San Francisco Serpents

25 Oct

John Veliko found San Francisco symbolic of his own unconscious.

He arrived there at Union Station in the fall of 1947. His first experience was of a choking, opaque fog that slowed and stopped the downtown traffic. It was a shocking surprise for the young, newly licensed physician.

Locating a taxi stand, he made it to the apartment awaiting him near the Golden Gate Bridge. The partner with whom he would set up his own private practice was waiting at the building’s entrance, for Dr. George Hall planned to be his nearest neighbor as well.

“It’s terrible!” began the large, heavy native of the Paris of the West. “I have never seen any fog as solid or impenetrable, and that is the reason I stayed home and didn’t come downtown for you. Without a car of my own, how was I to make it easier for you to reach here?”

John gave a warm smile. “I got to the place, didn’t I? Why don’t we go in and look at my new digs, George?”

The latter unlocked the front door and led his partner in, taking him on a circular tour of the living room, kitchen, and bedroom similar to his own.

“What do you think of your flat?” asked Hall, sitting down on a short sofa. “What do you think of our beautiful city, too?”

The newcomer laughed. “I saw more of my apartment than San Francisco today. But it is my opinion that I will find it both welcoming and interesting here. Of that I am certain.”

His partner gave him a look of surprise and curiosity, saying nothing more about the other’s reaction to his new life in the port city.

As he accumulated patients during autumn and winter, John Veliko purchased an automobile and explored the metropolis. As junior partner, it was his responsibility to make the still necessary house calls when necessary.

One extremely cold and windy winter morning, a request was received for a visit to an invalid who lived on Russian Hill. He drove his 1940 red Chevrolet to Union St., finding a spot to park it with ease. Locating the right address, John rang the front bell of the house and, once he identified himself, was admitted by the owner, a fat, middle-aged man with a mostly bald head.

“You want to see Bill Busky,” said the stranger. “He’s upstairs, at the end of the hall.” The doctor climbed the narrow stairs and walked the hallway to the last door. There he knocked softly. “Come in,” called a hoarse voice from inside.

John entered a dark, dusty room containing an old brass bed where the patient lay. From his pale face it was evident that the man had lost much weight in recent days. The visitor moved to the side of the bed, putting the medical bag he carried on the floor. “How are you feeling today, Mr. Busky?” It was some time before the latter replied to the inquiry. “All night long I felt terrible pain. That is why I had the landlord call for medical aid. I have a deadly weight all over my insides. It’s crushing me.”

“I mean to examine you, sir. Let me take your pulse and your temperature.” These initial measurements took less than a minute.The physician then reported his results. “You have a fever and your heart is working on a very fast pace. Let me put my hand on your temple, Mr. Busky.”

As John did this, he took note of something that seemed odd to him. There were three tiny holes in the side of the man’s neck, forming a vertical line. “Have you suffered any sort of insect bite in recent days?” asked the physician. All at once, the patient quivered for a moment, as if feeling something cold and frosty. “I do not think so, sir,” mumbled Mr. Busky in a thick tone. “No, not at all.” John gave a broad smile. He wondered at the clear intent to deny what had surely been a horrendous experience for the invalid confined to a single room. “Do you ever walk outside this building?” A shadow fell onto the purplish eyes of the patient. “No, I am unable to do so,” murmured the one in bed. “I have become bedridden.”

Veliko stared at the invalid’s face with attention for a long period of time. Finally he presented a direct question. “Do you have friends who look in on you?” Bill turned his face away so that his gaze was not on the doctor. “My landlord prefers that not too many visits are made here. I am thankful that he is an experienced cook and sees to all my meals. Otherwise, only an old chum comes in and plays chess with me. I am a skillful player and win more often than he does.”

“No one else?” John continued. The sick man shook his head no. “I shall leave you some pills to help you rest. Can anyone fill a prescription for you and deliver it here?” “My friend, Jerry, will be glad to do that, I am certain,” said Busky. Dr. Veliko became silent, studying the face of the one in bed. Then he took his leave and departed, his mind concerned with what he had seen.

Why am I so worried about this fellow? he asked himself over and over. What is there about the way he looks?

On his third visit, John arrived a bit early and discovered a guest playing chess with the patient in a chair beside the bed. “This is my good friend, Jerry Sharp,” announced Bill Busky. “We are between games. I am sure that my pal here will not present any obstacle to what you have to do, Dr. Veliko.” Sharp, a small, thin man with hazel eyes, stood up, folded the chess set, and carried away the kitchen chair. He returned and addressed John, the apparent intruder. “Do you play chess, Doctor?” “No, sad to say. I never had the time to learn the game. Medicine has taken all my waking hours the last several years.” As the little man came up to the edge of the bed, Veliko by chance noticed something that alarmed his brain and his nerves.

