(Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a continuing fiction series by Richard Simms. Here is the first installment. Please watch for future installments here on RheaReview.com.)
Roy Boone was easing down the hollow beneath a bright midday June sun. He stepped on a flat boulder and it tipped forward just slightly with the boy’s weight. Roy froze when he heard an odd “buzz,” wondering at first what the unusual noise was, and second, where it was coming from.
It only took a second or two for him to realize, in the exact same instant, that the noise came from directly beneath his feet, and it was a noise that had the potential to kill him graveyard dead. His reaction was primal, fueled by self-preservation and fear. Roy leapt from the rock in a panic. He ran down the hill crashing through, not around, branches and small trees for 20 yards before the panic subsided. The adrenaline, however, kept his heart pumping hard as he gasped for breath.
Roy eased back up the hill slowly and cautiously, watching the leaves at his feet. But soon he saw it exactly where he first heard it.
The rattlesnake was nestled halfway under the flat rock he’d stepped on. If he had stepped over the rock, rather than on it, chances are he would have felt fangs in the back of his leg long before he heard the buzz.
It seemed huge. In fact, it was huge. Wrapped in several defensive coils, it was hard to tell, but Roy felt sure it would stretch to four feet long, maybe more. Its head was raised as high as possible beneath the tilted boulder that faced the afternoon sun. Roy believed his fist would have fit inside the snake’s mouth, if not for the two massive fangs clearly exposed.
Roy’s immediate instinct was to raise the .22 Marlin rifle and send a chunk of lead into that gleaming white mouth. However the sights would not settle. It took a while to calm his heart and his breathing, but finally the front bead locked on the big snake’s head like a laser. His finger began to tighten slowly on the trigger. Before the Marlin cracked however, Roy heard his Grandpa whisper.
“Snakes might look awful scary to us, but remember, you look just as scary to them.”
Grandpa wasn’t there, only his words kept Roy company.
A few weeks before Grandpa had almost had “the big one.” After years of heart problems, surgeons finally had to perform multiple bypasses. It had been touch-and-go for Grandpa for a week, but now he was back home recovering, living with Roy and his parents.
The snake conversation came with Grandpa last summer after Roy had killed a big rat snake in their chicken house. Roy had been exceedingly proud of himself. His mother and father were proud as well, knowing he likely protected them from the loss of lots of eggs.
Grandpa, on the other hand, sat on the front porch not saying much. In fact, he looked somewhat grim.
“Didn’t I do a good thing Grandpa,” asked Roy, with the rat snake laid out at his feet.
Grandpa waited, answering slowly.
“Maybe, in some ways, you done a good thing,” said Grandpa. “But did you ever think about just catching that old rat snake and carrying him a long way off, rather than smackin’ him in the head with that hoe?”
Roy thought a minute and answered honestly, “Uh, no, not really. It’s a snake.”
“How many rats or mice we ever see in the corn crib,” asked Grandpa.
“I hardly ever see one,” answered Roy.
“You every wonder why,” replied Grandpa.
Before Roy could answer, he went on. “I’d venture to say that ole rat snake has swallered down a whole lots more rats and mice than he has chicken eggs. In fact, he might have ate enough rats to even earn an egg or two. But no matter, them days are over for him now.”
Roy listened closely as Grandpa went on.
“Folks is always deathly scared of snakes. Don’t matter if they’re poisonous are not. Most folks are convinced the only good snake is a dead snake. I wish they knew how many good things them snakes do for us. We’d be plumb run over with vermin if the snakes didn’t keep ’em thinned out. Sure, some of ’em can kill you deader’n four o’clock hell. But that’ll only happen a handful of times. Meanwhile a hundred folks will die after gettin’ stung by a little ole honeybee while they’re sniffin some purty flowers. You go look that up on that Innernet thingy you got.”
That night Roy did exactly that. As usual, Grandpa was right. Roy kept reading all about snakes. Maybe it was the name, but he was most fascinated by Crotalus horridus. That’s the fancy scientific name for timber rattlesnakes, the ones that live in Tennessee, even though at that time he had never seen one.
As he aimed the Marlin at the big snake now, he actually remembered reading that, during the summer, pregnant female timber rattlers preferred open, rocky ledges where the temperatures are higher. He knew that unlike some snakes, rattlers don’t lay eggs. They keep the eggs inside until they hatch and give birth to live babies. He wondered if this was such a snake, and if she had little baby rattlers that would soon be born.
He had also read that it was a timber rattler that was a prominent symbol during the American Revolution because it had a fearsome reputation. “Don’t tread on me,” were the words beneath the rattlesnake on what was known as the Gadsden flag, named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden. Roy realized that the only reason this snake was mad was because it had been “tread on.” Now, it wasn’t chasing Roy. It was only defending itself if he became the aggressor.
Roy prowled these woods almost every day. In his 14 years, this was the first time he had ever seen a rattler, although he crossed paths with copperheads regularly. He knew timber rattlers are rare and that they had even gone extinct in some other states.
His finger eased off the trigger and the Marlin went back to his side. Instead, he set the rifle down and pulled his iPhone out of his back pocket. The snake’s rattles “buzzed” again as he leaned in closer, but still far enough away to stay safely out of range of a strike. Zooming in slightly, the iPhone “clicked” as he snapped a picture of the big rattler.
Roy left her “rattlin'” as he turned to continue down the mountain. He looked forward to sharing the picture that evening with Grandpa. And he felt sure that this time, Grandpa would be proud.
(Footnote: Please watch for future installments in this continuing series of fiction stories about Roy Boone. All will carry the main title of, “He Called the Woods Home.”)