's 2019 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by C. M. Kosemen (email)

C. M. Kosemen

If there was a God of Reptiles, he, she or it could definitely be said to be blessing the career of Philip Monsa. Wasn’t it he who, after nearly a century of neglect, re-discovered the vexing, almost mythical population of snake-like Sphenops skinks on the island of Santorini? No one had thought of looking for the almost-legless animals on a cliffside, out of all places - but he had. And wasn’t it also he, who in a trail-blazing series of discoveries, re-captured specimens of a series of cryptic snakes, some of them only known from singular, decades-old specimens? The names still echoed in his mind, like those that summoned arcane demons: Bolyeria, Xenophidion, Anomochilus…

That wasn’t all. He had identified many new genera – not mere name-splits of various populations belonging to known species – but real, never-before seen things. A genus of burrowing adders, ignored for thousands of years, right in the middle of continental Europe. A hidden population of blood-red, blind salamanders in the Ozarks. Saw-scaled vipers in Afghanistan, with tails the shape of spiders, and a penchant for snatching swallows on wind-swept mountain ridges. A big, “black widow” gecko from the rust-coloured, untrodden wastes of Western Australia that imitated the mating calls of other geckos, and then proceeded to eat them. A renegade ‘researcher’ native to that continent, known mostly for assigning random names to snakes in a self-published ‘science journal’, had taken affront to that particular, genuine, discovery. In a strange display of force the man had challenged Monsa to a live-streamed duel of fist-cuffs, and Monsa had won. Monsa always seemed to hit the nail on its head.


Philip Monsa’s secret was simple, if slightly obvious. First, his life had enjoyed just the right mix of luck and misfortune. He had not become a herpetologist to advance a career. His life was very comfortably taken care of, thanks to certain investments his father had made when he was young. His father had then died in a tragic plane accident with his mother and siblings; conveniently straddling Monsa with a childhood trauma that ensured his gravitation into obscure subjects, away from the hubbub and inconsequence of society.

Subjects such as archaeology, history, psychology, the occult, zoology attracted him… A period of indecision had followed; ultimately he had settled on herpetology. With unlimited funds, he had pursued the best education available on the subject. He had found the mirrors of his soul in those strange, cryptic animals; the misunderstood, silent beasts who sought no one’s company, and wished only to be left alone…

Second, perhaps owing to his privileged education, Monsa had always maintained a broad perspective. The journals that arrived on his desk were not limited to herpetological subjects, as many of his colleagues’ were. His repertoire also included publications on global politics, history, and foreign affairs, among other fields. Most importantly, he read them all. He could tell which bits of information were valuable, and which were churned out to conflate academic careers. He did not see problems as riddles to be solved with the right application of Correct Knowledge, but as forays into the unknown. When in the field, he trusted locals; and above all, his own experience. These, with a little luck, had made him who he was…


Monsa’s strangest adventure began one day before the turn of the Millennium, as he saw the picture of a Middle-Eastern man holding a fat, dangerous-looking viper as nonchalantly as one might hold a kitten. The picture came, as usual, not from a herpetology, or even a zoology journal; but from the notes of a sociology student documenting the life of the little-known Yazidi sect in Iraq. The sparse caption that accompanied the picture told the man to be a member of the “Order of Xemender, a community of pariahs whom the Yazidi believe to have the ability to control serpents.” The man had a liquid-eyed, eerie look about his face…

Back in those days, few people in the West, save for certain academics and foreign-intelligence types, neither knew of the Yazidis, nor could guess the tribulations they would someday face…

Monsa’s curiosity was piqued. He took a magnifying glass to the image of the snake. The printed picture didn’t reveal much; but the snake seemed to be fat – paler and strangely flesh-coloured, compared to other vipers he knew from the area. Its head also seemed to be excessively large. A new species? Not that much herpetological research had been done around Iraq, in those days… He rose up from his seat, stretched and looked around his office and library. His agenda was clear for the next few weeks, and the strange photo might have represented a new species. He gnawed on his thoughts for a while…

…and in days, found himself flying to North Iraq, where he hoped to find out more about the snakes of Xemender. If nothing else – it would be an adventure. Monsa made his only stop in Istanbul, that stale agglomeration of beauty and misrule. There he met Shahin, a fellow snake enthusiast and Monsa’s only acquaintance with any knowledge of the area they were headed towards. No one else Monsa knew wished to venture into the war-zone of North Iraq – not even when Monsa offered to pay their expenses – and then some more.

