I looked out the window at the passing neighborhood of big homes and big yards where Sally’s grandparents lived and wondered if Jack was out there. Well, of course he was, but where? That was the $64,000 question. And that was the question that drove lustful thoughts of my good-for-nothing ex right out of my mind because right now there were other things to worry about, mainly finding little Sally before the big python did.

But Sandy wasn’t quite finished with me. She had one more thing to add, one more sharp-ended point to make and to jab deep into me just as we were arriving at the search area. “From a biological standpoint, my friend,” she said, grimly, taking her eyes off the road for an instant and drilling them into me, “you need to know that there are some things that are hard to control.” She clicked on the turn-signal before finishing her thought, “Your need for sex and that python’s need to eat.”

Geez. Thanks a lot for the reminder.

I looked into the back seat. The four kids were sitting with their eyes wide and their mouths hanging open, not saying a thing. I turned around and looked out the front window and thought, man, what have I gotten myself into?

Sandy applied the brakes and brought the car to a stop. We got out to join the other searchers. I looked at her as we walked toward them and my friend put a comforting arm around my shoulder, saying, “It’s okay, kiddo. It is what it is,” meaning me and Freddie, I figured. “We can talk more later. Now let’s go find that little girl.”

Which made as much sense as anything.

As we walked up to the group, Rich clapped his hands together to get our attention. “Okay, gang, listen, up. Here’s what I want you to do,” and he gave us our final instructions.

We were to follow the Lucy Line to the west and we used it as the boundary for the southern edge of the area we were searching. Most of us dropped down off the trail into the underbrush of the forest canopy and spread out in a ragged line roughly ten feet apart to the north. Then we walked to the west for one mile scanning with our eyes and, later, with our head lamps and flashlights. Walking was a generous term for what we were doing because it really was the bitch I thought it’d be. With the heat and humidity, it was hard to breathe, feeling more like we were in a jungle in the middle of the Amazon than a forest in Minnesota. We fought our way through dense underbrush and brambles, the operative word here being fought. The woods were thick with small saplings that slapped us in the face and in a few minutes we all had cuts, some bleeding more than others. Brush and vines and lots of other gnarly stuff grabbed at us, impeding our progress and slowing us down to less than a crawl. At times, I wished I had a machete to cut through all the crap and vegetation in my way. It was exhausting, hard going for all of us, but no one complained, not one bit. We were all focused on finding Sally. Me, I was on double alert, also keeping on the lookout for the big python. I never saw him.

When we were done with our first sweep, we were hot and dirty, tired and physically spent. We took a quick break, downing gallons of water and about a dozen energy bars each, all the while trying not to collapse from heat exhaustion. Then we turned around, spread out in a line further to the north and worked our way back to our starting point. We finished around midnight, filthy and sweaty and so tired we were hardly able to move, let alone talk to one another. We hadn’t found anything of interest relating to the missing girl. We did, however, find five bicycles, a three kitchen sinks, at least ten tires, a few mattresses, some old televisions, and various other pieces of junk. But no Sally. And no Jack, either, thank God (I think).

Back at the trailhead, Rich called our mosquito and gnat-bitten, worn-out group together and thanked us for our effort.

“You did good, folks,” he said, wiping away the sweat from his forehead with the yellow bandana he’d been wearing before taking a long slug from a water bottle. “Really good. It’s too late to do much more now, although I know we all still want to.” We all grimly nodded our agreement. I drank water and made the kids drink, too, before dumping the rest of a bottle over my head trying to cool off. It didn’t help. “The main thing is, though,” he continued, “we need to get rehydrated and get some rest. How many of you want to continue to search tomorrow? I’m planning to start at seven in the morning.”

We all raised our hands, even Randy and Hannah and Sandy’s kids. Rich smiled. “That’s the spirit. That’s great. We’ll meet back at the community center in the morning, then, and make assignments. We might move to another search area.” He waved and we all said goodbye and then Sandy drove us back to town so I could pick up my car. We were there in ten minutes.

“You doing okay?” she asked. I’d gotten Randy and Hannah into the Honda where they flopped in the backseat completely done in, moments away from falling into a deep sleep. Sandy’s kids were already sacked out in the back of the Prius. I was standing outside my car, leaning against the side brushing some stray bugs away from my face and picking a wood tick off my arm, barely able to keep on my feet but not yet ready to leave the comfort of my friend.

“I am,” I told her, flicking the wood tick away. “I just don’t know why I do the things I do,” Meaning with Freddie, but Sandy knew that.

