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As we took the cover off the crawl space, I said, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Hell, no. You think I shouldn't?"
And, light in one hand and gun in the other, Dean crawled through the opening. His back was to me and he was just beginning to turn around when the light went out. You could've heard him yell in Kansas. So many words were coming out of him at once that it was hard to know what he was asking for, but clearly his first priority had to be to get the light fixed. He was screaming for me to find where the connection had been broken in the line of extension cords. I frantically fed the cord through my hands, looking for something that wasn't right. I didn't have any luck, but suddenly, with Dean still yelling, the light came back on. Dean said sheepishly, "I stepped on the damn thing and broke a connection up at this end." Then he looked up and said, "There's one right there," and I moved back from the opening as he raised the gun and shot the snake. It was a very small one, less than 12 inches long. We had reached the point of measuring them, almost like fish. We were disappointed by the little ones.
Well, Dean kept crawling around in there and accomplished a lot. He got the corpse of the large snake out. He found and killed a total of seven more rattlers, ranging in size to about 18 inches and bringing to 18 the total that had been found in the house.
Several weeks later, in May, I would discover the 19th and last rattler. It had been weeks since we'd seen any, and we'd just about concluded that we were through with them. Habits are sometimes hard to break, though, and I still patrolled the basement on a regular basis. During one such patrol, on a weekend, I spotted No. 19. It was up in the beams, where the third one I'd killed had been. The pattern of its skin was visible, and the thickness of its body indicated it was another large one. I used the .22 and shot it through the middle of its body. The shock caused it to flip over as it fell right toward me. Almost in a panic, I jumped to avoid the snake. It landed on the cement floor, writhing and rattling, its back broken. I raised the gun, aimed for its head, pulled the trigger and killed it. While my body was doing those things, I was feeling a sadness at the act. The snake wasn't there by choice; instinct had driven it into my house to seek a place to hibernate. It wasn't moved by malice or design to put me and mine in danger. But it was, without doubt, dangerous, and it seemed to me that I'd failed because I'd been unable to neutralize that danger without destroying life. I killed it because I had to, and I was sorry that I had to.
We found a place to move to by summer, although no more snakes were left in the crawl space by then, we were certain. Dean said that there was an old Indian belief that if you hung a dead rattler out to dry, it would bring rain. We hung a few on the fence at the end of May. It rained every day in June.