Discussion:
A Really Long Joke (nbc)
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Dan
2008-03-07 08:29:11 UTC
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So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.

He’d decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had
great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit
a big rock, and then he couldn’t get it started again. There were no
cell phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had
no family, his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident,
and his few friends had no idea he was out here.

He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran
out and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction
back, now that he’d paid attention to the sun and thought he’d figured
out which way was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he
only had to go about 30 miles or so and he’d be back to the small town
he’d gotten gas in last.

He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based
upon how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no
flashlight, he’s afraid that he’ll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake.
So, he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for
reapplication later, brings an umbrella he’d had in the back of the SUV
with him to give him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid
into his water bottle in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket
knife in case he finds a cactus that looks like it might have water in
it, and heads out in the direction he thinks is right.

He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he’s really thirsty.
He’s been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He’s
reapplied the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but
he still feels sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the
bottle in his pocket
is really getting tempting now. He knows that it’s mainly water and some
ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to
it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.

He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.

By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he’s been
walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10
hours. That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close
to the town. But he doesn’t recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry
creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn’t remember coming through it
in the SUV. He figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little
and that the dry creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He
tells himself that he’s close, and that after dark he’ll start seeing
the town lights over one of these hills, and that’ll be all he needs.

As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and
things, he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town
lights.

Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands
back up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.

He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are
gummy and his mouth and nose feel like they’re full of sand. He so
thirsty that he can’t even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it
was so cold. He’d forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and
hadn’t noticed it the night before because he’d been in his car.

He knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days
without water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can
make it a little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and
having to walk and sweat isn’t the best situation to be without water.
He figures, unless he finds water, this is his last day.

He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He
waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth
goes numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is
it just in his mind? He’s not sure. He’ll go a little farther, and if he
still doesn’t find water, he’ll try drinking some of the fluid.

Then he has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go
from here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming
that he still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction?
He has no idea what to do.

Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the
direction he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points
himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts walking.

As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a
couple of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little
at first, and then stops. He starts getting worried at that - when you
stop sweating he knows that means you’re in trouble - usually right
before heat stroke.

He decides that it’s time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can’t
wait any longer - if he passes out, he’s dead. He stops in the shade of
a large rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He
slowly swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good
in his dry and cracked throat that he doesn’t even care about the nasty
taste. He takes another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he
drinks half the bottle.
He figures that since he’s drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.

He’s quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills
him, it kills him - if he didn’t drink it, he’d die anyway. Besides,
he’s pretty sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is
just designed to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying
cheap wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if
it comes to that.

He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he’ll see a little movement to one side or the other, but
whatever moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it.
Probably birds, lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move
more at night. He’s careful to stay away from the movements.

After a while, he begins to stagger. He’s not sure if it’s fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of
the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself,
and keep going.

After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good!
He knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV - he remembers
doing donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it - he’s getting
woozy enough and tired enough that he’s not sure what he remembers any
more or if he’s hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he
heads off into it, trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets
him closer to the town.

He was heading for a town, wasn’t he? He thinks he was. He isn’t sure
any more. He’s not even sure how long he’s been walking any more. Is it
still morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down
again? It must be afternoon - it seems like it’s been too long since he
started out.

He walks through the sand.

After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He
doesn’t remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at
least he doesn’t think he remembers any. This is bad.

But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He
figures that he’ll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see
anything from there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the
dune.

Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or
third time, and falls to his knees. He doesn’t feel like getting back up
- he’ll just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand
and knees.

While crawling, if his throat weren’t so dry, he’d laugh. He’s finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert - crawling
through the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image,
he imagines, if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling
through the desert in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his
have lasted without any rips so far. Somebody will probably find his
dessicated corpse half buried in the sand years from now, and his
clothes will still be in fine shape -shake the sand out, and a good
wash, and they’d be wearable again. He wishes his throat were wet enough
to laugh. He coughs a little instead, and it hurts.

He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he’s at the
top, he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All
he sees is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he
thinks he sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of
him, more dunes, more sand. This isn’t where he drove his SUV. This is
Hell. Or close enough.

Again, he doesn’t know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the
wiper fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is
removing the cap, when he glances to the side and sees something.
Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he
sees something strange. It’s a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking
the cap of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to
be circular. And it’s dark - darker than the sand. And, there seems to
be something in the middle of it, but he can’t tell what it is. He looks
as hard as he can, and still can tell from here. He’s going to have to
go down there and look.

He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the
dune. After a few steps, he realizes that he’s in trouble - he’s not
going to be able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding,
tottering steps, he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand it
so hot when his body hits it that for a minute he thinks he’s caught
fire on the way down - like a movie car wreck flashing into flames as it
goes over the cliff, before it ever even hits the ground. He closes his
eyes and mouth, covers his face with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.

He stops, at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds
enough energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and
clothes. When he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure
that the dark spot in the sand it still there and he hadn’t just
imagined it.

So, seeing the large, flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, he
begins to crawl towards it. He’d get up and walk towards it, but he
doesn’t seem to have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be
in the final stages of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this
place in the sand doesn’t have water, he’ll likely never make it
anywhere else. This is his last chance.

He gets closer and closer, but still can’t see what’s in the middle of
the dark area. His eyes won’t quite focus any more for some reason. And
lifting his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up
trying. He just keeps crawling.

Finally, he reaches the area he’d seen from the dune. It takes him a
minute of crawling on it before he realizes that he’s no longer on sand
- he’s now crawling on some kind of dark stone. Stone with some kind of
marking on it -a pattern cut into the stone. He’s too tired to stand up
and try to see what the pattern is - so he just keeps crawling. He
crawls towards the center, where his blurry eyes still see something in
the middle of the dark stone area.

His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and
knees are so burnt by the sand that they no longer feel pain, or that
this dark stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding,
punishing sun overhead, doesn’t seem to be hot. It almost feels cool. He
considers lying down on the nice cool surface.

Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating this. He’s
probably in the middle of a patch of sand, already lying face down and
dying, and just imagining this whole thing. A desert mirage. Soon the
beautiful women carrying pitchers of water will come up and start giving
him a drink. Then he’ll know he’s gone.

He decides against laying down on the cool stone. If he’s going to die
here in the middle of this hallucination, he at least wants to see
what’s in the center before he goes. He keeps crawling.

It’s the third time that he hears the voice before he realizes what he’s
hearing. He would swear that someone just said, “Greetings, traveler.
You do not look well. Do you hear me?”

He stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and
knees, but it’s too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something
different - he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few
seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling on his face, sits up,
and tries to focus his eyes. Blurry. He rubs his eyes with the back of
his hands and tries again. Better this time.

Yep. He can see. He’s sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark
expanse of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a
white post or pole about two inches in diameter and sticking up about
four or five feet out of the stone, at an angle.

And wrapped around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and
seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot
long desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.

He stares at the snake in shock. He doesn’t have the energy to get up
and run away. He doesn’t even have the energy to crawl away. This is it,
his final resting place. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be
able to move from this spot.

Well, at least dying of a bite from this monster should be quicker than
dying of thirst. He’ll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a
little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one hand and
waves it in the snake’s direction, feebly. The snake watches the hand
for a moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.

Hmmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn’t rattled
yet -that was a good sign. Maybe he wasn’t going to die of snake bite
after all.

He then remembers that he’d looked up when he’d reached the center here
because he thought he’d heard a voice. He was still very woozy - he was
likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he
was now on cool stone. He still didn’t have anything to drink. But maybe
he had actually heard a voice. This stone didn’t look natural. Nor did
that white post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built
this. Maybe
they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this
snake was even their pet, and that’s why it wasn’t biting.

He tries to clear his throat to say, “Hello,” but his throat is too dry.
All that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. There is no way he’s
going to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his
pocket, and the bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. He shakily
pulls the bottle out, almost losing his balance and falling on his back
in the process. This isn’t good. He doesn’t have much time left, by his
reckoning, before he passes out.

He gets the lid off of the bottle, manages to get the bottle to his
lips, and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around,
and then swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe
he can talk now.

He tries again. Ignoring the snake, he turns to look around him, hoping
to spot the owner of this place, and croaks out, “Hello? Is there anyone
here?”

He hears, from his side, “Greetings. What is it that you want?”

He turns his head, back towards the snake. That’s where the sound had
seemed to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must
be a speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He
decides to try asking for help.

“Please,” he croaks again, suddenly feeling dizzy, “I’d love to not be
thirsty any more. I’ve been a long time without water. Can you help me?”

Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was
coming from this time, he is shocked to see the snake rear back, open
its mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as the dizziness overtakes him
and he falls forward, face first on the stone, “Very well. Coming up.”

A piercing pain shoots through his shoulder. Suddenly he is awake. He
sits up and grabs his shoulder, wincing at the throbbing pain. He’s
momentarily disoriented as he looks around, and then he remembers - the
crawl across the sand, the dark area of stone, the snake. He sees the
snake, still wrapped around the tilted white post, still looking at him.

He reaches up and feels his shoulder, where it hurts. It feels slightly
wet. He pulls his fingers away and looks at them - blood. He feels his
shoulder again - his shirt has what feels like two holes in it - two
puncture holes -they match up with the two aching spots of pain on his
shoulder. He had been bitten. By the snake.

“It’ll feel better in a minute.” He looks up - it’s the snake talking.
He hadn’t dreamed it. Suddenly he notices - he’s not dizzy any more. And
more importantly, he’s not thirsty any more - at all!

“Have I died? Is this the afterlife? Why are you biting me in the
afterlife?”

“Sorry about that, but I had to bite you,” says the snake. “That’s the
way I work. It all comes through the bite. Think of it as natural medicine.”

“You bit me to help me? Why aren’t I thirsty any more? Did you give me a
drink before you bit me? How did I drink enough while unconscious to not
be thirsty any more? I haven’t had a drink for over two days. Well,
except for the windshield wiper fluid… hold it, how in the world does a
snake talk? Are you real? Are you some sort of Disney animation?”

“No,” says the snake, “I’m real. As real as you or anyone is, anyway. I
didn’t give you a drink. I bit you. That’s how it works - it’s what I
do. I bite. I don’t have hands to give you a drink, even if I had water
just sitting around here.”

The man sat stunned for a minute. Here he was, sitting in the middle of
the desert on some strange stone that should be hot but wasn’t, talking
to a snake that could talk back and had just bitten him. And he felt
better. Not great - he was still starving and exhausted, but much better
- he was no longer thirsty. He had started to sweat again, but only
slightly. He felt hot, in this sun, but it was starting to get lower in
the sky, and the cool stone beneath him was a relief he could notice now
that he was no longer dying of thirst.

“I might suggest that we take care of that methanol you now have in your
system with the next request,” continued the snake. “I can guess why you
drank it, but I’m not sure how much you drank, or how much methanol was
left in the wiper fluid. That stuff is nasty. It’ll make you go blind in
a day or two, if you drank enough of it.”

“Ummm, n-next request?” said the man. He put his hand back on his
hurting shoulder and backed away from the snake a little.

“That’s the way it works. If you like, that is,” explained the snake.
“You get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish.” The snake
grinned at his own joke, and the man drew back a little further from the
show of fangs.

“But there are rules,” the snake continued. “The first request is free.
The second requires an agreement of secrecy. The third requires the
binding of responsibility.” The snake looks at the man seriously.

“By the way,” the snake says suddenly, “my name is Nathan. Old Nathan,
Samuel used to call me. He gave me the name. Before that, most of the
Bound used to just call me ‘Snake’. But that got old, and Samuel
wouldn’t stand for it. He said that anything that could talk needed a
name. He was big into names. You can call me Nate, if you wish.” Again,
the snake grinned. “Sorry if I don’t offer to shake, but I think you can
understand - my shake sounds
somewhat threatening.” The snake give his rattle a little shake.

“Umm, my name is Jack,” said the man, trying to absorb all of this.
“Jack Samson.

“Can I ask you a question?” Jack says suddenly. “What happened to the
poison…umm, in your bite. Why aren’t I dying now? How did you do that?
What do you mean by that’s how you work?”

“That’s more than one question,” grins Nate. “But I’ll still try to
answer all of them. First, yes, you can ask me a question.” The snake’s
grin gets wider. “Second, the poison is in you. It changed you. You now
no longer need to drink. That’s what you asked for. Or, well,
technically, you asked to not be thirsty any more - but ‘any more’ is
such a vague term. I decided to make it permanent - now, as long as you
live, you shouldn’t need to drink much at all. Your body will conserve
water very efficiently. You should be able to get enough just from the
food you eat - much like a creature of the desert. You’ve been changed.

“For the third question,” Nate continues, “you are still dying. Besides
the effects of that methanol in your system, you’re a man - and men are
mortal. In your current state, I give you no more than about another 50
years. Assuming you get out of this desert, alive, that is.” Nate seemed
vastly amused at his own humor, and continued his wide grin.

“As for the fourth question,” Nate said, looking more serious as far as
Jack could tell, as Jack was just now working on his ability to read
talking-snake emotions from snake facial features, “first you have to
agree to make a second request and become bound by the secrecy, or I
can’t tell you.”

“Wait,” joked Jack, “isn’t this where you say you could tell me, but
you’d have to kill me?”

“I thought that was implied.” Nate continued to look serious.

“Ummm…yeah.” Jack leaned back a little as he remembered again that he
was talking to a fifteen foot poisonous reptile with a reputation for
having a nasty temper. “So, what is this ‘Bound by Secrecy’ stuff, and
can you really stop the effects of the methanol?” Jack thought for a
second. “And, what do you mean methanol, anyway? I thought these days
they use ethanol in wiper fluid, and just denature it?”

“They may, I don’t really know,” said Nate. “I haven’t gotten out in a
while. Maybe they do. All I know is that I smell methanol on your breath
and on that bottle in your pocket. And the blue color of the liquid when
you pulled it out to drink some let me guess that it was wiper fluid. I
assume that they still color wiper fluid blue?”

“Yeah, they do,” said Jack.

“I figured,” replied Nate. “As for being bound by secrecy - with the
fulfillment of your next request, you will be bound to say nothing about
me, this place, or any of the information I will tell you after that,
when you decide to go back out to your kind. You won’t be allowed to
talk about me, write about me, use sign language, charades, or even act
in a way that will lead someone to guess correctly about me. You’ll be
bound to secrecy. Of course, I’ll also ask you to promise not to give me
away, and as I’m guessing that you’re a man of your word, you’ll never
test the binding anyway, so you won’t notice.” Nate said the last part
with utter confidence.

Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of his word, felt a
little nervous at this. “Ummm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know
that? Are you, umm, omniscient, or something?”

Well, Jack,” said Nate sadly, “I can’t tell you that, unless you make
the second request.” Nate looked away for a minute, then looked back.

“Umm, well, ok,” said Jack, “what is this about a second request? What
can I ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?”

“Sure!” said Nate, brightening. “You’re allowed to ask for changes.
Changes to yourself. They’re like wishes, but they can only affect you.
Oh, and before you ask, I can’t give you immortality. Or omniscience. Or
omnipresence, for that matter. Though I might be able to make you
gaseous and yet remain alive, and then you could spread through the
atmosphere and sort of be omnipresent. But what good would that be - you
still wouldn’t be omniscient and thus still could only focus on one
thing at a time. Not very useful, at least in my opinion.” Nate stopped
when he realized that Jack was staring at him.

“Well, anyway,” continued Nate, “I’d probably suggest giving you
permanent good health. It would negate the methanol now in your system,
you’d be immune to most poisons and diseases, and you’d tend to live a
very long time, barring accident, of course. And you’ll even have a
tendency to recover from accidents well. It always seemed like a good
choice for a request to me.”

“Cure the methanol poisoning, huh?” said Jack. “And keep me healthy for
a long time? Hmmm. It doesn’t sound bad at that. And it has to be a
request about a change to me? I can’t ask to be rich, right? Because
that’s not really a change to me?”

“Right,” nodded Nate.

“Could I ask to be a genius and permanently healthy?” Jack asked, hopefully.

“That takes two requests, Jack.”

“Yeah, I figured so,” said Jack. “But I could ask to be a genius? I
could become the smartest scientist in the world? Or the best athlete?”

“Well, I could make you very smart,” admitted Nate, “but that wouldn’t
necessarily make you the best scientist in the world. Or, I could make
you very athletic, but it wouldn’t necessarily make you the best athlete
either. You’ve heard the saying that 99% of genius is hard work? Well,
there’s some truth to that. I can give you the talent, but I can’t make
you work hard. It all depends on what you decide to do with it.”

“Hmmm,” said Jack. “Ok, I think I understand. And I get a third request,
after this one?”

“Maybe,” said Nate, “it depends on what you decide then. There are more
rules for the third request that I can only tell you about after the
second request. You know how it goes.” Nate looked like he’d shrug, if
he had shoulders.

“Ok, well, since I’d rather not be blind in a day or two, and permanent
health doesn’t sound bad, then consider that my second request.
Officially. Do I need to sign in blood or something?”

“No,” said Nate. “Just hold out your hand. Or heel.” Nate grinned. “Or
whatever part you want me to bite. I have to bite you again. Like I
said, that’s how it works - the poison, you know,” Nate said apologetically.

Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite was.
Hey, it didn’t hurt any more. Just like Nate had said. That made Jack
feel better about the biting business. But still, standing still while a
fifteen foot snake sunk it’s fangs into you. Jack stood up. Ignoring how
good it felt to be able to stand again, and the hunger starting to gnaw
at his stomach, Jack tried to decide where he wanted to get bitten.
Despite knowing that it wouldn’t hurt for long, Jack knew that this
wasn’t going to be easy.

“Hey, Jack,” Nate suddenly said, looking past Jack towards the dunes
behind him, “is that someone else coming up over there?”

Jack spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of
nowhere? And did they bring food?

Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate…

Jack let out a bellow as he felt two fangs sink into his rear end,
through his jeans…

Jack sat down carefully, favoring his more tender buttock. “I would have
decided, eventually, Nate. I was just thinking about it. You didn’t have to
hoodwink me like that.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time, Jack,” said Nate, confidently. “You
humans have a hard time sitting still and letting a snake bite you -
especially one my size. And besides, admit it - it’s only been a couple
of minutes and it already doesn’t hurt any more, does it? That’s because
of the health benefit with this one. I told you that you’d heal quickly
now.”

“Yeah, well, still,” said Jack, “it’s the principle of the thing. And
nobody likes being bitten in the butt! Couldn’t you have gotten my calf
or something instead?”

“More meat in the typical human butt,” replied Nate. “And less chance
you accidentally kick me or move at the last second.”

“Yeah, right. So, tell me all of these wonderful secrets that I now
qualify to hear,” answered Jack.

“Ok,” said Nate. “Do you want to ask questions first, or do you want me
to just start talking?”

“Just talk,” said Jack. “I’ll sit here and try to not think about food.”

“We could go try to rustle up some food for you first, if you like,”
answered Nate.

“Hey! You didn’t tell me you had food around here, Nate!” Jack jumped
up. “What do we have? Am I in walking distance to town? Or can you
magically whip up food along with your other powers?” Jack was almost
shouting with excitement. His stomach had been growling for hours.

“I was thinking more like I could flush something out of its hole and
bite it for you, and you could skin it and eat it. Assuming you have a
knife, that is,” replied Nate, with the grin that Jack was starting to
get used to.

“Ugh,” said Jack, sitting back down. “I think I’ll pass. I can last a
little longer before I get desperate enough to eat desert rat, or
whatever else it is you find out here. And there’s nothing to burn - I’d
have to eat it raw. No thanks. Just talk.”

“Ok,” replied Nate, still grinning. “But I’d better hurry, before you
start looking at me as food.

Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then
continued. “You, Jack, are sitting in the middle of the Garden of Eden.”

Jack looked around at the sand and dunes and then looked back at Nate
sceptically.

“Well, that’s the best I can figure it, anyway, Jack,” said Nate. “Stand
up and look at the symbol on the rock here.” Nate gestured around the
dark stone they were both sitting on with his nose.

Jack stood up and looked. Carved into the stone in a bas-relief was a
representation of a large tree. The angled-pole that Nate was wrapped
around was coming out of the trunk of the tree, right below where the
main branches left the truck to reach out across the stone. It was very
well done - it looked more like a tree had been reduced to almost two
dimensions and embedded in the stone than it did like a carving.

