The Player and the Snake

F.J. Gouldner

Jaco walked along the steaming blacktop of the summer street to the playground. He dribbled the basketball along the way preparing, thinking about how he was going to send the ball through the hoop time after time that day. He would shoot, and oh yes he would score. The sweet sound of swoosh was already echoing through his head.

Basketball was like Zen to Jaco. Or more precisely, shooting baskets. He didn't like to compete. He hated the sweaty machismo of the one on one match. 'I own you.' 'This is my house.' 'In yo face.' All bullshit. Being alone on the court shooting for hours emptied Jaco's mind of all the garbage that accumulated there through the course of the day.

When he reached the court the smell from the polluted stream assaulted his nostrils. The dumpster alongside the court was stinking too. Filled to overflowing with all manner of unspeakable nastiness. The place stunk to high heaven but in a little while it wouldn't matter. Jaco would be engrossed in his task to put the ball where it belonged.

After the first few shots Jaco hit his first brick. All back iron, no net whatsoever. Fuck. The ball catapulted over into the burnt up grassy strip alongside one of the sections of fence. He raced to catch it before the ball went off court but no luck. He'd have to retrieve the thing off of that dogshit-ridden patch of grass.

Jaco reached down for the ball when he heard a loud hissing sound followed by a brittle rattling noise. As he pulled the ball up off the ground the snake leapt out of its coiled position. The goddamn thing missed by inches. A little bit to the left and Jaco would have had poison death pumping straight to his heart in minutes. Dead on the court at age 32. They'd find him but the snake would be gone.

The snake slithered lazily across the court and positioned itself strangely on the other side of the foul line. As soon as it crossed the white line it stopped and built itself back into a coil. It was as if it were challenging him to a game of one on one.

"This is fucking nuts," Jaco thought. "One on one with a rattlesnake? No one would ever believe it." Nevertheless, he strode across the court to the foul line and stared down at the snake. The thing was scary looking. All coiled up and ready to strike. But it didn't. The rattler was waiting. Waiting for Jaco to make a move. Shaking its tail with great patience. He stared down at the slippery monster and thought that it was probably Satan himself come to end his life and drag him down to Hades. Eternal hellfire for you my friend, you've been a very bad boy. Now come on, let's get this over with. Take the shot.

Jaco shook his head to clear it. He moved closer to the foul line. The rattler began to hiss louder. There was a crash as thunder blasted in the distance and the sky became a fiery red. Soon it began to rain. It rained hard but the snake didn't move. It was still waiting.

Jaco pushed off the foul line with a back spin move and successfully managed to dodge the snake scoring two smoothly with a lay-up. The rattler had leapt for him but missed by quite a bit.

"Come on man. You can do better than that," Jaco taunted.

The snake slithered back behind the foul line and coiled up in wait. Jaco was amazed. The thing wanted to go again.

He dribbled to the right side and the snake uncoiled and followed him. As he left the ground for a three-point jumper he felt something pierce his shoe. The ball sunk for three and Jaco looked down to see the snake's fangs retracting out of his sneaker. He had been bitten. Curiously enough it didn't actually hurt that much, just a sudden warmth and soreness. To his astonishment the rattler was back at the foul line waiting for him.

Halfway into the approach for a slam the snake darted at him and caught him on the left bicep, digging its fangs deep into the flesh and muscle. Jaco dropped the ball and threw the snake wildly across the court. This time the bite hurt like hell. The rattler bounced off the fence and fell back on the blacktop. As soon as it touched ground it slithered back over to the foul line and coiled up.

The next shot was a beauty. Jaco drove hard right down the middle and slammed the ball home. The rattler never even knew what hit him. Sometimes a man can overcome despite the most incredible opposition.

The rattlesnake slithered off into the grass quietly knowing somehow that it had been defeated. It had lost fair and square. Beaten by a man.

"You're in my house!" cried Jaco, as the snake drew slowly away.

"In yo face!" he bellowed, then collapsed onto the court in a great heap, the rattler's poisonous venom coursing through his veins.

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