July Bloom: “Auxiliary Lifelines??”

Many thanks to a Western North Carolina friend for inspiring this month’s flash fiction story.

She shared with me several experiences she’d had with a variety of snake species,  both near her house, and also at a swimming spot on her wooded property.

"Auxiliary Lifelines"

Swimming became Cora’s sanctuary after her grown children flew the coop last summer. Then, that Fall, so did her husband, on short notice. This Spring she had the pool to herself and on warm mornings dove into the deep end for an hour of laps. Afterward, she’d sit by the pool in a weathered chaise lounge, peruse the news, and watch the Western North Carolina wildlife she loved, except the snakes.

For no particular reason, Cora had feared them since childhood, so when she spotted the scaled things sunbathing on a rock near the pool, she hired someone to get rid of them. The professional said not much would work and besides; he said, these were harmless. The slinky things multiplied on the rock as the days grew warmer. She resolved to ignore them, as long as they remained there, which they did, mostly.

One early June morning, vicious cramps seized Cora’s legs during her dive. Gravity pulled her down in the deep end. She struggled to rise and keep water from flooding her lungs. Then, out of the blue, a rope-like force wrapped itself around her waist, pulled her out of the pool, and placed her down beside her chair. As the surrounding grip released, Cora watched a chain of snakes disconnect as they slithered back to their sunbathing spot.

Stupefied, Cora kept staring their way as she eased into her chair. She mouthed a thank you. Later that week, she read a news story about how an epic lifeguard shortage was forcing public pools to close or limit hours for the unforeseeable future. She got a wild idea stemming from her near-drowning experience. Cora recruited friends based on their expertise. They worked daily at Cora’s house to prototype and produce a new product.

Cora’s animal trainer friend coaxed the snakes on the rocks to recruit more nonvenomous snakes open to travel. The engineer friend designed transportable crates with sunroofs so the snakes could enjoy the sun while on duty. The marketer produced a video reenacting Cora’s rescue and successfully pitched their Snake Chain Rescue Crate as auxiliary lifelines for pools.

By late June, Cora’s team had distributed crates to public pools across the region and during delivery instructed that they be placed to maximize sunlight exposure. They explained that Snake Chain Rescue Crate occupants would slither into action based on instinct.

The following July 4th weekend, the area’s public pools welcomed the usual crowds and there were no drowning incidents. The following year, a national swimming safety organization recommended that, along with lifeguards, all pools invest in Snake Chain Rescue Crates to help save sinking lives.