Fiction

Story: The Snake-watcher

Troy Farlander

I found out about the Orls a couple weeks before the home incident.

The field that I was investigating wobbled in the Houston heat. The grass and the Indian paintbrush looked more like guacamole and hot sauce, and I felt as if I were slogging through gelatin, warm gelatin, so by the time I made it to the pond at the center of the field, my clothes felt like they’d been lacquered on.

Fifteen feet in front of me, curled up on the gray rocks bordering the pond, was what looked like a black shoelace. I tottered toward it, and the rocks swayed and clinked beneath me. It appeared to curl around something the color of a ripe tomato.

A couple more steps. It was what I came to see. Just a little guy. Not much wider than a pencil. The red-orange on the underside of his spiraled tail blazed against his backside, which looked like a twisted mini bicycle tire. And a thin yellow band wrapped around his neck. Clearly a ringneck.

Funny seeing that bright red-orange among all the leathery blackness. Like a harpist in army fatigues.

I’m a snake-watcher. I’ve photographed about twenty different species around here. The most beautiful are the coral snake, and the milk snake.

As I got my camera ready, a van pulled up on the shoulder of the road next to the field.

It was burgundy, and it had a big sign: “Cal Orl Fence Installation,” with a yellow logo that looked like four sticks of butter standing together. The ringneck was gone.

I slipped behind some bushes. The driver got out and walked around the van. Red baseball hat, shorts, and work boots. His T-shirt had a large red star: the Houston Astros logo.

He slid open the side door, then patted his thigh. A dog jumped out. Medium-sized.

It jumped right back into the van, but the man yanked it out. It tumbled into the rocks on the shoulder.

The dog twisted back up to its feet, then shook off dust. It squatted to jump back into the van. Charcoal-colored fur. This Cal Orl put his hand on the van and bashed his boot into the dog’s side. It backed away from the van, then lay down in the field, close to the road.

Orl slapped the side of the van, kicked rocks at the dog. It popped up. Orl pointed into the field. The dog stared at him. Orl stomped over to the dog, grabbed its collar, and then dragged it into the field. It resisted. Its whimpers sounded like ice getting scraped off a windshield.

Orl dropped to one knee, then put a hand on the dog’s back. His other hand hammered down on the dog’s rear. So hard he almost lost his balance. The dog yelped, then lay down again.

A woman sat in the passenger’s seat. She was looking at the mirror, applying makeup I think.

Orl put both hands on the dog’s collar, then stumbled backwards as he dragged the dog like a bag of rocks. About thirty feet into the field, he let go of the collar. The dog looked up at him and wagged its tail. Orl took off his hat and wiped his forehead. He started walking back to the van. The dog followed.

Orl turned around and lunged at the dog. It scooted backwards. Orl pointed into the field and yelled something. Then he resumed his walk to the van. Again, the dog followed.

Orl whirled around. His arm shot down like a fastball pitcher’s. His fist slammed into the dog’s face. This time, I heard Orl. “Get the hell out of here!” The dog moved backward, then lay down. Cal Orl strolled back to his van like he just dropped off an estimate for a fence installation.

The dog got to its feet, then licked its paws. It tilted its head and watched the van drive off.

When I got to the dog, he was lying down. Blood stained the grass around his snout. A splotch of white on the top of his head revealed his breed: Australian Cattle Dog.

The dog tag said “Lucky.” I felt welts all over his body. “You’re not so lucky, are you boy?” Without moving his head, Lucky looked up at me. His eyes glowed a coppery orange. Reminded me of the sandstone mounds in the Australian outback. His tail flopped back and forth a couple times. “Well, maybe today is a lucky day for you after all.”

Last year, the Astros made it to the World Series. They got crushed by the White Sox. Why do they call it the World Series, anyway, when all the teams are from the US?

***

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Categories: Fiction

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