The Special Category

Anagrammy Awards > Voting Page - Special Category

An optional explanation about the anagram in green, the subject is in black, the anagram is in red.

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Robert Burns

My love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June :
My love is like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel a while !
And I will come again, my love,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.

(A gentle doggerel)
An Admirer

My love, she's beautiful in red,
All elegant and fine,
And I adore the way she moves,
I'm really glad she's mine.

I'll always treat her kind and well
(Yet sometimes playfully!)
To my love I'll be true, and hope
That love runs true for me.

Yes I will always treat her well,
Come rain and sleet and snow,
I know she'll never let me down,
That's why I want her so.

And as I slip into her I
Just have to yell out, "Ah....!"
It's sheer delight to be inside
My love - my sleek, red car!

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Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Hymn: The Fight for Martyrdom

What pealing tolls for those condemned as bulls?
Is most hellishly angry gunshot.
Resonating trench gunfire's deathly prattle
Detonates non-melodious laments.
Why no hopes go forth, no lilting orisons?
Pay no vocal remorse bar these, the choristers,
Their mad trilled echoes of howlin' salvoes;
Trumpets blow in distress on far-off hillocks.

What tapers can be held to hasten all the slain?
Held not by brash youths, but in these orbits
How flicker shimmering god images of adieus.
Her pale forehead'll be terror's able friend;
Why, floral softness seen as patience,
Night, where mild days, wound down, end.

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[Ann McGough's SUMMONS, a poem celebrating the month of June, is anagrammed into a poem about the June Bug epidemic which is "a classic example of hysterical contagion. In 1962 a mysterious disease broke out in a dressmaking department of a US textile factory. The symptoms included numbness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. Word of a bug in the factory that would bite its victims and cause them to develop the above symptoms quickly spread. Soon sixty two employees developed this mysterious illness, some of whom were hospitalized. The news media reported on the case. After research by company physicians and experts from the US Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center, it was concluded that the case was one of mass hysteria. While the researchers believed some workers were bitten by the bug, anxiety was likely the cause of the symptoms. No evidence was ever found for a bug which could cause the above flu-like symptoms, nor did all workers demonstrate bites. Workers concluded that the environment was quite stressful; the plant had recently opened, was quite busy and organization was poor. Further, most of the victims reported high levels of stress in their lives. Social forces seemed at work too. Of the 62 employees that reported symptoms, 59 worked on the first shift, 58 worked in the same area, and 50 of the 62 cases occurred in the two consecutive days after the media supposedly 'sensationalized' the event. Most of the employees who became sick took days off to recuperate." [from Wikipedia]

by Ann McGough

Wisteria woke me this morning,
And there was all June in the garden;
I felt them, early, warning
Lest I miss any part of the day.

Straight I walked to the trellis vine.
Wisteria touched a lifted nostril:
Feelings of beauty diffused, to entwine
My spirit with June's own aura.


Hysteria woke me this morning,
Giddy from stress, I wanted to puke.
I felt this early rotten warning;
Soon I wait with interrelated fear!

It frightens several so foolishly glum,
Hysteria touched an infantile man!
I'm feeling nauseated, wan and numb
Whew! 'Twas just that silly June bug!

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I and Pangur Ban, my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

"Ban?" a young child asks.
It's meaning: "white" glint in light.
This cat and I multitask--
He purrs; I age and write.

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This is the text of a letter from an excited young army-recruit from Eromanga, to Mum and Dad. (For those of you who don't know, Eromanga is a small town, west of Quilpie in the far south west of Queensland in Australia )

Dear Mum and Dad,

I'm very well and happy, and I hope youse are very well and happy too. Tell me two big brothers Dougie and Phil that the Army is much better than workin on the farm - tell them to get in pretty quick smart before the jobs here are all gone!

I was a bit slow in settlin in at first, because ya don't have to get outta bed until six in the mornin. But I'm happy ta sleep in now, cos all ya gotta do before brekky is make ya bed and polish ya boots and clean off ya uniform. No bloody cows to milk, no calves to feed, no feed to stack up - nothing! Ya haz ta have a shower though, but I've decided it's not that bad, cos there's loadsa hot water and even a proper light so's ya can see what ya's doing!

At brekky ya get the choices of cereals and fresh fruits and fried eggs but there ain't no kangaroo steaks or possum stew like Mum makes. Ya don't get fed again until noon and by that time all them pansy city boys are buggered because we've been on a route march - but, jeez it's only like strollin to the old red windmill up in the paddock!

Oh, yeah - and this one is gonna make me brothers Dougie and Phil die with laughter. I keep gettin these bloody medals for shootin - I dunno why.

They reckon I'm as good as any Olympic shooter! But, crikey, the bullseye is big as a possum's bum and it don't move away neither. And it don't fire back like the Windasses did when our big scrubber bull got into their prize cows before the Ekka last year!

All ya gotta do is just make yourself comfy, aim and hit the target. Crikey, it's a piece of piss! And ya don't even have ta load your cartridges, cos they come in little boxes, and ya don't have ta steady yourself against the rollbar of the roo shootin truck when ya reload!

Sometimes you've gotta wrestle with the city boys and I've gotta be extra careful cos they break easy - it ain't like fightin with Dougie and Phil and Grundy and Perry and Ginger and Nipper all at once like we do at home after the muster.

It turns out I'm not a bad boxer neither. In fact, it looks as if I'm the best darn boxer we got in our platoon at the moment, and I've only been beat once, by some Melbourne squaddie from the Engineers - he's six-foot-five and weighs nineteen stone and he's three pick-handles across the shoulders. As ya know I'm only five-foot-six, and seven stone wringin wet, but I fought him until the other blokes carried me off, still punchin, to the boozer.

I can't complain about being in the Army - tell the lads ta get in the queue dead fast before word gets around how darned good it all is.