Jack walked around and looked at the details in the fading light of the
setting sun. He wished he’d looked at it while the sun was higher in the
sky.

Wait! The sun was setting! That meant he was going to have to spend
another night out here! Arrrgh!

Jack looked out across the desert for a little bit, and then came back
and stood next to Nate. “In all the excitement, I almost forgot, Nate,”
said Jack. “Which way is it back to town? And how far? I’m eventually
going to have to head back - I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive by
eating raw desert critters for long. And even if I can, I’m not sure
I’ll want to.”

“It’s about 30 miles that way.” Nate pointed, with the rattle on his
tail this time. As far as Jack could tell, it was a direction at right
angles to the way he’d been going when he was crawling here. “But that’s
30 miles by the way the crow flies. It’s about 40 by the way a man
walks. You should be able to do it in about half a day with your
improved endurance, if you head out early tomorrow, Jack.”

Jack looked out the way the snake had pointed for a few seconds more,
and then sat back down. It was getting dark. Not much he could do about
heading out right now. And besides, Nate was just about to get to the
interesting stuff. “Garden of Eden? As best as you can figure it?”

“Well, yeah, as best as I and Samuel could figure it anyway,” said Nate.
“He figured that the story just got a little mixed up. You know, snake,
in a ‘tree’, offering ‘temptations’, making bargains. That kind stuff.
But he could never quite figure out how the Hebrews found out about this
spot from across the ocean. He worried about that for a while.”

“Garden of Eden, hunh?” said Jack. “How long have you been here, Nate?”

“No idea, really,” replied Nate. “A long time. It never occurred to me
to count years, until recently, and by then, of course, it was too late.
But I do remember when this whole place was green, so I figure it’s been
thousands of years, at least.”

“So, are you the snake that tempted Eve?” said Jack.

“Beats me,” said Nate. “Maybe. I can’t remember if the first one of your
kind that I talked to was female or not, and I never got a name, but it
could have been. And I suppose she could have considered my offer to
grant requests a ‘temptation’, though I’ve rarely had refusals.”

“Well, umm, how did you get here then? And why is that white pole stuck
out of the stone there?” asked Jack.

“Dad left me here. Or, I assume it was my dad. It was another snake -
much bigger than I was back then. I remember talking to him, but I don’t
remember if it was in a language, or just kind of understanding what he
wanted. But one day, he brought me to this stone, told me about it, and
asked me to do something for him. I talked it over with him for a while,
then agreed. I’ve been here ever since.

“What is this place?” said Jack. “And what did he ask you to do?”

“Well, you see this pole here, sticking out of the stone?” Nate loosened
his coils around the tilted white pole and showed Jack where it
descended into the stone. The pole was tilted at about a 45 degree angle
and seemed to enter the stone in an eighteen inch slot cut into the
stone. Jack leaned over and looked. The slot was dark and the pole went
down into it as far as Jack could see in the dim light. Jack reached out
to touch the pole, but Nate was suddenly there in the way.

“You can’t touch that yet, Jack,” said Nate.

“Why not?” asked Jack.

“I haven’t explained it to you yet,” replied Nate.

“Well, it kinda looks like a lever or something,” said Jack. “You’d push
it that way, and it would move in the slot.”

“Yep, that’s what it is,” replied Nate.

“What does it do?” asked Jack. “End the world?”

“Oh, no,” said Nate. “Nothing that drastic. It just ends humanity. I
call it ‘The Lever of Doom’.” For the last few words Nate had used a
deeper, ringing voice. He tried to look serious for a few seconds, and
then gave up and grinned.

Jack was initially startled by Nate’s pronouncement, but when Nate
grinned Jack laughed. “Ha! You almost had me fooled for a second there.
What does it really do?”

“Oh, it really ends humanity, like I said,” smirked Nate. “I just
thought the voice I used was funny, didn’t you?”

Nate continued to grin.

“A lever to end humanity?” asked Jack. “What in the world is that for?
Why would anyone need to end humanity?”

“Well,” replied Nate, “I get the idea that maybe humanity was an
experiment. Or maybe the Big Guy just thought, that if humanity started
going really bad, there should be a way to end it. I’m not really sure.
All I know are the rules, and the guesses that Samuel and I had about
why it’s here. I didn’t think to ask back when I started here.”

“Rules? What rules?” asked Jack.

“The rules are that I can’t tell anybody about it or let them touch it
unless they agree to be bound to secrecy by a bite. And that only one
human can be bound in that way at a time. That’s it.” explained Nate.

Jack looked somewhat shocked. “You mean that I could pull the lever now?
You’d let me end humanity?”

“Yep,” replied Nate, “if you want to.” Nate looked at Jack carefully.
“Do you want to, Jack?”

“Umm, no.” said Jack, stepping a little further back from the lever.
“Why in the world would anyone want to end humanity? It’d take a
psychotic to want that! Or worse, a suicidal psychotic, because it would
kill him too, wouldn’t it?”

“Yep,” replied Nate, “being as he’d be human too.”

“Has anyone ever seriously considered it?” asked Nate. “Any of those
bound to secrecy, that is?”

“Well, of course, I think they’ve all seriously considered it at one
time or another. Being given that kind of responsibility makes you sit
down and think, or so I’m told. Samuel considered it several times. He’d
often get disgusted with humanity, come out here, and just hold the
lever for a while. But he never pulled it. Or you wouldn’t be here.”
Nate grinned some more.

Jack sat down, well back from the lever. He looked thoughtful and
puzzled at the same time. After a bit, he said, “So this makes me the
Judge of humanity? I get to decide whether they keep going or just end? Me?”

“That seems to be it,” agreed Nate.

“What kind of criteria do I use to decide?” said Jack. “How do I make
this decision? Am I supposed to decide if they’re good? Or too many of
them are bad? Or that they’re going the wrong way? Is there a set of
rules for that?”

“Nope,” replied Nate. “You pretty much just have to decide on your own.
It’s up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you’re just
supposed to know.”

“But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel
horrible? Couldn’t I make a mistake? How do I know that I won’t screw
up?” protested Jack.

Nate gave his kind of snake-like shrug again. “You don’t. You just have
to try your best, Jack.”

Jack sat there for a while, staring off into the desert that was rapidly
getting dark, chewing on a fingernail.

Suddenly, Jack turned around and looked at the snake. “Nate, was Samuel
the one bound to this before me?”

“Yep,” replied Nate. “He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me
to read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them
buried in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a
few months ago.”

“Sounds like a good guy,” agreed Jack. “How did he handle this, when you
first told him. What did he do?”

“Well,” said Nate, “he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit,
and then asked me some questions, much like you’re doing.”

“What did he ask you, if you’re allowed to tell me?” asked Jack.

“He asked me about the third request,” replied Nate.

“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”

“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third
request you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to
the point that you really think that humanity should be ended, that
you’ll come here and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp
out.” Nate looked serious again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”

“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.

Nate watched him, waiting.

“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for
with his third request?”

Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly,
“Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”

“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give
it to me.

Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”

“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped
him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over
his shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”

“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter
afterward. Like he had a lot to think about.”

“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack
turned toface away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.

Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack
now, Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.

“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks
like it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.

“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and
body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.

“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that
you’ll turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”

“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes,
straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate
there. With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from
its slot in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.

Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt
the now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.

Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his
feet extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness,
listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where
he’d been recently bitten.

Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a
desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped
back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s
air the only sign that he was still awake.

Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand
while he thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.

“Nate, do accidents count?”

Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”

Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know,
accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does
that still wipe out humanity?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about
that if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.

A little later - “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.

“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.

“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I
pull the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or
throw a rock?”

“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how
complicated you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some
kind of remote control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d
build would be gone by the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone,
or over it. I told him that in the past others that had been bound had
tried to bury the lever so they wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but
every time the stones or sand or whatever had disappeared.”

“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept
him off of the stone and looked up into the sky.

“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too,
right?” asked Jack.

“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”

“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as
long. Do you know what he died of, Nate?”

“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat
sad.

Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.

Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in
society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start
questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while.
He faked his death once, but changed his mind - he decided it was too
early and he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of
mankind, but he liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.

“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He
didn’t stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out
here to spend time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A
few months ago he told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”

“And then he just died?” asked Jack.

Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s
only one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.

After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was
his time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they
always had.

After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the
stone with the sunrise.”

Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his
memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.

Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled
with the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well,
except that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw
desert rat.

So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how
to get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started
the long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good
directions, he made it back easily.

Jack caught a bus back to the city, and showed up for work the next day,
little worse for the wear and with a story about getting lost in the
desert and walking back out. Within a couple of days Jack had talked a
friend with a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to
fetch the SUV. They found it after a couple of hours of searching and
towed it back without incident. Jack was careful not to even look in the
direction of Nate’s lever, though their path back didn’t come within
sight of it.

Before the next weekend, Jack had gone to a couple of stores, including
a book store, and had gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a
warning to avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, Jack
headed back to see Nate.

Jack parked a little way out of the small town near Nate, loaded up his
new backpack with camping gear and the things he was bringing for Nate,
and then started walking. He figured that walking would leave the least
trail, and he knew that while not many people camped in the desert, it
wasn’t unheard of, and shouldn’t really raise suspicions.

Jack had brought more books for Nate - recent books, magazines,
newspapers. Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening
in the world, others that were just good books to read. He spent the
weekend with Nate, and then headed out again, telling Nate that he’d be
back again soon, but that he had things to do first.

Over four months later Jack was back to see Nate again. This time he
brought a laptop with him - a specially modified laptop. It had a solar
recharger, special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite
link-up, and a special keyboard and joystick that Jack hoped that a
fifteen-foot rattlesnake would be able to use. And, it had been hacked
to not give out its location to the satellite.

After that Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visited
him fairly regularly - at least once or twice a year.

After the first year, Jack quit his job. For some reason, with the
wisdom he ‘d been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over
150 years, working in a nine to five job for someone else didn’t seem
that worthwhile any more. Jack went back to school.

Eventually, Jack started writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or
perhaps because of his new perspective, he wrote well. People liked what
he wrote, and he became well known for it. After a time, Jack bought an
RV and started traveling around the country for book signings and readings.

But, he still remembered to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.

On one of the visits Nate seemed quieter than usual. Not that Nate had
been a fountain of joy lately. Jack’s best guess was that Nate was still
missing Samuel, and though Jack had tried, he still hadn’t been able to
replace Samuel in Nate’s eyes. Nate had been getting quieter each visit.
But on this visit Nate didn’t even speak when Jack walked up to the
lever. He nodded at Jack, and then went back to staring into the desert.
Jack, respecting Nate’s silence, sat down and waited.

After a few minutes, Nate spoke. “Jack, I have someone to introduce you to.”

Jack looked surprised. “Someone to introduce me to?” Jack looked around,
and then looked carefully back at Nate. “This something to do with the
Big Guy?

“No, no,” replied Nate. “This is more personal. I want you to meet my
son.” Nate looked over at the nearest sand dune. “Sammy!”

Jack watched as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawled from behind
the dune and up to the stone base of the lever.

“Yo, Jack,” said the new, much smaller snake.

“Yo, Sammy” replied Jack. Jack looked at Nate. “Named after Samuel, I
assume?”

Nate nodded. “Jack, I’ve got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy
around for me?” Nate unwrapped himself from the lever and slithered over
to the edge of the stone and looked across the sands. “When Samuel first
told me about the world, and brought me books and pictures, I wished
that I could go see it. I wanted to see the great forests, the canyons,
the cities, even the other deserts, to see if they felt and smelled the
same. I want my son to have that chance - to see the world. Before he
becomes bound here like I have been.

“He’s seen it in pictures, over the computer that you brought me. But I
hear that it’s not the same. That being there is different. I want him
to have that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?”

Jack nodded. This was obviously very important to Nate, so Jack didn’t
even joke about taking a talking rattlesnake out to see the world.
“Yeah, I can do that for you, Nate. Is that all you need?” Jack could
sense that was something more.

Nate looked at Sammy. Sammy looked back at Nate for a second and then
said, “Oh, yeah. Ummm, I’ve gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack.
Nice to meet ya!” Sammy slithered back over the dune and out of sight.

Nate watched Sammy disappear and then looked back at Jack. “Jack, this
is my first son. My first offspring through all the years. You don’t
even want to know what it took for me to find a mate.” Nate grinned to
himself. “But anyway, I had a son for a reason. I’m tired. I’m ready for
it to be over. I needed a replacement.”

Jack considered this for a minute. “So, you’re ready to come see the
world, and you wanted him to watch the lever while you were gone?”

Nate shook his head. “No, Jack - you’re a better guesser than that.
You’ve already figured out - I’m bound here - there’s only one way for
me to leave here. And I’m ready. It’s my time to die.”

Jack looked more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought about
this - probably for quite a while. Jack had trouble imagining what it
would be like to be as old as Nate, but Jack could already tell that in
another hundred or two hundred years, he might be getting tired of life
himself. Jack could understand Samuel’s decision, and now Nate’s. So,
all Jack said was, “What do you want me to do?”

Nate nodded. “Thanks, Jack. I only want two things. One - show Sammy
around the world - let him get his fill of it, until he’s ready to come
back here and take over. Two - give me the fourth request.

“I can’t just decide to die, not any more than you can. I won’t even die
of old age like you eventually will, even though it’ll be a long time
from now. I need to be killed. Once Sammy is back here, ready to take
over, I’ll be able to die. And I need you to kill me.

“I’ve even thought about how. Poisons and other drugs won’t work on me.
And I’ve seen pictures of snakes that were shot - some of them live for
days, so that’s out too. So, I want you to bring back a sword.

Nate turned away to look back to the dune that Sammy had gone behind.
“I’d say an axe, but that’s somewhat undignified - putting my head on
the ground or a chopping block like that. No, I like a sword. A
time-honored way of going out. A dignified way to die. And, most
importantly, it should work, even on me.

“You willing to do that for me, Jack?” Nate turned back to look at Jack.

“Yeah, Nate,” replied Jack solemnly, “I think I can handle that.”

Nate nodded. “Good!” He turned back toward the dune and shouted, “Sammy!
Jack’s about ready to leave!” Then quietly, “Thanks, Jack.”

Jack didn’t have anything to say to that, so he waited for Sammy to make
it back to the lever, nodded to him, nodded a final time to Nate, and
then headed into the desert with Sammy following. Over the next several
years Sammy and Jack kept in touch with Nate through e-mail as they went
about their adventures. They made a goal of visiting every country in
the world, and did a respectable job of it. Sammy had a natural gift for
languages, as Jack expected he would, and even ended up acting as a
translator for Jack in a few of the countries. Jack managed to keep the
talking rattlesnake hidden, even so, and by the time they were nearing
the end of their tour of countries, Sammy had only been spotted a few
times. While there were several people that had seen enough to startle
them greatly, nobody had enough evidence to prove anything, and while a
few wild rumors and storied followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever
hit the newspapers or the public in general.

When they finished the tour of countries, Jack suggested that they try
some undersea diving. They did. And spelunking. They did that too. Sammy
finally drew the line at visiting Antarctica. He’d come to realize that
Jack was stalling. After talking to his Dad about it over e-mail, he
figured out that Jack probably didn’t want to have to kill Nate. Nate
told Sammy that humans could be squeamish about killing friends and
acquaintances.

So, Sammy eventually put his tail down (as he didn’t have a foot) and
told Jack that it was time - he was ready to go back and take up his
duties from his dad. Jack, delayed it a little more by insisting that
they go back to Japan and buy an appropriate sword. He even stretched it
a little more by getting lessons in how to use the sword. But,
eventually, he’d learned as much as he was likely to without dedicating
his life to it, and was definitely competent enough to take the head off
of a snake. It was time to head back and see Nate.

When they got back to the US, Jack got the old RV out of storage where
he and Sammy had left it after their tour of the fifty states, he loaded
up Sammy and the sword, and they headed for the desert.

When they got to the small town that Jack had been trying to find those
years ago when he’d met Nate, Jack was in a funk. He didn’t really feel
like walking all of the way out there. Not only that, but he’d forgotten
to figure the travel time correctly, and it was late afternoon. They’d
either have to spend the night in town and walk out tomorrow, or walk in
the dark.

As Jack was afraid that if he waited one more night he might lose his
resolve, he decided that he’d go ahead and drive the RV out there. It
was only going to be this once, and Jack would go back and cover the
tracks afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by
nightfall if they drove, and then they could get it over tonight.

Jack told Sammy to e-mail Nate that they were coming as he drove out of
sight of the town on the road. They then pulled off the road and headed
out into the desert.

Everything went well, until they got to the sand dunes. Jack had been
nursing the RV along the whole time, over the rocks, through the creek
beds, revving the engine the few times they almost got stuck. When they
came to the dunes, Jack didn’t really think about it, he just
downshifted and headed up the first one. By the third dune, Jack started
to regret that he’d decided to try driving on the sand. The RV was
fishtailling and losing traction. Jack was having to work it up each
dune slowly and was trying to keep from losing control each time they
came over the top and slid down the other side. Sammy had come up to sit
in the passenger seat, coiled up and laughing at Jack’s driving.

As they came over the top of the fourth dune, the biggest one yet, Jack
saw that this was the final dune - the stone, the lever, and somewhere
Nate, waited below. Jack put on the brakes, but he’d gone a little too
far. The RV started slipping down the other side.

Jack tried turning the wheel, but he didn’t have enough traction. He
pumped the brakes - no response. They started sliding down the hill,
faster and faster.

Jack felt a shock go through him as he suddenly realized that they were
heading for the lever. He looked down - the RV was directly on course
for it. If Jack didn’t do something, the RV would hit it. He was about
to end humanity.

Jack steered more frantically, trying to get traction. It still wasn’t
working. The dune was too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split
second, Jack realized that his only chance would be once he hit the
stone around the lever - he should have traction on the stone for just a
second before he hit the lever - he wouldn’t have time to stop, but he
should be able to steer away.

Jack took a better grip on the steering wheel and tried to turn the RV a
little bit - every little bit would help. He’d have to time his turn
just right.

The RV got to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the
sand. Just before they reached the stone Jack looked across it to check
that they were still heading for the lever. They were. But Jack noticed
something else that he hadn’t seen from the top of the dune. Nate wasn’t
wrapped around the lever. He was off to the side of the lever, but still
on the stone, waiting for them. The problem was, he was waiting on the
same side of the lever that Jack had picked to steer towards to avoid
the lever. The RV was already starting to drift that way a little in its
mad rush across the sand and there was no way that Jack was going to be
able to go around the lever to the other side.

Jack had an instant of realization. He was either going to have to hit
the lever, or run over Nate. He glanced over at Sammy and saw that Sammy
realized the same thing.

Jack took a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the RV ran up on the
stone. Shouting to Sammy as he pulled the steering wheel, “BETTER NATE
THAN LEVER,” he ran over the snake.

THE END
--
Dan




"To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge
our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away
merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always
expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to
find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to remember that, in
the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the
tiger ended up inside."

