More Than Words Can Say

Challenge #11 for the Original Fiction Ficathon, written for eloquently:

--Genre: Anything but Fantasy
--Rating: Anything
--Words/phrases to use: Anything to do with Chuck Norris, "Hey, I was Hooked On Phonics!" and the word 'staunch'.

A pair of short romances, one of thwarted puppy love one of (almost) normal love. Written for the OF Ficathon.

The firstof the storiesstory is about puppy love. Sort of.

Snake-love

Darren doesn't like snakes. At all. He doesn't think that snakeskin is interesting; he doesn't want to hear about the fact that an anaconda can swallow one hundred pounds of meat; he doesn't care about the fact that the indigo snake is going extinct. Darren doesn't scream when he sees a snake, though, or go pale, or start shaking. Nothing like that. He just doesn't see them, just like I can't see the molecules that make up air and you can't see someone else's dreams.

For Darren, snakes don't exist.

Like most other such things, there is a very good reason for this.

--

Darren peered into his older sister's room, not daring to open it any further than she'd left it for fear that she would notice. Sandra sat cross-legged on her bed, her red-and-black hair being braided by her friend as they chatted about inaudible things. Scowling, he noted the dark green walls and gold trim that she'd painted her room in only a few days ago, simply smiling beatifically and saying that wanted to do something with the money she'd earned that summer to staunch Dad's protests. By the time he was old enough to have a summer job, his parents would have long since worked out a reason why he couldn't paint his room. Sandra got all the luck.

A faint curiosity as to what Sandra and Chantelle liked to talk about—which had more or less been assuaged by the words "Chuck Norris" and "Rawhide"—was nowhere near enough to keep him in one place for very long, though, so he stood and wandered down the long wood paneled hallway, bare feet making no sound on the plush crimson carpet. Footsteps warned him of the approach of another, and he ducked into his parents' room, heading for the deep closet. All of mom's dresses and dad's suits, combined with shoeboxes and things brought back from trips made before he was born made for a near impenetrable hiding place, especially when the one searching for him wasn't allowed in the room, much less the closet. He pushed through layers of linen and cotton, stumbling once over a pair of cowboy boots that came midway up his thigh. Surrounded by the smells of clean clothes and perfume, pillowed on heavy winter blankets that had no other storage place, he found himself becoming drowsy, drifting off to sleep.

Swoosh!

Mom swept the shirts aside as though she were faced with a shower curtain instead of a mass of clothing and stared down at him. Squirming guiltily, he tried to meet her eyes, but settled for staring at her necklace when he found he couldn't.

"What are you doing in here?" she asked mildly.

"Hiding."

"Why?"

"We're playing hide and go seek," Darren said, meeting her eyes defiantly.

"Rachel doesn't seem to know that." Mom sat down next to him, brushing his shirt off absently once she had done so. "She's very upset, Darren."

"She's such a girl," he muttered, staring into the dark places that were only ever exposed when someone turned on the closet light, which Mom hadn't done just yet. In fact, he hadn't seen the closet light turned on in a very long time; maybe the light was burnt out. Or maybe Mom and Dad liked having a few dark places where they could hide, too.

"She is a girl. I think you're just scared of her."

"I'm not scared!"

"Really? Why are you hiding, then?"

"We're playing hide and seek. She just forgot." He glanced at Mom's face and then quickly away. "I don't want to play with Rachel. She doesn't do anything fun, just watches boring TV shows and plays boring games with her stupid dolls."

"You thought they were fun last year."

"No I didn't. I just played with her because you told me to, and because I was mean to her you were going to take my bike away for a week." He wasn't sure if that was true, but it sounded about right, and maybe Mom wouldn't remember just what she'd said, either. "Anyways, they're stupid and boring, just like her."

"Has she asked you to play with dolls?"

"Nooo…."

"Have you seen any dolls with her?"

"No, but—"

"So why don't you take her to play on the swing set?"

After a moment of silence, in which he realized that he'd be in a great deal of trouble if he said no, or if Mom saw Rachel alone at any other point that night, he stood and left her room with all the dignity an eight-year-old boy can have.

Rachel was waiting at the top of the stairs, her eyes still a bit red and sniffling a little. Forcing his face into a smile, he asked, "Do you want to go play on the swings?"