Well, I've gotta go now, Mum and Dad, I've got a return match in a few minutes with that darn bloke who whupped me and this time I'm gonna whup im well and proper.

From your loving daughter,

Sheila xx



Your letter came today in a legal-looking envelope with a five-penny stamp on, and it would have given the boy and myself much pleasure had it not revived in us certain melancholy reflections of what has gone before.

You say my account should have been settled long ago and you can't understand why it hasn't been. Okay, let me quote the reasons:

In nineteen-sixty-four I bought a sawmill on credit.

In 'sixty-five I bought a team of horses, a timber wagon, two ponies, a goat, a Jack Russell, a double shotgun and two razor-backed pigs, all on credit.

In 'sixty-six the bloody mill burnt to the ground leaving not a solitary thing. One of the ponies croaked it and I lent the other to some bastard who starved the poor bugger to death.

Then I joined the church.

In 'sixty-seven my father died and my brother was strung up for raping a pensioner. Some bloody hobo seduced my daughter and I had to pay the bastard eighty quid to stop him becoming a relative.

In 'sixty-eight my boy got mumps which spread to his balls and the poor lad had to be castrated to save his life. Later, we all went lake-fishing and the rotten boat overturned, drowning two of my boys, neither being the castrated one.

In 'sixty-nine my missus took off with a sheep-shearer and left me with twins as a keepsake and I had to get a housekeeper in. I married her so as to keep expenses down, but it was a hell of a job making her pregnant.

I asked the doc about it and he told me to create some sort of excitement at the crucial moment. So, that night I took my shotgun to bed and, at a time I reckoned to be right, leaned out and fired the gun at the window. As a result, the wife shit the bed, I ruptured myself and the next morning I found I had shot my best cow.

In 'seventy-one somebody cut the nuts off my prize bull. I was really buggered, so I took to the drink. I carried on guzzling beer till all I had left was my pocket watch and a weak bladder. Winding the watch and frequently going for a piss kept me busy for quite a time.

After a year I took heart again and bought a muck-spreader, a tractor and a motor car, all on credit. Then a flood came and washed the whole bloody lot away. Meantime, my wife got VD from a travelling salesman and my boy died through wiping his arse on an infected possum skin. To cap it all some useless bastard mated my cow with a broken down old bull.

Ah, it amuses me to see in your letter that there'll be trouble if I fail to pay. Trouble? Ha! If you blokes can think of anything I have missed, I'd love to know about it.

Sirs; trying to get money out of me is like trying to poke butter up a porcupine's arsehole with a red hot needle.

I am praying that a shower of skunk shit will pass your way and I hope the centre of it is over you and the bunch of useless bastards in your office who sent me this final demand.

Yours for more credit.

Blake 'Kangaroo' Keeley Esq.

Bleak House Estate

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Around the vase of Life at your slow pace
He has not crept, but turned it with his hands,
And all its sides already understands.
There, girt, one breathes alert for some great race;
Whose road runs far by sands and fruitful space;
Who laughs, yet through the jolly throng has pass'd;
Who weeps, nor stays for weeping; who at last,
A youth, stands somewhere crowned, with silent face.
And he has filled this vase with wine for blood,
With blood for tears, with spice for burning vow,
With watered flowers for buried love most fit;
And would have cast it shattered to the flood,
Yet in Fate's name has kept it whole; which now
Stands empty till his ashes fall in it.

What Truth Hides in a Piece of China?

This gloss, straight from the halls of royalty,
Has hardly waned a bit, but rather thrived;
Each passing decade made this subtlety
More marvelous than ever... and alive.
In older days of awful wrath and strife,
No warrior would dare to scratch this face;
Great lords, who often knew the joys of life,
Dreamt, spellbound, to possess the fabled vase.
Yet, when we watch this white and florid shell,
Now showcased, poignant, in that house of arts,
A wish for greatness flows through us as well,
So potent that it's bound to fill our hearts!
The beauty's pure as snow on winter flowers,
Yet deep within, we find its hidden powers.

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The Longest Joke in the World
(correct me if it's not)

Lost in the Desert

Story synopsis: This thin pitiful man named Jack is crawling through the desert.

To make a long story short, Jack had decided to take his revamped Jeep SUV for a cross-country adventure, got a lot of enjoyment zooming over badlands and jockeying the Jeep over sandy terrain; however, he naively deviated from that spot, got lost, the vehicle hit a big rock and stalled, and Jack couldn't get the Jeep SUV to start again. There were no cell phone towers anywhere near, so a cell phone was totally useless. Jack had no relatives; his parents had expired years before in a car accident. As Jack was a private, introverted man, he had met few friends, and his few frat roommates have no idea where he went.

Jack camped in the vented Jeep for a day or two. His only bottle of water was empty, he was getting very thirsty and had no more food. He had paid attention to the sun on his Jeep journey, and he'd figured out which way was north, so now thought maybe he knew the direction back to town. He decided to attempt to walk to the last town he'd filled the empty gas tank in. He figured that it was only approximately thirty miles.

Jack thought about traveling at night to avoid the heat, but based on how dark it actually was the night before, and having no flashlight, was afraid that he'd break a leg or encounter a rattlesnake. He put on protective sun block, put the rest in a vest pocket for application later, retrieved a jacket he'd put in the back of the Jeep to provide shade, a timepiece, Jeep key, a pocket knife in case he finds a cactus or other vegetation that might contain water. He poured automotive windshield wiper fluid into an empty water bottle, in case he got desperate, jotted a note, locked the vacant Jeep, and set out in the same approximate direction.

Jack attempts to jog-trot in severe heat for the majority of the day. By the end of the day, he is very thirsty. He'd been sweating all day and perceives that his parched lips are cracked. He puts on the sun block repeatedly and tries to stay protected under the jacket, but gets sunburned anyway. The windshield fluid is very tempting now. Jack knows that it's pretty much only water with some ethanol and coloring, but he also thinks they add some type of poison to it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and whether it would be worse than dying of thirst.

