Can Cassie overcome the obstacles in her path to rescue her brother in time?
Trouble at the Pond
The heat in Florida on an August day wraps itself around you like a steaming, wet blanket. That day was so hot my cherry Popsicle melted before I was halfway finished with it. My blonde hair stuck to the back of my neck like a sucker fish to the side of an aquarium. I decided to go for a swim.
The back gate squeaked shut as I left our junk-filled yard. I started toward our swimming hole that we just called “the pond.” When I got out to the dirt road in front of our place, I looked across the ditch at the old schoolhouse there.
It was called the Half Moon School. The once-white paint on the small building was peeling, and the underlying wood was so weathered it looked as though it were about to collapse. It was truly the kind of one-room school with ink wells and feather pens and an authentic dunce hat that sat on a lone stool in the front corner of the room. When I was a little younger, me and the other girls played school there.
It seemed I always ended up as the one in trouble with the “teacher,” and subsequently in the corner wearing the dunce hat. We were just children, but to stand up for myself meant chancing total rejection. I always secretly wanted to be the teacher, the one in charge, but I never had the courage to declare myself as such when we were picking parts. I felt put down, discouraged, and left out. It felt like the other girls didn't care much for me, like they didn't think I had anything to offer to playtime.
I felt like that a lot in my life, like people didn't have any faith in me. I was only given mundane responsibilities like washing dishes and cleaning my room, never anything important like babysitting my younger sister. All I wanted was a chance to prove myself, to show people how grown up I could be. My grades were really good. I had always been an A, B student. I guess, for some reason, my full potential wasn't being realized. I thought I was doing my best, but maybe not.
There was a slight breeze coming from the east. It carried with it the odor of horse manure from the neighboring farm. Sometimes we were allowed to ride the horses, but I didn't have one that day and the hot sand scorched my bare feet.
I reached the grassy edge of the well-beaten path along the power lines and I stopped to let my feet cool. I heard the roar of a plane above me. I had heard it thousands of times before. I looked up just as the silvery mass flew over my head. When I did, I noticed a dark, gray puff. I stared at the isolated rain cloud. It made a statement, suspended there in the sky like an exclamation of the doom that was to follow.
I continued along until I detected the narrow opening in the dense palmetto bushes that was my path to the pond. Blackberry bushes lined each side, but I was careful to avoid their thorny stems. Usually, on the way home, I would fill the front of my t-shirt with the bumpy fruit only to be scorned by Mama because of the purplish stains they left on my clothes. I would mix them with milk and sugar and it made a delicious snack after swimming.
Once I got through the thicket only one obstacle remained. I had to get past the masses of buzzing honey bees. Daddy would sometimes bring home cratered combs of yellowish beeswax dripping with the sweet, gooey confection. After Mama preserved the honey, my older brother and I got to chew on the wax until all the sugary flavor was gone. Our jaws ached from chewing, but it was worth it for a treat like that.
My Daddy was a brave man to get so close to those swarming bees. I didn't dare. Instead, I made a ten foot arc around the tree where the hives hung. That's how far out those bees flew, and about how far out the roots from the tree extended. I continued on until I finally reached the pond.
The produce fields in the distance reeked from the stubble of crops left after the spring harvest of yellow corn, peas and green beans. I tried not to think about the odor as I walked out onto the stationary dock. I hummed my favorite tune as I quickly lifted my white t-shirt over my head and tossed it aside.
Then I heard my name spoken in a hoarse, quiet voice. It sounded like my brother. I looked around until I saw him. He was perched on the edge of the floating dock in the center of the pond. I shielded my blue eyes from the sun with my hand and peered through my glasses across the murky water at him.
“Cassie,” he said, “don't come in.”
“Why not? You're in the water. It's blazing hot today. I'm getting in!”
“I got bit,” he said.
“What do you mean you 'got bit'?”
“A snake. A water moccasin. I'm real dizzy and I can hardly see. Go get Daddy,” he said weakly.
“Oh my gosh, Sammy! You're going to be okay. I'll be back as soon as I can with Daddy,” I told him. I left my shirt where it lay on the dock and ran as fast as I could toward our shed where Daddy had been working when I left.
I was in such a hurry to get home for help that I didn't think about making that arc around the oak tree where the hives were hung.
