Snaked, fiction by Morgan Boyd

We were gath­er­ing wood at an undis­closed loca­tion deep in the moun­tains when I heard a rat­tling in the pile. I dropped the wood in my arms, and drew my gun.

Don’t shoot,” Mur­ray said.

I’m not get­ting bit way the fuck out in the mid­dle of nowhere,” I said.

Tell the doc­tor.”

I hol­stered my gun, and walked to the lit­tle cab­in. It was a real dumpy piece of shit: one tiny bed­room, and one tiny kitchen/living room. There was elec­tric­i­ty but no indoor plumb­ing. Dr. Cross sat at a small table read­ing a med­ical jour­nal.

No wood?” He asked.

Rat­tler in the stack.”

His eyes lit up, and he grabbed a long met­al rod with a hook at the end. At the wood­pile, the doc­tor poked the pole into var­i­ous crevices until the viper hissed and struck at the rod. The ser­pent wrapped around the end of the pole, and Dr. Cross removed it from the stack. Pinch­ing the snake below the head, he held it before me.

Good size,” he said.

Keep it away,” I said, back­ing up.

Don’t be a lit­tle girl,” Mur­ray said with a laugh.

Under the guise of pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion, I was hired to relieve Mur­ray of his sen­tinel duties, and put an end to the good doctor’s rela­tion­ship with my employ­er. The orga­ni­za­tion I worked for had retained Dr. Cross for his uncan­ny abil­i­ty to dis­solve flesh and bone. For a time this sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship proved pro­duc­tive for both sides in that my employ­er mur­dered for mon­ey, and Dr. Cross received an unlim­it­ed sup­ply of cadav­ers for his bizarre exper­i­ments. As of late, the doctor’s noto­ri­ety had sky rock­et­ed, most­ly in the form of mak­ing the FBI’s top ten most want­ed list, and thus my employ­er no longer wished to main­tain ties with the under­ground M.D.

Hold­ing the snake, Dr. Cross led us to a shed out back. He opened a large meat freez­er, released the snake into the ice­box, and quick­ly shut the lid. After the snake removal, Mur­ray and I fin­ished gath­er­ing wood for the night. We lit a fire in the stove, and sat at a small table play­ing Texas Hold ‘Em for cig­a­rettes. I was rak­ing in the Marl­boros, and could tell it was frus­trat­ing Mur­ray. I too was frus­trat­ed. Mur­ray should have tak­en the truck back to civ­i­liza­tion days ago, leav­ing me alone with Dr. Cross, but bozo wouldn’t depart.

You boys hun­gry?” Dr. Cross asked.

I’m so hun­gry I could eat the Lamb of God,” Mur­ray said.

Grab three frozen piz­zas from the shed,” Dr. Cross said.

Inside the shed, I flipped on the light, and was about to open the lid to the ice­box when I remem­ber the snake. I drew my gun. The rat­tler wasn’t the only ani­mal with a bite. I lift­ed the lid, and was instant­ly struck on the arm. I jumped back, fir­ing my weapon into the freez­er.

I’ve nev­er seen some­body so scarred,” Mur­ray said, bend­ing over and hold­ing his sides with laugh­ter.

What the hell?” I asked, hol­ster­ing my gun, as I real­ized my com­pan­ions stood behind me.

You thought this guy bit you,” Dr. Cross said, reach­ing into the freez­er, pulling out the snake, and hold­ing it before me. “It’s harm­less. Snakes are cold blood­ed, and move extreme­ly slow when chilled.”

What got me?” I asked.

These,” Dr. Cross said, hold­ing up his thumb and point­er fin­ger.

You got pinched, and shit your pants,” Mur­ray said. “Worst than a lit­tle girl.”

I’m a col­lec­tor of frozen rat­tlesnakes,” Dr. Cross said, drop­ping the ser­pent back into the freez­er. “Have a look.”

Unless you’re scared,” Mur­ray said.

I lit a cig­a­rette, and glared at Mur­ray for a moment. His insults were get­ting on my nerves, and I want­ed him to know that it wasn’t okay. After scowl­ing at Mur­ray, I peered inside the cool­er. Amid an assort­ment of frozen din­ners was a myr­i­ad of motion­less rat­tlesnakes tied into var­i­ous knots. I rec­og­nized the Bow­line, the Clove Hitch and the Fig­ure Eight, but there were also advanced knots I had nev­er seen.

Frozen snakes are pli­able,” Dr. Cross said, grab­bing a knot­ted ser­pent, and unty­ing it.