-John F Kennedy
Nate
2008-03-07 10:08:19 UTC
Permalink
So, there's a man crawling through the desert.
As a fan of the pun, I wholeheartedly appreciated that. :) .
A to Z
2008-03-07 12:03:55 UTC
Permalink
So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.
He’d decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had
great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit a
big rock, and then he couldn’t get it started again. There were no cell
phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had no
family, his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident, and
his few friends had no idea he was out here.
He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran
out and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction
back, now that he’d paid attention to the sun and thought he’d figured out
which way was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he only
had to go about 30 miles or so and he’d be back to the small town he’d
gotten gas in last.
He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based upon
how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no
flashlight, he’s afraid that he’ll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake.
So, he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for
reapplication later, brings an umbrella he’d had in the back of the SUV
with him to give him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid into
his water bottle in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket knife
in case he finds a cactus that looks like it might have water in it, and
heads out in the direction he thinks is right.
He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he’s really thirsty. He’s
been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He’s reapplied
the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but he still
feels sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the bottle in his
pocket
is really getting tempting now. He knows that it’s mainly water and some
ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to
it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.
He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.
By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he’s been
walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10
hours. That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close
to the town. But he doesn’t recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry
creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn’t remember coming through it in
the SUV. He figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little and
that the dry creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He tells
himself that he’s close, and that after dark he’ll start seeing the town
lights over one of these hills, and that’ll be all he needs.
As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and
things, he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town
lights.
Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands back
up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.
He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are gummy
and his mouth and nose feel like they’re full of sand. He so thirsty that
he can’t even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it was so cold. He’d
forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and hadn’t noticed it the
night before because he’d been in his car.
He knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days
without water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can
make it a little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and
having to walk and sweat isn’t the best situation to be without water. He
figures, unless he finds water, this is his last day.
He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He
waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth goes
numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is it just
in his mind? He’s not sure. He’ll go a little farther, and if he still
doesn’t find water, he’ll try drinking some of the fluid.
Then he has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go from
here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming that he
still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction? He has no
idea what to do.
Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the
direction he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points
himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts walking.
As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a couple
of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little at first,
and then stops. He starts getting worried at that - when you stop sweating
he knows that means you’re in trouble - usually right before heat stroke.
He decides that it’s time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can’t wait
any longer - if he passes out, he’s dead. He stops in the shade of a large
rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He slowly
swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good in his dry
and cracked throat that he doesn’t even care about the nasty taste. He
takes another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he drinks half the
bottle.
He figures that since he’s drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.
He’s quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills
him, it kills him - if he didn’t drink it, he’d die anyway. Besides, he’s
pretty sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is just
designed to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying cheap
wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if it
comes to that.
He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he’ll see a little movement to one side or the other, but
whatever moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it.
Probably birds, lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move
more at night. He’s careful to stay away from the movements.
After a while, he begins to stagger. He’s not sure if it’s fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of
the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself, and
keep going.
After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good! He
knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV - he remembers doing
donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it - he’s getting woozy
enough and tired enough that he’s not sure what he remembers any more or
if he’s hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he heads off into
it, trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets him closer to the
town.
He was heading for a town, wasn’t he? He thinks he was. He isn’t sure any
more. He’s not even sure how long he’s been walking any more. Is it still
morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down again?
It must be afternoon - it seems like it’s been too long since he started
out.
He walks through the sand.
After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He doesn’t
remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at least he
doesn’t think he remembers any. This is bad.
But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He
figures that he’ll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see
anything from there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the
dune.
Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or
third time, and falls to his knees. He doesn’t feel like getting back up -
he’ll just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand and
knees.
While crawling, if his throat weren’t so dry, he’d laugh. He’s finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert - crawling
through the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image, he
imagines, if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling
through the desert in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his have
lasted without any rips so far. Somebody will probably find his dessicated
corpse half buried in the sand years from now, and his clothes will still
be in fine shape -shake the sand out, and a good wash, and they’d be
wearable again. He wishes his throat were wet enough to laugh. He coughs a
little instead, and it hurts.
He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he’s at the top,
he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All he
sees is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he
thinks he sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of
him, more dunes, more sand. This isn’t where he drove his SUV. This is
Hell. Or close enough.
Again, he doesn’t know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the
wiper fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is
removing the cap, when he glances to the side and sees something.
Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he sees
something strange. It’s a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking the cap
of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to be
circular. And it’s dark - darker than the sand. And, there seems to be
something in the middle of it, but he can’t tell what it is. He looks as
hard as he can, and still can tell from here. He’s going to have to go
down there and look.
He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the
dune. After a few steps, he realizes that he’s in trouble - he’s not going
to be able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding, tottering
steps, he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand it so hot when
his body hits it that for a minute he thinks he’s caught fire on the way
down - like a movie car wreck flashing into flames as it goes over the
cliff, before it ever even hits the ground. He closes his eyes and mouth,
covers his face with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.
He stops, at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds
enough energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and
clothes. When he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure that
the dark spot in the sand it still there and he hadn’t just imagined it.
So, seeing the large, flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, he
begins to crawl towards it. He’d get up and walk towards it, but he doesn’t
seem to have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be in the
final stages of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this place in the
sand doesn’t have water, he’ll likely never make it anywhere else. This is
his last chance.
He gets closer and closer, but still can’t see what’s in the middle of the
dark area. His eyes won’t quite focus any more for some reason. And
lifting his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up trying.
He just keeps crawling.
Finally, he reaches the area he’d seen from the dune. It takes him a
minute of crawling on it before he realizes that he’s no longer on sand -
he’s now crawling on some kind of dark stone. Stone with some kind of
marking on it -a pattern cut into the stone. He’s too tired to stand up
and try to see what the pattern is - so he just keeps crawling. He crawls
towards the center, where his blurry eyes still see something in the
middle of the dark stone area.
His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and knees
are so burnt by the sand that they no longer feel pain, or that this dark
stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding, punishing sun
overhead, doesn’t seem to be hot. It almost feels cool. He considers lying
down on the nice cool surface.
Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating this. He’s
probably in the middle of a patch of sand, already lying face down and
dying, and just imagining this whole thing. A desert mirage. Soon the
beautiful women carrying pitchers of water will come up and start giving
him a drink. Then he’ll know he’s gone.
He decides against laying down on the cool stone. If he’s going to die
here in the middle of this hallucination, he at least wants to see what’s
in the center before he goes. He keeps crawling.
It’s the third time that he hears the voice before he realizes what he’s
hearing. He would swear that someone just said, “Greetings, traveler. You
do not look well. Do you hear me?”
He stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and
knees, but it’s too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something
different - he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few
seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling on his face, sits up, and
tries to focus his eyes. Blurry. He rubs his eyes with the back of his
hands and tries again. Better this time.
Yep. He can see. He’s sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark expanse
of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a white post or
pole about two inches in diameter and sticking up about four or five feet
out of the stone, at an angle.
And wrapped around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and
seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot long
desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.
He stares at the snake in shock. He doesn’t have the energy to get up and
run away. He doesn’t even have the energy to crawl away. This is it, his
final resting place. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be able to
move from this spot.
Well, at least dying of a bite from this monster should be quicker than
dying of thirst. He’ll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a
little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one hand and
waves it in the snake’s direction, feebly. The snake watches the hand for
a moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.
Hmmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn’t rattled
yet -that was a good sign. Maybe he wasn’t going to die of snake bite
after all.
He then remembers that he’d looked up when he’d reached the center here
because he thought he’d heard a voice. He was still very woozy - he was
likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he was
now on cool stone. He still didn’t have anything to drink. But maybe he
had actually heard a voice. This stone didn’t look natural. Nor did that
white post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built this.
Maybe
they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this snake
was even their pet, and that’s why it wasn’t biting.
He tries to clear his throat to say, “Hello,” but his throat is too dry.
All that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. There is no way he’s
going to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his pocket,
and the bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. He shakily pulls the
bottle out, almost losing his balance and falling on his back in the
process. This isn’t good. He doesn’t have much time left, by his
reckoning, before he passes out.
He gets the lid off of the bottle, manages to get the bottle to his lips,
and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around, and then
swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe he can
talk now.
He tries again. Ignoring the snake, he turns to look around him, hoping to
spot the owner of this place, and croaks out, “Hello? Is there anyone
here?”
He hears, from his side, “Greetings. What is it that you want?”
He turns his head, back towards the snake. That’s where the sound had
seemed to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must be
a speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He
decides to try asking for help.
“Please,” he croaks again, suddenly feeling dizzy, “I’d love to not be
thirsty any more. I’ve been a long time without water. Can you help me?”
Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was
coming from this time, he is shocked to see the snake rear back, open its
mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as the dizziness overtakes him and he
falls forward, face first on the stone, “Very well. Coming up.”
A piercing pain shoots through his shoulder. Suddenly he is awake. He sits
up and grabs his shoulder, wincing at the throbbing pain. He’s momentarily
disoriented as he looks around, and then he remembers - the crawl across
the sand, the dark area of stone, the snake. He sees the snake, still
wrapped around the tilted white post, still looking at him.
He reaches up and feels his shoulder, where it hurts. It feels slightly
wet. He pulls his fingers away and looks at them - blood. He feels his
shoulder again - his shirt has what feels like two holes in it - two
puncture holes -they match up with the two aching spots of pain on his
shoulder. He had been bitten. By the snake.
“It’ll feel better in a minute.” He looks up - it’s the snake talking. He
hadn’t dreamed it. Suddenly he notices - he’s not dizzy any more. And more
importantly, he’s not thirsty any more - at all!
“Have I died? Is this the afterlife? Why are you biting me in the
afterlife?”
“Sorry about that, but I had to bite you,” says the snake. “That’s the way
I work. It all comes through the bite. Think of it as natural medicine.”
“You bit me to help me? Why aren’t I thirsty any more? Did you give me a
drink before you bit me? How did I drink enough while unconscious to not
be thirsty any more? I haven’t had a drink for over two days. Well, except
for the windshield wiper fluid… hold it, how in the world does a snake
talk? Are you real? Are you some sort of Disney animation?”
“No,” says the snake, “I’m real. As real as you or anyone is, anyway. I
didn’t give you a drink. I bit you. That’s how it works - it’s what I do.
I bite. I don’t have hands to give you a drink, even if I had water just
sitting around here.”
The man sat stunned for a minute. Here he was, sitting in the middle of
the desert on some strange stone that should be hot but wasn’t, talking to
a snake that could talk back and had just bitten him. And he felt better.
Not great - he was still starving and exhausted, but much better - he was
no longer thirsty. He had started to sweat again, but only slightly. He
felt hot, in this sun, but it was starting to get lower in the sky, and
the cool stone beneath him was a relief he could notice now that he was no
longer dying of thirst.
“I might suggest that we take care of that methanol you now have in your
system with the next request,” continued the snake. “I can guess why you
drank it, but I’m not sure how much you drank, or how much methanol was
left in the wiper fluid. That stuff is nasty. It’ll make you go blind in a
day or two, if you drank enough of it.”
“Ummm, n-next request?” said the man. He put his hand back on his hurting
shoulder and backed away from the snake a little.
“That’s the way it works. If you like, that is,” explained the snake. “You
get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish.” The snake grinned at
his own joke, and the man drew back a little further from the show of
fangs.
“But there are rules,” the snake continued. “The first request is free.
The second requires an agreement of secrecy. The third requires the
binding of responsibility.” The snake looks at the man seriously.
“By the way,” the snake says suddenly, “my name is Nathan. Old Nathan,
Samuel used to call me. He gave me the name. Before that, most of the
Bound used to just call me ‘Snake’. But that got old, and Samuel wouldn’t
stand for it. He said that anything that could talk needed a name. He was
big into names. You can call me Nate, if you wish.” Again, the snake
grinned. “Sorry if I don’t offer to shake, but I think you can
understand - my shake sounds
somewhat threatening.” The snake give his rattle a little shake.
“Umm, my name is Jack,” said the man, trying to absorb all of this. “Jack
Samson.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jack says suddenly. “What happened to the
poison…umm, in your bite. Why aren’t I dying now? How did you do that?
What do you mean by that’s how you work?”
“That’s more than one question,” grins Nate. “But I’ll still try to answer
all of them. First, yes, you can ask me a question.” The snake’s grin gets
wider. “Second, the poison is in you. It changed you. You now no longer
need to drink. That’s what you asked for. Or, well, technically, you asked
to not be thirsty any more - but ‘any more’ is such a vague term. I
decided to make it permanent - now, as long as you live, you shouldn’t
need to drink much at all. Your body will conserve water very efficiently.
You should be able to get enough just from the food you eat - much like a
creature of the desert. You’ve been changed.
“For the third question,” Nate continues, “you are still dying. Besides
the effects of that methanol in your system, you’re a man - and men are
mortal. In your current state, I give you no more than about another 50
years. Assuming you get out of this desert, alive, that is.” Nate seemed
vastly amused at his own humor, and continued his wide grin.
“As for the fourth question,” Nate said, looking more serious as far as
Jack could tell, as Jack was just now working on his ability to read
talking-snake emotions from snake facial features, “first you have to
agree to make a second request and become bound by the secrecy, or I can’t
tell you.”
“Wait,” joked Jack, “isn’t this where you say you could tell me, but you’d
have to kill me?”
“I thought that was implied.” Nate continued to look serious.
“Ummm…yeah.” Jack leaned back a little as he remembered again that he was
talking to a fifteen foot poisonous reptile with a reputation for having a
nasty temper. “So, what is this ‘Bound by Secrecy’ stuff, and can you
really stop the effects of the methanol?” Jack thought for a second. “And,
what do you mean methanol, anyway? I thought these days they use ethanol
in wiper fluid, and just denature it?”
“They may, I don’t really know,” said Nate. “I haven’t gotten out in a
while. Maybe they do. All I know is that I smell methanol on your breath
and on that bottle in your pocket. And the blue color of the liquid when
you pulled it out to drink some let me guess that it was wiper fluid. I
assume that they still color wiper fluid blue?”
“Yeah, they do,” said Jack.
“I figured,” replied Nate. “As for being bound by secrecy - with the
fulfillment of your next request, you will be bound to say nothing about
me, this place, or any of the information I will tell you after that, when
you decide to go back out to your kind. You won’t be allowed to talk about
me, write about me, use sign language, charades, or even act in a way that
will lead someone to guess correctly about me. You’ll be bound to secrecy.
Of course, I’ll also ask you to promise not to give me away, and as I’m
guessing that you’re a man of your word, you’ll never test the binding
anyway, so you won’t notice.” Nate said the last part with utter
confidence.
Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of his word, felt a
little nervous at this. “Ummm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know
that? Are you, umm, omniscient, or something?”
Well, Jack,” said Nate sadly, “I can’t tell you that, unless you make the
second request.” Nate looked away for a minute, then looked back.
“Umm, well, ok,” said Jack, “what is this about a second request? What can
I ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?”
“Sure!” said Nate, brightening. “You’re allowed to ask for changes.
Changes to yourself. They’re like wishes, but they can only affect you.
Oh, and before you ask, I can’t give you immortality. Or omniscience. Or
omnipresence, for that matter. Though I might be able to make you gaseous
and yet remain alive, and then you could spread through the atmosphere and
sort of be omnipresent. But what good would that be - you still wouldn’t
be omniscient and thus still could only focus on one thing at a time. Not
very useful, at least in my opinion.” Nate stopped when he realized that
Jack was staring at him.
“Well, anyway,” continued Nate, “I’d probably suggest giving you permanent
good health. It would negate the methanol now in your system, you’d be
immune to most poisons and diseases, and you’d tend to live a very long
time, barring accident, of course. And you’ll even have a tendency to
recover from accidents well. It always seemed like a good choice for a
request to me.”
“Cure the methanol poisoning, huh?” said Jack. “And keep me healthy for a
long time? Hmmm. It doesn’t sound bad at that. And it has to be a request
about a change to me? I can’t ask to be rich, right? Because that’s not
really a change to me?”
“Right,” nodded Nate.
“Could I ask to be a genius and permanently healthy?” Jack asked,
hopefully.
“That takes two requests, Jack.”
“Yeah, I figured so,” said Jack. “But I could ask to be a genius? I could
become the smartest scientist in the world? Or the best athlete?”
“Well, I could make you very smart,” admitted Nate, “but that wouldn’t
necessarily make you the best scientist in the world. Or, I could make you
very athletic, but it wouldn’t necessarily make you the best athlete
either. You’ve heard the saying that 99% of genius is hard work? Well,
there’s some truth to that. I can give you the talent, but I can’t make
you work hard. It all depends on what you decide to do with it.”
“Hmmm,” said Jack. “Ok, I think I understand. And I get a third request,
after this one?”
“Maybe,” said Nate, “it depends on what you decide then. There are more
rules for the third request that I can only tell you about after the
second request. You know how it goes.” Nate looked like he’d shrug, if he
had shoulders.
“Ok, well, since I’d rather not be blind in a day or two, and permanent
health doesn’t sound bad, then consider that my second request.
Officially. Do I need to sign in blood or something?”
“No,” said Nate. “Just hold out your hand. Or heel.” Nate grinned. “Or
whatever part you want me to bite. I have to bite you again. Like I said,
that’s how it works - the poison, you know,” Nate said apologetically.
Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite was. Hey,
it didn’t hurt any more. Just like Nate had said. That made Jack feel
better about the biting business. But still, standing still while a
fifteen foot snake sunk it’s fangs into you. Jack stood up. Ignoring how
good it felt to be able to stand again, and the hunger starting to gnaw at
his stomach, Jack tried to decide where he wanted to get bitten. Despite
knowing that it wouldn’t hurt for long, Jack knew that this wasn’t going
to be easy.
“Hey, Jack,” Nate suddenly said, looking past Jack towards the dunes
behind him, “is that someone else coming up over there?”
Jack spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of
nowhere? And did they bring food?
Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate…
Jack let out a bellow as he felt two fangs sink into his rear end, through
his jeans…
Jack sat down carefully, favoring his more tender buttock. “I would have
decided, eventually, Nate. I was just thinking about it. You didn’t have
to
hoodwink me like that.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, Jack,” said Nate, confidently. “You
humans have a hard time sitting still and letting a snake bite you -
especially one my size. And besides, admit it - it’s only been a couple of
minutes and it already doesn’t hurt any more, does it? That’s because of
the health benefit with this one. I told you that you’d heal quickly now.”
“Yeah, well, still,” said Jack, “it’s the principle of the thing. And
nobody likes being bitten in the butt! Couldn’t you have gotten my calf or
something instead?”
“More meat in the typical human butt,” replied Nate. “And less chance you
accidentally kick me or move at the last second.”
“Yeah, right. So, tell me all of these wonderful secrets that I now
qualify to hear,” answered Jack.
“Ok,” said Nate. “Do you want to ask questions first, or do you want me to
just start talking?”
“Just talk,” said Jack. “I’ll sit here and try to not think about food.”
“We could go try to rustle up some food for you first, if you like,”
answered Nate.
“Hey! You didn’t tell me you had food around here, Nate!” Jack jumped up.
“What do we have? Am I in walking distance to town? Or can you magically
whip up food along with your other powers?” Jack was almost shouting with
excitement. His stomach had been growling for hours.
“I was thinking more like I could flush something out of its hole and bite
it for you, and you could skin it and eat it. Assuming you have a knife,
that is,” replied Nate, with the grin that Jack was starting to get used
to.
“Ugh,” said Jack, sitting back down. “I think I’ll pass. I can last a
little longer before I get desperate enough to eat desert rat, or whatever
else it is you find out here. And there’s nothing to burn - I’d have to
eat it raw. No thanks. Just talk.”
“Ok,” replied Nate, still grinning. “But I’d better hurry, before you
start looking at me as food.
Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then continued.
“You, Jack, are sitting in the middle of the Garden of Eden.”
Jack looked around at the sand and dunes and then looked back at Nate
sceptically.
“Well, that’s the best I can figure it, anyway, Jack,” said Nate. “Stand
up and look at the symbol on the rock here.” Nate gestured around the dark
stone they were both sitting on with his nose.
Jack stood up and looked. Carved into the stone in a bas-relief was a
representation of a large tree. The angled-pole that Nate was wrapped
around was coming out of the trunk of the tree, right below where the main
branches left the truck to reach out across the stone. It was very well
done - it looked more like a tree had been reduced to almost two
dimensions and embedded in the stone than it did like a carving.
Jack walked around and looked at the details in the fading light of the
setting sun. He wished he’d looked at it while the sun was higher in the
sky.
Wait! The sun was setting! That meant he was going to have to spend
another night out here! Arrrgh!
Jack looked out across the desert for a little bit, and then came back and
stood next to Nate. “In all the excitement, I almost forgot, Nate,” said
Jack. “Which way is it back to town? And how far? I’m eventually going to
have to head back - I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive by eating raw
desert critters for long. And even if I can, I’m not sure I’ll want to.”
“It’s about 30 miles that way.” Nate pointed, with the rattle on his tail
this time. As far as Jack could tell, it was a direction at right angles
to the way he’d been going when he was crawling here. “But that’s 30 miles
by the way the crow flies. It’s about 40 by the way a man walks. You
should be able to do it in about half a day with your improved endurance,
if you head out early tomorrow, Jack.”
Jack looked out the way the snake had pointed for a few seconds more, and
then sat back down. It was getting dark. Not much he could do about
heading out right now. And besides, Nate was just about to get to the
interesting stuff. “Garden of Eden? As best as you can figure it?”
“Well, yeah, as best as I and Samuel could figure it anyway,” said Nate.
“He figured that the story just got a little mixed up. You know, snake, in
a ‘tree’, offering ‘temptations’, making bargains. That kind stuff. But he
could never quite figure out how the Hebrews found out about this spot
from across the ocean. He worried about that for a while.”
“Garden of Eden, hunh?” said Jack. “How long have you been here, Nate?”
“No idea, really,” replied Nate. “A long time. It never occurred to me to
count years, until recently, and by then, of course, it was too late. But
I do remember when this whole place was green, so I figure it’s been
thousands of years, at least.”
“So, are you the snake that tempted Eve?” said Jack.
“Beats me,” said Nate. “Maybe. I can’t remember if the first one of your
kind that I talked to was female or not, and I never got a name, but it
could have been. And I suppose she could have considered my offer to grant
requests a ‘temptation’, though I’ve rarely had refusals.”
“Well, umm, how did you get here then? And why is that white pole stuck
out of the stone there?” asked Jack.
“Dad left me here. Or, I assume it was my dad. It was another snake - much
bigger than I was back then. I remember talking to him, but I don’t
remember if it was in a language, or just kind of understanding what he
wanted. But one day, he brought me to this stone, told me about it, and
asked me to do something for him. I talked it over with him for a while,
then agreed. I’ve been here ever since.
“What is this place?” said Jack. “And what did he ask you to do?”
“Well, you see this pole here, sticking out of the stone?” Nate loosened
his coils around the tilted white pole and showed Jack where it descended
into the stone. The pole was tilted at about a 45 degree angle and seemed
to enter the stone in an eighteen inch slot cut into the stone. Jack
leaned over and looked. The slot was dark and the pole went down into it
as far as Jack could see in the dim light. Jack reached out to touch the
pole, but Nate was suddenly there in the way.
“You can’t touch that yet, Jack,” said Nate.
“Why not?” asked Jack.
“I haven’t explained it to you yet,” replied Nate.
“Well, it kinda looks like a lever or something,” said Jack. “You’d push
it that way, and it would move in the slot.”
“Yep, that’s what it is,” replied Nate.
“What does it do?” asked Jack. “End the world?”
“Oh, no,” said Nate. “Nothing that drastic. It just ends humanity. I call
it ‘The Lever of Doom’.” For the last few words Nate had used a deeper,
ringing voice. He tried to look serious for a few seconds, and then gave
up and grinned.
Jack was initially startled by Nate’s pronouncement, but when Nate grinned
Jack laughed. “Ha! You almost had me fooled for a second there. What does
it really do?”
“Oh, it really ends humanity, like I said,” smirked Nate. “I just thought
the voice I used was funny, didn’t you?”
Nate continued to grin.
“A lever to end humanity?” asked Jack. “What in the world is that for? Why
would anyone need to end humanity?”
“Well,” replied Nate, “I get the idea that maybe humanity was an
experiment. Or maybe the Big Guy just thought, that if humanity started
going really bad, there should be a way to end it. I’m not really sure.
All I know are the rules, and the guesses that Samuel and I had about why
it’s here. I didn’t think to ask back when I started here.”
“Rules? What rules?” asked Jack.
“The rules are that I can’t tell anybody about it or let them touch it
unless they agree to be bound to secrecy by a bite. And that only one
human can be bound in that way at a time. That’s it.” explained Nate.
Jack looked somewhat shocked. “You mean that I could pull the lever now?
You’d let me end humanity?”
“Yep,” replied Nate, “if you want to.” Nate looked at Jack carefully. “Do
you want to, Jack?”
“Umm, no.” said Jack, stepping a little further back from the lever. “Why
in the world would anyone want to end humanity? It’d take a psychotic to
want that! Or worse, a suicidal psychotic, because it would kill him too,
wouldn’t it?”
“Yep,” replied Nate, “being as he’d be human too.”
“Has anyone ever seriously considered it?” asked Nate. “Any of those bound
to secrecy, that is?”
“Well, of course, I think they’ve all seriously considered it at one time
or another. Being given that kind of responsibility makes you sit down and
think, or so I’m told. Samuel considered it several times. He’d often get
disgusted with humanity, come out here, and just hold the lever for a
while. But he never pulled it. Or you wouldn’t be here.” Nate grinned some
more.
Jack sat down, well back from the lever. He looked thoughtful and puzzled
at the same time. After a bit, he said, “So this makes me the Judge of
humanity? I get to decide whether they keep going or just end? Me?”
“That seems to be it,” agreed Nate.
“What kind of criteria do I use to decide?” said Jack. “How do I make this
decision? Am I supposed to decide if they’re good? Or too many of them are
bad? Or that they’re going the wrong way? Is there a set of rules for
that?”
“Nope,” replied Nate. “You pretty much just have to decide on your own. It’s
up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you’re just
supposed to know.”
“But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel
horrible? Couldn’t I make a mistake? How do I know that I won’t screw up?”
protested Jack.
Nate gave his kind of snake-like shrug again. “You don’t. You just have to
try your best, Jack.”
Jack sat there for a while, staring off into the desert that was rapidly
getting dark, chewing on a fingernail.
Suddenly, Jack turned around and looked at the snake. “Nate, was Samuel
the one bound to this before me?”
“Yep,” replied Nate. “He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me to
read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them buried
in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a few months
ago.”
“Sounds like a good guy,” agreed Jack. “How did he handle this, when you
first told him. What did he do?”
“Well,” said Nate, “he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit,
and then asked me some questions, much like you’re doing.”
“What did he ask you, if you’re allowed to tell me?” asked Jack.
“He asked me about the third request,” replied Nate.
“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third request
you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to the point
