On the western edge of the lush green tablecloth that is Cascade's protected national woods, five figures were about to take part in what was to become, for some of them, a very bad day.
Simon Banks, holidaying police Captain, hefted another log of wood out of the supply he and his friends had brought along to this green and quiet place. He placed it down by the pile he was making beside the fire pit and brushed the wood chips from his hands. Behind him the voices of Megan Conner and Jim Ellison rose and fell as they bonded over the correct way to lay a fire.
Jim was adamant that his way would result in no smoke, which Megan firmly pointed out would result in 'no bloody heat either. We'd be cooking 'till the cows come home mate!' Megan, having missed lunch due to a dislike of the roadhouse meat pies on offer ("You'd be shot for serving something like that back home!" she'd told the unconcerned attendant) was ravenous. No septic tank (Yank!) and his desire to keep the nasty fumes out of his poor lover's precious blue eyes was getting between her and the sack of snaggers (chili beef snags, her sausage of choice) waiting to be BBQ'd over the flames. Even if said blue-eyed lover was the adorable Blair Sandburg.
Blair had already made his escape, heading down the track to 'commune with nature'. Simon was beginning to wish he'd gone with him, as it looked like the police chief was going to have to referee World War III.
Whose stupid idea was it to take the Aussie new comer out camping and introduce her to the American woods anyway? Oh, yeah, his. Damn. Well, it had seemed like a reasonable plan at the time. He remembered fondly the trip where he and Jim had introduced Blair to fly-fishing. Well, fondly right up until the machine gun started firing, but that was another story. That was a Jim and Blair thing. This was a Jim, Blair, Megan and him thing...what had he been thinking?
Simon finished stacking the last of the logs and went to grab some of the cooking gear. That's when he noticed Blair coming back up the trail, moving very slowly, his face white with shock. Jim noticed too and broke off his tirade at Conner to go over to his partner.
"What happened?" he asked, reaching out to take Sandburg's arm.
"Um, bit of a problem, man. I kinda walked into a snake and it bit me." Blair gave him a sheepish look.
"What type of snake; how did it look?" Jim half carried his partner back to the clearing, pressing him down to a sitting position when they reached the site proper.
"Looked pretty good, actually; moving real fast considering it's probably just out from hibernation," Blair said, pulling thoughtfully at a stray curl. The fresh air was playing havoc with his hair.
"That's not what I meant." Jim tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. Blair was in shock and that always made him even loopy-er than usual.
"I'm sorry, Jim. I'm not sure what kind of snake..." Blair began when he got interrupted.
"I got it!" yelled Simon, who had backtracked their nature boy and hadn't had any trouble pinning down the torpid rattler when he found it.
"Don't hurt it!" cried Conner and Sandburg at the same time.
"I know, I know, it's an endangered species. I'm only gonna hold onto it so we can get the genius here the correct anti venom." Simon retrieved the sack he'd brought the wood in and dropped their slithery friend inside.
"Where'd it bite you, Sandy?" Megan bent over him and looked for a wound. Blair gingerly indicated one ankle, but before he could do anything else Ellison had whipped out a hunting knife and slit the jeans he was wearing from hem to thigh, revealing a bloody wound.
"Hey, these were my best pair of pants, man!" Sandburg complained loudly, but Jim and Conner had already dashed off for the supplies waiting in their backpacks.
Megan pulled out her first aid kit and headed back just as Jim flicked on his lighter and held his hunting knife's blade up to the flame.
"What are you doing?!" she yelled, echoed by a panicked Blair.
"We have to get the poison out. This will have to do as antiseptic, unless you have some alcohol tucked away that I don't know about?"
"Don't be a git," snapped Conner, pulling at his arm. "That old fashioned macho shit doesn't work. We have to bind over the bite, starting from a good 20 cm above it and wrap firmly down over and past until we're 20 cm beyond it. Then get him to a hospital."
"Listen lady, I know what I'm doing! He might not make it to the hospital!"
"Making a cut will only stimulate blood flow and move the poison round further. The blade also takes the poison further in. And if you have even the smallest cut in your mouth you'll have the venom go straight in to your blood stream as well." Conner snapped angrily.
"You're not doing it, Jim," came Blair's firm order. Simon was draping a blanket around his shoulders to fight the shock; he tried to calm the younger man by giving his arm a little squeeze.
"Stay calm, Sandburg. Just because those two are losing it, doesn't mean you have to too." Blair nodded and relaxed back onto the sleeping bag Simon had also brought out for him to lie on.
Megan and Jim lowered their voices a little in a bid to help keep Blair calm, but their hissed arguments could still be made out. "...132 deadly poisonous snakes in my back yard buddy. You better believe I keep in touch with the latest ways of treatment!" Megan snarled.
