They knew it would be their last weekend as six sisters in the old solid frame house on the hill because they were putting the house on the market. What they didn’t know was how fraught with adventure the weekend would be. They intended it to be restful, calm, peaceful. That’s not exactly what happened.
Chloe was years younger than her five sisters–Grace, Sylvia, Tanya, Rosemary and Becky. Chloe was the one who helped Papa outdoors with the cows, worked in the orchard, and even hunted rabbits or whatever he asked. She was never happier than when following him around. All her sisters married, got jobs, and scattered from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Chloe and her husband still lived in Towns County, Georgia. She had taken care of their parents until their deaths and, since then, had faithfully cared for the old house and its treasure trove of unique antiques.
Though Grace had instigated this meeting, Chloe had cleaned and made preparations and she had the key. She and Grace had decided to make this a fun weekend. They would not start worrying about what to do with the furniture until Monday.
While Chloe unlocked the door, her sisters surveyed the yard where they had played and worked and met boyfriends for dates and learned how to drive. There, under that big oak tree Sylvia had shared her first kiss. Over near the now overgrown privet hedge Becky, so little at the time, had sat squarely down on a yellow jackets’ nest.
“That old swing is still there,” mused Grace. “How old would that thing be?”
“I don’t know. I just wonder how it even survived all of us and then grandchildren too,” responded Sylvia adjusting a shoulder bag.
“It didn’t survive,” said Chloe, finally opening the door. She stood in the doorway and held up one hand as if stopping traffic. “Don’t try that swing. The rope is rotten. And–just so you’ll know–things are not all good in the old house either. I made up beds for all of us but–”
“Quit stalling, Chloe. Let’s go in and see for ourselves.” Grace pushed past her.
Chloe lifted her hands and dropped them, at the same time rolling her eyes. “Oh, well–”
Regardless of Chloe’s warning, the sisters saw nothing surprising. It had been five years since most of them had been in the house so of course things weren’t quite the same. But there was the graceful Duncan Phyfe sofa of which Mama was so proud and the worn Persian rug Papa had bought overseas. Papa’s old plantation desk still reigned in its same corner and there, of course, were the many folding chairs neatly stacked against the wall ready for the next family gathering. A moment of wistful quiet settled on the group as they thought about their happy dinners around the long pine table.
Sylvia broke the spell. “Everything looks sort of shabby but it’s okay. Tell me you did find a bed steady enough for each of us. I’m too old to survive my bed collapsing in the night.”
They all giggled.
Chloe crossed arms over her chest. “The beds are okay,” she said with the tiniest spark gleaming in her eyes. “That’s not what I was–”
“Oh, Chloe, for heaven’s sake,” Becky said. “Just show us our beds. I’m tired of hauling this luggage. And look at poor Sylvia, she’s got luggage all over her, as always.”
They all trooped up the stairs chattering as they went. Rosemary was in front and called back to Chloe, “You must have used a whole gallon of Clorox getting ready for us. It smells like a swimming pool.”
“I was trying to cover up–” began Chloe but no one was listening.
Sylvia discovered the first sign of imminent danger when she entered the bedroom she and Grace had always shared. Her scream could have scared the wildcats on Brasstown Bald Mountain. “A snake skin! A snake’s been on my bed! Oh my gosh, what if he’s still here?” She backed up banging into a heavy rocking chair. Her sisters spluttered with laughter.
“Chloe, that was a mean trick to pull on us,” admonished Grace proceeding to remove the very long threatening skin holding it out from her body with two fingers. “But don’t worry, Sylvie, even if it really had been here, it was only a white oak snake. I think.”
They were all seated around the long pine table with their array of take-outs from Chick-Fil-A when Grace herself stood up knocking her soda over. Her face had turned red and she was garbling as she pointed. When they all saw five feet of grey snake slithering from Papa’s desk and disappearing under the couch they went into spasms. Should they call animal control? Should they sleep in a motel?
It took several minutes for Chloe to make the sisters agree to stay. “They moved in about a year ago,” she explained calmly when a semblance of order was finally restored. “I’ve tried my best to get rid of them.”
“Them!” was the outcry. “How many are you talking about?”
“Oh, maybe three. Really, I did try to drive them out. But they kept coming back. I guess I stopped trying when I realized they were annihilating the rodent population. There hasn’t been a rat’s nest in the sofa for months.”
“You’re not funny, Chloe,” said Rosemary catching her breath. “I’m sure I won’t rest a minute tonight. In fact, maybe I just won’t go to bed.”
But once the sisters got their voices back, they found many things to talk about other than the grey snake. They all talked until the wee hours, then fell into bed forgetting all about the serpentine invaders. The next day was beautiful. They went to Vogel State Park for a picnic as in the old days. They laughed and cried over old photos, wandered around in the yard, and even explored the old orchard. They found Papa’s Bible in his desk with his many notes and underlinings. They made spaghetti for supper and then built a fire in the fireplace so they could roast marshmallows.
They were almost asleep when they heard a growling guttural motor, a truck of some kind, climbing the hill. Lights flashed across western windows before the truck stopped. The women all fled to Grace and Sylvia’s room. Men’s voices, several men’s voices, could be heard.
“Who?” they all asked looking at Chloe.
Chloe was as shaken as the rest of them but she tried to brighten. “I don’t know who it could be–but, hey, they’ll never get in that door. Even with a key it’s tricky–”
“Wanta bet?” breathed Rosemary. “I hear them clomping in the back way. Don’t anybody dare turn the light on. And keep quiet.”
Chloe wished she had brought one of Papa’s guns upstairs but who would’ve thought–
The men were below now, making plans in loud voices. “We’ll load every bit of this into the truck. These pieces will bring a pretty price in North Carolina. No need to grab the folding chairs, nothing special about them. Okay, start loading!”
Papa’s desk made a horrible scraping sound as they slid it from its corner. Then the sisters shuddered at the sound of a man screaming like a tortured mountain lion. “Snakes!” he yelled. He must have knocked another man down trying to get away. The leader was barking at his men not to be such fools until, by the sounds of it, a large snake dropped from above right onto his shoulders. “They’re coming down from the ceiling! There’s another one–over there, going under the couch!”
Next thing the sisters knew, the truck was roaring away.
“I told you those snakes were good for something,” said Chloe before they all burst into nervous laughter.