I tripped over a tree root and came to a crashing, bloody halt below the hives. My eyeglasses went flying off my head. All that commotion made those bees very angry. The sound they made was so loud it was as if a crowd of fans was hissing at the opposing team when they came out of their locker room on game day. Only worse. They had stingers. Those bees were mad, and they were mad at me.
I kept Sammy in the front of my mind. I had to get help. I knew snake venom was deadly, and I didn't want to lose my brother.
I couldn't see a thing without my glasses. I felt around on the ground, in between the tree roots, but I couldn't find them. The buzzing just kept getting louder and louder. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. Still, I knew I had to get my glasses or I couldn't see anything.
I suddenly got a chill, and my whole body broke out in sweat. The louder the buzzing became, the more my hands shook. I crawled around to the other side of the tree and groped around some more. I began to feel the bees landing on my skin. Don't swat at them, I told myself. I knew if I swatted it would make the whole lot of them come after me. I felt blood dripping from my knees and hands.
Still, I groped around, telling myself aloud now, “Do not swat. Do not swat.” I felt a sting on my right shoulder, then another on my ankle, and still another on my back. I began to panic inside, but tried to remain stable on the outside so as not to rile up the bees any more. Finally, I found my glasses and put them on. There were brand new scratches on the lenses, but I was only concerned with getting out of there at that point.
Remain calm and walk away slowly, I told myself. I wanted with everything I had in me to run, and run with all my might. My brother needed me, and there I was, a clumsy mess. But I knew if I ran those bees would chase me. Their stings had halfway covered my bare back by then. I was wearing only my shorts and a bikini top. I walked away slowly for about twenty feet, till I was sure I was rid of them, then I took off running toward home.
I found my father inside our single-wide trailer having lunch when I got there. I quickly told him what had happened. Daddy left his bologna sandwich where it lay and sprung into action. He ran out to the lean-to shed to get the rope he kept there for towing. I started after him, but my mother stopped me.
“Cassie,” she warned with a motherly tone, looking over the top of her own glasses, “let me take care of those bee stings, honey, and your bloody knees and hands.”
“Mom, no way! I'm going to help Sammy! But maybe you should call the hospital and tell them we're coming.” I ran out and jumped in the back of Daddy's rusted out pickup truck as he was pulling away.
Daddy took a different route to the pond than I had walked. He had to go the way where he could drive the truck, further down the power lines. We still had to pass the honey bees, though, and I noticed they were still in a frenzy as we bounced down the dirt road by them. I certainly hadn't forgotten them. My back was on fire from their stings.
When we arrived at the pond, Sammy was laid out in the middle of the floating dock. That one isolated rain cloud had become a sky-covered monument of despair.
“My gosh, Daddy, I hope he'll be okay,” I said, shakily. I was really afraid for him. Time was of the essence with snake bites and it might be my blundering fault if something terrible happened.
“Everything will be fine, Cassie. Don't you worry, now.”
When we pulled up next to the pond, Daddy got as close as he could to the edge. He called out to Sammy and asked if he was okay.
Sammy lifted his head just a little and laid it back down.
“I'm going to throw you the rope, Sammy. Try to grab it and hold on so I can pull the dock to the edge of the pond,” he said. Daddy's forehead cringed when Sammy sat up and then just laid back down.
“Throw the rope, Daddy,” I told him. “I'll swim out and you can throw it to me.”
“No Cassie,” he said and shook his head. “We don't need both of you with snake bites.”
“Daddy, please. Its the only way.” I looked at him pleadingly. He paused for what seemed like a long time. Then I saw something in my Daddy's eyes that I hadn't seen before. Confidence. It appeared that he had confidence in me.
“Okay, Cassie. Try to make as small a splash as possible when you dive in, so as not to rile up the reptiles. Swim as quickly as you can to the dock and I'll toss you the rope. You'll have to hold on tight while I pull you both in. Here,” he said, pulling his shirt over his head. “Take my t-shirt and wrap it around your bloody hands so that it doesn't hurt.”
“I can do it, Daddy!” I dove into the water with my body as tight as I could get it so as not to make a splash. The dock was about twenty feet away.
I was almost there, with only a few feet to go when I saw it. It must have been the same snake that bit Sammy. It was about ten feet from me and headed in my direction.
Daddy saw it too. I heard him breathe in very deeply.
“Cassie,” he asked, “do you see what I see?”
