Giving it food had been a mistake, it was a mangy, cringing, skinny animal, and who would think that a dog would eat pasta anyway. It started to follow her on the trail, disappearing for a few hours and then returning and dogging her footsteps. After a couple of days, she started calling it Pedro. She didn’t need its company, this trek through the Iguazu National Park was supposed to help her come to terms with the divorce. That her husband had found a younger partner was humiliating enough, that he was of the same gender made it worse but losing both a husband and a competent handyman at the same time was unbearable. House repairs, gardening, car maintenance, Maurice could turn his hand to anything, she would never find his like again.
She decided to make camp, the sun set quickly in the tropics and here came the canine scrounger. As soon as she’d dropped her pack and started heating water it was sitting waiting, tongue lolling. She poured hot water over the pesto, couscous and dried vegetables and left it with a lid on while she threw out her pop tent, unrolled her sleeping bag, then sat down to her ‘feast.’ It tasted okay, the Tabasco sauce helped, she was hoping to lose a few pounds anyway, the dog seemed to enjoy it when she scraped the last few spoonsful onto the ground. It never came near her, never sought affection. Just as well, scabby looking thing, probably had ringworm and God alone knew what else.
The dog sloped off into the jungle brush as it did at any sign of trouble, other trekkers, odd animals, even large birds. Fucking tail tucker. Although, she had to admit, cowardice and the ability to eat a varied diet were both useful survival skills.
She stripped off her clothes, peed a few steps from the tent, sponge washed and climbed into the sack. She heard the dog barking about a hundred yards away. She sat up and shouted loudly for it to, ‘Shut up or fuck off.’ Feeling better for her primal scream, she lay back, relaxed and drifted gently as the light faded and the temperature dropped.
Suddenly she was awake. It was dark, pitch black, and there was something in the sleeping bag with her. Something heavy, something smooth. A snake, a big one, almost certainly a constrictor, it was slowly sliding over and under her, wrapping its coils around her, it had already pinned her arms to her sides.
It stopped. She daren’t move as it pushed its head through the top opening. The laced top opening that she had loosely sealed to keep the heat in. They lay like lovers, she felt its gentle intermittent breath on her face and barely dared to breath herself.
She shifted slightly, the snake tensed and gripped her. She stopped and lay still. It wasn’t hungry then, just liked the warmth. Its head lay close to her ear now and she could hear its breathing.
She thought about screaming and unconsciously began to fill her lungs. The snake gripped her again, tighter this time, she could only shallow breath. She felt its muscular smoothness on her back and thighs. There was no point in screaming, there might not be another trekker for miles. She decided to pray, it would be a diversion, and she had to stay calm. Picturing the rosary, she prayed to the Virgin, telling the beads in her imagination. Slowly time passed, the sun came up, the day began to warm and the snake slid soundlessly away. It was momentarily hampered in its exit from the bag by a noticeable bulge about half way down its length, its last meal, the meal that had saved her life. She lay quietly for a few minutes then forced herself to get up and break camp. She muscled into her pack and set off, just two solitary days until she reached the Iguazu Falls and the end of the journey.
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