By Erik L. Smith

When I was nine I lived in Tujunga, a small town near Los Angeles. The area had a lot of mountains and dry brush. And there were a lot of dangerous animals, like bobcats, scorpions, tarantulas, and horned toads. Our backyard had three beehives, black bumblebees in the firewood, and a wasp nest under the patio. All of us kids had met Smokey the Bear, who told us not to play with matches.

I also had a girl cat named Whiskey. She could beat up any animal around, except dogs and wolves. Since we lived in the mountains, that was pretty awesome.

One summer day, when my dad was at work, and my mom and sister were visiting the Harris's, I went to the garage to get my toy bow and arrow But when I stepped out the back door, I saw something strange. Whiskey was on the grass, her left paw in the air, her eyes looking at something close to her. I couldn't see what it was. The grass was yellow from the hot summer, and it hid what Whiskey was looking at. I kept trying to figure it out. Whiskey flicked her paw. I still didn't see anything.

"What are you doing Whiskey?" I said and took a couple of steps toward the garage--then I froze at a sound. A hissing rattle. I looked at Whiskey again. It was a rattlesnake! I stayed frozen. But not for long.

I ran to the Harris's house and knocked on the door. Dewey, the Harris's dad, answered, and before he could speak I said: "There's a rattlesnake in the backyard fighting with Whiskey!" And I turned and ran back to the yard. I didn't want my cat to die, or hear the veterinarian tell me he would have to put Whiskey to sleep.

When I got to the yard, Whisky and the snake were still fighting. Or at least the snake was trying to fight. Whiskey seemed to be playing with him The rattler's head was off of the ground. It flicked its forked tongue out. It shook its rattle and waved its head.

This didn't bother Whiskey. She kept her paw in front of the rattler. She batted at the snake's head a couple of times. The rattler struck, but hit only air. When the snake drew back again, Whiskey lunged and got her jaws clamped around the back of the snake's neck. Now you got him! I thought. Go for the kill!

But she let the snake go! I didn't understand. For crying out loud, Whiskey, I thought, kill him!

Right then, Dewey ran into the backyard. He had a shovel He snuck up behind the snake, took aim, and rammed the shovel down behind the snake's neck, once, then again and again, until its head was chopped off. Whiskey backed away, looking as if her fun was over.

Dewey picked up the rattler with his shovel and threw it in the trashcan behind the garage. Then he picked up the rest of the snake, and threw it in the trashcan too. I walked to the trashcan to look at the snake's head.

"Leave it in the trashcan, Erik, the head's still snapping. Don't touch it. Wait until your dad comes home."

"Okay," I said.

"And thanks for coming to get me."

"You're welcome," I said. Then: "Thanks for killing the snake!"

"You're welcome," he said. Then he shook his head. "I can't believe that cat of yours. But you know cats are pretty fast. They do well against rattlers. She might have won against that snake." I wasn't sure whether to believe him.

Later my dad came home and we both looked at the snake's head in the garbage can. "How would you like to keep the rattle?" my dad asked.

"Wow--can I!"

"Sure," he said.

"How about the head too!"

He thought. My dad was really brave, like me. But then he said: "No, I don't think so, it's too dangerous. You don't know how long those fangs have poison in them. But I'll chop the rattle off for you."

I was disappointed. But all evening, until I went to bed, I kept going out and checking on the head, watching it snap. Even the next day it was still snapping, though slower. And it didn't stop snapping until the next day after lunch. Wow! I thought, how the head of a rattler can keep snapping after the snake's dead!

My dad took the rattle into the house and kept it for one day so he could soak it in something. Then he took it out and put it on my shelf. It stayed there for a long time. But after a few months it dried out.

When I was ten we moved to the city, where Whiskey lived for another fourteen years. She died at age seventeen. I have many memories of her But this is the one I remember most. The day I got my own rattler. I showed my friends They all thought it was cool. I was the only kid on the block with a rattlesnake rattler! "Whiskey killed it!" I would lie. But maybe she really would have killed it! I was proud. Of me and of her. I really wanted that head though, I really did. It would have looked good sitting next to the rattle, it's jaws open and its fangs hanging out. Whiskey would have liked that.

Copyright 2005 Erik L. Smith

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