that you really think that humanity should be ended, that you’ll come here
and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp out.” Nate looked
serious again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”
“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.
Nate watched him, waiting.
“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for with
his third request?”
Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly,
“Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”
“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give it
to me.
Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”
“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped
him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over his
shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”
“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter afterward.
Like he had a lot to think about.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack turned
toface away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.
Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack now,
Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.
“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks
like it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.
“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and
body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.
“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that you’ll
turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”
“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes,
straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate there.
With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from its slot
in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.
Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt
the now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.
Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his
feet extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness,
listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where
he’d been recently bitten.
Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a
desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped
back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s air
the only sign that he was still awake.
Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand while
he thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.
“Nate, do accidents count?”
Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know,
accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does
that still wipe out humanity?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about
that if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.
A little later - “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.
“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.
“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I
pull the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or
throw a rock?”
“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how
complicated you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some kind
of remote control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d build would
be gone by the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone, or over it. I
told him that in the past others that had been bound had tried to bury the
lever so they wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but every time the stones or
sand or whatever had disappeared.”
“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept him
off of the stone and looked up into the sky.
“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too,
right?” asked Jack.
“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”
“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as long.
Do you know what he died of, Nate?”
“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat
sad.
Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.
Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in
society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start
questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while.
He faked his death once, but changed his mind - he decided it was too
early and he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of
mankind, but he liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.
“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He didn’t
stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out here to
spend time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A few
months ago he told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”
“And then he just died?” asked Jack.
Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s
only one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.
After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was his
time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they
always had.
After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the
stone with the sunrise.”
Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his
memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.
Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled with
the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well, except
that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw desert
rat.
So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how to
get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started the
long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good directions, he
made it back easily.
Jack caught a bus back to the city, and showed up for work the next day,
little worse for the wear and with a story about getting lost in the
desert and walking back out. Within a couple of days Jack had talked a
friend with a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to
fetch the SUV. They found it after a couple of hours of searching and
towed it back without incident. Jack was careful not to even look in the
direction of Nate’s lever, though their path back didn’t come within sight
of it.
Before the next weekend, Jack had gone to a couple of stores, including a
book store, and had gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a warning
to avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, Jack headed back
to see Nate.
Jack parked a little way out of the small town near Nate, loaded up his
new backpack with camping gear and the things he was bringing for Nate,
and then started walking. He figured that walking would leave the least
trail, and he knew that while not many people camped in the desert, it
wasn’t unheard of, and shouldn’t really raise suspicions.
Jack had brought more books for Nate - recent books, magazines,
newspapers. Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening
in the world, others that were just good books to read. He spent the
weekend with Nate, and then headed out again, telling Nate that he’d be
back again soon, but that he had things to do first.
Over four months later Jack was back to see Nate again. This time he
brought a laptop with him - a specially modified laptop. It had a solar
recharger, special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite
link-up, and a special keyboard and joystick that Jack hoped that a
fifteen-foot rattlesnake would be able to use. And, it had been hacked to
not give out its location to the satellite.
After that Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visited him
fairly regularly - at least once or twice a year.
After the first year, Jack quit his job. For some reason, with the wisdom
he ‘d been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over 150 years,
working in a nine to five job for someone else didn’t seem that worthwhile
any more. Jack went back to school.
Eventually, Jack started writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or
perhaps because of his new perspective, he wrote well. People liked what
he wrote, and he became well known for it. After a time, Jack bought an RV
and started traveling around the country for book signings and readings.
But, he still remembered to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.
On one of the visits Nate seemed quieter than usual. Not that Nate had
been a fountain of joy lately. Jack’s best guess was that Nate was still
missing Samuel, and though Jack had tried, he still hadn’t been able to
replace Samuel in Nate’s eyes. Nate had been getting quieter each visit.
But on this visit Nate didn’t even speak when Jack walked up to the lever.
He nodded at Jack, and then went back to staring into the desert. Jack,
respecting Nate’s silence, sat down and waited.
After a few minutes, Nate spoke. “Jack, I have someone to introduce you
to.”
Jack looked surprised. “Someone to introduce me to?” Jack looked around,
and then looked carefully back at Nate. “This something to do with the Big
Guy?
“No, no,” replied Nate. “This is more personal. I want you to meet my
son.” Nate looked over at the nearest sand dune. “Sammy!”
Jack watched as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawled from behind
the dune and up to the stone base of the lever.
“Yo, Jack,” said the new, much smaller snake.
“Yo, Sammy” replied Jack. Jack looked at Nate. “Named after Samuel, I
assume?”
Nate nodded. “Jack, I’ve got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy
around for me?” Nate unwrapped himself from the lever and slithered over
to the edge of the stone and looked across the sands. “When Samuel first
told me about the world, and brought me books and pictures, I wished that
I could go see it. I wanted to see the great forests, the canyons, the
cities, even the other deserts, to see if they felt and smelled the same.
I want my son to have that chance - to see the world. Before he becomes
bound here like I have been.
“He’s seen it in pictures, over the computer that you brought me. But I
hear that it’s not the same. That being there is different. I want him to
have that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?”
Jack nodded. This was obviously very important to Nate, so Jack didn’t
even joke about taking a talking rattlesnake out to see the world. “Yeah,
I can do that for you, Nate. Is that all you need?” Jack could sense that
was something more.
Nate looked at Sammy. Sammy looked back at Nate for a second and then
said, “Oh, yeah. Ummm, I’ve gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack. Nice
to meet ya!” Sammy slithered back over the dune and out of sight.
Nate watched Sammy disappear and then looked back at Jack. “Jack, this is
my first son. My first offspring through all the years. You don’t even
want to know what it took for me to find a mate.” Nate grinned to himself.
“But anyway, I had a son for a reason. I’m tired. I’m ready for it to be
over. I needed a replacement.”
Jack considered this for a minute. “So, you’re ready to come see the
world, and you wanted him to watch the lever while you were gone?”
Nate shook his head. “No, Jack - you’re a better guesser than that. You’ve
already figured out - I’m bound here - there’s only one way for me to
leave here. And I’m ready. It’s my time to die.”
Jack looked more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought about
this - probably for quite a while. Jack had trouble imagining what it
would be like to be as old as Nate, but Jack could already tell that in
another hundred or two hundred years, he might be getting tired of life
himself. Jack could understand Samuel’s decision, and now Nate’s. So, all
Jack said was, “What do you want me to do?”
Nate nodded. “Thanks, Jack. I only want two things. One - show Sammy
around the world - let him get his fill of it, until he’s ready to come
back here and take over. Two - give me the fourth request.
“I can’t just decide to die, not any more than you can. I won’t even die
of old age like you eventually will, even though it’ll be a long time from
now. I need to be killed. Once Sammy is back here, ready to take over, I’ll
be able to die. And I need you to kill me.
“I’ve even thought about how. Poisons and other drugs won’t work on me.
And I’ve seen pictures of snakes that were shot - some of them live for
days, so that’s out too. So, I want you to bring back a sword.
Nate turned away to look back to the dune that Sammy had gone behind. “I’d
say an axe, but that’s somewhat undignified - putting my head on the
ground or a chopping block like that. No, I like a sword. A time-honored
way of going out. A dignified way to die. And, most importantly, it should
work, even on me.
“You willing to do that for me, Jack?” Nate turned back to look at Jack.
“Yeah, Nate,” replied Jack solemnly, “I think I can handle that.”
Nate nodded. “Good!” He turned back toward the dune and shouted, “Sammy!
Jack’s about ready to leave!” Then quietly, “Thanks, Jack.”
Jack didn’t have anything to say to that, so he waited for Sammy to make
it back to the lever, nodded to him, nodded a final time to Nate, and then
headed into the desert with Sammy following. Over the next several years
Sammy and Jack kept in touch with Nate through e-mail as they went about
their adventures. They made a goal of visiting every country in the world,
and did a respectable job of it. Sammy had a natural gift for languages,
as Jack expected he would, and even ended up acting as a translator for
Jack in a few of the countries. Jack managed to keep the talking
rattlesnake hidden, even so, and by the time they were nearing the end of
their tour of countries, Sammy had only been spotted a few times. While
there were several people that had seen enough to startle them greatly,
nobody had enough evidence to prove anything, and while a few wild rumors
and storied followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever hit the
newspapers or the public in general.
When they finished the tour of countries, Jack suggested that they try
some undersea diving. They did. And spelunking. They did that too. Sammy
finally drew the line at visiting Antarctica. He’d come to realize that
Jack was stalling. After talking to his Dad about it over e-mail, he
figured out that Jack probably didn’t want to have to kill Nate. Nate told
Sammy that humans could be squeamish about killing friends and
acquaintances.
So, Sammy eventually put his tail down (as he didn’t have a foot) and told
Jack that it was time - he was ready to go back and take up his duties
from his dad. Jack, delayed it a little more by insisting that they go
back to Japan and buy an appropriate sword. He even stretched it a little
more by getting lessons in how to use the sword. But, eventually, he’d
learned as much as he was likely to without dedicating his life to it, and
was definitely competent enough to take the head off of a snake. It was
time to head back and see Nate.
When they got back to the US, Jack got the old RV out of storage where he
and Sammy had left it after their tour of the fifty states, he loaded up
Sammy and the sword, and they headed for the desert.
When they got to the small town that Jack had been trying to find those
years ago when he’d met Nate, Jack was in a funk. He didn’t really feel
like walking all of the way out there. Not only that, but he’d forgotten
to figure the travel time correctly, and it was late afternoon. They’d
either have to spend the night in town and walk out tomorrow, or walk in
the dark.
As Jack was afraid that if he waited one more night he might lose his
resolve, he decided that he’d go ahead and drive the RV out there. It was
only going to be this once, and Jack would go back and cover the tracks
afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by nightfall if they
drove, and then they could get it over tonight.
Jack told Sammy to e-mail Nate that they were coming as he drove out of
sight of the town on the road. They then pulled off the road and headed
out into the desert.
Everything went well, until they got to the sand dunes. Jack had been
nursing the RV along the whole time, over the rocks, through the creek
beds, revving the engine the few times they almost got stuck. When they
came to the dunes, Jack didn’t really think about it, he just downshifted
and headed up the first one. By the third dune, Jack started to regret
that he’d decided to try driving on the sand. The RV was fishtailling and
losing traction. Jack was having to work it up each dune slowly and was
trying to keep from losing control each time they came over the top and
slid down the other side. Sammy had come up to sit in the passenger seat,
coiled up and laughing at Jack’s driving.
As they came over the top of the fourth dune, the biggest one yet, Jack
saw that this was the final dune - the stone, the lever, and somewhere
Nate, waited below. Jack put on the brakes, but he’d gone a little too
far. The RV started slipping down the other side.
Jack tried turning the wheel, but he didn’t have enough traction. He
pumped the brakes - no response. They started sliding down the hill,
faster and faster.
Jack felt a shock go through him as he suddenly realized that they were
heading for the lever. He looked down - the RV was directly on course for
it. If Jack didn’t do something, the RV would hit it. He was about to end
humanity.
Jack steered more frantically, trying to get traction. It still wasn’t
working. The dune was too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split
second, Jack realized that his only chance would be once he hit the stone
around the lever - he should have traction on the stone for just a second
before he hit the lever - he wouldn’t have time to stop, but he should be
able to steer away.
Jack took a better grip on the steering wheel and tried to turn the RV a
little bit - every little bit would help. He’d have to time his turn just
right.
The RV got to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the
sand. Just before they reached the stone Jack looked across it to check
that they were still heading for the lever. They were. But Jack noticed
something else that he hadn’t seen from the top of the dune. Nate wasn’t
wrapped around the lever. He was off to the side of the lever, but still
on the stone, waiting for them. The problem was, he was waiting on the
same side of the lever that Jack had picked to steer towards to avoid the
lever. The RV was already starting to drift that way a little in its mad
rush across the sand and there was no way that Jack was going to be able
to go around the lever to the other side.
Jack had an instant of realization. He was either going to have to hit the
lever, or run over Nate. He glanced over at Sammy and saw that Sammy
realized the same thing.
Jack took a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the RV ran up on the
stone. Shouting to Sammy as he pulled the steering wheel, “BETTER NATE
THAN LEVER,” he ran over the snake.
THE END
specist
Michael Schey
2008-03-07 14:31:30 UTC
Permalink
So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.
He’d decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had
great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit
a big rock, and then he couldn’t get it started again. There were no
cell phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had
no family, his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident,
and his few friends had no idea he was out here.
He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran
out and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction
back, now that he’d paid attention to the sun and thought he’d figured
out which way was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he
only had to go about 30 miles or so and he’d be back to the small town
he’d gotten gas in last.
He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based
upon how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no
flashlight, he’s afraid that he’ll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake.
So, he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for
reapplication later, brings an umbrella he’d had in the back of the SUV
with him to give him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid
into his water bottle in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket
knife in case he finds a cactus that looks like it might have water in
it, and heads out in the direction he thinks is right.
He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he’s really thirsty.
He’s been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He’s
reapplied the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but
he still feels sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the
bottle in his pocket
is really getting tempting now. He knows that it’s mainly water and some
ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to
it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.
He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.
By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he’s been
walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10
hours. That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close
to the town. But he doesn’t recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry
creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn’t remember coming through it
in the SUV. He figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little
and that the dry creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He
tells himself that he’s close, and that after dark he’ll start seeing
the town lights over one of these hills, and that’ll be all he needs.
As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and
things, he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town
lights.
Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands
back up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.
He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are
gummy and his mouth and nose feel like they’re full of sand. He so
thirsty that he can’t even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it
was so cold. He’d forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and
hadn’t noticed it the night before because he’d been in his car.
He knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days
without water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can
make it a little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and
having to walk and sweat isn’t the best situation to be without water.
He figures, unless he finds water, this is his last day.
He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He
waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth
goes numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is
it just in his mind? He’s not sure. He’ll go a little farther, and if he
still doesn’t find water, he’ll try drinking some of the fluid.
Then he has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go
from here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming
that he still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction?
He has no idea what to do.
Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the
direction he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points
himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts walking.
As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a
couple of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little
at first, and then stops. He starts getting worried at that - when you
stop sweating he knows that means you’re in trouble - usually right
before heat stroke.
He decides that it’s time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can’t
wait any longer - if he passes out, he’s dead. He stops in the shade of
a large rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He
slowly swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good
in his dry and cracked throat that he doesn’t even care about the nasty
taste. He takes another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he
drinks half the bottle.
He figures that since he’s drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.
He’s quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills
him, it kills him - if he didn’t drink it, he’d die anyway. Besides,
he’s pretty sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is
just designed to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying
cheap wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if
it comes to that.
He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he’ll see a little movement to one side or the other, but
whatever moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it.
Probably birds, lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move
more at night. He’s careful to stay away from the movements.
After a while, he begins to stagger. He’s not sure if it’s fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of
the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself,
and keep going.
After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good!
He knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV - he remembers
doing donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it - he’s getting
woozy enough and tired enough that he’s not sure what he remembers any
more or if he’s hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he
heads off into it, trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets
him closer to the town.
He was heading for a town, wasn’t he? He thinks he was. He isn’t sure
any more. He’s not even sure how long he’s been walking any more. Is it
still morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down
again? It must be afternoon - it seems like it’s been too long since he
started out.
He walks through the sand.
After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He
doesn’t remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at
least he doesn’t think he remembers any. This is bad.
But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He
figures that he’ll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see
anything from there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the
dune.
Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or
third time, and falls to his knees. He doesn’t feel like getting back up
- he’ll just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand
and knees.
While crawling, if his throat weren’t so dry, he’d laugh. He’s finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert - crawling
through the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image,
he imagines, if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling
through the desert in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his
have lasted without any rips so far. Somebody will probably find his
dessicated corpse half buried in the sand years from now, and his
clothes will still be in fine shape -shake the sand out, and a good
wash, and they’d be wearable again. He wishes his throat were wet enough
to laugh. He coughs a little instead, and it hurts.
He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he’s at the
top, he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All
he sees is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he
thinks he sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of
him, more dunes, more sand. This isn’t where he drove his SUV. This is
Hell. Or close enough.
Again, he doesn’t know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the
wiper fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is
removing the cap, when he glances to the side and sees something.
Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he
sees something strange. It’s a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking
the cap of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to
be circular. And it’s dark - darker than the sand. And, there seems to
be something in the middle of it, but he can’t tell what it is. He looks
as hard as he can, and still can tell from here. He’s going to have to
go down there and look.
He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the
dune. After a few steps, he realizes that he’s in trouble - he’s not
going to be able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding,
tottering steps, he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand it
so hot when his body hits it that for a minute he thinks he’s caught
fire on the way down - like a movie car wreck flashing into flames as it
goes over the cliff, before it ever even hits the ground. He closes his
eyes and mouth, covers his face with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.
He stops, at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds
enough energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and
clothes. When he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure
that the dark spot in the sand it still there and he hadn’t just
imagined it.
So, seeing the large, flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, he
begins to crawl towards it. He’d get up and walk towards it, but he
doesn’t seem to have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be
in the final stages of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this
place in the sand doesn’t have water, he’ll likely never make it
anywhere else. This is his last chance.
He gets closer and closer, but still can’t see what’s in the middle of
the dark area. His eyes won’t quite focus any more for some reason. And
lifting his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up
trying. He just keeps crawling.
Finally, he reaches the area he’d seen from the dune. It takes him a
minute of crawling on it before he realizes that he’s no longer on sand
- he’s now crawling on some kind of dark stone. Stone with some kind of
marking on it -a pattern cut into the stone. He’s too tired to stand up
and try to see what the pattern is - so he just keeps crawling. He
crawls towards the center, where his blurry eyes still see something in
the middle of the dark stone area.
His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and
knees are so burnt by the sand that they no longer feel pain, or that
this dark stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding,
punishing sun overhead, doesn’t seem to be hot. It almost feels cool. He
considers lying down on the nice cool surface.
Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating this. He’s
probably in the middle of a patch of sand, already lying face down and
dying, and just imagining this whole thing. A desert mirage. Soon the
beautiful women carrying pitchers of water will come up and start giving
him a drink. Then he’ll know he’s gone.
He decides against laying down on the cool stone. If he’s going to die
here in the middle of this hallucination, he at least wants to see
what’s in the center before he goes. He keeps crawling.
It’s the third time that he hears the voice before he realizes what he’s
hearing. He would swear that someone just said, “Greetings, traveler.
You do not look well. Do you hear me?”
He stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and
knees, but it’s too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something
different - he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few
seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling on his face, sits up,
and tries to focus his eyes. Blurry. He rubs his eyes with the back of
his hands and tries again. Better this time.
Yep. He can see. He’s sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark
expanse of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a
white post or pole about two inches in diameter and sticking up about
four or five feet out of the stone, at an angle.
And wrapped around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and
seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot
long desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.
He stares at the snake in shock. He doesn’t have the energy to get up
and run away. He doesn’t even have the energy to crawl away. This is it,
his final resting place. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be
able to move from this spot.
Well, at least dying of a bite from this monster should be quicker than
dying of thirst. He’ll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a
little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one hand and
waves it in the snake’s direction, feebly. The snake watches the hand
for a moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.
Hmmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn’t rattled
yet -that was a good sign. Maybe he wasn’t going to die of snake bite
after all.
He then remembers that he’d looked up when he’d reached the center here
because he thought he’d heard a voice. He was still very woozy - he was
likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he
was now on cool stone. He still didn’t have anything to drink. But maybe
he had actually heard a voice. This stone didn’t look natural. Nor did
that white post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built
this. Maybe
they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this
snake was even their pet, and that’s why it wasn’t biting.
He tries to clear his throat to say, “Hello,” but his throat is too dry.
All that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. There is no way he’s
going to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his
pocket, and the bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. He shakily
pulls the bottle out, almost losing his balance and falling on his back
in the process. This isn’t good. He doesn’t have much time left, by his
reckoning, before he passes out.
He gets the lid off of the bottle, manages to get the bottle to his
lips, and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around,
and then swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe
he can talk now.
He tries again. Ignoring the snake, he turns to look around him, hoping
to spot the owner of this place, and croaks out, “Hello? Is there anyone
here?”
He hears, from his side, “Greetings. What is it that you want?”
He turns his head, back towards the snake. That’s where the sound had
seemed to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must
be a speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He
decides to try asking for help.
“Please,” he croaks again, suddenly feeling dizzy, “I’d love to not be
thirsty any more. I’ve been a long time without water. Can you help me?”
Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was
coming from this time, he is shocked to see the snake rear back, open
its mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as the dizziness overtakes him
and he falls forward, face first on the stone, “Very well. Coming up.”
A piercing pain shoots through his shoulder. Suddenly he is awake. He
sits up and grabs his shoulder, wincing at the throbbing pain. He’s
momentarily disoriented as he looks around, and then he remembers - the
crawl across the sand, the dark area of stone, the snake. He sees the
snake, still wrapped around the tilted white post, still looking at him.
He reaches up and feels his shoulder, where it hurts. It feels slightly
wet. He pulls his fingers away and looks at them - blood. He feels his
shoulder again - his shirt has what feels like two holes in it - two
puncture holes -they match up with the two aching spots of pain on his
shoulder. He had been bitten. By the snake.
“It’ll feel better in a minute.” He looks up - it’s the snake talking.
He hadn’t dreamed it. Suddenly he notices - he’s not dizzy any more. And
more importantly, he’s not thirsty any more - at all!
“Have I died? Is this the afterlife? Why are you biting me in the
afterlife?”
“Sorry about that, but I had to bite you,” says the snake. “That’s the
way I work. It all comes through the bite. Think of it as natural medicine.”
“You bit me to help me? Why aren’t I thirsty any more? Did you give me a
drink before you bit me? How did I drink enough while unconscious to not
be thirsty any more? I haven’t had a drink for over two days. Well,
except for the windshield wiper fluid… hold it, how in the world does a
snake talk? Are you real? Are you some sort of Disney animation?”
“No,” says the snake, “I’m real. As real as you or anyone is, anyway. I
didn’t give you a drink. I bit you. That’s how it works - it’s what I
do. I bite. I don’t have hands to give you a drink, even if I had water
just sitting around here.”
The man sat stunned for a minute. Here he was, sitting in the middle of
the desert on some strange stone that should be hot but wasn’t, talking
to a snake that could talk back and had just bitten him. And he felt
better. Not great - he was still starving and exhausted, but much better
- he was no longer thirsty. He had started to sweat again, but only
slightly. He felt hot, in this sun, but it was starting to get lower in
the sky, and the cool stone beneath him was a relief he could notice now
that he was no longer dying of thirst.
“I might suggest that we take care of that methanol you now have in your
system with the next request,” continued the snake. “I can guess why you
drank it, but I’m not sure how much you drank, or how much methanol was
left in the wiper fluid. That stuff is nasty. It’ll make you go blind in
a day or two, if you drank enough of it.”
“Ummm, n-next request?” said the man. He put his hand back on his
hurting shoulder and backed away from the snake a little.
“That’s the way it works. If you like, that is,” explained the snake.
