YES. WE WENT BACK. During the few weeks we spent at Grout Street, Basin and his shriekmonster had left Belyando Drive, Robyn had moved back to the southern part of Queensland to be closer to her family, and we had to find somewhere else to live, as our “short-term” at the emergency accommodation had run out. There weren’t a lot of options in Moranbah, and technically Dale was still on the lease, so we ended up back at Belyando Drive: Abandoned Drive-In House of Nightmares.
Admittedly, it was much better when it was just us. There was room to move. We had bedrooms to ourselves. A tiny, ferocious woman didn’t scream obscenities at the top of her lungs at random intervals. Saucepans of half-eaten two minute noodles didn’t rot on the stovetop. It was better.
Still, the drive-in continued to menace us from every window, all steel and rust and crumbling structure. One night I swear I saw a man standing out in the middle of it. Just standing still in the centre of the asphalt, not moving. After turning away in disbelief, when I looked back, he was gone. Have you ever played Silent Hill? That was my backyard.
But, as it turns out, the inside of the house was able to provide scares even greater than the outside.
One night, Lauren and Thomas were asleep in bed, while mum and I watched TV. Suddenly, mum did her best meerkat impersonation. She jolted upright in her armchair, staring intently at the corner of the room.
“I can’t see anything.”
Spoiler alert: at this point, and at every point for the rest of this story, I am completely fucking useless. Part teenage gawkiness, part me-specific uselessness, part shattered nerves from living full-time inside a Stephen King brainfart: I am zero help to my mother whatsoever. What she was looking at, crawling across the carpet in the corner of the room, was a medium-sized brown snake.
I whimper helpfully.
The snake, now aware that two very startled people are staring at it, stops briefly. It quickly realises that we are not of any threat whatsoever (HOORAY FOR COMPETENT HUMANS), and starts to move again. Problem is, it’s heading towards the hallway, which leads to where Lauren and Thomas are sleeping. Mum’s maternal adrenalin starts pumping, and she is kicked into gear.
“I don’t knoooow what you meeeean!?” I have no such maternal adrenalin, so continue to be as much help as a chocolate teapot.
The snake has stopped again, and is lifting its head and flicking its tongue. It is smelling the air. It can smell my fear. Or possibly it can smell the delicious warm flesh of my brother and sister, because it heads back towards the hallway.
“GET. SOMETHING. LONG.”
All I can think about is that whenever my Grandad encountered a snake, he would either shoot it, or chop its head off by running it through with the edge of a shovel. I know we own neither gun nor shovel, and that’s as far as my brain is willing to think before it snaps shut. So I just start jumping up and down on the spot, flapping my hands and squealing. It is exactly how you imagine it.
I run in a small circle on the spot, still leaping from foot to foot and flapping my hands and demonstrating to my mother how very, very gay I will turn out in approximately nine years time. The snake is now a metre from the hallway entrance. Mum moves closer to the hallway in an attempt to herd the snake. The snake stops.
“CHRISTOPHER! I can’t take my eyes off it I need to know where it is you have to go NOW.”
I finally remember how feet and eyeballs work and run out of the room. The closest room to me? The one I run into? The sun room. Do you know what is usually in a sunroom? Fucking SUN. The room is completely bare. It’s a converted garage and we weren’t using it for anything. It’s just carpet and walls and nothing else. There aren’t even any curtains hanging from the bare rods—
I jump, knock a curtain rod to the ground, grab it and run back into the lounge room like a half-sized, half-assed pole-vaulter.
Mum holds her hand out for the weapon I was tasked with bringing her. Feeling the flimsy, wobbly curtain rod in her hand, she takes a second from SnakeWatch to fix me a look of sheer disbelief. “THAT’S ALL THERE WAS!” I scream, and resume my earlier stance of vibrating, wordless terror.
The snake has now reached the hallway, and mum has no choice but to use the item at hand. Her only goal at this stage is to prevent the snake from reaching the hallway, where there are four or five open doorways, two sleeping children, and not nearly enough lights to see what’s going on. She figures if she just whacks the floor near the snake, it will turn and go in the other direction.
She swings the curtain rod.
The flimsy, wobbly curtain rod bends on impact and cracks like a steel whip, belting the carpet with such ferocity that a bit of dust flies up.
Inspired by the whipping action, mum changes tactic. “Ohhhh no wait,” she says, “I can hit it!”
I finally stop jumping on the spot.
Mum swings the curtain rod over her head and slices it downwards.
The snake flips over onto its back, arches itself into the air in anger, and tries to right itself.
The snake curls into a ball for a second, but immediately unravels, then coils into another angry stance.
Something bounces off the carpet, then the wall, and flies up in the air back towards mum and me. Thinking it’s the snake’s head, detached and after vengeance, Mum yodels a noise that is the closest thing to singing I’ve ever heard from her, and half-skips-half-leaps out of the way. Once again the family resemblance is on display: we both jump like drunk frogs. Luckily, it wasn’t a snake’s head, it was just the stopper from the end of the curtain rod.
Meanwhile the snake, with its head still attached, has stopped moving.
Unsure if it is dead, unconscious or just lulling us into a false sense of security, mum tests it.
The combination of relief, fear and anger at the snake turn my mother briefly into some kind of cold-eyed snake hitman, and she double-taps the snake like it owes her money.
It is probably *quite* dead by this point.
But now what? Neither of us are willing to pick it up with our bare hands, but we can’t just leave it there or the cat will probably try to eat it. We could flick it outside with the curtain rod, but we wouldn’t be able to flick it nearly far away enough to feel comfortable, and we can’t stray too far outside because it’s 11pm and the abandoned drive-in nightmare backyard is at its most terrifying at this time of night.
On top of all those problems, I’m also not convinced it’s dead enough. So, it needs to be kept somewhere sealed AND indoors AND out of the cat’s way until morning. And that’s how it ended up inside a pasta jar which was screwed tight, taped over, and left on the kitchen bench with two phone books and three photo albums stacked on top of it.
I wasn’t taking any chances.
The next morning the snake was still there, still dead, and still in the sealed, taped, weighted jar. Overnight, the terror of the incident had galvanised, and I decided that I now couldn’t touch the snake OR the jar. So, using the same curtain rod, I pushed the jar onto the floor, and rolled it out the door, down the driveway, and out onto the curb to the wheelie bin. I tipped the wheelie bin onto its side (I kicked it with my feet, because I now couldn’t touch the snake OR the jar OR the thing the jar was going into), rolled the jar into the bin, and used the curtain rod to flip the bin upright again. Then I bent the curtain rod in half and jammed it into the bin as well, because now I couldn’t touch the snake OR the jar OR the bin OR the thing that touched the bin, the snake and the jar.
Having used the rod to kill the snake, I’m surprised I didn’t go back to the house and ask mum to climb into the bin as well.