The sun shone on the man's face as he lay in the grass, unmoving. A bee buzzed lazily around his nose, alighting briefly, then buzzing away, searching for something more interesting. He began to be aware of the smell of the grass, the earth, the wildflowers around him. As his mind began to clear, the memory of what had happened started to come back to him.
He remembered riding through the meadow, on a quiet, peaceful morning. He had been heading for the mountains, back to his cabin after selling his pelts. He had been enjoying the solitude after the noise and smells of the settlement, glad to get back out away from people with all of their noise and confusion. He had heard the noise of the snake rattle, his horse had reared at the same instant as the shot had been fired. He had a brief glimpse of the Indian as he was falling from his horse, then he had lost consciousness. How long had he been out? Minutes? Seconds? Where was the Indian now?
He carefully and slowly pulled his knife and held it by his side, not daring to move. He strained to hear any sound of his assailant moving closer to him. He heard a slight sound in the grass close by, something moving a few stalks of grass. Was it the Indian? Then another thought hit him in the pit of the stomach. Was it the snake? He dared not move. If he did, he might reveal his position to the Indian. Or he might provoke the snake to strike. He lay there sweating, fighting panic. His only chance was to lay as still as possible and listen, waiting for any sound that might give him an indication of what to do.
As he lay there he considered what the attacker would do. He wouldn't know if he had been hit, or thrown from the horse. He would be waiting for a movement from him. If he didn't see him move, he would move in quietly to count coup and loot the body. Best thing to do would be to remain still and try to spot him first as he came in. The quieter he was, the more convinced the Indian would be that it was safe to come in close. Then he would have a chance to defend himself with the knife.
The snake was another matter. Virtually silent, if the snake got close, he didn't know what it might do. Would it strike at him when it got close and smelled him? Would lying still prevent him from being bitten? He had never been in a spot where he could not get away from a snake before, but if he tried to move and get away, he would reveal himself to the Indian. The only thing to do now was to stay still and try to determine the Indian's location.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a couple of blades of grass move. The wind? No, a couple more in front of them moved. Then stillness. He tested the air. Indians smell different from whites. He would keep trying the air to try to spot his location by smell as well as sound. Which way was the wind blowing? Which way were the grass stems moving? There was very little wind, the grass was moving ever so slightly, so smell wasn't going to travel very far. So that would not be much help. But on the other hand, since the grass wasn't moving from the wind, any movement would reveal a presence. But only up very close to him, because from where he lay, he could not see far through the grass.
He concentrated on where he had seen the slight movement in the grass. Another slight movement! Getting a little closer to him! He tried to calm his heart beat. It seemed like it was beating so hard, that anyone or anything near him would hear it. He tried to regulate his breathing to calm himself, and that seemed to help. The sun was getting higher now. If it got directly overhead, it would be in his eyes and start to blind him. He dared not move his head from side to side too far. Any movement might make a sound or move some grass and give him away. Then more movement on his right side and he moved his eyes to see what it was.
The snake! Evil black expressionless eyes staring at him, tongue flicking in and out as it sought to identify the smell of the object in front of him. He dared not move, barely breathing. He focused his eyes on something else, so as not to appear aggressive to the snake. It just lay there looking, flicking it's tongue for what seemed an eternity. Then it slowly started to slither forward toward him. Closer, closer, inch by inch. Now it was near his leg. He remained absolutely still. It was only inches from the hand that held the knife. Could he use the knife to throw it away from him? This was a big snake. From the thickness of its body, he guessed it must be all of six feet long, if not longer. No, if it hadn't bitten him yet, he would wait. It hadn't coiled and rattled yet, so it must not yet feel threatened. When it got to his leg, it continued to test the air. His buckskin pants had all kinds of smells on them. Hard to tell if any of the smells it was picking up would make it feel threatened. Then it started to move slowly forward, onto his leg. Across one leg and onto the other. As it moved, he could feel the muscles of its belly undulating and flexing as it propelled itself forward. It hesitated as it got to the grass on the other side, then slid down onto the ground and moved into the grass with agonizing slowness. It seemed to take forever for that body to make its way over him. At last it was almost gone; all he could see were the rattles on the end of the tail, then it was gone.
He lay there breathing a sigh of relief. Now at least he knew where one of his two enemies were. As long as it didn't come back anyway. The sun was higher now. How long had that taken? Longer then he had thought, because the sun had moved quite a bit. The Indian would be moving in cautiously now. Quite a bit of time had passed since he had fallen. The more time that went by, the more confident the Indian would be that it was safe to come in.
A thought occurred to him that the snake had come in from his right. Which probably meant that the Indian was not over on his right. He must be in one of the other three directions. And he could only see to his left and over his feet. He could not see anything over his head; he was blind in that direction. All he could do was be as aware as he could. If he could make it until night, he could get away. Unless he stumbled into one of his two enemies in the dark. And the Indian wouldn't be likely to wait that long. Something was going to happen before that.
He lay motionless for what seemed an hour. His body was starting to stiffen from not moving. Suddenly he heard a scream. He sat up slightly and looked in that direction and saw the Indian limping away. Why? What had happened? Then he realized that was the direction that the snake had gone in. It must have bitten the Indian. He got to his feet and looked around. He saw his rifle laying in the grass, and picking it up, he started trailing his horse. A quarter of a mile away he found it grazing peacefully in the knee deep grass. He mounted and started riding home, back to the security of his cabin.
He stopped early for the night. He made a small fire, boiled his coffee, fried some side meat and made some pan bread. This was one of the most stressful days he had ever had. Worse than when a small band had him pinned down for two days before they gave up. Worse than when he had gotten caught in that blizzard storm and he had lost his horse. If there was one thing that he disliked more than Indians, it was snakes. Having one that close and slide over his legs like that had almost driven him out of his mind. It had been so close that he could see every mark on its body, could see into its eyes, could make out every rattle on its tail. He hoped never to be that close to one again. He hated snakes.
He heard the soft footfalls of a horse. Coming closer to his small fire. Stepping tentatively. Was it an Indian? He stepped back into the shadows. Cocking his rifle, he stepped behind a tree and leveled it in the direction the steps were coming from. Slowly a horse came forward, tentatively, snorting gently as it sought the safety of the light and the other horse. On its back was a rider hunched forward, lying on its neck. He walked cautiously up to it, keeping his rifle leveled on the figure on its back. It was the Indian. He reached up to his shoulder and as he did, the Indian fell to the ground. He was dead. One leg had a purple swollen area on it with two fang marks. He had died of snake bite.
Must have been a lot of venom in that snake to kill that quickly, he thought. That snake did me a favor, killed an enemy that was trying to kill me. He dragged the body off to the side, rolled up in his blankets and went to sleep. The next day, he took the Indian's weapons and horse and headed for his cabin.
"I guess snakes aren't so bad after all," he thought. "You just have to figure out how to get along with them."