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An Angelic Bright Light Protected Him from Danger

Just as the rattlesnake lashed out at him, a divine light appeared. 

Illustration of an angel watching over a young boy

Rattlesnakes were common in the Smoky Mountains, where I grew up, and I knew to avoid them at all cost. But the timber rattler I came up against one sorry day when I was nine had been hiding under the roots of an old tree stump. I didn’t notice until it was coiled like a tight spring, its forked tongue flicking, tasting the air—searching for me. I tried not to move a muscle. If I was standing up, my boots might help protect my legs from a strike, I thought. But I wasn’t standing. I was crouched down on my haunches, eye to eye with the huge reptile.

I’d disturbed the snake while hunting for ginseng with my younger brother, Buddy Earl. Digging for those plants was not only fun but profitable. We sold them to an old medicine woman who lived on North Mountain. Miss Mable made tonic from the dried, powdered root, and she always paid in silver dollars.

Moving my head as slowly as I could, I glanced to the right in search of Buddy Earl, but he was nowhere to be seen. Probably found his own ginseng to dig up, I thought. Would I still be alive by the time he came back? My legs were starting to cramp pretty badly. I couldn’t stay in the same position for much longer, but the snake would surely lunge if I tried to run. I was trapped.

My enemy sounded its rattle, and I remembered my father’s words as we left the house early that September morning. He’d warned us to keep our eyes open around the rotten trees near the creek, knowing the snakes would be out sunning this time of year. I’d turned to Buddy Earl and whispered, “Daddy thinks he is talking to a couple of flatlanders.” We snickered.

Buddy Earl and I had walked down to the hollow, each carrying a burlap sack to hold our bounty. We’d started our hunt on Black Gum Mountain and tried to stay in sight of each other, but Buddy Earl preferred searching the ridge line while I liked rummaging around the hollow, especially where it bordered a stream. I’d lost track of my brother by the time I squatted down to work around the old tree stump.

The menacing snake kept its flat head no more than three feet from my face, whipping its tail back and forth so fast the rattle sounded like a buzz saw. I could only stay very still and hope the snake would turn away. My legs were going weak. My muscles were starting to shake. I raised my eyes to heaven. Lord, please don’t let me die today.

The snake lashed out. As if waiting for the perfect moment, a bright light flashed. For a split second, the snake seemed frozen in mid-strike, its jaws wide open, as if caught in a National Geographic photo. I flung myself to one side. The snake missed me by inches and slithered away in the dirt. I lay there in shock, blinking away lingering spots from the strange bright light.

“Brother Doug, eye-to-eye with a rattler!” Buddy Earl put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “When I saw the fix you were in, I thought it best not to make a sound.” He helped me to my feet, which were still half-asleep and tingling. “I’ve never seen you move so fast!”

“That blinding light gave me my chance,” I said, “and I took it.”

“There wasn’t any light,” Buddy Earl said. “That’s got to be your imagination talking.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t see it,” I said, shaking my head. “The snake sure seemed to.”

Buddy Earl gazed up into the trees. “Maybe a ray of sunlight filtered through leaves. I won’t argue with you, though, big brother.”

I let Buddy Earl think what he wanted about the light. I knew it wasn’t from the sun.

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