The Snake Woman of Bismark

Her trailer looked abandoned, and some people said she didn’t exist at all (particularly when they couldn’t find her in the winter; Jeffers Wilkerson said she must just go live underground, which everyone thought was ridiculous, but with a seat on the County City commission, they had to give him room at least to speak). Her trailer had been up from removal four times by the county safety board, but each time the order had mysteriously disappeared from the courthouse records, perhaps via some beau or hypnotized victim of hers, a person who had snuck orders into the shredder before the bulldozers could be rented.

God knows the trailer needed to go, anyway–it was collapsed under it’s own weight, hardly three and a half walls still stood, brown and splintering siding beneath the paint. The trailer was built with real wood, and built badly, when everyone else in the Tall Valley trailer park had gone with vinyl years before. Her trailer sat in a shadowed corner at the edge of Marie Whippler’s farm, the long brown field eaten to death by Marie’s llamas (which the county safety board didn’t care for either, and maybe that’s why the trailer never met with any troubles from the Greater North Realty Company who rented the park, as her trailer had started to sneak, every so softly, a few inches onto Marie’s land for the last fifteen years). (The llamas avoided the place altogether.)

But the weeds and the tall grass were a nuisance–around her trailer, the switchgrass grew chest-high in some places, and the dense green beige stalks served as home to locusts and screaming katydids, little mottled brown moths and the kind of Asian ladybugs that took over Jeanean Harplet’s hardware store in ’15. The grass and the bugs tangled up with all manner of milkweed and reclaimed wood, molding planks turned black and soft by the shady moisture, full of baby scorpions and brown recluse spiders. No one dared to lift up or clear out any of that trash for fear of what might come scuttling out.

One year, Rian Holcomb went into the woman’s trailer on a dare, something the kids at West Chester Middle thought would be funny, hoping they could snap pics for their Instaspaces or Snapgrams, what have you. They said the woman in the trailer was a hooker, maybe (why else would she be called a snake? said Rian) but whatever the child found in that trailer, she took no pictures of it, she just ran out shaking, shivering and pale, running in all manner of confused directions, saying she’d been bitten, but there was not a single mark on her.

When people asked Rian about what she saw in the garbage heaped up in the trailer, Rian described old thrift store castaways too broken to sell, rotary phones and baby dolls and mardi gras beads and torn leather coats, lamp shades and bird cages–hundreds of bent and shattered birdcages–toaster ovens and white plastic coffee pots turned dried blood brown. She hadn’t seen the woman, not at all, Rian said, but it had smelled like damp earth and wood rot, with whispers of tiny hissing like the escape of steam through a coffee pot. The hissing moved everywhere, and then came the rattling and the spitting. Sounds came from the hidden spaces underneath, shadows Rian couldn’t see through, and nothing moved from the hot breeze through the windows, not even the stacks of rumpled newspaper and old Time Life magazines, and Rian coughed from the stench of mold, the spores so thick in the air it made a fog, but nothing moved when she coughed, it was all frozen, like a photo, a glimpse out of time, but the spectral hissing surrounded her, and she was sure from the pain on her foot, the pain under her sandals, that she was dead now, as dead as the old things that never moved.

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