“You bit me to help me? Why aren’t I thirsty any more? Did you give me a drink before you bit me? How did I drink enough while unconscious to not be thirsty any more? I haven’t had a drink for over two days. Well, except for the windshield wiper fluid… hold it, how in the world does a snake talk? Are you real? Are you some sort of Disney animation?”
“No,” says the snake, “I’m real. As real as you or anyone is, anyway. I didn’t give you a drink. I bit you. That’s how it works – it’s what I do. I bite. I don’t have hands to give you a drink, even if I had water just sitting around here.”
The man sat stunned for a minute. Here he was, sitting in the middle of the desert on some strange stone that should be hot but wasn’t, talking to a snake that could talk back and had just bitten him. And he felt better. Not great – he was still starving and exhausted, but much better – he was no longer thirsty. He had started to sweat again, but only slightly. He felt hot, in this sun, but it was starting to get lower in the sky, and the cool stone beneath him was a relief he could notice now that he was no longer dying of thirst.
“I might suggest that we take care of that methanol you now have in your system with the next request,” continued the snake. “I can guess why you drank it, but I’m not sure how much you drank, or how much methanol was left in the wiper fluid. That stuff is nasty. It’ll make you go blind in a day or two, if you drank enough of it.”
“Ummm, n-next request?” said the man. He put his hand back on his hurting shoulder and backed away from the snake a little.
“That’s the way it works. If you like, that is,” explained the snake. “You get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish.” The snake grinned at his own joke, and the man drew back a little further from the show of fangs.
“But there are rules,” the snake continued. “The first request is free. The second requires an agreement of secrecy. The third requires the binding of responsibility.” The snake looks at the man seriously.
“By the way,” the snake says suddenly, “my name is Nathan. Old Nathan, Samuel used to call me. He gave me the name. Before that, most of the Bound used to just call me ‘Snake’. But that got old, and Samuel wouldn’t stand for it. He said that anything that could talk needed a name. He was big into names. You can call me Nate, if you wish.” Again, the snake grinned. “Sorry if I don’t offer to shake, but I think you can understand – my shake sounds
somewhat threatening.” The snake gave his rattle a little shake.“Umm, my name is Jack,” said the man, trying to absorb all of this. “Jack Samson.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jack says suddenly. “What happened to the poison…umm, in your bite. Why aren’t I dying now? How did you do that? What do you mean by that’s how you work?”
“That’s more than one question,” grins Nate. “But I’ll still try to answer all of them. First, yes, you can ask me a question.” The snake’s grin gets wider. “Second, the poison is in you. It changed you. You now no longer need to drink. That’s what you asked for. Or, well, technically, you asked to not be thirsty any more – but ‘any more’ is such a vague term. I decided to make it permanent – now, as long as you live, you shouldn’t need to drink much at all. Your body will conserve water very efficiently. You should be able to get enough just from the food you eat – much like a creature of the desert. You’ve been changed.
“For the third question,” Nate continues, “you are still dying. Besides the effects of that methanol in your system, you’re a man – and men are mortal. In your current state, I give you no more than about another 50 years. Assuming you get out of this desert, alive, that is.” Nate seemed vastly amused at his own humor, and continued his wide grin.
“As for the fourth question,” Nate said, looking more serious as far as Jack could tell, as Jack was just now working on his ability to read talking-snake emotions from snake facial features, “first you have to agree to make a second request and become bound by the secrecy, or I can’t tell you.”
“Wait,” joked Jack, “isn’t this where you say you could tell me, but you’d have to kill me?”
“I thought that was implied.” Nate continued to look serious.
“Ummm…yeah.” Jack leaned back a little as he remembered again that he was talking to a fifteen foot poisonous reptile with a reputation for having a nasty temper. “So, what is this ‘Bound by Secrecy’ stuff, and can you really stop the effects of the methanol?” Jack thought for a second. “And, what do you mean methanol, anyway? I thought these days they use ethanol in wiper fluid, and just denature it?”
“They may, I don’t really know,” said Nate. “I haven’t gotten out in a while. Maybe they do. All I know is that I smell methanol on your breath and on that bottle in your pocket. And the blue color of the liquid when you pulled it out to drink some let me guess that it was wiper fluid. I assume that they still color wiper fluid blue?”
“Yeah, they do,” said Jack.
“I figured,” replied Nate. “As for being bound by secrecy – with the fulfillment of your next request, you will be bound to say nothing about me, this place, or any of the information I will tell you after that, when you decide to go back out to your kind. You won’t be allowed to talk about me, write about me, use sign language, charades, or even act in a way that will lead someone to guess correctly about me. You’ll be bound to secrecy. Of course, I’ll also ask you to promise not to give me away, and as I’m guessing that you’re a man of your word, you’ll never test the binding anyway, so you won’t notice.” Nate said the last part with utter confidence.
Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of his word, felt a little nervous at this. “Ummm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know that? Are you, umm, omniscient, or something?”
Well, Jack,” said Nate sadly, “I can’t tell you that, unless you make the second request.” Nate looked away for a minute, then looked back.
“Umm, well, ok,” said Jack, “what is this about a second request? What can I ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?”
