Crawlin' King Snake BluesMature

This is not just a chapter, it is the entire story. It's a tale of domestic violence and revenge underscored with some blues music references.

 

"Shit". She tried juggling the numerous shopping bags she was carrying and finally gave up, and placed them all on the doorstep, where they promptly fell over, spilling their contents onto the path. "Shit shit shit". She bent down to retrieve the door key which she’d just dropped, and which had annoyingly bounced once and disappeared - no leapt -, into the bushes.

Getting down on her hands and knees she groped around under the bush, snagging her coat on several wicked thorns which were doing their best to protect the hidden key from probing fingers. Finally her fingers closed on a cold metal object and she carefully withdrew her hand, only to find it was a flat-headed screw, left over from some botched DIY job or other. "SHIT" she cried, throwing the screw over her shoulder into bushes on the other side of the path. Scrabbling further underneath the nearest bush she finally located the key, partially hidden within the tangled roots. Gotcha!

She opened the door, then got back down on her knees to pick up all of the spilled shopping items. The door was suddenly flung wide open and a familiar shadow fell across the shopping bags. Familiar music, blues music, also bombarded her ears. Muddy Waters her subconscious mind noted.

"What sort of time do you call this then, eh? Kids are ‘ungry. The pets are ‘ungry. I’m ‘ungry!".

Janice grimaced. It was going to be one of those nights again. She struggled to her feet, clutching all of the shopping bags. She went to offer him a couple of bags but her husband Roger had by then turned and gone back down the hall into the kitchen.

She finally got all of the bags under some semblance of control and crossed the threshold,noting along the way, the accumulation of another day’s detritus which had miraculously, but no less annoyingly, appeared in the hallway.

She strained as one of the plastic bag handles began to stretch and finally gave up the ghost, depositing its contents back onto the floor. Stepping over some baked bean tins and boxes of Slim-a-soup she quickly walked down the hallway to deposit the bags on the kitchen table.

Roger was stood at the sink, watching her efforts but making no attempt to help. Woman’s work. She started to explain what a difficult day it had been at work.

"Well, first of all Jenny Cole called in sick today, which meant I had to - ".

"You’d better not have forgotten to go to the pet shop" he interjected. "My boys need feeding tonight, you know that".

Janice grimaced. She had forgotten to go the pet shop. The day had been a complete disaster from start to finish, a stock inventory had been lost and the accountants were due in the next day, meaning that they had had to do it all again; from scratch. In the confusion, running late already, she had simply forgotten.

He noticed her winced expression and moved toward her, raising his hand. "You stupid bitch! One simple thing I asked you to do. That’s all I asked you to do and you do everything else but . . ."

As he said this he smacked her hard across the side of the head. She reeled from the force of it, bumping her hip on the edge of the table.

"You’ve got a brain like a sieve, you ‘ave".

Roger reached into one of the shopping bags and extracted a can of beer. He flicked the tab, causing it to explode and shower him with creamy froth. "Jee-suu-s".

Wiping himself off, and dripping beer onto the wooden parquet flooring, he strode off down the hall to the lounge, from where Janice could now hear John Lee Hooker’s gravely voice crooning

"Well, I'm the Crawlin' King Snake, And I rule my den . . .".

Janice stood at the sink, a wet cloth applied to the side of her head. It wasn’t the first smack she’d had, nor no doubt would it be the last. In the distance she could hear the kids upstairs, jumping and screaming. Better do tea she thought, and turned towards the shopping bags on the table.

"Nice that was, though could ‘ve done with a bit more gravy" Roger said, pushing back his tv tray and rubbing his bare belly. Janice looked down at her own plate, and the few scraps of meat which she’d given herself. She always gave herself the least so that the boys managed to get a reasonable amount. Roger tended to march into the kitchen at meal times and take all the best bits, even if they were on someone else’s plate. Thankfully his pets got other food, otherwise she was sure that Roger would simply feed himself and give the rest to his pets; she was positive that neither she nor the boys would ever get a decent meal again, if they and the pets had shared similar tastes.                                                     

No, luckily Roger’s pets preferred live food, the thought of which always made her shudder slightly; she’d not been looking forward to picking up the consignment of mice at the pet shop so perhaps her sub-conscious had decided that enough was enough and deliberately made her forget. Let him get his own damned mice! said a small, shy voice.

She especially hated it if he ever made her watch him introduce the live food into their tanks. He would stand there, eyes intently watching, patiently waiting for them to feed. The food – usually white mice - would naively scurry around the tank until suddenly – like a flash of lightning – one of his boys (or girls too? she wondered) would strike, stabbing into their prey with needle-sharp fangs, injecting them with a variety of venoms and toxins; others preferred to catch their prey and slowly squeeze the life out of them. It was all pretty disgusting as far as Janice was concerned, not unlike her husband really. She hated the fact that the rest of the family lived in such fear of him; that he either ignored or hit the boys in equal measure; that he hit her so frequently . . . and that she did nothing about it. Pathetic whispered the small shy voice.

"Sorry love, I’ll do more next time. Give me your plate and I’ll get us a coffee, eh?" She picked up the plate and scurried off to the kitchen. Just like one of his white mice said the small, shy voice.

She loaded the dish-washer and put the kettle on. A large shadow suddenly fell across her, as she put a spoonful of coffee into a cup, making her jump. The coffee spilled across the worktop.   "Oh, you made me jump".                                                                Roger leaned over her, making all of his 6’ 2" height seem even more imposing. "So, you forgot to go to the pet shop?"                She automatically flinched, waiting for the slap, or the cuff round the head. "What are my boys supposed to eat now?"

She stood quietly, looking down at the work top, preferring to stare at the spilled coffee grains than meet his fierce gaze. She began to mumble something but before she could even get more than a couple of syllables out he cut her off.

"Don’t. Forget. Tomorrow. Ok?" he snarled, each word punctuated with a finger poke to Janice’s head.                                                   "No, I won’t . . . forget, that is" she added, seeing him move in even closer.                                                                                                    "Best not."

         "’Cause I’m the Crawlin’ King Snake, And I rule my den . . ."

Chapter Two

Janice sat in the coffee shop, staring off into the far distance, as her coffee gradually cooled. She suddenly bolted upright, looking at her watch.  It was just coming up to 5.25 and the pet  shop closed at 5.30!  She grabbed her handbag and leapt up from the table, succeeding only in knocking the cup over, spilling it everywhere. Other patrons looked up as she ran from the shop, desperate to get there before it closed. She couldn’t go home without Roger’s pet food, she just couldn’t.                                   

She flew through the shopping centre like a demented person, knocking into fellow shoppers and earning a barrage of abuse on the way. She didn’t stop or apologise, lest she get delayed. Nothing that she heard from other shoppers with whom she collided made any impact on her; she was used to far, far worse.

She rounded the corner and there, directly opposite, was Heavy Petting the, in her opinion, totally inappropriately named pet shop which supplied Roger’s pet food. And it was still open!

