My father-in-law used to live way out in the country — the sticks, as they say, or the boonies or the middle of nowhere. All were accurate descriptions. After driving to a place that can’t even be found on the map, you had to turn onto a dead end road, then a long dirt driveway bordered by a cow pasture, then pass a vacation home owned by out-of-staters who never visited, before you finally found his house nestled into the start of the 40 acres of forest that he owned.
My husband and I drove out to see him one day, having the afternoon off and time to kill on a Sunday drive in the country. We didn’t know whether or not he’d be home, but the rolling hills and bucolic scenery was worth the drive either way. I had been to his house before, a small A-frame with a detached garage. As a single guy, he didn’t need much space, and he didn’t have much. The door opened into the galley kitchen, and then a living room, bathroom, and bedroom completed the first floor. The bedroom contained bunk beds where his sons occasionally slept when they would come to visit. Upstairs was a loft that made up my father-in-law’s bedroom, a space I imagined to be quite small but had never seen myself.
Despite not needing much space, my father-in-law had embarked on a project to create an enclosed breezeway between the garage and his house. When we arrived that afternoon, we found the garage empty and knew that he wasn’t home. But my husband had to use the bathroom, so he retrieved the hidden key and we made our way carefully across the construction area and to the door. We let ourselves in and I stood in the middle of the living room, staring into space with nothing to do, as my husband shut the door to the bathroom.
I don’t have any idea what I was thinking about as I stood in the living room and just outside the bathroom door, my gaze looking at nothing at all as I faced the general direction of the downstairs bedroom. But within moments of my husband leaving me alone in the living room, I caught sight of movement in the bedroom. Along the base of the far wall, I saw the back half of a large snake as it slithered under the bunk bed.
“Jeremy?” I called, my voice sounding reasonably brave and steady under the circumstances.
“There’s a snake in the house.”
Maybe you’ve heard the expressions “coolheaded” or “grace under pressure” or even “he was my rock when I needed him”? I’ve heard those expressions too. Perhaps someday I’ll witness such a thing. This was not the day.
“A snake? Where?” His voice was already at least an octave above mine and completely panicky. In bad situations he has always been the one to freak out, overreact, and completely abandon any sense of calm. Oh, the stories I could tell. And will, eventually.
“I just saw it go under the bed.”
“Get on a chair!” he instructed me. I didn’t think it was necessary as I knew where the snake was – under the bed. But I did as I was told and stepped up onto a metal folding chair. (My father-in-law is an ace decorator.)
“What kind of snake was it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I only saw the end of it. It was long. And thick. No markings. Black.” I wasn’t about to go peek under the bed to get a better look.
There was quiet and I waited for him to get out of the bathroom to rescue me. “What’s taking you so long?” Apparently, knowing there is a big snake outside your door makes it hard to relax and finish.
I finally heard the toilet flush and then he called out in his same rushed, agitated voice, “Is it safe for me to open the door?”
“Yes,” I said from my high perch, getting a bit exasperated.
He came out into the living room and joined me on a chair. I pointed into the bedroom. “He’s under the bed there. I saw him gliding along from the right. He was probably halfway under already by the time I saw him. He looked long and fat. Let’s leave a note for your dad and get out of here.”
“We have to barricade him in there so my dad knows where he is.”
“Is there not a door?” I asked, looking into the bedroom and seeing a dresser against the wall where I thought the open door should be.
He looked at the same dresser. It was solid and old and met the floor without any gap. There would be no sister snakes hiding underneath it. “Let’s move that in front of the door.”
We climbed down from our chairs and crept toward the bedroom. Keeping one eye on the bunk beds, we pulled the near side of the dresser as it began to groan across the hardwood floor. We managed to wedge it in the doorway and block the room off without the snake ever coming out to say hello.
We stepped back to admire our work and then Jeremy exclaimed, “Oops, I forgot about the pocket door.” I saw then that the missing door was just slid back in between the walls. That would have been substantially easier than lugging the dresser.
“Do we put it back?” he asked.
“Nah.” I was not interested in spending any more time in the house. “Let’s just write a note and go.”
So we left my father-in-law a note on his counter and ran for the car.
According to my father-in-law, he left the door barricaded for a week so the snake would be good and ready to come out. Then one evening he turned off all the lights in the house except for the light of the TV. He pushed the dresser away from the opening, lay on the floor in front of the TV with a baseball bat, and waited. It didn’t take long for the snake, all five feet of him, to come out at top speed, head off the ground, looking for a fight. What he found was the solid side of a wooden baseball bat. My father-in-law said it was a blue racer, a large, angry snake that, while not poisonous, would give you quite a fight.
I suppose I could draw a lot of conclusions from this, but I’m going to leave it simply: Don’t live in the woods.
The woods can be pretty, but just think of all the snakes in there. Not to mention, spiders.