“I saw it. I swear by God that I saw Death when I was twelve. Mother showed me how.”

The man at the lunch counter was tall, with long white hair and patches of stubble on his hawk-like face. Curt noticed that he had terrible teeth; some were crooked, while others looked straight up rotten. The man’s attire was equally ratty, with a soiled gray sweatshirt, paint-stained jeans, and white tennis shoes that had turned a gross mustard color.

Curt Stammen wasn’t dressed much better himself. He had not showered in several days, and the free T-shirt he wore was close to crumbling off of his starved shoulders. Curt might have been more fashion conscious if he wasn’t a bum. But a bum he was, and one with a pill problem too.

Curt had crossed the state line and made his way to Cheat Lake with a pocketful of stolen twenties. He spent the first two on Mountain Dew, several candy bars, and a bag of pepperoni rolls from GetGo. He was spending the ones he had left on poached eggs, toast, home fries, and sausage at the tiny diner when he heard the man talk about Death.

“I could show you Death if you want,” the man said.

The man seated next to him looked every bit the Appalachian stereotype. He wore a faded trucker’s hat, a flannel shirt, light-colored jeans, and leather working boots. He shook his head and mumbled something before paying for his meal and leaving. The strange man was left alone. He tried to grab the attention of the mentally handicapped boy who cleaned the diner, but the boy ignored him as he went to the restroom.

Curt saddled up next to the man at the lunch counter.

“What does Death look like, friend?”

“Death? Death looks like an old crone dressed all in white. She rides a white horse too. Even her hair is white, just like mine.”

The man smiled and pulled his hair forward so that Curt could see what he meant. Curt nodded and smirked. For some odd reason, he thought about pulling on the man’s hair. He kept his hands to himself.

“How does one see Death?”

“Why die, naturally.”

Curt almost choked on the last bit of coffee left over in the departed hillbilly’s mug. He thought the strange man would appreciate his laugh, but the dude looked at him dumbfounded.

The man is a moron, Curt thought to himself.

The reality appealed to him. He decided to pursue it.

“Yeah, but you’re alive and you’ve seen Death. I want the same.”

“So you are a seeker, eh? Think you got the vision?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“You do not sound too convinced to me, but there are ways to learn yet.”

The strange man stood up and motioned for Curt to follow him. Neither looked back at the register, where the fat woman made a half-hearted gesture to chase after them for their unpaid bills.

“You can follow me in your ve-hicle,” the man said, placing an emphasis on the second and third syllables.

“Don’t have one. Mind if I ride with you?”

“Not a problem. Not a problem at all.”

Curt followed the man to his beat-up pickup truck. It was painted two different colors: cherry red and primer gray. The entire back and both doors had been replaced at one point by a novice mechanic. The thing looked like it would fall apart at the first pothole. The man noticed Curt’s unease.

“Don’t worry. She runs fine. Handles even better than that.”

“Oh, I’m not worried.”

Curt really wasn’t all that worried either. He was more excited than anything. Like the leech that he was, Curt was excited to see unprotected and wide-open blood. His plan was to attack the weirdo, pilfer his pockets for any kind of pawn-able item or cash, and then make off with his truck. The only part of his plan that he still needed to work out was where he’d go once he cleared West Virginia. South Carolina? Florida? California? Somewhere warm where he could remain anonymous forever.

“I hope you are not the kind that gets car sick. The roads where we’re going are windy.”

“Sure. No problem.”

The strange man smiled.

“You don’t speak like a local, but you have a local’s stomach. Have got a local’s guts?”

“Last time I checked my guts, they worked fine. My morning constitutionals have never been painful, if that’s what you’re asking.”

The man bellowed with laughter. His rough-hewn hands pounded the steering wheel. He looked tickled pink by Curt’s little joke.

“You’re alright, my boy.”

The man navigated the truck through a series of country roads. At first, the view was picturesque. Curt watched a series of small houses and developments go by. He spied the occasional church and school too. Then, after 20 minutes, the scene changed. The road became more serpentine and the houses all but disappeared. The ones Curt could see were massive mansions surrounded by high hedges and gates. Dogs barked in the distance.

“You know what they call this road, my boy?”


“Snake Hill. Nobody knows for sure, but to my knowledge, there are two probable theories. The first is that the tight curves reminded folks of a slithering snake, so when the road was built, they named it accordingly. The other is a lot simpler.”

“How so?”

“They named it Snake Hill because the place is crawling with them. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, Eastern hognose. Snake hunters used to come from all parts to capture them out here.”

“What the hell for?”

“Skin them, eat them, or sell them for boots. Sounds to me like those are the only options when it comes to trapping those reptiles.”

The man leaned a little to the side and scratched his backside. He used his chest to push the steering wheel to the right as another turn came into view.

“We are not too long from our destination,” the man said in a faux British accent.

“And what’s our destination?”

“Snake Hill.”

“Aren’t we already on Snake Hill?”

“Yes, but there’s a central hill too. Actually more like a mountain.”

