“Yo, Sammy” replied Jack. Jack looked at Nate. “Named after Samuel, I assume?”
Nate nodded. “Jack, I’ve got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy around for me?” Nate unwrapped himself from the lever and slithered over to the edge of the stone and looked across the sands. “When Samuel first told me about the world, and brought me books and pictures, I wished that I could go see it. I wanted to see the great forests, the canyons, the cities, even the other deserts, to see if they felt and smelled the same. I want my son to have that chance – to see the world. Before he becomes bound here like I have been.
“He’s seen it in pictures, over the computer that you brought me. But I hear that it’s not the same. That being there is different. I want him to have that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?”
Jack nodded. This was obviously very important to Nate, so Jack didn’t even joke about taking a talking rattlesnake out to see the world. “Yeah, I can do that for you, Nate. Is that all you need?” Jack could sense that was something more.
Nate looked at Sammy. Sammy looked back at Nate for a second and then said, “Oh, yeah. Ummm, I’ve gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack. Nice to meet ya!” Sammy slithered back over the dune and out of sight.
Nate watched Sammy disappear and then looked back at Jack. “Jack, this is my first son. My first offspring through all the years. You don’t even want to know what it took for me to find a mate.” Nate grinned to himself. “But anyway, I had a son for a reason. I’m tired. I’m ready for it to be over. I needed a replacement.”
Jack considered this for a minute. “So, you’re ready to come see the world, and you wanted him to watch the lever while you were gone?”
Nate shook his head. “No, Jack – you’re a better guesser than that. You’ve already figured out – I’m bound here – there’s only one way for me to leave here. And I’m ready. It’s my time to die.”
Jack looked more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought about this – probably for quite a while. Jack had trouble imagining what it would be like to be as old as Nate, but Jack could already tell that in another hundred or two hundred years, he might be getting tired of life himself. Jack could understand Samuel’s decision, and now Nate’s. So, all Jack said was, “What do you want me to do?”
Nate nodded. “Thanks, Jack. I only want two things. One – show Sammy around the world – let him get his fill of it, until he’s ready to come back here and take over. Two – give me the fourth request.
“I can’t just decide to die, not any more than you can. I won’t even die of old age like you eventually will, even though it’ll be a long time from now. I need to be killed. Once Sammy is back here, ready to take over, I’ll be able to die. And I need you to kill me.
“I’ve even thought about how. Poisons and other drugs won’t work on me. And I’ve seen pictures of snakes that were shot – some of them live for days, so that’s out too. So, I want you to bring back a sword.
Nate turned away to look back to the dune that Sammy had gone behind. “I’d say an axe, but that’s somewhat undignified – putting my head on the ground or a chopping block like that. No, I like a sword. A time-honored way of going out. A dignified way to die. And, most importantly, it should work, even on me.
“You willing to do that for me, Jack?” Nate turned back to look at Jack.
“Yeah, Nate,” replied Jack solemnly, “I think I can handle that.”
Nate nodded. “Good!” He turned back toward the dune and shouted, “Sammy! Jack’s about ready to leave!” Then quietly, “Thanks, Jack.”
Jack didn’t have anything to say to that, so he waited for Sammy to make it back to the lever, nodded to him, nodded a final time to Nate, and then headed into the desert with Sammy following. Over the next several years Sammy and Jack kept in touch with Nate through e-mail as they went about their adventures. They made a goal of visiting every country in the world, and did a respectable job of it. Sammy had a natural gift for languages, as Jack expected he would, and even ended up acting as a translator for Jack in a few of the countries. Jack managed to keep the talking rattlesnake hidden, even so, and by the time they were nearing the end of their tour of countries, Sammy had only been spotted a few times. While there were several people that had seen enough to startle them greatly, nobody had enough evidence to prove anything, and while a few wild rumors and storied followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever hit the newspapers or the public in general.
