Robbie's summer of learning has just begun...
Robbie Campbell was absolutely, one hundred percent convinced of one fact: his was going to be the single worst summer any child had ever experienced since the beginning of time. Which, as far as he could work out, was even before his Grandpa was born.
And his Grandpa was really, really old.
The reason for this sentiment was quite simple: he was being forced to spend his two precious months of freedom at his Auntie Sue and Uncle Jim’s farm. In the middle of Nowhere. Which, by Robbie’s calculations, was about a million miles from his friends, the best pizza shop on the planet, and his girlfriend, Shelly Stevenson.
Well, his soon to be girlfriend. It was really just a matter of time, any fool could see that.
As he wandered barefoot in the backyard, two excruciatingly long hours after his parents had dropped him off, Robbie thought back to the last time he had seen his angelic sweetheart. She had been playing on the teeter-totter - which he had found strangely captivating - in the playground down the street from his house. Her long blonde hair would rise at the peak of the ride before cascading down around her perfect face and she was laughing so melodically…
Robbie was so caught up in the memory that he didn’t see the snakes until he almost stepped on them.
Robbie was halfway up the nearest cherry tree before he could even think. He then had two thoughts in very quick succession. First: can snakes climb trees? And then: who else had screamed?
“Hello?” he called out from his perch. “Who’s there?”
“I’ll only tell you if you get down from there, you silly child,” came the reply from somewhere below and to his right.
“Have the snakes gone?” Robbie countered before puffing up his chest and adding, “And I’m not silly! You yelled too!”
“Actually that was my brother, not me. Sorry about that, he’s rather excitable. Now come down - I swear it’s perfectly safe.”
“Do you pinky swear?”
“What’s a pinky?” Robbie heard a second voice whisper, followed by a soft slap.
“Okay, look,” the first voice announced. “I’ll come over so you can see me and then you can come down when you’re ready. Okay?”
“Alright. I guess.”
There were a few moments of silence before Robbie heard a noise in the tall grass below him. Shortly after that a snake appeared in the clearing at his cherry tree’s trunk.
“I thought you said the snakes were gone!” Robbie shouted at the unseen stranger.
“No,” the snake replied with a shake of his head, “I told you it’s safe to come down. Which it is.”
Robbie’s eyes went wide and his mouth formed an ‘O’ so large that it threatened to split his head in half. The snake stared back with a slightly bored expression.
They remained that way for quite some time.
“You ready to talk again yet?” the snake asked at length.
“You’re a snake!”
“So I’ve been told. A bull snake, in fact.”
“Snakes are evil!” Robbie was beginning to wonder if this was a very bad dream. What if he had actually fainted when he first saw the snakes and he was passed out in the grass at that very moment? What if they were slithering all over him?
“Oh, please.” The snake came very close to rolling its eyes. “Just because we’re not cute and cuddly doesn’t make us agents of the devil. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
Robbie had no idea what to make of that, so instead he asked, “Where’s your brother?”
“Oh, right. How rude of me. Sylver, get over here!” A second snake soon joined him under the tree. “My name is Sid and this is my little brother Sylvester.”
“I’m Robbie. Are… are you eating a mouse?”
“Um… yeah?” Sylvester replied, manoeuvring his meal until only a limp tail hung out of one side of his mouth.
“Sylver, that’s disgusting,” Sid said. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“That poor little mouse,” Robbie said, tears starting to form in the corners of his eyes.
“What? Oh, right - CCS.” Sid looked thoroughly disgusted.
“Cute Creature Syndrome. All you humans seem to suffer from it. ‘If it’s cute it can’t be bad.’ The truth is if it wasn’t for us eating them all, mice would have already stolen your TV and poisoned that well over there.”
“Oh yeah. And don’t even get me started on koalas. They’re only adorable because they’re doped up on eucalyptus all the time. Take that stuff away from them and those drug fiends will tear you a new one.”
“A new what?” This, Robbie had decided, was the strangest dream in the history of sleeping.
“Uh, never mind,” Sid replied, looking suddenly uncomfortable.
“And how do you know stuff about koalas anyway?”
“I… may have done some time in prison. I was young and foolish and… I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“You were in a zoo?”
“You humans have a cute little name for everything, don’t you?” Sid said with a sigh. "How old are you anyway?"
"I'm seven and a half!" Robbie told them with obvious pride.
"Oh my, you do have a lot to learn, don't you?"
“Oh, that’s my Auntie Sue. It must be time for dinner.”
“Awesome!” Sylvester said, looking around with a gleam in his eye.
“Not for you, idiot,” Sid said, a stiff slap of his tail against the top of his brother’s head accompanying his words. “Anyway kid, if you want to know how things really work just come back here tomorrow morning and I‘ll be happy to fill you in.”
“I don’t know,” Robbie said, chewing on his bottom lip.
“Up to you,” Sid called as he disappeared into the grass. “But if it was me, I’d want to know how to protect myself from those bunnies down the street.”
“Robert Colin Campbell, get in here!”
Without enough time to make a decision, Robbie ran back to the house without offering a reply.