Ruby put down her Harry Potter book and gazed at the pride of her ‘snake zoo’, Zoroaster.
“Mate, I wish I could be a parselmouth!” she smiled. “The things you could tell me, eh? I reckon you’ve been around a bit!”
Zoroaster raised his head and hissed. Then he spoke.
“You only had to ask, you know.”
Ruby shrugged mentally. If she was hallucinating, why not make the most of it?
“You could’ve told me you could talk, buddy! If I’d known, I’d've asked!”
“Nope, not permitted,” he hissed, “Rules, you know”
Zoroaster sighed. “Don’t you ever read your bible?”
“The… garden of eden? The apple?”
Zoroaster snorted. “Close enough.”
“That’s why you’re not allowed to… what? Start conversations with people?”
“With humans, wench! I’m people too!”
“Of course you are!” She smothered a smile, remembering the popular, “Awww, he thinks he’s people!” line. She had a strange suspicion that Zoroaster wouldn’t appreciate the humour. Besides, snakes had never really struck her as fun-loving creatures.
“Let me get this straight, mate…” she pondered aloud. “Satan really was a snake? He tempted Eve and got her to eat an apple, right? And because of that, snakes are cursed forevermore? Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?”
Zoroaster rippled his body in what seemed a snake version of a shrug. “I dunno.” he said, “Snakes were cursed, humans were cursed, everything was cursed… and who’s to say we aren’t better off for it?”
Ruby sat down. Her head was hurting.
“One thing at a time,” she finally managed. “Satan was a snake?”
“Sort of,” Zoroaster agreed, nodding slowly. “Like Adam and Eve were sort of humans. We’re descended from them, but that doesn’t mean they were just like us. Right?”
Ruby frowned, and nodded. “OK… and snakes had legs, like lizards or something?”
Zoroaster lifted his head and hissed angrily, acting as though he were about to strike. Ruby jumped out of her chair and backward, fast.
“OI!” she yelled. “I just asked!”
Zoroaster hissed furiously, swaying – looking more like an angry cobra than the mild-mannered python she loved.
“SNAKES,” he said quietly but forcefully, “have never been lizards, Missy! We didn’t have legs – stupid things – we had wings! Oh, we were beautiful…” He relaxed, laid his head on the side of his enclosure. “You’ve never seen beauty until you’ve seen one of us as we once were… ever heard of dragons? Great golden creatures, shining in the sun? That was us.”
“Just wait…” Ruby said, frowning thoughtfully, “A winged snake? Wasn’t that… Caduceus?”
“Bringer of wisdom,” Zoroaster agreed smugly.
Ruby frowned. “Bringing down a curse on everyone and their descendants doesn’t sound too wise!”
Zoroaster sighed and shifted his coils. “There’s a lot of misunderstandings flying around,” he explained sadly, “Like, that angels don’t have free will, that they’re somehow capable only of serving God, or rebelling against God. Right? The fact is, we’re not so different… we never have been. There was only one difference between humans and angels back then.”
“What was it?” asked Ruby, “and how do you know all this stuff, anyway?”
Zoroaster ignored the last question.
“The difference was simple – for you, the physical world was the ‘real’ one, and the spiritual world was shadowy and strange. For us, it was the other way round – the spiritual world was real and solid, the physical world was unreal, unreliable, unstable.
“Satan… well, he knew his view was better, that the spiritual world had so much better to offer than the physical. He didn’t think that walking with God could be anywhere near the same in the physical world.
“He felt sorry for humans – you understand? He wanted to help. So he gave them the key – the fruit – that would help them see the spiritual world. And he told them to use it. And they did.”
“Did it work?”
“Partly, child. Your kind has been stuck ever since between the two realms… I know he never meant to do that. But maybe he would’ve still thought it best.”
“God cursed everyone because of that?”
“Nah, the curse was in the seeing, you understand? Humans were cursed as soon as they could see two worlds, and never belong properly to either. And God gave us the same fate – fitting, eh?”
“Does that mean Satan… rebelled?”
“Oh yeah… he knew he wasn’t supposed to do it.”
“And he’s still rebelling?”
Zoroaster stopped and looked at her for a long time.
“I don’t know,” he said, finally. “He’s an agent of choice, isn’t he? Opens people’s eyes to the possibilities. Makes things happen. But is he rebelling? I don’t think even he knows anymore whether he’s working for or against God – if you can work against God.”
Ruby folded her arms, irritated.
“So, God lets Satan go around creating havoc? All the pain, all the suffering, that’s Satan’s doing?”
Zoroaster growled. Ruby was impressed despite herself – she’d never heard a snake manage that one before.
“YOU HUMANS create pain and suffering!” he hissed angrily, “You kill, you destroy, you hurt… God, you hurt each other every bloody day and call it love, then you have the nerve to call us beasts! You blame Satan!”
“So why does God let us?” screamed Ruby, crying. “Why doesn’t he stop us?”
“I’ll tell you what… this is about the only answer I can give,” he said gently, “If I could give you something that would make you incapable of ever doing a wrong thing to anyone or anything? You’d never sin, you wouldn’t even smoke or drink or eat chocolate cake. Nothing that wasn’t 100% good. You’d never do anything in the slightest selfish. If I could offer you that, right now – would you take it?”
Ruby opened her mouth, then stopped.
“See?” Zoroaster said, amused and sad all in one, “and yet you want God to do that to everyone, whether they choose it or not?”
Ruby sighed and wiped her eyes. “I still don’t like it!”
Zoroaster snorted. “You don’t have to like it, love, you just have to live with it for now! And speaking of now, when was the last time you fed me? I’m starving, here!”
Ruby sniffed and headed for the mouse cage.