Jack trudges on, calculating that he can get to the town just before full darkness.

By the end of the day Jack is getting depressed. He figures he's been walking at least three miles an hour, according to his timepiece, for over ten hours. That means if his estimate was correct he should be very close to the town. But he doesn't recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn't remember driving through it in the Jeep SUV. Jack figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little and that the dry creek bed was just adjacent to his path. He patiently reminds himself that he's very close, that after dark he'll start to see the town lights over one of these sandy hills, and that'll be all he needs to see.

As it gets dim enough that he starts to stumble over small stones and things, Jack seeks a spot to sit down and wait for the inevitable dark and, hopefully, a view of the bejeweled town.

Enveloping darkness comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands back up and vigilantly pivots all the way around. He perceives nothing but stars.

Jack wakes up the next morning feeling totally terrible. His eyes are gummy and his mouth and nose feel like they're full of sand. He is so thirsty that he can't even swallow. He barely got any sleep, as it was very cold. He'd forgotten how extremely cold it got at night in the desert and hadn't noticed it the night before because he'd spent it in his Jeep.

Jack knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can survive a little longer, in the best situation. But the desert heat and the inconvenience of having to walk and sweat isn't the best situation to be without water. He figures, unless he can find water, this will be his last day alive.

Jack rinses his mouth out with a little of the automotive windshield wiper fluid. He hesitates a while after spitting a little bit out, to see if his mouth goes numb, or he feels jittery or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is it just in his mind? He'll journey a little farther, and if he still doesn't find water, he'll try drinking some of the fluid.

Then Jack has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go from here? Does he keep walking in the same trajectory as yesterday (assuming that he still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction? Dejected, he has no idea what to do.

Looking at the hills and dunes around him, Jack thinks he knows the direction he was heading before. Just going by a positive feeling, he points himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts to move.

As he walks, the day begins to heat up. The desert, too cold just a couple of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. Jack sweats a little at first and then stops. He starts getting negative. He knows that when your sweat evaporates, that means you're in trouble - usually right before a heat stroke.

Jack decides that it's time to try the tepid windshield wiper fluid. He can't wait any longer -- if he passes out, he's dead. He stops in the shade of a large rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a tentative mouthful. He slowly swallows it, making it last as long as he can. No symptoms yet. It feels so good in his dry throat that he doesn't even care about the nasty taste. He takes another mouthful, and makes that one last too. Slowly, he drinks half the bottle. He figures that since he's drinking it, he might as well drink enough to make some difference and keep himself from passing out.

Jack has quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills him, so be it - if he didn't drink it, he'd die anyway. Besides, he's pretty sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is just designed to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying cheaper wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle vomiting, if it comes to that.

Jack perseveres. He walks the hot, dry, windless desert, jockeying sandy dunes, rocks, hills. He sees occasional vegetation -- a cactus or dry bush, yet no sign of water. Sometimes he'd see a little movement to one side or the other, but whatever moves is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it. Probably birds, lizards, rats, mice, or even a coyote. Maybe snakes, though they usually move more at night. He's careful to stay away from the movements.

After a while, Jack begins to stagger. He is overtaxed. He's not sure if it's fatigue, heat stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to revive himself to keep going.

After more walking, Jack comes to a large expanse of sand. This is great! He knows he drove over a stretch of sand in the Jeep SUV -- he remembers he enjoyed weaving and doing donuts on it in the Jeep. Or at least he thinks he remembers it -- he's getting tired enough that he's not exactly sure what he remembers any more or if he's just hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. He heads off into it, trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets him closer to the town.

Jack was heading for a town, wasn't he? He thinks he was. He isn't certain any more. He's not even certain how long he's been walking any more. Is it still morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down again? It must be afternoon -- it seems like it's been too long since he started out.

Jack walks through the sand.

After a while, Jack approaches a vast dune in the sand. That is bad. He doesn't remember noting elevated dunes when driving over the sand in his Jeep SUV. Or, at least he doesn't think he remembers any. This is very bad.

But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. Jack decides to get to the top of the dune to see if he can see anything from there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the dune.

Halfway up, Jack slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or third time, and falls onto his knees. He doesn't feel like getting back up - he'll just fall down again. So, he keeps advancing up the dune on his hands and knees.

Jack was crawling; if his throat weren't dry, he'd laugh. He's finally gotten to the bottom, the hackneyed image of a panting man lost in the desert crawling on his hands and knees. It would be the perfect image, he imagines, if only his clothes were tatty. The people that crawled through the desert in cartoons always had tatty, ragged clothes. But his have lasted without any tears, so far. Somebody will probably find his corpse half buried in sand years from now, and his clothes will still be in fine shape - shake out the sand, a good wash, and they'd be good as new again. Jack wishes his throat were wet enough to laugh. He coughs a little instead, but it hurts.

Jack navigates up to the tiptop of the elevated peak of the most majestic dune. Now he's at the optimal vantage point, he's pooped, but he revives, manages to stand up, pivot and look over the edge. All he observes at the top is sand. Sand, and more sand spills over to the bottom. Behind him, approximately a mile away, he thinks he spots the jagged ground he left to venture over to the sandy spot in the Jeep SUV. Ahead of him, more dunes. Okay, this is not where he drove his Jeep SUV. This is Hell. Or pretty close to it.

Again, Jack doesn't know what to do. He decides to drink the wiper fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is removing the cap, when he glances to the side and sees something odd. Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he sees something strange. It's a flat spot in the sand. He stops taking the cap of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to be circular. And it's darker than the sand. There seems to be something in the middle of it, but he can't tell what it is. He looks as hard as he can, and still can't tell from here. He's going to have to go down and look.

