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Friday, July 14, 2006

Part Four

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

“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

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?”

I haven't figured out how many parts to this story there'll be, but it's worth it if you stick around!

Sad weekend looming, Matt departs NZ for the U.S for 8 days, leaving me to my own devices. Ohwell, while the cats away...

The mice get fat on junkfood and chickflicks?