12 Jim

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Stephen Whiteside
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12 Jim

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:45 am


© Stephen Whiteside 20.10.11

Horatio could not recall ever having felt so scared. He felt as though his legs were about to give way beneath him. The whole world started to sway backwards and forwards before his eyes. Within a few moments, however, he had begun to regain a little composure, and he gave Magnifico a gentle poke. With a jerk of his head, he then drew his attention to the new threat at the far end of the log.

Magnifico’s initial reaction was similar to Horatio’s. Abject terror. The two of them slowly began to shuffle away from the centre of the log (where, before spying the snake, they had felt safest) down to the opposite end. Just as they did so, however, the unspeakable happened. The snake started to move towards them.

What were they going to do? Jumping into the water was out of the question. They could not see any land at all. The surface of the water was very broken, and full of obstacles. It would mean certain death.

What would it be like to be killed by a snake? Would he crush them to death, or bite them and poison them? Which would he choose first? Would they die together? Would one witness the death of the other?

A terrible thought occurred to Horatio. What would happen if he was given the chance to bargain for his life? To save his own life by sacrificing Magnifico’s? Would he take it? Would he betray his best friend?

All these thoughts and more raced through Horatio’s mind, as the snake now lifted its head and flashed its forked tongue in and out of its mouth. Horatio could not recall ever having seen anything so horrible. Yet now, as the end appeared inevitable, a strange calm descended upon him. He began to feel like he was an impassive observer, watching events unfold with detached curiosity. What will be will be, thought Horatio.

The snake reached the middle of the log, and stopped. That’s odd, thought Horatio. Why doesn’t he finish us off? Maybe he’s just playing with us. Wants to see us suffer. How cruel. What an unpleasant animal.

The snake then turned it head, and looked straight at them.

G’day. Name’s Jim. Howya goin?

The snake had just spoken to them. In a friendly way. What was going on?

Horatio and Magnifico were too confused and frightened to reply.

The snake then cleared its throat, and spoke in a louder voice. I said my name’s Jim. This flood’s a bit of a downer, isn’t it? I was fast asleep in the middle of this log, and suddenly couldn’t breathe. Water everywhere. Got the fright of my life. Don’t know how I got up here, but I made it somehow.

Still no reply from the rodents.

What’s up with you? A pause. Oh, I get it. Don’t tell me you’re scared? Gee, you blokes must be green. Being scared of somebody like me, on a day like this. Don’t you know the deal? First rule of the bush. Floods or fires, all hostilities suspended. I’m too scared to hunt and kill. Got no appetite anyway. Survival. That’s all I’m interested in. How am I going to digest either of you lying on a log in the middle of a flood? That could take days. What if I fell in? How am I going to swim with a dirty great rat sitting in the middle of my guts? No, you boys have nothing to fear from me. Any other day, sure, but not today. No way. We’re comrades in arms right now. That’s what we are, comrades in arms. If I can do anything to help you I will, but only because I expect you to do the same. It’s a survival strategy. Survival. That’s all any of us should be thinking about right now.

How odd, thought Horatio. A snake that doesn’t want to kill us. How strange the world is. I’d never even imagined such a thing could be. How very odd. He still did not entirely believe the snake, though. Maybe it was some sort of cruel trick. He was not going any closer.

Come back up here to the middle of the log. You’re a lot safer up here.

How do I know this isn’t some sort of a trick?

The snake gave a shrug. Of course, it had no shoulders, but it seemed to lift briefly off the log just behind the head, where its shoulders would have been if it had any.

You don’t. Guess you’ll have to trust me. Or take a risk. Do what you want. It’s only an offer.

Horatio looked at Magnifico for a lead. Clearly, the mouse was just as confused and frightened as he was. But there didn’t seem to be anything to lose, and there was certainly a lot to gain, so nervously and slowly, Horatio began to edge back once more to the middle of the log. Magnifico followed.

Soon they were both standing right beside the snake.

There. That wasn’t too hard, was it?

N..n..no, I guess not.

No, you don’t have to worry about me. Not today, and not tomorrow either, if we even see tomorrow. You look around. You’ll start to see what I mean. Predator and prey trapped together in all sorts of situations, nobody running, nobody chasing, nobody killing anybody. That’s just how it is in floods. Fires are the same. Everybody fleeing for their lives. All the usual rules are off. Pythons and possums. Eagles and rabbits. Thylacines and kangaroos. All put down their arms and make peace for the moment. Not sure about those pesky spiders, though. Not sure I’d trust them. Don’t reckon they’ve got the brains to even know what’s going on most of the time. Same for insects. I wouldn’t trust them, either. But all your higher vertebrates, all your birds, they’ll all leave you alone - assuming you leave them alone, of course!

Of..of...of course!

Horatio started to relax a little for the first time. How strange to be standing so close to a snake. And talking to it, as though it was a friend. Snake, sworn enemy of all rats! He wished he was home now, back in his own village. What a tale he’d have to tell! Nobody would believe him, surely. A snake and a rat, standing side by side, in peace and harmony. Ridiculous!

© Stephen Whiteside 21.10.11
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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