Shahin and Monsa had met in a science conference in Bulgaria, half-a-dozen years ago... He was a spry, vulpine man who’d grown up catching snakes and lizards in the outskirts of an Anatolian town before fortune landed him in the big city. He was left with time on his hands to spend as he wished, thanks to a comfortable income from several houses; bought by his family with money acquired in ways people knew better not to ask.

His big family had taken good care of Shahin, even sending him off to abroad for a few semesters of English and genetics studies. Unlike most Westernised Turks with comfortable incomes, Shahin hadn’t fallen into the murky world of Bosphorus nightclubs, cars, clothes, drinks and excess. His true passion lay in science, and strangely enough – in reptiles. He had never married, preferring the company of easy women… In many ways, he was like a low-budget, Turkish version of Monsa; a misfit driven by curiosity.

“Hey you – Monsa mothefucker, welcome to Istanbul!” shouted Shahin, as they met in the airport. He was wearing rugged jeans, field boots and a heavy metal t-shirt. “What is this Iraq shit all about – you sure we not going to… ah… some sort of CIA action, no?”

Gregarious, excitable and social; Shahin was a fun sidekick to travel with. His upbringing as a ‘modern’ Turk also meant that he was given to conspiracy theories and nationalist fervour. The young man was a bit jagged on the edges, but Monsa knew he was a dependable friend.

Not many flights connected Istanbul with their destination in those days. Their plane was an ancient, rattling, turboprop-driven affair built during the last days of the Soviet Union, and it carried cargo as well as passengers.

Monsa talked with Shahin over the objective of their quest. Shahin was familiar with some species of Iraqi herpetofauna, yet he was surprised at the image of the snake-handling mystic: “Ah, this one, he’s like one of those snake-men back home!” he smirked.

“Snake men?” asked Monsa.

“Yes! We have them all over Anatolia, too!” said Shahin. “Not quite like this fellow, but… Idiots – the lot of them! They think vipers won’t bite them because, well, they are fat and docile. A viper guards his venom carefully, you know… But show them one of those fast, alert, -but harmless- Platyceps whipsnakes and the snake men are scared shitless! They even have a name for the poor things; ‘ok yılan’ – arrow snakes – can you believe it?! They think they can launch themselves like, you know, javelins – fly in the air, go through walls and stab people in the heart! he said in disdain.

“Yes, but isn’t it strange – these beliefs all seem very ancient – older than Christianity, Islam… Almost as if they evolved from the same source.” said Monsa. “An age-old serpent cult…”

“Some cult! I hope the snake bit him and that moron died soon after! I tell you Monsa – maybe there was some sort of ancient mystery here – but these people are all – how do you say, ah – peasants! They make up these stories to suit their ignorant ways - that’s what you get when religion clouds your brain!” continued Shahin, angrily, a knee-jerk reflex of his secular upbringing.

For Shahin all religions, but especially the last one, were bunk – they kept his people, and others, mired in cruelty and darkness…

“You are looking for wisdom in a place that has none, mate!” Shahin said. “But this snake looks interesting, right”, he conceded after a while. “Never saw one so fat – and its head is funnily-shaped, too… how do you say? Anormal!”

“Abnormal”, corrected Monsa.

“Whatever! Hey, if it’s a new species, can you name it after me, eh? Vipera shahini! Boom! You won’t believe what Istanbul girls will do when you tell them there is a snake named after yourself!”


