While the Marines considered themselves to be at the top of the food chain, there certainly were other creatures in the area who vied for that spot. As the birds were returning to their treetop perches they began haggling with each other over which branch belonged to whom. They bumped and bitched and fluttered and pecked as birds do when too many try to inhabit a small piece of territory.
Unseen in the trees, not as high up, was a huge python looking down. Not even the hard-core Viet Cong could match the patience and stealth of the large adult snake resting on its comfortable tree branch, safely out of harm’s way. Mr. Python had sensed the Viet Cong long before they were anywhere close to the sandy riverbed. The whole time, from beginning to end, the snake had climbed high and lay low as it watched patiently. It continued to observe the surroundings quietly, even as Charlie’s Marines filed out of the area heading back toward 1/5’s combat base.
Peace had returned to the ravine for a fourth time, but only the scavengers could enjoy it. As the Marines moved beyond the massive snake’s senses, the python flicked out a long gray tongue and wiggled its forked tip rapidly up and down. Everyone knows this is how a snake smells.
Now that all the commotion had quieted down, the huge python was beginning to sift through the mixture of odors. There were several types, from nasty, fog-like gun smoke floating above the trees to the one he was most interested in; the warm smell of blood down in the ravine. Somewhere in between these odors was the fading smell of insect repellent as the Marines moved off. This did not give the snake an ounce of interest. However, that very odor is what had nearly alerted the Viet Cong patrol; they’d detected something that did not seem right, and had come to a halt. Because they had not yet learned to define or recognize that smell and connect it to the threat of American troops nearby, they had decided it was safe to continue on.
The snake did not know anything about that. All that mattered to Mr. Python was the ruddy, copper-like smell down there. It was familiar and hypnotic. Now that peace and quiet had returned to the area once again, the creature ignored all the surrounding odors but that one, and slowly began his descent.