BY WES PAYTON
Copyright is held by the author.
MOLE LOATHED the term “snake hole.” A mole digs the hole and then a snake winds its way in, claiming the hole for itself — sometimes eating the mole who lives there in the process — and suddenly it’s known as a snake hole. Mole figured that if a snake climbed a tree, ate a bird in its nest, and then curled up inside, it wouldn’t be referred to as a snake nest. Besides, he didn’t think “snake hole” sounded as pleasing to the ear as the rhyming “mole hole”, but it seemed to him that he heard the term snake hole a whole lot more than mole hole. But “mole hills” — now he heard that way too often. “Who cares what the holes are called?” Mole had been told many times before. “You’re making mountains out of . . . well, you know.”
Mole was snug in his hole one chilly morning when who should come a-calling? Snake twisted its way through Mole’s tortuous tunnels. Mole could hear Snake, and she could smell him, though neither could see the other. Mole burrowed as Snake pursued. Each time Snake thought she was closing in on Mole, he managed to dig his way to another arterial tunnel and slip into a new network of corridors, then Snake would have to start her hunt all over.
Mole evaded Snake time and time again, but she was determined to catch up to Mole. She figured eventually his luck would run out — and so it did. Mole burrowed into an oak tree root, hitting his head and momentarily stunning himself. He snapped to just as Snake rounded the corner, and Mole began to burrow anew, but he’d become disoriented and dug under the arterial tunnel he was aiming for. Mole continued to dig, but he knew that unless he dug into another system of tunnels soon, Snake would catch him. He was a fast digger to be sure, but she could slither still faster — all Snake needed now was patience.
Mole was exhausted. He’d never dug so much at one time in his entire life, or had a better reason to, but now his body no longer felt like it belonged to him — his muscles stopped obeying. Quite by accident, Mole broke through to his sleeping den, but he could not go on — as good a place to die as any, he thought.
Mole felt Snake’s forked tongue flick against him. He sensed the empty space in the chamber filling up as Snake slithered her long body inside. Snake wrapped herself around Mole and began to firmly press against him. He knew what was to come. She would squeeze him tighter and tighter. Each time he exhaled, she would tighten her grip a little more so that every next breath would be shallower than the last. Mole’s heart was racing, which meant that his respiration had increased — he would draw his last breath very soon now.
“Your heart’s beating too quickly,” Snake said. “Calm yourself, or it’ll burst.”
“What do you care how I die?” asked Mole.
“I don’t want you to die.”
“You want to eat me alive then . . . is that it, you sadistic serpent?”
“I’m not going to eat you,” said Snake. “I came in here because my reptilian blood was getting too cold outside. I wanted to be close to your mammalian warmth.”
“You mean you chased me all that way just to hold me?” Mole asked incredulously.
“Yesss,” Snake answered sibilantly.
“How long do you intend to keep a hold of me?”
“Until spring comes,” replied Snake. “But you can leave whenever you like to do whatever you want — just so long as you come back.”
“How do you know I’ll come back?”
“Are you not comfortable in my coils?”
Mole touched her imbricated scales, which he had to admit felt better against his fur than the damp dirt he usually slept on . . . and he was exhausted. “You don’t need to hold me quite so tightly.”
“Sorry.” Snake loosened herself around him. “This is a first for me too, so I’m a little tense.”
“No need to apologize . . . it’s going to be a long winter, and I’m sure we’ll both make our share of mistakes.”
And so Snake and Mole enjoyed a peaceful slumber, neither having ever known a more pleasant season.