After Petey stepped a few paces into the creek, someone on the bridge yelled at him.
“Hey, what are you doing down there?”
Petey shielded his eyes and looked up at the lawman.
“Uh, just wading, officer.”
“I suggest you don’t because snakes swim in there.”
“Snakes!” Petey cried.
The knave’s head twirled like an owl as he searched the water’s edge.
“Yeah, Copperheads—mean and venomous,” shouted the officer.
Petey pranced on top of the water as he made his escape. He scurried unshod up the steep embankment ignoring the cockleburs biting his ankles.
Before the retreating grifter reached the top, Pippy jumped on my back with her legs wrapped around my waist. With one hand she carried her shoes, and the other clung to the collar of my shirt. Following her lead, Cindy leaped onto Marshal, and he staggered to keep his balance. She resembled a rodeo cowboy riding a twirling bronco.
“Let’s get!” I shouted.
Marshal added, “… and watch for snakes.”
I tottered around a bend, out of sight of the officer, and gazed around for fanged water moccasins. My eyes scanned the uncut weeds and swampy lilies on the opposite bank. Copperheads are mean by nature, but they’re even more aggressive if someone disturbs their nest. The creek narrowed and stirred faster. Ahead, it cascaded over several small waterfalls creating a boiling effect, so I couldn’t see below the surface.
Just then, Einstein yelled, “Snake!”
While Pippy squealed in my ear, she raised her feet higher and kicked. As I struggled to keep my balance on the slippery clay, she pedaled as if riding a bike. I thought I’d found my balance then I saw the black cottonmouth approaching in the rushing stream. My passenger must have seen it, too, because she raced her imaginary bicycle faster and squirmed more.
Unable to dodge the three-foot-long, venomous serpent as it swam toward me, my heart pounded. The treacherous head bobbed up and down as it rushed straight at me. Barefoot and with short pants, I was unprotected.
I tried to avoid the fanged demon, but Pippy wrapped one arm around my eyes. Then, I panicked and took a few steps, slipped on the slick clay, and fell backward. Pippy and I plopped into the shallow, bustling water. Now sitting on my bottom, with Pippy behind me, I was eye level with the approaching adversary.
Terrified, I kicked and flailed my arms to prevent a fatal bite as my fearless friends fled. Now, the riled demon was right before me. By instinct, I lunged and grabbed the slimy beast behind the head and held it with my extended hand. When I clasped, its long, slender body slapped against my legs.
With bulging eyes, I stared into its wide-open mouth, expecting to see fangs, but there were none. I saw an endless, black throat gulping and swallowing.
“No fangs!” I cried.
I strangled the slimy attacker while Marshal stood a safe distance away.
“It’s an eel,” he shouted.
On top of its demonic head was a single horn which looked even more threatening. I raised the unknown creature with outstretched arms and tried to squeeze the life from it.
When Pippy, who was still sitting behind me, saw the slithering beast she squealed and scooted backward.
“Eek! Kill it!”
“I’m trying,” I cried.
I had both hands wrenched around my ebony adversary as it flopped. When Pippy flipped over and crawled away, I was alone to fight to the end.
I reached into the water with one hand and lifted its tail out of the rushing stream. Once out of the creek, it stopped flopping. Now satisfied, I had crushed the life from the beast, I held it nearer for a closer examination. My squinting eyes and puzzled expression telegraphed my confusion. “It’s not a snake,” I announced. “It’s a bicycle inner tube.”