The Death of Jimmy Stratton   by Win Gates

Jimmy Stratton was a typical southern boy, raised in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. His family owned a small farm just outside of Clinton, Arkansas in the sleepy community of Botkinburg. Their farmhouse sat exactly half a mile off of State Highway 110, and was hidden by a large grove of hardwood trees, and a four foot high rock wall that his dad built from rocks he dug up in the pasture when planting the crops.

Jimmy loved to fish. On this hot July morning, just a few days after the 4th, he stood on the bank of the family pond, patiently waiting for one of the bass or catfish his dad had stocked the watering hole with, to strike his bait. The pond was about three-hundred yards behind the farmhouse, with an open pasture in between, and surrounded on the other three sides by dense Arkansas forests. The pond itself was oval shaped, seventy yards at its’ longest point, and forty yards at its’ widest.

Jimmy was standing with his back to the farmhouse, watching the red and white plastic cork attached to his fishing line. On the ground next to him was a .22 caliber rifle, which his father insisted he take with him whenever he went to the pond. Jimmy’s dad had taught him to shoot when he was only six years old, and had used the very rifle that now lay at Jimmy’s feet to teach him. His father knew that in Arkansas, in the summer, near water, there was a fair chance you would come across a cottonmouth or two.

Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are highly venomous and very aggressive serpents. Jimmy killed one the previous summer with his .22. He now thought of that Winchester long rifle as his. It had been over four feet long and as big around as the fat end of Jimmy’s baseball bat. Jimmy’s dad cut the snake open and found two bream, and a fat bullfrog in the serpents stomach.

The cork bobbed slightly, and Jimmy reeled in the slack on his line. It bobbed once more, and then was gone, yanked beneath the surface of the water. Jimmy jerked his pole high, setting the hook in the fishes mouth, and began to reel. His line moved backwards and forwards in the water, and his pole bent under the weight of the fish, but Jimmy kept reeling. He couldn’t remember ever fighting a fish from the pond like he was fighting this one, and his ten year old muscles strained. Suddenly the fish breached the surface and shook its’ head back and forth, trying with all its’ might to dislodge the hook that had captured it. Jimmy yelled with delight, kept tension on the line, and continued to slowly reel in his prize.

After nearly five minutes of battle, Jimmy reached into the water and hauled out the biggest largemouth bass he had ever seen. It was easily four pounds, maybe even five. Holding the fish by its’ bottom lip, Jimmy pulled the hook out the fishes maw with a pair of needle nose pliers. He walked a few feet to where his stringer lay, one end hooked around an old tree stump, the other end in the water. Jimmy had already caught two bream and a nice catfish, but it had been over an hour since he had gotten a bite until the monster bass came along.

He pulled the stringer out of the water, unhooked one of the stainless steel clips, and slid it through the fishes gills and out of its’ mouth, then clipped it shut again. It was his. No getting away now. He leaned down close to the water and gently pitched the stringer line back into the pond. As he leaned up, something black flashed across his view, and he felt a stinging pain in his left leg. Jimmy looked down and saw two trickles of blood running down his leg from just above his ankle. He stepped back and bent to get a closer look at his now throbbing leg. Just then, the black something flashed into view again, but this time he saw it clearly. The cottonmouth bit him in almost the exact spot as its’ first strike, sending an almost unbearable jolt of pain up Jimmy’s leg.

The boy staggered away from the snake, screaming and crying. He was afraid to put any weight on his leg, so he hopped to where his rifle lay. He fell onto his side, howled in agony, and looked through tear-soaked eyes back towards the spot where the snake had bitten him. It lay there, maybe fifteen feet away, curled into a striking pose, hissing. Jimmy sat up, reached over with trembling hands, and picked up his .22 caliber Winchester.

The cottonmouth, sensing movement, began to slither towards the boy. It opened its’ mouth, exposing the white cotton-like lining that gave the serpent its’ name. Jimmy saw that one of its’ fangs was missing. He glanced down at his leg, and saw what looked like a small white bone sticking out of one of the four holes the snake had put in him. He pulled the fang out and dropped it onto the now urine soaked ground.

Jimmy leveled the rifle at the snakes head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The viper was now within striking distance. Jimmy realized he had not taken the safety off, and flicked the switch on the left side of the rifle, exposing a small red dot. Now it was ready to shoot.

