When the eerie buzzing sound filled the air, Jacob froze. His body recognized what he was hearing and came to a complete stop, tingling all over, before his brain found the word for the maker of the unnerving sound: Rattlesnake.
There it was, blending into the rocks, a brown and cream snake coiled up on itself in a pile, with the tail twitching back and forth at an impossible speed. The light reflected on the diamond shapes of the skin and the tail was a blur. The snake must have heard Jacob coming long before he could see the snake. The unnerving rattle never paused and Jacob knew he needed to do something, anything, as quickly as possible to get to safety.
How far did Mama say a rattlesnake could strike? Jacob thought to himself. The snake was about 10 feet in front of him, and ZipZap, his nickname for the Fastest Car in the West, was about 20 feet behind him. Maybe, just maybe, he could back up to ZipZap quickly enough to sneak into the car and be safe from the poison in the fangs of that rattlesnake.
It’s venom, not poison, silly, he heard his sister Julia say in his memory. That’s right! Snake fangs are filled with venom, not poison, Jacob corrected himself. Venom is injected into something, while poison is ingested, or eaten. He was proud of himself for remembering the difference, but then he got angry – knowing the difference between venom and poison wasn’t going to help him a single bit if he couldn’t get his body to unfreeze and start moving toward ZipZap! He needed to move!
Every moment seemed like an eternity, but eventually Jacob was able to send a message to his feet to start backing away from the rattlesnake, toward ZipZap. Slowly, ever so slowly, with the buzzing still filling his ears, Jacob inched his way back toward the road and the car. The snake didn’t ever stop rattling but it also didn’t crawl toward him! When Jacob felt the gentle bump of the car door on his back, he whipped around, yanked open the handle, collapsed into the drivers seat, and slammed the door closed behind him.
With his heart pounding in his ears, Jacob couldn’t help but notice that he still felt tingly all over. A rattlesnake! A real, live rattlesnake! And he had survived!
“Sir, are you ok?” ZipZap’s slightly electronic voice broke through Jacob’s internal gratitude.
“Well… yes, I suppose I am,” Jacob managed to say. “There was a rattlesnake out there. And it scared me really badly! I feel like my heart is about to bump out of my chest and my fingers are numb!”
“I see,” said ZipZap. “That is a normal reaction to a life-threatening experience. If you check the glove box you might find something to restore your wits.”
“Thanks, ZipZap,” Jacob said. He reached over, across the lighted console of the car that housed the brains and audio system of ZipZap, to the glove box with its button latch. He pressed the button and when the door dropped down he saw a glass of apple juice sitting inside. He gratefully grabbed the apple juice and took a swig.
Another big gulp of juice later Jacob felt a little more like himself. He took a deep breath and said, “Thank you, again, ZipZap. I feel much better. But now we still have a problem! That rattlesnake is blocking the hill I need to climb to check out the direction the cattle rustlers were going. How can we ever help Roberta if we can’t see the thieves?!”
Trying to think about how to catch the cattle thieves was making Jacob’s head hurt. How did I even get here? Jacob asked himself. What is a small for his age, skinny six-year-old even doing mixed up in this mess?!
It had all started so innocently…