Fear . . .
The slither of ice down the spine.
The way the heart seems to stop beating for a millisecond before it begins a frenzied gallop.
The sort of sensation that writers must call upon when creating tension.
Better therefore to have experienced it oneself than to try and imagine it without the knowledge. Not so hard then, if one suffers a phobia of . . . snakes?
This writer has such a phobia; one that as a farmer I must deal with on a daily basis in summer. Let me describe an event for you, but before I do, have a look at this information on the Tasmanian Tigersnake.
‘The venom is a complex mixture of . . . nerve poisons. If enough is injected the nerves controlling the heart and lungs are adversely affected and death may result.’
But . . . to our little event:
A warm day with a strong wind.
The horse needs its hooves tended by the blacksmith.
Myself, the horse and blacksmith take refuge in the barn for the job to be carried out.
The barn has a large wooden platform at elbow height down one wall. Perfect for the storage of large hayrolls and bags of harvested grain. And perfect to lean against with one elbow whilst holding the horse by a leadrope.
Blacksmith straightens, rasp in hand. She has known me and my peccadillos for many years.
‘Prue’, she says in an unremarkable tone. ‘Step carefully and sloooowly away from the platform. There’s a tigersnake by your elbow.’
I look at her and laugh. ‘Yeah, right. Don’t tease.’
The thing is she doesn’t laugh back. Just responds ever so slooowly. ‘Don’t jump, just move quietly.’
That’s the point at which the ice slides down the spine. The heart then stops and starts again at full throttle and I do step away, turning to look, and seeing the end few inches of the snake sliding in between the hayrolls.
Of course panic ensues. I cannot EVER come into the barn again with the snake there, so I immediately call Reptile Rescue (Who in the hell rescues snakes? Its ME that needs rescuing and thank god for mobile phones!) and RR arrive in 30 minutes. This crazy, brave man and my blacksmith start pushing in amongst the hayrolls and bags . . . and find nothing!
Then Crazy Man has the idea that UNDER the platform is the place and he CRAWLS amongst stored fence posts and palings while I dance on my toes, jumping at every dark strip of shadow on the floor.
Finally he mutters, ‘Gotcha.’ And emerges with a three foot snake which I SWEAR was ten foot long before, and whose girth is half the width of my wrist but was at LEAST the width of both my thighs joined together before. He holds the beastie by long handled forceps behind the jaw whilst it lashes its body in tight loops around his wrist.
‘Go on,’ says Crazy Man. ‘Touch it. It helps with the phobia.’
I’m stretched taut as a wire and wonder how touching the thing will help but I reach out my hand . . .
I am confused.
This horrid thing that could kill me feels like silk. Cold to be sure, but smooth – almost delicate. It’s beady eyes, jet drops as big as a pinhead, stare at me and the forked tongue flicks in and out. The mouth is open, Crazy Man’s fingers behind the jaw articulating it so. He then places Joe Blake (OZ rhyming slang for snake) in a bag, knots it, places it in the boot of his car for re-location in bush far far away and I almost bow down and worship the ground he walks on.
But that was two years ago and the water holes are full
, the grass is long, the barn stacked with harvested hay and grain. And mice that eat the grain. And no doubt snakes who feast on the mice in barns next to water-holes.
I am just as fearful as we have had two further encounters with ever larger tigersnakes.
My heart jumps when I enter the barn and I swear my head swivels at 360 degrees as I survey every inch of the place. My body is covered in goosebumps and my hands clench.
Fear, you see.
You have to experience it to write about it . . .