Monday, September 17, 2018

Playing Adult Games by Betsy Ashton

Do you remember the cheesy games we used to have to play? Those ice breakers at camp, corporate retreats, training sessions? Those adult questions that were little more than "what I did on my summer vacation" but which were meant to share something most people wouldn't know about you? Well, I have a secret most of you don't know.


Always have. When I was five, I drifted away from Mom at the San Diego Zoo. The gibbons were over-gibboning. I didn't like it. I wandered off. When Mom discovered I was missing, she knew where to find me. The snake house. Yup, there I was, staring at an emerald-green boa, the prettiest snake I'd ever seen.

So, when I began writing, I knew I'd have to write about snakes. I haven't found a place for them in the Mad Max series, except to explain, in Max 3, why so many doctors and nurses at a New Mexico hospital carried guns. Rattlesnakes. The serial killer didn't use deadly toxins. Couldn't have a snake suddenly slither in. When I started writing about a family living on the high desert of Southern California, the setting was ripe for a rattler.

Here's the setup. Toad is around ten or eleven; his younger brother, Cricket, is about seven. Killing a rattler is a rite of passage, one Toad had experienced but one that Cricket desperately wanted. He had to kill a snake to keep up with his brother.

“I gotta pee before I do anything else.” Cricket jumped off the platform and tripped on an untied shoelace. He landed hard. Momentarily winded, he rolled over in the sand before sitting up to check the damage he’d done to an elbow. He heard buzzing before he saw the snake.

“Toad! There’s a big rattler about six feet off the deck.”

“Don’t move.”

“I won’t.” Cricket froze, eyes on the rattler, which had coiled in warning. He didn’t blink for fear the snake would strike. Ranger ran down the three steps to the sand and barked. The snake raised its rattles, head following the dog’s movement, tongue tasting the air.

“Ranger! Sit!” Toad jumped down, machete in one hand, forked stick in the other. “Want me to kill it?”

“Uh-uh. I wanna do it.”

“Are you sure you remember what Pops said?”

“Yeah. Give me the stick.”

“I think I should do it.”

“It’s my snake. I have to kill it.”

While the boys were arguing, the snake left off sunning itself and rattled a final warning, before it uncoiled and slithered off.

“It’s getting away” Cricket shouted.

“Kill it.” Toad yelled.

Cricket pinned the snake with the fork right behind the triangular head, exactly like Pops had taught him. Toad handed him the machete. His brother swung the sharp knife and severed the head with a single chop. It flew a few feet away from the body, poison dripping from its fangs.

Ranger retreated to the safety of the platform and barked encouragement. Both boys watched the snake’s body whip back and forth before the convulsions slowed to a stop. Toad walked around Cricket and kicked the head aside.

Cricket ran toward the outhouse. “Now, I really gotta pee. Don’t you do anything with the snake. I get to cut the rattles off.” When he was back, he collected his trophy. The boys skinned the snake before burying it, head and all. They nailed the skin next to a dozen others on the back of Shorty’s run-in shed.

When the boys' parents got home a couple of hours later, Cricket crowed about what he'd done.

“Daddy, I killed my first snake today. See. I have a rattle of my own.”

“Did you really kill the snake?” Dad looked skeptical. “Are you sure Toad didn’t kill it?”

“I did it myself.”


“Really,” Toad said.

And so Cricket takes one step toward adulthood. Not much of a step, but movement nonetheless. BTW, I killed my first rattler when I was little older than the fictional Cricket. I kept my rattles for decades in my treasure box. One day, it vanished. I don't miss it, but if I saw another rattler, I'd have no problem dispatching it.

Betsy Ashton is the author of the Mad Max mystery series, Unintended Consequences, Uncharted Territory, and Unsafe Haven. She also wrote a dark psychological suspense novel, Eyes Without A Face, about a female serial killer, who unpacks her life and career in first person.


Margo Hoornstra said...

***Shudder, shudder*** I HATE snakes. More power to you, and Cricket, and Toad. Guess somebody has to like them. My brother used to catch garter (I think that's how you spell it) snakes and chase me with them. That's most of what we have in the Midwest. My husband had to contend with them when he was in the service. And, in New Mexico of all things. Go figures. Best of luck with this story.

Jannine Gallant said...

Great excerpt! Uh, no, I'm not a snake fan. We had rattlers where I grew up--my dad ran over one once and fried it up (I did NOT partake). And bull snakes that liked to sun themselves on the airstrip out in front of our house--we had to ride our bikes around them. And water snakes that swam by us in the river (shudder). When we were kids, our neighbor had a boa constrictor that got loose. We were all a little nervous, wondering where it would show up. It was found safe and sound in a tree in their yard. So many creepy memories. LOL

Brenda Whiteside said...

Lots of rattlers here in AZ. I've nearly stepped on them 3 times. But I've never killed one. Wouldn't want to. I'm not particularly afraid of snakes, but I respect and keep my distance, just in case. Love the excerpt.

Leah St. James said...

Great scene! It's so far out of my world and experience, every word is a discovery. I love the names and the back-and-forth between the boys. Nice job.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Snakes don't bother me, in general...rattlers bother all those except folks who know rattlers have a place in the ecosystem. I like the fact rattlers give you a warning...I call that kind. Your boys sound real...thanks for the excerpt.

Diane Burton said...

Great excerpt, Betsy. We had common garter snakes where I grew up. In my early 20s, a group of 3rd graders found one on the playground and bet I wouldn't touch it. I screwed up my gumption and touched it without cringing. The boys thought I was cool. I wanted to throw up. LOL Never did that again.