Are they alive?”

No, but they stay sup­ple in the freez­er,” Dr. Cross said, rety­ing the chilled rep­tile. “That is unless some god­damn idiot breaks the ice box shoot­ing a hole in it.”

He did a quick inspec­tion of the case, and deter­mined that I hadn’t dam­aged the motor, coils or Fre­on. The Doc­tor said it was a good thing; oth­er­wise, I would have joined the icy sanc­tu­ary. Mur­ray laughed at that sug­ges­tion, and I gave him anoth­er sharp look, but this time he returned the favor, and we locked into a ‘who was blink­ing first’ piss­ing con­test.

Gen­tle­men,” Dr. Cross said, break­ing up the stare down, and hand­ing me a wound­ed piz­za box. “It’s get­ting late.”

Except for the bul­let hole, that was the worst microwaved piz­za I ever ate. It was luke­warm and sog­gy with a side of freez­er burn. After din­ner we smoked cig­a­rettes, and stoked the fire. Dr. Cross slept in the bed­room on the only bed in the cab­in, so Mur­ray and I sacked out in the liv­ing room on the floor near the stove. I tried to stay awake longer than my com­pan­ion, but a pro­found lethar­gy swept over me, and I slipped into unset­tling uncon­scious­ness.

I dreamt that I was gath­er­ing wood from the pile when it col­lapsed on me, and dozens of rat­tlesnakes appeared, and wrapped them­selves around my limbs in strange and com­pli­cat­ed knots.

I woke shiv­er­ing in the night, half numb from sleep­ing on the floor. The fire was dying. I stum­bled to my feet, trip­ping over Mur­ray. How was he able to snore through such artic con­di­tions? As I stoked the fire, I felt bad for those snakes in the cool­er. Freez­ing was a par­tic­u­lar­ly inhu­mane way to die. When I’m assigned a job, I try to reduce the suf­fer­ing as much as pos­si­ble. Two to the head usu­al­ly does the job, quick and pain­less.

The next morn­ing I felt like shit. Every mus­cle in my body ached, my head throbbed like a strobe light of pain, and I sweat with fever.

Wake­up,” Mur­ray said, toe­ing my ribs.

I stum­bled dizzy to my feet, col­laps­ing into a wood­en chair at the table. I thought I was hav­ing a heart attack the way my chest hurt.

You look sick­er than Typhoid Mary,” Dr. Cross said, enter­ing from the bed­room, and hand­ing me a white cap­sule. “Take this.”

What is it?”

You’ll feel bet­ter.”

But what is it?”

Just take the damn pill,” Mur­ray barked.

As bad as I felt, I wasn’t tak­ing shit from Mur­ray, so I flicked the pill at him. It bounced off his chest onto the floor. He picked it up, and forced the cap­sule between my lips. In my weak­ened state, I could do lit­tle to resist. I swal­lowed the med­i­cine, and for a chas­er, Mur­ray slopped warm cof­fee on my face. Woozi­ness over­took me, and I fell to the floor.

I woke in my dark­ened apart­ment, lying on my bed, feel­ing fine except for the night­mare about the lit­tle cab­in in the woods. The light turned on, and I wasn’t home in my bed, and it wasn’t a bad dream. I was still in the cab­in, and Dr. Cross and Mur­ray stood over me.

You look bet­ter,” Dr. Cross said, plac­ing a hand on my fore­head.

I climbed out of bed, naked.

Your clothes are fold­ed neat­ly on the table in the oth­er room.”

And my piece?”

On the table.”

I pushed passed Dr. Cross and Mur­ray. I grabbed my weapon. It was still loaded. After I dressed, Dr. Cross and Mur­ray joined me in the cabin’s main room.

How are you feel­ing?” The doc­tor asked.

Fine,” I said.

Maybe some­thing you ate?” Dr. Cross asked.

Yeah,” Mur­ray said. “Maybe you have a weak stom­ach.”

Since you’ve recov­ered, would you fetch some wood for the stove?” Dr. Cross asked.

Out­side the air was crisp and cold. I breathed deep and felt invig­o­rat­ed. As I cau­tious­ly gath­ered fire­wood, lis­ten­ing for rat­tlers, I decid­ed to give Mur­ray a chance to leave, and if he didn’t take the offer, he’d also receive two to the head. I car­ried the wood inside, and set it down by the stove. Dr. Cross and Mur­ray ate microwaved scram­bled eggs and sausage.

I can han­dle things from here on out,” I said to Mur­ray. “Be on your way now.”