“Yes,” I whispered loudly. My whole body tensed up. I tried not to kick my feet very much but that just made me sink. He had already seen me and, in that snake's eyes, I was his next victim.
Sammy needs me, and I am going to help him. I will not let any snake interrupt this rescue mission.
I kicked my feet a few times and made it to the floating dock. Just as I pulled my feet up out of the water, the snake struck the border of the wood. I got butterflies in my tummy as I quickly backed away from the edge, and I could hear my Daddy sigh with relief.
“Sammy, are you okay?” I asked, pushing his light brown curls out of the way and putting my hand on his tanned forehead.
I called out to Daddy and told him what Sammy had said.
“Everything is going to be fine, Sammy,” I told him. “I promise.”
“Okay, Cassie. Now, I'm going to throw you the rope and you need to brace yourself and hold on very tight while I pull you in,” Daddy called out.
I nodded my understanding.
Daddy started swinging the rope lasso style and then hurled it in my direction. When he did, it landed short of the dock.
“Its okay,” he said. “I'll try again.” So, he pulled the rope back in and tossed it out again. This time, it landed just beside the dock and I reached down and grabbed it.
I went to the center of the floating dock and wrapped the rope around my waist, tying it as tight as I could. Then, I jammed my heels in between two of the slats of wood that made up the topside of the dock. I swaddled my hands with the t-shirt and nodded to Daddy that I was ready.
He began to pull hand over hand on the rope. I didn't think I had ever seen my Daddy use all of his strength like that. His lips were pursed. His face was red. His arm muscles were bulging. That was when I realized Daddy would do anything for his kids.
After we finally made it to the shore, Daddy asked Sammy where he had been bitten.
Sammy very softly said, “Left leg.”
Daddy looked him over and, when he saw the bite, his face became extremely distraught. It was a snake bite, alright. Two small holes in his skin, surrounded by puffy redness.
“Let's get you to the hospital, son.”
“Daddy, don't we have a suction cup in the first aid kit in your truck? We can use it to suck the venom out of his leg before we go to the hospital.”
“Good idea, Cassie. Excellent idea. Run and get it.”
When I came back with the suction cup, Daddy was looking at me strangely.
“Wh-what's wrong, Dad?” I asked. He shook his head and said he'd tell me later.
He got to work sucking the venom out of Sammy's leg. While he did that, I grabbed the blanket from behind the front seat and laid it out in the bed of the truck so Sammy could lie down.
“I got out as much of the venom as I could. Let's get going.”
When we got to the hospital and the nurse opened up the emergency area, she said, “It's a good thing your wife called ahead, Mr. Dawson. We have everything prepared.” Then they whisked Sammy away behind closed doors. I had to stay out in the waiting room since I was only fifteen.
It seemed like forever before Daddy came out and sat next to me in the waiting room. At first, he didn't say anything, but he had a weird look on his face. The area around his eyes was red. His bottom lip was even doing this trembling thing. He looked like he was going to cry.
“Daddy? Is Sammy going to be okay?” I asked nervously, and became a little concerned with the way he looked.
“Cassie,” he squeaked out. All I could think was oh my gosh, if it wasn't for my clumsy butt falling and losing my glasses, Sammy would be okay. Fear and pain pooled in my eyes and slid down my cheeks.
My Daddy wasn't looking at me, but what he said next changed my whole life.
He cleared his throat and took off his ball cap. “Cassie, I want to share with you what the doctor said to me.”
“DAD, is he OKAY?” I got the attention of everyone in the waiting room.
He smiled a small smile. “Yes, darling. He's going to be fine,” he ran a trembling hand through his graying hair, “because of you.”
I did a double take. “Me?”
“First of all, you alerted me and your mom that Sammy was in trouble. The doctor said if you hadn't come up with the idea for the suction cup when you did, he would not have made it the twenty minutes it took to get here. He also said that your Mom told the nurse it was your idea to phone ahead and tell them he was coming. That gave them the time they needed to have the antidote ready.”
Daddy finally looked at me and said, “Cassie, I can't tell you how proud I am of you for your mature thinking and selfless heroism. You saved your brother's life today.” He turned toward me and gave me the biggest hug I ever got from him.
I was stunned as I hugged him back. Me? A heroine? My Daddy was proud of me? I smiled with deep, honest contentment. My brother was alive and really, when it came right down to it, that was all that mattered.