She crossed the street which, fortunately for her, was fairly light with traffic, as she’d simply run across without looking, such was her sense of urgency and panic. She opened the door, jangling the bell above the door frame and stepped across the threshold, panting heavily. She paused to take a breath, noticing the heady mix of animal-related aromas  –  a mixture of grain feed, grass, poo and urine - then approached the counter.

A spotty teenage girl stood by the cash register, looking completely disinterested. She was wearing an Alice band, rainbow shorts and a lurid day-glo t-shirt stretched tightly across her large, perky breasts. The t-shirt was obviously an in-house product advertising the shop – I love Heavy Petting, see me for details !

"I’m here for a consignment of white mice" Janice managed to say, in between heavy panting, and trying hard not to look at the t-shirt which appeared to be at least one size too small for the wearer, if not two.

The girl’s expression didn’t change, she simply turned and shouted through the open doorway to her boss, Mr Skyler, who was in the back room doing the final rounds of the cages and pens. He always made sure that they were all suitably fed and watered before he shut up shop for the night. She hated having to help him clean the animals out as he had a disgusting habit of pressing up really close to her, always managing to squeeze past her (despite there being plenty of room) every time she happened to be there; and every time his wife wasn’t.

He put down the bucket of feed he was holding and came out into the shop. "What is it Sharon love, I’m really busy? Ahh, Mrs Loomis. Here for the mice I take it? Just in time too, I’m about to close."

Janice simply nodded, still too out of breath to engage in a proper conversation. Skyler went out back for a few minutes, then came back into the shop carrying a brown, cardboard box; the sort people usually used to take pets to the vet.                                  "That’ll be £15.00 even, please, Mrs Loomis".                                  He even managed to squeeze past Sharon, despite her having moved away from the cash register.                                            "Finish feeding the guinea pigs would you please, Sharon? Thanks, my love".

The mere hint of a sneer of disgust played across her face, but she was grateful for the opportunity to get away from him for a few minutes and promptly disappeared into the back room.

Janice took out her purse, carefully counted out three £5 notes and handed them across the counter. She picked up the box, grimacing as she heard the mice scurrying about inside. Poor things!

Chapter Three

Janice put the box down in the hallway and hung her coat on one of the hooks. It was ominously quiet; suspiciously quiet and she wondered for a moment whether Roger had taken the boys out for a walk - please! the small shy voice whispered in her head - but then she heard raised voices downstairs. In the cellar. Where Roger’s pets lived.

She frowned. Only Roger was allowed access to the cellar, apart from the odd time when he would make her accompany him; she was sure that he only did so to enjoy her discomfort. She opened the door which led to the cellar and suddenly recognised the voices. A shiver ran down her spine. Roger hadaken the boys downstairs. No! No! No! the small shy voice shouted.

Steeling herself, Janice quietly edged along the short landing, hugging the wall. She reached the wooden stairs, all the while trying to make her footsteps as soft as possible. She began to descend the wooden stairs, her mind racing all the while with unthinkable possibilities as to why Roger had chosen today. Today, of all days; when she was likely to get back from work late, he’d suddenly decided to bring the boys down to his private lair.                                                                                                                         

        "Caught me crawlin’ baby, window grass is very high . . ."

The third step from the top, she knew, squeaked badly so she carefully stepped over it, all the while edging along the wall.

"There! Did ya see that, boys? Did ya see that!" Roger suddenly exclaimed, below. Janice froze, the blood pumping loudly in her ears.

"That’s why they call that one the Fierce Snake, ‘cause it’s one mean, nasty son-of-a-bitch. It’s also called the Inland Taipan but that’s just a name. Fierce snake means you know exactly what you’re gettin’ for your money".

Janice couldn’t hear the boys and edged a little faster down the steps to where the stairs made a sharp right turn. This brought her within sight of about half the cellar area and she stifled a sharp intake of breath as she saw the familiar glass tanks which lined the far wall. Each one looked fairly innocuous; a mixture of branches, bushes, rocks and sand. However, each one, she knew, contained one of Roger’s pet snakes; all deadly, whether venomous or constricting . . . or perhaps even both, she knew so little about them: only that her boys were in there with them.

She shuffled forward to see exactly what Roger and the boys were doing, when her foot suddenly kicked a cup she’d not noticed, sitting on the next step down. The cup bounced once on the next to bottom step then smashed on the concrete floor, startling everyone; not least Janice who simply froze, not sure what else to do.

Roger’s head snapped in her direction then, seeing that it was only Janice, he smiled and turned back to the tank, around which he and the boys were standing.

"Come and join us, sweetie. I’m just introducing our boys to my boys". Janice realised that she was holding her breath and let out a long drawn-out sigh. This is not right. This is not right the small shy voice kept repeating, as she slowly walked towards her sons.

They were standing in front of a tank, looking at something moving - no threshing - around. As she got closer she realised that they were watching the tank’s occupant feeding on something. She put her hands on their shoulders, as if to steer them away, but found her eyes drawn to the sinister dance of death being acted out in the tank. She noted the back legs of something brown and furry disappearing into the mouth of the feeding snake. Roger must have caught a rat or a mouse in the cellar and brought the boys downstairs to initiate them. But they're only 4 and 6!

She looked at Roger and saw that he was watching her watch the boys, whilst they watched the snake. In silence.

"I-I’m doing tea in a minute boys, so best come upstairs and wash your hands, eh?" Janice said, all the while meeting Roger’s gaze. He frowned slightly, not used to her maintaining eye contact, then a slight smirk appeared on his face as contact was finally broken and she swept the boys ahead of her, up the stairs. He watched, smiling, as she scurried back up the wooden steps.

  "Yeah, don’t mess ‘round with my mate. Gonna use her for myself . . . "

Chapter Four

The coffee shop was almost empty as Janice and her best friend Sally found a couple of leather armchairs and sank down into them. "Maybe you and Roger just need to find some common ground: something that you both like doing?" Sally suggested, then took a slurp of her cappuccino.

Janice looked up from her own latté and, despite her sombre mood, couldn’t help smiling at the foam moustache adorning Sally’s upper lip and the small creamy fleck perched on the tip of her nose.

"I’d agree, but Roger’s only interested in his precious ‘boys’ down in the basement. We never go anywhere; we never take Nathan and Josh anywhere; we just try and. . . keep quiet . . . until Roger’s gone out".

Wiping her lip and nose Sally paused, then frowned at that last comment. "Surely it can’t be that bad, Jan?"

Janice could feel the tears brimming and quickly picked up her cup and took a hefty swig to hide them. She picked up a serviette and wiped her mouth, surreptitiously dabbing at her eyes at the same time. Sally wasn’t fooled.                                                               "If things are really that bad, Jan then you have to do something. You can’t let Roger make your lives a living hell."                      Janice stared into her coffee cup, desperately hoping to find some inspiration hidden in the foam.                                                        "What makes him tick, Jan? Why are snakes so important to him? It’s a pity we don’t know more about the creepy things, it might help us to understand him a bit more."                                        Janice slowly raised her eyes as a thought occurred to her. Sally might just have a point.

