Once a rattler stayed out in the sun too long. By the time it got back under cover, the damage was already done. The shimmering heat had taken its toll, causing the rattler to see a nightmarish mirage of danger in place of the cloudless, wide open spaces of its home. All around it, craven enemies looked to be closing in, the same ones who’d long connived to drive it farther and farther into a land of dust and scorched dreams. Here in this barren landscape, the rattler had survived by sheer grit and ingenuity, almost single-handedly keeping alive the spirit of rugged independence it was convinced once could be found from one edge of the continent to the other. The rest of the world, the rattler was equally convinced, aimed at one thing and one thing only: taking away its most cherished freedom, its god-given right to rattle. Nobody could be trusted. “Nobody. Not even me,” the rattler hissed. To guard against falling victim itself to this universal threat, it always slept with one eye open and trained on its own tail. As for the looming assault from all quarters on the rattler way of life, “Over my dead body!” was its scornful taunt. “If they think they can stamp me out, the defender of a proud heritage that I am, they got another think comin’. ‘Don’t tread on me’ are the words I live by, and them’s fightin’ words! Let ’em come on if they dare. I got a little surprise for ’em, yessirree.” The rattler had a surprise all right: a venom like nothing else on the planet. And while it waited for the final showdown, when it would take a stand for everything that made life as a rattler the envy of all, it worked to make its venom even more concentrated and deadly by biting itself and recycling the poison again and again through its entire length. “If it don’t kill me,” the rattler declared with added bravado, “it’s gotta make me one tough customer to deal with. ’Nuff said!” The rattler gave its tail a menacing shake and enjoyed the terror it imagined on the faces of its assembled enemies at the sound. Those enemies, surely out there everywhere scheming the rattler’s demise, would get what was coming to them, and more. For the rattler was not alone. Not only would it make this glorious stand for the rattler way of life and the principle that if you stood for freedom, you needed to be fanged and dangerous, but it was confident other rattlers were prepared to join it. Over the hills they would come, out of the gullies and gulches where they’d been sharpening their survival skills for the day of reckoning, a national rattler association of kindred spirits to strike fear in the heart of any lily-livered foe. What a shock their enemies were in for—rattlers by the millions, all roiling together, holding their tails aloft and shaking them defiantly, sinking their fangs into themselves in a mounting frenzy, and growing more lethal by the minute.
Copyright © 2005, revised 2009, by Geoffrey Grosshans