“You get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish.” The snake
grinned at his own joke, and the man drew back a little further from the
show of fangs.
“But there are rules,” the snake continued. “The first request is free.
The second requires an agreement of secrecy. The third requires the
binding of responsibility.” The snake looks at the man seriously.
“By the way,” the snake says suddenly, “my name is Nathan. Old Nathan,
Samuel used to call me. He gave me the name. Before that, most of the
Bound used to just call me ‘Snake’. But that got old, and Samuel
wouldn’t stand for it. He said that anything that could talk needed a
name. He was big into names. You can call me Nate, if you wish.” Again,
the snake grinned. “Sorry if I don’t offer to shake, but I think you can
understand - my shake sounds
somewhat threatening.” The snake give his rattle a little shake.
“Umm, my name is Jack,” said the man, trying to absorb all of this.
“Jack Samson.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jack says suddenly. “What happened to the
poison…umm, in your bite. Why aren’t I dying now? How did you do that?
What do you mean by that’s how you work?”
“That’s more than one question,” grins Nate. “But I’ll still try to
answer all of them. First, yes, you can ask me a question.” The snake’s
grin gets wider. “Second, the poison is in you. It changed you. You now
no longer need to drink. That’s what you asked for. Or, well,
technically, you asked to not be thirsty any more - but ‘any more’ is
such a vague term. I decided to make it permanent - now, as long as you
live, you shouldn’t need to drink much at all. Your body will conserve
water very efficiently. You should be able to get enough just from the
food you eat - much like a creature of the desert. You’ve been changed.
“For the third question,” Nate continues, “you are still dying. Besides
the effects of that methanol in your system, you’re a man - and men are
mortal. In your current state, I give you no more than about another 50
years. Assuming you get out of this desert, alive, that is.” Nate seemed
vastly amused at his own humor, and continued his wide grin.
“As for the fourth question,” Nate said, looking more serious as far as
Jack could tell, as Jack was just now working on his ability to read
talking-snake emotions from snake facial features, “first you have to
agree to make a second request and become bound by the secrecy, or I
can’t tell you.”
“Wait,” joked Jack, “isn’t this where you say you could tell me, but
you’d have to kill me?”
“I thought that was implied.” Nate continued to look serious.
“Ummm…yeah.” Jack leaned back a little as he remembered again that he
was talking to a fifteen foot poisonous reptile with a reputation for
having a nasty temper. “So, what is this ‘Bound by Secrecy’ stuff, and
can you really stop the effects of the methanol?” Jack thought for a
second. “And, what do you mean methanol, anyway? I thought these days
they use ethanol in wiper fluid, and just denature it?”
“They may, I don’t really know,” said Nate. “I haven’t gotten out in a
while. Maybe they do. All I know is that I smell methanol on your breath
and on that bottle in your pocket. And the blue color of the liquid when
you pulled it out to drink some let me guess that it was wiper fluid. I
assume that they still color wiper fluid blue?”
“Yeah, they do,” said Jack.
“I figured,” replied Nate. “As for being bound by secrecy - with the
fulfillment of your next request, you will be bound to say nothing about
me, this place, or any of the information I will tell you after that,
when you decide to go back out to your kind. You won’t be allowed to
talk about me, write about me, use sign language, charades, or even act
in a way that will lead someone to guess correctly about me. You’ll be
bound to secrecy. Of course, I’ll also ask you to promise not to give me
away, and as I’m guessing that you’re a man of your word, you’ll never
test the binding anyway, so you won’t notice.” Nate said the last part
with utter confidence.
Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of his word, felt a
little nervous at this. “Ummm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know
that? Are you, umm, omniscient, or something?”
Well, Jack,” said Nate sadly, “I can’t tell you that, unless you make
the second request.” Nate looked away for a minute, then looked back.
“Umm, well, ok,” said Jack, “what is this about a second request? What
can I ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?”
“Sure!” said Nate, brightening. “You’re allowed to ask for changes.
Changes to yourself. They’re like wishes, but they can only affect you.
Oh, and before you ask, I can’t give you immortality. Or omniscience. Or
omnipresence, for that matter. Though I might be able to make you
gaseous and yet remain alive, and then you could spread through the
atmosphere and sort of be omnipresent. But what good would that be - you
still wouldn’t be omniscient and thus still could only focus on one
thing at a time. Not very useful, at least in my opinion.” Nate stopped
when he realized that Jack was staring at him.
“Well, anyway,” continued Nate, “I’d probably suggest giving you
permanent good health. It would negate the methanol now in your system,
you’d be immune to most poisons and diseases, and you’d tend to live a
very long time, barring accident, of course. And you’ll even have a
tendency to recover from accidents well. It always seemed like a good
choice for a request to me.”
“Cure the methanol poisoning, huh?” said Jack. “And keep me healthy for
a long time? Hmmm. It doesn’t sound bad at that. And it has to be a
request about a change to me? I can’t ask to be rich, right? Because
that’s not really a change to me?”
“Right,” nodded Nate.
“Could I ask to be a genius and permanently healthy?” Jack asked, hopefully.
“That takes two requests, Jack.”
“Yeah, I figured so,” said Jack. “But I could ask to be a genius? I
could become the smartest scientist in the world? Or the best athlete?”
“Well, I could make you very smart,” admitted Nate, “but that wouldn’t
necessarily make you the best scientist in the world. Or, I could make
you very athletic, but it wouldn’t necessarily make you the best athlete
either. You’ve heard the saying that 99% of genius is hard work? Well,
there’s some truth to that. I can give you the talent, but I can’t make
you work hard. It all depends on what you decide to do with it.”
“Hmmm,” said Jack. “Ok, I think I understand. And I get a third request,
after this one?”
“Maybe,” said Nate, “it depends on what you decide then. There are more
rules for the third request that I can only tell you about after the
second request. You know how it goes.” Nate looked like he’d shrug, if
he had shoulders.
“Ok, well, since I’d rather not be blind in a day or two, and permanent
health doesn’t sound bad, then consider that my second request.
Officially. Do I need to sign in blood or something?”
“No,” said Nate. “Just hold out your hand. Or heel.” Nate grinned. “Or
whatever part you want me to bite. I have to bite you again. Like I
said, that’s how it works - the poison, you know,” Nate said apologetically.
Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite was.
Hey, it didn’t hurt any more. Just like Nate had said. That made Jack
feel better about the biting business. But still, standing still while a
fifteen foot snake sunk it’s fangs into you. Jack stood up. Ignoring how
good it felt to be able to stand again, and the hunger starting to gnaw
at his stomach, Jack tried to decide where he wanted to get bitten.
Despite knowing that it wouldn’t hurt for long, Jack knew that this
wasn’t going to be easy.
“Hey, Jack,” Nate suddenly said, looking past Jack towards the dunes
behind him, “is that someone else coming up over there?”
Jack spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of
nowhere? And did they bring food?
Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate…
Jack let out a bellow as he felt two fangs sink into his rear end,
through his jeans…
Jack sat down carefully, favoring his more tender buttock. “I would have
decided, eventually, Nate. I was just thinking about it. You didn’t have to
hoodwink me like that.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, Jack,” said Nate, confidently. “You
humans have a hard time sitting still and letting a snake bite you -
especially one my size. And besides, admit it - it’s only been a couple
of minutes and it already doesn’t hurt any more, does it? That’s because
of the health benefit with this one. I told you that you’d heal quickly
now.”
“Yeah, well, still,” said Jack, “it’s the principle of the thing. And
nobody likes being bitten in the butt! Couldn’t you have gotten my calf
or something instead?”
“More meat in the typical human butt,” replied Nate. “And less chance
you accidentally kick me or move at the last second.”
“Yeah, right. So, tell me all of these wonderful secrets that I now
qualify to hear,” answered Jack.
“Ok,” said Nate. “Do you want to ask questions first, or do you want me
to just start talking?”
“Just talk,” said Jack. “I’ll sit here and try to not think about food.”
“We could go try to rustle up some food for you first, if you like,”
answered Nate.
“Hey! You didn’t tell me you had food around here, Nate!” Jack jumped
up. “What do we have? Am I in walking distance to town? Or can you
magically whip up food along with your other powers?” Jack was almost
shouting with excitement. His stomach had been growling for hours.
“I was thinking more like I could flush something out of its hole and
bite it for you, and you could skin it and eat it. Assuming you have a
knife, that is,” replied Nate, with the grin that Jack was starting to
get used to.
“Ugh,” said Jack, sitting back down. “I think I’ll pass. I can last a
little longer before I get desperate enough to eat desert rat, or
whatever else it is you find out here. And there’s nothing to burn - I’d
have to eat it raw. No thanks. Just talk.”
“Ok,” replied Nate, still grinning. “But I’d better hurry, before you
start looking at me as food.
Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then
continued. “You, Jack, are sitting in the middle of the Garden of Eden.”
Jack looked around at the sand and dunes and then looked back at Nate
sceptically.
“Well, that’s the best I can figure it, anyway, Jack,” said Nate. “Stand
up and look at the symbol on the rock here.” Nate gestured around the
dark stone they were both sitting on with his nose.
Jack stood up and looked. Carved into the stone in a bas-relief was a
representation of a large tree. The angled-pole that Nate was wrapped
around was coming out of the trunk of the tree, right below where the
main branches left the truck to reach out across the stone. It was very
well done - it looked more like a tree had been reduced to almost two
dimensions and embedded in the stone than it did like a carving.
Jack walked around and looked at the details in the fading light of the
setting sun. He wished he’d looked at it while the sun was higher in the
sky.
Wait! The sun was setting! That meant he was going to have to spend
another night out here! Arrrgh!
Jack looked out across the desert for a little bit, and then came back
and stood next to Nate. “In all the excitement, I almost forgot, Nate,”
said Jack. “Which way is it back to town? And how far? I’m eventually
going to have to head back - I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive by
eating raw desert critters for long. And even if I can, I’m not sure
I’ll want to.”
“It’s about 30 miles that way.” Nate pointed, with the rattle on his
tail this time. As far as Jack could tell, it was a direction at right
angles to the way he’d been going when he was crawling here. “But that’s
30 miles by the way the crow flies. It’s about 40 by the way a man
walks. You should be able to do it in about half a day with your
improved endurance, if you head out early tomorrow, Jack.”
Jack looked out the way the snake had pointed for a few seconds more,
and then sat back down. It was getting dark. Not much he could do about
heading out right now. And besides, Nate was just about to get to the
interesting stuff. “Garden of Eden? As best as you can figure it?”
“Well, yeah, as best as I and Samuel could figure it anyway,” said Nate.
“He figured that the story just got a little mixed up. You know, snake,
in a ‘tree’, offering ‘temptations’, making bargains. That kind stuff.
But he could never quite figure out how the Hebrews found out about this
spot from across the ocean. He worried about that for a while.”
“Garden of Eden, hunh?” said Jack. “How long have you been here, Nate?”
“No idea, really,” replied Nate. “A long time. It never occurred to me
to count years, until recently, and by then, of course, it was too late.
But I do remember when this whole place was green, so I figure it’s been
thousands of years, at least.”
“So, are you the snake that tempted Eve?” said Jack.
“Beats me,” said Nate. “Maybe. I can’t remember if the first one of your
kind that I talked to was female or not, and I never got a name, but it
could have been. And I suppose she could have considered my offer to
grant requests a ‘temptation’, though I’ve rarely had refusals.”
“Well, umm, how did you get here then? And why is that white pole stuck
out of the stone there?” asked Jack.
“Dad left me here. Or, I assume it was my dad. It was another snake -
much bigger than I was back then. I remember talking to him, but I don’t
remember if it was in a language, or just kind of understanding what he
wanted. But one day, he brought me to this stone, told me about it, and
asked me to do something for him. I talked it over with him for a while,
then agreed. I’ve been here ever since.
“What is this place?” said Jack. “And what did he ask you to do?”
“Well, you see this pole here, sticking out of the stone?” Nate loosened
his coils around the tilted white pole and showed Jack where it
descended into the stone. The pole was tilted at about a 45 degree angle
and seemed to enter the stone in an eighteen inch slot cut into the
stone. Jack leaned over and looked. The slot was dark and the pole went
down into it as far as Jack could see in the dim light. Jack reached out
to touch the pole, but Nate was suddenly there in the way.
“You can’t touch that yet, Jack,” said Nate.
“Why not?” asked Jack.
“I haven’t explained it to you yet,” replied Nate.
“Well, it kinda looks like a lever or something,” said Jack. “You’d push
it that way, and it would move in the slot.”
“Yep, that’s what it is,” replied Nate.
“What does it do?” asked Jack. “End the world?”
“Oh, no,” said Nate. “Nothing that drastic. It just ends humanity. I
call it ‘The Lever of Doom’.” For the last few words Nate had used a
deeper, ringing voice. He tried to look serious for a few seconds, and
then gave up and grinned.
Jack was initially startled by Nate’s pronouncement, but when Nate
grinned Jack laughed. “Ha! You almost had me fooled for a second there.
What does it really do?”
“Oh, it really ends humanity, like I said,” smirked Nate. “I just
thought the voice I used was funny, didn’t you?”
Nate continued to grin.
“A lever to end humanity?” asked Jack. “What in the world is that for?
Why would anyone need to end humanity?”
“Well,” replied Nate, “I get the idea that maybe humanity was an
experiment. Or maybe the Big Guy just thought, that if humanity started
going really bad, there should be a way to end it. I’m not really sure.
All I know are the rules, and the guesses that Samuel and I had about
why it’s here. I didn’t think to ask back when I started here.”
“Rules? What rules?” asked Jack.
“The rules are that I can’t tell anybody about it or let them touch it
unless they agree to be bound to secrecy by a bite. And that only one
human can be bound in that way at a time. That’s it.” explained Nate.
Jack looked somewhat shocked. “You mean that I could pull the lever now?
You’d let me end humanity?”
“Yep,” replied Nate, “if you want to.” Nate looked at Jack carefully.
“Do you want to, Jack?”
“Umm, no.” said Jack, stepping a little further back from the lever.
“Why in the world would anyone want to end humanity? It’d take a
psychotic to want that! Or worse, a suicidal psychotic, because it would
kill him too, wouldn’t it?”
“Yep,” replied Nate, “being as he’d be human too.”
“Has anyone ever seriously considered it?” asked Nate. “Any of those
bound to secrecy, that is?”
“Well, of course, I think they’ve all seriously considered it at one
time or another. Being given that kind of responsibility makes you sit
down and think, or so I’m told. Samuel considered it several times. He’d
often get disgusted with humanity, come out here, and just hold the
lever for a while. But he never pulled it. Or you wouldn’t be here.”
Nate grinned some more.
Jack sat down, well back from the lever. He looked thoughtful and
puzzled at the same time. After a bit, he said, “So this makes me the
Judge of humanity? I get to decide whether they keep going or just end? Me?”
“That seems to be it,” agreed Nate.
“What kind of criteria do I use to decide?” said Jack. “How do I make
this decision? Am I supposed to decide if they’re good? Or too many of
them are bad? Or that they’re going the wrong way? Is there a set of
rules for that?”
“Nope,” replied Nate. “You pretty much just have to decide on your own.
It’s up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you’re just
supposed to know.”
“But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel
horrible? Couldn’t I make a mistake? How do I know that I won’t screw
up?” protested Jack.
Nate gave his kind of snake-like shrug again. “You don’t. You just have
to try your best, Jack.”
Jack sat there for a while, staring off into the desert that was rapidly
getting dark, chewing on a fingernail.
Suddenly, Jack turned around and looked at the snake. “Nate, was Samuel
the one bound to this before me?”
“Yep,” replied Nate. “He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me
to read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them
buried in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a
few months ago.”
“Sounds like a good guy,” agreed Jack. “How did he handle this, when you
first told him. What did he do?”
“Well,” said Nate, “he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit,
and then asked me some questions, much like you’re doing.”
“What did he ask you, if you’re allowed to tell me?” asked Jack.
“He asked me about the third request,” replied Nate.
“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third
request you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to
the point that you really think that humanity should be ended, that
you’ll come here and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp
out.” Nate looked serious again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”
“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.
Nate watched him, waiting.
“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for
with his third request?”
Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly,
“Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”
“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give
it to me.
Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”
“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped
him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over
his shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”
“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter
afterward. Like he had a lot to think about.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack
turned toface away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.
Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack
now, Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.
“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks
like it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.
“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and
body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.
“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that
you’ll turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”
“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes,
straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate
there. With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from
its slot in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.
Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt
the now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.
Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his
feet extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness,
listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where
he’d been recently bitten.
Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a
desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped
back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s
air the only sign that he was still awake.
Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand
while he thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.
“Nate, do accidents count?”
Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know,
accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does
that still wipe out humanity?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about
that if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.
A little later - “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.
“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.
“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I
pull the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or
throw a rock?”
“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how
complicated you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some
kind of remote control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d
build would be gone by the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone,
or over it. I told him that in the past others that had been bound had
tried to bury the lever so they wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but
every time the stones or sand or whatever had disappeared.”
“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept
him off of the stone and looked up into the sky.
“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too,
right?” asked Jack.
“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”
“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as
long. Do you know what he died of, Nate?”
“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat
sad.
Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.
Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in
society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start
questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while.
He faked his death once, but changed his mind - he decided it was too
early and he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of
mankind, but he liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.
“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He
didn’t stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out
here to spend time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A
few months ago he told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”
“And then he just died?” asked Jack.
Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s
only one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.
After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was
his time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they
always had.
After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the
stone with the sunrise.”
Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his
memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.
Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled
with the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well,
except that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw
desert rat.
So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how
to get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started
the long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good
directions, he made it back easily.
Jack caught a bus back to the city, and showed up for work the next day,
little worse for the wear and with a story about getting lost in the
desert and walking back out. Within a couple of days Jack had talked a
friend with a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to
fetch the SUV. They found it after a couple of hours of searching and
towed it back without incident. Jack was careful not to even look in the
direction of Nate’s lever, though their path back didn’t come within
sight of it.
Before the next weekend, Jack had gone to a couple of stores, including
a book store, and had gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a
warning to avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, Jack
headed back to see Nate.
Jack parked a little way out of the small town near Nate, loaded up his
new backpack with camping gear and the things he was bringing for Nate,
and then started walking. He figured that walking would leave the least
trail, and he knew that while not many people camped in the desert, it
wasn’t unheard of, and shouldn’t really raise suspicions.
Jack had brought more books for Nate - recent books, magazines,
newspapers. Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening
in the world, others that were just good books to read. He spent the
weekend with Nate, and then headed out again, telling Nate that he’d be
back again soon, but that he had things to do first.
Over four months later Jack was back to see Nate again. This time he
brought a laptop with him - a specially modified laptop. It had a solar
recharger, special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite
link-up, and a special keyboard and joystick that Jack hoped that a
fifteen-foot rattlesnake would be able to use. And, it had been hacked
to not give out its location to the satellite.
After that Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visited
him fairly regularly - at least once or twice a year.
After the first year, Jack quit his job. For some reason, with the
wisdom he ‘d been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over
150 years, working in a nine to five job for someone else didn’t seem
that worthwhile any more. Jack went back to school.
Eventually, Jack started writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or
perhaps because of his new perspective, he wrote well. People liked what
he wrote, and he became well known for it. After a time, Jack bought an
RV and started traveling around the country for book signings and readings.
But, he still remembered to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.
On one of the visits Nate seemed quieter than usual. Not that Nate had
been a fountain of joy lately. Jack’s best guess was that Nate was still
missing Samuel, and though Jack had tried, he still hadn’t been able to
replace Samuel in Nate’s eyes. Nate had been getting quieter each visit.
But on this visit Nate didn’t even speak when Jack walked up to the
lever. He nodded at Jack, and then went back to staring into the desert.
Jack, respecting Nate’s silence, sat down and waited.
After a few minutes, Nate spoke. “Jack, I have someone to introduce you to.”
Jack looked surprised. “Someone to introduce me to?” Jack looked around,
and then looked carefully back at Nate. “This something to do with the
Big Guy?
“No, no,” replied Nate. “This is more personal. I want you to meet my
son.” Nate looked over at the nearest sand dune. “Sammy!”
Jack watched as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawled from behind
the dune and up to the stone base of the lever.
“Yo, Jack,” said the new, much smaller snake.
“Yo, Sammy” replied Jack. Jack looked at Nate. “Named after Samuel, I
assume?”
Nate nodded. “Jack, I’ve got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy
around for me?” Nate unwrapped himself from the lever and slithered over
to the edge of the stone and looked across the sands. “When Samuel first
told me about the world, and brought me books and pictures, I wished
that I could go see it. I wanted to see the great forests, the canyons,
the cities, even the other deserts, to see if they felt and smelled the
same. I want my son to have that chance - to see the world. Before he
becomes bound here like I have been.
“He’s seen it in pictures, over the computer that you brought me. But I
hear that it’s not the same. That being there is different. I want him
to have that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?”
Jack nodded. This was obviously very important to Nate, so Jack didn’t
even joke about taking a talking rattlesnake out to see the world.
“Yeah, I can do that for you, Nate. Is that all you need?” Jack could
sense that was something more.
Nate looked at Sammy. Sammy looked back at Nate for a second and then
said, “Oh, yeah. Ummm, I’ve gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack.
Nice to meet ya!” Sammy slithered back over the dune and out of sight.
Nate watched Sammy disappear and then looked back at Jack. “Jack, this
is my first son. My first offspring through all the years. You don’t
even want to know what it took for me to find a mate.” Nate grinned to
himself. “But anyway, I had a son for a reason. I’m tired. I’m ready for
it to be over. I needed a replacement.”
Jack considered this for a minute. “So, you’re ready to come see the
world, and you wanted him to watch the lever while you were gone?”
Nate shook his head. “No, Jack - you’re a better guesser than that.
You’ve already figured out - I’m bound here - there’s only one way for
me to leave here. And I’m ready. It’s my time to die.”
Jack looked more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought about
this - probably for quite a while. Jack had trouble imagining what it
would be like to be as old as Nate, but Jack could already tell that in
another hundred or two hundred years, he might be getting tired of life
himself. Jack could understand Samuel’s decision, and now Nate’s. So,
all Jack said was, “What do you want me to do?”
Nate nodded. “Thanks, Jack. I only want two things. One - show Sammy
around the world - let him get his fill of it, until he’s ready to come
back here and take over. Two - give me the fourth request.
“I can’t just decide to die, not any more than you can. I won’t even die
of old age like you eventually will, even though it’ll be a long time
from now. I need to be killed. Once Sammy is back here, ready to take
over, I’ll be able to die. And I need you to kill me.
“I’ve even thought about how. Poisons and other drugs won’t work on me.
And I’ve seen pictures of snakes that were shot - some of them live for
days, so that’s out too. So, I want you to bring back a sword.
Nate turned away to look back to the dune that Sammy had gone behind.
“I’d say an axe, but that’s somewhat undignified - putting my head on
the ground or a chopping block like that. No, I like a sword. A
time-honored way of going out. A dignified way to die. And, most
importantly, it should work, even on me.
“You willing to do that for me, Jack?” Nate turned back to look at Jack.
“Yeah, Nate,” replied Jack solemnly, “I think I can handle that.”
Nate nodded. “Good!” He turned back toward the dune and shouted, “Sammy!
Jack’s about ready to leave!” Then quietly, “Thanks, Jack.”
Jack didn’t have anything to say to that, so he waited for Sammy to make
it back to the lever, nodded to him, nodded a final time to Nate, and
then headed into the desert with Sammy following. Over the next several
years Sammy and Jack kept in touch with Nate through e-mail as they went
about their adventures. They made a goal of visiting every country in
the world, and did a respectable job of it. Sammy had a natural gift for
languages, as Jack expected he would, and even ended up acting as a
translator for Jack in a few of the countries. Jack managed to keep the
talking rattlesnake hidden, even so, and by the time they were nearing
the end of their tour of countries, Sammy had only been spotted a few
times. While there were several people that had seen enough to startle
them greatly, nobody had enough evidence to prove anything, and while a
few wild rumors and storied followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever
hit the newspapers or the public in general.
When they finished the tour of countries, Jack suggested that they try
some undersea diving. They did. And spelunking. They did that too. Sammy
finally drew the line at visiting Antarctica. He’d come to realize that
Jack was stalling. After talking to his Dad about it over e-mail, he
figured out that Jack probably didn’t want to have to kill Nate. Nate
told Sammy that humans could be squeamish about killing friends and
acquaintances.
So, Sammy eventually put his tail down (as he didn’t have a foot) and
told Jack that it was time - he was ready to go back and take up his
duties from his dad. Jack, delayed it a little more by insisting that
they go back to Japan and buy an appropriate sword. He even stretched it
a little more by getting lessons in how to use the sword. But,
eventually, he’d learned as much as he was likely to without dedicating
his life to it, and was definitely competent enough to take the head off
of a snake. It was time to head back and see Nate.
When they got back to the US, Jack got the old RV out of storage where
he and Sammy had left it after their tour of the fifty states, he loaded
up Sammy and the sword, and they headed for the desert.
When they got to the small town that Jack had been trying to find those
years ago when he’d met Nate, Jack was in a funk. He didn’t really feel
like walking all of the way out there. Not only that, but he’d forgotten
to figure the travel time correctly, and it was late afternoon. They’d
either have to spend the night in town and walk out tomorrow, or walk in
the dark.
As Jack was afraid that if he waited one more night he might lose his
resolve, he decided that he’d go ahead and drive the RV out there. It
was only going to be this once, and Jack would go back and cover the
tracks afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by
nightfall if they drove, and then they could get it over tonight.
Jack told Sammy to e-mail Nate that they were coming as he drove out of
sight of the town on the road. They then pulled off the road and headed
out into the desert.
Everything went well, until they got to the sand dunes. Jack had been
nursing the RV along the whole time, over the rocks, through the creek
beds, revving the engine the few times they almost got stuck. When they
came to the dunes, Jack didn’t really think about it, he just
downshifted and headed up the first one. By the third dune, Jack started
to regret that he’d decided to try driving on the sand. The RV was
fishtailling and losing traction. Jack was having to work it up each
dune slowly and was trying to keep from losing control each time they
came over the top and slid down the other side. Sammy had come up to sit
in the passenger seat, coiled up and laughing at Jack’s driving.
As they came over the top of the fourth dune, the biggest one yet, Jack
saw that this was the final dune - the stone, the lever, and somewhere
Nate, waited below. Jack put on the brakes, but he’d gone a little too
far. The RV started slipping down the other side.
Jack tried turning the wheel, but he didn’t have enough traction. He
pumped the brakes - no response. They started sliding down the hill,
faster and faster.
Jack felt a shock go through him as he suddenly realized that they were
heading for the lever. He looked down - the RV was directly on course
for it. If Jack didn’t do something, the RV would hit it. He was about
to end humanity.
Jack steered more frantically, trying to get traction. It still wasn’t
working. The dune was too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split
second, Jack realized that his only chance would be once he hit the
stone around the lever - he should have traction on the stone for just a
second before he hit the lever - he wouldn’t have time to stop, but he
should be able to steer away.
Jack took a better grip on the steering wheel and tried to turn the RV a
little bit - every little bit would help. He’d have to time his turn
just right.
The RV got to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the
sand. Just before they reached the stone Jack looked across it to check
that they were still heading for the lever. They were. But Jack noticed
something else that he hadn’t seen from the top of the dune. Nate wasn’t
wrapped around the lever. He was off to the side of the lever, but still
on the stone, waiting for them. The problem was, he was waiting on the
same side of the lever that Jack had picked to steer towards to avoid
the lever. The RV was already starting to drift that way a little in its
mad rush across the sand and there was no way that Jack was going to be
able to go around the lever to the other side.
Jack had an instant of realization. He was either going to have to hit
the lever, or run over Nate. He glanced over at Sammy and saw that Sammy
realized the same thing.
Jack took a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the RV ran up on the
stone. Shouting to Sammy as he pulled the steering wheel, “BETTER NATE
THAN LEVER,” he ran over the snake.
THE END
Well, ok then. And this was funny, how?

