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Venom: a short story – Part 1



When he checked in at Cincinatti airport for the first of three planes that would take him to Lesotho, Peace Corps volunteer Josh was seen off by his parents and his uncle, the only member of the family who was reasonably wealthy. “Look here, kiddo,” said the uncle, “I guess over there the schools get vacations? Here’s some dollars; first chance you have, take yourself off to one of those mountain lodges you were telling us about and get yourself a work-out, ok?” Josh pocketed the envelope, hugged his uncle and his trembling parents and headed for his plane. Four months later, after working himself to the bone at the Maseru school he was posted to, he headed for the lodge in Thaba-Mahe, not too far up the mountains and with a small swimming-pool, so the prescribed work-out could be a gentle one. At reception he was greeted by the lodge manager, a thirty-something woman called Lineo. “Wow,” she said, “do all you Americans have such beautiful eyes?” “No,” Josh replied. “I’m just a bit special.” And Lineo giggled. He saw her again at breakfast the next morning. Just as she appeared, an elderly couple of white females—surely far too formally dressed, thought Josh—made their way to the buffet. One of them pointed at the stew, pap and moroho and snapped at Lineo: “what is all that?” Lineo explained and the woman snapped again: “We are from Switzerland. We shall have normal food.” Josh winked at Lineo, who winked back. Twice. The Swiss misses sat down and a little later Josh, who spoke some German, heard the snappy one say to her companion: “American.” Disdainful pause. “Apparently.” The companion turned to Josh and gave a little nod and a shy smile. She mouthed the words “good morning, young man,” before being called to order by the Grouchy One. Lineo clinked a knife against a coffee cup and apologized, but she had to make an announcement. “Honourable guests, I am so sorry, but I have to give you a warning. Last week we had torrents of rain and the reservoir below the lodge is flooded. This means the walk you will see on the lodge map around the reservoir and over the causeway is out of bounds for your safety.” “Too bad,” thought Josh. “I’ll just have to spend the day on the terrace with a beer.” “One more thing,” announced Lineo. “Owing to the flooding, snakes have escaped upland to the lodge, and these snakes include the very dangerous ringhals or puff adder.” “Is it Swiss?” Josh wondered. Not that Josh had anything against the Swiss as such; his best friend at High School had been a Swiss lad, who taught him how to play chess and helped him with his homework. He’d always promised to visit Maxi in Zurich, but a year in Lesotho had got in the way. “Be very, very careful when you are walking about and keep your cabin doors closed at all times.” Here Lineo clapped her hands. “The security guard caught one last night. This is what it looks like.” At which point a massive security guard, who looked as if he could repel a whole horde of Zulu impis, appeared, clutching a billiard cue with a puff adder skewered on the end of it. The snappy Swiss growled: “this is not what we paid for!” After breakfast (delicious stew, pap and moroho for him, plus—the downside—coffee that would have disgraced even McDonalds) Josh raided the lodge bookshelf, passing over the romantic novelettes and anything in Japanese, and settled down on the terrace with some Mofolo, a lager and a quarter bottle of brandy. He found Chaka absolutely marvellous and wondered if Lineo would allow him to take it away with him. Mid-morning there was a shriek from the Swiss women’s cabin, startling Josh out of his skin, as he was just reading one of Mofolo’s scarier bits about Isanusi. He saw the grouchy Swiss woman keel over on to the lawn and heard the other one yell “puff! puff!” and then, as an afterthought: “adder!” Clutching his bottle of brandy Josh raced down the slope to see if he could help. To be concluded Chris Dunton

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