Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.
Summer Reading came to an end late Saturday with the annual Viper Day party. After saying goodbye to Dave on Friday, Ava and I set up the place and I went home for a long sleep. The storms raged outside and the rain pelting down making me worry about the festivities. In the morning the sun was shining and we prepared for the activities.
Here’s the condensed version on what Viper Day is. Around 100 years ago when this area was still a small logging town, the original library building burned down under strange circumstances on the day known as Fire Day. Two weeks later, the remains of the building were infested by legions of snakes. Some think they were drawn by the heat as it was an unseasonably cool summer, while others think an evil curse placed on the land by the original natives of the land. Either way, the villagers banded together and beat all the snakes to death. The joke remains that the beating took so long that all the tools in the town were broken so the villagers were left beating the last serpents to death with their shoes. Shoes and snakes are the symbols of the day, from gummy reptiles to boots fixed on ax handles.
When summer reading became a thing after all the kids in town no longer had to help out on the farm in summer, the two events became one. So, we party and the entire town is invited. Even Victor the Viper.
“I just want to be alone with my son, Ava,” Seth said.
Ava picked up the gallon of virgin viper venom, a green punch served on Viper Day in varieties of boozy and not. She carried it over to the tables. Seth followed her as she refilled the punchbowl.
“You need to get that snake,” Ava said, “You said you could catch it and I said you could have some alone time when you did.”
Seth bowed his head, “That cottonmouth’s gone, girl. Me and the city boys have been over every inch of this library twice. No one’s seen the thing.”
“I’m with Seth on this one, Ava,” I said, following them with loaves of bread cut and hollowed to look like slippers. Darling was behind me with the spinach dip for the bread.
“Yeah,” Darling said, “The boys from Animal Control gave up days ago. Seth’s been at it non-stop. If Victor was here, somebody’d have seen him.”
Seth looked over at us and smiled in thanks.
Ava sighed, “Well, okay. I guess. After the party today, you can take him for the night. I guess I can have a Saturday alone.”
Seth gave a little fist pump while Ava’s back was turned. She surveyed the children running around and began clapping her hands.
“Okay, okay, who wants to hear a story?” she said.
The little ones all cheered and ran to the carpet where we have story time. Darling and I took the time to walk outside where the grown ups were barbecuing, playing carnival games, and having a couple of drinks. Everyone was in high spirits and enjoying themselves.
I walked over to Captain Stein of the Bannville Police Department and Bowling Center.
“How’s things, Capt. Stein?” I said.
“Everything’s looking good,” he said, “Nobody’s too out of control, yet, not even Chet.”
I looked where he was pointing to Drunken Hobo Chet, the town drunk. Chet was sipping on a glass of punch and looking rather happy at the ribs coming off the grill.
“Thanks for letting us do the raffle here today, Ev. The department really needed to replace the tires on the patrol cars and the ball return on lane three has been going down the toilet for months. Helped us out a lot,” Stein said.
“No problem, sir. Thanks for the security detail.”
“Heh, and miss these ribs? How’s your mama? We haven’t seen her much.”
“She’s doing okay, enjoying retirement in the sun.”
“I never thought she’d leave all this behind. I thought she lived in this library when I first started on the force.”
“Yeah, she kinda did. Believe me,” I said, “I guess she thought she could move along. It works for her.”
A scream came from within the library. Both the Captain and I were moving at once.
As we reached the door, Seth came bursting through. In one hand he held a mangled cottonmouth snake. In the other arm, he carried his and Ava’s son, Forrest. The small boy was crying, clutching his arm. Ava was behind them, reaching for her son.
“What happened?” Captain Stein said as we followed the three to a car.
“I don’t know,” Ava said, “We were reading, then the kids started getting sick. Forrest ran to the bathroom and then started screaming. Seth found him. It’s the snake, it bit him. My baby.”
Seth was having trouble opening the door. Ava took Forrest from him and looked at Captain Stein.
“Officer, can you-” she said.
“Get in the back seat and lay him out,” the policeman said, “I’ll get you to the hospital. Put the snake in the front seat, Seth.”
“I’m coming,” Seth said, opening the cruisers door and dropping the dead snake in first.
“No, you are not. You stay away from my son,” Ava said, “You always ruin everything, you loser. Get out of our life.”
Seth stood, a look of hate crossing over his face. Stein put his hand on Seth’s chest as Ava got in the back of the police car.
“Don’t worry, son. I’ll get them there safe. It’s just the stress talking, but we gotta hurry. Just follow us.”
Seth stared at the policeman’s eyes and nodded. Stein got in the car and drove away. Seth stood, shaking.
“You need a ride, Seth?” I asked.
Seth stared at the dust rising from road behind the cruiser. He gave another mechanical nod.
“Darling?” I said.
“Come on, Seth, let’s go. You gonna be alright, boss?” Darling said.
The two of them left and I walked inside. Mothers were cradling sick children and the sick smell of vomit was in the air. I walked over and called an ambulance to come and check. Then I walked over to the table with the food.
I took a glass of punch and sniffed it. No wonder Drunken Hobo Chet was happy. The punch in the bowl was filled with booze.
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