Kiki And The Rattlesnake
It gets hot in Texas. The air shimmers and dances above the plains, and the baking sun draws a spider's web of foot-deep cracks in the hard-packed clay. Lizards dig in under the biggest rocks they can find, and even the prairie dogs hide deep in their burrows, venturing out only in the late evenings to scrounge for seeds and dry grasses. And cats? Well, cats mostly stay indoors, if they have a choice, in the cool, comfy world of air conditioning and ceiling fans.
The early mornings are nice, though, for strolls in the garden and for long, leisurely baths on the patio swing. Kiki's stitches were by now completely healed, and the fur on her belly was rapidly growing back. She was certainly glad to be rid of that horrible funnel collar, too. What a nuisance that was! For nearly two weeks she hadn't been able to wash anything but her front paws and half of her tail, and eating or drinking anything was a major challenge.
After her bath came the usual rounds of the garden and then the prairie dog colony. The first mound had fresh scent, and she probed it with one forepaw. Nothing down there but air. The second and third mounds produced the same result. Rats! After all this time you'd think she'd be able to catch at least one of the wily critters, but she hadn't even come close.
Beyond the last mound, a scraggly creosote bush squatted next to a cluster of sand-blasted rocks, half concealing them with its twiggy umbrella. She hadn't been out there yet. Maybe it was worth checking into. Her approach was casual but cautious. There was nothing especially menacing about this particular rock formation, still, one can't be too careful when venturing into unfamiliar territory. She nosed around the base of the largest boulder and placed one paw on the smooth stone. It was still cool to the touch, though the sun had just begun to caress its crown with one golden finger.
One easy bound brought her to the peak, where the sparse leaves struggled to provide just a bit of shade. Clusters of small yellow blossoms adorned the branches, and a lone honeybee clambered over the delicate petals, its leg-baskets heavy with pollen. Kiki sniffed at the spray of flowers it had just left, but the fragrance frankly left a good deal to be desired. In fact, the whole plant had a vaguely oily smell.
Kiki slid down the shady side of the boulder and instantly froze in her tracks. She stood motionless, hypnotized by the wedge-shaped head that undulated before her, jaws agape, hooked fangs bared. The dusky brown and grey coils of its long, lithe body churned restlessly, and its upraised tail rattled a stern warning. The menacing head flashed toward her. She leaped aside, feeling the brush of those fangs against her shoulder.
A more sensible cat would have probably high-tailed it for home and counted herself lucky, but something about this creature challenged her to stand and fight, and Kiki was never one to back down from a challenge. She'd had run-ins with snakes before, but a garter snake isn't much more troublesome than a lizard when it comes down to a pitched battle. This was different. She knew instinctively that this was a dangerous, even a deadly foe.
Kiki circled to the side, looking for an opening. The serpent turned with her, its rough scales rasping like footsteps in dry leaves. It lunged again. Another near miss. Kiki retaliated with two sharp thwacks to the back of its prostrate head. The snake pulled back into itself and regarded her with cold, yellow eyes. Its forked tongue flicked in and out, testing the air for her scent. Again she circled and again it struck, this time a glancing blow to her flank. Close. Too close. She backed away a few feet to consider her strategy.
Her foe was quick and unpredictable, and she had only her reflexes to keep her alive. On the other hand, it seemed to have a fairly limited striking range, much less than its overall length might suggest. If she stayed just beyond that strike zone, she should be pretty safe.
Kiki paced back and forth just outside what she judged to be the danger zone, teasing it into another strike. It worked. This time it fell several inches short of its target. The snake pulled itself upright and fixed her with a baleful glare. Its tail rattled furiously. Try that again, it hissed. She did. The result was the same. Now it was just a matter of time and patience. Kiki's was strong. The snake's was wearing thin. Another strike and another. She could tell it was tiring. Two more futile lunges and she made her move.
Choosing the moment after a strike when the reptile lay prone and vulnerable, she sprang. She seized it a few inches behind that treacherous head and shook it savagely. The long body twisted violently, flipping her off her feet, but she hung on desperately. She didn't dare let go now. She clamped down harder and jerked her head from side to side. Her jaws ached, and her shoulder was painfully bruised from being slammed against the ground, but still she held fast. The snake was almost finished. It twitched a few more times and lay still. Cautiously she released her grip and stepped back. One more spasm and it was over.
Kiki tapped it with one paw just to make sure. Nothing. A few licks to her sore shoulder and she was ready to attempt the next step - getting it back home. After all, she had to show off her prize, didn't she?
Preferring to avoid those still-gaping jaws, she seized the beast by the tail and started dragging, or should I say trying to drag? That sucker was heavy! She braced with all four feet and pulled with all her strength. It moved just a little. One step backward, brace and pull. Step back, brace and pull. Slowly but surely it was coming.
The sun rose ever higher in the sky, and the hard-packed earth grew hotter and hotter. Every rock, every tuft of grass was a major obstacle. Nearly an hour had passed before she finally reached the edge of the garden. Another twenty minutes or so brought her to the back door. She meowed and knocked for admittance. Mama Morales was the first to respond.
"Ay, Dios mio!" she shrieked and slammed the door in Kiki's face. Some welcome! Slightly exasperated, she knocked again. From inside she could hear Mama's voice, still frantic, and Delia, trying vainly to soothe her hysterical mother.
"Calmase Mama. Take it easy! You give yourself a heart attack. Now what on earth ..... " she was saying as she opened the door. "O-o-o-oh!" and once again the door slammed shut. After a moment it opened again, just a crack, and Delia peeked out. "Oh my goodness." Closed again. This was getting real old, real fast. After all the trouble she'd gone to to bring them this magnificent trophy, this was the reception she got? She knocked again and meowed loudly.
The door opened a fourth time and out came a broom handle. Delia poked at the snake a couple of times to satisfy herself that it was truly dead. Then she opened the door a bit wider, snatched the cat inside, and slammed it shut again, leaving the hard-won prize on the patio. Kiki protested loudly but in vain. The door stayed closed.
"Kiki, what in the world....How in the world....Kiki, are you out of your mind? You could have been killed! Kiki, don't you ever do that again, do you hear me? Not ever!"
"Ay Dios mio." was all Mama Morales could manage.
copyright 1998 kathleen Mc Pugh
Adapted from Catwalk, a Feline Odyssey