  "Get on out there on your hands and knees, baby, Crawl all over me"

                                          Chapter Five

For the next few days Janice kept an eye on the boys, for any signs that the basement visit might have upset them, or – worse – excited them, but they seemed perfectly happy. In between keeping a watching eye on the boys,  Janice also began mulling through the idea which had occurred to her in the coffee shop. During this period Roger was thankfully out most of the time, either drinking with his macho mates down at the Crown, or at the local dog track with other, equally disreputable types, none of whom Janice could stand. She finally came to a decision and, one Saturday morning in town, began to put her plan into action.

"Where are we going, Mummy? asked Josh, all the while poking Nathan with a plastic Spider-Man. Both the boys stopped fighting and turned to look at her. This wasn’t a normal Saturday. Why weren’t they going to the park, then popping round to Auntie Sally’s for biscuits and lemonade, or coke, or Fanta, as usual? They always did the same thing on Saturdays as Daddy tended to get bad headaches on Saturday mornings and liked total peace and quiet while he lay in bed.

Janice turned the corner and there was the library. She stopped, causing the boys to bump into her legs: they’d been so busy scrapping that they’d not noticed the change that had come over her. She steeled herself, then walked up the steps. Go on, go on. Do it! whispered the small shy voice.

Half an hour later, Janice and the boys re-emerged onto the library steps, her shopping bag significantly weighed down with books. Even the boys had a book each, which they eagerly pored over, as she quickly walked them back home so she could start lunch.

It was just starting to rain as Janice and the boys arrived back at the house. "Phew, made it just in time eh?" she said, quietly inserting the door key into the lock. The door opened and she beckoned the boys in, making a shh! sign with her finger against her lips. It wouldn’t do to wake Roger this early on a Saturday.

Making the boys a sandwich and leaving them sat at the table with a bag of crisps each, she went through into the lounge with her library acquisitions and placed them on the coffee table. She nipped back to the kitchen and made herself a coffee, then sat back down in the lounge and began to read. Two hours later, the boys were quietly playing in their room; Janice, by now on her third coffee, was still in the lounge, continuing to turn the pages, avidly reading the text and examining the various accompanying colour plates.

"What’s that you’re readin’?"

Janice looked up; startled. She’d been so absorbed that she hadn’t heard Roger come down the stairs, nor when he’d opened the lounge door.

"Caught me crawlin’, baby. Crawlin’ round your door. Seein’ everything I want . . ."

"Oh, it’s just something that I picked up at the library. It’s a book about snakes."                                                                                       She could see from his surprised expression that Roger hadn’t seen that one coming. He frowned, suspicion written all over his face.                                                                                                         "But you’ve always hated them; you’ve never shown any interest in them. Ever."                                                                                                   "So why did you force me to get their food!?; to watch them feeding!?

"I just thought it would be nice if I found out a bit more about them, darling. I know they mean a lot to you, so I just thought it was time that I showed some interest."

She watched his expression morph slowly from surprise and suspicion into cocky arrogance; not even pleasure that I’m finally showing some interest in his oh so precious pets noted the small, shy voice.                                                                                                       "You don’t mind, do you, darling?"                                                 Roger stretched his arms, yawning. "Do what you like. If you want to spend your time reading books, that’s up to you. Now, when’s breakfast?"

            "And I rule my den. You better give me what I want . . ."

                                                  Chapter Six

That night Janice and Roger sat side by side in the lounge, a million miles apart, watching tv but neither paying any attention to the action or dialogue. They were both lost in their own thoughts when Roger suddenly reached forward and picked up the book which she’d been reading earlier.                                                            "So, what’s it like then, this library book? Got any pictures?"         Janice swallowed hard. Here goes.                                                       "It’s actually quite interesting. It’s got a full list of snakes around the world; their habitat; their markings; some of them are actually quite pretty-".                                                                                         Roger cut her off. "What about toxins, poisons, ‘ow they constrict and swallow their prey. Anythin’ in ‘ere about that?"                          Typical that he should only want to know about the grisly stuff! the shy small voice whispered in her ear.                                                  "Oh yes, it’s got everything in that book. It’s the Complete Guide to Snakes of the World."                                                                        Roger started thumbing back and forth, occasionally stopping on, or going back to, a particular page which took his fancy.                    "Now that you’ve read this I suppose you think you know bleedin’ everything there is to know about ’em, eh?" Roger sneered, tossing the book back onto the coffee table.                                    "Well no, not quite dear. . . but it is interesting." Janice said, putting her coffee cup down. And very informative . . .

                       "I’m gonna crawl on your floor. Let’s crawl . . ."

                                             Chapter Seven

The next few days passed relatively quietly for the Loomis household with Roger, if not exactly nice and pleasant to Janice and the boys, at least tolerable. One evening Janice sat reading another of her library books, occasionally glancing up to look over the top of it at him, as he settled down to watch some SAS movie or other. She knew it starred one of the actors from The Professionals but she couldn’t remember his name. Suddenly the phone rang, startling them both.                                                     "Christ! Who the hell’s that?" snapped Roger, quickly looking away from the screen where the SAS man was presently abseiling down the outside of a foreign embassy.                                               "I don’t know dear. I’m not expecting any calls. Are you?".                "If I was, do you think I’d have bloody asked YOU who it was? Stupid cow".                                                                                               He re-focussed his attention on the tv screen, keen not to miss a minute; this was one of his favourite films.                                     "Answer it, will you!"                                                                                  The phone continued to ring insistently as Janice carefully put her book down on the coffee table and got up to answer it.

"Hello? Oh, it’s you Sally". Janice glanced quickly across at Roger, who was still glued to events on the screen. "How are you?"  Roger exhaled loudly, slightly shaking his head. Women.           "I’m ok, I was just wondering about you . . .oh, and Nathan and Josh of course." She added quickly. Janice glanced again at Roger and lowered her voice.                                                             "Ok. Hang on a minute, I’ll just  take this on the upstairs extension. Roger’s watching something. Darling, can you hang this up, once I’ve got upstairs?"                                                                                        "-kin’ ‘ell!" snapped Roger, throwing his hand out for the receiver. "Yes, yes, just piss off will ya? This is getting to the good bit!". Janice frowned and sighed. It wasn’t her fault, but Sally had made sure that tonight was going to be another of those nights. She ran upstairs to the bedroom and, picking up the phone, called downstairs.                                                                                              "I’ve got it, Roger!" She vaguely made out a muffled expletive from the lounge, although whether it had been Roger or the SAS man – Lewis Collins, of course! she suddenly remembered – she couldn’t really tell.

