Thursday, 22 October 2009

TRAVELING INCOGNITO by George W. Morrow


TknC welcomes George with this little thriller...


TRAVELING INCOGNITO



Marcia relaxed in her green wicker chair. She treasured the time she spent in her garden; when she exchanged her business suit for blue jeans, white long-sleeved shirt, clogs and pink braid wide-brimmed hat. The soil felt good on her hands, and made her feel she accomplished something by physical labor. A soft, morning breeze swept through her blonde hair. The tall, willowy thirty-five year old lawyer tried to set aside the personal problems which plagued her in recent days. Her garden provided a respite from the world, a place where she forgot the husband who did not love her and married her for her money.
Marcia spent five years developing her rectangular garden. The garden measured thirty-eight feet by twenty-two. An eight foot grey, concrete wall encircled it. Marcia planted pear, Japanese maple, apple and Italian cypress trees along the wall to make sure no one peered over the wall into the garden. Entrance to the garden came by a wrought iron gate. Marcia planted an island bed of irises just inside the gate. She constructed a fish pond stocked with flashing fish and water lilies next to the island bed. A bluestone pathway leads to the interior patio. Marcia stocked the garden with larkspur, love-in-mist, foxglove and poppies. Smiling polystone garden cherubs peeked out from behind purple sage and held out chubby, little fingers filled with lemon gem marigolds. The delicious scent of golden honeysuckle permeated the garden.
This kaleidoscope of colors earned Marcia’s garden a review in a prominent national gardening magazine. Her estranged husband, Matt, read it while he vacationed in Florida. He wrote congratulation.
“Great article, Marcia. You’ve done a first class job on that garden. How about coming down here and we’ll talk things over?”
She flew down the next morning. They spent their time visiting Disneyworld, the zoo and walking the beach.
“Can we start again ,Matt ?’ she asked him. “I’ve made mistakes, but I feel we could make a go of it if we both tried.”
“Marcia, we’ve been over this a hundred times. I don’t want to be tied down.”
“Is that your final answer?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’ll never forgive you as long as I live. Don’t count on my generosity. I’ll fight you with everything I have.”
She left on the first plane without taking her belongings. Several days later he sent them to her along with a note.
“I think we both lost our temper and we need time to think about it. P.S. I’m sending you a gift you can use in your garden. Hope you enjoy it.”
That gift arrived this very morning. A postal letter carrier rang her door bell while she slept. Matt sent his surprise in a box three feet by two feet. The box carried the warning: LIVE PLANTS. The letter carrier helped Marcia carry it into the garden. To her delight, the box contained a Florida sunflower ready for transplant to her Oregon garden. The plant came encased in the loamy soil and debris of Florida. Its yellow petals added another dimension to her garden.
Marcia’s black Turkish Angora cat, Dominic, jumped into her lap.
“What have you got, Dominic?”
The cat held a red garter snake in its mouth. Marcia knocked the snake out of the cat’s mouth.
“If there is anything I hate, its snakes.” She tossed the snake into the shrubs.
A few minutes later, she noticed Dominic playing with something else. She saw movement underneath the sunflower, the ground opened up and a snake popped its head from among the soil debris. This reptile differed from an ordinary garter snake. This snake had a cylindrical body and appeared to be about three feet long. The most striking feature about the snake was the alternating bands of yellow, black and red that encircled its body.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say this is a coral snake, like the one I saw at the Florida zoo. But, coral snakes don’t inhabit Oregon.”
When Patrick and Marcia visited the zoo, they went to the serpentarium to see the poisonous snakes indigenous to Florida. The eastern coral snake fascinated Marcia with its brilliant yellow, black and red bands.
“It’s so beautiful, yet so deadly,” she said. The printed information on the snake cage justified her trepidation.
Species: Micrurus Fulvius. Its venom: a neurotoxin which paralyzes the breathing muscles. Fatality rate: very high. Victim dies from suffocation. Coral snakes have short fangs; therefore, they must chew into their victims, and it takes longer for them to inject their venom. They often hang on to the victim after the bite is delivered.
“Many people get bitten when they are gardening,” said Patrick. “The snakes bite them in the soft spot between their fingers. Lucky you aren’t gardening in Florida.”
The zoo information ended with the warning that coral snakes are often confused with non-venomous snakes having similar body markings- with fatal consequences for humans. The information contained a couplet:
“Red on black, friend of jack.
Red on yellow, kill a fellow.”
Marcia examined the snake at her feet. Yellow, black and red bands encircled the snake’s body. If a red band abutted a black band, a human would be safe. If a red band abutted a yellow band, the human stood in peril of their life.