She smiled brightly. "Ok!"

"Get your shoes on first," Dad called as they ran for the back door.

The swing set was large, old and wooden, which meant it smelt funny just after it rained and Mom fretted over the possibility of it rotting from the inside and crashing down on Darren or Sandra. Darren ignored that; it had never broken, and it never would. Mounted to the side was a rickety metal slide that burned if you slid down it with shorts in the summer, and that stuck to any exposed skin in the winter. Attached to the other side was a set of metal monkey bars that Sandra used to sit on, though now she could touch the top with her elbow. Now, though, it was his, and he loved it.

He hurried ahead of Rachel and grabbed the good swing, the one whose wooden seat didn't have a funny-looking stain from when Mom had thought that it might look coloured. The other one had a smoother rope, but it didn't look so… weird. Either Rachel didn't notice the spot or she didn't care; she didn't mention it at all, just sat down and began pumping her legs determinedly, the hems of her jeans dragging in the grass-free oval made by years of children swinging.

"Have you ever gone over the top?"

"No." He glanced up at the rectangular bar and imagined falling down onto it. "At school, where they have the metal poles, a kid went over one time. Two kids. The first kid just… looped over, like what you do when you're trying to raise the kindergarten swings. The other wasn't going fast enough, and he fell onto the pole."

"Ouch," was all she had to say about that, but she didn't pump as hard as she'd been pumping before. Then again, he didn't either.

After a few minutes the back door opened, Dad and Rachel's father emerging with two plates. One had fish—he wrinkled his nose. But there were hamburgers on the second plate, which meant that he wouldn't be expected to eat fish. A glance to the side revealed that Rachel had been thinking the same thing. Or maybe not. Who knew what girls were thinking?

"I'm tired of swinging." He jumped off, followed by the girl, though she didn't jump as far as he did, he was pleased to notice. "Want to go play by the creek?"

"Sure."

To the back of his yard was a small iron fence that no one ever bothered to lock. It faced out onto the small conservation, which consisted of little more than a creek, a bike path and a few parks. Every year the first and sixth grade classes went out to gather leaves from the park, the first graders actually finding the leaves and the sixth graders watching to make sure they didn't jump into the creek. It didn't matter—it was still summer, and neither first nor sixth graders would be there.

"That's a monarch butterfly," Darren said proudly, pointing at the butterfly that had landed on the cluster of white flowers that Sandra called Queen Anne's Lace and that they saw every time there was a field trip to a nature place.

"No it isn't. It's a painted lady. They camouflage themselves so that birds think they're poisonous, like monarchs." Rachel looked smug at this.

"Butterflies aren't poisonous."

"Yes they are."

"I've never heard of anyone dying of a butterfly bite."

"I think you need to eat them."

"Who would be stupid enough to do that?" The butterfly flew away, and he clambered up onto the rock that was next to the flowers. Looking down, he saw something that slept in the sun, something long and gold and brown. "If you're so clever, what's that?"

Following him up, Rachel looked down. "Snake."

"What kind of snake?" he asked, rolling his eyes. Girls.

"Gopher snake."

"You sure? It looks like a rattler."

A stick lay nearby; Darren picked it up cautiously and moved it slowly towards the snake. It began to make a clicking sound, and he jerked the stick back as quickly as though it had been his hand.

"It's a gopher snake," Rachel said firmly. "Remember? Sandra showed us last time I was over."

"It's rattling."

"They make that sound in their mouth. Like the painted lady mimicking the monarch butterfly. It's not poisonous. If you get too close, it'll just run away."

"Really?" He'd always wondered what snakeskin, real snakeskin, not just the stuff you found on purses, felt like. Sandra said it was dry and smooth. Was she lying?

"Yep." She pulled a face. "You're just scared, aren't you?"

"I am not!" Proving that he wasn't scared—proving that he wasn't scared to Rachel—suddenly seemed very important. So he dropped off the rock, swaggered towards the snake, and reached down to grab it.

And then it lunged for him.

Darren screamed.

---

No, Darren doesn't like snakes at all. No one blames him for it—being bit by a rattler will do that for you. It still baffles Rachel, though, but Rachel is different.

Rachel works in the snake section of the zoo.