We were traveling from one end of the country to the other.
It was first light in a town I’d never been in, Santa Fe. I was walking the dog near downtown after walking the brick trail down from the Cross of the Martyrs. I saw no one on the narrow streets. It was like the town was deserted except for me and my dog.
I came to an alley and a tall, thin man with graying long hair and a scraggly beard stepped out and said, “There’s a snake in that tree. Do you see the snake?”
He pointed at the tangled branches of a tree planted in a little square of dirt with cement all around it.
“Ferdinand,” an old woman called. She had long white hair and was sitting on a green, wood chair about ten feet down the alley next to a blue door.
“I think there’s a snake,” he said, looking up at the tree and walking a few steps closer to me so that he was only about three feet away. He pointed. “Right there on that branch. Can you see it?”
He squinted like someone trying to compensate for bad eyesight.
The woman was rocking in the green kitchen chair. She called his name again.
I looked up at the tree. I kept my eye on the man when I looked.
“Ferdinand, no,” the old woman moaned.
She was still rocking. She was very old. Her face was the color of the adobe restaurant behind the tree. Her face was a map of deep, elegant lines. “Por favor, Ferdinand, Ferdinand, Ferdinand.”
He pulled out a knife. It had a black handle. He unfolded the six-inch blade.
“Do you see it?” he said to me, stepping even closer. “Do you see the snake?”
My dog, Gandalf, growled.
“Everything is okay,” I told Gandalf.
“No,” the man said, looking only at me. “It’s not.”
“There’s no snake,” I said. “It’s just a branch.”
He looked up at the tree again. He tilted his head left and then right.
“Are you sure?” he said.
“Ferdinand,” the old woman pleaded.
“She worries about me,” he said and closed his knife and walked back down the alley.
All I know is there was no snake in that tree.
Brian Yansky is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and sometimes literary fiction.