Original Short Fiction: "The Stranger Comes to Eden Valley"
Snakes in Art
The fable, "The Stranger Comes to Eden Valley," is the fifth tale from Jigger-Jee's Eden Valley Stories. Peaceful Eden Valley becomes the scene for a showdown between the Stranger and one of the residents of Eden Valley. A long-standing feud must be settled, hopefully without bloodshed. But how can that be accomplished?
The Stranger Arrived in Bright Sunshine
The Eden Valley sun was shining particularly brightly on the day the Stranger arrived. All the Eden Valley inhabitants awoke that day expecting an ordinary day filled with cleaning and tidying, planting and weeding, reading and eating, dancing and singing, and napping and walking and watching TV. The Eden Valley animals usually lived in a paradise of harmony. Oh, they had little problems to solve. Like the time Jiggery-Jee had such a difficult time trying to find Miss Fuzzy Bunny the right birthday present. And the time John Mutt had such a bad summer with fleas. And the time Miss Fuzzy Bunny tried to give a party for a group of mismatched animals, who never get along with each other. But for the most part, Eden Valley is peaceful and always has been for as long as its oldest residents, the Tall Tree Brothers, can remember.
However, on the day that the Stranger came to Eden Valley, things went through a strange change.
On that strange day, Mr. Cat Fink woke earlier than usual. He stepped out to get his newspaper. But when he reached down to pick it up, he found that is was soaking wet and the sun was shining and there was not a drop of rain. He could not understand how his paper could be wet; there was not a drop of water near the newspaper.
Also on that strange day, every time Miss Fuzzy Bunny tried to call her friends on the telephone, she got a busy signal. Jiggery-Jee found that his TV wasn’t working properly; every time he tried to tune in a favorite show, the only thing appearing on the screen was a bunch of wavy lines.
Mr. Rat Narby needed some fresh herbs for tea, but when he went shopping at Grace Mouse’s Herb and Tea Shoppe, he found a closed sign on the door but no explanation. Very strange, indeed, thought Mr. Rat Narby, for Grace had opened her shoppe every day from 10-2, since he arrived in Eden Valley several years ago.
As the Eden Valley residents were experiencing all of these unusual things, the Stranger was making his way slowly towards Eden Valley. This Stranger slithered on his belly and had an evil expression on his face and had vengeful thoughts on his mind. He was coming to Eden Valley to settle a score with two Eden Valley residents. He was angry; he had been angry for twenty-five long hate-filled years. He had been plotting his revenge for all of those years, and now he was ready to see it through.
The Stranger Remembers
As the stranger made his way to Eden Valley, the whole scene went through his mind—the scene, the event, and the ones responsible for his rage. He remembered:
Twenty-five years ago he fell in love with a young garter snake named Selma Colunbrine. But Selma would not even talk to the Stranger. Instead, she married Seth Gardner, a blacksnake who owned a large farm at the edged of Eden Valley.
The Stranger was outraged at the marriage of lovely Selma to the farmer Seth, and one night the Stranger broke into the farmer’s house and kidnapped Selma. He took her to an old abandoned shack about a mile from her house. From there he sent a message to Seth. The Stranger wrote in his message, “Seth Gardner, if you don’t divorce my Selma and let her marry me, I will burn down your big, fancy house and kill all of your animals; then I will kill my lovely Selma and myself. If I can’t have Selma, nobody can, especially you, you big, dumb, dirt farmer. Do as I say.”
Seth, who was afraid for his wife’s life in the hands of this maniac, went immediately to the sheriff, a horse named Otis Bray. Otis said he would station his men around the farmhouse and watch for the Stranger. After four days had passed and the Stranger had not received the answer he wanted from Seth, the Stranger tied Selma to a tree outside the old shack, loaded up his guns, gathered some matches, kerosene, and knife and headed for Seth’s farmhouse. As he was leaving, Selma said, “You won’t get away with this. Seth will get you, and if he doesn’t, I promise you that I will. You will be very sorry you messed with us.”
“Oh, that’s big talk from someone who is tied to a tree. We’ll soon see how you feel after your husband is dead, and your house is in flames. You will want to marry me, after that intruder is out of the way. You’ll see, I’ll start looking pretty good to you after we just get rid of that skunk that stole you from me. You’ll see, my lovely Selma. You’ll see,” the Stranger taunted Selma. He seemed to really believe what he was saying.