"You still there, Sally?" she enquired.                                             "Yes, ‘course" came her reply. "So, how’s it been since we had that girl-to-girl chat at the coffee shop?"                                       Janice settled back on the bed, relieved to be able to unburden herself. Where to start?                                                                      "Well, I went to the library like we discussed, and got some really good books on snakes which I’ve been reading. And I tell you, should have seen the look on his face when he saw me reading one of them! It was a picture, it really was."                                     They both laughed.                                                                              "Mind you, I still can’t stand the bloomin’ things. They look so- so- evil!"                                                                                                           Sally laughed."Probably why he likes them, eh? Remind him of all his scrotey mates down theCrown and over at the dog track; a right bunch of slippery good-for-nothings the lot of them."                Janice laughed. It felt good to laugh. She lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling, sharing her innermost thoughts with Sally; and then they’d laugh some more, like two naughty school-girls after ‘lights out’. She couldn’t remember laughing and giggling so much.

Half an hour later they finally said their good-byes and Janice went back downstairs to see if Roger fancied a coffee. She entered the lounge, noticing that the film had finished. Roger was sat, looking at the menu screen but making no attempt to search through it to select anything.                                                                                           "I’m just making a cuppa if you want one?" she asked.            Roger suddenly sprang to his feet,                                                     "No thanks. I’m off out", and began to slip his shoes on.       "Where are you off to love? It’s nearly ten o’clock."                           He brushed past her in the lounge doorway, throwing a comment over his shoulder as he went.                                                          "Might pop down the Crown". He slipped his leather jacket on, reached for the door, then turned and looked straight at her.      "And see if I can meet up with some of my scrotey mates".

His eyes held hers for a second then he went out of the door, letting it slam behind him. Janice stared after him, her mind racing. He heard! He was listening all the time!  Her mind frantically rewound the last half an hour, then equally frantically fast forwarded through everything that she’d discussed with Sally. An icy chill ran down her spine. This is bad, this is SO bad!

She suddenly realised that her legs were giving way beneath her; she surrendered to gravity and slid down the wall, ending up in a slumped, desolate heap next to the radiator. She lay there, staring vacantly at her reflection, caught in the full length mirror on the opposite wall.

  "Caught me crawlin’ baby . . .Caught me crawlin’ baby . . .Caught me crawlin’ baby. . . "

                                                Chapter Eight

The clock in the hallway softly chimed twelve, stirring Janice from her daze. What’s done is done. Can’t turn back time. The final chime died away, bringing Janice right back to reality. She clambered to her feet, smoothed her clothes down and went up to check on the boys. She opened their bedroom door and saw that both were now sleeping peacefully again. Janice ran her hands through her hair and walked slowly to her bedroom, where she slumped onto the bed. Not bothering to remove her clothes she reached over and switched off the light, then closed her eyes. What’s done is done.

She gradually slipped off to sleep, where her dreams were filled with dark, surreal, constantly shifting scenes; scenes in which she and the boys were pursued by many-textured ropes, chains, nooses and manacles, all of which kept trying to bind their limbs and choke the life from them. She jerked awake in a clammy sweat, looking frantically around the darkened room. In the hall she distantly heard the clock chime six. She sat up, realising that Roger hadn’t come home, or at least if he had, had not come to bed. She swung her legs onto the floor and only

then realised that she was still dressed. Stripping her clothes off, she put them in the laundry basket and went into the bathroom to shower. The jets of hot water felt good on her skin and she stood there for several minutes, enjoying the way they caressed her aches and pains. They would never completely wash them away, she knew that, but they felt good on her skin all the same.

Refreshed, or at least as refreshed as she was ever likely to be, Janice quickly dressed and went downstairs to make herself some breakfast. She wouldn’t wake the boys for another hour, so she decided to make the most of the time.

Some twenty minutes later she heard the front door open. She was just taking a sip of coffee and froze as she heard the door quietly close again. Roger was home.

She put her cup down and slowly walked out into the hall. Roger was standing there, swaying ever so slightly, clearly the worse for drink but certainly better than some previous times that she had seen him like this. However, looking down she saw that his knuckles were puffy and bleeding: blood was dripping onto the parquet flooring. That’ll stain if you don’t clean it straight away said the small, shy voice. She moved towards him.                            Don’t", he mumbled. "Just get me something to eat. . . and a cup of tea, plenty of sugar."                                                                         She hesitated for a second then turned and went through into the kitchen. Roger slowly came down the hall, stopping only briefly to look at himself in the mirror. A hint of a smirk appeared on his lips.

                          "Gonna keep on crawlin’ til the day I die . . ."

                                                  Chapter Nine

"So, where did you go?" Janice asked, not expecting Roger to be very forthcoming. To her surprise he put down his knife and fork and looked down at his bruised hands.                                         "Had some things to sort out".                                                            She waited a couple of seconds, a nasty feeling rising in her stomach.                                                                                               "What things, Roger?"                                                                                 He paused, obviously relishing the tension, liking the doubt and uncertainty which he was creating in her mind.                              "Needed to have a talk with someone; more like a long, intimate chat really" He smirked through the last comment, staring intently at Janice’s increasingly worried face.                                              "Roger-" she pleaded, "what have you done?"                                      He picked up his fork and resumed eating. In between mouthfuls he continued. "Let’s just say that your friend Sally’s realised the sense in keeping her mouth shut in future." He forked another mouthful of bacon and eggs into his mouth. "In fact, it’s true to say that she’ll have to keep her mouth shut for quite some time". Janice simply stared at him, not willing to believe what he was saying. It was like something out of a gangster movie, yet she could all too easily believe it; especially seeing the state of his knuckles, which were still bleeding onto the tablecloth. Her eyes stared at him with icy cold intensity, belying the boiling rage which was stirring inside her.

                                 "Gonna crawl no more . . ."

