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More Frontier Epic Samples

THE RATTLESNAKE AND THE SIOUX GIRL

 

     The snake wasn't in any hurry and seemed to float on the mulch of leaves and twigs as it eased through the small woods.  It's serpentine curves appeared to remain motionless, yet they traveled the length of the snake and somehow the earth moved beneath it.  It was not going fast, but there was purpose in its motion and it steadily covered the ground in that weird slow pace that is typical of all snakes.

     The red tongue darted out ceaselessly, forked tip bending up and down as it collected molecules of odor which were then translated into scent inside the snake's mouth.  The snake was tracking its prey, trailing it by scent in the way of all rattlesnakes.

     The young bobcat had appeared suddenly in the grove, stalking prey of his own, and when it had gotten very close the snake struck without warning.  It lunged forward, mouth open wide and fangs thrusting out into the air.  The cat was quick, very quick, jumping straight into the air almost immediately, but it had been too intent on the bird it was chasing.  The snake had felt the warm fur of the animal as it struck firmly against the hindquarters, and the fangs penetrated the cat's tough skin and the poison squirted and the cat was doomed.

     The cat was fast, and it dashed away, running from the threat of the snake.  But the snake knew that death was already inside the cat, knew that it was just a matter of time until the cat slowed and laid down and stopped breathing.  So, the snake followed along behind, trailing the cat with it's unusual but incredibly efficient sense of smell.  As long as the snake could follow the trail, it would sooner or later come upon the dead cat.  It was a very old snake, and it knew.

     It had no real emotions as such.  More like instincts, burned into it's tiny brain by experience and some intuitive knowledge that came with creation itself.  There was no anger within it.  No love.  No hate.  Just being.  Just being and occasional hunger.  Not even fear as such.

     Like the time the large bird attacked it.  The snake had felt no anger or fear.  It had just responded to instincts and coiled and struck, again and again.  No frustration at missing the much faster bird each time.  No fear that it might die.  Just the single self-defense response.  Coil and strike.  Coil and strike.  Try to escape if possible, but the bird kept landing on it with those sharp feet and the snake had to coil and strike and coil and strike.

     Then the bird had made a mistake and slipped.  A single fang had struck home, but that was enough, and the bird had flown away to die and the snake had crawled away, feeling no sense of relief.  No memory of fear.  Just pain from where the claws had been.  Just pain and the sense of being that was always there.

     Now summer was almost here.  Still some days were cooler than the snake preferred, and it could feel the heavy slowing down precipitated by the cooler shade of the small woods.  The snake wanted to find a rock and sun itself back into full awareness, but for now it just kept on, following the trail laid down with its tireless tongue.  First food, then warmth, for the snake had not eaten in many days.

     The trail was almost a straight line, as if the cat had known that distance bought time, delayed the hideous unhinged jaw and ultimate horror that awaited it.  The snake never pondered on that.  The fact that it was a straight trail simply made it easier to follow in that effortless slide

     The snake emerged from the woods into the grass of the late-spring prairie.  The afternoon sun warmed it and with the warmth came increased awareness.

     A ten-year-old Indian girl somewhere up ahead ran playing through the grass, stopped when she came upon the dying cat.  The girl squatted down, arms on knees, chin on arms, and watched solemnly as the cat's breathing slowed.  This was something new and interesting, something worth sharing, and the girl called to her brother.  But he ignored her.  A young boy pretending to be a warrior did not listen to women.  She called again, but the snake was deaf and could not hear her at all.  It could not see her yet either, for she was crouched down, intent on the dying cat.

     The snake slithered across the warm earth that surged heat into its sluggish blood, twisting its scaly curves around the fresh stems and clumps of green for greater purchase on the ground.  Life and warmth revived the snake to full consciousness and it was aware that it was hungry, and it knew there was food just a short distance ahead.

     It crawled along the scent left by the doomed cat, crawling closer and closer to the huddled form of the little girl and the dying cat.

     The cat's side heaved slowly as it took in air, but its eyes were already fixed in the unseeing stare of death.  One more breath, more like a sigh really, and the suffering was finally over, the animal completely still.  The girl studied it solemnly, then reached forward tentatively to touch the soft fur.

     Snake did not know the girl was there, but snake would react without emotion when it discovered the presence of danger.  Snake would not consider consequences or probabilities when it reacted.  It would just react.  In an instant.

     Its receptors could sense the heat from the bodies over there, although it could not know that there were two of them and one of them was much larger than itself.  Much larger than itself and very much alive and therefore a great danger to the snake.  It could not know this, but it would soon.  And then it would do what its instincts told it to do.

     And then the snake came out from the grass and was there, beside the young girl and the dead cat.

     She didn't really hear anything, that wasn't why she looked.  Maybe it was just a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye, or maybe it was just an instinct implanted by countless generations that had come before, but something drew her eyes off to the right, off to the awful fat tube with glittering eyes that was suddenly there.

     Her every instinct was to jump up and run away, but she was a very smart young girl and she knew that any movement on her part would precipitate a strike and this was surely the biggest, fattest snake she had ever seen.  She froze, arm extended and fingers touching the warm fur of the recently dead cat.  The snake stopped dead, tongue flicking in and out as it tried to analyze the new situation.

     It could clearly perceive the warmth of the girl's bare arm, could sense the bare leg only inches away from its head.  Thoughts of defending its kill never entered the mind of the snake, it just reacted as it always had, always would, and slowly drew back, tensing its muscles until it was shaped into that familiar serpentine curve that prepared the snake to strike, that warned potential victims of its deadly intentions.

     The girl's eyes widened, and she felt panic flood through her.  The awful beady-eyed tube drew up in a curve that screamed danger to her.  Somehow, she knew the reptile was going to strike, going to sink those filthy fangs into her and there was nothing she could do to stop the horrible thing.  No matter how fast she moved, how frantic her drive to escape, the snake was faster, and she knew it.  She stood no chance, and she would be bitten and twist and squirm herself to death all covered with fiery red blotches just as she had seen Blue Dog's young son do only last year.

     A whimper escaped her lips and she heard it as if she was someplace distant, not right there inside her body.  But she was right there, and the snake was right there, and time moved inexorably onward.  The cold slitted eyes hung there for a split second, then all the coiled violence happened, and the snake struck, a straining tube of suddenly released muscular power, mouth agape and fangs forward.