You pushed the gate open, wincing as it screamed its protest. You glanced with apprehension behind you, wondering if the shrill scraping of the gate had broken through the heavy summer silence and notified the people at the house of your endeavors.
Nobody came charging from behind the bushes, though, and you thought that maybe this time, you were safe. You smiled, then slipped out past the gate and stepped over a large mud puddle to reach the jungle path.
It wasn't your choice to be in India like this. It was the last place you would ever want to be, really. But sometimes, being the daughter of a commanding officer in the British Army had its drawbacks. You wished the other girls at the boarding school could have understood that when you left. It certainly wasn't your choice to leave all of England's beauty for this dark overgrown post of your father's. But then, mother had died and--you shook your head, remembering. Father needed a woman about to take care of him, or he'd catch some horrible disease and die, too. You didn't have a choice. You couldn't leave your father alone. He needed you.
The sacrifice you made should have been borne with angelic patience, if you were a good Christian. But you couldn't help being dissatisfied. It wasn't that you were sorry, exactly, to be in such a dangerous position. You rather prided yourself on how you cared for your father. But it was dreadfully boring, here, and if there was ever a disgusting combination of adjectives it is boring and dangerous. It's very rare that it can actually happen like that, you thought. It was a distinction, at least. But distinctions do not help you bear the horrible silence and the smothering heat--just like your father's rows of medals do not help him bear a fever or a wound any better. At least, that is what he has told you before.
A butterfly suddenly fluttered dizzily in front of you. You eyed it cautiously, but with a tinge of awe. How one creature could manage to display so many colors was incredible. You glanced down at your own white dress.
The butterfly darted, like a kite being jerked by the wind, off of the path and into the jungle.
"Wait!" you couldn't explain why you shouted after a butterfly, but you did. Clutching your white skirts in sweaty palms, you stepped into the overgrowth. "Wait! You're my only friend!" You laughed at the sound of your own voice, but plunged with reckless abandon after the butterfly.
It floated just in front of you, teasing you farther away from the path. You reached out a hand towards it, with a chuckle. It ignored you and spun towards a bright golden flower instead. You smiled and sat down on a moss-covered knoll. "Alright then."
You sat in silence for a few moments, only moving to dab your handkerchief against your face as the heat sent little rivulets down your forehead. Nothing moved. It was too hot. For one moment you felt so weary that you thought you might never want to stand up again. You pulled out your little gold pocket watch and stared at the second hand as it dragged around the timepiece. Four-forty-four in the afternoon.
That was when you felt it. A slow, slithering movement around your ankles. It sent shivers up your legs and back, like the time you stepped barefoot in an English puddle before spring had properly arrived. But this wasn't England, and you knew that this was not remotely close to a puddle.
You sat as rigid as you possibly could. Not moving. Not even breathing. You had heard stories of jungle snakes from a corporal who dined with you when you first arrived. How they could swallow almost anything whole, and their entire squirming masses were dozens of feet in length and covered in shimmering greens and blacks and grays. You felt an odd something in your throat, and wondered if your heart truly had made it almost to your mouth. They always said that phrase--heart in your mouth--when one was frightened, didn't they?
It had never felt so cold in the jungle before, and you knew in an instant this must be the longest serpent in all of India. Unfortunate disaster. It was probably a final warning, you guessed, fastening your eyes on a frothy piece of fern directly opposite you. All the soldiers and even the servants had told you how dangerous the jungle was, especially alone. Now the jungle itself was telling you.
You closed your eyes. What if the snake did not continue it's course across your ankles? What if it decided to swallow you whole? You wished now you hadn't worried so much about being slim. It would have been much more convenient in this situation to be large. Would your father ever discover what had been your fate, if the snake swallowed you whole? You hoped that if the snake did, he'd at least leave your hair ribbon as a clue. Poor father. It was too bad, too bad indeed, to have his wife taken by a fever and then his daughter by a gluttonous reptile.
You wanted to scream. The silence was too powerful. All you could hear were the whispers of the grass around your feet as the snake glided through it. Why must it be so slow? If it was going to eat you, at least it could do it quickly.
Was it growing dark already? Or perhaps you were about to faint. Either way it mustn't happen. Fainting would certainly not be a courageous end. It was no way for an officer's daughter to go. You blinked, breathing through your nose. If you had a pistol you would shoot it at the ferocious beast. But your father had been afraid you would shoot yourself before you ever had an instance to use a pistol in proper defense.
Then in one painstakingly slow maneuver, you felt that your right ankle was free--and you waited, almost giddy, to feel the left ankle be released from the grips of the serpent too.
At last it was, and you almost melted in relief. It would be an evening of thanksgiving, for you had been spared. You glanced down at your watch. How long had your valley of the shadow of death been?
Four forty five.
You shook the watch, and then pressed it close to your ear. It must be lying. In your time of danger, the little gold watch had failed you. You looked up and scanned the grass for the reptile that had nearly eaten you.
And finally you spotted it, curling around the base of a large fern. Not even two feet long.
Scowling, you rose from the mossy log. It was almost insulting.You snatched up your gold watch as you stumbled back to the path.
Four forty six.
Just enough time to wash for tea.
You were very sorry that you wouldn't have a story to tell. A brush with death is much less imposing when death is only twenty two inches long.
Whew! Well this past month's writing challenge was certainly different for me. I enjoyed writing it, and the story just came as I typed (I had no idea where I was going with it at all when I started with a super vague idea!) but I had the worst time keeping my tenses straight. I have no idea why, but I just kept switching back and forth from past tense and present tense. It was really tricky for me staying in the right one. lol.
Anyways, thanks for doing the challenge with me, my friends! I'd like to know how you feel about snakes below. I think spiders are far more unlikable, but most people don't agree with me!
Have a lovely day!