(NOTE: This week's entry in the "Spohn Challenge" project is being posted a couple of days later than usual because of our newspaper deadline schedule over the Memorial Day weekend. This particular story, though fictionalized, is based on something that actually happened not long after Melissa and I moved from Illinois to Oklahoma back in the early 1990s.)

How The Missus And I Survived The Great Snake Scare Of 1993
(From The Memoirs Of Carson Trent)

You must understand at the outset that my wife blames me for the whole thing. 

To be fair, Sabrina has never actually come out and said so. But then, she really doesn’t have to. I’ve known her long enough. I can tell. Husbands have a sixth sense about these things.  

It’s my fault, you see, because it had been my idea two years earlier for us to move lock, stock and infant son from the comparitively urban paradise that is Dingo Heights, Illinois to the untamed outback of my mother’s homeland in Eureka Creek, Oklahoma. Never mind that our former proximity to Chicago would have likely been far more detrimental to our health and well-being in the long run, or the fact that such occurances were not completely unheard of in Dingo Heights; the simple fact of the matter is that it had never happened to us before we made the move to Eureka Creek. 

And, my wife's argument goes, if we had just remained in Illinois where we belonged (“We were happy there… the nearest McDonald’s wasn’t a 30-minute drive away, and there were five of them in town!”), it never would have happened. Or something like that.

Such is the logic of an urban born-and-bred Illinois wife when she’s been confronted by her first rural Oklahoma snake...

*      *      *

Eureka Creekt may not have a McDonald’s, but at that time we did have a Pizza Hut and my wife happened to be one of its best customers. One evening, completely out of the blue, The Missus decided she wasn’t going to cook dinner and picked up the phone to place a take-out order (no delivery service…it’s Eureka Creek, after all).  

Half an hour later Sabrina flew back into the house at near-warp speed with our pepperoni-and-Canadian bacon in one hand, our small son in the other and a genuine look of terror etched deeply into her face. 

Please understand that I’m talking about real, true, honest-to-goodness fright here, Gentle Reader. Not the exhilerating kind usually associated with a good old Boris Karloff movie on The Late Late Show; or even the dreaded “hypowomaniac” variety, so named by my Uncle Bean because it seems to be most often suffered by wives with overactive imaginations. 

No, this was the Real McGillicuddy. Even I could see that.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I asked in that calm, soothing, sensitive voice that had earned me so many close friends of the opposite sex back when I attended Dingo Heights High School so many years before.

Sabrina very carefully set down both the pizza and the kid, took a couple of deep breaths, and actually seemed for the briefest of moments as if she might have calmed down enough to answer my inquiry. Then she proceeded to do an fear-induced Irish jig in the middle of the living room floor. 

The dance was accompanied by a single word which she held long enough to cover all four vocal parts sung by the Statler Brothers, bass to tenor: “SNNNAAAAAAAKKKKE!!!!”

It took some doing, but I eventually got her to settle down enough so that her vocal range was no longer approaching the threshold of pain. She explained that as she walked across the carport with that night’s dinner, she caught a glimpse of some kind of snake sticking its snaky little head through the grill of our other car. The one that doesn’t get driven nearly as often. 

(Yes, okay, I admit it: we do have two cars. Not bad for a guy who works an average of 48 hours a day and brings home next to nothing. Someday we may even get around to working on that other 1.5 kid we’re supposed to have in order to be considered a typical American family. Maybe. Then again, maybe not; with two cars, who can afford a second kid?)

“Are you sure it was a snake?” I asked. It seemed an innocent enough question at the time. But as soon as I asked it Sabrina's expression changed, and she shot me that same look some housewives have been known to inflict upon car mechanics who treat them as though they don’t know anything simply because they’re women. 

If I’d had a dime for everytime I saw my mother give some dumb schlep that same look at the local Volkswagen dealership back home, my first car wouldn’t have been a Volkswagen.  

“Of course it was a snake,” she shot back. “I know a snake when I see one.”

“Well, what kind of snake was it?”

“How in the world should I know? I didn’t stick around long enough to ask!” Then she started mumbling something under her breath about snakes and pizzas and stupid, insensitive husbands who drag their families kicking and screaming from the relative security of urban Illinois to much-too-rural Southern Oklahoma. I didn’t catch it all, but it sure didn’t sound very pleasant.

While Sabrina stood there muttering and our son sat gnawing on a slice of pizza and wondering what all the commotion was about, I grabbed a flashlight and went out into the night to take a look for myself; I figured that, if there really was a snake, I’d probably be safer out there with him than inside with my wife at that particular moment.

There was a snake, all right. I saw his head and a subsequent inch and a half or so, sticking through the space between the top center and upper-left spokes of the Chrysler emblem in our grill. It could have almost passed for a hood ornament, if it hadn’t been for its noticable lack of a metallic finish and that tongue flicking in and out.

I walked back from the driveway to our living room and calmly told my wife, “You’re right. It’s a snake.” 