When they finished the tour of countries, Jack suggested that they try some undersea diving. They did. And spelunking. They did that too. Sammy finally drew the line at visiting Antarctica. He’d come to realize that Jack was stalling. After talking to his Dad about it over e-mail, he figured out that Jack probably didn’t want to have to kill Nate. Nate told Sammy that humans could be squeamish about killing friends and acquaintances.
So, Sammy eventually put his tail down (as he didn’t have a foot) and told Jack that it was time – he was ready to go back and take up his duties from his dad. Jack, delayed it a little more by insisting that they go back to Japan and buy an appropriate sword. He even stretched it a little more by getting lessons in how to use the sword. But, eventually, he’d learned as much as he was likely to without dedicating his life to it, and was definitely competent enough to take the head off of a snake. It was time to head back and see Nate.
When they got back to the US, Jack got the old RV out of storage where he and Sammy had left it after their tour of the fifty states, he loaded up Sammy and the sword, and they headed for the desert.
When they got to the small town that Jack had been trying to find those years ago when he’d met Nate, Jack was in a funk. He didn’t really feel like walking all of the way out there. Not only that, but he’d forgotten to figure the travel time correctly, and it was late afternoon. They’d either have to spend the night in town and walk out tomorrow, or walk in the dark.
As Jack was afraid that if he waited one more night he might lose his resolve, he decided that he’d go ahead and drive the RV out there. It was only going to be this once, and Jack would go back and cover the tracks afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by nightfall if they drove, and then they could get it over tonight.
Jack told Sammy to e-mail Nate that they were coming as he drove out of sight of the town on the road. They then pulled off the road and headed out into the desert.
Everything went well, until they got to the sand dunes. Jack had been nursing the RV along the whole time, over the rocks, through the creek beds, revving the engine the few times they almost got stuck. When they came to the dunes, Jack didn’t really think about it, he just downshifted and headed up the first one. By the third dune, Jack started to regret that he’d decided to try driving on the sand. The RV was fishtailling and losing traction. Jack was having to work it up each dune slowly and was trying to keep from losing control each time they came over the top and slid down the other side. Sammy had come up to sit in the passenger seat, coiled up and laughing at Jack’s driving.
As they came over the top of the fourth dune, the biggest one yet, Jack saw that this was the final dune – the stone, the lever, and somewhere Nate, waited below. Jack put on the brakes, but he’d gone a little too far. The RV started slipping down the other side.
Jack tried turning the wheel, but he didn’t have enough traction. He pumped the brakes – no response. They started sliding down the hill, faster and faster.
Jack felt a shock go through him as he suddenly realized that they were heading for the lever. He looked down – the RV was directly on course for it. If Jack didn’t do something, the RV would hit it. He was about to end humanity.
Jack steered more frantically, trying to get traction. It still wasn’t working. The dune was too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split second, Jack realized that his only chance would be once he hit the stone around the lever – he should have traction on the stone for just a second before he hit the lever – he wouldn’t have time to stop, but he should be able to steer away.
Jack took a better grip on the steering wheel and tried to turn the RV a little bit – every little bit would help. He’d have to time his turn just right.
The RV got to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the sand. Just before they reached the stone Jack looked across it to check that they were still heading for the lever. They were. But Jack noticed something else that he hadn’t seen from the top of the dune. Nate wasn’t wrapped around the lever. He was off to the side of the lever, but still on the stone, waiting for them. The problem was, he was waiting on the same side of the lever that Jack had picked to steer towards to avoid the lever. The RV was already starting to drift that way a little in its mad rush across the sand and there was no way that Jack was going to be able to go around the lever to the other side.
Jack had an instant of realization. He was either going to have to hit the lever, or run over Nate. He glanced over at Sammy and saw that Sammy realized the same thing.
Jack took a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the RV ran up on the stone. Shouting to Sammy as he pulled the steering wheel, “BETTER NATE THAN LEVER,” he ran over the snake.