Now twenty-five years later all the Stranger had left of that fateful day was a crooked, half-numb spine, and all the miserable pain of that fateful encounter with Seth Gardner. The Stranger had overestimated his own abilities. Instead of burning down Seth’s farmhouse, the Stranger was badly burned himself; as he sloshed kerosene around Seth’s house, he also sloshed some on himself and when he struck the match, a gust of wind blew the fire onto the Stranger, and his skin lit up like a bonfire. He quickly slithered and rolled in the dirt, but he was badly singed from head to tail. Instead of the Stranger killing Seth’s farm animals, Seth’s farm animals—three large bulls and ten milk cows—trampled the Stranger, severely injuring his spine. Instead of killing Selma, the Stranger was beaten nearly to his death by the enraged Selma, who managed to untie herself from the tree as soon as the Stranger had left her. And then to top it off, returning home from an auction, Seth Gardner, seeing this melee going on just outside of his barn door, shouted, “OK, you rotten criminal, back off, get away from my Selma, get away from my animals, get off my farm, and never come back here again!” With these words, Seth pulled his giant knife and plunged it deep into the Stranger’s body. The Stranger slithered off into the tall weeds, and no one in Eden Valley had seen or heard from him until now.
And now the Stranger, remembering all of his pain, at the hands of Seth and Selma Gardner, was returning. Now the Stranger would take care of those two.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Eden Valley continued to experience strange events. Mrs. Rita Hen found that she could not talk, a serious situation for Mrs. Rita Hen, but a welcome relief for all of her coopmates. Mr. Mike Oinksby discovered that he was not a bit hungry, and this upset him so badly he didn’t even feel like rolling around in his favorite mudhole. Cary the Cock slept until noon, and he was so embarrassed that he didn’t go out all day. For years Cary the Cock has bragged that he is the first cock to wake all the farmers in Eden Valley—the strange day broke his record, and it would take a long time to erase this mistake for Cary the Cock.
Seth and Selma Had Prospered
It was at 5:00 p.m.. that the Stranger finally arrived at his destination, the Seth Gardner farm. Finally he stood at the gate of the big farmhouse. He looked around. Seth and Selma had been prosperous indeed. The house was freshly painted. The fields were growing full of tall corn. The barn looked brand new. And the Stranger could see that Seth had a big new shiny tractor. All of this made him angrier than ever. He had hoped to see this farm in ruins, and its inhabitants living in squalor. Enraged he yelled as loudly as he could, “Seth Gardner, you miserable dirt-farmer, come out here and face your death. Soon, out came someone who was not Seth, and was not Selma, but who looked something like both of them, especially Selma. The Stranger thought it was Selma. “Oh, Selma, my lovely Selma, you look as lovely as the day I first saw you. Oh, my lovely Selma, will you come away with me and leave this dirty, dirt-farmer who took you away from me, please come with me and be my lovely wife.”
“Who are you? My name is Ana Gardner. Selma is my mother, and my father would not appreciate the things you have just said about her,” Ana Gardner informed the Stranger.
“But I don’t understand, you look exactly like my Selma. What have you done with her?” The Stranger was becoming confused.
“I told you, Selma is my mother. She and my father Seth are on vacation—they are traveling around the world. Who are you and what do you want?” asked Ana Gardner.
“When are they getting back?” asked the Stranger.
“In about six months,” said Ana. “What do you want with them?”
“I want to kill them,” said the Stranger, with an evil look in his face.
“Oh, my, why would you want to do that? Don’t you know that would get you in big trouble? Otis Bray Junior would have to arrest you and put you in jail. And you might have to spend the rest of your life cleaning out toilets for the residents of Faultner Grove.
“I never thought of that,” said the Stranger. “I don’t like to clean out toilets. I never have. Even when I was a young snake, I never liked cleaning out toilets.”
“Then you’d better stop all this talk about killing, and you’d better not let my dad hear you call Mom your lovely Selma,” advised Ana.
“You are a nice person, Ana. Nobody has ever talked to me as nice as you do.” The Stranger was beginning to feel in a way he had never felt before. “I’m real sorry I said I wanted to kill your parents. You must be a real good daughter.”
“Thank you. But you know, you look a little sick. Can I get you something to drink?” asked Ana. As Ana was offering the Stranger something to drink, her brother Seth Junior drove up in his pick-up. Seth Junior had just come from the Eden Valley Times, and he had heard about all the strange things that were going on in Eden Valley. Seth Junior had heard about all the trouble the Stranger had caused his parents twenty-five years ago, and a fortune-teller had told young Seth several years ago that that trouble would happen again on a day when everything in Eden Valley was strange. Therefore Seth Junior was not surprised to see the Stranger at his parents’ gate when he arrived.
