Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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The Snake

Around fires on the beach, the people tell this story....

There was a girl who lived along a river where it flowed into the ocean. She lived with her five brothers and her parents. She swam every day, early in the morning, then again in the evening. She swam near the mouth of the river where she could watch the waves of the ocean crash onto the beach.

Early one morning as she was swimming, and the sun was just starting to come up, lighting the water until it almost glowed, she swam out to a deep pool in the river where it flowed slowly. She spotted a small snake swimming near the surface. The snake was so small that at first she thought it was a hair, but when she looked closely, she saw his eyes and the colors streaming down his back, bright in the morning sun.

The girl stretched out her hand, and the little snake swam onto it and coiled into a circle on her palm. The girl swam back to the shore, carrying the snake on her hand and put him on a clump of moss while she dressed. Then she took the snake home with her.

She snuck him into the house so her parents and her brothers wouldn't see him. She snuck him to the corner where she slept. She gathered moss and made a bed next to her own bed, a fine little bed he could coil up on. The whole time the girl was thinking, "Such a strange little snake, I wonder what I'm going to do with him? And I wonder what he might do?"

The days went by. The snake grew bigger and bigger. His colored stripes shone brighter, all gold and blue. The girl swam every morning and every evening, and she always brought home fresh moss for the snake. She kept a close eye on him as he grew, and one morning, after coming home from swimming, she touched the top of his head and felt two lumps. The snake grew bigger every day and the girl watched those lumps turn into horns.

Five years went by and the girl became a young woman. The snake had grown so large that his horns stuck through holes in the roof of the house. He made so many coils as he lay next to the young woman's bed, it was difficult to count them.

Her parents asked her, "What are you going to do with the snake?"

"I shall keep him and raise him," she answered.

One evening she was sitting on her bed, admiring the snake's coils and his brilliant colors, and she said to him, "I have no friends. Maybe you can be my friend. Maybe you can live here forever."

Next morning, the snake was gone.

The woman looked everywhere for him. "Where did he go?" she asked herself. She searched around the house and down by the river. She walked along the beach, looking and looking, then finally came back past the house and into the woods.

Deep in the woods she heard a great slithering sound. She saw the snake coming toward her, his giant horns and colors glowing, and he was carrying a deer in his mouth. He carried the deer to the house, then slithered back into the woods. By noon the snake had brought five deer and five elk to the house. Then he went inside, made giant coils by the woman's bed, and stuck his horns through the roof.

The woman and her brothers and parents worked hard skinning the deer and elk and preparing the meat. Before long the house was overflowing with food. The young woman was amazed at the snake -- and a little frightened -- but people were coming from other houses to trade for their extra food. That made her happy. Her family was getting rich.

Five days later the snake disappeared again. The young woman looked all over -- in the woods, along the river, everywhere. The last place she went was to the beach.

She walked alone, looking out over the ocean, and she spotted a giant wave moving across. The young woman watched the wave grow bigger and bigger. As it came closer she saw the snake's horns rising over the water, then his eyes and his colored stripes, bright as the sun. When she looked closer, she saw he was carrying a whale in his mouth. The snake swam to the shore, left the whale on the beach, then swam back into the ocean. By noon he had left five whales on the beach, then he slithered back to the house.

While her family and neighbors were busy cutting up the whales, the young woman went inside her house. The snake was lying on his coils near her bed. She walked closer and he spoke to her, "I cannot stay here. I am going home to the ocean. That is where I need to be. Whenever you see rough water you will know that I am nearby, and then I shall bring a whale to the beach for you and your people."

The young woman and the snake stayed together and talked all afternoon. In the evening, in the last light of the sun, the snake went back to the place in the river where the woman had found him when she was a girl, then he swam through the breakers and into the ocean.

The young woman watched his colors disappear, and she was sad, as if she'd lost a good friend.