Never ever trust a snake. Believe me. They slither and slide around, over-enunciating their ‘s’s, and it’s hard to get them to tell you anything. And once they do, they almost always change their minds.
We had only one snake in our thicket: Zane. Other than him, a quiet peacefulness clung to the grass and the twigs like dew on an early morning. The rabbits can be a bit annoying at times, and the crickets sometimes keep us awake. But we all learned our lesson. One time they played a twisted joke on the rest of us, and stopped chirping, for just one night. None of us knew what the hell to do, and they proved to us all in one cheap trick that their chipping made us feel like this forest was our home.
Because it was.
But just because a place is your home, doesn’t mean there are no intruders. There was no magical fence that kept humankind out of our thicket. If there were, it wouldn’t be our home. People are so good at drawing borders everywhere; you’d think that it’s all they do. They slice up everything they know and give it all borders, trying to tell each other where to live and where to die and where to hunt and where to mate. Maybe that’s why they just don’t belong in the thicket. Because in the thicket, there are no borders. Us deer, we live beside the foxes, and the raccoons, and the turtles. We live below the birds and the squirrels (annoying bastards), and above the mice and the crickets, and Zane the snake. And there are no borders.
So Humans will walk through our thicket, sometimes. We all scatter for a place to hide, because we’re just not damn sure what any human would want in a borderless thicket like ours. We get the hell out of the way.
Except Zane. Whenever a human visits, Zane just slithers right up to them. I asked him one time, just after a human had paid us a visit, why he did that. I told him he should be more careful. And all he said was:
“Silly deer. What do you care if I’m here or not?”
I told Zane that I didn’t want him to venture out of hiding when a human came around again. But again, he declined my suggestion.
I made him promise me to stay away from any humans that came through our woods. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like that very much at all.
“Stay out of their way? Sounds like a border to me. Are you trying to draw a border for me, Deer? I don’t like borders. That’s why I live in the thicket.”
I told him that I don’t draw any borders, and that I just want everyone to be safe. Finally, he promised.
“Safe and sound, I suppose. Just like you say. I’ll stay out of their way. I promise.”
Weeks passed before another human came through our thicket. The leaves had grown fire orange and a forgiving frost melted to cold dew as the rising sun came to greet it. The thicket was still cold when the human tromped through the brush, and we scurried, blindly.
I hid, watching the human clear a path, carrying its instruments: Black boxes and strange sticks. It turned around, but froze violently.
Zane slid forward, in front of the man.
The man unsheathed something in front of us. Another strange instrument. The whole thicket held its breath. The man raised its black branch.
A noise erupted like ice, shattering.
The man stepped away, and tromped through the rest of the woods.
The silence melted as slowly as the frost had turned to dew. I was the first to move.
I stepped forward to where the man had stood. His thick, pungent stench hung in the cold air. I looked down. Zane’s head was gone, detached from his writhing, coiling body of scales and blood and bone. He gasped for air, his jaws moving, open and shut, open and shut. His eyes looked right at me, but they were empty. A hollow voice slipped from the trembling fragment of his jaws.
“Borders. Maybe we’re more like them than we thought we were?”
I tried to find something to say to the snake’s pulsing head, but my words stayed hidden, like I had in the wake of the human. I watched his jaws collapse and shudder, open and shut, until slowly, the movement faded.