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Wonderin’ as I wander

Here in the South there are only two seasons: Summer and Not-quite-Summer.  Currently it’s Not-quite-Summer, also known as Autumn or Fall in cooler climates. Anyway, I was out for my evening stroll, wondering why the weather can’t decide on June or November, when I spied a thick, crooked limb just lying in the dirt path before me.

I walked over to remove it from the road. But as I reached a certain proximity it moved, drawing up on itself in a writhing mass. I stopped. Then I heard the unmistakable buzz of a fully adult rattlesnake, which I now recognized that crooked limb to be. It coiled in the middle of the road, facing me and rearing its head.

About to turn and run, I heard another sound behind me. More menacing than a buzzing rattle or even a hiss, this was a nasally snort, as of mucus being gathered in the back of a throat. Which is exactly what it was.

Before I could move, the snort became a pthooogghkkk!!! A thick stream of brown saliva whizzed past my head. I watched transfixed as it formed two spinning lobes, like a vicious viscous bola.

Then the rattler lashed out to strike.

The brown saliva spun straight for the reptile’s head, then wrapped twice across its open jaws. The momentum of the strike was no match for the mucus that forced the serpent back, slamming it to the ground in a plume of dust.

I kept my eyes on the snake to see if it would recover, even as I spoke the name of my Wonderin’ friend, “Cletus! You’re back.”

The snake did not move. I figured it was knocked unconscious. With that thought in mind, I turned to greet the Wizard.

He stood there with those same bloodshot eyes, and that same dry sheaf of tobacco in his left hand.  “Howdy there hoss,” he said. “If it ain’t hornets with you its horridus.”

Horridus? I pondered a guess; “So was that the snake’s name? Is it a rogue Wizard in disguise?”

“Yep and naw.” He nodded then shook his head, almost in one movement. Then he scratched his beard and frowned with his eyebrows. “Sometimes I wonder if they teach younguns anything these days.”

I stood there a moment unsure what to say. “Sorry Mr. Cletus, but I don’t follow…”

“Crotalus horridus, Genus and species of that there critter.” He pointed with the leaves. “So you’re right to say I gave its name, but a Wizard it ain’t. It’s just a snake. Or it was a snake.”  He made his way around me and toward the rattler. A Timber Rattler I realized, as the Latin from a herpetology class came back to me. Crotalus horridus. Native to my home state and a slew of others.

“Cletus, be careful!” I exclaimed, as he reached down and grabbed the snake by the tail. Though it might be stunned, surely tobacco spit wasn’t enough to kill it.  But as Cletus lifted it, I was amazed to see that, instead of a snake, he now held a twisted but beautifully patterned staff in his hand.

“A trick I learned from Moses,” said Cletus, as he proceed to use it as a walking stick and make his way back to me.

I didn’t dare ask about Moses. But it did make me wonder. I whispered, “Now I’ve seen it all.”

Cletus smiled. I think. It was hard to tell through the massive beard on his face.  “Naw, you ain’t even come close.” He put the staff under his left armpit and patted my shoulder. “But you have done good.”

I furrowed my brow. “By walking up on a rattler?” I peered over at the staff to make sure it remained a stick. It had.

“Naw,” he said, gesturing toward the horizon. “By spreadin’ the word I gave you last time.” We started walking back the way I’d come.

“Well,” I said. “You don’t exactly ignore flaming letters.”

“You’d be surprised.” Cletus spat off toward the ditch on our right and then held his staff out before him. He waved it back and forth. Had there been a pond or river in our way, I imagine it might have parted. Instead those flaming letters came blazing back into view.

“There,” said Cletus.  “One more reminder for those folks you know what likes to read.”

I didn’t bother to tell him I had written the letters down. But I did take out my camera to snap a photo.

“What’s that contraption?” Cletus asked, nodding toward my phone.

“Uh, an iphone 5.” I shrugged. “You know a cell phone with a camera. All sorts of stuff really.”

“Hmm.”  He spat again. “Wonder what this world’ll conjure up next?”

“No telling,” I said. “But in the meantime, I’ll take this photo and put it up on my blog.”

“Blog?” he said. “That some kinda slang for a blind frog?”

“Naw,” I said, realizing I was starting to sound like Cletus. “But it will help get the word out on those Wonderous Tales over at Art of the Arcane.”

“Good,” Cletus replied. “Cause times a growin’ short y’know.” He stopped and leaned on the staff, as if preparing to part ways.

“How short?” I asked. “Should I tell them to hurry.”

“Yep, best tell ’em to get it whilst they can.” He held up the walking stick and said, “One more week. Less, dependin’ on when this blog of yours reaches folks. November 30th, to be exact.”

And with that, once again, Cletus faded from sight. And again, those mysterious words leading to so many tales of science and sorcery hung like a flaming signpost in the air.

So don’t just sit there wondering, go ahead and touch them. Tales aplenty on the other side.

Peace, JSW