Thursday, March 24, 2011

Venom (A Short Story)

by Kevin Rodgers

An old lady sat on a rocking chair.  A gentle breeze lifted gray hair from her scalp.  She sipped lemonade from a plastic cup before she placed the cup on a wood table next to the chair.  Her dog, a black labrador retriever, bounced up the steps that connected the porch to the front yard.  She cringed when she noticed a black snake in the dog's jaws.  The snake twitched as blood oozed from puncture wounds in its midsection.  The dog dropped the injured snake next to her feet.  She rose from the rocking chair and stepped toward a screened door, which separated her from the safety of the house's foyer.

The arthritis is getting worse, she told herself.

Her knees and back ached.  The pain intensified when thunderstorms approached in the afternoon.  Despite the pain, she refused to go to the doctor.  Her daughter, Edith, and her son, Zach, wanted her to do something to alleviate the pain and gain some sense of comfort.  But she was very stubborn about going to see the doctor.  She felt this way because Dr. Kolb, her primary care physician, was a money-hungry quack who had a track record of misdiagnosing patients.  A few years ago, Dr. Kolb had told her husband, Joe, that the pain in his stomach was merely indigestion.  Joe learned later that it was really colon cancer.  Ever since Joe's death, she refused to believe anything Dr. Kolb said.

Dr. Kolb knows he killed poor Joe, she thought.

The snake continued to flop on the warped floorboards of the porch.  The dog sat in front of his trophy and grinned at her while his pink tongue dangled from between his teeth.  His tail wagged constantly, causing a thump, thump sound to interrupt peaceful silence.  The old lady knew that the dog expected to be rewarded for his efforts.  She realized that he wanted a Begging Strip or a rawhide bone.

The old lady, Naomi, inched away from the front door and bent at the waist.  Her eyes, which were green with good vision, examined the recently deceased reptile.  She noticed rattles on the tip of its tail.  Long fangs dangled from the pink flesh of its gaping mouth.  Beady, black eyes stared at the ceiling fan as its blades whirled, producing a cool breeze.  Naomi felt dirty and uncomfortable when she looked at the snake's eyes.  She glanced the other way when gooseflesh spread across her arms.

Naomi opened the screened door and stepped into the foyer.  The dog, Jake, trotted into the house behind her.  His claws click-clacked on the hardwood floor.  They entered the kitchen, where ceramic tile floors and matching countertops sparkled in the glow of overhead, flourescent lights.  Edith had driven home from Florida State University during spring break and helped her clean the house.  Even now, days after Edith had gone back to college, the scent of Pine Sol lingered in the crisp, cold air.

Naomi removed a Begging Strip from its plastic bag and handed it to Jake.  She patted him on the head and said, "Here you go, boy."

Jake gobbled the snack in less than a second.  Naomi smiled when she realized he wanted another one.  She plucked another treat from the bag.  Jake's teeth snapped at her hand anxiously.  She'd never seen him become so aggressive when she gave him snacks.  She recoiled when she reached out to pet him and a low growl rattled in his throat.

"You okay, Jake?" she asked.

Jake ignored her and trotted back into the foyer.  She followed him, opened the screened door, and they returned to the front porch.  As she collapsed into the rocking chair and sipped her lemonade, she noticed movement on the floorboards.  She placed the plastic cup on the table, exhaled a gasp of surprise, and got to her feet.

Jake barked at the dead snake.  Naomi cringed when she noticed that the reptile had somehow given birth to several baby serpents.  They swarmed on the floor next to their dead mother.  Naomi backed away from them out of instinct.  She moved a bit too fast and felt arthritis flare behind both of her kneecaps.  Her legs buckled and she collapsed against the screened door.  Then another jolt of arthritis rippled up and down her spinal cord.  She wailed in agony as she collapsed to the floor.

Naomi reached out to Jake for help.  He sat next to the rocking chair and smiled at her, obviously not concerned.  The baby snakes slithered across the floorboards toward Naomi.  Saliva dripped from Jake's tongue and he wagged his tail.  When the newborn snakes bit Naomi's arms and legs, the dog paced back and forth and barked at her.

"It's because he got bit by their mother," she said, uncertain as to how she knew such a thing.

Naomi felt cold.  She smiled and felt sudden love for the baby snakes.  It was an odd, nurturing instinct that she hadn't experienced since Edith and Zach were children.  Her hands reached for the snakes, and they responded by slithering toward her fingers.  She touched the snakes and caressed their tiny heads.  And when she glanced at Jake, she understood everything.  The snakes weren't normal.  They were alien in regards to their natural habitat.

Naomi and Jake had changed.  The snake venom altered them somehow.  As the venom tainted their blood, flowed through their veins, and traveled to their brain, it didn't poison them.  It bolstered them instead.

Naomi rose to her feet and felt no pain in her knees.  The arthritis dissipated.  She felt strong and stable.  The baby snakes frolicked at her feet and adored their new mother.  She grinned when she realized that the snakes' venom had cleansed her of all ailments and diseases.  Jake licked her on her left hand after she scratched his forehead.  And that was when Naomi Wickham saw the world through her snake eyes for the first time.