Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Story A Week: Rattler

The valley lay in a patchwork of golds and greens backed by tawny hills. She traced the meandering river, mirroring the sky, bright blue, only a knot of low clouds forming on the eastern horizon.

Kim shaded her face with her hand, wishing for the hundredth time she’d worn a hat, or at least more sunscreen. She could feel the skin on her nose blistering, as if she were standing with her head in an oven.

“It all looks so perfect from up here,” she said, kicking at a tumbleweed a foot in circumference that was inching closer to her every time the wind breathed. They almost seemed alive, the way they lingered in one spot – usually in groups – only to race away the next moment.

“It is perfect,” Patrick said. “What’re you talking about?” But he was laughing as he said it.

“I’m talking about not being able to see the puncture vines that pop your tires from up here.”

“Or the sludge at the edge of the river.”

“Or the crab grass.”

“Or hear babies crying,” he said.

Their daughter was back with Grandma and Grandpa. Kim checked her watch. She was still breastfeeding, so they couldn’t be away long.

“But at least your parents have a pool,” she said. “And I’m ready for it right about now.”

“Time to head back?”

“Will you carry me?” She was joking, of course, but Patrick glanced down at his sweat-blotched shirt, and held out his arms.

“Hey, if you want me to….”

“No,” she said. “But I’ll take one of those sweaty hands of yours, instead.”

“What we need,” he said, hooking his hand into hers, “is a slip n’ slide that runs from up here straight down into my parents’ pool.”

“Now that would be awesome,” she said. “I could definitely go for—”

“Stop!” His hand worked loose.


“Did you hear that?” The tendons in his neck stuck out like cords.

She shook her head mechanically. All she could hear was a breeze rustling through the grass, and crickets.

“Rattler,” he said.


“I don’t know, I can’t see,” he whispered. “Back up.”

They took three steps backward. Kim’s instinct was to keep going – run and never stop. But Patrick grabbed her elbow. “Okay, buddy, where are you?” he breathed.

Her eyes scanned the parched, blond brush. “Do you see it?”

“No,” he said. “But rattling’s a warning.”

“Patrick,” she whined.

She wasn’t faint hearted usually. But Patrick hadn’t mentioned the possibility of snakes. Snakes were different.

“Let’s just keep moving,” he said. “Don’t hurry. We’ll just walk through this section and get past it, wherever it is.”

“I don’t think I can move.”

“You don’t have a choice,” he said. “Take my hand. Don’t speak. Just walk.”

She felt his hand slide back into hers, tugging her rigid body forward. “Patrick!”

It was a pain like a knife slitting the skin, one you don’t feel at first. But she’d seen the head lunge at her from behind one of those puffs of sagebrush. And she’d seen its beaded tail as it made its escape. And now, slowly, she felt the burn.

She crumpled.

He swore, down on his knees next to her, juggling his cell phone in his free hand. “We’ll get you back, Kimmy! Sit up! Don’t lie down! Hold on!”

The sun’s glare hurt her eyes. She closed them. This didn’t feel real, the burning on her face and the burning in her leg, the double puncture of two venomous fangs. Her mind reeled at the impossibility of it.

“Where’s that slip n’ slide when you need it?” she gasped.

Thanks to Kim for the inspiration for this story. The words she chose were mirrored, breastfed and patchwork. Not sure how I got a rattlesnake story out of that, but inspiration works in weird ways sometimes. Kim, don't worry. Patrick gets this particular Kim to the hospital and she doesn't die. Wouldn't want you to think I was trying to kill off the character I named after you. *grin* 

If you would like to provide some inspiration for a future story, click here and write your three words in the comments section. Thanks!


  1. Oh, I didn't want it to end! I didn't think it was actually going to BITE her.

    I've never been bitten by a snake, so if I were to write this story, I'd have to do some serious research. How do you go about researching things you haven't experienced, especially sensations, when you plan to write about them?

  2. Krista, Good question! I just read a whole bunch on the internet using a Google search. What I found was that snake bites aren't horribly painful -- it's the after effects that are horrible. Basically, I just tried to guess what it would feel like. If I were writing this for REAL publication, I would find a snake bite victim to ask specifics.... So I guess I wasn't as thorough as I should've been. :)


  3. Hey, that was fun!

    I have to say that when "a story a week" pops up on my google reader account, I often just keep my browser opened on my computer, then come back to it when I've got a break in the day, but in the first scan, as soon as I realized that it was "my story," well, I just had to read it then. It was WAY more exciting to find out Kim's fate when she was named after me!!

    Even though it's six twenty a.m. here. Which is not usually an exciting time of day for me.

    (I'm up with the baby--who didn't like the story, much at all actually.)

  4. Wonderful story! I hope Kim gets to the hospital in time...I guess we'll have to wait and see if you post the ending. Nicely done!

  5. I've never been bitten by a snake either, and I used to play with them (not rattle snakes). When I was a kid, I thought that only the poisonous ones bit. Thanks for sharing another great story with us!