Great story though.
Michael
(http://michaelschey.blogspot.com/)
Bill1255
2008-03-07 15:09:22 UTC
Permalink
So, there's a man crawling through the desert.
He'd decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had
great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit
a big rock, and then he couldn't get it started again. There were no
cell phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had
no family, his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident,
and his few friends had no idea he was out here.
He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran
out and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction
back, now that he'd paid attention to the sun and thought he'd figured
out which way was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he
only had to go about 30 miles or so and he'd be back to the small town
he'd gotten gas in last.
He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based
upon how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no
flashlight, he's afraid that he'll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake.
So, he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for
reapplication later, brings an umbrella he'd had in the back of the SUV
with him to give him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid
into his water bottle in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket
knife in case he finds a cactus that looks like it might have water in
it, and heads out in the direction he thinks is right.
He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he's really thirsty.
He's been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He's
reapplied the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but
he still feels sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the
bottle in his pocket
is really getting tempting now. He knows that it's mainly water and some
ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to
it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.
He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.
By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he's been
walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10
hours. That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close
to the town. But he doesn't recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry
creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn't remember coming through it
in the SUV. He figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little
and that the dry creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He
tells himself that he's close, and that after dark he'll start seeing
the town lights over one of these hills, and that'll be all he needs.
As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and
things, he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town
lights.
Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands
back up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.
He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are
gummy and his mouth and nose feel like they're full of sand. He so
thirsty that he can't even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it
was so cold. He'd forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and
hadn't noticed it the night before because he'd been in his car.
He knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days
without water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can
make it a little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and
having to walk and sweat isn't the best situation to be without water.
He figures, unless he finds water, this is his last day.
He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He
waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth
goes numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is
it just in his mind? He's not sure. He'll go a little farther, and if he
still doesn't find water, he'll try drinking some of the fluid.
Then he has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go
from here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming
that he still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction?
He has no idea what to do.
Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the
direction he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points
himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts walking.
As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a
couple of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little
at first, and then stops. He starts getting worried at that - when you
stop sweating he knows that means you're in trouble - usually right
before heat stroke.
He decides that it's time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can't
wait any longer - if he passes out, he's dead. He stops in the shade of
a large rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He
slowly swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good
in his dry and cracked throat that he doesn't even care about the nasty
taste. He takes another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he
drinks half the bottle.
He figures that since he's drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.
He's quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills
him, it kills him - if he didn't drink it, he'd die anyway. Besides,
he's pretty sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is
just designed to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying
cheap wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if
it comes to that.
He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he'll see a little movement to one side or the other, but
whatever moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it.
Probably birds, lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move
more at night. He's careful to stay away from the movements.
After a while, he begins to stagger. He's not sure if it's fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of
the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself,
and keep going.
After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good!
He knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV - he remembers
doing donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it - he's getting
woozy enough and tired enough that he's not sure what he remembers any
more or if he's hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he
heads off into it, trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets
him closer to the town.
He was heading for a town, wasn't he? He thinks he was. He isn't sure
any more. He's not even sure how long he's been walking any more. Is it
still morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down
again? It must be afternoon - it seems like it's been too long since he
started out.
He walks through the sand.
After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He
doesn't remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at
least he doesn't think he remembers any. This is bad.
But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He
figures that he'll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see
anything from there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the
dune.
Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or
third time, and falls to his knees. He doesn't feel like getting back up
- he'll just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand
and knees.
While crawling, if his throat weren't so dry, he'd laugh. He's finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert - crawling
through the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image,
he imagines, if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling
through the desert in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his
have lasted without any rips so far. Somebody will probably find his
dessicated corpse half buried in the sand years from now, and his
clothes will still be in fine shape -shake the sand out, and a good
wash, and they'd be wearable again. He wishes his throat were wet enough
to laugh. He coughs a little instead, and it hurts.
He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he's at the
top, he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All
he sees is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he
thinks he sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of
him, more dunes, more sand. This isn't where he drove his SUV. This is
Hell. Or close enough.
Again, he doesn't know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the
wiper fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is
removing the cap, when he glances to the side and sees something.
Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he
sees something strange. It's a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking
the cap of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to
be circular. And it's dark - darker than the sand. And, there seems to
be something in the middle of it, but he can't tell what it is. He looks
as hard as he can, and still can tell from here. He's going to have to
go down there and look.
He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the
dune. After a few steps, he realizes that he's in trouble - he's not
going to be able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding, ...
read more >>
The Beer that made Mil Famy Walk Us
Evolution
2008-03-07 19:37:14 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bill1255
The Beer that made Mil Famy Walk Us
I used to love telling that one...