Arrival was an ordeal. War and chaos hadn’t taken hold in Iraq at the time of Monsa and Shahin’s visit, but their footsteps were audible. Erbil itself was then fresh out of a civil war between rival Kurdish factions. A murky atmosphere of tension and paranoia infected the countryside… It took a while for them to convince Iraqi authorities they weren’t spies – and even longer to convince them that they weren’t travelling to Yazidi country to spread sedition. The officials somehow found it difficult to believe that two men would travel this far only in pursuit of snakes. Shahin grew impatient. Monsa explained their itinerary in meticulous detail, even showed them photocopies of his research, photographs of his previous discoveries – but it was the subtle envelope, bulging with American dollars – that finally convinced them to leave them be. “We hope you find your precious snake, gentlemen! And remember, you will be watched…”


They spent their first night in a damp, ‘luxury’ hotel in Erbil. The garish blue light of an aquarium was the sole illumination in the lobby. Fat, wart-headed goldfish wallowed inside it. Nervous-looking men with Kalashnikovs patrolled the streets. The dim wail of the nocturnal call to prayer sounded, echoing through the dark, dusty streets…

“Kurdish swindlers!” muttered Shahin the next day, as he slammed the door of the battered Renault car they hired from a local. The car had seen better days, but it would do… Monsa bought spare cans of gasoline (it was cheap!), cans of drinking water, a spare tyre, some field rations, sleeping bags and other supplies… He packed everything in the back seat of the car. Shahin put in an 8-track cassette of heavy metal songs. “I’ve got it all here man! Maiden, Slayer, Metallica… – from Akmar, the best heavy-metal place in Istanbul!” he said as he gunned the engine… and the herpetologist-adventurers left the oppressive atmosphere of Erbil behind.


They drove towards Mosul, Shahin at the wheel and Monsa navigating from a map. After a few hours they negotiated a checkpoint. Once more, Monsa had to bribe the men to let them through. At this point, simply paying the soldiers was easier than trying to convince them of the purpose of their visit.

At a certain junction they turned towards a landscape of ascending hills and mountains, accompanied by a lush blossoming of scrubs and small trees. Paved roads gave way to mud and gravel as they passed through forgotten towns; Bartella, a scared enclave of Syriac Christians; Ba’ashikah and Bahzani, where the polygonal pyramids, temples and the angular, anthropomorphic tombstones of the Yazidis first made their appearance; Khorsabad, the site of ancient Dur-Sharrukin, of bygone palaces and ziggurats… Their tiny white car flew through the ancient, greay-and-green landscape as Shahin’s heavy-metal tapes wailed in the speakers….

Throughout the drive Shahin kept seeing flaws; a land ruined by religion, tyranny and civil war. Monsa, on the other hand, was reminded of a fantasy book he’d read as a child – Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles…

In time the two men exchanged each other’s opinions somewhat; Shahin began to admire the feral beauty of the yellow-green mountain valleys, and Monsa admitted the land and the lives of its people could have improved if the country had been managed properly - and if sanctions hadn’t been imposed so harshly…

Monsa told Shahin to stop at a town named Al-Shikan – only a short way from Lalesh, the most important shrine of the Yazidis. It was a small, nondescript village perched on a flat patch on the rising landscape. On the outskirts they saw the strange Yazidi cemeteries and the polygonal worship towers amid a landscape of badly-kept farms, littered decaying shells of abandoned buildings, and torn sections of concrete and rusty metal fences.

They entered the town close to sunset. Monsa sought the local headman and arranged a place to sleep. It was a small, one-room mud guesthouse with two lofty, garish beds, clean, but with no water or heating to speak of. Spartan, to say the least… Yet both Monsa and Shahin slept better than they had in Erbil.


They made better acquaintance of the locals next day. Over a generous breakfast of bread, cheese, honey, cow yogurt, accompanied by endless glasses of hot red tea, Monsa enquired them about the strange snake and the Order of Xemender. The headman, an old, bearded figure in a black turban, recoiled visibly at the sight of the photograph.

“Ah – this… legend. There was an old man, older than me, a few years ago… but he died. He was Xemenderi – he had a thing with snakes...” he said, carefully looking around the table.

