Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror


That's right, Faithful Fiends, monster meister A.L. Godfrey returns to PDF with another timorous tale of things long and creepy. Previously he brought us the horticultural horror of Creepers. Now, he delivers a slithering sideshow of a more serpentine variety. Join us, won't you? But watch where you step...


Snake in the Grass

By A.L. Godfrey

WELL, THERE...FEELING A BIT BETTER? Hmmm? Gotten over your little start? Good. Good. I didn't mean to give you a fright, jumping out of the darkness like that, waving my machete. It's just that you took me by surprise, too. People don't usually come traipsing around here. Private property and all. Oh no, don't worry. I'm not angry about that. In fact, I'm a little grateful to have the company.

Here. Sit yourself up. That's the way. Let me get you some coffee from my thermos. So what are you doing hereabouts? Backpacking it, I see. A bit of a walkabout as the Australians say, eh? Good for you. Youth should see the world on its own terms. Yes indeed. Here's the coffee. It's hot and strong -- fix you right up. There you go. Hah hah. I told you it was strong. Strong enough to peel the paint off a barn. I can't say I like it that way myself, but I need it strong. Keeps me awake. And it's important that I stay awake when I'm making my rounds. I can sleep in the house -- over there, between the trees, see? There I can sleep. It's secure -- I've seen to that. But I still have to make my rounds, just to be safe. And I have to keep a sharp eye out. Yessir. Sharp as a hawk.

What's that? What am I looking for? Why...snakes, boy. I'm watching for snakes. They're all over the place. They're coming to get... Well, anyway. You must've seen them as you were walking. No? Nothing struck out at you from the underbrush? Maybe you just didn't realize what it was -- it's getting dark and those are thick pants, after all. Maybe you just thought low branches were whacking your... No? I'm telling you, the woods are crazy with snakes.

What? No, no-- poisonous ones. Rattlers.

Yeah, a lot of people have your reaction. They don't realize there are rattlers in this part of Ontario. But there are. Massasauga Rattlers.

Not that dangerous, you say? People don't generally die from rattlesnake bites these days? True enough. There's only been one case of a fatality from rattlesnake poisoning in these parts in, well, years. Only one case of a woman being bitten to death around here.

And she was my wife.

You suddenly seem a bit quiet. Condolences aren't necessary. But if you've got an ear to lend, I wouldn't mind talking about it. You see, therein lies a bit of a tale.

Wait! What was that? Move aside a bit, let me shine my flashlight over yonder...

I...I guess it was nothing. But, as I said, I've got to stay alert. They're everywhere. So, where was I? Oh yes, the tale of my wife, and her untimely...well...

We were married about twenty years ago. I had already been married once, and it had ended rather unfortunately. My wife was a bit of a plain woman, but with a lot of money in her family. Oh, I know it seems crass, but I had married for love once, and it didn't work out. So this time, I figured I could do worse than marry for security. She was alone, without any suitors, and I had debts that needed tending to. It seemed reasonable enough.

What? No, no, I suppose she thought it was love. Oh, don't get me wrong. I had nothing against the old girl. She was pleasant enough. Comfortable.

Anyway, so we were married and we both got what we wanted. At least for a while. We moved out here to her family's ancestral property a few years back -- built by United Empire Loyalists some two hundred and some years ago. It's a creaky, drafty old place, but it was easier to keep it than to sell it. And as we were getting older, we weren't much interested in city life anymore. Besides, with all the new technologies, computers and the internet, we could live out here and still be connected to the world.

The only problem was the rattlers. I almost had a heart attack the first time I almost stepped on one. Hissing and rattling like something out of an old western, like Gunsmoke or Johnny Ringo. You ever see those shows? No? Well, anyway. It almost gave me a heart attack. I went back to the house to get a shovel to kill the damn thing with, but my wife, the old softy, she wouldn't hear about it.

"The snake's lived her longer than we have," she said. "It has a right, too. Just watch where you step from now on. It's not like it wants to bite you, is it? Just mind your self and it'll mind itself."

Women, eh? No arguing with them. So, I didn't like it, but I didn't press it. I decided to let be and see how things played out. As it turned out, they played out rather peculiarly.

You see, my wife got to taking an interest in the snakes around here. We didn't have any kids, or any pets, and I don't know if that explains it, but she became a bit of an amateur -- what'd she call it? An, um, an ophiologist or something. She took to studying snakes. Not just the Massasauga Rattlers, of course -- any snakes in the area. But, yes, she had a particular fascination with the Massasaugas. She figured as long as she was careful, as long as she didn't impose herself upon them, she'd be O.K. And, for a long time, she was.