The snake lunged again. Jimmy recoiled his legs in an uncontrollable act of instinct. The cottonmouths remaining fang sank into the side sole of his right sneaker, sticking there. The snake flailed violently, trying to free its’ mouth. Jimmy bent his leg slightly, leveled the rifle at the serpents head, and squeezed the trigger.

The top of the cottonmouths head exploded, spewing red and white flesh onto the pond bank. Its’ tail flailed in circles as the life force left the animal. Jimmy shot it twice more, just for good measure. He pulled the needle nose pliers out of his pocket, and yanked the snakes remaining fang out of his shoe.

Jimmy’s left leg was now swollen, and red blotches were visible around the bite marks. He felt a chill run up his spine, despite the temperature hovering near the century mark. He had momentarily forgotten all about the monster bass he had hauled in just two minutes earlier. All he wanted was for his mom to fix him an ice cold glass of sweet tea, and watch his dad gut this troublesome snake.

As he thought this, Jimmy heard something strange coming from the other side of the pond. It sounded like steam escaping from a tea kettle, only muffled. He turned his head and saw through his swollen eyes a tall, lean figure with its’ right hand outstretched over the water. To his amazement and horror, Jimmy watched as a multitude of snakes gathered around this figure. Cottonmouths, copperheads, rattlesnakes, king snakes, water snakes, probably nine or ten different kinds, all writhing and hissing. Jimmy felt his bladder let go once more.

The figure jerked its’ head over to where Jimmy lay, and the boy saw for the first time that it wasn’t a man. It had huge black eyes, about the size of a chicken egg, with no pupil. There was no hair anywhere on the creatures body. It’s leathery skin was a greenish-black, with small yellowish nodes all over it. There were no lips, no ears, and a flattened nose with four holes that could have been nostrils. The thing opened its’ mouth and revealed short, pointed teeth, curved backwards into it’s pinkish gullet.

It wore what Jimmy thought was a pair of black formfitting swim trunks. He could also see a belt buckle, and what appeared to be some kind of gun on its’ right hip, and a small black box on it‘s left. It wore no shoes and no shirt. “No service” Jimmy thought with a slight chuckle. It reached down to stroke one of the snakes at its’ feet, and Jimmy saw it had four slender fingers, each capped with a short, pointed, yellow claw.

Suddenly there was another noise on the air. A low droning sound. The creature cocked its’ head as if to listen. Snakes had now covered it up to its’ knees, and a few had slithered onto its’ shoulders, perched there like some kind of reptilian parrot. The creature glanced back over at Jimmy, snarled at him, then turned and began walking southeast towards the droning sound, the snakes slithering along behind it. Jimmy watched the figure go until it got to the tree line and disappeared into the forest.

He heard running footsteps, and Jimmy turned towards the house and saw his dad headed towards him in a full run. As his father picked him up, Jimmy glanced back to the tree line. “Daddy, didja see the snake-man? He called tha snakes to him. I don’t think he wuz too happy that I killedt the cottonmouth that bit me.” Jimmy said in a low weak voice. His father looked down at the dead snake laying on the ground, and moaned.

As his dad loaded him into the pick-up truck, Jimmy’s mother ran up screaming and crying. “What happened?! What happened to him?!” His dad pushed her into the truck, yelling “Snake bit! Keep him awake!”.

“What bout my monster bass?” Jimmy asked as his father pushed the truck up to seventy miles per hour, on the narrow winding road. “Don’t worry bout that rite now son. You juss sit real still now. Stay awake son.” his mom said soothingly, as tears streamed down her face. “Didja see the snake-man? He called tha snakes to him.” Jimmy moaned. His mother looked over at her husband, “Who’s tha snake-man?” she asked. He didn’t look at her when he answered, “He’s hallucinatin’. Keep him awake!”

But Jimmy Stratton didn’t even make it the twelve miles to the hospital in Clinton. In the end, the snake killed him. His last thoughts were of the snake-man’s black eyes, and of all of those snakes writhing around at its’ feet.

Later that evening after sundown, Jimmy’s dad walked out to the pond to gather up his dead son’s belongings. When he saw the snake, Jimmy’s father picked up a rock and, in a fit of blind hatred, bashed that cottonmouth into a bloody pulp. He screamed and cried, snot ran from his nose, tears streamed from his eyes, yet he continued to pound the now unrecognizable body of the serpent. Eventually he stopped, throwing the rock into the pond. He picked up Jimmy’s rifle, his fishing pole and tackle box, and turned to head back to the house.