The New House and the Snake

The New House and the Snake

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

The New House and the Snake

There was a time when my favorite thing to do in the entire world was to play in the woods near our house in Pennsylvania. A river ran through them, so not only could I climb branches and hide beneath piles of dried leaves, but I could turn over rocks on the riverbank and find baby eels that squirmed around in the small pool of water where the rocks had been. I loved the smell of the leaves and would drag my feet through them to stir up the scent.

My favorite book was called Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians. My father had given it to me for my birthday, and I read every page over and over, looking at the pictures of colorful animals. Some of the snakes were the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen.

Little did I know that my book would end up saving a life.

My family moved to Virginia, into a new house in a new subdivision. The houses were so new that no one had lived in them before. In fact, woods had been there first, and almost all the trees had been cut down to make room for houses and asphalt driveways. Inside our new house, everything smelled like fresh paint. Outside, no lawns had been planted, but my father tossed out grass seed using a machine that spun as he pushed, and baby seedlings grew. My brother, Patrick, and I could not walk on them. We had to play in the driveway.

All the same, I liked our new house. One of the best things, and at the same time one of the worst, about living near the woods were the animals that would come into our yard. Rabbits and toads hopped across the back patio almost every night, and once, we found a box turtle walking underneath the barbecue. Even though I loved to watch the rabbits and toads and I played with the turtle, I felt sorry for the animals. It seemed as if they were only trying to go home, and instead, what they had found was a big new subdivision where their old burrows and tunnels used to be.

Besides playing in the driveway as we waited for the new grass to grow, we spent time in a sandbox, which my father built right next to the driveway. The cat sometimes used the sandbox for a litter box, so my father had to put a plastic cover over it. When I wanted to build sand castles or dig a tunnel, I had to pull the cover off.

One day before dinner, I ran to the sandbox to build a miniature city, and then to find some ants to occupy it. I pulled off the plastic cover, and there in the sandbox was a snake.

It was lying very still, all coiled up, and it was beautiful. The snake had rings of color around it—red, then white, then yellow, then black. I had seen a picture just like it in my reptile book, and I remembered that it was one of the prettiest snakes in it. It said in the book that the poisonous coral snake looked very much like the king snake; the only difference was in the sequence of the colors. I ran inside to get the reptile guidebook.

“Mom! Mom! There’s a snake in the sandbox!” I yelled. “I have to find out what kind it is!”

Mom came running. “Don’t touch it, Chris! It might be poisonous!”

Dad was at work, so my mother went to get our neighbor, Mr. Cook.

“Mr. Cook!” my mother yelled across the fence, “We have a snake in the sandbox, and it might be a poisonous king snake!”

Mr. Cook was retired and lived with his wife in the house on the other side of our back fence. He came running toward the gate with a shovel.

“Wait!” I said, waving the guidebook in my hand. “I have to see what kind of snake it is!”

Mom and Mr. Cook stood over the snake. It was coiled, lying still, while Mr. Cook held the shovel over its head. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Mr. Cook said, taking aim. I felt so bad for the snake. Even if it were poisonous, all it was doing was trying to hide there in the dark, under the plastic tarp. It wasn’t hurting anybody.

I tried to turn the pages of the book to the coral and king snake section. It’s funny, but whenever you’re trying to do something too fast, it seems like it takes all that much longer to do it. Finally, I found it. Red, white, yellow, black: that meant a poisonous coral snake. A king snake was yellow, white, red and black. I checked the colors. This definitely was a king snake, and the book said that it was rare and should be protected.

“Don’t kill the snake!” I yelled. I was crying by now, feeling the snake was doomed. I showed my mother and Mr. Cook the picture. “See? It says it’s a rare snake that should be protected!”

I ran to get a pillowcase. I had seen a show on TV that recommended pillowcases for catching snakes. I buried one side of the material beneath the sand and held it up like a tunnel. Mr. Cook nudged the snake with the shovel. The snake uncoiled and glided right into the pillowcase. I picked up the pillowcase and clenched the top of it shut with my fingers. My mother called the zoo and told them I had just captured a king snake.

“Wow!” said the man from the zoo. They had rushed right over when my mother described the snake’s colors. “You sure are right. You’ve captured a king snake! We’ll put it on display at the zoo where it will have a nice home. You should come to visit it!”

I felt good that the king snake had been saved. I also felt sorry for the snake because after all, like the rabbits and the toads and the box turtle, it was only looking for its old home. I knew that feeling. Sometimes I liked to hide, too.

I hoped that the snake would like its cage. I hoped they would give it a branch to climb on, some water and lots of sand. Maybe they would even put in dry leaves for the snake to hide under. No matter how the zookeepers fixed up the cage, or whether or not it was like the outdoors where the snake was used to living, I was sure that it was better than having Mr. Cook chop its head off with his shovel.

Eventually, the new paint smell would go away, the grass would grow and the new home would become much like the old one. And maybe, if the snake was lucky, there would be someone around to build a sandbox. In a way, I thought, that snake was a lot like me.

Christine Lavin

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