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A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Honey Badgers and Cobras and Grumps, Oh My!

Huh. Well look at that. I actually LOST readers doing Poetry month. Who knew? I'm either going to have to get funnier or lump them all in one long post like I've done in the past.

Welp. Let's just say I'm a bit tapped out today. I've been doing chores and I'm in it to hit the rack with a good read. So I've decided to favor you with a snippet of something I'm working on called YEAR OF THE HONEY BADGER. So here goes:

That night Sabra lay awake, staring up at the tin roof, wondering what she'd actually expected. It wasn't like she'd thought there'd be a five star hotel with jacuzzi and spa nearby. But it seemed not too much to ask to have a shower and maybe a stove to cook on. She sat bolt upright in bed. There had been a stove. She distinctly remembered it sitting there in the corner of the room next to a tiny, ancient refrigerator.
“Ha ha. You got me Stirling, you eel-brained toadstool. You probably have regular food to eat too. At any rate, the next time we go to town, I'm getting my own supply of food. And I'm going to start building the ratels a better place to live tomorrow. That all right, Darwin?”
The honey badger had hunkered down and was licking his paws. She could hear his tongue rasping on his teeth.
Finally the cares of the day crashed down on Sabra and she fell deeply asleep.
Until the slight scraping noise woke her. There it was again.
Scritch. Scritch. Scritch.
Slowly she reached down into her shoe and grabbed her flashlight, flicking it on.
There, right in front of her hammock, lay a snake.
It's tongue flickered, tasting the air.
The snake rared up, weaving slightly as it got its bearings.
Sabra tried not to move, not to breathe.
Her heart hammered like rolling thunder in her ears.
She noticed the distinctive markings on its head and must have jumped slightly.
It flipped its hood open, hanging there in front of her as if examining her curiously.
At first Sabra locked up, petrified. What could she do?
Then she remembered Stirling and how much sneering he'd do if she let herself freak out her first night over a snake.
Her mind sped between possibilities.
Nothing viable came to mind.
The snake could strike faster than she could throw anything.
What could she do, throw a shoe at it? No.
She had to wait it out. And hope.
She stared at the cobra until she thought she'd pass out from holding her breath.
Spots swam in front of her eyes just as the snake, with a last flick of its tongue, lowered itself and slithered away.
She couldn't move, but she took a tentative breath, slamming her eyes closed as the rasping of its scales disappeared into the further corner of the structure. It was after rodents that feasted on the badger's food. Clearly she'd have to make the place more secure in the morning. But what about tonight?
Then she remembered the fearless little animals she had come to study. They regularly went up against cobras. Their thick hide rarely let a snake's teeth sink in. She slowly slipped out of the hammock and crawled haltingly over to the cages. Contrary to what Richie had said, he hadn't clicked Darwin's lock shut. He'd have been out in a nanosecond. Sabra wondered why he wasn't already. She opened the lock and swung the door wide. Darwin's eyes gleamed in the dimness. She backed away from the cage, hoping the little creature would make his escape and go snake hunting.
At first the animal simply sat there.
“You're probably wondering why I'm letting you out, my friend. I bet you're thinking I'm going to do something to you. I'm sure nobody lets you out on purpose unless it's for blood draws or something. It's safe, though. You'll get it soon. I'll bet you're more intelligent than those lunks in the house.” Sabra stopped, realizing she was rambling. The cobra had thrown her more than she liked to admit. Clearly her voice was confusing the ratel. She climbed onto the table, sure that being up there wouldn't save her from the badger or the snake. It would simply make them take longer to get to her. Staying awake was the real reason she was up there.
Finally, after it had been quiet for some time, she heard the stealthy rattle of the cage door, then the skittering sound as Darwin's claws hit the wood of the cage on the way out. She heard him snuffling and the click of his claws as he padded around the room. She was just about convinced that the cobra had beat a hasty retreat when a commotion sparked in the corner. She heard the hiss of the snake and grunts and growls from the angry mustelid, as well as thuds and thumps as the two circled and writhed.
Oh how she wanted to turn on the flashlight and see what was happening. But surprising a honey badger in the middle of a fight was never a good idea, especially if the snake wasn't dead yet. She huddled on top of the table hoping it would all end well.
There was a yelp, as if the snake struck something vulnerable. Then a growl and a couple more thuds and the place went quiet. Sabra was just about to turn on her flashlight and check, when she heard the snuffling and padding of clawed feet. So it was over. And now, just like in the Dr. Seuss book with the mice and cats in it, she had to figure out how to deal with the H. B., as Richie called it.
She turned on her flashlight and squawked. Blood spattered the walls of the corner and badger tracks made trails all over the area. Darwin sat beneath the bank of cages chewing contentedly on part of the snake as if it were a popsicle. Sabra wanted to toss some of the snake into his cage, hoping he'd jump in there himself to finish it off. It would have been the simple solution, except getting between a honey badger and its hard-won food was an even dumber idea than turning on the flashlight in a fight.
Finally Sabra spotted a chunk which had, for some reason, rolled away. She jumped down, grabbed the piece, tossed it in Darwin's cage, scurried back to the table and skidded on. Darwin barely looked up from his snake snack. With her luck, he'd be too full to bother with the fragment in his cage—too full and too smart to fall for that ploy. But it was all she could think of at the moment. She flipped the flashlight back off, hoping the badger wouldn't smell the snake on her skin and come exploring.
She hugged her knees, waiting, wondering if she would catch heck for letting the badger out. Her eyelids grew heavy and she could barely keep her head from hitting her knees. Tomorrow she'd have to work on closing up the holes in the walls.
If she survived.

Chapter 4--

“What the heck?” The words woke Sabra from an uneasy sleep atop the table. She looked blearily up into the face of her new “best friend,” Stirling. “Why is the cage open? And where's the badger?”
“Mwaf.” Sabra had never been her best in the early morning.
Stirling stalked over and bent to peer into the cage. “Crazy!” he exclaimed, reaching up to shut the door and click the lock. “He's in there asleep!”
That got to Sabra. She scrambled off the table and over to the badger's cage, worried suddenly that the snake had actually made contact with a vulnerable part of its vicious opponent. She pushed Stirling out of the way. Could Darwin be dead in there? She scratched on the bars and the little animal shuddered in its sleep. Thank heavens. I couldn't live with myself if Darwin died to save my life. She breathed a sigh of relief and stepped back. If Darwin showed signs of having been bitten, she'd have to say something. Otherwise? No. Why add fuel to the fire they were building up about how she shouldn't be sleeping in the badger shed?
Sabra refused to tell the guys why she couldn't hold her eyes open that day. They were already ribbing her about being an up-at-noon princess. She simply ate her oatmeal mush and got to work shoring up the gaps under the door, around the corroded glass of the windows, and in the corners of the lab. 
© 2015 by H. Linn Murphy

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