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Three Inched Fangs
I had not wanted summer to end; it just wasn’t going to happen. I put my foot down. How could something that had been so incredibly fun come to a stop? It had been the most exciting, adventurous, life-threatening summer I’d ever had until those grown ups made me go back to school and wait three-quarters of a year until next summer. Let me tell you what happened so you can see just how awesome it all was. Trust me; you’ll totally agree.
It all started before we moved. Three years ago, my family and I went from our old house in Hamilton to our new house three miles away in South Hamilton. I have since considered the ‘old house’ my childhood home, where I did most of my growing up. One aspect of that place that I remember vividly is the horse barn that sat not thirty yards away from our front door. It was called the “Big Blue Barn,” as a pun on one of our favorite TV shows “Bear in the Big Blue House.” I considered our alliteration much better than theirs.
Across the lawn and through the woods lived several neighbor houses, peering over bushes and through trees, curiously spying on our affairs. Hannah Robinson, a young friend of mine, lived a bit off to the right of our house. Neat as a pin, the Robinsons never permitted one leaf to hit their yard without being savagely swiped away by a rake. Much to the horror of her mother, our house was nothing of the sort. The grass was sprinkled with twigs, old toys, foliage, and the remains of dandelion seeds that had been blown about, as if toppings on an ice cream sundae. Nevertheless, she let Hannah come and play throughout the summer, which she often did.
My cousin Bennie lived at our house during the summer as well. His parents liked to go for month-long vacations, or “second honeymoons,” leaving their son to happily stay with his cousins. I never held this against them; Bennie’s mischief had one-handedly created seven new gray hairs on our babysitter Jessica’s head. Although we loved to have him, I did pity poor Goldy the fish every time Bennie prodded him with the end of a felt marker pen. Sometimes I thought one of the only reasons Hannah came to visit me so often was because of his presence; she’d blow a kiss at him when she thought nobody was looking, which he naturally swished away to avoid all those cooties. Bennie had also befriended a neighbor boy who lived across the polo-field in our back yard. His name was Carl, and at seven years old he was a heavy-set, five foot eight football player who had begun to grow a beard. One of Carl’s best qualities is that he owned every single Video gaming system ever invented, which he and Bennie would frequently play on. “Wanna play?” was all the encouragement Bennie needed to spend an afternoon engulfed in the Game Cube’s “Super Mario Racers Deluxe.”
Another fine quality of Carl is that he could run at about 150 miles an hour. One time we tested him by riding our bikes along the driveway and seeing if he could catch up. A dust cloud came up behind him as he bolted past, full speed ahead. As it turned out, the only thing in the world that could go faster than Carl was his crazy Uncle Herman’s car when he hurtled past the “Go Slow: Children Playing” signs.
Around that driveway, our yard looked like this: there was our brown house with a play ground and all, a polo field behind it, the barn to the side (with some forest beyond that,) lots of neighbor houses around the polo field, and a thick swampy river behind all of those.
We were playing on our swing set one summer morning; Hannah and I were playing “tea-party” up in our tree house while Bennie and Carl trapped a colony of ants under a cup down below.
“Morning Kim!” I called to our horses’ trainer; she wandered in and out of the Big Blue Barn every now and then. Kim McGuire, a tough tomboy with short boy-cut hair, was one of my idols, partly because her name was both of my favorite TV action heroines: Kim Possible and Lizzie McGuire. She waved back to me saying “Morning Alex!” then proceeded to carry bucketfuls of horse feed to some of the polo ponies.
Hannah had just poured me a steaming cup of muddy water “Cream and Sugar?” she asked.
“Certainly.” She sprinkled sand into my cup, which I pretended to drink.
“Who’s cat is that?” Hannah was pointing to the old, abandoned horse paddock that had grown into a jungle of high bushes and weeds.
“That’s Luke, he’s our cat” I answered Hannah. “He goes in that old paddock every now and then.” Each paddock was marked by a wooden fence with a small metal cord strung at the top that looked harmless until you find out it’s the electric wire.
