Snake Sighting

Gwynn Slottman was deathly afraid of snakes. The mere sight of an elongated, limbless reptile sent her into a panic-stricken delirium of the highest order. She screamed, swore, and jumped on chairs and tables. Sweat poured from her brow. Perspiration drenched her clothes. Her cheeks turned beet red. Her eyes blazed with a mixture of rage and abject terror. Snake sightings brought out the worst in an otherwise rational, intelligent, and composed woman. Gwynn turned into a raving, reptile-loathing maniac at even the mention of a snake. She lost her ability to think rationally and to control her bladder. Whenever she saw even a photograph of a snake, Gwynn—an openly agnostic-and-leaning-toward-atheist woman—prayed to God that Jesus would swoop down from heaven and smite the serpent.

On the morning of June 17, 2017, Gwynn led her dog, Hermione, out the door  into the garage of the frame home Gwynn shared with her husband, Scotia Slottman. Scotia had left for his job as a bank examiner in the city an hour earlier. Normally, he would have closed the roll-up garage door after backing his Honda Element out of the garage, but not so this day. On June 17, 2017, Scotia forgot to close the garage door. Between the time he drove away and the time Gwynn started out the door with Hermione, something bad happened. A snake found its way in the open door and curled up in an indentation in the concrete at the base of the stairs leading from the house into the garage.

Gwynn did not see the snake until the last second. The reptile, sensing warmth encroaching on its new-found nest, moved ever so slightly just as Gwynn’s foot almost touched the snake. That almost imperceptible movement was enough, though, to alert Gwynn to the monster’s presence at the same time a freakish combination of a howl  and a bark escaped Hermione’s throat. Gwynn lept over the snake, pulling her dog into the air with her, and crashed into some shelving six feet from the viper’s resting place. Hermione, choking from being dragged several feet in the air by her neck, coughed and sputtered as a loud “CRACK” and Gwynn’s ear-splitting scream filled the air. Hermione could barely keep up with Gwynn as she limped at high speed down the driveway and across the street to the front door of the neighbor’s house.

Bill Wilson, long retired and almost deaf, apparently did not hear Gwynn’s scream, nor did he hear her banging on his front door. But he saw her, dragging her dog behind, burst into his bedroom.

“Where’s the gun?! Give me your damn gun!” Gwynn did not wait for Wilson to respond. She saw his pump-action shotgun, hanging from a rack on his bedroom wall, and grabbed it.

“Is it loaded? Come on! Is it loaded?” In her fear and rage, she aimed the barrel at Wilson as she asked again, “Is the damn gun loaded, old man?!”

Wilson, who must have been utterly flabbergasted by his neighbor’s behavior, replied, “One shell in the chamber and six in the magazine, but there are more shells in the top dresser drawer.”

Gwynn lunged at the dresser, scooped up a box of shells, and dragged Hermione out of the bedroom, through the living room, and out the front door.

She stopped on the front steps and said to Hermione, “Sit, stay.”

Hermione was doubtless confused and afraid, as she had never seen Gwynn behave in quite this manner.  She sat and she stayed, as commanded.

Gwyyn opened the box of shells and emptied it into the pockets of her light jacket. She took a step off the porch, raised the barrel of the gun, and fired it at her garage. She took a step, pumped the stock, and fired again. She continued, taking one or two steps and then firing until all the shells in the gun had been used. Gwynn paused long enough to reload and then began again.

When she reached the open door of her garage, Gwynn had used nineteen shells and was preparing to reload again when a police car screeched to a stop behind her.  The driver’s door swung open. The officer raised his pistol and aimed it at Gwynn.

“Drop the gun! Drop it now or I’ll shoot!”

Gwynn hadn’t even heard the car’s siren. She was so deeply engrossed in her reptile-induced psychosis that the only thing she heard was her own rapid heartbeat. But as she was about to reload, she heard the officer’s command.

“What? Yeah, alright.” Gwynn set the gun down as the officer shouted another command.

“Walk backwards toward me. Don’t turn around, just walk backwards.”

The sounds of approaching sirens filled the morning air as Gwynn’s maniacal frenzy dissipated and she became aware of what she had just done.

“Officer, there is a snake in my garage. I was just trying to kill the snake.”

Still facing the garage, Gwynn noticed the shattered back window of her Toyota Camry and saw the hundreds of tiny holes in the truck.

“Did I kill it? Is the snake dead?”

As the officer pulled Gwynn’s arms behind and put her in handcuffs, he said, “I have no idea.”

“If it’s not dead, you’ve got to kill it. I can’t go back in there if that snake’s still alive.”

“You’re not going back in there for quite awhile, m’aam.”

Gwynn’s broken ankle took six weeks to heal. The irrational fear took a bit longer. The psychiatric evaluation revealed what Scotia Slottman had known all along. His wife was certifiably crazy with fear of snakes. Ophidiophobia, the psychiatrist called it. That diagnosis, along with Scotia’s agreement that he’d buy Bill Wilson a new gun and replace all the shells Gwynn had used, got Gwynn released. By September, Scotia and Gwynn decided it would be best to start over in a new neighborhood, so they moved a little closer to Scotia’s job.

Over the next several months, Gwynn was treated for her phobia. The treatment seemed to work. But after the incident with the snake and the shotgun, Hermione seemed to develop an abnormal fear. During Gwynn’s treatment, whenever Gwynn was shown images of snakes, Hermione turned and growled menacingly at Gwynn. Six months of veterinary psychotherapy took care of that problem.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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