Jack puts the bottle back into his pocket, and starts to stumble down the dune. After a few steps, he realizes that he's in trouble -- he's not going to be able to keep his footing. After a couple of more sliding, tottering steps, he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand is so hot when his body hits it that for a minute he thinks he has caught fire on the way down - as the enactment of a car wreck on TV flashing into vivid flames as it goes over the cliff, before it ever even hits the ground. Devastated, Jack closes his mouth, covers his eyes with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.

Jack hesitates at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds enough energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and clothes. When he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure that the dark spot in the sand it still there and he hadn't just imagined it.

Seeing that the flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, Jack begins to crawl towards it. He'd get up and walk towards it, but he doesn't seem to have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be in the final stage of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this place in the sand doesn't have water, he'll likely never make it anywhere else. This is his last chance.

Jack gets closer and closer, but still can't see what's in the middle of the dark area. His eyes won't quite focus any more for some reason. And lifting his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up trying. He just keeps crawling.

Finally, Jack reaches the area he'd seen from the dune. It takes him a moment of crawling on it before he realizes that he's no longer on sand - he's now crawling on some kind of dark-appearing stone. Stone with some kind of primitive marking on it, a pattern carved into the stone. Jack is too tired to stand up to see what the pattern is, so just keeps crawling. He crawls towards the center, where his blurry eyes still see something in the middle of the dark stone area.

His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and knees are so burnt by the hot sand that they no longer feel pain, or that this dark stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding, punishing sun overhead, doesn't seem to be too hot. It almost feels cool. He considers lying down on the nice cool surface. Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating. Jack vomits. He thinks he is probably in the center of a patch of sand, already lying face down, defeated and dying, and just imagining the whole thing. A vision, a desert mirage. As portrayed in movies, a beautiful captivating woman holding a water tank will join him and give him a drink. Then he'll know he's a defunct cadaver.

Jack rejects the idea of laying down on the cool stone. If he's going to die here in the middle of this vivid hallucination, he at least wants to see what's in the center before he goes. He keeps crawling.

It's the third time that Jack hears the jovial voice before he realizes what he's hearing. He would swear that someone just said, "Greetings, traveler. You do not look well. Hello?"

Jack stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and knees, but it's too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something different - he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling flat on his face, sits up, and tries to focus his eyes. Too blurry. He rubs his eyes with his hands and tries again. Better this time. Jack can see.

He is sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark expanse of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a white post or pole about two inches in diameter and protruding about four to five feet out of the stone, at an angle.

And wound around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot long coppery desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.

Jack stares at the twisted snake in shock. He doesn't have the energy to get up and run away. Given, he doesn't have the energy to crawl away, he's trapped. No matter what happens, he's not going to be able to move from this spot. "This is it, my final resting place."

At least dying of a potent bite directly from this toothy monster should be quicker than dying of thirst. He'll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one feeble hand and waves it in the snake's direction. The snake watches the hand for a moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.

Hmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn't rattled yet -- that was a good sign. Maybe Jack wasn't going to die of snake bite after all.

Jack remembers that he'd looked up when he'd reached the center because he thought he'd heard the jovial voice. He was still very disoriented -- he was likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he was on cool stone. He still didn't have anything to drink. But maybe he had actually heard a voice. This stone didn't look natural. Nor did that white post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built this. Maybe they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this viper was even their gentle pet, and that's why it wasn't biting.

Jack tries to clear his throat to say, "Hello," but his throat is too dry. All that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. No way is he going to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his vest pocket, and the bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. Jack shakily pulls the bottle out, almost losing his balance and falling on his back in the process. This isn't good. He hasn't much time left, by his reckoning, before he passes out, incapacitated.

Jack pries the lid off of the bottle, manages to raise the bottle to his lips, and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around, and then swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe he can talk now.

Jack tries again. Ignoring the viper, he turns to look around him, hoping to detect the owner of this place, and croaks out, "Hello? Is there anyone here?"

He hears, from his side, "Greetings. What is it that you want?"

Jack turns his head, back towards the snake. That's where the sound seemed to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must be a speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He decides to try asking for help.

"Please," Jack croaks again, suddenly feeling jittery, "I'd love to not be thirsty any more. I've been a long time without water. Can you help me?"

Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was coming from this time, Jack is shocked to see the snake rear back, open its toothy mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as momentary dizziness overtakes him and he falls forward, face first on the stone, "Very well. Coming up."

A piercing pain shoots through Jack's shoulder. Wow, suddenly he is awake. He sits up and grabs his shoulder, wincing at the throbbing pain. He's momentarily disoriented as he looks around, and then he remembers - the crawl across the sand, the dark area of stone, the viper. He sees the snake, still wrapped around the tilted white post, still looking at him.

Jack reaches up and feels his shoulder, where it hurts. It feels slightly wet. He pulls his fingers away and looks at them - they are bloody. He feels his shoulder again - his shirt has what feels like two holes in it - two puncture holes - they match up with the two aching spots on his shoulder. He had been bitten. By the snake. But why?

"It'll feel better in a moment." Jack looks up - it's the snake talking. He hadn't dreamed it. Suddenly he notices - he's not jittery any more. And more importantly, he's not thirsty any more - at all!

"Have I died? Is this the afterlife? Why are you biting me in the afterlife?"

"Sorry about that, but I had to bite you," says the snake. "That's the way I work. It all comes through the bite. Think of it as natural medicine."

"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 legitimate as you or anyone else, anyway. I didn't give you water to 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."

Jack sat stunned for a moment. 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 poison. It'll make you go blind in a day or two, if you drank enough of it."

"Umm, next request?" said Jack. He put his hand back on his hurting shoulder and backed away from the viper a little.

