Flash fiction by Tina Konstant
“It’s funny,” Jesse murmured, her hand touching the glass. Behind it, an Island Taipan, the world’s deadliest snake lay still. Its yellow-gold skin moving only as far as it needed to breathe and dream.
“What’s funny?” Jesse’s nine-year-old brother tapped the glass causing the snake’s head to lift and sway, then settle on the rocky base it called home.
“We are. People. We’re funny.” Jesse stroked the glass, running her finger along the reptile’s outline.
Her brother moved around the side of the glass case and pressed his nose against the surface. The snake seemed to blink, then lie still again.
“We do things,” Jesse said. “Knowing they’re wrong and stupid, but we do it anyway. Like we just want to see what will really happen.”
“Like granddad?” Michael stuck his tongue out at the snake who shifted its length around a rock and turned its head away from Michael like he was unworthy of its attention.
“Yes. I guess. Like granddad.” Jesse closed her eyes for a moment and felt the cool glass on her cheek. “You know he had emphysema for six years before he died?”
“It’s a disease smokers get. It messes up their lungs. Something like that.”
“Is it a secret? Did granddad not know?” Michael ran his fingers along the edge of the glass, tap, tap, tapping as he went.
“No.” Jesse rested her forehead against the surface. There was no one in the reptile house. Just her and Michael and the Island Taipan. “It’s not a secret. It’s just that it’s not certain. Just because you smoke doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get emphysema and die.”
Michael licked the side of the glass. The snake oozed its way to the middle of its habitat and threaded its body into a lose knot around a twisted branch, its slim head resting on a twig, staring at Jesse. Jesse stared back. “Granddad knew what might happen.” Her finger crawled up the side of the glass. The snake watched her hand slither and slide, glide and sway to the lip. “But still,” Jess breathed in, then let it out. “Even though he knew what could happen, he took the chance. He puffed and panted and sucked…”
“Did you know,” Michael said. “That only half the Island Taipan’s bites are venomous? I wonder why? Why only half? Do you think that’s even true? I read it somewhere. Where’s the poison in the other half? Can you tell which bite will be poisonous and which won’t? Does the snake decide? If it’s annoyed, is it more likely to be poisonous?” Michael drew his hand into a fist and banged the glass. “How to you know which bite will kill you?”
It was fast. So fast. Unexpected. Almost no pain at first. Just a streak of yellow and gold, brown, white and black. Michael screamed. His hand gripping his chest trying to take the banging back.
A bite from an Island Taipan will kill an adult in 45 minutes. A fifteen-year-old girl? Maybe quicker. But only if the bite is poisonous. Fifty-fifty chance the bite had no venom. Is that even true? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Jesse sat in the corner of the reptile house watching the wound balloon and swell. Fifty-fifty. “We’re funny,” she murmured. “Funny how we do things just to see what will happen.”