“Yes,” said Monsa. He carried out the conversation in halting Kurdish peppered with Arabic. Shahin listened without understanding the details, considering both languages to be insultingly primitive to learn for a Westernised, secular Turk such as himself.

“But you see, sir, in this picture…” said Monsa, “the snake that man is holding… it’s strange. Its head is bigger, and its colour… Can you help us find anything like it?”

The headman was slightly irritated that Monsa hadn’t taken the hint. “Neither me nor any man in this town will help you find anything about these snakes - why don’t you look yourself? Take a walk on the hills – yes, there are many snakes there! Go! Or you can see Lalesh? It’s a beautiful temple! But please, don’t bother us about the snakes!” Shahin cast the man a stern look – but Monsa warned him not to respond too harshly.

He then steered the conversation towards other, non-serpentine issues and they finished breakfast without incident. Monsa and Shahin thanked their hosts and got up to leave. “Listen,” said the old man, abruptly as they were heading for the door. “I must tell you, strangers – the Xemenderi you are looking for… The Xemenderi are not Yezidi.”

“They are not?” asked Monsa. “But I read your holy texts – the Black Snake helped your people and Prince… am I wrong?” He was puzzled.

“The Black Snake, yes, one of ours. We have our own snake-men too. The sons of Sheikh Mand… But the Xemenderi are different.” said the old man.

“Different? How? I know about Sheikh Mand too, sir, I read a lot about your culture - I thought Sheikh Mand and the Xemenderi were the same?” asked Monsa.

The old man made a –tsk- sound. “No, no. Not Yezidi. You read a lot but ignorant men write your books – they come, write and go – just like you. So, you too are fools for believing them. Listen now. Xemenderi are not of us. They worship Gôk-Maran – the Sky Serpent, the Pale One…” A number of onlookers had gathered around them now – knife-thin, moustached men and children with wide, coal-black eyes.

“How are they different from you?” Asked Monsa. “A different sect?”

“No, no!” retorted the old man. “Different God! Older… and dead!”


“That bastard was lying for sure!” said Shahin when Monsa explained the conversation to him. “These people; Kurds, Arabs, Yezidi, whatever – they always play a shifty game.”

“Maybe not” said Monsa. “It sounded like we stumbled into something real – but something we should not have known.”

“Ah – at any rate, I don’t think they’d be of much help now, will they?” said Shahin. “At least it’s a beautiful place – and we can also see Lalesh, like that old geezer told us to.”

“Yes, but remember what he said…” said Monsa. “An older God! We may have missed the new snake, but looks like we stumbled into a previously unrecorded religion! Strange, eh?”

“Not really man,” retorted Shahin. “This whole area is crawling with all sorts of weird cults and groups… I didn’t go to Oxford like you – but I read up on history too, you know? There are the Kakai and the Yarsani; the Mecusi and the Zoroastrians – fire worshippers, the lot… Then the Alevis and Alavis – not the same thing! A truck-load of Christians too; Maronites, Nestorians, Chaldeans, Assyrians… heck, even some obscure Jews too!”

“Wonderful diversity!” said Monsa. “It should be protected…”

Shahin suddenly grew furious. “Like hell it should! You know man – this reminds me of this one guy in Vienna I used to smuggle vipers for… Man was some sort of baron or some such shit, and a zillionaire; his company made chemotherapy drugs, poison gas… A real eccentric, a bit like yourself!

“What does this have to do with-” Monsa began to ask before Shahin interrupted him.

“Ok, so this man was also a venomous snake collector - had a huge room, bigger than my rat-fuck apartment back in Scutari - full of terrariums from ceiling to floor. He had everything in there; blue coral snakes that are worth as much as a Ferrari, all six species of cobras, those burrowing Atractaspis fuckers that’ll bite you even when you hold their mouths shut, all sorts of vipers, adders and shit…”

“What are you getting at, Shahin?”