“Sure!” said Nate, brightening. “You’re allowed to ask for changes. Changes to yourself. They’re like wishes, but they can only affect you. Oh, and before you ask, I can’t give you immortality. Or omniscience. Or omnipresence, for that matter. Though I might be able to make you gaseous and yet remain alive, and then you could spread through the atmosphere and sort of be omnipresent. But what good would that be – you still wouldn’t be omniscient and thus still could only focus on one thing at a time. Not very useful, at least in my opinion.” Nate stopped when he realized that Jack was staring at him.
“Well, anyway,” continued Nate, “I’d probably suggest giving you permanent good health. It would negate the methanol now in your system, you’d be immune to most poisons and diseases, and you’d tend to live a very long time, barring accident, of course. And you’ll even have a tendency to recover from accidents well. It always seemed like a good choice for a request to me.”
“Cure the methanol poisoning, huh?” said Jack. “And keep me healthy for a long time? Hmmm. It doesn’t sound bad at that. And it has to be a request about a change to me? I can’t ask to be rich, right? Because that’s not really a change to me?”
“Right,” nodded Nate.
“Could I ask to be a genius and permanently healthy?” Jack asked, hopefully.
“That takes two requests, Jack.”
“Yeah, I figured so,” said Jack. “But I could ask to be a genius? I could become the smartest scientist in the world? Or the best athlete?”
“Well, I could make you very smart,” admitted Nate, “but that wouldn’t necessarily make you the best scientist in the world. Or, I could make you very athletic, but it wouldn’t necessarily make you the best athlete either. You’ve heard the saying that 99% of genius is hard work? Well, there’s some truth to that. I can give you the talent, but I can’t make you work hard. It all depends on what you decide to do with it.”
“Hmmm,” said Jack. “Ok, I think I understand. And I get a third request, after this one?”
“Maybe,” said Nate, “it depends on what you decide then. There are more rules for the third request that I can only tell you about after the second request. You know how it goes.” Nate looked like he’d shrug, if he had shoulders.
“Ok, well, since I’d rather not be blind in a day or two, and permanent health doesn’t sound bad, then consider that my second request. Officially. Do I need to sign in blood or something?”
“No,” said Nate. “Just hold out your hand. Or heel.” Nate grinned. “Or whatever part you want me to bite. I have to bite you again. Like I said, that’s how it works – the poison, you know,” Nate said apologetically.
Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite was. Hey, it didn’t hurt any more. Just like Nate had said. That made Jack feel better about the biting business. But still, standing still while a fifteen foot snake sunk it’s fangs into you. Jack stood up. Ignoring how good it felt to be able to stand again, and the hunger starting to gnaw at his stomach, Jack tried to decide where he wanted to get bitten. Despite knowing that it wouldn’t hurt for long, Jack knew that this wasn’t going to be easy.
“Hey, Jack,” Nate suddenly said, looking past Jack towards the dunes behind him, “is that someone else coming up over there?”
Jack spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of nowhere? And did they bring food?
Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate…
Jack let out a bellow as he felt two fangs sink into his rear end, through his jeans…
Jack sat down carefully, favoring his more tender buttock. “I would have decided, eventually, Nate. I was just thinking about it. You didn’t have to
hoodwink me like that.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, Jack,” said Nate, confidently. “You humans have a hard time sitting still and letting a snake bite you – especially one my size. And besides, admit it – it’s only been a couple of minutes and it already doesn’t hurt any more, does it? That’s because of the health benefit with this one. I told you that you’d heal quickly now.”
“Yeah, well, still,” said Jack, “it’s the principle of the thing. And nobody likes being bitten in the butt! Couldn’t you have gotten my calf or something instead?”
“More meat in the typical human butt,” replied Nate. “And less chance you accidentally kick me or move at the last second.”
“Yeah, right. So, tell me all of these wonderful secrets that I now qualify to hear,” answered Jack.
“Ok,” said Nate. “Do you want to ask questions first, or do you want me to just start talking?”
“Just talk,” said Jack. “I’ll sit here and try to not think about food.”
“We could go try to rustle up some food for you first, if you like,” answered Nate.
“Hey! You didn’t tell me you had food around here, Nate!” Jack jumped up. “What do we have? Am I in walking distance to town? Or can you magically whip up food along with your other powers?” Jack was almost shouting with excitement. His stomach had been growling for hours.
“I was thinking more like I could flush something out of its hole and bite it for you, and you could skin it and eat it. Assuming you have a knife, that is,” replied Nate, with the grin that Jack was starting to get used to.
“Ugh,” said Jack, sitting back down. “I think I’ll pass. I can last a little longer before I get desperate enough to eat desert rat, or whatever else it is you find out here. And there’s nothing to burn – I’d have to eat it raw. No thanks. Just talk.”
“Ok,” replied Nate, still grinning. “But I’d better hurry, before you start looking at me as food.
Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then continued. “You, Jack, are sitting in the middle of the Garden of Eden.”
Jack looked around at the sand and dunes and then looked back at Nate sceptically.
“Well, that’s the best I can figure it, anyway, Jack,” said Nate. “Stand up and look at the symbol on the rock here.” Nate gestured around the dark stone they were both sitting on with his nose.