Marcia asked herself. Did red and yellow bands touch? They did. She asked herself two more questions. First, why did the snake not bite her when she worked on the sunflower? She wore her cowhide gloves which probably protected her. Second, and more perplexing, how did the snake get to Oregon from Florida? It arrived inside the box delivered by the letter carrier. It traveled incognito under the cover of soil and debris. How did the snake get into the box? If a florist prepared the plant for shipment, certain the snake would be discovered. The snake must be put into the box on purpose. Patrick sent her the box. The conclusion: Patrick put the snake in the box.
“No need to ask why. So, he would kill me. I didn’t believe he would go that far. I’ll call the police in Florida and…”
She did not finish. The snake moved toward her. She recalled reading of the coral snake’s docile disposition, but some human mistreated this snake, with the clear intention of antagonizing it and making it ready to bite the first human it encountered. The snake fascinated her now as at the zoo. Its beautiful coloration enchanted her. The only ugly feature of the reptile came from its flat, bulbous head with the yellow stripe encircling it. The round black pupils surveyed her, its adversary. For one instant, when the eyes of reptile and human met, each realized that one of them must die. Each sensed the other’s fear.
Marcia knew the best way to handle a poisonous snake would be to freeze, allow the snake to withdraw then step away. Marcia froze, but when the snake remained still, she panicked and kicked at it. It moved toward her in sidelong, jerky movements. She threw a planting trowel at the snake and hit it. The snake writhed in pain, but slithered into a bed of poppies to recover and conceal itself. It turned to look at her, hissing as if to vow revenge. Marcia must watch every move she made because the snake might charge out from the flower cover. It held the advantage of surprise. Marcia figured she could kill the snake, if she could see it before it saw her. The colorful snake blended so naturally with the garden colors that searching it out and killing it would be too dangerous. She had to get out of the garden. She reached into her pocket for her cell phone, but remembered she’d left it inside her house. The garden entrance gate stood about twenty feet away. She started walking the bluestone path toward the gate when the snake emerged from foxglove flowers onto the pathway in front of her. The snake flattened its body to make itself appear larger. Marcia froze with fear, unable to move. The snake prepared to strike, but Dominic ran between Marcia and the snake and knocked it off the pathway. The snake’s fury turned upon the cat. It struck at the cat, but Dominic escaped into the bushes unharmed.
Now, Marcia unleashed her rage.
“I hate you, you dirty, creepy thing!” She picked up a handful of bluestone pebbles and threw it at the snake. The snake slithered into a hydrangea shrub located near the pond, again concealing itself. She picked up another handful of pebbles and walked toward the gate. As she passed the pond, she saw the flashing fish jumping out of the water. She knew the reason why they did. She came within six feet of the gate when a snake crossed her path. Her heart skipped its beats, but it proved to be a harmless garter snake, possibly the one that Dominic found earlier. The coral snake came from out of a bed of lavender lace, grabbed the garter snake and devoured it. Marcia did not wait. She ran to the gate. The mail truck passed by her home and she yelled “Help!”, but the driver did not hear her. She tried to open the gate, but found the lock jammed. She took off her left-hand glove to get a firmer grip on the gate lock, and this time succeeded in opening the gate.
“I’ve done it!”
She took one step and remembered her glove. A good gardener does not forget a glove. She looked around for the discarded glove and found it in the iris bed. She reached down for it with her right hand, and when she lifted it up, she found the coral snake chewing on the forefinger of the glove. She squeezed the snake’s head in an attempt to loosen its grip, but the soil on her fingers made it difficult to obtain a firm hold. She could feel the snake gnawing at her glove finger, and knew that a bite would occur within moments. She screamed for help. She squeezed harder on the snake’s head and it gnawed faster. She heard footsteps. Someone was walking on her sidewalk.
“Help! I’m in here. A poisonous snake is attacking me! Hurry!”
“Miss Gilmore, are you all right? This is Kevin, your mail carrier.”
“I’m being attacked by a coral snake. Help me!”
The mail carrier grabbed a nearby shovel and knocked the snake off Marcia’s arm.
Later, emergency medical technicians confirmed that Marcia did not suffer a bite. Animal control caught the snake and removed it.
“It’s a female,” they told Marcia. “She just about chewed into your glove. Another minute and you would have had a nasty bite.”
“Why did you come back here, Kevin?” Marcia asked her carrier.
“That package I delivered to you this morning was a registered mail and it needed to be signed for by you. I forgot to get your signature when I was here before. Lucky I remembered it.”
“You can expect a nice tip for Christmas.”
Marcia went back to the garden patio to retrieve her hat. She saw Dominic playing around the Florida sunflower, and felt safe once more in her garden. Marcia went inside to a hot bath. She did not see the new toys Dominic found. The five capsule-shaped eggs lay amidst the garden leaves. The coral snake had given birth in Marcia’s garden.

3 comments:

  1. Yeah, good work George. Different from the norm here at TKnC, but refreshing for it.

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  2. Definately going to leave the gardening to the wife! Nice story George.
    Regards, David.

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