Whittling through the clear afternoon, Enoch conjures a tail flowing like a cloud.
Two legs arch from the chunk of wood, an odd piece he’d found months ago.
Perched atop his big rock, he watches nighttime creep in from the hills. He gropes round for the little plastic bag, seals in the sculpture, and gets ready to stash it in the rock’s crevice till tomorrow.
Enoch beams, knowing that the scrap finally was becoming a little wooden horse. He’d carved a few things for Mom, little rabbits and cats that crowd the narrow shelf over her bed, but this one is special, something for Becca, who lives cross the creek. He remembers her crinkly yellow hair and freckled pink face, her laugh like little bells. She said she wanted a horse that would glide through the air, trailing a long white mane and flowing tail, to ride anywhere she wanted.
The idea to make her something, something nice, had been playing around his head awhile. He hasn’t seen her since Eastertime at church last year, when he was quiet mainly cause of his voice. He’d heard she was finishing school, something like that. Mom says he’s grown nearly a foot since then, become a man. And now he sees himself heading over to her place soon, holding a neat wrapped box. Maybe he’d get a grin out of her squinty Gran.
He catches a shimmer at the edge of his sight and his gut says something’s wrong. He scans the dry leaves, lighting on a pile of thick speckled circles, above them a hovering head. He holds his breath, still as a rabbit in a hawk’s eye. His ears reach for the breeze chasing leaves, faraway birdsong.
Suddenly an evil swelling buzz fills his head, nearly knocking him off the rock.
His eyes swell to saucers. Enoch’d never seen a diamondback this big, and it doesn’t help his nerves any. He’d seen plenty in the woods, and he’s known better than to mess with them. With the cold weather coming on, they’re not supposed to be up and around, but there’s no denying eight foot of nasty curled spring-tight right over there, its stony eyes fixed on Enoch.
His blood turns icy and he forces himself to think on what happens next. Maybe he springs off the back of the rock and loops a wide circle home. Or hefting Grandpa’s open jackknife in his hand, he thinks he might hurl it quick at the snake, buy time to get away. Legs hanging over the boulder’s edge, he wonders if he might wait the moment out, but the fading landscape tells him his odds are pretty steep.
A sudden flash like an arrow’s blur, and a weird tug on the little bag. Before he can breathe, another blur, a ripple in his jeans, then a stab in his left leg. Enoch pulls himself up, hand clamped on his burning calf, trying to squeeze the hurt away. He heaves, face flushing. He sways some on the rock, knowing he’s past the snake’s reach, not sure if it matters much. The bag flashes dully on the dirt below.
The forest falls dead quiet.
Enoch yanks up his jeans, expects to find shredded skin, but bleary eyes mark only two neat red dots printed on his calf. A second’s beat, then cold panic kicks in and he butt-shimmies off the back of the rock.
Enoch’s surprised when his bit leg holds up. He limps the half mile to the trailer, and spots dark windows down at Mom’s end, knows she’s out. He makes his way over to the old Chevy round the side. He falls in the driver’s seat, tugs in his leg, and twists the key. A few tired knocks. Sweating now, his good leg working the pedal, he leans in, tries another turn, and the engine coughs to life. The car trundles downhill over the rocky driveway, bare trees and skeleton brush floating by. The half-finished little horse flickers in his head.
Wheels bump onto solid pavement and he points the Chevy toward town, his bit leg crying out. Enoch pokes at radio buttons, teeth clenched, and settles on scratchy country music. Twenty, twenty-five minutes pass before bright lights soar into view, showing him the way. He takes in the signs over big brick boxes through pain-slit eyes, pointing the Chevy toward a glowing red cross. He throws himself through the clinic door and trips over to the front window, his leg barely holding up.
Behind the thick glass sits a stiff woman in starchy white cloth. She’s studying a neat pile of printed forms, her paper hat arcing slow like the hand of a clock. Behind her, a radio slowly leaks out violin notes. She senses his shadow, holds a second, then shifts her sharp grey eyes to Enoch. Sweating, twitching like a puppet, he braces his hand on the counter and readies himself to be patient, polite.
