Jenny Pox Excerpt

Read a bonus excerpt from Jenny Pox by J. L. Bryan – available now!

Jenny sat in the red dirt and played with a plastic dinosaur.  She liked the front yard, with all its mysteries--the high clumps of weeds, the big fallen-over tree trunk shaggy with scrub growth, the shiny bottles and cans Daddy left everywhere.  She liked all the funny pieces of machinery and broken furniture around the shed.  People brought things to Daddy’s shed, and he fixed them, sometimes.  Daddy was a Handy Man, except when he was Drinking.

Jenny heard a funny, shaking noise, like one of the old rattle toys in her room.  It was from somewhere near the fallen tree.  Maybe on the other side of it.

She crawled on the sandy, oil-stained dirt, through high weeds.  She startled a chipmunk near her knee and he skittered away from her.  She giggled at the funny little striped creature.

The rattle sounded again and she crawled to the tree.  She turned and crawled along its length, stopping every foot or so to poke her fingers into the weeds and ivy that had grown over the fallen tree’s bark.  She pulled aside stringy plants to peer into dark places under the tree, and she squinted her eyes to peer into knotholes. 

She found the place where a narrow, weed-choked gully had washed out underneath the trunk, creating a kind of dark cave underneath.  She leaned her face in close, cupping her hands around her eyes to try and shield out the sun.  She couldn’t see anything, but she heard the rattle again, longer and louder this time, from the darkness right in front of her nose.  It was in there somewhere.

She reached her hand deep into the gully, pushing and tearing through thick weeds.  The rattling grew louder.  She touched something cool and muscular.  It pulled away from her fingers, and now the rattle went crazy.  She her arm all the way into the narrow gully, up to her shoulder.  Her fingers brushed the mysterious muscular thing again, and again it pulled back.  She pawed around in the dirt.  She could hear it rattling, but she couldn’t find it again.

She wondered if it had moved all the way to the other side of the tree.  Maybe she could find it over there.  Jenny drew her hand out of the gully.  She scrabbled up onto the trunk, which was nearly as high as she was, clawing her way to the top with her fingernails and toenails.  She leaned out over the other side of the tree, looking among the weeds and brown bottles, her bare feet dangling in the air behind her.

She tilted forward until her head was almost upside down, her thick black hair hanging down like streamers.  She watched it emerge from the gully.  Triangular head, black eyes.  Its head looked like her dinosaur toy.  Its body looked like a living piece of rope, unspooling from underneath the trunk to slither off through high weeds and towards the woods, where Jenny wasn’t allowed to go.  Its long body kept coming out and out, and Jenny snickered.  The creature was just so long, it was almost silly.

Its skin was olive, with pretty black diamonds all over its back.  Jenny reached down and ran her fingers along it as it passed.  It writhed at her touch and gave another long rattle.  She wrapped her fingers around its body and picked it up to play with it, thinking it would be a good friend for her dinosaur.  And she liked that rattley sound, it was like whispering, like telling secrets.

Its head arched up and twisted around to face her.  It opened his jaw and hissed, revealing huge fangs. 

Jenny shrieked and tumbled backward off the fallen tree.  One hand tightened its grip on the ropey creature, while her other hand grabbed uselessly at the air for something to stop her fall.

She landed hard on the dirt, flat on her back, dragging the long creature over the tree with her, and its long body landed across her stomach.  It was thrashing hard and rattling faster, and she could see the rattle now, a fat cone of shell-like rings at the tail end.

She lifted the creature’s long belly off her with both hands.  The fanged head raised up, dripping fluid from its teeth, and then swooped towards her bare, dirt-crusted left foot.  She cried out as the head struck her ankle.

But it didn’t bite her.  Instead, its head slid off her leg and into the dirt, and Jenny held her breath and watched it, keeping herself very still.  The creature didn’t move again.

Along the segment of the snake’s body that drooped between her hands, its scaly skin had busted open all over and dark blood seeped out.  The blistering infection spread out along its skin in both directions from her hands, towards its head and towards its tail.  All her fingers felt sticky and gross.

Jenny dropped the snake in the dirt and crawled over to the tail end.  She tapped the rattle, but the snake didn’t react.  She picked up the rattle end and shook it, and it made the funny sound.  She giggled.

Excited now, her fright already fading, Jenny jumped to her feet and ran toward the front porch, dragging the long dead snake behind her.  She stopped at the porch steps and shook the rattle again.

“Daddy!” she called, not sure if he were awake yet. “Daddy daddy!”

Daddy didn’t answer.  She went up the three steps and through the open front door.

Daddy was snoring on the couch, in front of a heap of shiny silver cans and an overflowing ashtray on the coffee table.  Jenny grabbed his arm—careful to touch only the sleeve, not the skin—and shook him.