“How can he figure out how to come back?” Hannah was staring worriedly at the place Luke had disappeared through the long grass.
“He has laser vision!” Bennie exclaimed from across the lawn.
“No no no.” Carl said. “He can smell his way back.”
“No way, you guys have got it all wrong.” How could they be so stupid? “What he does is jump ten feet up in the air then see which direction is out.” It was so obvious.
Hannah was still unsatisfied. “We should go in and help him, in case he gets stuck.” The boys looked up curiously, letting bunches of ants crawl away to safety. She got up and skipped over to the edge of the paddock trying to see through the shrubbery. We all followed behind.
She turned around and pointed at Bennie and Carl. “You guys are the boys so you have to go in first. Go ahead, Bennie. I know you can do it.” She flashed him a wink.
“What?” Bennie looked somewhere between curious and scared, his eyes reviewing the massive wall of pointy brier and weeds in front of him. “You were the ones who wanted to go in the first place. What about ‘Ladies First?’”
“No way. You boys have to clear a path for us” Hannah said, arms akimbo.
Bennie scowled. “You girls are such sissies.”
With that he turned to Carl, as if inviting him to lead the way through the bushes.
“What are you looking at me for?” asked Carl. “I’m not going in there.”
“Of course, you don’t have to go in, if you don’t want to.” Bennie sighed in disappointment. “I’m sure that even Galacta-Man takes a break from saving planet Zorfmagon and blasting away the Evil Alien Spies every once and a while.”
Carl looked distraught. “Wait, but... do you think it’s dangerous?”
“When have I ever led you wrong, Carl? We’ve been friends for five years and not once have I ever lied to you.” Before Carl could protest Bennie was pushing him through the fence to the other side.
The empty paddock hadn’t been mown in years, so the grass and shrubs had towered even over Carl’s head; fortunately, we could still see his rocket ship sneakers lighting up as he took each step.
“Everybody stick together! I don’t want to get lost!” I tried to look around for Luke but the bushes had trapped me in their evil thorny clutches. I looked up at the sky, as if expecting an assisting helicopter to come down and pull me out. Perhaps if I yelled hard enough, my babysitter Jessica, who was probably doing laundry in the house, would hear me and call the National Guard equipped with weed whackers, or maybe the NBA to spot me and lift me out.
I had no more time to contemplate how or when I was to escape because Carl shouted: “Look! Look at this!”
It took a minute to trudge my way through, going in the direction of his voice. He had discovered a large, upside down, metallic horse tub that had been surrounded by the weeds and bushes. It came up past our waists as we gathered around, marveling.
Bennie was the first to climb up, all fear and apprehension forgotten. He lifted his foot and took one step. “BOOM boom CLANK!” The metal under him worked like a steel drum, making a loud, clashing noise that resembled a peal of thunder every time he moved his feet.
“Whoa!” Carl was next. He climbed up, and, being a good size bigger than Bennie, made an even louder “CLUNK rumble rumble THUD!” as he stepped around.
“Come on!” Hannah climbed up after me. “CLANG thump BOOM” the noise was loud and made the large tub vibrate underneath us. “Aha! Lets jump!” Carl yelled.
“BAM BOOM creeek CLUNK CaBOOOM!” The metal was bending under our weight then popping back up once we moved away; fortunately, the tub was sturdy enough not to cave in.
“It sounds like we’re making a Thunder Storm!” I cried, elated.
And so began one of the best games of the summer: Thunder Jumping. Every day for the next couple weeks we’d come back to the shrubby paddock and bounce up and down, making loud, booming noises. The best part was that Jessica could never find us through the weeds and the fence, so we could do whatever we want. We’d jump crazily for an hour then come back inside, giggling with treacherously guilty faces.
“What have you guys been playing out there?” she asked suspiciously one evening. Jessica was cooking dinner; sweet, tempting smells of Chicken Pot Pie and fresh corn bread wafted towards us from the oven and stove. We had just stumbled in, our tired legs were made of jell-o and our arms were draped over each other’s shoulders.
