Friday, May 26, 2017

A tale about a snake by Tricia McGill

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I am primarily a romance writer, but in the past I have written some really odd short stories that are far from romantic. I blame my Muse who tends to go off on tangents of her own. But bless her (of course it’s a her) she helped me overcome obstacles along the writing path. My life has been blessed, so I blame her for some of my drearier stories.

I’m never sure what prompted me to write in the first place. If I couldn’t see to read or write I feel my life would have no purpose. People who don’t understand writers think we’re strange. How have you got the patience they ask? How can I answer them when I don’t know myself? All I know is that I often wonder what my mind would be doing if it wasn’t toying with new ideas. Perhaps I would have continued with my first love, painting. But the urge to paint was never as strong as the urge to write. When I read a book or a passage of writing that stirs me to strong emotions I yearn to have the same effect on a reader.

So, I hope you enjoy this little tale. Incidentally I love most of God’s creatures but I am sorry, snake lovers, but I can’t stand them.

All God’s Creatures

            “Leave it Red,” Joe warned the orange-tinted dog, and at the sound of the man’s voice the lizard scuttled off the rock where it had been sunning itself and disappeared down a crevice. With an adoring glance at its master the dog settled down for another nap. A water rat surfaced with a small splash, then, as it caught sight of the two fishermen and the dog, dived under the water, departing as swiftly as it appeared.

            “Snakes!” Willy announced, piercing another maggot with a hook and casting his line in to the murky water of the river. “If there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s them long scaly reptiles. Rats I can stomach--and I can put up with lizards--but them darned snakes I can’t abide!” He grimaced as he wiped his hands on a piece of dirty rag.

            Joe gave him a sidelong glance and chuckled. He knew what was coming; he’d heard this story so many times he knew it word for word. Quite used to being the listener rather than the talker he sighed resignedly as he stared at the bobbing red float on the end of his line. He could have a doze as Willy told his story in his soft monotone.

            Willy pushed his battered hat back a bit on his greying head as he gave his companion a quick glance to ensure he had an audience. “We were on our way to Queensland when I had the encounter with the old Joe Blake--face to face so to speak. Have I ever told you about how the bludger fell on my head?”

            Joe didn’t bother to reply; Willy would carry on regardless of his answer. “Lovely little spot it was, just outside Mackay. We were all set to spend a night at this caravan park, and I decided to nip in the loo. Good job I didn’t bother to unhitch the caravan before I went in there, for I was standing up doing what had to be done when this blessed snake--all of six feet long--fell off the rafters and hit me on the shoulder on its way to the ground.”

            The length of the snake had grown with each telling of the tale but Joe wasn’t about to interrupt his mate and tell him that once it was about two feet long, if that.

            “If I was ever going to flake from a heart attack, I would have done it then,” Willy went on, warming to his tale. “Then, what does it do? It slithers into a cubicle between me and the way out. I’m telling you, I didn’t have much choice about which way to turn; so I hops up onto the nearest toilet seat. Five minutes later I’m still yelling for help when I heard my Dot outside wondering what had kept me so long. I peered through the slats of the window high up the wall and told her to fetch help as quick as she could because I was sharing the space with a bloody Taipan.

            “I’m telling you, it felt like hours that I stood there waiting for Dot to come back, and I was watching the space under the door until my eyes were nearly popping out of my head, and also peering upwards in case the bludger had a mate up there waiting to join him. At last Dot came back and wondered where it was. I didn’t have a clue where it was, and I told her so as I poked my nose through the slat in the window.

            “Dot had brought the owner’s wife with her and this dear little soul was all of three feet high and was toting a rifle she could barely carry; it was so long and heavy. I got a bit hysterical then I suppose, for I began to yell a bit when I questioned her as to what she was going to do with the bloody weapon. ‘I’ll take a shot at it if I see it move,’ she tells me, and I thought, God, if the snake doesn’t get me she will. And the thought occurred that if she fired the blessed thing the recoil would knock her off her feet and she had a good chance of killing me before she ever hit the snake. Can’t you fetch your husband to see if he can catch it? I asked forlornly, but she informed me that he was out for the day. She seemed to have a sudden brainwave, for after mumbling something about fetching the snake man, she marched off.