“Daddy!  Toy!” she screamed at his heavily stubbled, drooling face.  She shook the rattle at him. “Daddy!”

“Wha…?” His eyes eased open, bleary and unfocused.

“Toy!” Jenny gave the rattle a good, hard shake to really make her point.

Now Daddy’s eyes snapped open wide and she could see all the little red veins in them.  He smacked Jenny’s hand, hard, slapping the snake rattle out of it.  The snake tail flopped to the floor while he snatched Jenny up onto the couch, putting her behind himself and away from the new toy.  The shock of the slap wore off and bright red pain flared up to replace it, and Jenny started crying.

Daddy looked along the length of the snake.  Its head lay just inside the front door.

“Did you kill it, Jenny?” he asked.  This only made her cry harder.  She’d thought the snake was more of a toy than a live animal.

Daddy chucked an empty beer can at the snake.  The can struck the creature’s body, then rolled across the floor and stopped against the far baseboard, where it would remain for several months.  The snake didn’t respond to this insult.

“Stay here!” Daddy said.  He stepped over the snake’s body and crossed to the fireplace, where he fiddled with the rack of fireplace tools.  Jenny saw his right hand, the one that had slapped the rattle from her.  He had only touched her for a second, but that was enough to give him bleeding blisters all over his palm.

He took the fireplace shovel, walked to the snake’s head, and stabbed down through its neck.  The shovel bit into the hardwood floor.  He scraped the snake’s head forward, separating it from its body.  Dark blood leaked onto the dusty floorboards.

Jenny drew her knees to her chest and kept sobbing.  She felt guilty.  She’d made Daddy mad.  And she felt bad for the snake.  She shouldn’t have touched it.

Daddy scraped up the snake’s head onto the shovel and carried it outside.  Then he came back for the body.

He looked at Jenny and sighed.  He looked tired, and a little pale and sick.  Jenny couldn’t stop crying.

“Gonna be okay, baby,” he said.  He ran to the went to the kitchen and washed his hands, and poured some of the icky brown stuff for scrapes onto his open sores, the sores he’d gotten from touching Jenny.  He sighed in relief.  “You just stay where you’re at and don’t go nowhere.  Stay!”

He went into the back of the house, where the bedrooms were, and returned wearing a long-sleeve orange Clemson shirt and cloth gardening gloves.  He shook out his red cloth mask and slid it down over his head.  It had only two tiny holes for eyes, and one tiny hole over his mouth.  It was his Cuddle Mask.

He helped Jenny put on her own fuzzy pink cotton gloves.  Then he shook out her little yellow Cuddle Mask and slid it slowly down over her head, taking care not to tangle or pull her hair.  He straightened the mouth hole so Jenny could breathe, and then the eyes holes so Jenny could see.

Now he could pick her up and set her in his lap.  He wrapped his arms around her and she buried her face in his shirt, listening to his heartbeat, smelling his stale sweat.  Her sobbing finally began to subside.

“See, Jenny?” He rubbed the back of her head, through his glove, through her mask. “It’s okay now.  That was a diamondback rattler, a big one.  You got to stay away from snakes, especially the rattling kind.  Okay?  They’re poisonous.”

“What’s poze-nuss?” Jenny asked into his chest.

“When something bites you and it makes you sick.  Some things are poisonous if you just get too close to them.  Like poison oak.”

Jenny lifted one small, fuzzy-pink-gloved hand and looked at her fingers.

“I’m poze-nuss,” she said.

He took a long, deep breath.  He kissed the mouth hole of his mask against the crown of her mask.

“You ain’t poisonous to me, Jenny.”

“Yes I am!  I’m poze-nuss all over!”

“You just got to stay careful.”

“Never touch people,” Jenny whispered quickly, like a student who’d learned by rote.

“Not with bare skin,” he said. “And never, ever play with snakes!”
“Never play with snakes,” Jenny repeated, adding this one to her catalog of “Nevers.”  Like: Never touch people.  Never talk to anybody but Daddy.

Daddy lifted her from his lap and set her down beside him on the couch.  He picked an open beer can from the table and shook it next to his ear.  A little liquid sloshed inside, so he drank it down.  Then he lit one of his Winstons.

“I wish your momma was still alive,” he said. “I don’t know what the hell to do with you.  Little snake-killer.”

About J. L. Bryan

J.L. Bryan studied English literature at the University of Georgia and at Oxford, with an emphasis on Renaissance and Romantic period literature, and screenwriting at UCLA.  Between 1/15/2011 and 3/15/2011, you can win a Kindle, the Haunted Library, and other prizes through his Haunted E-book Blog Tour for the release of his fifth novel, The Haunted E-book.  Also watch for his new short story collection, Dark Tomorrows, featuring bonus stories by Amanda Hocking.  Learn more at