                                             Chapter Ten

As Janice walked down the long corridor, she was conscious of her heels striking the hard floor, each footstep tapping a relentless rhythm. It reminded her of the backing beats on a blues track that Roger always played. The thought of Roger made her frown and she could feel her bottom lip trembling; a mixture of frustrated anger and distress in equal measure.                                             Glancing at the sign on the door ahead she paused, took a deep breath, then pushed it open.                                                          "Excuse me. I’m looking for Sally Thomas?" she said, trying hard to present a brave, positive face. The staff nurse looked up from the tray of medication she was checking.                                             "Are you family?"                                                                                       Janice, swallowed hard. "Yes, I’m her sister. . . in-law" she hastily lied, knowing full well that there was no family resemblance whatsoever, her being small and blond, and Sally tall and dark. "Yes, my dear. Come this way. She’s resting fairly comfortably but please don’t stay too long. She won’t be able to speak anyway, you realise that? Her jaw’s been wired you see".                                Janice closed her eyes for a second. In punishing Sally for the private conversation which he’d overheard he was hurting her – Janice - far more than if he’d literally taken out his anger on her personally. She’d been hit, punched and slapped more times than she could recall but the bottom line had always been that, at least, it had been between the two of them. Now he was spreading his wings – his fists! reminded the small, shy voice – and she couldn’t allow it to continue. For the sake of her boys, her friends, and not least for herself, she had to do something anything to stop him. "This way dear." The staff nurse prompted, pointing down the ward.                                                                                                          Janice took a deep breath and followed her, noting that the bed she was being led towards was the only one in the ward with the screens pulled round it. The staff nurse, noticing Janice’s worried look, sought to reassure her.                                                               "No point me saying that it looks worse than it is, she has been through a terrible ordeal, and she’s pretty bashed about, but I promise you, given time she’ll be ok. Janice closed her eyes for a second, as if in prayer.                                                                       "Didn’t even see who did it, poor thing. Just opened her front door and a man forced his way in. Really roughed her up. Terrible what some people do these days."                                                           They arrived at the screen and the staff nurse whispered, "She wanted the screens pulled as the others were staring, you see". Janice took another deep breath as the staff nurse opened the screen and poked her head in.                                                          "Someone to see you, my love. Ok?"                                                  She turned and gave Janice a sad smile which she was sure had been meant to reassure her, but it only served to root Janice to the spot. I don’t want to see! I don't want to see what he's !really capable of. No. She needs you. Janice took a deep breath and stepped through the screen into the enclosed area.                          She immediately put her hand to her mouth.                                     "Oh my God, Sally!"                                                                                    The person in the bed turned towards her, her head a mass of bandages, overlain by a metal frame which was screwed into place, ensuring that her jaw couldn’t move. Only the fact that the medical chart at the head of the bed said ‘Sally Thomas’ onfirmed to Janice that she was actually looking at her nearest, dearest friend. She didn’t recognise any of her familiar features, such was the extent of bandaging adorning her head and face. Janice felt the sharp sting of tears brimming up and then spilling down her face.                                                                                                                "Sally. . . I’m so so sorry. I-"                                                                  She broke off, unable to think of anything else to say. What else could she say? The figure in the bed – no, Sally, she reminded herself – was reaching for something in the bedside cabinet. Janice reached forward and took Sally’s hand, holding it tightly. "Did. . .uh, did he - ? Were you, you know -?"                                       Sally raised a finger and moved it from side to side. No.            Janice closed her eyes, At least that was something. Sally then  shook her other hand to indicate that she wanted Janice to release her grip.                                                                                         "What is it, darling? Do you need a nurse?"                                           Sally shook her hand and slowly pointed towards the bedside cabinet. Janice reached in and pulled out a book, a notepad and a pen. She held them up and Sally indicated the last two items, gesturing that she wanted to write something. Janice reached forward and placed the pen in Sally’s hand, then held the notepad within reach. Sally slowly scribbled something on the pad but, holding it away from herself Janice couldn’t make out the spidery scrawl. Finally, Sally dropped the pen and pushed the pad towards her. Turning it towards herself Janice finally made out the scrawl. ‘NOT YOUR FAULT’                                                                               Janice felt her lip trembling again, then strained to read the rest of it, which had obviously proved too much for Sally to write in her current state. She suddenly made sense of the final scrawl. STOP HIM.                                                                                                        Janice stood up and turned away from the bed, whilst innumerable thoughts whirled around in her head. She finally arrived at a decision and, turning back to the bed, reached down and gripped Sally’s hand. A bigger, more confident voice whispered in her head, I WILL

                                      "Ain’t gonna crawl no more . . ."

                                              Chapter Eleven

When Janice returned from the hospital that afternoon the house was, again, empty and silent. She remembered that the boys were at their grand-parents, where she’d dropped them off earlier, in her haste to get to the hospital. She’d have to collect them later. Where Roger was she neither knew, nor cared. She took off her coat and went through into the kitchen to make herself a drink and, as she sat there, Sally’s words echoed round and round her head.STOP HIM.                                                                                          She suddenly stood up and went up the hallway to the lounge. There, where she had left it the night before, lay the library book. She sat on the sofa and began leafing through it, scanning the text for something which she’d previously seen just before Sally’s fateful phone call. Ah, here it s!                                                                  She re-read the paragraph, running her finger along the line, to guide her.                                                                                          "Janice?!"                                                                                                  She slammed the book closed and put it back on the coffee table. "I’m in here Roger".                                                                                     He opened the door and put his head round the door frame. "Well?"                                                                                                             She glared at him.                                                                                 "What do you think? She’s got bandages all over the place. Her jaw’s broken and all wired up in a frame-"  She broke off, seeing that his expression hadn’t changed. "But you obviously don’t care about that".                                                                                                He entered the room and sat down opposite her.                            "On the contrary, I do care. I care very much. . . about people talking behind my back; about people taking the piss out of me; about outsiders trying to tell us ‘ow to live? Listing what you should do, what I shouldn’t do . . . the bleedin’ list just went on and on!" Janice sat there, watching him rant and rave as he pathetically tried to ‘explain’ and – worse - ‘justify’ his actions. Janice tried again.                                                                                                       "But you put her in the hospital! Don’t you get it? You. Could. Have. Killed. Her!"  Each word was accompanied by a thump on the arm of her chair. Roger looked back, not a shred of remorse showing in his expression or demeanor.                                                           "Maybe now you’ll get it in your thick skull that what I say round ‘ere goes! Or else. . ."                                                                                     But by now Janice wasn’t listening to his dictatorial diatribe; her thoughts had already moved onto other things. She kept thinking about the passage in the book she’d just read. Nothing more was said about what had happened. She knew that Roger’s macho posturing, arrogant self-confidence and complete lack of concern over what he’d done was down to the fact that he knew Sally would most likely not report him for it. He knew that she’d be too scared about what he could, and would do to Janice, if the police were informed. Janice herself had no illusions that, despite being the mother of his children, Roger would not hesitate to ‘teach her a much more serious lesson’ next time. He also expected her –Janice - to do nothing; as usual.

