Friday, September 30, 2005

On Assignment: Greenville, North Carolina-Day Four

"Slither" by Wes Aldridge

Imagine this: You are walking through the dark woods, alone, searching for a shot of the rare, indigenous North Carolina, speckle-headed woodpecker for one of your assignments. As luck would have it, you see one and start tracking him through the thick forest brush ever so slowly and quietly. You continue this for three hours and finally the bird decides to land on the ground to look for food. You get on your stomach and inch closer and closer, trying to get the most exciting shot possible. There he is, with a freshly snuffed out earthworm in his mouth that he just plucked from the earth. This is the shot. You are looking through the lens, finger on shutter button, ready to snap the shot and then... you feel it... a sharp prick in your right forearm.

You drop the camera violently and the bird you are stalking flys away in distress. You jerk your head around as a burning sensation instantly grows stronger and stronger. You see eyes staring up at you, cold yellow eyes. The eyes of a copperhead snake, one of the most poisonous in North America. After whishing his pink tongue at you a few times, laughing in your face in his own snake way, he turns and slithers slowly away into the underbrush. My present grip of paralysis through shock and fear wears off, and I scream into the empty woods, the dark, cold, empty and all alone woods. No one hears your scream, so you decide to stop, you weakling. Stop screaming you infant. There is an equation of life and death at hand, and screaming without hope while two tiny streams of blood trickle from your arm is not the answer to it.

You gather your wits for five minutes or so, which seems like an eternity, and realize that you must get help immediately. You know without a doubt that you must lift your body from the ground and find your way back from the woods to your rental car. Putting one knee underneath you and then the other, you use the low hanging limbs of a spruce tree sapling to lift yourself to your feet. After becoming vertical, you feel the nausea beginning to take hold. You take three or four steps, numbers mean nothing, and bend over to vomit... and you do, twice. Sweat starts to bead on your forehead and your black polo shirt starts to become tighter and tighter with your breath becoming more erratic and cumbersome.

You must leave this place, on your own freewill. You don't want the help of a coroner just yet. And you stumble forward and the journey has begun. Find your way home, on your own, before you are called that way. What was that? Someone's voice faintly in the distance? What did the voice say? No time for that now, just find the car fast.

After wandering for what seemed like an eternity but was actually only 49 feet, you drop to one knee. You almost forgot about your forearm, until you rub it and feel the knot starting to bulge. And it feels slightly glossy and smooth, as if a thin coat of honey were on it. This is textbook protocol for the repercussions of a venomous snakebite. Jesus, the venom is starting to take hold.

You jerk again and lose what was left of your chicken salad sandwich that was once lunch. Your head spins hard to the left and your body buckles and hits the ground. You want to get up and keep going, but the foliage beneath you is so inviting and warm. The cold, dark forest doesn't matter now and you know that resting for a few minutes in your present state is the best answer you can muster. Your strength is fading and a power nap will do you well, you are certain. But your lips and mouth are drying out. Where is my canteen? Didn't think I would need it this trip. And so it was, the thirst continued.

The Carolina forest looks much different from the view on your back. You can see the silhouettes of the tree leaves above you dance in the wind beneath a blue sky somewhere beyond the treetops. That is where I am, that is where I want to be. It was the only logical thought that ran through my mind as my breathing became more relaxed and shallow.

I wish my neck wasn't itching so badly.

You rub around your Adam's apple and noticed the swelling... all the way up and down your windpipe. You rest easy because you know you are almost back to your car, even though it is four miles from where you lay... in the opposite direction you have been walking.

I closed my eyes for a few seconds and everything was black. "Keep going," I thought and opened them again. Vision seems funny, almost one-dimensional. Your left eye opened along with your right, but its vision just wasn't there.

Time to move along. Tried to get up. Fall. Rest. Rest. Rest. Sleep. You awake in an open field that you have never seen, but know as if you have ran through it a million times before... and I started, running toward the sun.

Thank God this ugly monster was encased in glass and couldn't strike me.