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Fiction Horror

Ever been eye to eye with a rattlesnake? Ever realized the rattlesnake was on its tail looking you in the eye? Ever been so close to a rattler that you can hear it breathe? 

I live in the desert; have all my life. On a hike or just a walk through the land, I’ve met every kind of desert creature. One creature always scared me: rattlesnakes. 

Rattlesnakes come in a variety of colors: green, blue, brown, black with silver diamonds, red or a combination of colors. It does not matter to me; they all scared me.

I bought twenty acres in the middle of New Mexico within twenty minutes of Quemado Lake, fifteen minutes outside of Quemado and a mile from the nearest neighbor. The place was a mile in off the highway and I could drive that dirt road by starlight, it was so dark and the stars so bright there.

All of New Mexico is special, thus, the state logo “Land of Enchantment”. The place I bought was especially enchanted. A perfect rectangle of fenced-in land in the middle of thousands of acres of ranchland. There was a hill that took up the middle third of the rectangle. The hill, shaped like a horseshoe, rose about fifty feet above the rest of the property.

From the top of that hill, you could see ten or more miles in any direction. It made a perfect place for the Old Ones to meet, celebrate, pray, and trade. I found enough shards and crystal arrowheads to lend credence to that statement. In other words, it was a sacred place a few hundred years ago.

Elk and antelope cruised through the property as if no fences existed. Coyotes, foxes, badgers, an occasional bear, or mountain lion made their way through the property from somewhere special to somewhere more special. 

And, snakes were thick.

Before I moved to that property, I lived in Silver City about four hours south of there. I worked at one of the mines and had a good life. I typically slept well until I bought that land.  Then the dreams started.

I dreamt I was hiking through some rough country and came to a dry watercourse about five feet across and four feet deep. It cut through caliche and other types of soil. There were undercuts along the banks that cut into the banks two or three feet. As I stepped to the south edge looking at the cutouts across the watercourse, I could hear the buzzing of a thousand large insects. Strike that; it was the buzzing of dozens of rattlesnakes in a cutout just beneath where I was standing. In my dream, I became agitated and stepped back away from the edge. Woke up scared.

Another dream.

I was camping next to a vertical grade break about three feet high. It was late and the stars were bright enough to see by. A four-foot-wide cutout about a foot high in that grade break suddenly lit up and I woke up in my dream, rolled over and looked into the cutout. It went in fifty feet or more and the floor was carpeted with a brown writhing mass. I did not know that many snakes would fit into a hole like that.

I awakened nearly in a panic. 

In the next minutes, it came into my mind that I needed to camp out alone on the property and that I needed to take a ground tarp and blanket and sleep on the ground. 

Picture this. After two nights of rough rattlesnake nightmares, I am prompted to go sleep alone on the ground in an area where snakes are reputed to abound. Not a chance in hell.

A variant of those dreams repeated every night for a week. Each time I awakened, I was prompted to camp alone on the ground in snaky country. I thought, “No freakin’ way!” 

On the morning after the ninth night of this dream, a Wednesday morning, I decided to go the upcoming weekend.  I did not dream for the rest of the week.

There is a difference between a dream and a vision. Although dreams can feel real and are often a source of discord in one’s mind, they are recognizable as a dream when one awakens. Visions may seem like a dream except many times there is a physical manifestation of some component of the vision. A scratch on the arm, an item left on the floor, or a feather in the window screen or a feeling of enlightenment and understanding unfelt before. Or a feeling of justified terror.

Saturday noon-ish, I drove north to the property. Four hours later, I got into Quemado and had supper at the A-frame café in town. They really did have the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico then. I ate, then headed on to the property to get settled in.

Atop the horseshoe hill, I set up my little camp. It was a cold camp because I really had no need for a fire. I planned to go into town for breakfast and coffee the next morning, so there was no need for a fire even in the morning. I laid my tarp out, rolled up my truck coat for a pillow and set out my blanket. I got my folding lawn chair out of the truck and sat and read until it got too dark to read.

When it got good and dark, I laid down, covered up and fell right asleep. A calm, pleasant spring night.

A hiss woke me. A loud full-throated hiss that brooked no doubt as to its source.

I slowly lifted my blanket off me, sat up, and even more slowly stood up, turned to face to my left and nonchalantly became very afraid.

She raised and cocked her head back to get a better look at me. Her forked tongue flicked toward me. She opened her mouth, and her fangs were as long as my arm from the elbow to my fingertips.

Her unblinking slit eyes fastened themselves to my soul. I stood there staring back fully aware that if I moved, she could strike before my next heartbeat.

Her head was wider than my torso is long, her eyes as big as soccer balls, her tongue longer than my height. Beyond and to her sides, her minions stretched out and watched. No fewer than dozens, they went as far as I could see. They were much smaller than she, but they were not small. None had a head smaller than mine and none of them blinked. No sounds, just stares.

I feared.

She hissed and words formed in my mind.

“Your fear smell is great, a cloud extending far from your center. Yet you stand there unmoving, staring back at me with your fear and your curiosity. You stand there uncowed, unsoiled, and silent. Not whimpering or crying or begging or praying.

“Frightened, curious, patient.”

Her hiss, as dry as a summer wind, complimented me but did not comfort me.

“You have prayed for enlightenment, for success, for power to overcome evil. A way to do that is to join with us. 

“You are now of the Snake Clan. Thus say I, Queen.

“You will learn what all this means in the coming months. You have much to learn and some of it will be painful.”

“Great! Rattlesnake superpowers,” I thought. No, I didn’t open my mouth and I certainly did not say anything.

Instantly, I was standing looking across the hilltop at the starlit cedar and scrub oak. All there where she and her minions had been a breath before.

Rattlesnakes don’t scare me now. When we see each other, they buzz to warn me, then they coil, uncoil, and go away.

Somehow, we are joined.

July 15, 2023 02:35

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