“It’s simple, really,” said Snake, “and actually a little embarrassing. I went to get my tongue pierced but the guy with the needle slipped.”
I smiled. “Very funny, Snake,” said Blackbird.
“They didn’t have tongue piercings at the beginning of Creation,” said Owl. “And even if they did — ”
Owl’s objection was cut off by the snap of a twig, announcing Grizzly Bear’s clumsy approach. “Hey, everybody. What’s goin’ on?”
Squirrel gestured towards Snake, who lay curled in the sun on a slab of shale. “We were trading stories,” said Squirrel. “Blackbird told us how he got the Shine in his eyes, and Chimpanzee told us how he got the Wisdom in his mind. Then we asked Snake how he got the Fork in his tongue, but he’s doing the usual and won’t tell us anything real.”
“And as I was saying,” said Owl. “Even if there were tongue piercings in the Garden before Adam and Eve were exiled — ”
“Snake,” I said.
Owl fell silent and everyone looked at me.
“Snake,” I repeated. “Would it kill you to give us a straight answer for once?”
Snake curled into himself. He’s been afraid of offending me ever since the other animals decided that my mate and I were the new rulers of Eden. I can’t blame him for being over-anxious, though. The last time Snake messed with a ruler of Eden, God took away his legs. “Sorry, Chimpanzee.”
“It’s okay. I just want to hear your story.”
“All right. Sure.”
We settled down to listen.
“You all know the big story about me,” began Snake. “The one about how I tempted Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and how she convinced Adam to eat it too, and how they got exiled from the Garden. But there’s more to the story than what you’ve heard. Namely, the tempting wasn’t my idea.
“It was God’s.”
Owl twisted his head in interest.
I opened my mouth to say something, but Snake pushed on. “And I’m not saying that God created me and is therefore responsible in some sort of reductionist way. I’m saying that one time He actually came up to me and said, ‘Snake, I have a task for you of great importance.’
“‘What is it, God?’ I asked.
“‘I must ascertain whether the Man and Woman I have made are strong and pure of heart. To test their virtue, I want you to tempt them with fruit of the Forbidden Tree.’
“‘Oh, Sir,’ I said, ‘I can’t do that. It’s wrong.’
“‘Indeed,’ said God. ‘I know that you, at least, are strong and pure of heart, which is why such a task is impossible for you in your current state.’
“‘My current state?’ I asked.
“‘For this task, o my servant, I shall give you the gift of two tongues: in one I shall place your purity and virtue, and the other I shall fill with darkness and deceit. It is the words from this second, evil tongue that will tempt Man and Woman with the fruit.’
“‘I’m afraid, Sir,’ I said.
“‘Do not fear, little one. The evil shall stay in your tongue and shan’t taint your spirit, for you are too pure.’
“And that was that. God gave me the second tongue and told me to hang out in the Tree, so I did. And as soon as I saw Eve in earshot, I tried it out.
“You all remember the aftermath. How pissed God was when He realized that Adam and Eve weren’t as pure as He’d intended to make them. And how instead of doing the sensible thing and just starting over, He took it out on them, and He took it out on me.”
Grizzly Bear nervously shuffled his feet in the fallen leaves, but Snake kept going. “I still can’t believe that He’d doom His favorite creation to thousands of years of Hell, just because He couldn’t admit that the second tongue He gave me was more effective than He’d hoped–but forget about that.” Snake reared up. “You know what’s really disturbing? Humans have known for a while how to physically split their tongues. One of these days, they’re going to figure out how to funnel their virtue into one and their evil into the other. And then?”
Snake laid his head back down. His voice softened. “Humankind’s true nightmare will begin. I only fib for fun with my second tongue, but then again, God said I was strong and pure of heart.
We all stared at Snake. Squirrel stood with his tail in a nervous question mark, Grizzly Bear cautiously sniffed the air, and Owl’s soulful eyes grew even larger.
Finally Blackbird laughed.
“Snake!” he said. “Snake, I’ve gotta hand it to you–that was marvelous! As much as I rip on you for never telling us like it is, man, that was a good one!”
The others stared at each other, bewildered, then joined in the laugher. “I can’t believe I was believing it!” “Did you hear the way he did God? Priceless!” “He had me going, man, he had me going!”
I grinned and glanced at Snake to compliment him, but he wasn’t looking at anyone. His expression was dull and resigned, as if he felt overheated from basking on that rock.
Our eyes finally met. Snake gave me a thin smile, but there was no humor behind it. Was he afraid he’d offended me?
I turned my head to the east. I remembered the angel that God had sent to the gate of Eden, on guard now for all eternity, forbidding humans access to this paradise. I recalled the angel saying, as she had said to every human who had ever begged entrance over the past 6,000 years, ‘You shall not pass, for you have shown yourself unworthy in the eyes of God.’
I suddenly wondered how many tongues Angels have.
KJ Kabza‘s flash fiction has appeared in print and throughout the web, in Flash Fiction Online, 580 Split, Brain Harvest, Every Day Fiction, and others. To read more of it (and other, longer work), he encourages you to visit www.kjkabza.com.