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A Walk in the Woods
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He tapped the surface of the pool with the forefinger of his right hand. The ripples sent the water spiders scurrying for cover. He didn’t mean to hurt the tiny creatures. He wasn’t sure if they would bite. His mother warned him about the spiders called the black widow and what was the name of the other one… oh yeah, the brown recluse. He played with granddaddy longlegs, but they weren’t the same. At the side of the creek, he sunk his bare feet into the warm mud. The sun warmed the mud like the butter from his mother’s oven.

Hearing the rattle, he froze. Sweat popped out his forehead and his shirtless chest. Wearing only his rolled up jeans, he felt defenseless. Keeping his body still, he looked behind him. The Rattlesnake was coiled, ready to strike. He could just make out the brown and gold hexagon pattern. Hidden among the autumn leaves, its small black eyes regarded the child.

Last Saturday his daddy killed a snake in the barn. This one was bigger. Too far to call for help. His mother kept the windows closed in the back of the house. She wouldn’t hear him. His father was mowing the back pasture.

He had a fleeting thought. This could be the mother of the one killed last week seeking revenge. Did animals repay the one who killed their loved ones? He didn’t know.

He stood stock still, fearing the strike of the snake. He heard it rattle again. The Rattlesnake was becoming impatient. He could almost feel the sharp fangs digging into his flesh. One wrong move and he would be dead. Would the children from the school come to his funeral? His mother weeping as she dressed him in his best suit. He pictured himself laying in a casket at the front of the church. What would the preacher say about him? He hoped he wouldn’t bring up him about him slipping the frog down the back of Susy’s dress last Sunday. He told her he was really sorry but didn’t mean it. He smiled at the memory of her screaming and dancing around. It took their Sunday school teacher Miss Miloy several minutes to catch her. Then more time to calm Susy enough to extract the little frog. Had to apologize in front of the whole church for that one. That wasn’t fun.

A movement caught his eyes. Upstream. A limb a little smaller the size of his arm floated in his direction. His heart soared the stick was headed his way. He watched it come. One eye on the snake, one eye on the limb. It hit the calf of his leg. Moving his hand down an inch at a time, he reached for the stick. Tensing he prepared to spring. This was it. His plan was to leap forward, putting as much distance between him and the Rattlesnake as possible. At the same time, swing the limb behind him. If he failed, he would die.

He jumped. His feet stuck in the mud, holding him fast. Screaming, he tore them loose and fell face first into the middle of the creek. Relief flooded his body. He was alive. He raised the club, expecting the snake to follow him into the water. Amazingly, the rattler hadn’t moved. Now armed, he was ready for a fight. Cautiously he approached the rattler. He brought the club back to his shoulder like a bat. As he did the Rattlesnake denigrated. What he thought was the snake was just a bunch of gold and brown leaves; the eyes last season’s acorns. The sound of the rattles, just the wind blowing, stirring up leaves. Thoughts of his funeral flew from his mind. Laughing, he struck off down the creek. Now on to his original mission, finding a small frog for Susy’s lunch pail.

As soon as the boy was gone the Rattlesnake in the hollow log slid into the place where the boy had been. It too was hunting for frogs.

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