                                           Chapter Twelve

The rain was falling heavily as Janice hurried through the market towards her secret destination. She’d told Roger that she was going back to the hospital to visit Sally again.                                   "She’s been in there a week now and will probably appreciate a visit".                                                                                                               She knew that there was no chance of him suggesting that he come along, to ‘keep her company’, so felt quite confident that her real destination would remain a secret . . . for now anyway.              She eventually rounded the corner and crossed the road; then, looking up and down the street, just in case, She walked up to the front door of Heavy Petting and looked through the glass panes in the front door. She couldn’t see buxom Sharon anywhere, only Mr Skyler refilling some stock shelves. She paused, took a deep breath then entered.                                                                              Again, her senses were assaulted by the rich, musty aroma of assorted animal smells but she ignored them, keen to get this meeting under way; all the quicker to get it over and done with. Skyler, hearing the door jangle, turned to serve his potential customer.                                                                                                   "Mrs Loomis!? You’re not due a consignment this week are you?" he said, reaching under the counter for his order book.                "No, not this week Mr Skyler".                                                              "Please, call me Gerald" he replied. "Now, what can I do you for?" he said, semi leering at her.                                                                Part of her grimaced at his blatant attempt at flirtation. Mrs Sky ler was clearly not on the premises today.                                                "Well, I know that you deal in pets-" She broke off as, raising his eyebrows a couple of times, in a rather suggestive fashion, he pointed towards the neon Heavy Petting sign in the window. "Indeed we do, Mrs Loomis". He was not making this easy.    Janice started again.                                                                              "Well, yes. You certainly do sell ordinary, everyday pets, I can see – and-and smell – that".                                                                              He pretended to be hurt by her coment; she nervously smiled back.                                                                                                         "But, I was wondering if you could order something unusual, not your everyday, run-of-the-mill domestic pet?"                                       He frowned slightly.                                                                             "What sort of ‘unusual, not your everyday, run-of–the-mill domestic pet’ are we talking about?"                                                                         She reached into her purse and withdrew the small scrap of paper upon which she’d noted the details, as she was going through the library book.                                                                                          "Here it is. It’s called- now let me get this right, Latro-dectus kat-ipo, or the common name is the katipo, pronounced ka-tee-po. It’s originally from New Zealand, so I believe?"                                  Skyler looked at the piece of paper in her hand and haltingly replied.                                                                                                       "We-ell, yes, I do have contacts around the country, round the world actually" he couldn’t help boasting, "who can get me unusual items like this. I’ll make some enquiries. But it’ll cost you quite a bit, and it will take a few weeks, you realise that?"              Janice nodded. She had already withdrawn a sizeable sum from her savings account, in anticipation of this meeting.                       "Well, can you order it for me then please? Gerald."                        He smiled and began transcribing the details into his order book. She nervously licked her lips.                                                               "But, it’s a surprise, so don’t let on what it’s about if you ring me, ok?"                                                                                                          Skyler looked up from his order book.                                                   "Don’t worry Mrs Loomis, Mum’s the word, eh?"                                 She went to go, but he called her back.                                                 "I will need a deposit though, Mrs Loomis. Sorry".                         She reached into her purse and withdrew a £50 note. Skyler looked towards the ceiling and discreetly coughed. She withdrew a second note and handed it across the counter.                            "That’ll be fine Mrs Loomis. I’m on the case."                                   He leaned towards her, "You’ll always get what you want with Heavy Petting".                                                                                          He again raised his eyebrows a couple of times; this time in a very suggestive fashion. Janice made sure to do nothing to encourage him as she crossed the shop floor and left.

                                       Chapter Thirteen

Life in the Loomis household went on as usual. Roger rode the ‘emotional rollercoaster’ most days; sometimes being vaguely human, and other times just downright mean and nasty. Janice did her best to maintain a low profile; even lower than usual. She paid regular visits to Sally who was making good progress, albeit she still couldn’t really speak; she just grunted and mumbled vaguely. Most of the time they resorted to writing and exchanging notes. Janice kept quiet about her recent visit to the pet shop, not wanting to implicate Sally, if her plans all went horribly wrong. Then, one day, a couple of weeks later, just as Janice was preparing to go out shopping, the phone rang.                           "Hello, Mrs Loomis? It’s Gerald from ‘you know where’."             She could imagine him giving her a conspiratorial wink down the phone.                                                                                                      "It’s arrived, but I have to say, Mrs Loomis, it’s not quite what I was expecting?"                                                                                             She heard Roger in the hallway outside, so simply told Skyler that she would be in to collect ‘the item’ later, and then hung up the phone.                                                                                                    "Who was that? Roger demanded,as he walked into the lounge.                                                                                                    "Who was what?" Janice replied, contuing with her preparations.                                                                                            "The phone. On the phone. Who was it?"                                          She picked up her bag and went to put her coat on.                      "Oh, just a cold call, the usual rubbish".                                              As she got to the door she looked back to find Roger staring intently at her.                                                                                             "Bye love. See you later" she said, then closed the door behind her.                                                                                                              All the way to the phone box at the corner of the road, the voice in her head kept repeating the same thought, but what if he checks the phone number of the last call?!  She made a snap decision and dived into the phone box, inserted twenty pence then rapidly rang the number at the house. It rang twice, then three times; finally Roger answered.                                                                      "Hello darling, it’s me. Janice".                                                       There was silence at the other end of the line, then "Why are you ringing the house? You’ve only just left!?"                                        She thought quickly.                                                                           "Sorry to bother you but I couldn’t remember if I’d switched off the iron?"                                                                                                         She got the usual response.                                                                "’ow would I bloody know?" Woman’s work.                                     The phone went dead and she sighed with relief; now the call logging service would only show the call box number, not the pet shop. She carried on towards town, renewed determination written on her face.

 

                                              Chapter Fourteen

Sharon looked up disinterestedly as the doorbell jangled. Seeing that it was Janice, she called out the back to where Skyler was busy moving large bags of hay and grass, then went back to filing her nails with an emery board. He came through to the shop front, dusting himself down and, upon seeing Janice beckoned for her to join him in the back room. She walked round the counter, noticing Sharon’s eyes watching her all the while. Better you than me she seemed to be thinking. Skyler asked her to follow him, and she realised that there was another room, slightly set back from the general store room where the stock and animal pens and hutches were kept. This other room was obviously used for storing other, more exotic creatures such as her ‘special’ order.                 An altogether different smell assaulted her nostrils as she stepped inside the room. It was much more dank, swampy, almost primeval. Just like the basement at home the small shy voice whispered.                                                                                         A number of glass tanks lined the room, each with its own mini environment and presumably its own hidden or disguised occupant.                                                                                                   "Here we are then, Mrs Loomis. Told you I had contacts".              He indicated a small wooden box on the workbench. The box was about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide, and had several small air holes drilled into it. Although wooden, the box was strong and well made, and, from the look of the sturdy catch, hinges, and carrying handle, was very secure. Even so, she could feel a bead of sweat trickling down her back. This is it. My salvation . . .my boys’ deliverance . . . Sally’s retribution.                                                       "Mrs Loomis?"                                                                                       She realised that Skyler had been asking her something.        "Sorry, Mr Sky- uh, Gerald. What were you saying?"                          He was looking at his order book, running his fingers along the columns.                                                                                                "I was just saying that the balance to pay is £120 to cover shipping, etc. These can be tricky things to transport, especially all the way from New Zealand."                                                            Janice reached into her bag to extract the money from her purse as he continued.                                                                                         "I must say I was very surprised, once I’d researched this a bit more . This isn’t the usual thing that Mr Loomis goes for. Is it a birthday present, then? Are you sure that he’ll like it?"                  She stared at the box.                                                                           "Oh, it’ll be a day to remember. I’m sure he’ll be stunned".            He smiled somewhat quizzically,                                                       "Well, let me just put this money in the till and I’ll get you a receipt".                                                                                                    Janice gingerly gripped the handle and picked it up, but froze when she heard a slight rustle from inside the box. She swallowed nervously, then lowered the box into a supermarket Bag for Life! carrier bag, and stepped out into the front of the shop where Skyler was just printing off the receipt.                                                         "There you go, Mrs Loomis. I take it you know how to care for it?" She thought back to the library books she’d been using as research in recent weeks.                                                                     "Oh yes, I’ve been reading up on it, thanks."                                    She thanked him and moved towards the door, making sure that she didn’t bump the bag against any of the baskets and shop displays. Sharon was still buffing her nails, a look of complete boredom on her overly made up face. Outside, she stopped for a moment, looking down at the carrier bag. Too late to back out now. She crossed the road and, with each step that she took, felt conflicting emotions; on the one hand she felt the darkness pressing in, with the enormity of what she was going to do, whilst on the other she could see the first few glimmers of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. 