“What I’m getting at is this: The way you guys keep ‘preserving’ every ‘culture’ you see, the world will end up like that venom room – Terrarium Earth, with people instead of snakes. You can’t expect these poor Yezidis to keep on being Yezidi – the Kurds to keep their Kurdishness, whatever – without paying a price in blood, not in this age! Just look at those poor fuckers man – sure, their towns are beautiful, their religion is poetic, yadda yadda - but they became that way after centuries of isolation and wars; killing all who came in, and all who dared to venture out. Honour killings, vendettas, blood money, women being sold like cattle… This was their entire world! It’s not that I hate them…– but face it man - this shit just can’t go on!” shouted Shahin. “Things are changing now! There is television, airplanes, highways, computers and that damned internet thing we keep talking through! You guys had this life for a century, us for a few decades, and these sods – for what - a few years?… Now everyone wants blue jeans, big TVs, cars and homes with running warm water. You probably grew up without having to worry about it Monsa – do you know how it feels to spend a winter in a house without heating? That’s how life was before my father struck it big. Now people want to become lawyers, managers, professors, film directors, heck – snake hunters and vagabonds like us – they can worry about being Yezidis or whatnot later!”


“Hell, Monsa that’s what the fucking Ottomans did – Greeks doing Greek things, Armenians being docile and being Armenian, all nice and neighbourly, yes sir! A Terrarium World – under the crescent! Then the Master dies and all the snakes run amok. Every land those Ottoman fuckers conquered, people became things and forgot what it meant to be human – forgot any hope for a way to be like you and me! Now the Ottos are gone and they still haven’t figured it out – look at all the wars – here, from Lebanon to Bosnia…” continued Shahin.

“That’s a rather harsh way of looking at things, isn’t it?” retorted Monsa.

“No, no and NO!” Shahin shouted. “I know you think me a ‘nationalist’ fool and maybe even you are right – we had all sorts of stupid crap pumped into our skulls at school... But was it any more foolish than your idea just now? Diversity?! When you speak like this, I really wonder... Man - you gotta let people sort things out themselves… and if that means losing a little ‘diversity’ – than fuck yes – lose it, lose the whole lot!”


Monsa did not extend the argument, and Shahin’s mood improved after his outburst. Having come this far, they decided to visit Lalesh, up on a lush green hillside lined with olive trees. The place dated from the 12th century, and was the tomb of one of the Yezidi holy figures.

They found the temple complex mystifying and beautiful. Young men were lining up to kiss an ancient tree in an age-old courtyard. Shahin and Monsa admired the honey-coloured, polygonal stone pyramids rising above the temples, and Monsa thought, just barely, that he discerned a link between them and the ziggurats of the past. A caretaker led them through a door, and they saw dark catacombs lined with pitch-black, pregnant-looking jars, each filled with holy oil used to light ritual fires… The Yazidis’ black snake was there too – as a sinuous, iron design embedded in the doorway of the temple. Monsa asked insistently, but they couldn’t reach further information about the Xemenderi, nor about Gôk Maran, nor about the strange snake on the photograph. Not even when he offered money in return. “It’s as if the damned thing didn’t exist!” exclaimed Monsa.

“Believe me man, it did exist, whatever it was, but I don’t think anyone here will help us about it today.” said Shahin. “Perhaps we looked at the wrong place? Remember that old geezer – if that thing isn’t of the Yazidi, then why would anyone here know, or care about it? It could be like wandering around the Vatican, asking people to tell us about Lucifer!”

“… Or like asking for the Serpent in the Garden of Eden?” said Monsa, smiling.


With no more leads about the strange snake, Monsa and Shahin spent the rest of the day ‘field herping’ – looking for reptiles on the surrounding hills. They saw tortoises; lightning-fast, green, striped lizards; geckos clinging to turned-over stones; and even caught sight of a giant, dragon like Varanus monitor before it rustled away into the undergrowth. They found a neat assortment of snakes, too; whip snakes, tiny, burrowing snakes and proper vipers; fat Macroviperas and one striking, horned Cerastes– crouching under a stone like a geas-frozen demon… but once again, nothing like the large-headed mystery snake on the Xemenderi photograph.

