Beside the river, something was watching them. It padded along the shore, following them as they swam. The snakes noticed. They felt the vibrations as it set its paws down, soft as they were. They paid no attention. It was not their business. They were simply swimming upstream, the way they knew they should.
Far upstream they went. A long way away from the hill where they had started, the snakes spat themselves out of the river and onto the bank - the opposite bank from the one where the watcher was waiting, having followed them all this way. The snakes slithered across the shore to the base of a tree, a young tree, its bark just starting to crack, and they curled themselves loosely around its base. There they settled in for the night.
When it was clear that they weren’t going to move, the watcher plunged into the water and crossed the river. It swam easily, despite having kept to the bank all day as he shadowed the snakes. It shook itself, and padded to the tree the snakes lay ringed around.
The watcher crouched, gathering itself, and with one leap it cleared the snakes and latched onto the tree trunk. It climbed up and draped itself over a fork in the branches, where it soon fell asleep.
In the morning the snakes slithered back down to the water, and the watcher leapt from the tree to follow them.
By evening the river had widened and shallowed into a flat stretch of mud and puddles that smelled of rotting weeds. Here the watcher bounded closer, shadowing the snakes at the very front. As they made their way through the puddles, crocfish rose up with gaping mouths, ready to feast – but the watcher pounced with a splash and an earthshaking roar, and the crocfish wriggled backward in a cloud of muddy water.
The snakes swarmed up onto a hummock in the middle of the flats, an island with a single massive tree, and the watcher followed.
The snakes came to the tree, and then went further, into its hollow center, twisting up into its ancient dead branches. Hissing and screeches emanated from inside, echoing in the wooden chamber, and then a rush of fur spilled out, small striped mice driven by the snakes.
The watcher was ready. It pounced on the fleeing mice, snapping and gobbling. Some escaped, struggling through the mud to dry ground, but many were caught mid-flight.
Finally, all was still. The snakes' eyes glittered as they watched from inside the trunk.
The watcher turned and squelched away through the mud, its belly stuffed. The sun was setting. There was time to find a good tree before it got dark, to sleep away the hours until day.