I had shed a skin the day of my capture. As always, the sloughing left me famished, so I curled up under a shady patch of creosote and eagerly awaited the first rodent to cross my path. Gopher was at the top of my list, though I was so hungry that I'd gladly have settled for even a nasty, gristly little shrew.
A rodent did not cross my path first that morning, however. A lower life form did: a human.
Humans are not difficult to detect. Their footfalls are thunderous. My best hope was to freeze and hope my camouflage would conceal me. The chances of this were good, human senses being so dull.
The creature approached. It was an oily, filthy, fleshy human child. It leaned forward, squinting with malicious eyes.
I was familiar with humans at this point only from afar, but even from there, I found them a pitiable species: scaleless, fangless, clawless, nearly furless, wingless, venomless, witless. I honestly didn't understand how they had thrived so.
This particular specimen was notably on the plump side. Its face and limbs boasted a collection of bruises, scrapes, and scabs. Its splotchy pale skin, pink from the sun, showed beginnings of a slough of its own.
"Cool!" the kid whispered to itself. "Rattler!"
How I wished it were true. One well-aimed shot of venom and this story would have ended on the spot.
Humans often mistake gopher snakes for rattlesnakes, which is reasonable, considering that we happen to be dead ringers for them. This is a good thing when the naive human runs away screaming. It's a bad thing when the human beats the gopher snake to a pulp with a stick. That's when the expression "dead ringer" becomes only too apt.
I stopped playing dead and started playing rattle-snake. I shook my tail. Rattlers aren't the only ones who do this; they're merely the most flamboyant about it. Technically, a rattlesnake's tail doesn't even rattle. It buzzes. My tail rattles. I also started hissing my nastiest hiss. We gopher snakes hiss with the best of them.
The dumb kid moved in still closer.
"Nope, you're a gopher snake," it said.
I had to give it credit. That observation alone probably put it among the greatest minds of its species. Just my luck.
I redoubled my rattling and coiled up into an S. I may not be a rattler, but that doesn't mean I'm an invertebrate or something. I'm big, strong, and mean-and, though not deadly to humans, my bite doesn't exactly tickle.
Apparently I got this across. The kid turned and walked away. Alas, it returned a moment later brandishing a club of some kind.
The time had come to abandon playacting. It was time to flee. Fleeing is not something I excel at. We gopher snakes are the snails of the snake world.
The kid made a grab for me with a pudgy paw. I snapped at it, missing by only a hairsbreadth.
"That's not very nice," the kid said, stepping back, a smirk on its sweaty face.
Humans give me the creeps. They are so slimy.
I inched away. Forget being a rattlesnake. What I wished to be right then was a hare.
The kid dragged the end of the club through the dirt, slid it under my belly, and hoisted me off the ground. A snake has no greater fear than that of falling. It's the lack of limbs. We can do nothing to prevent ourselves from flopping onto our ribs, and a snake is nothing but ribs.
The kid took advantage of my wooziness and gripped me behind the jaws with its finger and thumb. I wrapped my coils around its arm and squeezed. I hissed as I had never hissed before. I nearly scared myself.
"You got a good grip there," the kid said. "Think I'll call you Crusher."
I gave the kid points for knowing I was a constrictor, but I docked it some points for laboring under the common misconception that constrictors crush. We don't. We asphyxiate. We tighten around our victims until they can no longer draw a breath. Then we swallow them. Whole.
I was trying neither to crush nor to asphyxiate the human. I'm not dense. The kid was huge, not to mention unsavory. I was just holding on for dear life.
"Come on, Crusher," it said, grinning. "Come see your new home."
As if I had any say in the matter. It is well known in the des
Excerpted from We Can't All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings Copyright © 2009 by Patrick Jennings . Excerpted by permission.
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