“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third request you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to the point that you really think that humanity should be ended, that you’ll come here and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp out.” Nate looked serious again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”
“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.
Nate watched him, waiting.
“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for with his third request?”
Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly, “Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”
“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give it to me.
Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”
“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over his shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”
“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter afterward. Like he had a lot to think about.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack turned toface away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.
Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack now, Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.
“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks like it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.
“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.
“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that you’ll turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”
“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes, straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate there. With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from its slot in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.
Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt the now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.
Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his feet extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness, listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where he’d been recently bitten.
Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s air the only sign that he was still awake.
Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand while he thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.
“Nate, do accidents count?”
Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know, accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does that still wipe out humanity?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about that if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.
A little later – “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.
“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.
“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I pull the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or throw a rock?”
“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how complicated you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some kind of remote control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d build would be gone by the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone, or over it. I told him that in the past others that had been bound had tried to bury the lever so they wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but every time the stones or sand or whatever had disappeared.”
“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept him off of the stone and looked up into the sky.
“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too, right?” asked Jack.
“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”
“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as long. Do you know what he died of, Nate?”
“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat sad.
Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.
Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while. He faked his death once, but changed his mind – he decided it was too early and he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of mankind, but he liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.
“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He didn’t stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out here to spend time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A few months ago he told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”
“And then he just died?” asked Jack.
Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s only one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.
After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was his time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they always had.
After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the stone with the sunrise.”
Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.
Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled with the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well, except that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw desert rat.
So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how to get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started the long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good directions, he made it back easily.
Jack caught a bus back to the city, and showed up for work the next day, little worse for the wear and with a story about getting lost in the desert and walking back out. Within a couple of days Jack had talked a friend with a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to fetch the SUV. They found it after a couple of hours of searching and towed it back without incident. Jack was careful not to even look in the direction of Nate’s lever, though their path back didn’t come within sight of it.
Before the next weekend, Jack had gone to a couple of stores, including a book store, and had gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a warning to avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, Jack headed back to see Nate.
Jack parked a little way out of the small town near Nate, loaded up his new backpack with camping gear and the things he was bringing for Nate, and then started walking. He figured that walking would leave the least trail, and he knew that while not many people camped in the desert, it wasn’t unheard of, and shouldn’t really raise suspicions.
Jack had brought more books for Nate – recent books, magazines, newspapers. Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening in the world, others that were just good books to read. He spent the weekend with Nate, and then headed out again, telling Nate that he’d be back again soon, but that he had things to do first.
Over four months later Jack was back to see Nate again. This time he brought a laptop with him – a specially modified laptop. It had a solar recharger, special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite link-up, and a special keyboard and joystick that Jack hoped that a fifteen-foot rattlesnake would be able to use. And, it had been hacked to not give out its location to the satellite.
After that Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visited him fairly regularly – at least once or twice a year.
After the first year, Jack quit his job. For some reason, with the wisdom he ‘d been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over 150 years, working in a nine to five job for someone else didn’t seem that worthwhile any more. Jack went back to school.
Eventually, Jack started writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or perhaps because of his new perspective, he wrote well. People liked what he wrote, and he became well known for it. After a time, Jack bought an RV and started traveling around the country for book signings and readings.
But, he still remembered to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.
On one of the visits Nate seemed quieter than usual. Not that Nate had been a fountain of joy lately. Jack’s best guess was that Nate was still missing Samuel, and though Jack had tried, he still hadn’t been able to replace Samuel in Nate’s eyes. Nate had been getting quieter each visit. But on this visit Nate didn’t even speak when Jack walked up to the lever. He nodded at Jack, and then went back to staring into the desert. Jack, respecting Nate’s silence, sat down and waited.
After a few minutes, Nate spoke. “Jack, I have someone to introduce you to.”
Jack looked surprised. “Someone to introduce me to?” Jack looked around, and then looked carefully back at Nate. “This something to do with the Big Guy?
“No, no,” replied Nate. “This is more personal. I want you to meet my son.” Nate looked over at the nearest sand dune. “Sammy!”
Jack watched as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawled from behind the dune and up to the stone base of the lever.