David and Gary traveled along the dusty path in the western Mojave Desert. Neither boy knew how far they had walked. Gary’s watch covered his ten-year-old wrist, and based on its hands, they had hiked for two hours.
“Man, why did you have to wake up your dad from his nap like that?” David’s voice did not hide his irritation.
“I was thirsty. That old motor home door is always loud, it’s not my fault.” Gary quickened his pace.
“Where are we going?”
Gary shook his head. He was already tired, and did not want David getting in his head. “I don’t know, man. Until we get there I guess.”
“You know we have to walk back?”
Gary stopped. “Look, man, I’ve never been on this trail. You see those rocks and that hill in front of us? I want to see what’s behind there. Then we’ll go back. Besides, I’ve been on this mountain beside us. We can hike across the rocks and be back in forty-five minutes. We aren’t that far away.”
“Okay.” David responded.
Both boy sped up with the destination only a couple hundred yards away. Drawing closer to the rocks and small hill neither boy said a word but instead diligently swept the desert floor before them for rattlesnakes. They had encountered a deadly breed of scorpion near camp that morning. Gary’s dad had ground the ghostly arachnid into the dust with the heel of his boot, but now that were alone. Neither boy wanted to stumble into any of the desert’s hidden dangers.
They slowed and followed the path around to the small hill. Both boy stopped at the curious site as they cleared the turn. A dilapidated stone and dirt hut stood in the middle of the arid landscape. The boys threw caution to the wind and ventured within the roofless structure. Inside they found an old rusty bed frame. On the dirt floor sat a half rotted tin cup and pan.
Something else caught Gary’s eye. A cross like he had seen at his grandmother’s sat half buried in the dust near the bed. Time had given the object a green patina across its copper surface. He quickly reached down and grabbed it.
“Hey, look what I found!” Gary showed the cross to David, but quickly pulled it back when David tried to take it.
“I just want to see it.”
The boys began to bicker, but then the sound of a baby rattle broke-up their disagreement. Both knew what that sound meant. However, something sounded off about it. The rhythm of the rattle was too fast and offbeat. They scanned the floor beneath their legs. They saw nothing. Neither boy dared to breathe.
David whispered. “You see anything?”
“No. Let’s just stand here.”
It felt like an eternity for the rattling to begin to slow. David and Gary turned their heads very slowly. David was the first to see his snake. It sat in the far corner of the old shack, shading itself against a rotted timber leaning against a rock. Gary saw the second snake in the other corner. It was a scant four feet from where he had picked up the cross. The reptile was trying to hide from the hot afternoon sun in the shadows of the old bed frame. Both boy slowly scanned the rest of the old homestead as the rattling ceased.
Confirming no other snakes had ventured into the building they slowly backed out. The rattling started up again. The snakes were both coiled, but out of range. They seemed content to invite the uninvited guests to leave, and David and Gary were happy to comply. Once cleared of the doorway, both boys turned and ran back down the trail. Gary stopped a hundred yards later and tried to catch his breath.
David spoke up. “Hey man, let’s go. We don’t want your parents looking for us.”
Gary pointed at the small mountain covered with large boulders. “Do you want to take the shortcut?”
“No way! You know there’s more snakes up there.” David said.
“Yeah, okay. We better keep running then.”
The boys changed their sprint to a jog and they continued their trek back towards camp. The path back did not seem to take as long. Perhaps they had stopped to inspect more rocks, insects, and jackrabbits than they realized on their walk out. The RV came into sight and the boys slowed their pace. Gary began to feel guilty about what he had done with the cross earlier.
“Hey man, you want to see the cross before we get back to camp?”
David took the cross and turned it over in his hands. “You think this green stuff can hurt us?”
Gary shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s go ask my parents.”
Gary took the cross back and the boys wandered into camp. His dad and brother were working on their motorcycles.
Gary’s dad looked up. “You boys have a good adventure?”
“Look what we found!” Gary held up the cross to his dad. His father walked over and took the cross.
“Where did you boys find this?”
“Some old shack. We can show you.”
David spoke up. “I’m not going, there were rattlesnakes.” Gary cringed, why did he give that away?
“Rattlesnakes!” His dad looked at David and him. “I think maybe you boys should stay around camp the rest of the day. You seem to have a knack for finding venomous animals today.” He turned and put the cross on the picnic table.
Gary turned and whispered to David. “Thanks a lot, man.”
David put his head down. “Sorry.”
“Hey Dad, is that green stuff dangerous?”
Gary’s dad laughed. “No, it’s called patina. Copper does that when it gets old. That was a nice find. Maybe tomorrow you can show me that house.”
Satisfied with their quarry, and content with their adventures of the day, the boys took their bicycles and headed for the dirt road around the campground.