From the Author
From the Inside Flap
"Libby, don't," I begged, my voice full of fear. Eyes locked with mine, she took a step forward. The snake hissed, its head moving with Libby's movement. Jackson stared at Libby and then back at me as she took another step forward.
"You've got to jump fast, Cole," she whispered as the snake shifted its gaze from her to me. "It won't be distracted for long."
"Libby, no," I begged again. My arms were shaking now. Fear welled up in my throat as she took another step.
"Stop!" Jacksonson shouted, making Libby jump back. "Move again and I'll tan your hide so hard you won't sit for a week." Libby's face paled but she didn't move. Jackson climbed onto the wagon without fear. The snake was still watching me as my arms shook.
He reached out just as my arms gave out and the hay bale dropped. The snake lunged towards me, fangs out. Jackson grabbed its head just before it bit into my leg. I fell backwards, landing hard on my ass. I shoved myself further back until I was up against the stack of hay. Libby rushed over to me, her hands going to my shoulders.
Jackson held the snake, its jaw snapping. He stepped towards us as he caressed the snake's head. He knelt down, snake in hand, until he was eye level. The snake's gleaming fangs were inches from my face. I felt the bile rising in my throat as little, black dots flashed in my eyes.
"You afraid of snakes, boy?" His voice was cold and empty. "Hmm?" He looked at me, his eyes dark and calculating.
"Yes'sir," I whispered, my voice barely audible.
"You'd better be," his voice was menacing as he ran a finger down the top of the snake's scaly head. "Keep your hands off her." The threat in his warning was unmistakable as his eyes moved to Libby's hands, still clenching my shoulders.
Jackson stood up slowly and stepped off the wagon. He laid the snake on the ground and it slithered away, silent and docile. He turned back to us, spitting into the dirt.
"Get off, both of ya," he growled, jerking his head. "Go home."
Willing my muscles to move, I scrambled up, stumbling to the edge and jumping down. Libby followed me as I ran to the edge of the tree line. Her pa climbed back onto the tractor and drove it slowly out of the field.
"Cole?" Libby put a hand on my shoulder but I shrugged her off as I walked towards the trees. When she started to follow, I turned quickly and yelled.
"Stay!" I saw her shrink back, dragging her eyes to the ground. I wanted to apologize but my need for keeping her away was stronger. I half-ran to the nearest tree, bent over and promptly threw up everything I had eaten that day.
When my stomach was empty, I gagged, heaving until the last of the strength left my body. I stumbled back and collapsed in the tall grass. I felt Libby's hand grip my shoulder and turn me towards her. Her face was pale but her eyes were strong as she forced me to look at her. I stared at her, seeing the fear leave her eyes, replaced by sorrow. Not uttering a word, she wrapped her arms around me. My exhausted body gave up as I leaned into her. She laid my head on her chest and I did something I swore I'd never do in front of her. I cried.