Hedley retracted his arm from the burrowed hole with a yowl. His red face bit down on his lip to cease the quivering. He tried not to cry, but the tear in his eye got pushed out. It glistened a slow race down his red cheek.
Hedley’s mother ran up to the rock pile where he was playing. “What is it?” she asked.
Hedley had his arm chicken winged and his hand tucked into his shirt. His mother extended this awkward position for inspection. “Let me see it”.
The meaty part of the hand was swollen red with two small puncture wounds. This was no midget vampire bite though.
“I told you to leave those snakes alone!”
Hedley looked at his mother with a sorrowful expression, yet statuesque. He could have been in shock. Or, like the hundreds of times he’s heard his mother say LEAVE THOSE SNAKES ALONE, his brain did not absorb it.
“Come on,” She consoled, “Let’s get you cleaned up for dinner”.
Hedley and his mother walked back to the house. She put her hand on his shoulder and pulled him to her, barely reaching the protruding part of her hip.
Dinner was the usual fare; Meat, potatoes and greens decorated the plate. “Come on Hedley. Eat your meat,” his mother commanded.
Hedley looked at his plate with disgust. The meat and potato stared back at him saying, “Yeah Hedley. Come eat us. It will be fun!”
He has no problems eating his greens. Hedley loved vegetables. Brussel sprouts. Green beans. Broccoli. Peas. Spinach. You name it and he would eat it up. He loved vegetables, especially if they were green.
“You know,” his father said, while potato skins did suicide jumps from his lip, “You keep chasing those snakes, one of these days you're goin' to piss off the wrong type of snake. Your mother and I may not be around to save you. What do you think about that?”
Hedley picked his meat apart. At this point, it looked more like road kill.
The next day Hedley was in the backyard swinging a stick around. There are many things in the backyard that need a good beating. Tree trunks. Dirt. Metal pipes. Air. They all ask for it and when a kid runs outside to play, you can see the exhilarating rage in his eyes; I MUST BEAT THINGS WITH A STICK! Even pansy bushes are not safe from a child’s need to beat things with a stick.
After giving the juniper bush a good 2-3 whops, Hedley caught a glimpse of bright color rush from under the bush. Startled at first, he was quickly overcome with awe. This slinky friend was different than the usual green and brown encounters. This one was striped with colors of gold, ebony and rust.
The panicked reptile blundered in the moment and found a trapping within the nook of a tree trunk. Hedley’s eyes swelled beyond the sheaths of his eyelids. He waved his stick in the air and galloped over to the woody plant remains.
The cowering creature wound herself into a pile of soft-served chicken shit. Hedley knew what he could beat with a stick and what he couldn’t. Trees are okay. The swing set is okay. The house is not okay. The ground is okay. But you never…never never ever…beat a living thing with a stick. But it IS okay to poke it.
Hedley slowly pushed his wooden weapon into the mound of quivering scales. Poke.
Curious. The snake moved a bit, but she seemed docile. Maybe this is a friendly snake.
Hedley reached in slowly. In a quick-swift motion, he caught the snake around the neck. He stood up, rotating the snake's head towards his sternum. For a moment, Hedley stared at the snake and the snake stared at him. No words needed to be said as they communicated on a higher plane.
The snake slipped Hedley the tongue a few times, tasting the smell of her intruder. Hedley could see his reflection in the black beady eyes that were sizing him up.
“We’re friends, right?” Hedley asked.
The snake felt the clasp around her neck loosen. She lunged and latched onto Hedley’s heart.
As quickly as it happened, Hedley ripped the snake off and threw her to the ground. The snake hurried back to her juniper bush. Hedley stood there shocked. He looked about the world around him. Everything seemed calm. The wind blew. Birds flew above him, tweeting as they kissed the sun. Besides, it didn’t even hurt much.
This time, Hedley knew better than to cry and bring his mother running. He pulled down his shirt for inspection. The bite marks weren’t even that big and it wasn’t any more red than usual. This was reassuring.
Hedley decided it best to continue to play. He picked up his stick and continued to wallop unsuspecting dirt piles.
The sun crept behind the tree line. Although it was still many more stick swings away from dinner, Hedley was exhausted. He must have really been relentless in his beatings because he has never been this breathless.
He sat against the withered tree trunk to catch his breath. Taking himself away from all the action and excitement of object abuse, he listened to his heart. It was beating hard and fast within his confined and swollen chest. His mouth started to water and his eyes felt like nighttime.
I don’t feel good.
Hedley couldn’t muster the energy to run back to the house, so he resorted to crawling on his hands and knees. But even that took effort.
One hand in front of the other, he slowly made it as far as the juniper bush before collapsing to the ground. He rolled over on his back and stared up at the sky. Everything was calm. There were no more birds and no more sun. The sky swirled with purples, reds and oranges. It was a good day to die.
When Hedley didn’t come when called for dinner, his mother went out looking for him. She found him lying next to the juniper bush with a smile of blue lips. A dozen baby snakes with gold, ebony and rust stripes played among his body.
Copyright 2009 Gris Grimly