What was odd was that it was almost as though the snakes sort of started to learn about her, as if there was some sort of a snake grapevine or, as they'd say on the internet, a message board. Because, as time went by, it seemed more and more of the damn beasts started to move into the neighbourhood. Needless to say, it made me nervous as Hell. Never quite sure when a stick lying on the ground in the forest would turn out not to be a stick at all.

Want some more coffee? No? Well, I'll indulge myself if I may...

Yup, peel paint off a barn. Um, where was I? Right. Snakes.

She was so comfortable around them, so sure, that she didn't mind wandering about in shorts, her legs bare. Her legs started to look like river maps they were so crisscrossed with scratches some days. Not from snakes. From the thistles and bramble and dear flies. Me, I took to wearing the heaviest pants I could find, even in the heat of summer. I also took to spending more and more time in doors, avoiding the damn snakes altogether. I became quite comfortable with the computer, and spent hours surfing the web.

That's how I met Adeline.

Oh, it was innocent enough at first, it really was. I'm a bit of a history buff -- used to teach it in school, what seems like a life time ago. I'm particularly interested in the War of 1812. Well, I met Adeline in a chatroom dedicated to the subject. It was also her hobby. She was an American, so, of course, she tended to view things from a different perspective than a Canadian like me. But I think that's what made our conversations -- if that's what you can call it when your fingers do the talking your lips should be doing -- our conversations so invigorating.

Well, one thing led to another, and soon we weren't just talking about the War of 1812. Soon we were talking about other things. Anything. She was a widow and looking to start again. I told her I was a widower.

That surprise you, I suppose? You've never told a little fib on occasion? I didn't mean anything by it. I just figured if she knew I was married, she'd stop writing. And with my wife spending more and more time wandering the woods, well, I did feel a bit like a widower at that.

Soon, we were exchanging highly personal e-mails, intimate. Oh, don't look so shocked. I'm sure your parents are a lot more active in that department than you think. Anyway, Adeline was becoming quite a thing for me. And my wife, well, my wife, bless her dear, dear soul...she was becoming an obstacle.

I mean, the money -- the money I married her for -- it was still, technically, hers. I'd never thought to push for something else, or to suggest a pre-nuptial when we got married, insuring me anything in case of a divorce. I mean, I didn't anticipate Adeline, did I?

So what to do? Me and her, all alone out here, kilometres away from the nearest town, further than that from the nearest hospital or Provincial Police detachment. Me and her -- the snake lady. Everyone in the county knew about her fascination with the snakes. I'm sure more than a few had muttered, if only to themselves, that she was liable to get herself killed if she wasn't careful. Yes, I'm sure they thought that.

And so did I.

I can't say that it was a big, dramatic moment when I decided to do it. There was no storm, no lightning scarring the sky, as the black epiphany came to me. Truth be told, I don't even remember the exact moment. Isn't that an awful thing to say? A man decides to murder his own wife, and he can't even pinpoint the moment when it went from a random thought to a definite plan. Shameful. Anyway, at some point, I knew she was going to die and, thanks to her hobby, I knew how I could do it without arousing suspicion.

Now, as you noted earlier, snake bites aren't quite the deadly killer movies make them out to be -- at least, not in North America. Rattlers just aren't among the most venomous of snakes. No, I definitely needed to stack the deck. And so that's what I did.

One day when she was in town seeing her dentist, I made up some story about my rheumatism and stayed home. Then I went out with a forked stick, some thick gloves, and a few special jars. I went looking for her little friends. I found them, and caught a few. My word, but I almost peed my pants, I can tell you, handling the little devils. But I got a few of them to bite down on the jars, milking their venom, just like my wife and I had seen on a Discovery Channel special. Then, with the venom in hand, I went home and mixed it with the iodine.

I'm sure that you're confused. Well, remember how I mentioned my wife would come home with scratches on her legs? Well, to prevent infection, I used to dab the wounds with iodine. And that's what I continued to do -- with my new, "special", iodine. Just a little bit, of course. Not enough to kill her, but enough to make her start to get sick over a few days, weak. What I wanted to do was build up a certain level in her blood. A toxicity that was almost, but not quite, fatal. I had to act quickly, of course. After all, introducing a little bit of venom at a time was an equally good way to build up her immunity -- and I didn't want that, did I now? No, sir. So I had to get the stuff into her system, then act before her body could acclimatize to it.

So after just a few days of the iodine treatment, and she began to feel sicker and sicker, but putting it down to a flu bug. I finally suggested that I should go with her on her next walk to see the snakes. Just to keep her steady. She was so happy when I suggested that -- knowing as she did how I felt about the little devils -- that it was actually pathetic. She had no idea what I was really up to.

