Jake woke up when it was still dark out. Something in his room was hissing softly. It was like a snake or maybe a bomb, but he couldn’t see it. “Mom!” he yelled. He waited for her, trying to hold perfectly still. He wasn’t sure if the smooth weight on his leg was blankets or a snake. Surely he could feel it moving? He whimpered.
His mom shuffled in and turned on the light. “What’s wrong?”
“I heard something hissing. I think it was a snake!” Jake threw back the covers. There was nothing there. He looked under his bed. He couldn’t see anything unusual. He couldn’t hear anything either.
He looked up again. His mother didn’t look happy. “I have work in the morning Jake. I’ll leave the hall light on. Don’t call me unless you actually see a snake.”
Just as Jake was finally falling asleep again, he heard a tapping sound, like footsteps. Was there someone in the living room? He hadn’t heard Mom passing his room. He grabbed his baseball bat and crept down the hall. He slowly peeked around the corner. Nothing was there. He waited a moment, but didn’t hear anything else.
He went back to bed, but woke again thinking the roof was leaking. And again when he thought he heard someone clear their throat right beside his ear. And when he heard something growl from his closet. And someone crying in the kitchen. And something tapping on the window.
Jake spent all day at school sleeping with his head on his desk. He stayed in at recess and didn’t throw grass in anyone’s hair or smear mud on their shoes. He didn’t claim the jungle gym and chase everyone away or laugh at people’s haircuts. He didn’t even have the energy to sit on the new kid. It was a pretty rotten day. The teacher sent him home with a note and said she’d call and leave a message.
Jake put the note in his collection under the bed. Mom had about a thousand voice mails to listen to and she never had time, so she never did. Jake didn’t mind at all. He ate bunch of cookies and watched cartoons until mom got home. “How was your day?” she asked.
“I was tired today,” Jake said.
“Me too. I kept hearing you get up last night. Stay in bed tonight, even if you can’t sleep, okay?” His mom said.
“Alright,” Jake said.
There was hissing and laughing and growling and moaning that night. Creaking footsteps and tapping on the windows and walls. Sobbing and whispering right by his ear if he nodded off. He couldn’t sleep a wink. He pulled the covers over his head, curled in a ball, and waited for morning.
At school, he laid his head on his desk and refused to move. Not even for lunch. He didn’t tie anyone’s shoelaces together or throw away their homework when they weren’t looking. He didn’t spill glue in their pencil boxes or even trip anyone when they walked by. When the teacher tried to send him to the nurse’s office, he said, “no thank you,” without even looking up. The teacher sent home another note.
At bedtime, Jake didn’t turn his light out. He sat up on his bed and felt a little bit crazy and reckless. When the hissing started, Jake stood up and faced his closet, where the sound was coming from. “What do you want?” he asked. “Whatever you are, tell me what you want. Please.” Jake rarely said please.
“I was paid to get back at you,” a raspy voice said. “My great-great-great-great grandchild is not happy with you.”
“How much are they paying you? I’ve got some money! I’ll pay more,” Jake said.
“I don’t need money. I’m being paid with tickets to the opera. I like having my own seat so that no one tries to sit through me,” The voice said.
“I could buy tickets,” Jake said.
“Nope,” the voice said.
“What if I promise to leave your great-great grandchild alone?” Jake asked.
“That’s great-great-great-great grandchild, and I don’t think that’s enough,” the voice said. The hissing began again.
“I’ll leave everybody alone! I promise!” Jake yelled.
“Fine,” the raspy voice said. “But if you don’t, I’ll know and I’ll be back. I can wait forever, you know.”
Jake suffered a few sleepless nights in the months to come, but he eventually became a fine, upstanding citizen. With an irrepressible fear of snakes and opera.