August 6, 1958

The female copperhead raised her head, testing the air around her with the heat-sensing pits between her eyes and nostrils, and flicking her tongue in and out to catch the scents of potential prey.  Days before, she had undergone the ordeal of giving birth to a dozen young, all of which had slithered away immediately after breaking through their placental sacs.  Weakened by the exertion of labor, she rested in a sheltered spot under the Ten Acres summerhouse, waiting for her prey to come to her.  But a storm the night before had allowed water to collect in her spot, and the chipmunks were busying themselves elsewhere.  Slowly, she slithered toward the opening by which she’d entered. 

Once outside in the warm, slanting sun of late afternoon, she started to feel the air vibrating from the chirping of a multitude of cicadas—the dog-day cicadas whose cries filled the evening with their cacophony.  Just ahead was a giant tree, or at least a large part of one, lying on the ground.  Branches filled with green leaves still stretched to the sky, and the snake’s tongue darted in and out more quickly as she caught the scent of squirrels running back and forth across the trunk and out onto a branch.  Normally she sought her prey at ground level, but hungry and motivated by the enticing scents of squirrel and cicada, she began to seek an easy access to ascend the tree trunk.  Fortunately, there were branches that lay against the ground.  As she approached the unsuspecting insects, the squirrels disappeared into an opening under the eaves of the summerhouse.  The snake watched them go.  At this moment, she was more interested in the cicadas.  Less filling, but more tasty, the insects were easier to catch.

Well, sometimes they were. 

As her head darted forward, she captured two, but dozens more flew out of reach.  Patient and intent on finding food, she continued making her way along the branch she was ascending until it touched the roof of the summerhouse.  Now the scent and warmth of squirrel filled her senses and she dropped her head to find the opening into which the two squirrels had escaped.  Focused on her prey, she wriggled her way through the hole and found herself on an odd sort of log, flat on top, that bridged the space between the structure’s walls.  More cicadas swarmed the log—a veritable feast!

She snapped up a half-dozen cicadas at a time, although an equal number took to the air.  As she made her way across the length of wood, she began to pick up the squirrel scent and body heat again. The intoxicating aroma of cicada had faded, but more food was almost within reach.  There was a squirrel nest tucked under the edge of the structure’s roof.  One adult squirrel reared up on its hind legs and screeched at her, but the faint vibration of her skull didn’t distract her from the best meal she’d had for several weeks.  Just as she drew within striking range, the squirrel turned tail and scampered off.

The nest contained three baby squirrels whose fur was still new and downy.  A quick venom strike rendered two of them helpless at once, and the third one was easily rendered helpless.  Moments later, the nest was empty.  The summerhouse, a hive of activity and noise only moments earlier, was silent.

The snake, temporarily sated and content, stretched her full length on the wooden beam.  She was prepared to wait for the adult squirrels to return before she made her way back to her own den.  For now, she was warm, dry, and safe from the few predators who might threaten her outside of her den.

As the late afternoon descended into dusk, the snake remained on her unusual perch.  The adult squirrels had returned and one of them had become her latest meal.  Now she would not need to eat for days, if not weeks.  Sluggish and stuporous, she dozed.

She jerked into wakefulness as the beam creaked and swayed the slightest bit.  A deep rumbling voice below set off the skull vibrations that meant sound again, and her heat-sensing pits picked up the scent of an animal too massive to be her prey, even if she’d been hungry.  Now it was time to escape, but the creaking and slight swaying startled her and she dropped—right onto one of the two humans who occupied the seat beneath her log.  

The snake was stunned into near-paralysis at finding herself resting on a human.  She was sluggish and her belly was full, but as the human jerked up and set the air to vibrating, she knew she had to deliver a blow in self-defense.  Drawing her head back, she struck, delivering a small dose of venom to distract the human.  Not seeing other cover, she slipped into the loose front of its clothing.

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Author’s Notes

818 words

I never wanted to write the story of Nell Frayne's encounter with the copperhead. But I started getting an idea about how James became such a hermit, and was curious about how it may have happpened. That led to quite a bit of (rigorous) research on the internet, as well as consulting with my son-in-law (he has been a snake-breeder and seller, although never dealing in copperheads). Copperhead bites are very painful and cause local tissue death, but human beings rarely if ever die from a copperhead bite. So I needed to find some whay it could have injected venom closer to vital organs (or so I decided). Everything the snake does in this story has been documented. Although copperheads rarely climb, they have been known to climb trees to catch cicadas. voila! A story was born.

Thank you to my fabulous editors, Trish and Terry (chromasnake).  Your comments and corrections are greatly appreciated!  Ryl and Ronda helped me to decide about the last couple of sentences' proper place. Any errors remaining are my own, and not their fault.

Thank you to all of my readers.  You all are the best!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010-2014 by MaryN/Dianafan. Background tile and strip created by Mary N. Images obtained via Google Image searches and used in accordance with defined usage rights; manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2016.

Story copyright by Mary N, 2016.

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