Excerpt from Chapter 13
Melody, Age 9
Uncle Harlan slammed my bedroom door open. “You’re going to learn to show the Lord respect, girl.” He grabbed my neck and forced me to walk in front of him.
My neck hurt where he dug his fingers in.
He took me outside and shoved me toward the shed. He slipped the key in the lock and removed it from the hasp. The door creaked as it opened and then he thrust me through.
“I’m not going to allow you to follow your mother’s footsteps. You’ll learn to make peace with snakes and not show them any fear. Or else.”
He grabbed a snake case from the shelf, put it on the ground, and opened it. He stepped backward out of the shed and swung the door shut. The latch clicked. Uncle Harlan on one side of the door, and the snake and me locked inside.
“I’ll come get you in time for school in the morning.”
His footsteps receded.
Light filtered through the cracks in the shed slats. In the dim light, the snake coiled in the corner, its tongue flicking out periodically. I slowly lowered to the ground and hugged Raksha Waya tight.
The inside of the shed was slightly warmer than outside. Staying warm might be a bigger problem than keeping the snake calm. It ignored me and remained coiled, but the cold seeped into my bones. I scanned the shelves. There had to be something in here I could use to help keep warm.
A tarp sat on a shelf on the opposite side of the shed from the snake. But I might not be tall enough to pull it down. Standing on tiptoes, I grabbed a corner and tugged. My fingers slipped. I set Rakkie on a lower shelf, then reached with both hands and tugged.
The weight of the tarp almost knocked me over as I caught it.
Making sure to keep my movements small so I didn’t threaten the snake, I unfolded the tarp and spread it out. Then I grabbed Rakkie and carefully crawled under a corner. Once settled with Rakkie on my lap, I pulled it over us and tucked it under my chin.
The hours passed as the light changed and moved through the shed. My tailbone ached and my back hurt from sitting still for so long. Twilight came. Surely Uncle Harlan didn’t really mean to leave me here with the snake all night.
When the darkness was complete and I could no longer see my hand in front of my face, I faced the hard truth—Uncle Harlan meant it. I’d spend the night locked in a small space with a pit viper.
While my toes still felt frozen, the rest of me was warmer with the tarp. My eyes drooped and closed. Then I heard it.
Hiss. Rattle. The whisper of something dragging across the floorboards.
The snake was on the move. The slight rattle as it slithered through the shed made my heart pound. I froze.