"That's the way it works. If you like it, that is," explained the snake. "You get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish." The snake grinned at his own joke, and Jack 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 Jack seriously.

"By the way," the snake says suddenly, "my name is Nathan. Ol' 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 give 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 twitching 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'd imagine you have no more than about another fifty 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," Jack said jokingly, "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.

"Umm...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. "What is this 'Bound by Secrecy' stuff, and can you really stop the effects of 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 might, 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, by definition, 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 may lead someone to guess correctly about me. You'll be totally 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 optimism.

Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of integrity, felt a little nervous at this. "Umm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know that? Are you, umm, omniscient, telepathic, or something?"

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, okay," said Jack, "what is this about a second request? What can I ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?"

"Sure!" said Nate. "You're allowed to ask for changes. Elective 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 may 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, thus still could only focus on one thing at a time. Not a very useful concept, Jack, 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, Jack, you'll even have an extraordinary tendency to recover from accidents well. Rejuvenation always seemed like a good choice for a request, in my view."

"To cure the methanol toxicity, huh?" said Jack. "And keep me healthy for a long time? Hmm. It doesn't sound bad at that. And it has to be a request about an objective change to me? I can't ask to be rich? Because that's not really a change to me, right?"

"Correct," nodded Nate.

"Could I ask to be a genius AND be permanently healthy?" Jack supplicates, hopefully.

"That would take two requests, Jack, and my approval."

"Yeah, I figured so." Jack says, "But I could ask to be a genius? I could ask to 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 ninety-nine percent 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 to activate it. It all depends on what you decide to do with it."

"Hmm," said Jack. "I think I understand. 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 - my poison is beneficial; it revives you," Nate said apologetically.

Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite had been. 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 excruciating hunger gnawing 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 reacted, spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of nowhere? Did they any bring food?

Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate...

Jack let out a reactive expletive 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 trick 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 moments 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 rapidly now."

"Yeah, well, still," said Jack, "it's the principle of the thing. And nobody likes to be bitten in the buttock! Couldn't you have gotten me in my leg instead?"

"More meat in the typical human buttock," replied Nate. "And you're less likely to accidentally kick me or jump 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?"

"Talk," said Jack. "I'll sit here attentively 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, captivated. "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 eat out here. And there's nothing to burn - I'd have to eat it raw. No thanks, I've lost my appetite. Just talk to me."

"Okay," replied Nate, still grinning. "But I'd better hurry, before you start looking at me as food to eat.

Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then continued. "You, Jack, are sitting in the vicinity of the mythical 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.

Jack stood up and looked. Carved into the stone in a bas-relief was a representation of a large tree. The angled-pole that Nate was wrapped around was coming out of the trunk of the tree, right below where the main branches left the truck to reach out across the stone. It was very well done - it looked more like a tree had been reduced to almost two dimensions and embedded in the stone than like a carving.

Jack walked around and palpated the details in the fading light of the sunset. He wished he'd looked at it while the sun was higher in the sky.

Wait! The sun was setting! That meant he was going to have to spend another night out here! Arrrgh!

Jack looked out across the desert for a little bit, and then came back and stood next to the viper. "In all the excitement, I almost forgot, Nate, which way is it back to town? And how far? I'm eventually going to have to go back." Jack comments, "I'm not sure I'm ready to survive by eating raw desert critters for very long. And even if I can, I'm not sure I have the appetite."

Click here to return to the top to read the anagram.

"Well, it's about thirty miles that way." Nate points, with the rattle on his tail this time. As far as Jack can tell, it is a direction at right angles to the way he's been going when he was crawling here. "But that's thirty miles by the way the crow flies. It's about forty by the way a human walks. You should be able to do it in about half a day with your improved endurance, if you head out first thing tomorrow."

Jack looks out the way the snake has pointed for a few seconds more, and then sits back down. It is getting dark. Not much he can do about heading out right now. And besides, Nate is just about to get to the interesting stuff. "The Garden of Eden? As best as you can figure it?"

"Yesss, as best as Samuel and I could figure it, anyway," says Nate. "He figured that the old story got a little mixed up. You know, snake, in a 'tree', offering 'temptations' or making bargains. That kind of stuff. But he could never quite figure out how the Hebrews got to the spot from across the sea. He worried about that issue for a while."

"Garden of Eden, huh?" says Jack. "Wow, how long have you been here?"

"No idea, really," replies Nate. "But it has been a long time. It never occurred to me to count years, until recently, and by then, of course, it was too late. But I do remember when this whole place was green, so I figure it's been thousands of years."

"So, you would be the snake that tempted Eve?" asks Jack.

"Beats me," says Nate. "Maybe. I can't remember if the first one of your kind that I talked to was female or not, and I never got a name, but it could have been. And I suppose she could have considered my offer to grant requests a 'temptation', though I've rarely had refusals."

"Well, umm, how did you get here then? And why is that white pole stuck out of the stone there?" asks Jack.

"Dad left me here. Or, I assume it was my dad. It was another snake - much bigger than I was back then. I remember talking to him, but I don't remember if it was in a language, or just kind of understanding what he wanted. But one day, he brought me to this stone, told me about it, and asked me to do something for him. I talked it over with him for a while, then agreed. I've been here ever since."

"What is this place?" says Jack. "And what did he ask you to do?"

"Well, you see this pole here, sticking out of the stone?" The snake loosens his coils around the tilted white pole and shows Jack where it descends into the stone. The pole is tilted at about a forty-five degree angle and seems to enter the stone in an eighteen inch slot cut into the stone. Jack leans down and looks. The slot is dark and the pole goes down into it as far as he can see in the dim light. Jack reaches out to touch the pole, but Nate is suddenly there blocking the way.

"You can't touch that yet, Jack," says the snake.

"Why not?" asks Jack.

"I haven't explained to you what it does," replies Nate.

