Her body flickers dark and light and sinewy through shadow and scarlet setting sun. Already, the grass drinks in dew, and her rustling passage drops to cooler notes, notes soon to be silver and silent in moonrise. Midsummer is long past, and her time to safety is short. And still, she pauses in her nightly patrol. The snake lifts her diamond-shaped head, scents vanilla and the rich tang of coffee, centered in the small square of patio behind the one-story home.
The elderly male leans back in his lawn chair, which squeals in protest, and his pipe burbles as he takes a draw on the sweet smoke. His voice rumbles from his barrel chest, and he laughs, a leisurely huffing sound. His mate, leaning against the small patio table, murmurs and brings the cup to her lips to sip the steaming beverage. It has been cooled with a splash of whiskey and a lump of sugar, but there is a new, unpleasant note to their nightly symphony.
The snake stretches herself further, above the grass, and her tongue flickers. Something different: sour, faint but sharp, emanating from the female. Illness, something off in the blood, but so faint that neither human will be aware of the fatal inevitability that will snatch her away her during the next great sleep, when the world is said to be cloaked in white, still as stone.
She drops her head, and continues her patrol through the next yard. She easily slides around the toys scattered about the lawn, cutting closer to the house because the young are usually inside at this time in her journey, parked in front of the flickering box behind the big window. Heat radiates from this home, and a bedlam of scents, from charred meat and aged, clotted milk, to excrescence and artificial flowers. She shakes her tail in pleasure.
The back door swings open, thuds, and shudders against aluminum siding, and a tiny figure stands limned, naked, in the doorway. The child shrieks and laughs, then dashes into the darkening back yard. It turns and giggles when it sees the adult male now standing in the doorway, hands at hips. The large male’s voice rumbles warning, then resignation as he throws his hands up in the air. He turns and re-enters the house. The child stands still in the ribbon of light from the doorway, and his silhouette reveals that he is a young male. His reedy voice trills. He waits and his skin begins to pucker into goose bumps. He shivers and drops his head, then pads towards the warmth streaming from the open doorway.
The yard is in deep twilight, and the grass rustles and shifts as she slides her body toward the third, and final, yard. She slips under the wooden fence, changing direction to access the far reaches of the property. A predatory feline lives here with an aging female human. The unchecked volunteer garden that stretches across the back of the property provides shelter if the feline is hunting, or if the night gets too cool for her to continue her slithering patrol.
The feline and her mistress huddle, encircled by candle glow, on a broken couch within a screened-in porch. Their figures are occluded by thick folds of a quilt that declares its origin as farm country, despite attempts to mask this with chemical scents of detergent and softener. The woman reaches forward to pluck a tumbler of golden wine from a low table, and aromas of mildew, dust, and cow roll enticingly across the sharp damp of the grass. The feline growls in protest of being jostled.
She flickers her tongue and tastes each element, but continues her journey. The night has grown chill and her body has slowed, heavy as clay, a little less graceful as she wriggles into the safety of the moonlit garden. Her patrol is ended for tonight, and all is as well as can be expected. The morning sun will bring warmth and mobility and sustenance for another circuit, until the great sleep of winter.
Liz Husebye Hartmann
Pam Brittain's Challenge: Write about lizards and/or snakes.