star. This magical show was condensed into an instant, and in an instant it was over.
Victor awakened in the pool room. It looked old, decorated with dust and cobwebs. The felt on the pool table was worn, the floor tiles were dull. But the room was no longer cursed. There was no sign of superglue or snakes or magpies; the branches had disappeared from the ceiling. The electric light above the table was out; candles burned in each corner of the room. Victor felt his face, his arms, his leg—everywhere the glue had been. He was as clean as a leper who had met Jesus. The bird droppings were even gone from his hair. Victor laughed long and loud, and danced around the pool table. Finally, he breathed a long sigh and clapped his hands together.
“All right,” he said, taking a satisfied look around. “That’s another room cleared. On to the next one.” He walked to the open door (picking up a blue lollipop from the floor along the way) but then stopped. “Hmm. Worth a try.” He went to the bar and unscrewed the cap off a bottle of tequila. He lifted the bottle to his nose. “Smells all right.” He put it to his lips and tilted it up. “Whoa. No curse there,” he wheezed, and wiped his watery eyes. He screwed the cap back on and took the bottle with him out of the room.
© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED