I tried to suck out the venom on my own. Sinking my teeth into the flesh of my forearm, I had to beat the heat spreading beneath my skin. My heart pounded in my chest, sweat moistened my brow, and it was all I could do to keep anxious thoughts of death out of my head. The cobra had slithered away after the strike, leaving me to die alone in the Vegas desert sun.
I had always made fun of tourists taking selfies in dangerous places and situations, but I was different - I was a professional nature photographer just doing my job. I was destined for the pages of National Geographic, God damn it. Surely, I didn't deserve this. On the other hand, leaving the tent in the early morning on my own probably wasn't the brightest idea. How far had I gone from the camp?
Shit, shit, shit, I couldn't die! I had to focus!
I had seen the venom sucking trick in a movie once. I hoped there was a kernel of truth to it, unlike spies being able to crawl through metal vents undetected, or visible laser security systems. Being able to draw out snake venom seemed more plausible. Time disappeared and I started feeling light-headed as I sucked at the spot again and again.
I felt stupider than that Into the Wild guy. At least his family got a book deal and a movie out of his idiocy. Hell, Eddie goddamn Vedder did the soundtrack for the film. All for a stupid spoiled rich kid who thought it would be a good idea to challenge nature with zero survival skills. Just another idiot who came to an idiotic end. And yet, idealistic tweens saw him as some kind of hero. Amazing what a bit of editorializing can do for someone’s personal narrative.
But there would be no romanticizing my story. I could already see the headline:
Nature photographer killed on job by venomous cobra
Best I could hope for would be a minor mention in National Geographic. The irony was more bitter than the venom coursing through my veins.
"Darren!" I heard a voice call in the distance. "Are you all right?" My vision swam as I saw the lanky gait and tan cargo shorts and polo shirt of my nature guide - my savior.
“Todd,” I managed to say with a weak smile, the corners of my mouth spattered with spittle. “You’ve come to rescue me.”
“It’s Sandeep,” he seemed to say. Was sandeep a type of poison? “But nevermind. What happened?”
I made a fist and showed him my masticated forearm. “I got bit by a cobra. Been trying to suck out the venom. Not sure if I’ll make it.”
Todd knelt down beside me and took my arm in his calloused desert hands. His palms had the texture of an aardvark’s shell. He was born for this. There was a reason the tour company had assigned him to me; he was my tan-coloured angel.
“Is it bad?” I croaked. Todd inclined his head - clinically, I thought - and gave his prognosis.
“It’s nothing serious,” he said. I swear he added a malevolent hiss to the word serious. “Looks like a couple of pinpricks. Can you stand?”
Could I stand? If only it were so simple. He may as well have asked me to throw myself off the highest cliff in the desert.
Jesus had Satan. I had Todd.
“I told you it was a cobra,” I insisted, pulling my arm away from his traitor’s grasp.
“There are no cobras in Nevada,” he said, his mouth turning into a serpentine line. “They’re only in Asia and Africa.”
I blinked. Twice.
“What’d you say?” I said, narrowing my eyes and rising to my feet, not knowing where I got the strength.
“There are no cobras in Nevada,” he repeated. “Looks like you got bitten by a gopher snake or a desert night snake. They’re common around here.”
A desert night snake. That’s what it must have been. The name was as sinister as its poisonous forked tongue.
“They’re not venomous,” Todd said. I looked at my arm. I looked at Todd.
“Oh,” I said and broke down into tears. I hugged my cargo-shorts-wearing hero. If Jesus could forgive, so could I.
As we walked back to the camp, arms around one another like old friends, I realized that I had it worse than the Into the Wild guy: He never had to live down his idiocy. As I share this story with you and with everyone else I come across in my travels, I have no such luxury.
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