                                                 "Let’s crawl."

                                              Chapter Fifteen

All the way home Janice found her thoughts whirling like a kaleidoscope, as she tried to think her plan through. It was crucial that the boys not be drawn into it, simply in case her plan failed, and they were caught in the backlash. It was equally crucial that there be no unexpected interruptions. The more she thought about it, the more despondent she became. She started to think that she’d made a really stupid decision and was on the point of taking the box and its occupant back to the pet shop - perhaps Gerald would refund her the money, if she tried flattering him? - when she suddenly realised the forthcoming Bank Holiday weekend in a couple of weeks’ time would be the opportune time.                     The boys would be at their grand-parents, as they were going to the church fete on the Green, and staying over for a couple of nights. The stay at her parents was due to the fact that Roger had decided that weekend was most suitable for him to move some of the tanks and his precious boys around in the basement. Man’s work.                                                                                                            In fact, she remembered with renewed hope, he’d already told his mates that he’d be busy that weekend and wouldn’t be around. She renewed her pace as she made her way through the streets and headed home.                                                                                  As she approached the corner of her road she suddenly realised that she had no idea where to hide the box. It needed to be somewhere Roger wouldn’t find it. She slowed her pace to give her time to think and then the answer came to her. Woman’s work.  She inserted her key in the front door and, hearing the tv blaring in the lounge, went straight through into the kitchen.                         She quickly took the box out of the bag and concealed it under the sink, in amongst the various cleaning products which were kept there. She was supremely confident that Roger would not find it; at least, not by accident. 

                                       "And I rule my den . . ."

                                         Chapter Sixteen

The days passed fitfully, as if time had fractured and little shards of it were tumbling chaotically through the ether, catching Janice off guard. Sometimes she felt the Bank Holiday weekend would never arrive; other days she felt she were on an express train, hurtling pell-mell towards her doom; on yet another day she felt as if she were on a sedate, assured bicycle ride through a long, dark tunnel with the light in the distance growing ever brighter, the further she pedaled. Meanwhile, every couple of days she would surreptitiously move the cleaning products away to access the box, and drop some food in to keep her nemesis fit and healthy. Finally, the Bank Holiday weekend arrived. Janice busied herself on the Friday night, packing the boys’ overnight bag with a few changes of clothing, as they would undoubtedly get dirty at some stage in proceedings.                                                                             She found the sheer mundaneness of packing a bag a useful diversion as it took her mind off the sheer enormity of her plans for the rest of the weekend. If she stopped to think about it too long it threatened to overwhelm her. Stay strong the small, shy voice kept repeating.                                                                                           Roger, meanwhile, maintained his usual distance from her, and the boys; the latter fact pricked her conscious somewhat as she knew the next 48 hours would change all of their lives: forever. Finally, the time came for her to drop Nathan and Josh off at her grandparents and she left the house with a pressing sense that she – in fact the whole family - was on the edge of a pivotal moment; their world was about to be knocked off its axis and things would never be the same again after this weekend.               It filled her with very mixed emotions: sadness that events had conspired to lead them all down such a tragic path, yet part of her yearned to bring matters to a swift conclusion to help the family move forward. And, the small, but now less shy, voice kept reminding her that that move forward did not feature Roger. At all.

 