            “Ten minutes later my legs were getting a bit shaky and it was growing mighty hot in that concrete block. When I asked Dot if she had any idea where she’d gone my dear better half decides to get smart by cracking that the woman may have gone to send a smoke signal to this snake charmer bloke. I quickly informed her that I didn’t see this whole episode as a subject for her cute jokes. My dignity was wilting, along with my temper after so long atop a toilet seat.

            “It must have been fifteen minutes before she came back with this joker who was covered from head to foot in red dust. You could barely see his tatty shorts for dirt and his singlet and hat were filthy. On bare feet as big as dinner plates he marched straight in to the toilet block and with not so much as a qualm walks out again with the snake’s head held firmly between a finger and thumb. ‘It’s harmless,’ he says. ‘You can come out now, it won’t hurt you.’

            “I didn’t care if it was as harmless as a new born babe, I wasn’t coming out until he’d fixed it, and I told him so in no uncertain terms. Ignoring me, he turned to the owner’s wife with a disdainful shrug. ‘It’s only a tree snake,’ he tells her. ‘You don’t want it killed, do you? They won’t attack you if you leave them alone. Even the venomous ones wouldn’t hurt you if you let them go their own way. Any snake that climbs is no threat to us and even the ones that crawl will not bother you if you stay calm and ignore them. They all deserve the right to live.’

            “She decided she wanted it killed, and despite this joker’s quaint ideas I thoroughly agreed with her. ‘It’s the fourth one I’ve seen this week, and they’re scaring my goats,’ she proclaimed, and I thought to myself: Bugger the goats, what about the guests! I could see he didn’t want to do away with the reptile but finally he whacked it on the ground until it stopped moving. I’ve never felt so relieved in my life, but I could tell he was upset. With a sort of pitying sneer at me he walked off.

            “Leave them alone, I thought sourly. What is he, some sort of a crank? I spluttered. It could have been venomous for all I knew! ‘No, he’s no idiot,’ she replied. ‘Just eccentric. He owns all this land as far as the eye can see. He loves snakes and believes that all God’s creatures have a right to live. I thought he’d take it home to join the others he has crawling about his house and garden.’ I shuddered. He was definitely a crank as far as I could see.

            “Anyway, off she went without so much as an apology, so quick smart I bundled Dot into the car and drove us out of there as fast as I could. The little old lady was peeping through her curtains. She should worry! We’d already paid her for the night’s rent in advance. As we passed the adjacent property we saw the snake man; driving a tractor around a paddock and sending up great clouds of red dust in his wake.”

            Willy sighed as he wound in his line. He shook his head at his empty hook. “I don’t like killing things any more than the next man,” he muttered, as he threaded another worm on his hook and tossed his line back into the water. “But snakes are killers and you have to get them before they get you, don’t you?”

            His float disappeared with a jerk beneath the water and he whispered excitedly, “I’ve got one,” as he carefully reeled in the taut line and landed the flapping fish. The silver and gold creature bounced, gasping, on the bank and Willy grinned. “Good one, eh?” he said as he disentangled the hook from the writhing fish.

            “What are you going to do with it; take it home for your tea?” Joe asked as they and the dog looked down on it.

            “Nope.” Willy grinned again. “I’ll put him back so he can live to fight another day. Besides, what with all this talk about pollution these days I don’t think it’s safe to eat them from this stretch of the river.”

            They both nodded sagely as with a flash of silvery scales the fish swam out of sight beneath the oily water.

Note from Tricia: This story was based on a true incident, and my husband was the one whose shoulder the snake landed on while on holiday in Queensland years ago. And incidentally, although Australia has some of the deadliest snakes on earth, this was the only close encounter we had with one on our many travels around this beautiful country. Although, one of our dogs did get bitten by one but luckily we got her to the vet in time and she was saved to live another day.   

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