At that point she stood up, put her hands on her hips and told me how much she appreciated living under the same roof as someone with my keen sense of observation. Then she walked across the room to the telephone and called the police; maybe she figured we could have the critter arrested and charged with trespassing. I sat down and started to eat a piece of pizza.

*      *      *

Eventually three of Eureka Creek’s Finest showed up in our driveway. Though not all at once.

The first officer to arrive made it clear right at the outset that he wasn’t looking forward to facing a snake, and I couldn’t very much blame him for that. Sabrina whispered that she thought it was kind of silly for a police officer to be afraid of a little thing like a snake, but I reminded her that her own name wouldn’t be submitted for any bravery citations any time soon.

"Besides," I told her, "even Indiana Jones wasn’t all that fond of the slimy little beasties." She shrugged, conceding the point.

We had no sooner figured out a way to open the hood without offering up our fingers as hors d’oeuvres when a second squad car pulled up in front of the house. Assistant Police Chief Mayo got out, gun drawn, and announced “I’ll take care of things” in that virile he-man John Wayne-like drawl he liked to affect whenever Chief Mayfair was out of town and had left him in charge. I didn’t know if Mayo actually planned on using the gun on the snake, or if he was just trying to unnerve me because he still held a grudge over one of my recent newspaper columns about the way he and his colleagues enforce the local traffic laws. 

His partner, a veteran officer named Kravitz, did not say a word the entire time he was there. He did, however, sneak up at one point on the hapless, snake-fearing rookie who had responded first and inflicted such a wedgie on the poor guy that the officer jumped in one direction while his flashlight headed in the other.

For the better part of 30 minutes we all took turns trying to coax our unwanted visitor out from under the hood. We jabbed at it with sticks, which did produce a little blood but did not drive the critter away. We turned on the engine, thinking that the heat might drive it out. We even rocked the car back and forth. Nothing worked. 

The only thing that we were able to do in that time was determine was that this undesirable tenant was not a rattlesnake. But that was scant comfort to a wife for whom the words “snake” and “AAAUUGGGGHHHH!!” are pretty much synonymous. Especially after one of our would-be saviors brought up that fact that “it could just be a copperhead.”

From time to time throughout the entire ordeal - beginning, I think, with the wedgie incident - I could see my neighbor’s balding head pop in and out of the window, no doubt trying to figure out what (besides his teenaged son and his goofy friends, that is) might lead us to summon half of the local law enforcement community to our yard. He was obviously enjoying the little show we were putting on for him, and I for one am glad we were able to inject a little entertainment into what surely must have been a relatively drab and dreary existence.

The officers, who understandably had other duties to attend to (they were already half an hour late for the evening stakeout of the waitresses at the local coffee shop), finally gave up and suggested that I drive the car around the block a time or two to see if the snake would simply fall out from underneath onto the pavement. At that point they all left, Mayo expressing some disappointment that he never got the chance to use his weapon as he climbed back into the squad car, and we were left alone once again with no other option but to give their suggestion a try. 

Given the general conditions of the city streets, it should have worked. It should have, but it didn’t. Even that pothole at the intersection of Main and Sipokni, into which some of the finest vehicles in town had dropped never to be seen again, wasn’t enough to shake him loose. Of all the snakes that might have made a home for itself under our hood, we had to get one with all the tenacity of Saddam Hussein. So we parked the Hotel Serpentine back under the carport and went to bed, one of us certain that nightmares were imminent.

*      *      *

Yeah, one of us had nightmares, all right. But it wasn’t the one you might think it was.

I dreamed I was driving down Highway 99, minding my own business. Suddenly this big ugly scaly critter who bore an eerie resemblance to Rush Limbaugh popped up unexpectedly in my back seat, said “Hello,” and proceeded to make himself a peanut butter-and-columnist sandwich while some obscure old Johnny Cash song about a boa constrictor played on the radio…

At that point I think I fell out of the bed; Sabrina told me later that I let out a howl that would have put Lon Chaney Jr. to shame.

I guess that’s what I get for having gone to the multiplex to see Jurassic Park just a few days earlier...

*      *      *
Sabrina called me at the office the following morning to give me the sad news. “Our snake’s dead.”

“What happened?”

I could hear her shudder over the phone. “I found him lying next to the car this morning with what I guess must be his intestines hanging out all over the place. Evidently we poked him with that stick harder than any of us realized at the time.”

I thought about that for a minute. The snake was dead. Kaput. Fini. One less slithery serpent in the world. Suddenly I felt sorry for the little guy. All he’d wanted was a little shelter, a place to maybe catch a quick snooze before he slithered on his way. 

And for that, we had killed him. A tragedy...

Like bloody @#!* it was! I’m glad we did it. Glad, do you hear? Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!! And I’ll gladly do it again, too, the next time some ugly scaly snake with beady little eyes and rodent breath decides to take up residence under the hood of my car. The little sucker won’t know who he’s fooling with!

Unless it has a noisemaker at the tip of its tail, that is. 

In that case, someone else can come coax it out; I’ll be hiding under the bed.

Snakes. Bbbbrrrrrrr…

(Copyright 2014 by John Allen Small)