"Well, it kind of looks like a lever or something like that," says Jack. "You'd push it one way and it would move in the slot."

"Yesss, that's what it is," replies Nate.

"But what does it do?" asks Jack. "End the world?"

"Oh, no," says Nate. "Nothing that drastic. It just ends humanity. I call it 'The Lever of Doom'." For his last few words Nate had used a deeper, gruffer, ringing voice. He tries to look serious for a few seconds, but then gives up and grins.

Jack is initially startled by Nate's announcement, but when Nate grins Jack laughs. "Ha-ha! You almost had me fooled for a second there. And what does it really do?"

"Oh, it really ends humanity, like I said," smirks Nate. "I think the voice I just used was funny, don't you?"

Nate continues to grin.

"A lever to end humanity?" asks Jack. "What in the world is that for? Why would anyone need to end humanity?"

"Well," replies Nate, "I get the idea that maybe humanity was an experiment. Or maybe the Big Guy thought that if humanity started going really bad, there should be a way to end it. I'm not really sure. All I know are the rules, and the guesses that Samuel and I had about why it's here. I didn't think to ask back when I first got here."

"Rules? What rules?" asks Jack.

"The rules are that I can't tell anybody about it or let them touch it unless they agree to be bound to secrecy by a snake bite. And that only one human can be bound that way at a time. That's it," he explains.

Jack looks somewhat shocked. "You mean that I could pull the lever now? You would allow me, a human being, to end humanity?" "

Yesss," replies Nate, "if you want to." Nate looked at Jack carefully. "Do you think you want to end humanity?"

"Uhhh, no." says Jack, stepping a little further back from the lever. "Why in the world would anyone want to end humanity? It'd take a psychotic to want that! Or worse, a suicidal psychotic, because it would kill him too."

"Yesss," replies Nate, "because he would be a human as well."

"Has anybody ever seriously considered it?" asks Jack. "Any of those bound to secrecy, that is?"

"Why, of course, I think they've all seriously considered it at one time or another. Being given that kind of responsibility makes you sit down and think, or that's what I'm told. Samuel considered it several times. He'd often get disgusted with humanity, come out here, and just hold the lever for a while. But he never pulled it. Or you wouldn't still be here." Nate grins some more.

Jack sits down, well back from the lever. He looks thoughtful and puzzled at the same time. After a bit, he says, "So this makes me the Judge of humanity? I get to choose whether they keep going or end? Me?"

"That seems to be it," agrees Nate.

"What kind of criteria do I use to decide?" ask Jack. "How and why do I make this decision? Am I supposed to decide if they're worthy? Or whether too many of them are bad? Or that they're going the wrong way? Is there a set of rules for that?"

"No," replies Nate. "You pretty much just have to decide on your own. It's up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you're just supposed to know."

"But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel horrible? Couldn't I make a mistake? How do I know that I wouldn't screw it up?" protests Jack.

Nate gives his kind of snake-like shrug again. "You don't. You just have to try your best not to screw up."

Jack sits there for a while, staring off into the sunset and the desert which is rapidly becoming dark, chewing on his fingernails.

Suddenly, he turns and looks at the snake. "Nate, was Samuel the human who was bound to this before me?"

"Yesss," replies Nate. "He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me to read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them buried in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a few months ago."

"Sounds like he was a good guy," agrees Jack. "How did he handle this, when you first told him. What did he do?"

"Well," says Nate, "he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit, and then asked me some of the same questions that you have asked me now."

"What did he ask you, if you're allowed to tell me?" asks Jack.

"He asked me about the third request," replies Nate.

"Aha!" It is his 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, you will come here and end it. You won't avoid it, and you won't wimp out." Nate looks serious again. "And you'll be bound to do it, too,"

"Hmm." Jack says, looking out into the darkness for a while.

Nate watches him, waiting.

"Nate," continues Jack, quietly. "What did Samuel ask for with his third request?"

Nate sounds like he's grinning again as he replies, also quietly, "Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I was able to give him."

"Oh," says Jack, suddenly standing up and facing away from Nate, "give it to me, then."

Nate looks 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 turns his head back to look back over his shoulder at Nate. "It did help him, right?"

"He said it did," replies Nate. "But he seemed a little quieter afterward. He looked like he had a lot to think about.

"Well, yeah, I can see that," says Jack. "So, give it to me." He turns his face away from the snake again, bent over slightly and tensed up.

Nate watches 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 looks like it needs it, right Jack?" asks Nate, shifting position.

"Yeah, yeah, I got that," replies Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and body tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate's voice.

"And," continues 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!" says Jack, opening his eyes, straightening up and turning around. "Purple?!" He doesn'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 hears, from behind him, Nate's "Ha, ha, just kidding!" right before he feels the now familiar piercing pain, this time in his other buttock.

Jack sits on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his feet extending out into the sand. He stares out into the darkness, listening to the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his buttock where he's been recently bitten.

The snake, who had left for a while, has come back with a desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhere in his middle, and is now wrapping himself back around the lever, his tongue flicking out into the desert's night air, the only sign that he is still awake.

Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand while he thinks, asks Nate a question without turning around.

"Nate, do accidents count?"

The snake lifts his head a little bit. "What do you mean, Jack?"

Jack tilts his head back like he is looking at the stars. "You know, accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does that still wipe out humanity?"

"Yesss, I'm pretty sure it does, Jack. I would suggest you be careful about that if you start feeling wobbly," smirks Nate with some amusement.

A little while later Jack asks, "Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?"

"That's the rule. Nobody else can pull it," answers Nate.

"No," Jack shakes 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 stone?"

"Yesss, those should work," replies 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 above 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."

"Whoa," says Jack, "Cool." He leans back until only his elbows keep him off of the stone and looks up into the sky.

"Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health, right?" asks Jack.

"Yesss," replies Nate, "it was. He lived for one-hundred-sixty-seven years."

