Biographical Fiction posted December 21, 2016


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experience of a teenage zoo docent

I've Got to Hold a What?

by pome lover

Worst Nightmare Contest Winner 

I'VE GOT TO HOLD A WHAT?


Today my nightmare came true.

It was Bo.

My name is Melanie and I am fourteen. I first met Bo when I decided to be a junior docent at the zoo. It was a summer program our school participated in where biology students could be docents for extra credit. Docents are guides who teach. I needed to bring up my biology grade, so I asked my friend, Sue Wang, to be my partner.

"Melanie, I'll do this with you," she said, "but I'll do the talking. No way will I handle the animals!"

That was okay with me. I like animals.

During the training course, our instructor Mr. Lindsey, talked to each pair of docents about the animals we would take to the year-round schools. When he came to Sue and me, he said, "Okay, girls, your three animals are a hedgehog, a three-banded armadillo, and a boa constrictor."

I felt myself go cold. "I have to handle a boa constrictor?"

He smiled. "Snakes are a big hit with kids. If they learn about them through you girls, little kids will be less likely to fear them and more likely to respect them.

"They're not a big hit with me," I said.

Mr. Lindsey laughed. "You can do it. Just watch me."

My eyes were glued on that boa as Mr. Lindsey coaxed it from its carrier and demonstrated how to hold it. The constrictor wrapped its powerful, three-foot-long body around Mr. Lindsey's waist, then calmly rested its head on his arm. "I'll be taking you and watching you the first time or two until I think you're okay on your own, so don't worry," he said.

Okay, I thought. Maybe I can do this.

That night, though, I had a nightmare. I was carrying the snake around a classroom showing the kids, when all of a sudden it started squeezing! It squeezed and squeezed and I couldn't breathe!

I woke up in a sweat, my body rigid. I couldn't do it. I could not spend the summer with that snake wrapped around my waist! I was going to have to back out. Or see if Mr. Lindsey would let me have another animal.

Next day I told him. "Sure you can do it," he said. He slid the sliding door of the triangular snake carrier open. "Now put your elbow in -- slow-ly -- and wait for him to crawl on your arm. Elbows aren't as threatening to snakes as hands. Good, that's the way."

HE WAS CRAWLING UP MY ARM!!! It felt like... well, not like I thought it would. He wasn't wet or slimy. He was dry and...soft! Imagine that. But, he was crawling on me! And it was scary!

Mr. Lindsey stood beside me. "Relax, Melanie. You need to show him you aren't afraid."

Can snakes tell if you're lying?

"He needs to trust you and you need to trust him."

Yeah, right.

He crawled around onto my left arm and his body wrapped around my waist. I gently touched his back. He didn't do anything. He was a lot more trusting than I was. Pretty bodacious!
I named him Bo.

That night at supper when I told my family about holding Bo, my older brother said "Hey, Mel, awesome!" Mom looked queasy, though she smiled encouragingly, and Dad slapped me a high five!

All my carefully built up confidence lasted until the next time I had to pick Bo up. We were at our first school visit. The plan was for me to hold each animal in turn, while Sue told about their habits ̶ what they ate and stuff. Then the kids could touch them.

I started with the little hedgehog because it was cute and most kids had never seen one. Its spines were pretty sharp, so I cupped my hands together, moving each hand just a tiny bit up and down, to keep the pressure off one spot. I smiled at the kids. "Touch the spines gently, now." Duh.

They squealed and laughed and yanked their hands back. When I turned the little creature over to show them its soft tummy ̶ where a predator could get him if he didn't roll himself into a ball ̶ he wouldn't unroll. Poor thing. To him, we probably were predators.

The three-banded armadillo was a disaster from day one. I don't know what the zoo fed that animal, or if he was just scared, but he had diarrhea. It was disgusting. And he had it all summer.

"And now for the finale," I said. "I've saved the best for last. How many of you have ever touched a boa constrictor?" I wish I had a picture of their expressions. They didn't know whether to be excited or scared. I took my time, drawing out the suspense. I got the carrier off the floor and put it on the teacher's desk. She didn't look happy about that.

Suddenly I realized I wasn't real happy, either. I wasn't as scared as I had been, but I wasn't totally not.

I took a deep breath and opened the sliding door of the carrier and stuck my right elbow inside. The boa slithered around my arm and I lifted it out. I could hear the kids sucking in their breath. Bo made himself comfortable with his head on my left arm and the rest of him wrapped around my waist. He was his calm, cool self. I relaxed. Walking triumphantly around the classroom, I let the kids who wanted to, touch him gently. Piece of cake.

~
After a few school visits they got easier and I began to really like my boa, and was pretty much at ease with him.

Then came the day I will never forget.

Sue was giving her talk. I took each animal around the room, as usual, for the kids to touch. They felt the prickly spines of the hedgehog, and wrinkled their noses at the armadillo, like the smart kids they were.

It was time for Bo. I opened the carrier and took the boa out. Sue talked about where he was from and what he ate.

My turn. As I walked around the classroom, I said, "Don't be afraid. See, he's a nice boa constrictor. His skin is not slimy. It's cool and dry. You can touch him gently, here, on his back. His name is Bo."

Most of the kids actually did touch him, and everything went fine until one boy, for some unknown reason, tapped Bo on the head with his knuckles.

I froze.

Immediately he began to squeeze, and I tensed up even more. He squeezed tighter. I must have looked scared, because the kids screamed and the teacher practically shoved them out of the classroom. And my partner went with them! Sue actually left me!

My worst nightmare had come true! I panicked. I am too young to die! Think! Think! What am I supposed to do? I remembered that Mr. Lindsey said Bo needed to know I wasn't afraid. Okay. I am not afraid. I am not afraid. I stood very still and tried as hard as I could to relax. Please, Bo! You're okay now. You can trust me.

Little by little I felt him loosen his grip. It was working! I eased over to the carrier and stuck my arm inside. After what seemed like forever, he slid off. I closed the carrier door, and stood there, shaking.

The kids had been watching from the hall. They came back in and went to their desks.
I looked around at their faces. "Getting hit in the head scared Bo," I said, "and he did what came naturally to him. But he calmed down when I did, and he did not hurt me. Snakes don't generally bother people unless people bother them. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone."

I think they glombed onto that idea pretty fast. The teacher stood beside the boy who had hit him and he apologized. Then she thanked us for coming, but I could tell from her fake smile she couldn't wait for us to get out of there.

On the way back to the zoo in the van, Sue kept apologizing. "I'm so sorry, Mel. I just panicked. I feel awful!"

Well, she shouldn't have left me, but I don't actually know what she could have done except maybe give me moral support. "I forgive you, I guess," I said. "But, you know what? After it was over I really felt sorry for Bo. It wasn't his fault. If somebody had hit me on the head, I'd have reacted, too."

Sue later told me she looked up my birthday on the Chinese calendar and found out I was born in the Year of the Snake. "Maybe all you 'snake people' are courageous," she said.

I looked it up on Google. It said, "People born in the Year of the Snake are "wise, usually good looking, hard workers, and lucky with money." Okay, it didn't say courageous, but I could live with the other good stuff!

Oh, and guess what? This is really intense. I got an A in Biology!


Writing Prompt
Write a poem or story about your worst nightmare. If submitting a poem change the type to poem on the submission page.

Worst Nightmare
Contest Winner


this really happened to me when I was young. I turned it into a story.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by Lilibug6 at FanArtReview.com

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