He saw the same line of three dots he had previously perceived on the neck of Busky. Exactly the same pattern, on the same side of the neck, at the identical location. The mind of the physician rotated at greatest possible speed. What does that mark mean? he wondered. What is its cause? How did it get there? Why do these two friends have the same three puncture holes at the same spot on the neck? Ruminating on the mystery of bite marks, he proceeded with the physical examination of Busky. The last thing in his memory just before falling unconscious was his leaning forward towards the patient to hear his heart beat with a stethoscope.

When John awoke, he found himself lying in Busky’s bed. turning his head to the side and lifting it up, he spied the patient in a kitchen chair a few feet away. The invalid spoke in a surprisingly strong voice at a moment of unease. “My friend, Jerry, left after first taking something from you, then transferring you to me as a gift. Let me explain what I mean. My comrade and I are members of a secret, tiny group. We are unseen and unknown. In different countries at different times, we apply varying names to ourselves. We share one thing in common: our possession of and co-habitation with a snake.

“The snakes live deeply within us, only coming out at the time they feed themselves. Our task is to find new sources of food for our inner inhabitants. I lost my own resident snake when it died a short while ago. Weakness and illness came to me as my snake starved and withered away. But now I am strong once more, with a new snake. You contributed blood and flesh that sustained my new inner companion. We both thank you for what you gave us, Doctor.”

Veliko came near the point of fainting several times as he listened.

Busky, though standing, fell into a trance once he finished speaking. His eyes blurred and became opaque. From his open mouth emerged a head that was scale-like yellowish-green. An eely form crawled forth and headed for the doctor. Beady, dark sapphire eyes stared at the helpless target. A reddish-orange tongue flashed out of the mouth, then returned inside again. John Veliko felt himself under a spell impossible to break. The flesh-eating, blood-drinking snake soon was at his neck, prepared to feed itself.

Jerry Sharp explained to the doctor the essence of being a snaker in the modern world. “We have a very long history, going back to ancient Egypt and the Middle East. The condition of carrying an internal serpent spread ever wider over the centuries. The earliest forms were yellow in color, but changed to yellowish-green once they came to Europe and the West. Human carriers were unconscious of their state at first, but by our own time that ignorance was lost. Today, each member of our kind knows what he is carrying. There have been only a few women who were snakers. At present, your state is one of being a supplier to another snaker. But in a short while you will be prepared to have your own particular interior resident. Do you understand? Can you comprehend what I am telling you?”

John indicated with a nod that he did.

By the spring of 1948, he was ready for a big step into something new. It was Jerry Sharp who informed him about what was to happen next. “You have been a supplier long enough. We must provide you with your own inner snake so that you receive new energy and substance from outside.” John did not react, being too surprised and stunned. Sharp leaned his head forward and spoke in a softened voice. “The first, beginning source for your snake will be your partner, George Hall. He is the logical person to be utilized. He will be an easy target for your resident snake.”

The physician looked at him with confusion. What should he say? He was unable to formulate an immediate reply to what had been proposed. The small, slim snaker smiled slyly. “Do not worry or be too concerned,” he said reassuringly. ‘The first time is always hardest for both the carrier and the snake.”

Veliko excused himself and left his two associates to themselves. He could not sleep that night, for the dilemma before him appeared impossible to resolve. Dr. Hall had brought him to San Francisco and had opened a private practice to him. Was he going to betray him? That would be the consequence of allowing a snake to dwell inside himself and decide to feed on George Hall. That would result in great evil. How could he live with it? What would he become if he allowed it to happen?

The transfer of a newly born snake occurred while he slept in Busky’s room, in the bed of the snaker who had been his patient. Now it was he who had the duty of allowing a resident snake to go outside to feed itself. The joint decision of all three was to make the attempt at the medical office where John Veliko practiced. No one would be there late in the day but the two doctors.

The nurse and the receptionist had left for home. The building appeared almost empty. George is in his office, John told himself, taking care of medical records. He was only across a short hallway from the senior partner. Am I ready to proceed? he asked again and again. His mind lay in a fog of worry and concern.

John was about to rise and leave his office, when the door opened from the other side.

He turned his head and saw that it was Hall standing there. Neither of them spoke as the latter came over to where Veliko was sitting. “What is it?” asked John with surprise on hs face.

“Tell me the truth,” said the senior partner.

“What do you mean?” snapped John. “What are you getting at?”

No reply came from George Hall. Instead, his mouth opened and a yellow something burst out from it. A brightly yellow snake,it proved to be. But it was different from the new snake inside Veliko. In an instant, the latter understood the situation

His partner was a snaker, but with a resident unlike his own. That snake was of the ancient yellow variety, not his own yellowish-green kind. At once John realized that George had no conscious knowledge of his own snaker nature. The man was in a trance of absolute ignorance. He had no idea what he himself was.

The alien snake came directly toward him over the carpet. It was after his own new resident, aiming to attack and destroy it. John Veliko smiled cynically to himself. He would be dead before his own snake had a chance to defend itself. It would never have a chance to feed on George Hall, as had been planned by his associates.

The more ancient snake, the yellow one, would rid the world of himself and his own inhabitant. That was to be his tragic fate, realized the doomed physician.

He was about to perish in his new home, San Francisco.

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