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Danger Noodle by Melissa Ridley Elmes

What at first appeared to be a thick green vine clinging to the trunk of the ancient tree past which she was walking during a lovely exploration of a beautiful tropical jungle revealed itself, with a long, low hiss, to be an extraordinarily large snake, its head large as Jane's torso, and she took several hasty steps backward with a little cry.

“It’s not nice to scare a girl like that in her own dream,” Jane scolded the snake from a safe distance.

The snake shrugged (they can do that in dreams). “It’s not my fault you happened to come along right as I happened to be here. I’m just passing through. If you had waited a few minutes, explored some other part of the jungle first, you would never have seen me.”

This startled Jane. “But how could I not know you were here, in my own mind?”

The snake chuckled (a sinister sound snakes in dreams are known to make). “Oh Jane, there are so many things here you’ve never dreamed you’d encounter. Do you really imagine for a moment that everything in your mind is of your own making and in your control?”

Jane slowly backed away. This snake was dangerous, and not just because of its size. It could swallow her whole. But worse even than that, it could ruin her inner world.

She would turn and run, Jane decided, run far away, to some other part of her dream.

She started to turn.

“It’s too late for that, you know. You can’t simply leave now that you’ve seen me,” the snake said in a pitying tone (which Jane resented, coming from a snake).

Jane found the snake was right and she couldn’t turn and flee. She swung back around to face it.

“Why are you here? You’re spoiling everything!” Jane shouted. She felt tears prickling the backs of her eyes. She stomped her foot. “Go away! I order you to leave this dream at once!”

Slowly, slowly, the snake inched itself down the tree trunk, one scale at a time. Jane watched in fascinated horror as it collected its vast length into coils on the ground throughout this process of descending. She wanted to run, but remained fixed against her will to the spot where she stood. What seemed like hours later, the snake had extricated its whole self from the tree. Its head slid down last, with a little plopping sound, and then it turned its sinewy neck so that it was looking directly at Jane, face to face and so close it could touch her with its tongue.

Jane trembled. She could see her face reflected in the snake’s glassy, red-gold eyes. In this terrible living mirror, she looked very small and very afraid.

“You can’t order me to do anything,” the snake said. “You have no power over me. You’re just a little girl having a dream.”

“And you’re just a figment of my imagination!” Jane replied, employing a term her mother had lobbed at her many a time when she’d awakened shivering and sobbing in terror after a bad dream (“Oh, Jane, go back to sleep, it’s just a figment of your imagination.”)

The snake’s expression turned sympathetic. “Oh, no,” it said. “I’m no mere figment of imagination, little Jane. I’m very, very real.”

Jane began to cry. “What do you want? Please go away!”

The snake shook its head. “I can’t go away. You’ve seen me now. That changes everything.”

Jane tried to take a step backward, but she still couldn’t move. “What does that mean? Don’t eat me!” she pleaded.

The snake smiled sadly. “That isn’t how these things go. But I promise it won’t hurt and I’ll make it quick.” And it opened its giant mouth and swallowed Jane whole.

“At least I didn’t ruin your inner world,” it said, and slowly slid back up the tree.

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