You can?” Mur­ray asked after smirk­ing and shov­el­ing the rub­bery eggs into his yap. “You’ve been in-and-out of con­scious­ness for two days, talk­ing in tongues. Think I’ll stick around.”

Eat some­thing,” Dr. Cross said.

Ain’t hun­gry,” I said, and went out­side for a cig­a­rette.

Get more wood,” Dr. Cross said as I closed the door.

I gave that chump Mur­ray a chance to beat it, I thought, struck a wood­en match, and held it to my cig­a­rette just as the world’s longest rat­tlesnake slid across the yard. I drew my gun, and point­ed it at the ser­pent in pure ter­ror, but then I remem­bered Dr. Cross’ grotesque menagerie of frozen rat­tlesnakes. I didn’t want this fel­low end­ing up like those oth­er poor bas­tards, so I let the limb­less mon­ster escape into the brush.

When the cig­a­rette end­ed, I fin­gered the trig­ger of my pis­tol and resolved to put two to each head inside the cab­in, fast and pain­less. Exact­ly how I liked it. One moment they would be alive, the next moment they’d be dead. I swung open the front door, and bang, bang, bang, bang.

No Wood?” Dr. Cross said, chew­ing a break­fast sausage as Mur­ray knocked the weapon out of my hand, and dealt me a crush­ing blow to the head with the stove’s iron pok­er.

I woke with a split­ting headache. My wrists and knees tied with rope. The room was dark, and I had no idea where I was until Dr. Cross and Mur­ray opened the door, and I real­ized I was in the shed on the ground next to the freez­er.

How do you feel?” Dr. Cross asked.

Answer the doc­tor,” Mur­ray said, toe­ing my ribs.

Excit­ing news,” Dr. Cross said after I didn’t answer, and removed a mas­sive rat­tlesnake from the freez­er. “While drag­ging you to the shed, we spied the longest spec­i­men I have ever seen. Tru­ly a mar­vel of nature.”

Dr. Cross tied the snake into a hangman’s noose, and placed it around my neck.

Looks good on you,” Mur­ray said.

I’ve been micro-dos­ing your food with a pow­der I derived from neu­ro­tox­ins found in rat­tlesnake ven­om. I mis­cal­cu­lat­ed the lev­el of expo­sure with your piz­za the oth­er night, and the hemo­tox­ins almost destroyed your blood cells. With­out the antivenin, you would have died from inter­nal hem­or­rhag­ing. Even­tu­al­ly, I meant to give you a lethal dose, but not so soon. After you tried to kill us, I sped up the process, and pre­pared a lethal dose for your con­sump­tion,” Dr. Cross said, hold­ing out a bot­tle of white pow­der before my eyes. “This was to be your fate until this eight-foot­er came along. I’ve nev­er seen some­body lynched by snake rope before. Have you Mur­ray?”

Nope.”

Lucky us,” Dr. Cross said. “And lucky you. Hang­ing is less painful than suc­cumb­ing to the pow­dered ven­om.”

If you let me go,” I said. I’ll tell you who sent me.”

Nev­er thought of you as a squeal­er,” Mur­ray said, light­ing a cig­a­rette. “Have a side of dig­ni­ty with your death huh.”

You were sent by our mutu­al employ­er, yes?” Dr. Cross said with a smile.

I didn’t say any­thing as the anger welled inside me.

Answer the doc­tor,” Mur­ray said, toe­ing my ribs.

I asked the orga­ni­za­tion to send me a test sub­ject for my pow­dered ven­om, and you drew the assign­ment.”

Dum­b­ass,” Mur­ray said.

Let’s string him from the tree in the front yard,” Dr. Cross said.

Mur­ray grabbed the head of the frozen snake, and dragged me across the shed’s floor. I gasped for air as the blood in my head pound­ed in my ears, and the snake noose tight­ened around my neck. Just before I lost con­scious­ness, Mur­ray yelped, and let go of the snake.

Fuck­er bit me,” he said, hold­ing his wrist as the rep­tile around my neck loos­ened and untied itself.

I breathed deep, let­ting the oxy­gen fill my lungs as the snake coiled and struck Dr. Cross on the leg. The doc­tor cried out in pain. Mur­ray unloaded his pis­tol into the ser­pent. The wound­ed viper twist­ed and writhed as Dr. Cross crushed its head with the sole of his boot.

Shoot him too,” Dr. Cross said, point­ing at me. “I’ll get the antivenin.”

