Publication

Book - East of Kinabalu

It was pitch dark and I was in bed on the estate. A screeching noise came from somewhere above my head – something between the high-frequency atmospherics from an old-fashioned valve-radio and the opening of a very rusty cemetery gate in a horror movie.

 

The noise stopped for a second or two, then restarted. It was coming from inside the room almost directly over my head but outside my mosquito net. It was an unearthly, unnatural noise. The hair on my neck started to prickle. Fighting down the urge to pull the sheet over my head, I lifted the mosquito net, hitched up my sarong and slid out of bed in a crouch.


 

In the beam of my torch, I saw a huge snake coiled round the rafters a few feet above my head. In its mouth it held fast a keluang, a flying fox. It was the bat that was making the screeching noise.

It looked like a stand-off. The snake obviously had not got the bat by any of its vital organs; it was still able to flutter one of its wings and I could see part of the other wing inside the snake’s throat, wriggling convulsively. The high frequency screams continued unabated. Two things were clear. Firstly, neither of the combatants was going anywhere in a hurry. Secondly, I would get no more sleep unless I intervened.

My well-thumbed copy of Tweedie’s Snakes of Malaya was in the bookcase in the sitting room. I collected it and, sitting on the bed reading by the light of my torch with one wary eye on the combatants above my head, I identified the snake as a keeled-rat snake. The description read: ‘Zaocys carinatus – the largest of the Asiatic Colubines – not uncommon. Slate grey, or black in the belly. Does good service in killing rats. They overcome their prey by holding it down with a loop of their coils.’

It wasn’t poisonous then. That was a relief. Not that it could do anything in its present embarrassing position with a mouthful of bat of course, but it might have some brothers or sisters running around. Generally on oil palm estates we discourage the killing of snakes since they provide biological control of rats which do great damage to the fruit. However, once a snake trespasses into the house, the ban is lifted.

In my wardrobe I had an old tennis racquet. It looked like the ideal weapon for the occasion. With the torch in my left hand, I swung the racquet with an overhead serving action. I hit the head of the snake a satisfactory thump but as I did so I tripped, stumbled forward and dropped the torch. It went out.


 

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