An exhibit at the BYU Library

Dan Wells

The Brazen Serpent

You might know this author as the creative genius behind:

I Am Not a Serial Killer

“Good morning,” said Moses, and waited for the noise to die down. “Good morning everyone, and welcome to our meeting. Thank you all for coming out today; I know a lot of you are sick, and it’s a sacrifice to be here, but thank you for being here anyway. And of course thank you for all staying approximately four cubits apart—I know you’ve got good friends you’d like to hug or shake hands with, but the farther apart we are the easier it is to stop the fiery flying serpents, and anyway that’s the point of our meeting so we’ll get right into it. We’re very excited about this. As you know, God has sent a plague of fiery flying serpents, and they’re biting a lot of people, and many of us are sick and dying—”

“You mean dragons?” asked a man named Eshbal.

Moses paused, and eyed the man. “We’re just…trying to be accurate, and ‘fiery flying serpents’ is very scientifically specific—”

“But they’re obviously dragons,” said Eshbal. “Serpents, who can fly? And breathe fire? Come on, Moses.”

“‘Dragons’ sounds cooler,” said Chazon.

“It’s not about sounding cooler,” said Eshbal. “I just want to know what you’re trying to hide from us.”

“Hide from you?” asked Moses. “Using the proper scientific name is not hiding anything from you—”

“If you want to be accurate,” said Chazon’s wife, Sarah, “you should call them the Edom Monsters, because they didn’t show up until we passed by the land of Edom. And if it is their fault I think we should—”

“It’s not their fault,” said Chazon, “it’s just a thing that happened. Things happen sometimes.”

“Maybe it was on purpose,” said Eshbal. He looked around at the others. “You ever think of that? Maybe the Edomites bred these dragons. They wanted us to get sick.” He raised his eyebrow. “They’re going to wait ’til we’re weak and attack us.”

“For goodness sake,” said Moses, “just knock it off, okay? They didn’t come from Edom, and they’re not dragons, and it’s not going to matter anyway because I asked God for help and boy howdy did He deliver. We’re really excited about this. So anyway, I prayed to God, and I asked him for help, and he said unto me ‘Make thee a fiery serpent—’”

“Hold up,” said Eshbal. “Fiery serpents are what got us into this mess in the first place.”

“Yeah,” said Sarah. “You think adding a new one, even a small one, is going to fix everything? I’m not letting any fiery serpents near my kids.”

“Will you let me finish?” asked Moses. “It’s not going to bite you; it’s just going to…. Well I mean, God said to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and… well anyway, Aaron, why don’t you just pull off the curtain thing and we’ll show them what we mean.”

Aaron put his hand on the tall, thin curtain behind Moses, and yanked it away, and the crowd looked in awe at a high brass pole with a brazen serpent at the top.

Well, some of them looked at it.

“Don’t look at it!” said Sarah, averting her eyes and turning her children around. “That’s a fiery serpent!”

“It’s a brazen serpent,” said Moses. “It’s made of brass.”

“He says it’s made of brass,” said Sarah. “We don’t know what other ingredients are in there.”

“Wait a minute,” said Eshbal. His back was turned as well. “Is that a graven image? You specifically told us not to look at graven images! First it’s one thing, and then it’s another.”

“It’s not a graven image,” said Moses, “it’s a brazen image.”

“Well I’m not going to worship it!” shouted Eshbal.

“I’m not asking you to worship it,” said Moses, “which you would know if you’d let me finish a full sentence at some point during this meeting.” He paused. “So can I finish?”

“Not if you’re going to ask me to worship a bronze serpent!”

“I’m not going to ask you worship it!” said Moses. “And either way why are you the one harping on this—you helped make the golden calf!”

“Well yeah,” said Eshbal, “but now that you’re making me do it, I don’t want to anymore. It’s called freedom, Moses; look it up.”

“I’m not making you do anything,” said Moses. “And I’m not asking you to worship it, and it’s not going to bite you, and I am definitely not taking away anyone’s freedom. We asked God for help, and he gave it to us, and… if you don’t want to accept it, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“What does it do?” asked Chazon.

Moses looked back at his notes. “God said ‘Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole, and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.’ And that’s it.”

“That’s it?” asked Chazon.

“That’s it,” said Moses. “You get bitten, you look, and you’re cured. Done. Like, it couldn’t possibly be any easier.”

“It’s too easy,” said Eshbal, folding his arms. “If it worked it would be hard.”

“Ouch!” shouted Sarah. “Fudging heck that hurts.”

“Did you just get bitten by a fiery flying serpent?” asked Chazon.

“Sorry,” said Zimra, their neighbor, raising her hand. “I found one in my bag earlier, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to be quarantined.” She laughed. “This is totally on me.”

“Then why were you standing right next to them?” asked Moses. “I said four cubits!”

“They’re our best friends!” said Sarah. “We’re not going to abandon all our friends for some Edomite hoax!”

“You just got bitten!” shouted Moses. “How is this a hoax? No: don’t even tell me, I don’t want to hear it. Just—look at the thing, the brazen serpent. It’s right here. Turn around, look at it, and everything’ll be fine.”

“I’m not looking at your serpent,” said Sarah. “I do my own research, and I think I know what’s best for my family.”

Chazon shrugged. “You know how she is.”

“And I’m not looking either,” said Eshbal. “If I can’t make my own choices, what’s even the point of living!”

Moses pointed at the serpent. “You just have to look at it. It takes literally two seconds.”

“This is ridiculous,” said Eshbal. “You know what we really need to do is go back to Egypt—we had homes, we had jobs, and we had complete freedom from fiery serpents. Virtually nothing else, but serpents are the whole problem, right? Plus, we built a pyramid back there. A frigging pyramid! We haven’t built a single pyramid since we left, and honestly that’s pretty embarrassi—Ow!”

A fiery serpent bit him, and flew away.

“Just look at the statue,” said Moses. “Please.”

“Never,” said Sarah, and walked away.

Eshbal looked at Moses. “What you don’t understand is that freedom is the foundation of the gospel. If we don’t have the ability to choose, we don’t have anything.”

“What you don’t understand,” said Moses, “is that you are choosing. You’re just choosing the wrong thing.”

Eshbal turned, and grumbled, and walked away.

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