The Miserable Crook Who Kidnapped Mom
Seth Junior jumped out of this truck, his shotgun in his hand, and he immediately aimed his weapon at the Stranger, and yelled, “All right, you miserable thief, you get out of here right now or I’ll blow your skin right into the next valley!”
“Junior, you put that gun away right now!” yelled Ana. “This poor Stranger is sick. Can’t you see that? He is pale and needs something to drink.”
“But, Annie, don’t you know who this is! This is the miserable crook who kidnapped Mom and tied her to a tree and tried to burn our house down, and kill all our farm animals, and tried to kill Dad. You feel sorry for this piece of slime?” cried Seth Junior.
“Would you listen to yourself, Seth Gardner, Junior! All of that happened over twenty-five years ago, before you and I were born. Don’t you remember anything Mother and Father have taught us? That we must forgive our enemies. They told us that story to remind us that they had forgiven the Stranger and that we must remember to forgive anyone who would be our enemy. Don’t you remember anything, Junior? You are twenty-two years old—three years older than I am—you should remember what Mom and Dad have taught us.”
The Stranger could hardly believe what he was hearing. “You mean, Seth and Selma Gardner have forgiven me what I almost did? If they were here, they wouldn’t kill me immediately?” asked the Stranger.
“Of course they wouldn’t kill you; they would offer you a drink and some food and a place to rest,” explained Ana. “Isn’t that right, Junior?”
“Yes, you’re right, Annie,” said Junior, putting his shotgun back in the truck. “I guess I just wanted a chance to be a big shot with my shotgun.”
“And about that shotgun, you ought to get rid of it. You think you are living like an old fashioned warrior, and you know you don’t need to,” Annie said.
The Stranger was very surprised by all of this. He was so surprised that he suddenly lost all of this anger and hatred for Seth and Selma Gardner. He didn’t entirely understand his new feeling, but he knew he felt better than he had felt in twenty-five years. He didn’t realize until now how powerful his hatred had been.
“You know, Mr. Stranger,” said Ana, as she handed him a cool lemonade and spice drink, “your hatred was so strong it made you look much older than you do now.”
“That’s right,” said Junior, “and it made a lot of strange things happen in Eden Valley. Cary the Cock, who usually wakes up all the farmers at 4:00 a.m., didn’t wake up until noon. And the TV station was unable to send out its signals today. Nobody understood what caused the problem. And Mr. Cat Fink’s newspaper was soaking wet this morning, and there was not a drop of rain. All of those folks would be pretty upset with you if they knew you brought your hatred to the Valley, and it upset their daily routines.”
You Can Still Live a Different Life
“Oh, my, I’d better get out of the Valley right away,” said the reformed Stranger. “But I don’t really have anywhere to go. My hatred has driven everybody I know away from me. I wish had met you two a long time ago. I would have lived a very different life.”
“You can still live a different life,” said Ana. “You can live here and work on the farm.”
“Oh, I’d feel silly and embarrassed around Seth and Selma; even if they forgive me, it’s going to take a long time for me to forgive myself,” admitted the Stranger.
“Well, you see, Mom and Dad plan to travel a lot. They have retired from farming, and Junior and I actually run the farm now. They will not be here very often. I’m sure they would not object to our giving you a job,” said Ana.
“But, of course, you will have to prove yourself. If you can’t do the job, I’ll have to fire you,” said Junior.
“Oh, Junior, don’t sound so pompous!” commanded Ana.
“Oh, but he’s right, Miss Ana, if I don’t work out, he should fire me,” said the Stranger.
“Well, let’s at least give you a chance before we talk about firing anyone. And besides I make all the hiring and firing decisions. Mom and Dad made that quite clear in their contract that put Junior and me in charge. They know that Junior’s temper sometimes clouds his judgment, and many times I have to make the final decisions. But never mind. The important thing is that we now have a new farm hand, and Mr. Stranger now has a place to live and work, and most important of all he lost his hatred today. That is so important. Junior, we will have to celebrate. The Stranger lost his hatred. And while Eden Valley does not need to know all of the details of their strange day, they do need to help us celebrate the Stranger’s turning over a new leaf and finding his new peaceful self. After all, that’s what Eden Valley is all about. Now guys, let’s get to work and plan the celebration.”
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes