Finally, A Peaceful Sleep

A short story by Bob Downing

     I fell into my bed with the heaviness that only comes from complete exhaustion. The day’s struggles had drained the resources of my mind and body, and now the only thing I craved was sleep…limitless, dreamless, wonderful sleep.  I closed my eyes and tried to erase the events of the day, but I found myself reliving the terror of the past twenty-four hours.   The attack by the rebels on the convoy had come without warning, and the unsuspecting little band of travelers were helplessly outnumbered and outgunned.   The resulting carnage was a nightmare of blood, fire, and death, and only I had been able to escape the sword and bullet before the arrival of the militia.
     With the army’s arrival, the rebels had vanished into the jungle, and all that was left was the scene of tragedy.   The captain in charge had graciously given me an escort to my cabin, a modest dwelling high in the mountains overlooking the dense rain forest.   It was after before I unlocked my front door, and, with the escorting soldier making a quick safety check of the premises and departing, I was quickly left in the loneliness of my home.
     The moon was slowly rising over the ridge to the east, and the evening breeze was gently brushing the curtains of the windows as they waved a greeting to my arrival.   The heat from the day’s summer sun lingered and was still nearly unbearable, but a touch of coolness in the breeze hinted of a more comfortable night.   The fire from the wood burning kitchen stove had long since gone out.  Occasionally I heard the screech or yelp from the nocturnal jungle creatures as they played their nightly music.  I clicked on the lone light in the kitchen and told myself I should eat something because it had been twelve hours since lunch, but my exhaustion took command.  I decided that preparing any kind of meal was far too much trouble.  I threw some water on my face, changed into my sleeping clothes, and collapsed into the bed.   In the darkness, I saw the attackers again, and the events seemed to replay over and over.   I struggled to erase the images, but in time, as the weariness and exhaustion took a firmer grip, I began to drift into a fitful sleep.
     I subconsciously heard the noise even before I was fully awake.   It was a very quiet, brushing sound, as if someone had rubbed his hand over a bit of cloth.  The unfamiliarity of the sound brought me out of my stupor, and my eyes unwillingly cracked open just a bit.   At first, I wondered if I had dreamed the sound, and I lay there listening for any repeat noise.   The slight ticking of the clock and the rustling curtains seemed to assure me that all was well.   It was quite dark; the moon had slipped behind a cloud, and I could only very slightly see the ghostly outlines of the furniture in the room.   I began to drift back into unconsciousness.
     This time the sound was a little louder and seemed closer, and it definitely had a brushing, sliding sound, as if something was moving.  Due to the warmth of the night, I had been sleeping under a light cover.  The moon had reappeared and cast a pale dimness to the room.   Instantly my senses were in high alert as my eyes strained to see, and I listened with the intensity that comes with the foreboding of danger.   The clock and curtains were ignored now as I surveyed the room…and then I saw it.  My eyes had finally settled on the foot of the bed, and as I was peering with narrowed eyes, a few inches from my feet…the bed cover moved.   At first I thought my foot had involuntarily twitched, but a few seconds later I heard the brushing sound along with a movement of the cover, and I realized there’s something under the cover!   My first reaction was to jump and run, but before I could even react, I felt a cold clamminess touch the side of my right foot, and watched in horror as the cover moved again, and I felt the invader slide over my foot and rest up against my ankle.   I froze, petrified, unable to move, and aware that I was probably now sharing my bed with a snake.
     Here in the jungle, there are very few nonpoisonous reptiles, and those which inhabit this area of the world are known for their deadly venom and their speed of attack.   I knew my chance for escape had been lost; it would be impossible for me to leap from the bed before I was struck by the deadly fangs.  I could feel the cool skin of the serpent as it contentedly rested next to the warmth of my foot.   Fearing any movement, I breathed in short, shallow gasps and tried to will my limbs to stay still.   As my anxiety rose, I began to perspire profusely, and in my exhausted panic I imagined I was dreaming a nightmare.   I told myself all I had to do was wake up and get out of bed to relieve this torture, but the cool sensation next to my foot brought me back to my senses before I moved.  Afraid to make a sound, I silently wept and prayed that the agony might end, but the antagonist at my feet seemed to be contentedly at rest.   My heart pounded with the ferocity of a long distance runner, and I feared the sound of my heartbeat would disturb my unwelcomed guest.   My arms and legs began to ache and cramp, and I fought with my own muscles to force them to remain motionless.
     Suddenly without warning, the serpent moved, and I felt the icy, rough skin as it crept along the calf of my leg toward my knee.   I screamed silently and strained to resist movement.   The creature seemed to sense something was astir, and stopped, as if listening for a warning sound and attempting to get a sense of its own surroundings.   I held my breath and stared at the dim ceiling with panic-stricken eyes attempting to force myself to lie still.   And then it moved again.  I watched in fascinated horror as the cover moved, and the serpent slithered from my right calf, crossed over my left leg, and coiled into a lump just below my left hip.   Now within a few inches of my paralyzed hand, the snake seemed to be considering its options.   It appeared to be unable to get comfortable and squirmed and rustled around as if trying to find a good position.
     I was paralyzed with pain, desperate for oxygen, and suffocating with heat.   I felt my limbs were being torn from me even as I lay there motionless.   Anything is better than this torture, I decided.   I will leap from the bed and take my chances, because it is only a matter of time before the serpent realizes it is in the company of an enemy and strikes.   On the count of three, I will jump……one…….two…….and the serpent moved again.
     The cover began to move, and I joyously watched as the lump moved to the edge of the bed, and I heard a soft thump as the serpent landed on the floor.   I exhaled as if I had been underwater for too long, and I lay there for what seemed hours trying to hear the movement of my enemy.   I heard no more sounds.   Finally, throwing caution to the wind, I sprang quickly out of bed and ran to the light. The brightness at first was blinding, and I scrambled for my gun and machete.   I searched the entire room with gun and knife at the ready, slowly and methodically…every corner, closet, drawer, cubicle, and nook, but to no avail.   And now the weariness of the night began to weigh even more heavily, and like a drunken sailor, I stumbled back to my bed, and after checking every layer of mattress, sheet, pillow, and cover, fell into a deep comatose sleep.
     The morning came far too quickly, and though the hour was far past sunrise, I arose still exhausted.   My body ached from the evening’s tensions, my head pounded, and I walked as one who was sorely inebriated.   What I needed was a strong cup of coffee.   After drawing the water and locating the coffee, I went outside to the woodpile to pick up a handful of kindling to start a morning fire.   As I lifted the chunk of firewood, I saw the eyes of the cobra.
     His six-foot body was curled in the traditional attack position, and his red piercing eyes were hypnotically tracking my hand.   In a flash of movement, he struck.   I jerked my hand, but it was too late, and I felt the fangs penetrate and the venom injected in my hand.   I screamed in alarm and watched in fascination as the cobra calmly recoiled and rose up to watch his victim.   I started to run, but the strangest thing happened.   My pain began to fade away, and the most wonderful calm began to settle over me.   I looked at the cobra and admired his beautiful color and proud demeanor.   The weariness of the last twenty-four hours vanished like fog, and a great peace surrounded me.   I sat down on the grass and looked at the bright morning sun and felt the warm morning breezes.   The trees had never appeared so green nor had the birds ever sounded so beautiful.   I wanted to rest and enjoy this moment, so I lay back on the carpet of green. My vision began to dim, and I breathed a deep gulp of wonderful, fresh air as I felt myself drifting away to a place of peaceful, permanent sleep.
     The cobra, satisfied his enemy would bother him no more, slipped silently into the jungle.