“Nothin’” Bennie snickered. Luke wandered by our feet; he had found his way out of the paddock without trouble, presumably using his laser vision.
The next day we wreaking havoc: jumping up and down, and frightening the horses and pets as usual. Although he wasn’t necessarily known for his acute attention to detail, Bennie spotted a black barrel that had turned upside-down. It was much like the one we were stomping on but smaller and made of rubber. Out of curiosity, he waded through the bushes to have a better look.
“Careful!” Hannah called as he journeyed into the shrubs.
Closer, closer he came, until his finger was a few inches away from the tub. Then, with a flick, he upturned the barrel. That’s when it happened. I could swear the emperor of China, from the middle of some national kite parade, could hear Bennie scream. Before we could even turn our heads to see what was wrong, Bennie was at the other side of the yard, running at the speed of light into the house, still screaming his head off.
Carl seemed mildly impressed by Bennie’s speed, but had no time to comment as we were chasing after the wailing, chaotic frenzy that was Bennie.
When we made it inside, Jessica was comforting him on the couch: saying that everything was alright, and that she’d make him some cookies to feel better, and that he could just sit tight right where he was for the rest of the day. Poor Bennie’s ruddy cheeks were smothered in tears; as he saw us, he tried to cover them up with his dirty, Spiderman shirtsleeve.
“What happened?” I asked him as he began to recover.
“It was a huge s-s-snake!” He wailed, spitting slightly. “ It was l-living under the b-b-barrel. It was, like,” ~snifle~ “twenty feet long and this wide.” Bennie held up his hands about two feet apart. “It had fangs that were at least three inches long! I s-saw them when it tried to b-bite my head off. I could’ve d-died!”
I wiped some saliva off my face. “Wow. It tried to bite you?”
“Yeah! It had red, beady eyes and a huge mouth and wanted to eat m-me! It snapped at me when I turned over its barrel.”
“Wow.” Carl marveled. “An anaconda in our own backyard. Let’s go catch it!”
Although Hannah was terribly concerned with Bennie’s state of health, we decided that such a rare creature so close to our house could not go unexplored.
We spent the next couple of days in our tree fort, busy planning out our attack maneuvers, deciding who’d go in first (the nose game came in handy here), and what to bring. Of course we would have to have some safety gear: swords, shields, helmets, kneepads, and possibly that gross, toxic window spray. Everybody knew that snakes hated that stuff.
“Okay, one other thing.” Carl said, wrapping up our solemn conversation. “We need to decide who’s going to tip open the barrel. Bennie let it fall back down last time, so the snake probably went back to live under it.”
Bennie was sitting in the corner, shaking slightly; he was still traumatized by his near-death experience. He had almost fully recovered when Carl decided to jokingly put a plastic stake under his pillow the night before. There was silence; Bennie’s arms, wrapped around his hiding face, told us that he wasn’t especially keen on being the one to flip the barrel again. We stared around at each other for a while. By then, our eyebrows had crept than our hairlines, expecting anybody else to answer Carl’s question.
I sighed. “Well, since Carl is the biggest, the snake won’t be able to swallow him whole as easily, right?”
“No, no, no. Because I’m the biggest, the snake won’t have to aim as much to bite me.”
Hannah rolled her eyes, “You just don’t want to go in. You should because you’re the boy and we’re the girls. Boys should always do the dangerous stuff first. Bennie went in, didn’t he? He was brave like Prince Edward, who always saves all the princesses...”
“That doesn’t matter! The snake won’t notice if what it’s eating is a boy or a girl, will it? Aren’t you always saying you wanted to save the animals like Bindi the Jungle Girl? Now’s your chance!”
“Stop it guys.” I cut them off. Hannah scowled at Carl who returned her deadly glare. “I’ll go in and get the snake. My Aunt Beth does it all the time, out where she lives in San Diego. There are tons of rattlesnakes out there. Just make sure we have a shovel.”