Laurie
Karen Burns
2008-03-07 16:16:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by Dan
So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.
I really enjoyed that! Yes, really! :)
B***@aol.com
2008-03-07 17:09:39 UTC
Permalink
Post by Karen Burns
So, there's a man crawling through the desert.
I really enjoyed that! Yes, really! :)
I was pissed that after investing all that time, when it ended like
that..then I realized that is the beauty of it !! Nice job. Sean
Donnieb78
2008-03-07 17:14:21 UTC
Permalink
I know a joke that's even longer, but I'm just going to cut to the
punchline.

This guy died and went to heaven....

(snip, snip)

....so he slaps his forehead and says "I left my harp in Sam Frank's
disco!"
Her Benevolence, The BEAST
2008-03-07 23:22:21 UTC
Permalink
So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.
He’d decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had
great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit a
big rock, and then he couldn’t get it started again. There were no cell
phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had no
family, his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident, and
his few friends had no idea he was out here.
He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran
out and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction
back, now that he’d paid attention to the sun and thought he’d figured out
which way was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he only
had to go about 30 miles or so and he’d be back to the small town he’d
gotten gas in last.
He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based upon
how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no
flashlight, he’s afraid that he’ll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake.
So, he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for
reapplication later, brings an umbrella he’d had in the back of the SUV
with him to give him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid into
his water bottle in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket knife
in case he finds a cactus that looks like it might have water in it, and
heads out in the direction he thinks is right.
He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he’s really thirsty. He’s
been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He’s reapplied
the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but he still
feels sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the bottle in his
pocket
is really getting tempting now. He knows that it’s mainly water and some
ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to
it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.
He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.
By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he’s been
walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10
hours. That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close
to the town. But he doesn’t recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry
creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn’t remember coming through it in
the SUV. He figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little and
that the dry creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He tells
himself that he’s close, and that after dark he’ll start seeing the town
lights over one of these hills, and that’ll be all he needs.
As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and
things, he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town
lights.
Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands back
up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.
He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are gummy
and his mouth and nose feel like they’re full of sand. He so thirsty that
he can’t even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it was so cold. He’d
forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and hadn’t noticed it the
night before because he’d been in his car.
He knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days
without water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can
make it a little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and
having to walk and sweat isn’t the best situation to be without water. He
figures, unless he finds water, this is his last day.
He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He
waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth goes
numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is it just
in his mind? He’s not sure. He’ll go a little farther, and if he still
doesn’t find water, he’ll try drinking some of the fluid.
Then he has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go from
here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming that he
still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction? He has no
idea what to do.
Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the
direction he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points
himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts walking.
As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a couple
of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little at first,
and then stops. He starts getting worried at that - when you stop sweating
he knows that means you’re in trouble - usually right before heat stroke.
He decides that it’s time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can’t wait
any longer - if he passes out, he’s dead. He stops in the shade of a large
rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He slowly
swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good in his dry
and cracked throat that he doesn’t even care about the nasty taste. He
takes another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he drinks half the
bottle.
He figures that since he’s drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.
He’s quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills
him, it kills him - if he didn’t drink it, he’d die anyway. Besides, he’s
pretty sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is just
designed to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying cheap
wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if it
comes to that.
He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he’ll see a little movement to one side or the other, but
whatever moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it.
Probably birds, lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move
more at night. He’s careful to stay away from the movements.
After a while, he begins to stagger. He’s not sure if it’s fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of
the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself, and
keep going.
After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good! He
knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV - he remembers doing
donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it - he’s getting woozy
enough and tired enough that he’s not sure what he remembers any more or
if he’s hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he heads off into
it, trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets him closer to the
town.
He was heading for a town, wasn’t he? He thinks he was. He isn’t sure any
more. He’s not even sure how long he’s been walking any more. Is it still
morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down again?
It must be afternoon - it seems like it’s been too long since he started
out.
He walks through the sand.
After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He doesn’t
remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at least he
doesn’t think he remembers any. This is bad.
But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He
figures that he’ll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see
anything from there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the
dune.
Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or
third time, and falls to his knees. He doesn’t feel like getting back up -
he’ll just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand and
knees.
While crawling, if his throat weren’t so dry, he’d laugh. He’s finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert - crawling
through the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image, he
imagines, if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling
through the desert in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his have
lasted without any rips so far. Somebody will probably find his dessicated
corpse half buried in the sand years from now, and his clothes will still
be in fine shape -shake the sand out, and a good wash, and they’d be
wearable again. He wishes his throat were wet enough to laugh. He coughs a
little instead, and it hurts.
He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he’s at the top,
he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All he
sees is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he
thinks he sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of
him, more dunes, more sand. This isn’t where he drove his SUV. This is
Hell. Or close enough.
Again, he doesn’t know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the
wiper fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is
removing the cap, when he glances to the side and sees something.
Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he sees
something strange. It’s a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking the cap
of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to be
circular. And it’s dark - darker than the sand. And, there seems to be
something in the middle of it, but he can’t tell what it is. He looks as
hard as he can, and still can tell from here. He’s going to have to go
down there and look.
He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the
dune. After a few steps, he realizes that he’s in trouble - he’s not going
to be able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding, tottering
steps, he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand it so hot when
his body hits it that for a minute he thinks he’s caught fire on the way
down - like a movie car wreck flashing into flames as it goes over the
cliff, before it ever even hits the ground. He closes his eyes and mouth,
covers his face with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.
He stops, at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds
enough energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and
clothes. When he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure that
the dark spot in the sand it still there and he hadn’t just imagined it.
So, seeing the large, flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, he
begins to crawl towards it. He’d get up and walk towards it, but he doesn’t
seem to have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be in the
final stages of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this place in the
sand doesn’t have water, he’ll likely never make it anywhere else. This is
his last chance.
He gets closer and closer, but still can’t see what’s in the middle of the
dark area. His eyes won’t quite focus any more for some reason. And
lifting his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up trying.
He just keeps crawling.
Finally, he reaches the area he’d seen from the dune. It takes him a
minute of crawling on it before he realizes that he’s no longer on sand -
he’s now crawling on some kind of dark stone. Stone with some kind of
marking on it -a pattern cut into the stone. He’s too tired to stand up
and try to see what the pattern is - so he just keeps crawling. He crawls
towards the center, where his blurry eyes still see something in the
middle of the dark stone area.
His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and knees
are so burnt by the sand that they no longer feel pain, or that this dark
stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding, punishing sun
overhead, doesn’t seem to be hot. It almost feels cool. He considers lying
down on the nice cool surface.
Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating this. He’s
probably in the middle of a patch of sand, already lying face down and
dying, and just imagining this whole thing. A desert mirage. Soon the
beautiful women carrying pitchers of water will come up and start giving
him a drink. Then he’ll know he’s gone.
He decides against laying down on the cool stone. If he’s going to die
here in the middle of this hallucination, he at least wants to see what’s
in the center before he goes. He keeps crawling.
It’s the third time that he hears the voice before he realizes what he’s
hearing. He would swear that someone just said, “Greetings, traveler. You
do not look well. Do you hear me?”
He stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and
knees, but it’s too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something
different - he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few
seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling on his face, sits up, and
tries to focus his eyes. Blurry. He rubs his eyes with the back of his
hands and tries again. Better this time.
Yep. He can see. He’s sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark expanse
of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a white post or
pole about two inches in diameter and sticking up about four or five feet
out of the stone, at an angle.
And wrapped around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and
seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot long
desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.
He stares at the snake in shock. He doesn’t have the energy to get up and
run away. He doesn’t even have the energy to crawl away. This is it, his
final resting place. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be able to
move from this spot.
Well, at least dying of a bite from this monster should be quicker than
dying of thirst. He’ll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a
little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one hand and
waves it in the snake’s direction, feebly. The snake watches the hand for
a moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.
Hmmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn’t rattled
yet -that was a good sign. Maybe he wasn’t going to die of snake bite
after all.
He then remembers that he’d looked up when he’d reached the center here
because he thought he’d heard a voice. He was still very woozy - he was
likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he was
now on cool stone. He still didn’t have anything to drink. But maybe he
had actually heard a voice. This stone didn’t look natural. Nor did that
white post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built this.
Maybe
they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this snake
was even their pet, and that’s why it wasn’t biting.
He tries to clear his throat to say, “Hello,” but his throat is too dry.
All that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. There is no way he’s
going to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his pocket,
and the bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. He shakily pulls the
bottle out, almost losing his balance and falling on his back in the
process. This isn’t good. He doesn’t have much time left, by his
reckoning, before he passes out.
He gets the lid off of the bottle, manages to get the bottle to his lips,
and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around, and then
swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe he can
talk now.
He tries again. Ignoring the snake, he turns to look around him, hoping to
spot the owner of this place, and croaks out, “Hello? Is there anyone
here?”
He hears, from his side, “Greetings. What is it that you want?”
He turns his head, back towards the snake. That’s where the sound had
seemed to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must be
a speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He
decides to try asking for help.
“Please,” he croaks again, suddenly feeling dizzy, “I’d love to not be
thirsty any more. I’ve been a long time without water. Can you help me?”
Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was
coming from this time, he is shocked to see the snake rear back, open its
mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as the dizziness overtakes him and he
falls forward, face first on the stone, “Very well. Coming up.”
A piercing pain shoots through his shoulder. Suddenly he is awake. He sits
up and grabs his shoulder, wincing at the throbbing pain. He’s momentarily
disoriented as he looks around, and then he remembers - the crawl across
the sand, the dark area of stone, the snake. He sees the snake, still
wrapped around the tilted white post, still looking at him.
He reaches up and feels his shoulder, where it hurts. It feels slightly
wet. He pulls his fingers away and looks at them - blood. He feels his
shoulder again - his shirt has what feels like two holes in it - two
puncture holes -they match up with the two aching spots of pain on his
shoulder. He had been bitten. By the snake.
“It’ll feel better in a minute.” He looks up - it’s the snake talking. He
hadn’t dreamed it. Suddenly he notices - he’s not dizzy any more. And more
importantly, he’s not thirsty any more - at all!
“Have I died? Is this the afterlife? Why are you biting me in the
afterlife?”
“Sorry about that, but I had to bite you,” says the snake. “That’s the way
I work. It all comes through the bite. Think of it as natural medicine.”
“You bit me to help me? Why aren’t I thirsty any more? Did you give me a
drink before you bit me? How did I drink enough while unconscious to not
be thirsty any more? I haven’t had a drink for over two days. Well, except
for the windshield wiper fluid… hold it, how in the world does a snake
talk? Are you real? Are you some sort of Disney animation?”
“No,” says the snake, “I’m real. As real as you or anyone is, anyway. I
didn’t give you a drink. I bit you. That’s how it works - it’s what I do.
I bite. I don’t have hands to give you a drink, even if I had water just
sitting around here.”
The man sat stunned for a minute. Here he was, sitting in the middle of
the desert on some strange stone that should be hot but wasn’t, talking to
a snake that could talk back and had just bitten him. And he felt better.
Not great - he was still starving and exhausted, but much better - he was
no longer thirsty. He had started to sweat again, but only slightly. He
felt hot, in this sun, but it was starting to get lower in the sky, and
the cool stone beneath him was a relief he could notice now that he was no
longer dying of thirst.
“I might suggest that we take care of that methanol you now have in your
system with the next request,” continued the snake. “I can guess why you
drank it, but I’m not sure how much you drank, or how much methanol was
left in the wiper fluid. That stuff is nasty. It’ll make you go blind in a
day or two, if you drank enough of it.”
“Ummm, n-next request?” said the man. He put his hand back on his hurting
shoulder and backed away from the snake a little.
“That’s the way it works. If you like, that is,” explained the snake. “You
get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish.” The snake grinned at
his own joke, and the man drew back a little further from the show of
fangs.
“But there are rules,” the snake continued. “The first request is free.
The second requires an agreement of secrecy. The third requires the
binding of responsibility.” The snake looks at the man seriously.
“By the way,” the snake says suddenly, “my name is Nathan. Old Nathan,
Samuel used to call me. He gave me the name. Before that, most of the
Bound used to just call me ‘Snake’. But that got old, and Samuel wouldn’t
stand for it. He said that anything that could talk needed a name. He was
big into names. You can call me Nate, if you wish.” Again, the snake
grinned. “Sorry if I don’t offer to shake, but I think you can
understand - my shake sounds
somewhat threatening.” The snake give his rattle a little shake.
“Umm, my name is Jack,” said the man, trying to absorb all of this. “Jack
Samson.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jack says suddenly. “What happened to the
poison…umm, in your bite. Why aren’t I dying now? How did you do that?
What do you mean by that’s how you work?”
“That’s more than one question,” grins Nate. “But I’ll still try to answer
all of them. First, yes, you can ask me a question.” The snake’s grin gets
wider. “Second, the poison is in you. It changed you. You now no longer
need to drink. That’s what you asked for. Or, well, technically, you asked
to not be thirsty any more - but ‘any more’ is such a vague term. I
decided to make it permanent - now, as long as you live, you shouldn’t
need to drink much at all. Your body will conserve water very efficiently.
You should be able to get enough just from the food you eat - much like a
creature of the desert. You’ve been changed.
“For the third question,” Nate continues, “you are still dying. Besides
the effects of that methanol in your system, you’re a man - and men are
mortal. In your current state, I give you no more than about another 50
years. Assuming you get out of this desert, alive, that is.” Nate seemed
vastly amused at his own humor, and continued his wide grin.
“As for the fourth question,” Nate said, looking more serious as far as
Jack could tell, as Jack was just now working on his ability to read
talking-snake emotions from snake facial features, “first you have to
agree to make a second request and become bound by the secrecy, or I can’t
tell you.”
“Wait,” joked Jack, “isn’t this where you say you could tell me, but you’d
have to kill me?”
“I thought that was implied.” Nate continued to look serious.
“Ummm…yeah.” Jack leaned back a little as he remembered again that he was
talking to a fifteen foot poisonous reptile with a reputation for having a
nasty temper. “So, what is this ‘Bound by Secrecy’ stuff, and can you
really stop the effects of the methanol?” Jack thought for a second. “And,
what do you mean methanol, anyway? I thought these days they use ethanol
in wiper fluid, and just denature it?”
“They may, I don’t really know,” said Nate. “I haven’t gotten out in a
while. Maybe they do. All I know is that I smell methanol on your breath
and on that bottle in your pocket. And the blue color of the liquid when
you pulled it out to drink some let me guess that it was wiper fluid. I
assume that they still color wiper fluid blue?”
“Yeah, they do,” said Jack.
“I figured,” replied Nate. “As for being bound by secrecy - with the
fulfillment of your next request, you will be bound to say nothing about
me, this place, or any of the information I will tell you after that, when
you decide to go back out to your kind. You won’t be allowed to talk about
me, write about me, use sign language, charades, or even act in a way that
will lead someone to guess correctly about me. You’ll be bound to secrecy.
Of course, I’ll also ask you to promise not to give me away, and as I’m
guessing that you’re a man of your word, you’ll never test the binding
anyway, so you won’t notice.” Nate said the last part with utter
confidence.
Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of his word, felt a
little nervous at this. “Ummm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know
that? Are you, umm, omniscient, or something?”
Well, Jack,” said Nate sadly, “I can’t tell you that, unless you make the
second request.” Nate looked away for a minute, then looked back.
“Umm, well, ok,” said Jack, “what is this about a second request? What can
I ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?”
“Sure!” said Nate, brightening. “You’re allowed to ask for changes.
Changes to yourself. They’re like wishes, but they can only affect you.
Oh, and before you ask, I can’t give you immortality. Or omniscience. Or
omnipresence, for that matter. Though I might be able to make you gaseous
and yet remain alive, and then you could spread through the atmosphere and
sort of be omnipresent. But what good would that be - you still wouldn’t
be omniscient and thus still could only focus on one thing at a time. Not
very useful, at least in my opinion.” Nate stopped when he realized that
Jack was staring at him.
“Well, anyway,” continued Nate, “I’d probably suggest giving you permanent
good health. It would negate the methanol now in your system, you’d be
immune to most poisons and diseases, and you’d tend to live a very long
time, barring accident, of course. And you’ll even have a tendency to
recover from accidents well. It always seemed like a good choice for a
request to me.”
“Cure the methanol poisoning, huh?” said Jack. “And keep me healthy for a
long time? Hmmm. It doesn’t sound bad at that. And it has to be a request
about a change to me? I can’t ask to be rich, right? Because that’s not
really a change to me?”
“Right,” nodded Nate.
“Could I ask to be a genius and permanently healthy?” Jack asked,
hopefully.
“That takes two requests, Jack.”
“Yeah, I figured so,” said Jack. “But I could ask to be a genius? I could
become the smartest scientist in the world? Or the best athlete?”
“Well, I could make you very smart,” admitted Nate, “but that wouldn’t
necessarily make you the best scientist in the world. Or, I could make you
very athletic, but it wouldn’t necessarily make you the best athlete
either. You’ve heard the saying that 99% of genius is hard work? Well,
there’s some truth to that. I can give you the talent, but I can’t make
you work hard. It all depends on what you decide to do with it.”
“Hmmm,” said Jack. “Ok, I think I understand. And I get a third request,
after this one?”
“Maybe,” said Nate, “it depends on what you decide then. There are more
rules for the third request that I can only tell you about after the
second request. You know how it goes.” Nate looked like he’d shrug, if he
had shoulders.
“Ok, well, since I’d rather not be blind in a day or two, and permanent
health doesn’t sound bad, then consider that my second request.
Officially. Do I need to sign in blood or something?”
“No,” said Nate. “Just hold out your hand. Or heel.” Nate grinned. “Or
whatever part you want me to bite. I have to bite you again. Like I said,
that’s how it works - the poison, you know,” Nate said apologetically.
Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite was. Hey,
it didn’t hurt any more. Just like Nate had said. That made Jack feel
better about the biting business. But still, standing still while a
fifteen foot snake sunk it’s fangs into you. Jack stood up. Ignoring how
good it felt to be able to stand again, and the hunger starting to gnaw at
his stomach, Jack tried to decide where he wanted to get bitten. Despite
knowing that it wouldn’t hurt for long, Jack knew that this wasn’t going
to be easy.
“Hey, Jack,” Nate suddenly said, looking past Jack towards the dunes
behind him, “is that someone else coming up over there?”
Jack spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of
nowhere? And did they bring food?
Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate…
Jack let out a bellow as he felt two fangs sink into his rear end, through
his jeans…
Jack sat down carefully, favoring his more tender buttock. “I would have
decided, eventually, Nate. I was just thinking about it. You didn’t have
to
hoodwink me like that.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, Jack,” said Nate, confidently. “You
humans have a hard time sitting still and letting a snake bite you -
especially one my size. And besides, admit it - it’s only been a couple of
minutes and it already doesn’t hurt any more, does it? That’s because of
the health benefit with this one. I told you that you’d heal quickly now.”
“Yeah, well, still,” said Jack, “it’s the principle of the thing. And
nobody likes being bitten in the butt! Couldn’t you have gotten my calf or
something instead?”
“More meat in the typical human butt,” replied Nate. “And less chance you
accidentally kick me or move at the last second.”
“Yeah, right. So, tell me all of these wonderful secrets that I now
qualify to hear,” answered Jack.
“Ok,” said Nate. “Do you want to ask questions first, or do you want me to
just start talking?”