The rest of the trip was silent. The man kept negotiating the sharp turns, while Curt eyed everything around him in the truck in a hunt for valuables. When the truck stopped, the sun was starting to sink behind the green and orange hills. The smell of the wind was a mixture of dead leaves and a dozen bonfires. The man clearly loved it; Curt didn’t care one way or another.

The man parked the truck in a makeshift gravel parking lot. To the left of the truck was a narrow trail that led upwards towards what Curt assumed to be Snake Hill.

“Now comes the serious part, my boy. Follow me. Don’t deviate. Stick to the trail. It’s mighty steep.”

Curt initially stayed relatively far away from the man. That changed once darkness started setting in. When total blackness fell like a curtain, and Curt could not see anything, so he grabbed onto the man’s belt.

“Smart lad.”

The sounds of the night made Curt, a lifelong city boy, nervous. He tried to name the animals that he heard, but could only recognize the crickets. He imagined the others as monsters.

“Yes, those are what you think they are.”

“What’s that?”

“The noises you’re hearing. I can feel your jitteriness. You have a right to be scared. They’d eat you alive.”

“What would?”

“The snakes, my boy. We are surrounded by snakes.”

The news struck Curt like a thunderbolt. His nervousness turned to panic. His heart began making a fast staccato. His palms became greasy with perspiration. His breathing became a machine gun tattoo. He felt dizzy.

“Not much longer. Just hold on.”

“How can you be so sure that the snakes won’t get us up here?”

“Because this is holy ground, my boy.”

Before Curt could respond, the man began moving faster. The speed increased until the pair were running. Curt felt like he was being dragged by a maniac.

“One last hurdle and we’re there.”

Curt panted hard when they finally came to a stop. Rather than do the same, the man moved into a small clearing, kneeled down, and removed from one of his pockets a lighter. The flick of the flame erupted into a small fire. The orange illumination showed that the clearing also included a small shrine in the hollow center of a tree.

“This is where I worship her. This is where we’ll see Death.”

The man began digging into the shrine. He pulled out two candles, one black and one white. He lit both candles. He gave the black one to Curt.

“Now close your eyes and repeat after me. This is important. One mistake in the ritual and it could mess everything up.”


The man began droning on in a jabberwocky rhyme. None of the words made sense. As best as Curt could make out, he was invoking ancient pagan gods. Curt hummed along while his right hand fumbled in the pocket of his jeans. That’s where his pocket knife was. Curt stroked it twice before pulling it out. He used one hand to open the blade.

The man’s litany grew louder and louder. Curt made no attempt to match it. Instead, he slinked closer to the noise with his knife outstretched. The steel blade felt lighter than ever. And hungry.

“Scathach! Sister of Sebek. I pray for Momma Death! Give me Lytha…”

The words ended when Curt pushed the blade into the soft flesh between the man’s ribs. Curt repeated the motion until the blade’s point hit bone and broke off. At that point, Curt dropped the knife and began punching and kicking the man. He went wild. His furious fists missed completely several times, causing Curt to strike stones. The pain was tremendous and forced him to stop. He tried to make the pain go away by using his uninjured hand to press down on the bleeding wound. It didn’t work, so Curt suffered through the pain as he rifled through the dead man’s pockets.

Curt pocketed a watch, two rings, a fistful of change, and a wallet that only had $30. Still, Curt thought, the truck’s keys were worth it alone. He knew he could eventually find a dealer to supply him with a nice cache of Chinese or Mexican pills in exchange for one ratty pickup.

Curt tried to limp his way back to the truck, but did so in darkness so total that it was blinding. Curt tried to focus on keeping his footing, but his equilibrium was challenged by the rising animal noises all around him. The cacophony was matched by the strong smell of fire. After a few shambling steps, Curt reached out into the darkness and touched something warm and hairy. It was a pelt of some kind, and it was alive. His wounded hand felt the rise and fall of the creature’s breathing.

A deer?

A bear?

Whatever it was, Curt felt the animal move its large head and dip slightly. He felt a new wetness commingle with the pulsating blood of his extended hand. The creature’s tongue licked the blood twice until Curt screamed.

He began running as fast as he could into the night. He ran faster and faster. He tripped several times over unseen objects. Each time he fell he listened to the snakes move closer. One even slithered over his ankle. He realized that the snakes no longer respected the boundary between the trail and mountain. Their hissing tongues joined the unholy choir all around him.

After falling a third time, Curt stood up and tried to run again, but found that he could not move because of the shooting pain in his ankles. He reached down and found something sharp protruding from his lower leg.

A bone. His bone.

Curt screamed and screamed until his lungs gave out. He called for help; he called for anybody to save him. None came.

Then he could not scream anymore. It was as if a cold, dead hand reached into his mouth and slid down his tongue and throat and ripped his vocal chords in two. The fingers felt human, but they also felt like an army of snakes.

The primal fear in Curt was too much for his pill-riddled heart. He started convulsing. His body became a tremor of movement. The upper half began to shut down as his heart made it last few pumps. His lower half went in the opposite direction because the snakes began chewing and biting and tearing.

It took months for the sheriff’s department to find Curt’s body. All that was left was a few bones. The rest had been carted off or scattered by critters.

The other man was never found.