Soon they attracted a crowd of curious children who kept asking for bakhshish, and started bringing them dead scorpions and lizards when they saw that the two foreigners were searching for reptiles. The kids really got into the reptile-hunting spirit. Monsa barely stopped one of them as he was about to smash a small tortoise with a rock. “No, no, no! We want them alive! No killing!”

“Savages!” quipped Shahin.

Then, in the distance, Shahin saw two men in loose, lizard-green overalls approaching, Kalashnikovs slung by their sides. Peshmerga. All of a sudden, their troubles with the freak viper of Xemender, or the secrets of the Yazidi began to seem academic.

“If they ask where I’m from, tell them I’m from… Iran… no - Germany!” quipped Shahin, scared of a complicated turn of events should the Kurdish patrolmen learn of his Turkish identity. Turkey had recently made two military incursions into North Iraq – and tensions were still rife. Monsa grew worried too – but was nearly certain that the situation was not about to become dangerous. Nearly.

The Peshmerga men asked what Shahin and Monsa were doing in the hills. They didn’t quite believe that Shahin was German, but they didn’t press the issue. Monsa told them they were looking for reptiles only, and gave a ‘gift’ of a few hundred dollars for their trouble. A stern warning not to poke around on the hills was all they got in return. “Someone could shoot you! Strangers here get shot all the time… Now go on!”

Monsa and Shahin got the hint and returned to Al-Shikan soon after, and for a final night lodged in the mud-brick guesthouse again.

“Some day, eh!” shouted Shahin. “Let me tell you man – I thought I was a goner for sure! Still, let’s chalk this one as an adventure trip rather than an expedition… Forget about that snake, at least for a few years until things calm down here…”

“Right” said Monsa, silently crestfallen.

“Come on man, not even you can’t make new discoveries on every trip! Hey, at least we caught up on things! How many years had it been – three, four?”

They retired to sleep. On his cot, Monsa found a knobby… something wrapped in a cloth sack. They opened it, and out came an elongated, arm-sized lump of pitch. “Ugh – it’s a curse!” said Shahin. “They wrap all sorts of shit in rags; dead animals, hair, blood, heck – magical amulets and beads, believing they can put a spell on us. I guess that’s the boss-man’s way of letting us know we’ve overstayed our welcome!”

Monsa almost tossed the thing away. Then, on an impulse, thinking that it may be the only memento of their visit to Yazidi country, chucked it into his bag.


That was their last night in Iraqi Kurdistan. Monsa and Shahin returned to Erbil from the dusty roads soon after, then back to their homes, on to new adventures…


Years passed. War and terror scoured the lands they had visited in search of the mysterious Xemenderi serpent. As Shahin had said, men forgot they had been human. The Yezidis were scattered, massacred, enslaved – and then liberated. Others in the region fared even worse… If the Order had Xemender had survived by the time of Monsa and Shahin’s visit, it was dashed apart in the decade of wars and genocide that followed.


Monsa had almost forgotten about their adventure, when a new, unrelated project reminded it to him. He had just received a shipment of five hundred crocodile mummies from Faiyum; the site of ancient Krokodilopolis; the seat of the cult of Sobek, the heart-eating god-animal of the ancient Egyptians…

Monsa’s idea was simple – but as usual, extraordinary. He meant to scan the mummies with a CT scanner, to measure and analyse the bones of the mummified crocodiles. CT scanners were usually reserved for hospitals, but Monsa could afford one. Examining species everyone took for granted and discovering new varieties had by then become fashionable in the zoological world. Monsa believed that previously-undetected varieties of Nile crocodiles could be lurking in the mummies.

The results were pleasing, to say the least. After scanning only fifty of the five-hundred-odd mummies in his possession, Monsa had enough material to establish not one, but two new species. His library was a mess of unwrapped or dissected crocodile mummies stacked like firewood; piles of books and papyri; made all the more crowded by the white, futuristic bulk of the CT scanner and the associated data-storage units sitting in one corner.

