Even at midnight, the emergency room was crowded. Mason followed his mom a long way from the desk before they found two seats together. While Mom sat down with the clip board in her lap and started writing with a pen she took out of her purse, Mason curled up in the chair next to her and tried to get his head comfortable on the plastic seat back.
“Oh, Mason, sweetie, don’t put your face on that,” Mom said. “We don’t know if its clean.” Mom tugged a corner of Mason’s blanket up to cover the back of the chair, then tucked the rest of it around him better.
Mason snuggled down in his blanket, shivering. He wished they didn’t keep this room so cold, or so bright. His head hurt, and with every rapid beat of his heart his knee throbbed like someone was whacking it with a baseball bat. All around him sat other people with empty, sad faces. He wondered if any of them were as sick as he was.
On the front door of the emergency room, Mason noticed a bronze panel decorated with two snakes twined around a pole. As he watched, the snakes seemed to twist and move. Their bronze eyes grew brighter, and they slithered round the pole in a slow dance, then came down from the door and moved toward him across the floor.
Mason gave a whimper and curled up tighter in his blanket.
“It’s okay, honey,” Mom said, still scribbling on the clipboard. “Everything’s going to be okay.” As if she couldn’t see the snakes sliding over the white tile floor.
“Don’t be afraid,” the snakes hissed. “Do not fear us. We will do you no harm.”
Mason blinked at them, then glanced at the door. There were still two snakes on the door, coiled around the pole, but here they were in front of him, too, weaving their heads back and forth like cobras.
“Welcome to our realm,” the snakes said. “Do not fear. You are safe in this place. Our servants have taken an oath. First do no harm.”
Mason drew his feet up, his knees tight against his chest, trying to get further away from those long, bronze bodies.
“Do not fear us,” the snakes slid up the legs of Mason’s chair. One of them put it’s metal nose near Mason’s face. It’s eyes flashed. “It is death you should fear.”
“Yes, fear death. Flee it. Come to us and we will save you,” The other snake coiled on the floor.
“But,” Mason said, “People die here.”
The snakes sighed. “Some come to us too late, some can not be saved. But many, many others, are well again. They buy more life, more days, more months, more years. They pay dearly for it, for death is to be greatly feared!”
Mason choked out the words in a whisper, “Am I going to die?”
“No, sweetheart, you’re going to be fine,” Mom said. “We’re here at the hospital now, the doctors will take care of you.”
Mason glanced at his Mom, her worried face staring down at the clipboard, then looked again for the snakes, but they had vanished.