How did the fall end? I wasn’t awake to find out. I was spinning so rapidly during the fall that I blacked out. The next thing I knew, I woke up on a steep sandy slope, without a scratch on me. Apparently, I couldn’t have landed in a better spot. That couldn’t have been mere luck. I’m sure it’s just another example of the beneficial power of positive thinking that is the subject of my highly lucrative speaking engagements.
After remembering where the hell I was and getting my bearings, I figured out a plan for getting back to civilization. Based on where I thought I was when I encountered that camp and the cumulus excitement that followed, I was pretty sure Highway 25 was about a twelve-hour walk to the west. But before I set off, I had two matters to attend to.
First, I needed shelter from the blazing sun, and I needed some sort of disguise. I was clearly in an area that’s not safe for Americans, and I immediately regretted wearing my Bush/Cheney 2004 t-shirt that day. Lucky, I had a solution that met both needs at once. I simply used the silk of my canopy to fashion a burqa. My Swiss Army Knife has a handy scissors tool, and I always carry needle and thread with me for just such occurrences as these. The sewing went very quickly, and in just about an hour I had an acceptable burqa I could wear for sun protection — and with my compact gymnast-like physique, I would be able to pass for a Pakistani woman until I reached safety.
With my dessert attire taken care of, I could then turn my attention to the second urgent need: hydration. In this dessert environment, I would probably only live about two hours without water. Of course, I started my day already dehydrated from throwing up for three straight days. Not bringing water with me was, in hindsight, not the smartest decision I’ve ever made, but I wanted to travel light while gliding.
In this area, my best bet for hydration would be snake blood. So I set off looking for warm rocks in sunny spots that would be littered with local serpents. It didn’t take long to find one.
Right on top of a pile of rocks, I found a Russell’s viper sunning itself. Now the three-foot-long Russell’s viper is the most poisonous snake in the world, so I would have to approach this prey with caution. My plan was to pick up a rock and smash its head, so I could avoid handling the deadly beast. That was the plan, anyway.
I selected a suitable rock to use as a snakehead smasher, and as I lifted it I discovered a second Russell’s viper coiled, ready to strike. Instinct kicked in and I jumped back, landing right on top of snake number one who promptly sunk his fangs right into my calf.
I jumped around trying to shake off the viper for a few seconds before reaching down and smashing the thing to a pulp with the rock I still held in my hand. Somehow in hopping around I made my way back to snake number two who I discovered had sunk its fangs into my other calf. So I smashed that one too.
After prying both snakes’ mouths off my legs, I sat down to await my death. A single bite from a Russell’s viper delivers a potent neurotoxin that results in death within 30 minutes in 90% of all cases. The other “lucky” 10% just experience severe paralysis, which in my current situation also means death. And having two bites makes my odds even worse.
What will you think about in the last half hour of your life? Your accomplishments? Your regrets? Your loved ones?
Even with all that I have achieved, all of my experiences pale next to my dreams for the future, so I didn’t think about my accomplishments. I don’t dwell on the past much at all. In fact, there are several-years-long chunks of time that are just big black holes in my memory. Complete blanks. About the only thing that can bring some of those times back to me is leafing through old tax returns. A receipt for a boat rental will suddenly take me back to a forgotten day when I laid on the warm sand of a tropical island beach as two giggly native girls took turns slurping coconut milk out of my navel.
Not having any tax returns on hand to help me reminisce and reflect as I wait for the paralysis to creep up my legs and into my lungs, I just let my mind wander. I thought about the song Layla by Derek and the Dominos. I saw a documentary once where the producer of that cut was screwing around with the master tape in a studio, and he isolated the dueling guitar leads of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. It sounded just like the shrieks of two cats tangled up in a John Deere 467 Hay Baler. But in the context of the song, it sounded beautiful. Amazing. Later, the song slows down and the piano part comes in and that’s beautiful too, but not nearly as impressive. There’s no trick to making a beautiful instrument like a piano sound beautiful, it’s just a matter of hitting the right keys at the right time. But to make what sounds like cats being mangled into beautiful music, that’s real talent.
Which led me to wonder if a talented musician could make a beautiful blues-rock song by torturing cats. It would be totally impractical, of course. The animal rights people would be so far up your ass your record would be banned from iTunes and Walmart. But just hypothetically, if you tied its little paws to some sort of framework and used, I don’t know, perhaps hot pokers, could you tease its wailing into something transcendent? I’m not sure Eric could, but I’ll bet Duane could have if he would have lived. But he didn’t, so we’ll never know.
Then I started to wonder if I was thinking about Duane Allman because I was about to meet him and all those other cool people who are dead. Some heavy thoughts for someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife. Then it occurred to me to check my watch.
Turns out I’d been sitting for over an hour waiting to die, and I didn’t even feel the least bit paralyzed. Then I remembered that the Sand Boa is also prevalent in these parts. The Sand Boa has markings that are almost identical to the Russell’s viper, though it’s a non-poisonous snake. Its visual mimicry of a much more dangerous creature makes predators not want to fuck with it. Batesian mimicry is what the biologists call it. I’m no intelligent design fanatic, but how can evolution possibly explain that?
Now that my death was no longer imminent, I got back to the business of survival. I cut the smashed heads off both snakes and sucked out the blood. Man, was I thirsty. I enjoy snake blood anyway, but on that afternoon it was especially refreshing. Then I skinned the snakes and ate the meat because the flesh still held a lot of fluid, and I needed every drop to survive this desert heat.
I should mention that if you ever find yourself in a similar situation you should probably light a fire and cook the snake before consuming it. These critters are loaded with parasites. But in this situation, I needed hydration fast, so I was willing to accept the fact that I was going to need a good de-worming once I got back to civilization.
Before heading off, I stuffed the snake skins down into my underwear – not for any survival purpose – I just wanted to have a pair of boots made out to them when I got home. After using shadows to get my directional bearings, I threw on my burqa and set off toward the highway.
Continued next week: blending in.