Last Laugh: The Barn Rat and the Black Snake

One woman's fear of barn rats and black snakes rats didn't stop her from beating one to death with the other.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1983

Whether the demise of a barn rat is or isn't funny probably depends on who tells the story.
Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff


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Well sir, a fella I respect, name of Tim Comstock, once got a letter from an old friend what said, "Sometime I'd like to tell you the story of how I scalded my belly, but not now. It’s not funny quite yit." And that's perzackly how I feel right now. Sometime, if I kin git over the embarrassment, I'd like to tell you what happened just the other day when the fellas of the Plumtree Crossin' Gen'ral Assembly got messed up with the Barren County Ladies Auxiliary and Highminded Civic League for the second time. But no ... no, I can't bring myself to recount that tale jist yit.

In the meantime, then, you'll be glad to know that Angus MacLander — who, last fall, provided us with a humorous tale about wood gatherin' the easy way — has again blessed us with an entertainin' yarn of his own, titled ...

Ebenezer (the Barn Rat) and the Black Snake "Bullwhip?"

I'd hardly crested Shale Knob on the Hill Road, when I noticed the ambulance. It'd just rounded Spencer's Curve, which put it about 200 yards back and closing fast. Notin' the ditches on both sides of that narrow farm road, I pushed the gas pedal to the floor, my pickup's engine roared, and the race was on. By the time I reached the long straight stretch at the base of the hill, I was doing 55 MPH ... but a glance at my rearview mirror left me feeling like a rabbit with no hole in sight and the hounds right on its tail. I recognized Curly Scheer behind the wheel, and saw his co-pilot, Hartley Steele, waving frantically.

By the time my speedometer showed 65, Curly had turned on his wipers to clear away the dust I was throwing, and his mouth was forming words I was right glad I couldn't hear. An' we were just about to the end of that straight stretch, when my heart plumb stopped. An old black car was headed right at us. But in the split second whilst I was deciding which ditch to head for, and trying to remember whether or not my insurance had run out, I realized we all had the same destination: Burt's place. A good many red and blue lights were already on the scene, flashing like frantic fireflies. Well, I hit my brakes, the dark car turned into Burt's place, and my truck and the ambulance skidded into the driveway as one.

Doc was out of his old black clunker, bag in hand and heading for the farmhouse, before Curly could get the ambulance's door open to yell at me.

"Dang fool, why didn't you get out of the way?"

"What did you think I was trying to do?"

At any rate, while Curly and Hartley were carrying the stretcher up to the house, I headed toward the small crowd of fellers standing by the tool shed. Before I could say "Hey" to some of the familiar faces, though, I noticed that Burt was heading in our direction. As he drew closer, you could tell he was real upset and talking to himself.

... my own house."

What?"

"Threw me out of my own house, that's what," he grumbled.

"Who did?"

"Doc Moore. He said to go outside and leave him and the missus alone."

"What happened?"

"She collapsed right there on the kitchen floor. By the time I got to the phone and cleared ol' Sadie Bottles off the line, everybody on the party line knew I was callin' for the ambulance.

Just then, Doc Moore appeared at the back door, and Burt left us, but a few minutes later he was back, his face no longer chalk white.

"He says she's gonna be fine. She just fainted, and he says the burn on her arm shouldn't even scar. Funny, though—"

"What's funny, Burt?"

"Doc tells me she keeps mumblin' the same two words over and over."

"What words?"

"He swore it sounded like 'ebony' and 'black'."

"Ebony is black."

"I know. But it still don't make any sense."

For a minute or two there was an awkward silence, and then Burt spoke again.

"I want to thank you folks for comin' by, but I guess you all can go home now. Doc's gonna stay until the missus' sister gets here from over to the crossroads, and I've still got milkin' to do."

The next mornin', I'd just closed the oven door and was about to pour myself some coffee when a familiar sound made me head for the pantry to get another cup. I knew Burt's sister-in-law made the hardest biscuits and the worst coffee in three counties. So I figured he'd come over here when his chores were done, on the pretext of borrowin' something. Sure 'nough, a minute later Burt was sitting at the kitchen table.

" How'd you know it was me?" he asked, stirrin' his brew.

"Matilda."

"What?"

"Your pickup. You better have Doc check her cough. It's gettin' worse."

"Humph."

"Speakin' of Doc: How's the missus?"

"Crazy."

"Your missus is crazy?"

"Nope. Her sister."

"Her sister's crazy?"

"No, dag-nab it, her talkin's drivin' me crazy, just about the way yours is. That's why I told her I was comin' over here to borrow your set of rifflers."

"My what?"

"Rifflers."

"I don't have any such thing."

"I know that, but the missus' sister don't."

"Have a hot biscuit and some butter, Burt."

"Well, maybe just one."

"Have you figured out about 'ebony' and 'black' yet?"

"Yup."

"Well?"

"Well, what?"

"Are you goin' to tell me, or do I have to pry it out of you?"

"Yup."

"Which?"

"I'll tell you."

"When?"

"OK. Yesterday, when I came back from goin' for feed, I made sure to park the loaded grain cart right in front of my tool shelf. You know, the one on the south wall, that I always keep my bullwhip coiled right on top of? Well sir, it seems that when the missus lifted the lid of the cart a while later to feed the cows, she spied Ebenezer. Must have ate so much he couldn't move, and —"

"Wait a minute, Burt, who's Ebenezer?"

"Rat."

"What?"

"A big old barn rat that I've been tryin' to kill for the best part of a year. The missus always said I didn't ketch that thing just to devil her, seein' as rats was one of the two things in this world that really scares her."

"Then what happened?"

"Well, when the missus gets scared, first she gets angry, and then she gets downright nasty, so old Ebenezer never stood a chance."

"A chance at what?"

"A chance to know that he'd just eaten his last meal, 'cause like a flash, she reaches right up and grabs that coiled weapon from off'n the tackle box, and commences to beat the rat senseless with the blunt end. When she was done, she put it back up on the box."

"The rat?"

"No! The weapon!"

"Then what?"

"She went on up to the house to start supper like nothin' had happened. That's when I came home. The rest you know."

"Hold it, Burt, what do you mean, the rest I know? I still don't know why she fainted, what 'ebony' or 'black' means, or even what's the second thing that scares her."

"Well, while you're puttin' that other pan of biscuits in the oven, I'll explain it to you. First, the missus had just put water on the stove to boil when I walked in the door. Her back was to me, and she says, 'Burt, you're a mite late.' I reckoned that I was, but I said I had to stop over to Hoss Bimoore's place to pick up this.... I never did get to finish the sentence, though, 'cause just then she turned around and took one look at me, and stepped back so fast her elbow hit the handle of the pot and sent it flying. What she said just before she fainted weren't 'ebony' or 'black' it was 'Ebenezer' and 'black'."

"Black what?"

"Hold your horses, I'm gettin' to that. Well sir, last night, after I found Ebenezer in the cart, I spied that black coil on top of the tackle box, right where the missus had put it, and seein' as how it was the second thing in this world that scares her, I took it out and buried it."

"You buried your bullwhip?"

bullwhipjam

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