"Wow, one-hundred-sixty-seven years. That's almost one-hundred-forty more years than I'll live, if I live as long as he did. Do you know what he died of, Nate?"

"He died of getting tired of living," Nate said, sounding somewhat sad.

Jack turns his head to look at Nate in the starlight.

The snake looks back. "Samuel knew he wasn't going to be able to stay in society. He figures 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?" asks Jack.

Nate shakes his head a little. "That's when he made his fourth request, Jack. There's only one thing you can ask for with the fourth request: the last bite.

After a little while, Nate continues, "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 finishes, "Samuel's body disappeared off the stone with the next sunrise."

Jack lays back down and looks at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his memories. It is a long time until Jack's breathing evens out into sleep.

Jack wakes with the sunrise the next morning. He feels a little chilled with the morning desert air, but overall is feeling pretty good. Well, except that his stomach is grumbling and he isn't willing to eat raw desert rat.

So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knows how to get back, and reassuring Nate that he'd be back soon, Jack starts the long walk back to town. With his new health and Nate's good directions, he makes it back easily.

Jack catches a bus back to the city, and shows 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 has talked a friend with a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to fetch his SUV. They find it after a couple of hours of searching and tow it back without incident. Jack is careful not to even look in the direction of Nate's lever, though their path back doesn't come within sight of it.

Before the next weekend, Jack has gone to a couple of stores, including a book store, and has gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a warning to avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, he heads back to see the snake.

Jack parks a little way out of the small town near Nate, loads up his new backpack with camping gear, a few snacks, and the things he is bringing for the snake, and then starts walking again. He figures that walking will leave the least trail, and he knows that while not many people camp in the desert, it isn't unheard of, and shouldn't really raise suspicions.

Jack had picked out more books for Nate - recent books and magazines. Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening in the world, others that were just good books to read. So, he spends the weekend with Nate, and then heads out again, telling him that he'll be back again soon, but that he has things to do first.

Over four months later, Jack is back to see Nate again. This time he brings a laptop with him - a specially modified laptop. It has a solar recharger, special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite link-up, and a specially adapted keyboard which Jack hopes that a fifteen-foot rattlesnake would be able to handle. And, it has been hacked to not give out its location to the satellite.

After that, Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visits him fairly regularly - at least once or twice a year, bringing software and a few books.

After the first year, Jack quits his job. For some reason, with the wisdom he'd been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over one-hundred-fifty years, working a nine-to-five job for someone else doesn't seem that worthwhile any more. Jack goes back to school.

Eventually, he starts writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or perhaps because of his new perspective, he writes well. People like what he writes, and he becomes well known. After a time, he buys another brighter SUV and starts traveling around the country for book signings and readings.

But, he still remembers to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.

On one of the visits, Nate seems quieter than usual. Not that Nate has been a fountain of joy lately. His 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 doesn't even speak when Jack walks up to the lever. He nods at Jack, and then goes back to staring into the desert. Respecting Nate's silence, Jack sits down and waits.

After a few minutes, Nate speaks. "Jack, I have someone to introduce you to."

Jack looks surprised. "Someone to introduce me to?" He looks around, and then looks carefully back at Nate. "This something to do with the Big Guy?

"The Big Guy? No, no," replies Nate. "This is more personal. I want you to meet my son."

Nate looks over at the nearest sand dune. "Sammy!"

Jack watches as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawls from behind the sandy dune and up on the base of the lever.

"Yo, Jack," says the new, much smaller snake.

"Hi, Sammy," says Jack. He looks at Nate. "Named after Samuel, I assume?"

Nate nods. "Jack, I've got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy around for me?" Nate unwraps himself from the lever and slithers over to the edge of the stone and looks 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, on the computer that you brought me. But I hear that it's not the same. That being there is somehow different. I want him to have that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?"

Jack nods. This is obviously very important to Nate, so he doesn'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 wish for?" But, Jack could sense that there was something more.

Nate looks at Sammy. Sammy looks back at Nate for a second and then says, "Oh, yeah. Umm, I've gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack. Nice to meet ya!" Sammy slithers back over the dune and out of sight.

Nate watches Sammy disappear and then looks back at Jack. "Jack, this is my first son. My first offspring through all those years. You don't even want to know what it took for me to find a mate." Nate giggles 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 considers 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 shakes 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 looks more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought carefully about this - probably for quite a while. Jack has 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 says is, "What would you like me to do?"

Nate says, "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. All I need is for 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 turns 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'd like a sword. A time-honored way of going out. A dignified way to die. And, most importantly, it should work, even on me.

"Are you willing to do that for me?" Nate turns back to look at Jack.

"Sure, Nate," replies Jack solemnly, "I think I can handle that."

Nate nods. "Good!" He turns back toward the dune and shouts, "Sammy! Jack's about ready to leave!" Then quietly, "Thanks again."

Jack doesn't have anything to say to that, so he waits for Sammy to make it back to the lever, nods to him, nods a final time to Nate, and then heads into the desert with Sammy following. Over the next few years Sammy and Jack keep in touch with Nate through e-mail as they go about their adventures. They make a goal of visiting every country in the world, and do a respectable job of it. Sammy has a natural gift for languages, as Jack expected he would, and even ends up acting as a translator for Jack in a few of the countries, even though Jack manages to keep the talking rattlesnake hidden, and by the time they are nearing the end of their tour of countries, Sammy has 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 stories followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever hit the news or the public in general.

When they finish the tour of countries, Jack suggests that they try some undersea diving. They do. And spelunking. They do that too. Sammy finally draws 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 had 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 delays it a little more by insisting that they go back to Japan to buy an appropriate sword. He even stretches 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.

When they got back to the US, Jack got the SUV out of storage where he and Sammy had left it after their tour of France and forty-eight 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, he 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 hike in the dark.

