Once a rattler stayed out in the sun too long. By the time it returned to the shadow of its rock, the damage was already done. Shimmering heat had definitely taken a toll, causing the rattler to see a nightmarish mirage of danger all the way to the horizon of what it had always called home sweet home. All around it, craven enemies looked to be closing in, the same ones the rattler had long claimed to be driving it farther and farther into a land of sagebrush, scorched rocks, and blinding dust. Here in this barren place, the rattler had survived by sheer grit, almost single-handedly keeping alive the spirit of rugged independence that once could be found in rattler dens all across the continent. The rest of the world was full of enemies, the rattler was convinced, aimed at one thing and one thing only: taking away its most cherished freedom, its God-given right to rattle! Nobody could be trusted. “Nobody. Not even me at times,” the rattler hissed. To guard against falling victim to this conspiracy, it always slept with one eye open and trained on its own tail. Just in case. As for the looming assault on the rattler way of life, “Over my dead body!” was its scornful response. “If they think they can tread on me, the defender of a proud heritage that I am, they got another think comin’. ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ them’s the words I live by, and them’s fightin’ words! Let ’em come on if they dare. I got a little surprise for ’em, yessiree!” The rattler had a surprise all right: a venom like nothing else on the planet. And while it waited for the final showdown, when it would take a stand for everything that made life as a rattler the envy of all the world, it worked to make its venom even more concentrated and deadly by biting itself and recycling the poison again and again through its entire system. “If it don’t kill ya,” the rattler declared with added bravado, “it’s gotta make ya one tough customer to deal with. ’Nuff said!” The rattler gave its tail a menacing shake and enjoyed the terror it imagined on the faces of its assembled enemies at hearing the sound. Those enemies, out there everywhere scheming the rattler’s demise, would get what was coming to them, and more. For the rattler was not alone. Not only would it make its own glorious stand for the rattler way of life and the principle that being fanged and dangerous was freedom’s greatest safeguard, but it was confident other rattlers were prepared to join it in their legions. Over the hills they would come, out of the gullies and gulches where they’d been sharpening their survival skills for the day of reckoning, a national rattler assembly of kindred spirits to strike fear in the heart of any lily-livered foe. What a shock their enemies were in for—rattlers by the millions holding their tails aloft and shaking them defiantly, sinking their fangs into themselves as this one did in a mounting frenzy, and growing more lethal all the time.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans