Sammy Tiger sat quietly in the dug-out canoe and watched his older brother paddle swiftly and silently through the Florida swamp. It was almost dark and the cypress trees, hung thickly with Spanish moss, made an eerie outline against the fading sun.
Sammy shivered. He didn't like the swamps because of the danger,
“Where are we heading tonight?” he asked.
Toto adjusted his head lamp and grinned at Sammy.
“We're almost there,” he whispered. “Don't make any noise or the frogs will scatter before I have a chance to catch them.”
Sammy sighed deeply, thinking of the town market where Toto would sell his catch. He knew the economy was bad and it was hard to find a job, but killing frogs so the market could sell frog legs to the expensive restaurants, didn't seem to have much dignity.
“There are other ways you could earn money,” Sammy suggested.
“Sure, sure,” Toto whispered sarcastically. “If the white man can't find a job, what chances do I have? I could always wrestle alligators for the tourist trade to pay for the food your belly needs. Of course I could get killed that way. Then the missionary could pray for my poor departed soul, eh? Maybe you'd like that better.”
Sammy bit his lip to hold back the tears that suddenly stung his eyes. He loved Toto and didn't want to hurt him. Still, Toto's superior air and sarcastic remarks bothered the younger boy.
“ I was talking to the missionary and he was telling me that at Big Cypress Reservation we could learn to raise cattle, and maybe someday even have our own ranch.”
Toto snorted. “Fat chance of that with the money I earn. Hush now, we're almost to the spot.” Toto had switched on his head lamp and was slowly moving the beam of light over the saw-grass. “Look,” he whispered, pointing to one side as he fingered his spear, aiming it carefully.
Two yellow eyes gleamed brightly in the lamp's glare. The frog, hypnotized by the light, sat mutely waiting for his doom. Toto's arm shot forward and the spear flew swiftly to its mark.
“Ha,” Toto exclaimed, quickly scooping the frog out of the murky water and dumping it in a burlap sack.
“I feel this will be a profitable night, brother.” Again his lamp swept over the saw-grass and again a frog sat paralyzed.
Sammy averted his eyes. He remembered the pet frog he had loved as a tiny boy, and it hurt him each time he saw Toto's spear find its mark.
Toto threw another frog into the half-filled sack and glanced at his brother. “Why are your eyes closed? Are you such a coward that you can't even watch me as I work?”
Sammy flushed and said icily, “I'm not a coward. I just believe there are other ways to earn money besides killing helpless creatures.”
Before Toto had a chance to protest, a fierce bellow echoed through the still air, shattering the quiet. Again and again, the hissing bellow splintered the night.
“Bedding 'gator,” Toto hoarsely whispered, “and close, too.”
Sammy felt a chill of terror race through him. A mother alligator protecting her nest was a dangerous creature. Her instinct would make her a killer. Accidentally they must have disturbed her mud bed. Sammy's eyes searched the darkness as he gripped the sides of the canoe.
Toto jumped to his feet, scanning the bank of the swamp with his head lamp.
“She is very close,”he muttered softly.
Sammy felt the canoe shudder an instant before the alligator lunged to the surface.
“Watch out,” he screamed as the huge tail whipped through the air.
Toto's anguished cry tore through the night – the tail had caught him on his side and sent him hurtling into the muddy water.
Sammy watch in horror as his brother disappeared under the surface of the swamp. His hands, still clutching the sides of the canoe, felt clammy, almost paralyzed. He wanted to jump in after Toto, but he couldn't seem to move. He felt his muscles were slowly turning to jelly. His scalp crawled and he could feel his hair rise on the back of his neck.
Toto's head bobbed to the surface. His face was pale, his eyes filled with pain and terror.
“The spear,” he cried, “'gator's got my arm.” Then he was dragged under again.
Sammy grabbed the spear. A strange buzz filled his head. He wanted to throw up. He knew that Toto's life depended on his, Sammy's, courage. If he could find the spot right between the alligator's eyes. If he could send the spear straight to its mark. If he could make the alligator's death swift and merciful, at the same time saving Toto's life. If -if...
I can't. I haven't the strength or the courage Sammy thought desperately. Then he remembered the missionary's words. With God all things are possible.
Sammy dove into the water, the spear gripped tightly in his hand.
Toto was still frantically thrashing around, trying to escape the iron grip of the reptile's jaws. The alligator's tail whipped crazily back and forth as Sammy tried to move into the right position of attack. The water sloshed against his chin and made moving difficult, but Sammy felt an inner strength moving him closer, closer.
He raised the spear above his head, aiming carefully. Easy, he told himself, go easy. One slip and Toto would die. He waited, spear poised, until the alligator thrashed into view. Now. Now. Sammy lunged forward with all the strength he could muster and prayed the spear would find its mark. Suddenly inky darkness engulfed him.
Sammy opened his eyes to find Toto leaning over him. He saw the ugly gash and blood oozing from his brother's arm. At least he still had his arm. Toto was smiling, his eyes filled with love and gratitude.
“The 'gator,” Sammy gasped. “Is she -”
Toto spoke softly. “Your aim was straight and true. Now we must get to a doctor quickly. I am very weak.”
Trembling, they made their way back to the canoe and out of the swamp. As the doctor at the hospital worked stitching his arm, Toto smiled at Sammy.
“You showed great courage, little brother.”
Sammy studied his bare feet, embarrassed at Toto's words. “I had no courage,” he confessed. “I sat paralyzed with fear. But I asked God for help, and he gave me the courage.”
The smile faded from Toto's face and his eyes clouded over. “Perhaps you are right,” he murmured. “ I would learn more of this God who can give a boy such courage, yes?”
Sammy's heart burst with happiness. “Oh, yes, Toto, yes.”
Toto grinned. “But I still do not know if I want to raise cattle. I will see, that is all.”
“Of course, Toto,” Sammy assured his brother. “You are the head of the family. I will abide by what you decide.” Secretly, he knew their life was going to take a turn for the better. “Whatever you say, Toto, whatever you say.”
Author: Audrey Frank