As Jack was afraid that if he waited another night he might lose his resolve, he decided that he'd go ahead and drive the SUV out there. It was only going to be this once, and he would go back and cover his tracks afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by nightfall if they drove, and then they could get it over with 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 SUV 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 SUV was beginning to fishtail and lose traction. Jack was having to inch 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 come over the top of the fourth sand dune, the biggest one yet, Jack notes that this is the final dune - the stone, the lever, and somewhere down below, Nate, await him. Jack puts on the brakes, but he's gone a little too far. As the SUV starts sliding down the other side of the hill, Jack tries turning the wheel, but he doesn't have enough traction. He pumps the brakes with no response. They start sliding down the hill, faster and faster.

Jack feels a shock go through him as he suddenly realizes that they are heading straight for the lever. He looks down - the SUV is directly on course for it. If Jack doesn't do something, the SUV will hit it. He knows he is about to end humanity.

Jack steers more frantically, trying to get traction. This still isn't working. The dune is too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split second, Jack realizes that his only chance would be once he hits the stone around the lever - he should have traction on the stone for just a second before he hits the lever - he wouldn't have time to stop, but he should be able to steer away.

Jack takes a better grip on the steering wheel and tries to turn the SUV a little bit - every little bit would help. He'd have to time his turn just right.

The SUV gets to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the sand. Just before they reach the stone Jack looks across it to check that they're still heading for the lever. They are. But he notices something else that he hadn't seen from the top of the dune. Nate is no longer wrapped around the lever. He is off to the side of the lever, but still on the stone, waiting for them. The problem is, he is waiting on the same side of the lever that Jack has picked to steer towards to avoid the lever. The SUV is already starting to drift that way a little in its mad rush across the sand and there is no way that Jack is going to be able to go around the lever to the other side.

Jack has an instant of realization. He is either going to have to hit the lever, or run over Nate. He glances over at Sammy and sees that he realizes the same thing.

Jack takes a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the SUV runs up on the stone.

Shouting to Sammy, as he pulls his steering wheel, "BETTER NATE THAN LEVER," he runs over the snake.



This joke was also used as a personality profile test...

It was the subject of a recent Educational Psychology Master's Thesis, soon to be published, which investigated the way that someone responds to a story such as this correlates to certain personality traits.

The research confirmed a statistically significant correlation which strongly suggests a dependably predictive positive relationship between how a person responds to this thesis and certain aspects of his or her psychological profile. Thus, it is called the Personality Profile Assessment Test Hypothesis.

While the actual results looked at several complex factors, and depended heavily on questionnaires filled out by volunteers upon completion of their experience, I will simplify the results by discussing three main groups and their profiles. While these profiles may not be exactly fitting of each person within each group, they do strongly suggest a statistically significant likelihood of profile similarity.

Eleven percent of those who read this thesis take their time, enjoying the joke as they read it, enjoying the build up to the punch line, and even if the punch line itself wasn't particularly humorous, they tended to enjoy the process.

Fifty-six percent begin, read a few lines, then scroll down to find the punch line, either within a short period of time-- usually twenty seconds or less. The vast majority of this group choose not to read the bulk of the joke.

Thirty-three percent read at least one-third of the joke, with the intention of reading it all, but then begin to question their decision and the investment of time they are making. They go back and forth between deciding to continuing or to skip to the end (this vacillating back and forth may be unconscious at the time, and happen in a matter of moments). The vast majority in this group give up before finishing half of the joke, and scroll to the end.

People in the first group, who read the entire thesis, tend to enjoy life and take their time as they move towards a goal. When traveling, they tend to thoroughly enjoy the process, and are not uptight or stressed about single-mindedly getting to their destination. They also tend to be very attentive, patient and long-lasting lovers, and enjoy intimacy and physical connectivity.

Those belonging to the second group, those who scroll to the end before reading more than a few sentences of the joke, tend to avoid surprises and the unknown. They prefer having a regular schedule and not stepping out of their routine. They tend to be efficient in work, but are often lacking in enjoyment, spontaneity and passion. They tend to be less patient and more interested in the destination than the journey. When on a trip, they tend to focus on getting where they are going, rather than enjoying the process. During intimacy, they tend to not be able to enjoy it unless they are certain it will be taken to completion. The idea of just "playing around" a while, engaging in physical intimacy without the promise of full completion is, rather than simply enjoyable and connective, considered to be "cruel" and "teasing" and is met with resentment. This group's ability to enjoy depends largely on their need to know what is going to happen. They tend to be more self-focused lovers, and tend not to last very long in satisfying the other partner if their own satisfaction has happened or is within easy reach.

The third group, who decided not to read the entire joke after reading a third or more of it, tend to be commitment-phobic and lack the ability to move forward to completion when things become challenging. They are often procrastinators and frequently give up on tasks when they become more difficult. They tend to prefer to have big dreams than act on them in the challenging world. A significantly higher percentage of this group had Cesarean births, and may not have had the benefit of that early experience of struggle and effort being rewarded with accomplishment. This group tends to not take big vacations which would take more effort to plan and implement, and tends to stay close to home or even stay home during holidays or time off. Promotions and career moves which are within reach but still require some effort and focus are frequently not fully tried for, although the perception will be they were passed up. In intimate relationships, this group tends to start out romantic and passionate, but that quickly fades and is replaced by lackadaisicalness and indifference, characterized in part by a sense of feeling it is not worth the effort to continue having a passionate, energized and complete experience during intimacy. There is a tendency to "peter out" both in intimacy and in other aspects of life, and to take the easier road, even if it leads to a less fulfilling life.

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Disclaimer: This summary of the results is not intended in any way to offer advice or therapy, nor is it intended to infer anything about whether anyone reading this does or does not fit the personality profiles described.

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This ends the longest joke in the world (original length: forty meters).