                                        Chapter Seventeen

Having spent a couple of hours with her grandparents and once the boys were settled, Janice kissed them all goodbye, made her excuses and headed home with a determined air. All the way, the small, slighlty less shy voice in her head became increasingly positive and insistent, lest she lose determination and momentum at the last moment.                                                           She arrived at the house and quietly let herself in, her nerves jangling as she hung her coat up in the hall. She quickly looked in the lounge but it was silent and empty. The kitchen was the same so she quickly checked under the sink and everything was exactly as she'd left it earlier. She left the box where it was, her heart racing as she carefully replaced the cupboard's contents. The house was so empty and still that she could clearly hear the blood pounding in her ears. Indeed, she felt that anyone esle in the room would be able to hear the rhythmic pounding, so loud did it appear to be. She moved from room to room, a home movie running in her head all the while, replaying numerous cherished scenes from the past 12 years, overlain by others much less worthy of remembrance, yet sadly unforgettable all the same.   She sat on her bed and picked up a framed photograph on the bedside cabinet. It depicted happier times and showed Nathan's first seaside holiday, when he'd run into the sea fully clothed in his Bob the Builder fleece. It showed him sitting on a rock, tucking into a plastic tray of chips, a broad smile across his face.                   She ran her fingers lovingly down the glass, lost in thought. It has to be done.                                                                                                  A door suddenly slammed downstairs, interrupting her reverie. She quietly placed the photograph back on the cabinet and sat, listening as Roger clumped about downstairs in the hallway. "Janice!?"                                                                                                She didn’t reply and froze, lest any movement be heard downstairs.                                                                                            "Janice!" she heard again, this time louder, more demanding. "Bloody woman" she heard him mutter, as he went down the hall into the kitchen.                                                                                          She strained to hear what he was doing but could only make out vague bangs and thumps, as he looked through various cupboards. Her eyes widened. The sink!                                           Just as she began wondering what to do, she heard him leave the kitchen and move back down the hall, towards the door leading down to the basement. Janice waited until she heard the door click shut, then quietly descended the stairs and slipped into the kitchen. Two of the worktop cupboards had been left open, but she was relieved to see that the one under the sink didn’t seem to have been disturbed.                                                                             Moving aside the various bottles and cloths she carefully picked up the wooden box, reassuring herself that it was still firmly closed. She could have sworn that the box was heavier than when she’d first brought it into the house. It certainly seemed to take more effort to carry it, but she put this down to the state of her nerves, and the clamminess of her hands.                                           She moved slowly down the hall expecting, every second that Roger would suddenly appear and the game would be up. Again, she was sure that her pounding heartbeat must be audible to him, even down in the basement. The basement door was slightly ajar, and she could hear Roger straining and cursing as he began moving equipment around. His loud exertions were more than enough to cover the faint sound of her trainers as she began to descend the stairs. Again, as she reached the third, squeaky step she avoided it, holding tightly to the carrying handle of the box, trying to prevent it bumping the wall. Roger was evidently hard at work, as she could hear him staggering across the basement with one of the tanks.                                                                                  Beads of sweat ran down her forehead, into her eyes and it took all of her restraint not to immediately put her hand up to wipe it away. She was fearful of losing her balance and falling the last few steps onto the basement floor, which wasn’t part of her plan at all. Finally, she rounded the bend on the stairs and could see Roger in the far corner, straining hard to lift something which, as yet, she couldn’t see as his back was towards her and it hid everything from sight. He dropped the heavy load, cursing, and stood up, breathing heavily. Janice froze, not willing to move a muscle as the slightest noise would give her away. He moved slightly to one side and suddenly, there on the floor she could see what he had been trying to lift.                                                                                                   It was a large boa constrictor – much like the ones she’d seen in the books – but, in the dim, dank light it appeared massive. Its yellow and green, mottled markings gave it partial camouflage in the subdued light, so it was difficult to gauge its true size. Suddenly, Roger turned to get something and noticed her, standing in the shadows on the stairwell.                                     "Didn’t know you were in" he said, turning back to his labours. "You never answered."                                                                           She didn’t say anything; her heart was by now racing, beating wildly as if it wanted to break out of her chest and run screaming from this dismal place. He looked up from his efforts and, saw the box in her hand.                                                                                  "What’s that? Been out buying stuff again?" Typical.                       She carried on staring at him, not saying anything. He continued, "As you’re here, you can make yourself useful. Pick up that plastic drum and bring it over here". Not even a please.                               She automatically moved towards the plastic drum, then caught herself.                                                                                                      "No."                                                                                                              He looked up, not quite believing his own ears.                               "You what?!" he snapped back.                                                           She continued to stare at him.                                                            "No, not until you’ve seen what I bought you".                                      He stood up straight, rubbing his hands on his jeans; curious, in spite of himself.                                                                                       "What is it, early birthday present?"                                                     No, a leaving present, the small, but increasingly loud voice said in her ear. They continued to stare at each other. Finally he broke contact.                                                                                                     "Well, let’s have it then. Don’t just stand there, can’t you see I’ve got work to do?".                                                                                       He reached for the box. And so have I. Janice extended her hand and passed the carrying handle to him. He snatched it roughly from her hand, looked briefly at it, then put it to his ear and shook it. He frowned slightly. Definitely something moving inside.         She watched, holding her breath, as he flicked the catches and opened the box. He frowned again, unable to see anything inside, due to the subdued lighting.                                                            "What-?"                                                                                                         He put his hand in, sifting through the contents, trying to see what was so important that Janice had to come and disturb him. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his hand, followed by several more stings in quick succession. He staggered back, dropping the box. It bounced across the basement floor, ending up next to the plastic drum he’d asked her to move. Roger looked at his hand, eyes wild, unable to understand what had just happened. Janice looked at the box, from which a small spider, with a black body and white bordered red stripe across it back, was just emerging. He saw the direction in which she was looking and turned to see what had caught her attention. He was just in time to see several, even smaller, similarly marked spiders emerge.           An ironic smile briefly appeared on Janice’s lips. Protecting her young.                                                                                                 Roger, meanwhile had begun sweating profusely, staggering around the basement; his eyes rolling wildly in his head. He managed to slur a one word question, "W-w-why?" then slumped to the floor, his limbs weakly threshing as the poison invaded his body. Janice slowly walked towards him and squatted down just out of reach, but close enough to be able to talk over his feeble twitching and flopping, as his body went into spasm.       "Latrodectus katipo, pronounced kat-ee-po. That’s it’s proper, official name. It comes from New Zealand. The South Island, actually. Those on the North Island don’t have the red stripe, they’re all black. Like their rugby team. Funny, I never thought of that until now." Her eyes were looking directly at him but he kept breaking eye contact as his body spasmed.                                        "You don’t really think of New Zealand having spiders do you? Kateepo is a Maori word, Roger. It means - and here I think you’ll be able to appreciate that I really got what I paid for; the far more descriptive Maori name for it is . . . ‘night stinger’. So much better than these formal Latin names, don’t you think? You really know what you’re getting with Heavy Petting the no longer small, nor shy voice joked in her ear.                                                                             As she said all this Roger lay twitching, albeit slightly less as paralysis slowly overcame his limbs. Flecks of spittle mixed with blood, coated his mouth. His eyes strained to focus on her face, mere feet away. Janice suddenly noticed some movement out the corner of her eye and turned slightly.                                                       The boa constrictor, feeling the spasmodic vibrations through the concrete floor was slowly, sinuously gliding across the floor to come and investigate. Janice, not liking Roger’s snakes one little bit, stood up and quickly stepped away, She stood several feet away as the massive snake moved inexorably towards her and Roger, its tongue occasionally flicking out to get sensory input from the musty, dank air.                                                                       The snake approached Roger’s feet and, having obviously received some interesting data, simply lay there, flexing and rippling its powerful body. Janice, not wanting to look yet somewhat curious to see what would happen next, sat back on the wooden stairs to await further developments. She watched, fascinated, as the snake’s head seemed to swell and elongate sideways. Oh, it’s unhinging its jaws, she thought, as it slowly moved towards Roger’s feet.                                                                  By now Roger had stopped twitching and, she noticed, was equally as horribly fascinated by the whole situation as she was, but from quite different perspectives; she a willing observer, he an unwilling participant.                                                                             Both repulsed and fascinated in equal measure she, and a helpless Roger, watched as the snake slowly, purposefully began to swallow his feet, shoes and all. The many muscles which lined the snake’s head and body now began to work in unison, rippling and gripping; gripping and rippling; the snake was literally pulling itself up the outside of Roger’s body.                                            Janice watched in disbelief as, arriving at Roger’s chunky thighs, the snake widened itself further and further to accommodate him. By now unable to move or talk, Roger could only watch, horrified, mesmerised, as the snake slowly, ever so slowly, moved up his body. Janice could barely believe her eyes, or the utter surreality of the situation. Just when she thought the snake would meet its limit, it elongated even further and more of Roger disappeared into its gaping maw.                                                                                       She looked at her watch: barely thirty minutes had passed since she’d first entered the basement and Roger was now more than waist-deep inside the snake. The odd flash of guilt or remorse flashed across her mind, but was swiftly, and resoundingly, batted away by the, now confident, voice in her head. He deserves this it said. Sally deserves this it added.                                                Roger, by now, was chest deep in the snake and seemed to have gone into complete shock; only the bubbling flecks at his mouth gave testimony to the fact that he was still alive. Janice continued to watch the grisly scene until, finally, the snake’s mouth closed over his head.                                                                                          The grossly distended snake simply lay there, unable to move; it began the long process of digesting this banquet of all meals. Janice sat there for another few minutes, her heart rate gradually coming back to normal. She then stood and ascended the stairs, closing the door firmly and decisively behind her. She went to the kitchen, turned on the sink tap, splashed water in her face and then ran her hands through her hair. Time to go.                             Picking up her coat in the hallway she opened the front door, turning briefly to look at the basement door, then went out to join her parents and the boys at the fete. And to start their new life.

"Yeah I’m the crawlin’ kingsnake baby. Til the day I die."

=====THE END=====

With particular thanks to John Lee Hooker, bluesman.

 

The End

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