“Can I help you?” The broad motherly face is set in stone.
“Yes, ma’am.” He hears his voice coming out wobbly, slurred like a drunk’s. He forces out more words. “Been bit. A snake. A diamondback, I’m fairly certain . . . ma’am.”
“Sure ’bout that?” She eyes him through glinting lenses, this unkempt red-haired kid.
“Yes ma’am. Hurts real bad.” Enoch leans hard on the “ma’am,” his fuzz-covered lip quivering.
The woman looks him up and down. “OK, son. You take a seat and someone will take a look at you soon.”
Enoch teeters over a few feet and drops into a sky-blue vinyl chair. He’s alone in this strange vast room save for a tight-backed old man in suspenders who’s watching a toddler play on the carpet. Arms locked over his belly, Enoch’s blurry gaze strays to a pile of tattered glossy magazines on a table. One shows a grinning kid in overalls, her foot on a monster catfish, giving him a thumbs-up. The next instant, he clutches his gut, and his stomach empties onto the maroon carpet.
The woman behind the window shoots up, her glasses shining. Enoch’s shaking from top to bottom. He wishes Mom were here, her thick arm warm on his shoulders. He swallows thickly, his eyes squeezed shut.
A pair of white shoes comes into his view on the splattered floor.
“Let’s get you in the back and see what’s going on.”
Through this fiery nightmare a voice falls around him, welcome and unexpected like summer rain. He trembles to his very core, not sure of anything anymore.
A long minute drifts by. He wipes his mouth on his flannel sleeve and looks up. Becca’s standing there in shining white, her restless hair tied back. He watches her familiar features fall into confusion with dull joy. She bends down, her blue eyes hunting out his.
“Enoch? Enoch? You’re our snakebite intake?”
He fishes for a smile. “Yep,” he croaks wetly. “It’s me . . . I reckon.”
Setting her mouth tight, she pulls his clammy limp body through a swinging door and gets him onto a cushioned table. She cleans him up with paper towels, then cradles his face in her hands.
“Lord, the strange things you send us.”
His numb cheeks flush. Becca bends down to shimmy up his pants leg, but it gets stuck midway up his swollen calf. Her crooked scissors swiftly cut away the denim, and he squints at the naked bloated leg like it belongs to someone else. She whispers, “be right back,” and disappears through the door.
Dizzy, his body prickled with fire, Enoch glances round the empty room. Suddenly a thin, tobacco-brown man in a white coat enters solemnly, with Becca his shadow.
“How you doing?”
His voice gone, Enoch’s head feebly swivels back and forth.
With a flick of his wrist, the man points a light into Enoch’s eyes, then slaps a cold disk of a stethoscope on his hammering chest. He hovers over the swollen leg and scribbles on a clipboard, then strides over to a cabinet, fills syringes, and stabs them into his leg. Becca tapes a big white square over the bite and unbuttons Enoch’s flannel shirt. She sticks a small flesh-colored circle on his chest and a machine behind him starts beeping steady. Enoch’s eyes follow her, his lips drawn tight.
“I’ve given you antivenin and a tetanus shot. You’ll rest here for a few hours. You should be fine,” the doctor clicks. Enoch’s voice doesn’t work, and the doctor glances at Becca. “I leave you in the capable hands of our finest student nurse.” He bows slightly and disappears out the door.
Becca lights a cool soft hand on his, her eyes liquid. “Don’t worry none, Enoch. I’ll keep a special eye on you.” She slips a soft pillow under his throbbing head and shakes open a blanket, tucking it tight around him. Warmth swells inside. His vision catches a flashing stone on her finger as it glides through the air.
He pictures the little horse lying on the ground, trapped in the plastic bag.
His eyes water. Darkness comes.