The child lived with his father and mother on a university campus. His parents called him “Baby” and “Toddy.” The boy loved animals. His parents approved of this attachment; it made a person kind. They gave a mongoose to Baby and were happy, watching the child play with him as if with a kitten. The mongoose was striped and four tints stood out in its color: black, white, red, and gray. However, in bright sunlight, the animal’s hair shimmered in all shades, and therefore the animal was named “Rainbow.”

Toddy’s dad and mom were serpentologists. His father studied the habits of snakes, their impact on the environment, and their interactions with nature. Dad brought his son a little mongoose and helped the child tame a wild animal. Dad himself often played with the mongoose, telling his son about the habits of these animals and their dislike of snakes. Dad told his son that if the mongoose and the snake collide in nature, they do not pass each other, but fight until one of them kills the other. Dad did not allow his son to take the mongoose with him to the serpentarium, motivating it with the fact that the mongoose and snakes at the sight of each other would become nervous and evil, and the mongoose would be difficult to hold in his hands; he would break out and start scratching.

Toddy’s mom was a specialist in snake venom. She studied their varieties, their effects on people and animals, ways of destroying and neutralizing them. Toddy liked to listen to how Mom and Dad discussed various problems of their work, using scientific words and phrases incomprehensible to the boy. His parents, seeing the child’s interest in their conversations, bought him books with color pictures explaining the meaning of their remarks. And the child, who learned to read before school, studied them with pleasure.

One day father came cheerful and joyful. He received a call from Kenya and said that the government of this country had given permission to catch and export one cobra of the “Naja Ashei” family from the country. The scientist was overjoyed. He had long had an idea: to study how this snake spits. The university allocated money and received permission to import one of the poisonous reptile, but the case still did not tidy up. Finally, a consensus was reached. A huge snake, more than two meters long, emitting several grams of poison in one bite, would be the object of study by university scientists.

The cleaner in the serpentarium was a young guy, an undergrad. He treasured his work, so there were many students who wanted to combine study with part-time work. He did the main work in the evening, and in the morning he only checked that dust and sand were not infecting everything during the night. The habitants of the serpentarium were a calm contingent, not like the lions and tigers that began to growl and tear at the sight of the attendants. The young man slowly walked near the shelves with the snakes and discovered a new instance. “Oh, how big and beautiful you are!” He looked at the tag and read “Female Naja Ashei (Kenya).” “Wow! So you are a Kenyan princess! I must take a selfie with you as a keepsake!”

The selfie did not take shape. As the young man twisted his smartphone, the glare of lighting and the reflection from the glass walls of the box spoiled the image, and he could not take a good photo. “I will open it for a moment so that there is no glass between us, take a picture, and close it immediately.” The boy knew that this should not be done, but the desire to brag to his girlfriend was stronger than the danger he felt. He opened the top cover of the box and tried to align the smartphone’s camera, but there was no snake in the frame. “Where are you, beauty?” He turned to look at the snake, and at that moment, a burning jet hit his face and blinded his eyes. Falling and losing consciousness from pain, he felt a stab in his neck and wanted to run away, but his naughty body refused to obey. His lungs were paralyzed and there was nothing to breathe. A few minutes later, the young man died. The snake felt fresh air from the open door and crawled into the thick grass.

Despite the fact that his father was not guilty of the cleaner’s death, the scientist felt guilty and took part in the funeral of the young man. Upon returning from the cemetery, he told Baby for a long time that it was necessary to follow the rules established by people. Toddy also felt sorry for the cleaner. And after listening to his father, he answered him: “I will abide by the laws, Papa!”

After lunch, Dad printed the photographs that he had taken during the funeral and showed them to his wife and son. In one of the pictures, the Kid recognized the shrine, next to which was a cemetery. The kid saw a program on TV, during which the journalist said that earlier in this place, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses and killed people. Now, by a government decree, a cemetery was opened there and a shrine was built so that people would remember the unfortunate and value life.

This new life was bad for the snake. Nothing reminded of her homeland. She was hiding in the grass and could not find crevices anywhere. In addition, the snake was constantly hungry. The sun warmed her only during the day, but daytime noise frightened the reptile and forced her to hide. At night, the coolness plunged the snake into hibernation and did not allow it to hunt fully, and the lack of small animals kept the snake hungry.

Larry was famous for his two features. One, he was the main janitor of the campus, and two, he had three turkeys, which were fed for three big celebrations: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Usually, Larry’s working day began early in the morning; he handed out the inventory to ordinary janitors and went to feed his birds. After feeding, he traveled around the campus on an electric cart, checked the quality of cleaning, and collected equipment. In the evening, everything was repeated.

Larry escorted the last cleaner, closed the tool shed, and went to the aviary. After the death of the cleaner, he was restless. A snake ran away, they were looking for it, but they could not find it. Larry went to the net and was dumbfounded; there were two birds and the third was absent. The fence was high, and there were no cases of birds escaping before. Larry took a closer look and saw bird feathers, as if someone was dragging a turkey around a light pole. From the pillar, a trail led into the grass and bushes. Larry guessed that the runaway snake left this trail, and he was careful to go further.

A dog screech was heard from afar. The dog darted from side to side, bumping into trees, bushes, and parked cars. Finally, the dog’s supply of energy ran out and it fell to the ground, howling weakly and shaking its head. The owner of the dog who approached looked at the animal in surprise, not understanding what was the matter. A convulsion ran through the dog’s body as she stretched out and died.

