Snakes on a Plain

Two eyes – beady wasn’t the right word; it was overused – stared at him from a narrow face inches from his own. They were black and full of life, as if they hid a personality as unique as his own. The snake’s hiss woke him only because it was louder than any other noise in the immediate vicinity.

He was on his belly, the snake two inches or so from his face. When he heard the hiss, he raised his head and lowered his chin into the dirt, so he and the snake were face-to-face. His horse must have heard the snake first and thrown him. He didn’t hear the horse’s movements and guessed the damned nag had moved away or run off.

The snake slithered away without shaking its rattle. He raised his head a bit more and looked around. Yep. Gone. He pushed himself up on the dirt and rose to his feet. The sun was well up in the sky and the man guessed it was about noon. He smiled. Old Snakey was looking for a cool place until this evening.

He remembered working the herd when he got to the stockyard at Kansas City and he remembered having a drink in the hotel bar next to the stockyard. Why would anyone build a hotel next to that stink? He could still smell it. Somehow, he must have ridden out here, but why? He eased up off the ground and saw he was somewhere on a high plain, one that would get cold at night. Damned horse was long gone, along with his coat and his other gear. He started to walk; the exercise would keep him warm and he might end up some place.

Things were quiet and when he looked over his shoulder, he saw the snake was following him. It kept its distance, but he began to wonder if he could draw his pistol and shoot – and hit the snake – before the snake could catch up to him. He looked again and there were more snakes, all following behind the first. Then, he felt a hand on his shoulder, pulling him around.

“He’ll hallucinate, fight, claw and carry on for a bit, until some of the alcohol works its way out of his system.” The doctor had been at the hotel to attend to a shooting victim, when the manager asked him to look in on the cowboy who’d drunk his fill and collapsed face down in his room. The maid couldn’t wake him. “It’s called delirium tremens, the DTs. Just let him sleep it off.”

— Sam Harper

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