I read this story at a Penguin Plays Rough storytelling event held in The Rocks by Word Travels. Old Yeller was beaming down with his big face, trying to kill us all, but it was grand.
Intellectually I think we all know that Australia is trying to kill us. People overseas know Australia as the place where crocodiles fight sharks in the water, and if you manage to escape them, there’s a horde of spiders waiting on the shore, weaving webs of silk and lies. People overseas get the danger – it’s why they liked Steve Irwin so much. They saw him as a perfectly rational response to our death-trap of a nation. They think that kangaroos hop down George Street with an unholy cocktail of crocodiles and Taipan’s hiding in their pouches, and only Steve Irwin had the guts to wrestle them into submission and send them back out into the desert.
Us locals know that the kangaroo death brigade is hyperbole. In fact the majority of Australian’s are fairly lax about the ever-present spectre of painful death that hangs over us. Every summer the news is filled with stories about the aggressive Funnel Webs living in our kitchen, or the Redbacks in our toilets, or the sharks in our paddling pools – but it’s always something that happens to a friend of a friend. We are careless. Australia is deadly, but Australia is also patient. It waits for your guard to be down, before it strikes, like a Cassowary going for your eyes.
My story begins at a time when my guard was down so far, that people who are clinically dead have been known to have more peripheral awareness. It was the perfect time for Australia to punish me. I was in that magical state of half-being known as university break. I was minding my parents house and by extension, looking after their pets. A glorious month where my responsibilities were so few, that watching a documentary on sloths could fill me with anxiety. I was so lazy, that instead of making a sandwich, I would sit in front of the fridge and eat all the component parts separately. My bar job had recently cut my shifts to four hours a week, for the ultra-legal reason of ‘not wanting to work with a fag’. I had to feed my cat twice a day. This was my life.
On this particular day I was doing season six of my epic Buffy re-watching marathon. It was around midday and I’d been watching since breakfast the previous day. I was naked, curled in a nest of junk food and wine bottles. At some drunken point the previous night, I’d put on a cape made from a bed sheet and hooked my sword on to a belt that hung from my bare waist. I was borderline psychotic, not really able to understand that I wasn’t some kind of terribly plotted character from the Buffy universe.
As I watched and stewed in my own awfulness, I heard a strange bumping sound coming from up the stairs. I paused the DVD, and listened as it continued. My first thought: it’s my parents, coming home from their holiday early. I, their 22-year-old son is naked, wearing a cape and has a sword strapped to him. Why couldn’t they just catch me injecting heroin like normal kids? But that thought was thankfully dismissed, when I realised my mum probably wasn’t yowling and hissing. The sound of struggle continued, and I had an inkling of what it could be. My cat, Lily, was rescued from the local graveyard, where she probably survived by killing vampires. As a sign of her affection to me, she loved to leave headless birds or defenestrated rats on my pillow. Maybe she had some poor native creature in her talons and was dragging it up the stairs for me.
I finally got off the couch, ready to rescue a cute lorikeet or possum baby or something, only to be confronted by the sight of my cat dragging a fully grown brown snake behind it. Brown Snakes are only the SECOND most venomous land snake, so at least there’s that. The snake was writhing furiously, trying to escape from my cat’s jaws. Lily looked wide eyed and panicked, as if she had literally bitten off more than she could chew, or as the other popular saying goes, ‘had a live brown snake in her mouth’. She struggled for a few more moments, and then looked me in the eyes and let it go.
The Brown Snake reared up and started lunging at Lily with horrifying speed. This was it – this was my moment of testing, the instance where Australia throws something horrible at you and decides whether you deserve to live or die. My reaction, I believe, can only be put down to the 40 straight hours of Buffy I’d been watching, the sleeplessness and also, let’s not forget the fairly considerable level of inebriation. Because as that huge fucking snake bared its fangs and struck at my cat, I unsheathed my sword, and chopped its goddamn head off.
Well – I tried to. Due to ‘the law’ my sword, an authentic Omani cavalry blade, was blunted. So when I hit the snake, with my best, two-handed blow, it kind of just launched it across the room into the kitchen, where it hit the wall with a splat. I might not have beheaded it, but I did cut fairly deep, and it proceeded to lie there and slowly bleed out in a huge puddle.
Now, let’s all move past the fact that this is my one moment of heroism and despite looking ludicrous, wang flopping obscenely beneath my cape and all, this was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done, or ever will, in my life. Let’s move past it, because what I did after it is really fucking weird.
I was suddenly hit by a giant wave of adrenalin. Despite the snake being really dead, the adrenalin also bought a bunch of fear. I became obscurely terrified that someone would know what I had done. I had to hide the body! So I scooped up the still bleeding reptile, stuffed it into an empty Oreo box and chucked it into the next-door neighbours yard. I then attempted to clean up snake blood using windex and paper towel, a practice I don’t recommend to anybody. If any of you are thinking of committing a murder, you probably don’t want someone with this degree of poise helping you dispose of the body. But after the fear died down, and the pigs were unable to track the notorious ‘snake-in-a-box’ case back to me, I realised something marvellous. Australia tested me, and in the face of danger I proved that I could be mildly effective. I could survive whatever this enormous danger-island sent my way, survive and then panic absurdly afterwards. Thanks, Australia.