Snake Road

Snake Road

I take a wide berth around the rural road locals call “Snake Road” a few weeks in the fall and a few weeks in the spring when snakes migrate across the road en masse. I mean, you don’t wanna run over than many snakes on account of the ecosystem and such. And, if you’ve never had dead snake smell on your car wheels you don’t want it. It’s not pleasant and ain’t easy to get rid of. I don’t want to be near snakes. I have unnatural, unreasonable fears. No matter how much I have or do or could educate myself on them, I think I’d still avoid Snake Road.

The road’s real name is LaRue Road but no one calls it that.

I have this unnatural fear of snakes for many reasons. Snake Road is in Southern Illinois, which is practically Western Kentucky. All my fears emanate over 600 miles away where I grew up in Texoma, where Southern Oklahoma meets North Texas.

In a story that happened before I could remember but has been told enough I do remember it I was running across the yard when I was three or less and stepped on a copperhead that coiled my leg and inched up my leg and was gonna strike my crotch but my daddy acted just quick enough to hit its head and knock it dead with an axe handle that was laying in the yard.

The first encounter I remember remember happened because my stepdaddy had a business where he’d buy peanuts off farmers and dry and store ‘em in a warehouse he built ‘til they were just right then he’d sell ‘em to a bigger company that sold them to even bigger companies to make peanut M&Ms and candy bars with. So we’d have this big mountain of peanuts at my stepdad’s warehouse and you’d hafta climb the mountain of peanuts and shovel and rake ‘em so the peanuts didn’t clump up and get moldy while they were drying out. Since I was little they’d have me tuck my jeans into my boots and climb on up there but I didn’t mind that chore because it was fun because when you were done you could take a big slide and tumble down peanut mountain. Only this one time when I’m up there guys from down below who work for my stepdad yell out “Snakes!” and I look and three black snakes are coming down the peanut mountain. I hauled ass, running knee deep down peanut mountain and didn’t stop at the bottom for the snakes to catch me.

For about ten years after that I had a recurring nightmare that my stepfather hired these three snakes to work at the company, literal big snakes and not metaphorical ones. And in the dream I’m trying to yell at everybody “what did you hire these snakes for, they’re snakes!” but it’s a nightmare so everything comes out as a whispershout and no one hears me or pays attention. In the dream the snakes are the bad kind and they kill you, no joke this was my dream, by biting you in the crotch. The nightmare kept on recurring, I reason, because I always woke up during the part just before they bit my crotch. Then one night many years after my stepfather’s company was shuttered due to a lack of government subsidy for peanuts and a few years after he and my mom divorced I was having this same damn dream and I woke up in a gasp just before one of the snakes bit. I sat up and muttered to myself that it was just a damned dream. I fell back asleep and right back into the nightmare. Only when the snake bit down on my crotch I didn’t wake, I looked down at the snake and said aloud in the dream in a clear voice, “It’s just a damned dream” and I didn’t die in the dream. And I haven’t had it since.

But that’s just like two reasons I’m terrified of snakes.

That stepdaddy had a big 160 acre farm we weren’t allowed to inherit because we weren’t blood, not that it mattered anyway because mom divorced him. Seemed every other year we had these huge water moccasin infestations because we had so many creeks and three big free CCC water tanks dug on the property and it got so hot and muggy there. We had to carry pistols and watch our step and shoot lots of snakes to not get bit. Snakes that rotted and smelled terrible. One day I bounced into the chicken coop where unbeknownst to me my stepdaddy was firing on a snake with a baby chick in its mouth and he missed and the bullet ricocheted and I felt the heated wind of the bullet as it buzzed across the bridge of my eleven year old nose and lodged in the wallboard by my face.

Snakes are full of potential dangers.

My stepgrandma Essie killed snakes every which way. I saw her chop heads off with shovels, hoes, and spades. I saw her shoot several. Once, a copperhead was curled up in the old metal fan in that same chicken coop. She turned the fan on and watched it chop that copperhead to bits, me standing behind her. She was a snake champion killer and I tried to be just as good a snake killer. I was gonna get them before they got me. I ain’t no baby chick.

We lost a good blue heeler and a shitty black lab to snakes on that farm. No one lives there now and it grows more and more wild with weeds. I bet the moccasins have run amok.

No one lives there now because the two surviving brothers, my exstepdad and his oldest brother, got in a fight they couldn’t get over and my exstepdad poisoned all the cows and killed ‘em. They all keeled over and went stiff and tongue-lolled same as if they were snake bit out there in the hot sun. Essie is still alive but she’s in a nursing home so the place just sits.

It sits and, in my mind, swells with snakes. So I still fear, unreasonably. And even if the nightmares are gone, I still don’t go near Snake Road.


About the Author

Adam Van Winkle was born and raised in Texoma on both sides of the Oklahoma-Texas border and currently resides with his wife and two dogs on a rural route in Southern Illinois. His writing has appeared in places like BULL Men's Fiction, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature , Red Dirt Forum, Cheap Pop!, Crack the Spine, Vignette Review, Steel Toe Review, Dirty Chai, and Pithead Chapel. His novel, Abraham Anyhow, was published by Red Dirt Press in March 2017 and selected by The Southern Literary Review as the June 2017 Read of the Month and featured in Monkeybicycle's If My Book series in July 2017. An excerpt of the novel has also received a Pushcart Nomination. His second novel, While They were in the Field is finished and will be out in Fall 2018 along with a second edition of Abraham Anyhow. In Summer of 2015 he cofounded Cowboy Jamboree Magazine with his wife, to publish and promote grit lit. Since 2018 he has worked as fiction book editor at Orson's Publishing based out of Seattle. Van Winkle is named for the oldest Cartwright son on Bonanza.


"Snake, Gopher" a photograph by Alan Schmierer