by Tom Wareham © 2001

Last year during the summer, a hiker tried to walk across Death Valley in an attempt to conquer nature. He packed all the gear necessary for surviving the walk, but the combination of heat and hot light managed to perturb his mind and made him perceive the valley as a long unending sand trap, and the closer he got to the edge the further away it seemed. He ditched his pack to lighten his load and carried a bottle of water. The sterile smell of heat stabbed into his nostrils like alcohol vapors and white hot light enveloped his head and sweat-soaked shirt and shorts. He took on the gait of a hundred and fifty year old arthritic man and shuffled in small steps across the desert floor of seashells, white sand, and gray desert shrubs as he passed lizard skeletons and dried out jack rabbit carcasses. The sun shrink wrapped the gray fur over the rabbits' undulating rib cages and dried out their eyeballs leaving their sockets open for a view of their shriveled up black brains. He stopped and wiped the syrupy sweat from his forehead. Dry wind blew into his ears, and the heat slapped his sunburned neck like a wet towel.

He looked down, and in between two shrubs was a brown rattlesnake latticed in black criss cross lines inlaid with gold diamonds. It coiled up and its tail rattled: "ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka." Its head poised to strike and its maw, pronged with one inch fangs, sheathed into his stomach like an arrowhead and disappeared into him. It gnashed and swallowed hunks of his yellow pancreas, black liver and pink intestines and coiled up in a cubbyhole it ate out of his midsection. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and fell onto the ground in a fetal position. The wind rolled a tumbleweed past him, and dry hot light shrouded him in a death blanket.

Next to the snake's tail, its uterus plopped out hundreds of white rubbery eggs that filled up the hole in his torso, and one by one they hatched half-inch baby snakes resembling black leeches without eyes. Their circular mouths inset with an upper and lower mandible housed tiny serrated teeth, and they crunched and crackled into their mother's bones and scaly flesh as she snapped and jerked her head and speared the tiny black bodies with her fangs. But the hundreds of them layed into her all at once like a black cloud blocking out the sun and splashed her blood against the walls of the cubbyhole. Her head relaxed into a blank stare and her forked tongue twitched and hung by the side of her mouth as they fed on her until all that was left was her skeleton mottled with scabs of red flesh sticking to her spine while blood trickled through her empty eyesocket onto the exposed bone of her skull and half eaten face.

He screamed and his eyes bulged as hot wind dragged sand across his face and a jack rabbit darted past him into the bushes. Then the baby snakes burrowed concentrically from the center of his midsection towards the edges of his skin. Slowly mounds of his flesh formed on his body and peaked into tiny points. His pores widened and from the openings emerged the snakes' small black heads wiggling and shrieking like gila monsters. "Qwhhhhhuuueeeee."

He screamed and closed his eyes as his lower jaw stretched wide down the nape of his neck. Tears ran down his cheeks and his stomach heaved upwards in a wide arc. Hundreds of the snakes seeped out from his shirt collar and shorts as they covered his limbs and face and dug their teeth into the skin around his pores and sucked his blood. His pelvis jerked up and his limbs and head spasmed violently in erratic circles, and he gurgled a long steady muffled scream.

The snakes yanked their mouths from his body leaving round teeth marks and chunks of skin dangling from inch long gashes in his arms, legs, and face. They slithered away and disappeared into the bushes. His tongue lashed out from side to side as sweat matted his hair and misted out from the tips of his follicles, and he gagged, "Eh. Eh. Eh. Eh. Eh. Eh. Eh." His bloodshot eyes sank back into his head as it twisted around his shoulders, and he squawked, gasped, and relaxed. As his limbs straightened in paralysis, blood trickled in tiny red lines from the sides of his body down onto the white sand where it pooled into purple gooey splotches. Finally, his carcass relaxed, and sagging folds of his skin sloughed off and hung down by his sides as the heat continued to wash him in white light and the wind dragged across the bushes.

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