Mama Bear, Protect the Herd

Flash Fiction by Annie Frazier

The first coral snake I ever killed snuck up. There I was in the pony’s half-cleaned stall, leaning sweaty against the pitchfork handle, answering a text. Up it rose from under the stall mat where it had laid coiled between packed red clay and black rubber. Silent. Shocking red. Cohabitating deadly with the ailing pony for who knows how long. I didn’t see its rising, just its slow slide across wood shavings. Corner of my eye, inches from my booted foot. Scream, run.

There’s my snake phobia to consider. The time at a pet store in college when a walk down the reptile aisle made my vision go spotty, ears all whooshy. Friend beside me leading me out by the elbow, fanning my clammy face.

I peeked into the stall to keep track of the ringed thing. My calculation: try to shovel-kill it myself, I might pass out. Me, unconscious and starfished in the barn aisle, snake getting a limping kind of revenge.

Home alone, I panic-called the neighbors who’d lent their tractor after last year’s hurricane, figured they could help handle this. But it wasn’t Tractor Husband hopping the fence and striding across the field. It was his wife, who I’d only seen from afar. Here she came, short-shorts, legs for days and feet stuck down in Uggs, tank top cut low and fake tits swinging. Bleached nest of hair a halo in midday sunlight. She said, Jim’s not home, but show me this snake, baby. We’ll get ‘im.

Florida Barbie, I thought.

While I yammered an explanation for my wimpiness, Florida Barbie grabbed hold of my shovel, slammed the edge down on the snake just behind its head, ground it in. It writhed and whipped, coiling ass-first up the wood handle. She muscled hard into the thing, gritting bright white teeth.

Once it finally quit flipping around, Florida Barbie lifted the shovel from the snake’s crushed neck, scooped its floppy body off the shavings, dropped it smack on the asphalt barn aisle.

Now we gotta cut him into three pieces, she said. Make sure he stays dead. Your turn.

Yes ma’am, I said. I leaned into the task and up through the shovel handle, grit and sinew crackled, rattling the bones of my hands.

Florida Barbie cheered me on, patted my back when I finished as if I’d accomplished something worth praising. Look at you go, girl! I went woozy. She made the final cut.

I buried that bright, unholy trinity under a fat-trunked water oak. My hands shook. I offered iced tea to Florida Barbie and she offered that her first husband made her get the fake tits. Said she doesn’t mind them now, just likes for people to know the story. After, she marched herself right back home hero-style, calling over her shoulder, Get you a sharper shovel for next time, baby.

I whispered apologies at the snake-grave, desperately hoping there’d be no next time.

Of course there was, the second coral snake a much bolder fucker than the first. Broad daylight, standing outside the barn with a new girl in training, it slipped quick across the dirt between our feet. Headed right for the barn and for the ancient pony, I wagered.

Too much rush to call in Florida Barbie, so this time I was the one grabbing hold of the new shovel with its sharper edge. This time I was the one taking quick aim at that deadly string of muscle, bellowing I don’t wanna have to do this over and over, but doing the damn thing anyway.

The snake tangled awhile, belly to the sky, belly to the ground, then went slack. I didn’t cut it in three like Florida Barbie would’ve wanted. I’d lopped its head clean off—anything more seemed gratuitous. I buried the body and rinsed the shovel edge, apology on my lips a second time, New Girl standing with her mouth agape.

I sent New Girl off on a task and waited for my hands to quit shaking. Pulled my phone out to text Florida Barbie, ashamed at my violence, but needing her praise anyway.

You’ll never believe what I just did all by myself, I wrote.

Killed you a snake? she shot back.

Damn right I did.


I channeled you, I wrote.

She sent back a string of emoji—snake, axe, party hat, trophy, bicep curl, heart eyes.

It was too much. I shoved my phone back in my pocket and crouched beside the grave. I’d done what I had to—mama bear, protect the herd, any other apt animal metaphor to cover trying desperately to keep the old pony alive one more day, keep me and New Girl safe—but still I hated that cruel, messy business. Hated seeking out praise for it. Hated Florida Barbie a little for offering it up so freely.

Many months later, she still texts snake jokes every few weeks. I laugh react and move on. She doesn’t know about the nightmares. Every damn night since the first kill, those snake pieces press up through dirt like shoots from a bulb in springtime. Red, striped, writhing. Sometimes it’s just the five pieces, but other times they’ve multiplied, bright protrusions dotting the entire field, new grass sprouting all wrong. Doesn’t matter which version I dream, though, they always rise looking for me.

<strong>Annie Frazier</strong>
Annie Frazier

Annie Frazier lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she’s a freelance editor and a fiction instructor for Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville. Her work can be found in Fractured LitLost Balloon MagazineAppalachian ReviewPaper DartsLongleaf Review, and elsewhere. Find her at and say hey on Twitter @anniefrazzr.