Snake, by Alex Austin

by Benjamin Imamovic

Brent and James stood in a burned meadow, where Yuudai had taken them to see the aftermath of a November fire. The grass was reduced to smoldering black stubble. Like waves licked up by the wind, yellow flames would rise in the distance and fall. Each boy held a stick, nudging at something at their feet. Yuudai moved toward them, the burned grasses crunching like a cow eating heartily. They took no notice when he walked up to them and put his hands on their backs. He looked over their shoulders. On the ground was a snake, almost half its flesh burned away so that the skeleton was visible. The snake was trying to move, to escape, but getting nowhere.

“Dad, will its skin grow back?”

“No, it won’t return.”

“Is it in pain?”

“It’s probably in shock. Beyond pain, I suppose.”

“Is it scared?”

“I think it is.”

“Should we help it?”

“The way you helped the snake in the story.”

“The one you shot with an arrow?”

He had told them the story many times. Yuudai was 13 and with some friends in the woods. They had bows and arrows and were shooting at anything that moved. A snake darted in front of them and disappeared into tall grass. A few minutes later Yuudai saw the grass move and shot in that direction. He followed the path of the arrow into the tall grass. He found the snake wriggling but not moving. The arrow had spit the snake, pinned it to the ground. It was a one-in-a-million shot.

“What did you do?” was his sons’ required question.

“I watched it for a few minutes as it tried to escape from the arrow. Then I put my foot on its head, and pushed it into the soft earth. I cut off  the head with no more effort than it would have taken to slice a banana.”

“Was it a poisonous snake?”

“No. It was a small black snake. Harmless.”

“Then why—”

“I don’t know.”

“It died quickly, didn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Should we cut off his head, dad?” asked Brent, staring at the half-naked snake. “To put it out of its pain.”

“Let’s go home boys.”

James looked around, but the blackened meadow extended indefinitely, an ocean of charred land.

“Which way, dad?”

The father didn’t know. He stood between them, took their hands and led them toward the beat of his heart.

The black snake followed, its fleshless bones going clickety clack.

Sayōnara

Alex Austin’s fiction has been published in Black Clock Magazine, Rose & Thorn Journal, Beyond Baroque and Caffeine Magazine. His plays have been produced in Los Angeles, Portland and New York City. His play Mimosa is published by Playscripts, Inc.  Austin lives in Los Angeles, where he is currently on jury duty with plenty of time on his hands.

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