Busted Axle Road
Chapter 21

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

The city of Spearfish Lake sits at the root of the north side of a point jutting out into the lake itself. The north side of the point is relatively high and sandy, with a broad, sandy ridge perhaps twelve or fifteen feet high not far back from the lakeshore. Point Drive runs out along this ridge to the tip of the point, then a little ways back on the south side of the point before it turns to a two-rut, then peters out. Close to town, Point Drive is lined with large beachfront houses, some a century old or more, making it the best neighborhood in Spearfish Lake. People with money like Frank Matson, and his father, Garth, like Ryan and Brent Clark had their homes there. Farther to the west, Point Drive and the lakefront are lined with somewhat more modest summer cottages, though the prices on those had been rising rapidly in the past few years.

No cottages lined the south shore of the point, or most of the south side of the lake, for that matter. Though potentially valuable, the ground was very low, only inches above the lake and frequently flooded. God had insufficently divided the waters from the lands here; while there were places that a boat could float, they were relatively rare, and getting to them was tough. There were places that were high, or at least a little higher than the others, where a booted foot might only sink into the mud an inch or so. Foliage ran to ferns and marsh grasses, just greening up nicely at this time of year. The trees ran to tamaracks so grubby and hard to get to that even the pulp cutters had bypassed them.

In another two or three weeks, the mosquitos would be so thick that they could drain a person quicker than a battalion of nurses at a Red Cross blood bank. Only an aggressive mosquito control program started decades before kept the town relatively free of the little vampires.

Thinking ahead a few weeks, Pam Appleton wondered if the idea of spending the summer in the swamps south of town looking for snakes was such a good idea after all. Thanks to the mosquitos, the damp, and the humidity, the Spearfish Lake swamps were not a place where sane people went in the summer months. At times, upon reflection, flipping patties at the Burger Bummer in Athens all summer seemed positively appealing.

There had been no point in trying to deep into the swamp on Saturday, at least partly because Pam didn't want to scare the boys off, but partly she wanted to closely investigate areas where the swamp got close to the sewer system. If the snake had entered the sewer system from outside, then one of those had to be a likely point of entry, and perhaps there might be other specimens nearby. It was one of the logical things that Pam knew she had to check out, to try to reduce the search from being a needle in a haystack.

The four of them had seen a dozen or more sipedon sipedons, but even a casual glance at each one of them, even from a distance, showed that none was a sipedon gibsoni; none had the distinctive color pattern that Pam remembered so well from the little specimen she'd seen in the lab at Athens.

Taking a break on a downed log at a relatively dry spot, Pam had given a little vent to the hopelessness of it all. "I'm not sure why we're even out here," she said. "After all, the snake was in the sewer, and that's where we ought to be looking. But, how we could look up the lines through the grating of a storm drain, I don't know."

At least Pacobel hadn't been a problem Saturday night; he had been so wet and muddy, like the rest of them, that dealing with him hadn't been a problem.

They hadn't planned to go out Sunday, so Pam had been a little surprised to see Josh and Danny knock on her door about nine on Sunday morning. "We got something you'd like to see," Danny said.

For an instant, her hopes rose that they had turned up another gibsoni, but what they showed her was almost as good: a contraption they'd rigged up. It had a mirror down on the end of a stick, with a couple of flashlight bulbs and reflectors on either side of it. The flashlight heads were powered by a wire to a battery pack that could be slipped in a pocket. There was a lot of duct tape involved, but the head of the device was small enough to go down through the grates of a storm drain, and shine light a fair ways up the drain itself, though the field of view was necessarily small.

"This is a great idea," she'd told the two of them. "I'm proud of you two for thinking of it."

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