The next morning we set out together, like the old married couple we were. We went hunting up her snakes. We found a gardner or two, but the Massasaugas...they were nowhere around. It was almost as though the little beggars knew what was in the air and wanted no part of it. Almost. I began to get frustrated at our failure to find any, and snapped at her impatiently a couple of times. She was hurt, but still completely oblivious to the reason for my mood.

Then, just as we were about to set off for home, we stumbled upon, not one, but two, of the biggest, strongest looking rattlers I've ever seen.

Sick as she was, her face lit up on seeing them, like they were two old friends. The snakes eyed us warily as we approached, and my wife stopped at a certain point, saying it was wise not to encroach any further. I nodded, acquiescing.

And then I shoved her with all my might so that she fell right between the two beasts.

They coiled up, hissing, their rattlers roaring with rage...but still the devils didn't strike. It was as if on some deep level of their tiny brains, they knew who she was, and knew she was their friend. Meanwhile, my wife froze, in utter terror, to be surrounded by two of the rattling beasts. And she looked up at me...and I realized she was more afraid of me than of them. She knew what I had tried to do. She knew.

With a roar of frustration, seeing my plans tumbling apart if the snakes didn't play their assigned roles, I picked up a long stick and began beating at the snakes. They hissed, curled, coiled, snapped out at me. They were blind with fury, even as was I.

And in the midst of this maelstrom, my wife made to get up and run.

And that was when the snakes struck. Both of them, both frightened and unsure who was their enemy and why. So they struck at the one person they could reach. She screamed and, even then, she probably could've survived -- she had a snake kit at home in the house. But, of course, she was unaware that I had been slowly saturating her system with snake venom for days. She died two metres away, crawling on her hands and knees in the dirt.

I raced back to the house, and phoned for help. Of course, the coroner ruled the obvious: Death from snake bite.

Heh. I can see you're getting a bit nervous. Wondering why I'm telling you this. Don't worry. I won't hurt you. Believe me, it truly was the perfect murder. Even if you tell someone what I told you now, well, I'll just deny it. And there's no proof otherwise. After all, my wife was bit by a snake and she did die from snake venom. No, you have nothing to fear from me, because I have nothing to fear from you. As I said, I just want to talk to someone.

So I buried my wife, intending to take what money I inherited and move off to live with Adeline.

Of course, life is never that simple.

My wife's money wasn't quite as much as I thought, the house had bled off a lot over the years, it being more expensive to maintain than you might think. She also left a sizeable portion of her money to some charities. Yeah, you probably guessed it. the Sierra Club. SPCA. Greenpeace. In the end, I wasn't as rich as I had assumed. Worse, Adeline somehow heard about it. I guess a woman dying of a snakebite in Canada was newsworthy even in the United States of America. She saw my name in an internet report, next to my wife's. Adeline knew I had lied to her about being a widower -- at least, that I had lied. She offered me her condolences in an e-mail, then tersely said good bye and never wrote again. My subsequent e-mails were bounced back to me.

And then there are the snakes.

You know how I said they seemed to get more numerous because of my wife? Well ever since her death, they've become more numerous still. It's like they're practically migrating to this area, like they're being called. Summoned. I found some crawling into the house a few weeks ago. So I caulked up every hole, resecured every board. The wonderful 18th Century architecture has been pretty much messed up by my clumsy attempts at fortification. What the isolated location didn't shave off the resale value, my, uh, "home improvements" have. I'm pretty much stuck with it now. And with them. The snakes.

I think they want me. I think they want revenge for her death...or revenge for my making them the instrument of her death. Either way, they want me. But I'm careful. I'm cautious. I'm hawk eyed and awake when I make my rounds. They won't get me. They-- Hey! Where're you going? Didn't you hear me? There are snakes all over. And in the darkness, you'll...

What do you mean "take your chances"? I told you I wouldn't hurt you. Come on. Come back. Have some more coffee.


So he leaves.

Well, so what? To Hell with him. I don't need the company. I just figured he might be lonely out here, backpacking around. Serves him right if he steps on a snake and gets bit. Good luck crawling back to me for help. Good luck, indeed!

It doesn't matter. I'll just finish my rounds, then go back to bed. I-

Wait a minute. Wait a minute! The''s undulating around me. Quick! The flashlight! What...?


Heh heh.

I've got my coffee to keep me awake. I've got my machete and my rifle. I'm hawk-eyed and cautious. But, you know, you start talking to a fellow and you just don't pay enough attention to what's slithering up between your feet. Is that why you left the boy alone, you devils? Why you let him through to me? You wanted me to find him, wanted me to start chatting with him, wanted me to drop my guard?

Clever. Clever little devils.


The End

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Snake in the Grass is copyright by the Author. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)