Jim took a deep and calming breath. Okay, so Blair's life hung in the balance, but it was beginning to look like Conner knew her stuff. He muscled down the protective urge to do something 'now' and stepped back. They still had the hike back to civilization to get through. He could work his anxious aggressiveness off then. For now, Blair was all that counted. He took another step back and the tall Aussie bolted past him towards his partner.
They both knelt at Blair's side to draw back the pieces of ruined jeans. Blair had bled rather a lot and they couldn't make out the exact puncture site admits all the gore.
"Should we wash it?" Jim asked, not quite keeping the challenge out of his tone.
"Not recommended if you aren't positive of the snake that bit you." Conner lectured. "The Doc can analyze any venom left on the skin. But Simon caught the bugger, so we might as well. Jim, got a canteen?"
Jim handed it over and Conner gently dribbled the water on, being careful not to dab the wound and push any surface poison in.
"Well, bugger me." Megan commented when the bite mark was eventually revealed.
"Um, Chief. You sure the snake Simon caught is the one that bit you?" Jim asked, sitting back a little.
"Eh? No, I didn't really get a good look at it, just saw the tail slithering away. Why? Something wrong?" Blair peered up from the sleeping bag, both eyebrows raising in surprise when Jim and Megan let out dual chuckles.
"It's alright, Sandy." Megan said, giving his foot a reassuring squeeze. "The snake that got you was a non-poisonous one. We can tell from the bite marks. They go in a neat semicircle, no definite fang marks." She indicated his leg. "We'll just patch you up with some antiseptic and bandages and you'll be right as rain."
"Uh, thanks." Blair looked at them warily, but Jim was in agreement so he guessed it must be true. "Wow, that was a scare."
"It must have been." Jim said, gripping his arm reassuringly. Blair narrowed his eyes at him.
"It was for you too, Ellison, and don't pretend otherwise." Blair gave him the evil eye. "You owe me a new pair of jeans when we get home, too."
"What? Replace those baggy, old, ratty, torn..."
"Hey, do I go off on you about the blue sweat suit? Those were good jeans, man. I loved those jeans!"
"Megan." Murmured Simon.
"We might want to go for a little walk right now." Simon suggested, gesturing off the way Blair had been earlier.
"Why?" Conner narrowed suspicious eyes at her boss.
"Because it's a beautiful evening, I have to return this snake where I found it, and those two are about five minutes from latching onto each other and making the beast with two backs, regardless of who's around to see it. And I don't want to." He held up the sack with the snake and gestured outwards again.
Megan looked over in time to see Jim and Blair lunge at each other for an incinerating kiss.
"Sure, a stroll in the woods sound...er, nice." Her eyes popped out her head a little at the speed with which the two men were divesting themselves of clothing.
The police Captain and his female detective made a hasty exit, Simon only having to pull Megan away once as they reached the campsites outer edge when Jim started making growling noises.
"You sure Sandy will be okay?" she asked, worriedly.
"He'll be peachy." Simon assured her, letting the snake slither grumpily out of the bag and keeping an eye on just where it went afterwards. He started walking in the opposite direction.
"Are there wolves in these woods?" Megan asked a little later.
"I wouldn't be surprised," said Simon. "I wouldn't be surprised at all."
"Sss...don't you ever do that again! Ssss" hissed a furious carpetsnake at the approach of the newly released rattler. The feisty, though non-venomous, brown and green snake was known by what would be translated from the serpent tongue as ssBlairss.
"Sss...oh, you're one to talk...sss." Snapped the rattler, who's name in the serpent's tongue translated to something like ssJimss. "Who isss it went ahead and bit the human, Chief?* Not me!...sss" (*Chief, a snakish nickname meaning bull-nosed brown and green snake.)
"Sss...That guy nearly stepped on me; he had it coming! You're the one who had to play hero and go get himself captured...sss"
"Sss...Always taking on guys bigger than yourself, aintcha Chief? And I wasn't playing hero, I just didn't want to have to find little bits of you chopped up all over the woods like what happened to those six young rattlers I led too close to the human boy scout party...sss" There was a catch in the bigger snake's signal, and his companion immediately slithered closer and rubbed against his side in commiseration.
"Sss...Come on, I've found a hollow for the night, its over here...sss" SsBlairss led his companion further into the woods, up a fall of pushed over saplings and into a nice quiet tree stump, complete with hollow. There they curled together, twinned closely about, scale rubbing against scale, and until where one snake ended and the other began none could say.
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Authorís Acknowledgements: Thank you to Sue for the beta read, Amy and Lisa for info hints, Patt for being the incredible person she is and the internet friend from Senad who gave me the snake info that started this story bubbling.