Bennie peeked out from underneath his arms to look at me. Carl nodded in appreciation. Hannah still disapproved of my decision, claiming that Carl still ought to have done it.
So, the next morning, there we were. Standing a few feet away from the paddock’s fence, we were armed head to toe. I had a bucket on my head, an old shovel, my dad’s hiking boots, snow pants, and swim goggles. The others looked similar to myself, but with bike helmets, loaded water guns, some Windex of course, and I believed, though I wasn’t sure, some extra-lucky Superman underwear.
We filed in, taking our normal path that lead to the Thunder-Jumping site. Bennie waited behind, standing guard near the fence, just in case the snake tried to come at us from behind.
I could smell the snake’s house before I saw it; it stank of dead mice and fear. Now was the moment we had planned out for so long. This was it. Carl and Hannah waited a few feet away and watched as I ever so slowly approached the menacing black barrel.
“Okay.” I told them. “I’m gonna flip it. Get ready!” Carl pumped up his water gun; Hannah clutched an old tennis racket.
“Careful Alex!” I heard Bennie call from a distance.
My heart was racing. I extended a shaky arm out towards the brim of its house. Careful, now, I thought to myself. It could spring out at me at any moment.
I nudged it with the end of my shovel, and nothing happened. Quickly, I flipped it over and shrieked.
“What is it!?” Hannah yelled.
I turned back to face them. “It’s not there!” They looked confused. “It must be somewhere else in the paddock! Run for it!”
We sprinted, toppling over each other, as fast as we could, wearing all that gear through all the thorn bushes, which in itself wasn’t terribly fast. Bennie, having experience in this area, was fastest to run away and climb up to our tree house, the rest of us following behind.
We were safe. Huffing and puffing, we helped each other remove our snake-proof equipment.
“We have to make a new plan.” Carl began. “It could jump out at us from all sides, now. We will need three times as much ammo. Alex, you get the kitchen pans; Hannah, get a big bed sheet from the bedroom; Bennie, you stand guard, and I’ll-“
“Wait!” I cut him off. “Look there! It’s...oh my gosh!”
Everybody peeked out of the small fort entrance, squishing our heads to look and see where I had pointed. Luke was jovially bouncing out of the thorny paddock. His black fur was easy to see as he trotted along the yard. He had a small, skinny snake in his mouth.
We silently turned to Bennie, who’d face had flushed tomato red. The snake was about the size of a Twizzler, no thicker than my pinkie finger. It was hanging, very dead, from Luke’s jaws. Hannah was disgusted, scrunching up her nose and sticking out her tongue.
As for Carl and I, we just laughed, and we kept laughing for about the rest of the summer. Luke had saved the day. The snake was beaten. We held the victory party on the Thunder Jumping tub, which we had reclaimed from the evil snake. As for refreshments, we had mud pies, grass salad, and an opened lollipop Carl had found in his back pocket. When we recounted the story to Kim, she congratulated us, lightly punching us in the shoulder, and gave us a celebratory bucket of horse feed to use as confetti. The party was a blast.
That summer I had discovered something totally beyond what I had ever learned before: sometimes it’s better to find your own courage than to look for it in others. That way, everybody gets a chance to be his or her own hero, instead of looking up to someone else in envy. I will remember Thunder-Jumping with Bennie, Carl, and Hannah as an exciting and successful adventure. I had found my courage to go searching for that snake, even when I imagined it to be ten times my size. At the same time, however, I was proving something important to Hannah, Bennie and Carl. I showed them that even though I was a girl, I could do anything any boy could do. I could climb a mountain, wrestle a bear, and down a gallon of Dr. Pepper just as well as Carl or Bennie could, despite what Hannah said was what girls should be doing. I could have turned to somebody else to do it, but instead, I took it upon myself to fix the problem. In the end, I pried the dead snake from Luke’s mouth and carried it in a net out to the swamp. We’ve had no more problems with garter snakes ever since.