s hot as it is today the sand feels cooler as he digs his bare toes deeper down. This is one of his favorite things to do in the desert. He stands with his naked back to the sun looking towards the high rock wall he had scaled wondering if today is the day. Turning slowly towards the sun he begins walking again.
With the sharp curious eyes of the young, he sees the jackrabbit ahead turn and stand motionless watching him. With a twitch of its ears, the rabbit dashes behind a small dune barely visible once again behind a scrub bush. Careful to avoid the thorns on the brush and unconsciously stepping around the devils claws half buried in the sand, the little seven year old continues his slow walk into the desert. Glancing over his shoulder he notices that the jack rabbit has risen to its hind legs, nose twitching in the air, ears erect, perhaps testing the boys passage.
A small lizard rushes from his path towards a clump of tumbleweed, its tail like a little rudder in the sand leaving a track in the lizard's wake. If the boy wished to he could probably catch the lizard as he had several before, but he really had no desire to harm the creature. Others he had captured had not seemed happy to be taken home to share with his mother and sisters so he had returned them soon to their desert. He remembered one whose tail had been left wriggling in the sand, remembered thinking it must have hurt. Then his teacher had told him that some lizards left their tails behind to distract predators while they escaped. Still, it must have hurt.
Carefully smoothing the sand and brushing the debris aside with his foot, the boy remembers how his mother had complained about the sand he tracked into the house. Sitting now in the sparce shade of a clump of brush he slowly empties each cuff of his jeans of their load, listening to the sound of the hot wind through the dry branches of the brush. Closing his eyes he wonders if the wild Indians his mother says he is related to ever sat where he is and rested. Daydreaming now, pictures of Cochise and Geronimo remembered from his books float through his mind and drift off again with the wind.
Through the whisper of wind and imagined voices of his heroes another sound draws his attention. A sort of buzzing sound, but more like a stick quickly shaken in dry leaves. Slowly opening his eyes he searched for the source of the sound settling finally at the base of the bush a few feet away to his left.
Apparently, the young rattler had also taken its rest in the shade of the bushes, away from the scorching hot sun, or perhaps it was simply waiting for its evening meal to wander by. Either way it doesn't seem pleased to share its refuge with the boy, yet also doesn't keep up a constant buzzing tail but pauses as if uncertain, its tongue flickering, tasting the air between them, the few rattles on its small tail alternately quiet then vibrating.
The boy remembers the look on his mother's face the last time he had brought a snake home to share with them. His father said even the babies could make him very sick although they hadn't seemed inclined to bite him. This one isn't acting very friendly but at least appeares to be willing to keep its distance, although the boy knows that could change. As the sun is falling closer to the horizon and dinner time nearer, one of them will have to make a decision.
ddly, the boy isn't really afraid, at least not of the snake. More so of the spanking he will get from his father if he is late coming home for dinner again. At least it is summer time so he won't have to sit in a wooden chair all day tomorrow. He will be banished to his room again but he is used to that. He has his books and his dreams to keep him occupied.
A scorpion skittering across in front of him reminds him that sitting for too long in the sand isn't a good idea. The small scar on his forearm brings back a memory of the burning caused by one he accidentally encountered on one of his previous adventures to the desert. Not anxious to be stung in a more tender area he decides that, since the snake isn't going to move, maybe he'd better start figuring a way to get home without getting either stung or bitten.
Looking around slowly he sees nothing within reach that will help him very much. There are few rocks of any size with which to defend himself, and the small ones would most likely only anger the snake. The brittle branches of the bush, although studded with thorns, are to little and weak to be of use in fending off or killing the snake should it attack. Sand may be of some use in distracting or blinding the snake long enough to escape, the boy had been in enough sand storms and played in dust devils enough to know that the grit in his own eyes made it hard for him to see.
At his first cautious movement to slide away from the snake, the rattler buzzes for a few seconds but then is silent again, and makes no move to strike or slither forwards. Alternately then, slowly inching away and then remaining still for a few minutes, the boy puts a few more feet between himself and the snake. Once getting thorns in his hand but not moving to remove them or crying out. Finally the boy stands slowly and backs away. At which the rattler initially buzzes angrily but does not attack.
Laughing now in relief, the boy back slowly a few more steps then turns and walks quickly back towards home. Judging from the angle of the sun he won't be making it home for dinner tonight but telling his parents about the snake won't do much good. Even if they believe him they will only keep him from going into the desert and it is his only real escape and chance for an adventure on his own.
Years later the boy will have to kill snakes in far away places both literally and figuratively, but for now both the hunters will live to hunt another day. Each will sleep in their own bed this night, because neither chose to kill.