The police chief leafed through the papers again and shook his head in frustration. On campus, a snake bit a janitor. He died and the snake ran away. Then a series of animal deaths began: two dogs and three cats. A campus keeper lost a turkey. Near the shrine, people found the feathers of a bald eagle, the symbol of the United States. All of this outraged the locals.

The officer thought for a moment. This was like the tricks of a runaway snake. Cats disappeared without a trace, feathers remained from the birds, dogs screeched, their owners ran out, and the reptile crawled away without prey, frightened by the stamping of feet and human voices. Apparently, they will have to call the snake catchers from the Fish and Wildlife Protection Service. But first, he needed to consult with university scientists. Perhaps they could catch the snake themselves.

The parents of the kid were made toexamine the dead dog’s body together. The scientist looked through the microscope again and said to his wife:

“Undoubtedly, the dog was infected with poison from our cobra.”

“What do the police want to do?” the woman asked him.

“They’re going to call snake catchers from the Wildlife Service.”

“Where did they find specialists in this type of snake?” His wife was embarrassed. “If they are, when will they arrive?”

“The police may invite snake catchers from Kenya. But how long will it take and who will pay for it?”

“I’m also afraid to think what time it will take,” his partner agreed.

“I think that we should try to find the snake ourselves.”

The scientists came to search for a snake, as if to play a kind of game. Of course, they were all dressed, as recommended by the kid’s father. They all wore tarpaulin boots, masks, and large diving glasses on their faces. Some were wearing motorcycle helmets. Almost everyone took ski poles with them to rake the grass, and the kid’s father took with him a special device for catching snakes. In order not to starve, the scientists even brought a pizza seller with them, who drove with the kid in his father’s car. The boy also went with Dad and took a mongoose with him. Rainbow spun alongside the child and the pizza seller, sniffing at the delicious smell coming from the bag. The father reassured his son that even if the mongoose ran away, it will then return home on its own. The people stretched into a chain and went towards the alleged snake nest.

The snake began to feel uneasy when, in the distance, there was the sound of motors. Sound approached and the Earth began to tremble. Then the engines became silent, and the snake heard the stamping of feet and human voices. Its anxiety intensified, and the reptile crawled in the direction opposite to the noise. The scientists went in search of the snake, and Rainbow stayed with Toddy and the pizza seller. The mongoose rushed between the cars, studied the situation, and returned to the kid and the pizza seller. Suddenly, the animal was smelling someone else’s odor, and this change made him freeze. It was the smell of the enemy. He made his way from the side of the line of walking people, and the mongoose hastened to meet his natural enemy. The smell grew stronger and stronger, and finally, Rainbow saw his enemy. The cobra inseparably watched the mongoose, shaking its head and expanding its hood. As soon as they met each others’ eyes, the battle began.

The fight was short. The snake spat poison in the mongoose’s face. An animal brought up at home, and not in the wild, did not expect this, and although the mongoose was deft and quick, a few tiny drops hit him in the eyes. Stunned, his head shaking, the animal jumped up and rushed to the side. The snake tried to sting him, but her jaws slipped on thick hair and the venomous fangs could not bite through the skin. People were afraid to approach the reptile; she hid in the thick grass. The father of the kid came running, took the mongoose in his arms, and carried it into the car. He decided to take the animal home and called his wife. Rainbow was placed in the back seat of the car. On the sides sat the kid and the pizza seller. The car started.

When the ride ended, he was lifted again. The kid slid his body onto a soft pile of clothing among the boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of old ladies who frequently powdered themselves, a light rose motif that played ironically well in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s ancestral brain. The pizza kid lifted her head to help her lap water from a hubcap. He broke bits of pepperoni and crust into bite-sized pieces and left them where her tongue could reach them. Much later, he heard him practicing his orations like songs. Like monks chanting in the distance, they were a comfort.

Toddy’s mom quickly entered the garage. She brought with her a medical bag and a test tube rack. The woman instantly took out several ampoules, opened them and mixed the contents in a test tube. When the medicine was ready, she scooped it into a syringe and injected the animal.

Then the woman turned on the bright lamp and began to examine the body and eyes of the animal. The mongoose hardly moved, and only a weak twitching of the paws and barely audible breathing indicated that he was alive. The woman made a solution, washed Rainbow’s eyes, and rubbed the mongoose’s body.

“Let’s hope the mongoose survives. These animals have increased resistance to snake venom. A small dose hit the animal in the eye and apparently got in a scratch on its body. I gave the antidote, washed his eyes, and now I will get a vitamin shot. His eyes need to be washed three times a day: in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. Add vitamins to the food. I will do a blood test in my laboratory. I will come, examine the condition of the animal, and make the necessary mixtures. If any of the people in contact with the serpent feel unwell, you must tell me right away!” The scientist finished her speech and returned home.

A few days later, Rainbow began to come back to life. She began to get to her feet, walk around the garage, and eat on her own. The parents allowed the kid to take her to the house, from where the mongoose could calmly go out into the yard. Toddy’s mother said that the danger of the poison had passed and canceled all the procedures.

Finally, Rainbow recovered so much that it began to hunt. His first prey was a large lizard, which the mongoose brought and laid on the doorstep of the house. From the second booty, the parents of the kid almost stopped their hearts. Rainbow dragged a huge tarantula spider in. On the other hand, the Kid was delighted: “Dad, Mom, Rainbow has completely recovered! We can go with her to catch the snake!”


For all installments of “Chase,” click here.