The Snake’s Song
by Mary E. Lowd
The snake sang.
The snake sang and mice knew better than to listen.
Mice and rats and songbirds and frogs — none of them listened to snakes. Songbirds and frogs sang their own songs; mice and rats told stories. None of them listened to snakes.
And neither did squirrels.
But one day, a gray squirrel named Witch-Hazel stopped to listen to a soft hissing carried on the wind, a susurrus coming from a tunnel, hidden beneath a bush. With melancholy sighs and mesmerizing murmurs, the hissing voice sang a song of days gone by, days long ago when the earth and sky and underground were bound together with a river that flowed in endless, looping circles; tree branches embraced the heavens, and tree roots held the depths in their woody arms; and all the creatures of Earth could make a pilgrimage into the sky to meet the All-Being who had created every animal.
“What happened?” Witch-Hazel chittered, her voice small and filled with wonder. She had never heard any story or song like this one before. Squirrel stories were about storing nuts for the winter, finding buried treasure that you’d forgotten, and squabbles over who got to live in the best branches. They were small. This song was the size of the entire world.
From the darkness under the leafy boughs of the bush, the whispering song answered: “The world cracked.”
Witch-Hazel chittered in alarm, as if the world were cracking now beneath her fuzzy feet. Her bushy tail quivered, and she felt the need to dart up a tree and hide in the highest branch. But she didn’t follow her instinct. The story had her hypnotized, and she barely flinched when she saw the twin pools of gold resolve in the dark of the bush.
Snake eyes. Staring at her. Unblinking.
“The world cracked, and we are all shattered fragments, a poor broken reflection of the All-Being who created us.”
“Tell me about the All-Being,” Witch-Hazel asked breathlessly.
“The All-Being is why birds can fly, fish breathe water, beavers are builders, and bees can turn pollen into honey. Each of them reflects the glory of the All-Being.”
Witch-Hazel wondered how she reflected the All-Being’s glory. “How about squirrels?” she asked.
The golden pools withdrew, deeper into the leafy darkness of the bush, and the hissing voice drew in a sharp breath. “Squirrels can find lost treasure.”
Witch-Hazel was disappointed. She remembered with shame the shining trove of chestnuts she’d buried last autumn. She’d searched for them all winter, digging under every tree root that bumped out of the ground just-so, but none of them had been the right root on the right tree. Her sisters and brothers had shared their troves with her, keeping her fed through the bitter cold months.
Witch-Hazel was not good at finding things.
“I’m a poor reflection of the All-Being then,” Witch-Hazel said, grabbing her bushy tail and grooming it for comfort.
“Maybe you’re not good at finding things that don’t matter,” the voice hissed.
When a creature of the treetops listens to the song of a snake, she finds herself drawn into an adventure deep under the earth.
Witch-Hazel was never good at being a squirrel. She could never find her lost stashes of acorns, but maybe she can prove herself by finding a treasure that matters much more — the lost Celestial Fragments of the All-Being. Witch-Hazel’s quest takes her through labyrinths, lost mole cities, and underground kingdoms. She faces riddles from a leontaur, an army of ghost moles, and sorcerer crabs, but she also makes unexpected friends.
Can Witch-Hazel find the Celestial Fragments and make it back to the sunlight world above? If she survives, will she be the same squirrel who began her journey, or has she been forever changed by the snake’s song
About the author:
Mary E. Lowd lives in Oregon with her husband, daughter, son, a bevy of cats and dogs, the occasional fish, and a neighborhood full of squirrels. She spends the majority of her time pretending animals can talk and writing stories about them. The animals, stories, and Mary reside in a crashed spaceship disguised as a house, hidden inside a fairy’s garden.
More than one hundred of Mary’s short stories have been published, and The Snake’s Song is her fifth novel. Her previous novels include the Otters In Space trilogy and its spinoff In a Dog’s World. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards. She also edits the annual anthology series, ROAR, for FurPlanet. For more information, visit www.marylowd.com.