Mur­ray smiled, and drew his pis­tol. With con­sid­er­able effort I sat up against the side of the freez­er. As Mur­ray point­ed the pis­tol at my head, I closed my eyes. The gun fired, and I fell into dark­ness.

Some­thing in the dis­tance roused me. It sound­ed close yet far away. A famil­iar pop­ping noise that I couldn’t quite place. My eyes opened, and I saw the muti­lat­ed snake, twist­ed and torn on the floor. My head throbbed with pain, and thirst dried my throat. Oth­er than the head wound from the iron pok­er, I had no injuries. After con­sid­er­able effort, I sat up against the freez­er, and felt a sharp met­al edge at the cor­ner of the ice­box. It took time, but I sawed off the ropes bind­ing my wrists. My palms and fin­gers burned as the blood returned. After the tin­gling was most­ly gone, I untied my knees, and gath­ered my equi­lib­ri­um.

I opened the freez­er, and scraped out a piece of frost amid the knot­ted snakes. When the frost became liq­uid, I slaked my thirst. A ray of light seeped through a bul­let hole in the wall. I went out­side, and in the yard, I saw Dr. Cross lying on his back, cov­ered in blood. The famil­iar pop­ping sounds that roused me in the shed had been gun­shots. Mur­ray sat against the trunk of the tree. His eyes flut­tered, and foam dripped from his mouth. He mum­bled some­thing that I couldn’t hear, so I drew near­er, keep­ing my eye on the gun in his lap.

FBI … please … antivenin.”

I dis­armed Mur­ray, and searched the cab­in for the antivenin. As I tore apart Dr. Cross’ room, I pieced togeth­er a sce­nario of the recent events that led me to this favor­able out­come. The mas­sive snake in the freez­er was cold, but still alive when it was tied into a noose. It warmed against my neck and rean­i­mat­ed enough to bite Mur­ray as he dragged me across the floor. The rat­tler then struck Dr. Cross before meet­ing its demise.

Mur­ray was sup­posed to off me while Dr. Cross grabbed the antivenin, but Mur­ray was an FBI agent, so he didn’t shoot me. The bul­let hole in the side of the shed sug­gest­ed that he inten­tion­al­ly fired wide, and I passed out from fear of exe­cu­tion. While I was uncon­scious, Dr. Cross and Mur­ray must have quar­reled, but about what I can’t say. Maybe Dr. Cross fig­ured Mur­ray for FBI all along, and with­held the antivenin from him. When Mur­ray was denied the cure, and began suc­cumb­ing to the snake’s ven­om, he shot Dr. Cross, but was unable to locate the antivenin before los­ing con­trol of his limbs. I couldn’t be sure that this was what tran­spired while I lay bound and insen­si­ble on the shed’s floor, but I didn’t care. I was just hap­py to be alive.

I tore the cab­in apart, but found no antivenin. I sat down at the table, look­ing at Murray’s gun. Two to the head was more humane than suf­fer­ing. I was about to kill my first FBI agent when I real­ized where the antivenin was. Out­side, I leaned over Dr. Cross’ corpse, and searched his blood soaked pock­ets, remov­ing two small plas­tic bot­tles. The first bot­tle con­tained pow­der, and the sec­ond bot­tle con­tained sev­er­al white cap­sules.

Mur­ray breathed shal­low as I placed the pill in his mouth and tilt­ed back his head. I hoped it wasn’t too late. Even though he was FBI, Mur­ray had saved me, and I want­ed to return the favor. I lit a cig­a­rette, and placed it between his lips, but he nev­er inhaled.

I cov­ered Murray’s body with a blan­ket I found in the cab­in before start­ing down the moun­tain in the truck. The windy dirt road would even­tu­al­ly lead me to my employer’s place of busi­ness. Two to that bastard’s head was too quick and pain­less of a way for that dou­ble-cross­er to die. A snake slith­ered across the road in front of the truck. I braked and felt the bot­tle of pow­der in my pock­et as the ser­pent slid into the brush.

morganboydMor­gan Boyd lives in San­ta Cruz Cal­i­for­nia with his wife, two cats and their car­niv­o­rous plant col­lec­tion. He has been pub­lished online at Flash Fic­tion Offen­sive, Shot­gun Hon­ey, Near To The Knuck­le, and Yel­low Mama.

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2 Responses to Snaked, fiction by Morgan Boyd

  1. Dick Portor says:

    Hope to see more of your work soon

  2. Eli says:

    Thanks, I real­ly enjoyed this one.

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