“Just talk,” said Jack. “I’ll sit here and try to not think about food.”
“We could go try to rustle up some food for you first, if you like,”
answered Nate.
“Hey! You didn’t tell me you had food around here, Nate!” Jack jumped up.
“What do we have? Am I in walking distance to town? Or can you magically
whip up food along with your other powers?” Jack was almost shouting with
excitement. His stomach had been growling for hours.
“I was thinking more like I could flush something out of its hole and bite
it for you, and you could skin it and eat it. Assuming you have a knife,
that is,” replied Nate, with the grin that Jack was starting to get used
to.
“Ugh,” said Jack, sitting back down. “I think I’ll pass. I can last a
little longer before I get desperate enough to eat desert rat, or whatever
else it is you find out here. And there’s nothing to burn - I’d have to
eat it raw. No thanks. Just talk.”
“Ok,” replied Nate, still grinning. “But I’d better hurry, before you
start looking at me as food.
Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then continued.
“You, Jack, are sitting in the middle of the Garden of Eden.”
Jack looked around at the sand and dunes and then looked back at Nate
sceptically.
“Well, that’s the best I can figure it, anyway, Jack,” said Nate. “Stand
up and look at the symbol on the rock here.” Nate gestured around the dark
stone they were both sitting on with his nose.
Jack stood up and looked. Carved into the stone in a bas-relief was a
representation of a large tree. The angled-pole that Nate was wrapped
around was coming out of the trunk of the tree, right below where the main
branches left the truck to reach out across the stone. It was very well
done - it looked more like a tree had been reduced to almost two
dimensions and embedded in the stone than it did like a carving.
Jack walked around and looked at the details in the fading light of the
setting sun. He wished he’d looked at it while the sun was higher in the
sky.
Wait! The sun was setting! That meant he was going to have to spend
another night out here! Arrrgh!
Jack looked out across the desert for a little bit, and then came back and
stood next to Nate. “In all the excitement, I almost forgot, Nate,” said
Jack. “Which way is it back to town? And how far? I’m eventually going to
have to head back - I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive by eating raw
desert critters for long. And even if I can, I’m not sure I’ll want to.”
“It’s about 30 miles that way.” Nate pointed, with the rattle on his tail
this time. As far as Jack could tell, it was a direction at right angles
to the way he’d been going when he was crawling here. “But that’s 30 miles
by the way the crow flies. It’s about 40 by the way a man walks. You
should be able to do it in about half a day with your improved endurance,
if you head out early tomorrow, Jack.”
Jack looked out the way the snake had pointed for a few seconds more, and
then sat back down. It was getting dark. Not much he could do about
heading out right now. And besides, Nate was just about to get to the
interesting stuff. “Garden of Eden? As best as you can figure it?”
“Well, yeah, as best as I and Samuel could figure it anyway,” said Nate.
“He figured that the story just got a little mixed up. You know, snake, in
a ‘tree’, offering ‘temptations’, making bargains. That kind stuff. But he
could never quite figure out how the Hebrews found out about this spot
from across the ocean. He worried about that for a while.”
“Garden of Eden, hunh?” said Jack. “How long have you been here, Nate?”
“No idea, really,” replied Nate. “A long time. It never occurred to me to
count years, until recently, and by then, of course, it was too late. But
I do remember when this whole place was green, so I figure it’s been
thousands of years, at least.”
“So, are you the snake that tempted Eve?” said Jack.
“Beats me,” said Nate. “Maybe. I can’t remember if the first one of your
kind that I talked to was female or not, and I never got a name, but it
could have been. And I suppose she could have considered my offer to grant
requests a ‘temptation’, though I’ve rarely had refusals.”
“Well, umm, how did you get here then? And why is that white pole stuck
out of the stone there?” asked Jack.
“Dad left me here. Or, I assume it was my dad. It was another snake - much
bigger than I was back then. I remember talking to him, but I don’t
remember if it was in a language, or just kind of understanding what he
wanted. But one day, he brought me to this stone, told me about it, and
asked me to do something for him. I talked it over with him for a while,
then agreed. I’ve been here ever since.
“What is this place?” said Jack. “And what did he ask you to do?”
“Well, you see this pole here, sticking out of the stone?” Nate loosened
his coils around the tilted white pole and showed Jack where it descended
into the stone. The pole was tilted at about a 45 degree angle and seemed
to enter the stone in an eighteen inch slot cut into the stone. Jack
leaned over and looked. The slot was dark and the pole went down into it
as far as Jack could see in the dim light. Jack reached out to touch the
pole, but Nate was suddenly there in the way.
“You can’t touch that yet, Jack,” said Nate.
“Why not?” asked Jack.
“I haven’t explained it to you yet,” replied Nate.
“Well, it kinda looks like a lever or something,” said Jack. “You’d push
it that way, and it would move in the slot.”
“Yep, that’s what it is,” replied Nate.
“What does it do?” asked Jack. “End the world?”
“Oh, no,” said Nate. “Nothing that drastic. It just ends humanity. I call
it ‘The Lever of Doom’.” For the last few words Nate had used a deeper,
ringing voice. He tried to look serious for a few seconds, and then gave
up and grinned.
Jack was initially startled by Nate’s pronouncement, but when Nate grinned
Jack laughed. “Ha! You almost had me fooled for a second there. What does
it really do?”
“Oh, it really ends humanity, like I said,” smirked Nate. “I just thought
the voice I used was funny, didn’t you?”
Nate continued to grin.
“A lever to end humanity?” asked Jack. “What in the world is that for? Why
would anyone need to end humanity?”
“Well,” replied Nate, “I get the idea that maybe humanity was an
experiment. Or maybe the Big Guy just thought, that if humanity started
going really bad, there should be a way to end it. I’m not really sure.
All I know are the rules, and the guesses that Samuel and I had about why
it’s here. I didn’t think to ask back when I started here.”
“Rules? What rules?” asked Jack.
“The rules are that I can’t tell anybody about it or let them touch it
unless they agree to be bound to secrecy by a bite. And that only one
human can be bound in that way at a time. That’s it.” explained Nate.
Jack looked somewhat shocked. “You mean that I could pull the lever now?
You’d let me end humanity?”
“Yep,” replied Nate, “if you want to.” Nate looked at Jack carefully. “Do
you want to, Jack?”
“Umm, no.” said Jack, stepping a little further back from the lever. “Why
in the world would anyone want to end humanity? It’d take a psychotic to
want that! Or worse, a suicidal psychotic, because it would kill him too,
wouldn’t it?”
“Yep,” replied Nate, “being as he’d be human too.”
“Has anyone ever seriously considered it?” asked Nate. “Any of those bound
to secrecy, that is?”
“Well, of course, I think they’ve all seriously considered it at one time
or another. Being given that kind of responsibility makes you sit down and
think, or so I’m told. Samuel considered it several times. He’d often get
disgusted with humanity, come out here, and just hold the lever for a
while. But he never pulled it. Or you wouldn’t be here.” Nate grinned some
more.
Jack sat down, well back from the lever. He looked thoughtful and puzzled
at the same time. After a bit, he said, “So this makes me the Judge of
humanity? I get to decide whether they keep going or just end? Me?”
“That seems to be it,” agreed Nate.
“What kind of criteria do I use to decide?” said Jack. “How do I make this
decision? Am I supposed to decide if they’re good? Or too many of them are
bad? Or that they’re going the wrong way? Is there a set of rules for
that?”
“Nope,” replied Nate. “You pretty much just have to decide on your own. It’s
up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you’re just
supposed to know.”
“But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel
horrible? Couldn’t I make a mistake? How do I know that I won’t screw up?”
protested Jack.
Nate gave his kind of snake-like shrug again. “You don’t. You just have to
try your best, Jack.”
Jack sat there for a while, staring off into the desert that was rapidly
getting dark, chewing on a fingernail.
Suddenly, Jack turned around and looked at the snake. “Nate, was Samuel
the one bound to this before me?”
“Yep,” replied Nate. “He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me to
read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them buried
in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a few months
ago.”
“Sounds like a good guy,” agreed Jack. “How did he handle this, when you
first told him. What did he do?”
“Well,” said Nate, “he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit,
and then asked me some questions, much like you’re doing.”
“What did he ask you, if you’re allowed to tell me?” asked Jack.
“He asked me about the third request,” replied Nate.
“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third request
you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to the point
that you really think that humanity should be ended, that you’ll come here
and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp out.” Nate looked
serious again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”
“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.
Nate watched him, waiting.
“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for with
his third request?”
Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly,
“Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”
“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give it
to me.
Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”
“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped
him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over his
shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”
“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter afterward.
Like he had a lot to think about.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack turned
toface away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.
Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack now,
Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.
“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks
like it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.
“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and
body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.
“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that you’ll
turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”
“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes,
straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate there.
With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from its slot
in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.
Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt
the now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.
Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his
feet extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness,
listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where
he’d been recently bitten.
Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a
desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped
back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s air
the only sign that he was still awake.
Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand while
he thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.
“Nate, do accidents count?”
Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know,
accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does
that still wipe out humanity?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about
that if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.
A little later - “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.
“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.
“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I
pull the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or
throw a rock?”
“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how
complicated you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some kind
of remote control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d build would
be gone by the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone, or over it. I
told him that in the past others that had been bound had tried to bury the
lever so they wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but every time the stones or
sand or whatever had disappeared.”
“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept him
off of the stone and looked up into the sky.
“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too,
right?” asked Jack.
“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”
“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as long.
Do you know what he died of, Nate?”
“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat
sad.
Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.
Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in
society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start
questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while.
He faked his death once, but changed his mind - he decided it was too
early and he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of
mankind, but he liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.
“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He didn’t
stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out here to
spend time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A few
months ago he told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”
“And then he just died?” asked Jack.
Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s
only one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.
After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was his
time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they
always had.
After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the
stone with the sunrise.”
Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his
memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.
Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled with
the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well, except
that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw desert
rat.
So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how to
get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started the
long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good directions, he
made it back easily.
Jack caught a bus back to the city, and showed up for work the next day,
little worse for the wear and with a story about getting lost in the
desert and walking back out. Within a couple of days Jack had talked a
friend with a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to
fetch the SUV. They found it after a couple of hours of searching and
towed it back without incident. Jack was careful not to even look in the
direction of Nate’s lever, though their path back didn’t come within sight
of it.
Before the next weekend, Jack had gone to a couple of stores, including a
book store, and had gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a warning
to avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, Jack headed back
to see Nate.
Jack parked a little way out of the small town near Nate, loaded up his
new backpack with camping gear and the things he was bringing for Nate,
and then started walking. He figured that walking would leave the least
trail, and he knew that while not many people camped in the desert, it
wasn’t unheard of, and shouldn’t really raise suspicions.
Jack had brought more books for Nate - recent books, magazines,
newspapers. Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening
in the world, others that were just good books to read. He spent the
weekend with Nate, and then headed out again, telling Nate that he’d be
back again soon, but that he had things to do first.
Over four months later Jack was back to see Nate again. This time he
brought a laptop with him - a specially modified laptop. It had a solar
recharger, special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite
link-up, and a special keyboard and joystick that Jack hoped that a
fifteen-foot rattlesnake would be able to use. And, it had been hacked to
not give out its location to the satellite.
After that Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visited him
fairly regularly - at least once or twice a year.
After the first year, Jack quit his job. For some reason, with the wisdom
he ‘d been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over 150 years,
working in a nine to five job for someone else didn’t seem that worthwhile
any more. Jack went back to school.
Eventually, Jack started writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or
perhaps because of his new perspective, he wrote well. People liked what
he wrote, and he became well known for it. After a time, Jack bought an RV
and started traveling around the country for book signings and readings.
But, he still remembered to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.
On one of the visits Nate seemed quieter than usual. Not that Nate had
been a fountain of joy lately. Jack’s best guess was that Nate was still
missing Samuel, and though Jack had tried, he still hadn’t been able to
replace Samuel in Nate’s eyes. Nate had been getting quieter each visit.
But on this visit Nate didn’t even speak when Jack walked up to the lever.
He nodded at Jack, and then went back to staring into the desert. Jack,
respecting Nate’s silence, sat down and waited.
After a few minutes, Nate spoke. “Jack, I have someone to introduce you
to.”
Jack looked surprised. “Someone to introduce me to?” Jack looked around,
and then looked carefully back at Nate. “This something to do with the Big
Guy?
“No, no,” replied Nate. “This is more personal. I want you to meet my
son.” Nate looked over at the nearest sand dune. “Sammy!”
Jack watched as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawled from behind
the dune and up to the stone base of the lever.
“Yo, Jack,” said the new, much smaller snake.
“Yo, Sammy” replied Jack. Jack looked at Nate. “Named after Samuel, I
assume?”
Nate nodded. “Jack, I’ve got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy
around for me?” Nate unwrapped himself from the lever and slithered over
to the edge of the stone and looked across the sands. “When Samuel first
told me about the world, and brought me books and pictures, I wished that
I could go see it. I wanted to see the great forests, the canyons, the
cities, even the other deserts, to see if they felt and smelled the same.
I want my son to have that chance - to see the world. Before he becomes
bound here like I have been.
“He’s seen it in pictures, over the computer that you brought me. But I
hear that it’s not the same. That being there is different. I want him to
have that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?”
Jack nodded. This was obviously very important to Nate, so Jack didn’t
even joke about taking a talking rattlesnake out to see the world. “Yeah,
I can do that for you, Nate. Is that all you need?” Jack could sense that
was something more.
Nate looked at Sammy. Sammy looked back at Nate for a second and then
said, “Oh, yeah. Ummm, I’ve gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack. Nice
to meet ya!” Sammy slithered back over the dune and out of sight.
Nate watched Sammy disappear and then looked back at Jack. “Jack, this is
my first son. My first offspring through all the years. You don’t even
want to know what it took for me to find a mate.” Nate grinned to himself.
“But anyway, I had a son for a reason. I’m tired. I’m ready for it to be
over. I needed a replacement.”
Jack considered this for a minute. “So, you’re ready to come see the
world, and you wanted him to watch the lever while you were gone?”
Nate shook his head. “No, Jack - you’re a better guesser than that. You’ve
already figured out - I’m bound here - there’s only one way for me to
leave here. And I’m ready. It’s my time to die.”
Jack looked more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought about
this - probably for quite a while. Jack had trouble imagining what it
would be like to be as old as Nate, but Jack could already tell that in
another hundred or two hundred years, he might be getting tired of life
himself. Jack could understand Samuel’s decision, and now Nate’s. So, all
Jack said was, “What do you want me to do?”
Nate nodded. “Thanks, Jack. I only want two things. One - show Sammy
around the world - let him get his fill of it, until he’s ready to come
back here and take over. Two - give me the fourth request.
“I can’t just decide to die, not any more than you can. I won’t even die
of old age like you eventually will, even though it’ll be a long time from
now. I need to be killed. Once Sammy is back here, ready to take over, I’ll
be able to die. And I need you to kill me.
“I’ve even thought about how. Poisons and other drugs won’t work on me.
And I’ve seen pictures of snakes that were shot - some of them live for
days, so that’s out too. So, I want you to bring back a sword.
Nate turned away to look back to the dune that Sammy had gone behind. “I’d
say an axe, but that’s somewhat undignified - putting my head on the
ground or a chopping block like that. No, I like a sword. A time-honored
way of going out. A dignified way to die. And, most importantly, it should
work, even on me.
“You willing to do that for me, Jack?” Nate turned back to look at Jack.
“Yeah, Nate,” replied Jack solemnly, “I think I can handle that.”
Nate nodded. “Good!” He turned back toward the dune and shouted, “Sammy!
Jack’s about ready to leave!” Then quietly, “Thanks, Jack.”
Jack didn’t have anything to say to that, so he waited for Sammy to make
it back to the lever, nodded to him, nodded a final time to Nate, and then
headed into the desert with Sammy following. Over the next several years
Sammy and Jack kept in touch with Nate through e-mail as they went about
their adventures. They made a goal of visiting every country in the world,
and did a respectable job of it. Sammy had a natural gift for languages,
as Jack expected he would, and even ended up acting as a translator for
Jack in a few of the countries. Jack managed to keep the talking
rattlesnake hidden, even so, and by the time they were nearing the end of
their tour of countries, Sammy had only been spotted a few times. While
there were several people that had seen enough to startle them greatly,
nobody had enough evidence to prove anything, and while a few wild rumors
and storied followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever hit the
newspapers or the public in general.
When they finished the tour of countries, Jack suggested that they try
some undersea diving. They did. And spelunking. They did that too. Sammy
finally drew the line at visiting Antarctica. He’d come to realize that
Jack was stalling. After talking to his Dad about it over e-mail, he
figured out that Jack probably didn’t want to have to kill Nate. Nate told
Sammy that humans could be squeamish about killing friends and
acquaintances.
So, Sammy eventually put his tail down (as he didn’t have a foot) and told
Jack that it was time - he was ready to go back and take up his duties
from his dad. Jack, delayed it a little more by insisting that they go
back to Japan and buy an appropriate sword. He even stretched it a little
more by getting lessons in how to use the sword. But, eventually, he’d
learned as much as he was likely to without dedicating his life to it, and
was definitely competent enough to take the head off of a snake. It was
time to head back and see Nate.
When they got back to the US, Jack got the old RV out of storage where he
and Sammy had left it after their tour of the fifty states, he loaded up
Sammy and the sword, and they headed for the desert.
When they got to the small town that Jack had been trying to find those
years ago when he’d met Nate, Jack was in a funk. He didn’t really feel
like walking all of the way out there. Not only that, but he’d forgotten
to figure the travel time correctly, and it was late afternoon. They’d
either have to spend the night in town and walk out tomorrow, or walk in
the dark.
As Jack was afraid that if he waited one more night he might lose his
resolve, he decided that he’d go ahead and drive the RV out there. It was
only going to be this once, and Jack would go back and cover the tracks
afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by nightfall if they
drove, and then they could get it over tonight.
Jack told Sammy to e-mail Nate that they were coming as he drove out of
sight of the town on the road. They then pulled off the road and headed
out into the desert.
Everything went well, until they got to the sand dunes. Jack had been
nursing the RV along the whole time, over the rocks, through the creek
beds, revving the engine the few times they almost got stuck. When they
came to the dunes, Jack didn’t really think about it, he just downshifted
and headed up the first one. By the third dune, Jack started to regret
that he’d decided to try driving on the sand. The RV was fishtailling and
losing traction. Jack was having to work it up each dune slowly and was
trying to keep from losing control each time they came over the top and
slid down the other side. Sammy had come up to sit in the passenger seat,
coiled up and laughing at Jack’s driving.
As they came over the top of the fourth dune, the biggest one yet, Jack
saw that this was the final dune - the stone, the lever, and somewhere
Nate, waited below. Jack put on the brakes, but he’d gone a little too
far. The RV started slipping down the other side.
Jack tried turning the wheel, but he didn’t have enough traction. He
pumped the brakes - no response. They started sliding down the hill,
faster and faster.
Jack felt a shock go through him as he suddenly realized that they were
heading for the lever. He looked down - the RV was directly on course for
it. If Jack didn’t do something, the RV would hit it. He was about to end
humanity.
Jack steered more frantically, trying to get traction. It still wasn’t
working. The dune was too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split
second, Jack realized that his only chance would be once he hit the stone
around the lever - he should have traction on the stone for just a second
before he hit the lever - he wouldn’t have time to stop, but he should be
able to steer away.
Jack took a better grip on the steering wheel and tried to turn the RV a
little bit - every little bit would help. He’d have to time his turn just
right.
The RV got to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the
sand. Just before they reached the stone Jack looked across it to check
that they were still heading for the lever. They were. But Jack noticed
something else that he hadn’t seen from the top of the dune. Nate wasn’t
wrapped around the lever. He was off to the side of the lever, but still
on the stone, waiting for them. The problem was, he was waiting on the
same side of the lever that Jack had picked to steer towards to avoid the
lever. The RV was already starting to drift that way a little in its mad
rush across the sand and there was no way that Jack was going to be able
to go around the lever to the other side.
Jack had an instant of realization. He was either going to have to hit the
lever, or run over Nate. He glanced over at Sammy and saw that Sammy
realized the same thing.
Jack took a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the RV ran up on the
stone. Shouting to Sammy as he pulled the steering wheel, “BETTER NATE
THAN LEVER,” he ran over the snake.
THE END
That stinkin' Jack broke his promise.



frowned
Her Benevolence
(but did enjoy the story!)

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