Thursday, November 18, 2021

Microstory 1759: Snake Handler

When I was back home from college one summer, I had the most profound experience of my life. I was out in the jungle, just trying to get a little exercise, when I came across a sea serpent. Like she was at least somewhat intelligent, she followed me back to the ocean, where she was able to swim freely and safely. As if that wasn’t enough, I slept there that night, and woke up hungry. On my way back to civilization, I found another snake. He was apparently fit for freshwater, and this time, he led me to where I needed to go, which was a diner out in the middle of nowhere. Until this point, I was studying environmental chemistry, but that all changed. I quickly dropped all of the courses I was planning to take that next semester, and switched tracks to herpetology. I wanted to study amphibians and reptiles, particularly snakes, and I got pretty lucky. I was surprised to find that my university offered a herpetology degree, which is rather unusual for it to be so specific. It was hard to change focus, and I did have to stay there for a whole extra year to complete all my courses, but I don’t regret it. Did you know that birds and mammals are technically reptiles? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds, but it just shows that classifying our world is constantly evolving, and we don’t have everything figured out. I don’t even know all there is to know about snakes, and I know quite a bit. What I’ve realized is that I can commune with them on a level no one else has ever seen. They don’t talk, like they do in those fantasy books, but I can form a bond with them, and gain their trust. I can handle any of the planet’s deadliest snakes, and they will not harm me, because they know that I won’t harm them. I don’t know if I was born with this gift, or developed it later, but it has made me extremely valuable and sought after in my field. My colleagues affectionately call me the snake handler.

Snake venom has the potential to treat numerous diseases, which could save thousands—or maybe even millions—of lives. I’m not the person who comes up with these treatments and cures. The first step in such research is procuring the venom in the first place, and that’s where I come in. Not only can I handle the snake in the lab, but I can find who I’m looking for in their natural habitat with ease. Over time, I’ve honed my hunting skills, which are just as supernatural as my communal bonds. You need a blue Malayan coral snake? I got you covered. What about a South American bushmaster? You know I got you. Anything, anywhere, anytime, I’m your girl. You can’t call it dangerous when I’m around. I have not met a snake that I cannot handle. I travel all over the world, collecting specimens that my clients requested, and delivering them to the labs. I don’t do business with unethical organizations, and I don’t wipe my hands clean after I’m done. I return periodically to check on my snakes, and again, they can’t talk, but I know if they’ve been mistreated. It’s happened a handful of times. I take the snake back, charge them a mishandling fee, and blacklist them in the industry. Most of the time, one or two researchers have been the problem, but I have been known to shut down entire companies for not adhering to my strict rules. If I say they’re bad news, they lose funding. Right now I’m in the Star Mountains, on the trail of a Papuan taipan, when I sense something I’ve never felt before. It’s forcing me on a detour, where I quickly come face to face with a purple snake that I’ve never seen, even in pictures. I think I just discovered a new species. The problem is...I can’t seem to form a bond with it.

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