He was working late – and as in most such cases, it was the serendipity of music that sparked the gap between Monsa’s current project and his fateful adventure more than two decades ago. An Iron Maiden song came up on the internet radio he was listening – and the music transported him back to his time in Northern Iraq with Shahin, driving along the dusty roads, the honey-coloured landscape flowing past, scarred yet virgin…

He suddenly remembered the ‘cursed’ lump of pitch from their last night in Al-Shikan. Now that he thought about it, it wasn’t too dissimilar to some of the mummies he had been running through the scanner. What if…?

Monsa got up from his desk – went to the wing of his mansion that housed the stacks of specimens, odds and ends from the decades of expeditions… There - among jars of lizards, twisting snakes and embracing frogs, there it sat.

“Probably just mud, stones, and amulets” he thought… “but you never know!”

He excitedly took the lump out from its box and almost ran back to his study. He placed it in the scanning tray – the CT scanner hummed magnetically as he fired it up… He booted the imaging computer, and pixel-by-pixel, the apparition began to form.


For weeks he had difficulty believing in the result. He scanned the thing again and again. Encased inside the lump of pitch was the skeleton of a viper – but Monsa wondered if that thing with a head almost as large as that of a newborn child’s could still have been called a mere viper when it was alive…

Throughout their evolution, snakes in general had simplified their skulls to an extreme form, and vipers had taken that specialisation one step further – parts of their jaws and skull were mere sketches and struts of bone, and the teeth had turned into extremely mobile, almost limb-like structures.

This thing had somehow reversed the trend – a new, solid braincase had developed from the ancestral, loose elements, and around it a face had formed; one such that when alive, it would look like a nightmarish parody of a human face with its forward-facing eyes. The rest of the body was more-or-less serpentine, but its front half had thicker vertebra and large sites for muscle attachment – probably to support the mass of its improbable skull.

For a while Monsa thought it to be an insanely sophisticated prank, by the villagers or even by Shahin – but knew even as he conceived the idea that no human could imitate such a masterful, total product of divergent evolution…

Yet still he sampled bone fragments from the thing, from the skull and the backbone - and had them DNA tested. He sent them to multiple labs, but most importantly to Shahin – who had by then moved to Munich, and began to operate his own DNA-and-molecular analysis company. His old friend wrote back a few weeks later:


Monsa Man,

Long time no see – and thanks for the extra business. Congrats on the crocodile stuff too as well – do you think they’ll give you the Reptile Oscar anytime soon? ☺

About your samples, what the fuck did you send me man? Is this one of your jokes? All analyses turned out to be some sort of snake – a viper species, to be exact. I ran it three times for you my friend, just to make certain. We can’t identify it down to species level – but if you send us something bigger, maybe we can do it.

Ok, that’s not very anormal so far, but let’s get to the strange part. Just out of curiosity I ran a telomere decay check on it too. You know, the kind of test used to find out the age at which the specimen died – we usually do it for archaeology institutes, to find out how old the corpses on battlefields were, and so on… Ok, what do you think I got? Hold on to your balls – the thing seems FIVE HUNDRED to ONE THOUSAND YEARS OLD upon the time of death. I’ll write it out for you 500! 1000!?

I’ve only seen this in cancer pathologies, where the tumour fucks the cells up so bad that the telomere counts are all muddled up, and we get all sorts of off-the chart results. BUT this shit had the same inconsistency throughout every part of the samples you sent me. I can find no explanation other than a new longevity record! Can snakes live that long? Can anything live that long?

Tell me, did you finally find your bullshit Yezidi viper or what? What was its name – the snake of Sheikh Zemander – or something? Or maybe you found the Serpent of Eden – dude! Hehe!

Jokes aside man, I gotta confess, back then I always thought you were on a bullshit wild goose chase, those crazy Kurds were leading you by your nose... But those were some good times… ☺ Let’s catch up again, but this time not in Irak please ☹ – that place is a hell now, with ISIS, (or do you call them DAESH too?) and every other terrorist group under the sun… ‘diverse’ indeed, just like you told me! ☹ Heck, even our Turkish army is down there, kicking up a fine mess!

I wonder what happened to those poor people we met…

Best wishes,
Love from Munich,


Monsa sat still and gnawed on his thoughts, as swathes of his world-view silently collapsed...