(a Halloween tale, 2021)
The Eagle’s “Hotel California” blared from the tape deck. Milo winced. The song’s message of futility and emptiness grated on his last nerve. From within the musty cab Gabe, the work hand, revved the motor as he rolled a well-chewed toothpick from side to side. He bid Boss goodnight. Milo tipped his Stetson in return.
As the old Ford roared down the gravel drive, Milo welcomed the silence. In the moonlight he sought the barn door handle, grabbed it, and began to slide it open. Its heavy weight resisted along bent tracks, his back ached with the effort.
The hairs on his neck bristled as his stomach dropped. A sinking dread covered him. Wh— he stopped mid-croak and listened.
Hisssssssss. Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.
The smell of manure and hay lay dank in the dark. He stepped slowly back from the serpent’s warning. The herd silent within.
He closed the barn door then spit in the dirt. He’d wait until daylight to replace the lightbulb that swung uselessly above him in the nighttime breeze. He’d bring his shotgun too.
He went to bed uneasy and dreamt of a particular snake from the first glory-garden as The Eagle’s eerie intro began in the background. Oh, how he’d always loathed this song. The snake taunted him with hissing lies, filling him with fear, as the music rattled on and on.
He woke in a cold sweat in the large, empty bed. He searched for the familiar comfort he wouldn’t find this side of the grave. And wept again. Here was the sting.
The next morning he woke to soft sunlight slanting through the window. The pane cross shadow lay on his bedclothes as he knelt and talked to his Savior. All things would be made new. One day.
He dressed, put on his worn boots, and took down his gun from above the mantel. He rocked it open, checked the loads, then headed to the barn.
As he slid the door open all was silent. He peered to the left, to the right, below him, above him. A cruciform of wary attention. His boots shuffled on the hay-strewn, concrete slab. There on his right hung all the outside farm tools. He scanned the wall of axes, assorted metal rakes, and saws.
Midway among the various collection was the large rattler. Its huge body hung lifeless. He could see it had constricted after wrapping multiple times around Milo’s two-man crosscut saw. He smiled grimly as he reached up and unwound the carcass.
Hadn’t the serpent tried this very thing on Golgotha?
the Holy Spirit reminded.
The truth settled deep into his bones as he watched the scaly hide burn on the trash heap. It never had been his job to kill the beast.