“I just want you to be safe,” she said, “And not do anything to hurt yourself.”

Sandy had told me this a hundred times before. It was good advice and advice that I should have been taking, so why didn’t I? Could I simply chalk my reluctance to do the right thing—dump Freddie and move on—up to not being able to control myself and, as Sandy so bluntly put it, my reptile lust? Was I that pathetic? Was I really just like that creepy python lying in wait out there somewhere, looking for some poor unsuspecting animal (or worse, human!) to eat, except in my case it was me looking to have sex with my ex? Yeah, I guess when you put it that way, I was pathetic.

I shook my head. I was just too tired to think about me and Freddie anymore. It was Little Sally who we had to worry about and keep our attention focused on. God only knew what she was going through right now. I felt a sudden surge of concern flow through me and blinked back a tear, thinking about Sally’s parents and what they must now be feeling. This would be the longest night of their lives, and they had to be going insane with worry. I know I would be. I couldn’t wait to begin searching again, bug bites and exhaustion notwithstanding. Tomorrow morning couldn’t come soon enough.

I gave Sandy a big, hard, hug. “You’re a good friend. I wish I was stronger.”

She blurted out a laugh and, in this stressful night, I have to say that her laughter sounded wonderful and gave me a much-needed emotional boost. “Don’t worry, Beth,” she said, “You’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for. I’ve known you long enough to know that. You’ll eventually do the right thing and move on from that loser of an ex of yours.”

I gave her another tight hug before letting her go, all the while thinking that they were nice words to hear even though I had a massive amount of trouble believing them.

We said our final goodnights and goodbyes and I drove home. Our little town is always peaceful, especially at night, and, in spite of the emotional furor of Sally being missing, tonight was no different. I only saw one or two cars on the road, though I did count myself unexpectedly lucky to see a fox. The beautiful, rufus-red, animal had a thick bushy tail and scampered across the road in the span of my headlights before disappearing into the darkness just a few blocks from my house. I thought seeing it was pretty cool and hoped it might be a good omen for the next day.

Back home, I stepped out of the car to the hooting call of a great horned owl, a sound that for some reason always makes me feel secure and comforted. Then I remembered Jack. Damn. I awoke the kids, hurried them across the backyard and into the house, stepping lively even though I could hardly move my feet I was so tired. In ten minutes, the kids were fast asleep, tucked into their beds, so worn out they didn’t even move once they hit the sheets. Then I sat up on the couch until at least three in the morning, lightly tapping the baseball bat in my hand. I had a lot to think about: Sally, Jack, and Freddie. It was a short night in one respect, but a long one in another, and when I finally fell asleep, I hadn’t accomplished anything. Nothing, that is, except I kind of did a number on my hand, constantly slapping at it with my bat. It was pretty bruised when I saw it that next morning. In a way, I probably deserved it.

A loud sound woke me from where I’d fallen asleep on the couch. My head was mashed between the cushion and the arm, but I heard it just fine since apparently, I’d left my phone right next to my ear and “Water Under the Bridge” by Adele was coming through loud and clear. It was Sandy calling. “Sally’s been found,” she yelled. “She’s safe.”

I let out a muted whoop of joy, “Yea!” as I sat up and pumped my fist in the air. I didn’t want to wake Randy and Hannah, but being as exhausted from last night as they were ,they probably wouldn’t have awoken to a full-blown cheer from a stadium packed with rabid soccer fans.

It turned out that yesterday afternoon, the little girl had wandered a few houses down from her grandparents, found a storage shed unlocked, and crept inside, where she eventually fell asleep under a tarp. Can you believe it; under a tarp? That’s why no one had seen her when they’d looked inside during yesterday’s frantic search. When she awoke, it was nighttime and she was afraid, so she stayed put and eventually fell asleep again. The owner of the shed found her the next morning when he went out to get his lawnmower, ready to spend the day cutting his three-acre lawn. To say both he and Sally were surprised would be putting it mildly.

Sandy and I were ecstatic that the story had a happy ending and so was our town and all the people who had been out searching last night.”We’ve been invited to the community center at noon for a celebration,” Sandy said, “Do you want to go?”

I checked the clock. It was 6:30. “Yeah, I do,” I told her. “There’s something I need to do first, though.”


“I’ll tell you when I see you.”

“Does it have to do with Freddie?” she asked, coyly. I could see her sly smile over the phone. It helped firm my resolve for what I was going to do.

“Yeah, it does,” I told my friend.


For all installments of “Reptile Lust,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2