I had one hand on the ledge, and my other on the last hold. My eyes were tracking past the cracks and grips that I had just passed. As they cleared the gravel that was caught in my knuckles, I came eye to eye with it. At that point, eye to eye was a relative term. I could hear my pupils opening in shock. I could not see its eyes whatsoever in its small, quickly moving diamond head. It didn’t matter. From what I had seen before its tail started shaking, its eyes were flat black and dead.
Dead. That was what I was going to be. I didn’t even remember letting go of the holds after the snake moved. It had been a really big snake. It was instinctual. Big snake in front of face, get away. I didn’t fully realize I was falling until my arm bashed into Mysterious. Dimly, I heard his surprised cry mixed with the receding rattling from above. Then, it was all completely slow-motion non-terminal velocity clear. I was falling from a height of sixteen feet, backwards. My whole body cringed in anticipation of the bone-breaking impact that was about to occur.
Then, my muscles relaxed. It seemed like the rock had been streaking by too long. I had missed the ledge. I was going to fall all the way back down to our starting point, and it wasn’t going to be back-breaking trauma, it was going to be certain death trauma and I’d better think about all of my life, because I only had a couple seconds left. Choking, dry dust rose all around my vision, which flickered fuzzily as the sky shook and collapsed into my brain. New vibrations spread across the ground and impacted dully into my body. The dust fell as dirt on my un-breathing lips. It filmed over my brown eyes and clouded the sunlight. I could feel my body being spun around the axis of the earth, just one more piece of matter on a lonely rock in space.
My lungs re-inflated. I hacked oxygen and carbon dioxide and all other gaseous elements in wheezing, painful heaves. My hearing rushed back. Blood pounded angrily at all of my extremities. Liquid poured from my eye sockets, streaking my faces with muddy red rivers of clay. Slowly, my neurons re-started. I shook my left foot. I wiggled each and every toe. I repeated the process up my leg, and then started again with my right foot. My fingers moved too. It was time for the real test. I gathered what strength I could, and sat up at a glacial pace. My head spun faster than Mercury’s orbit. I steadied myself. Aches and pains nagged every pore of my body. But I was alive. And, other than the pounding headache that was coming fast, I was unscathed. I looked right.
Lying there in a state of bemused shock was Mysterious. I didn’t know what to say. It was beyond comprehension that he too would be uninjured. For that matter, I wasn’t completely sure that I was uninjured. I could be bleeding out internally with a matter of minutes to live. As I struggled to find the words to tell him that I was sorry, and that I was going to go get help, he gingerly levered himself up on his side.
“This is why City Parks will never take off.” He said slowly. “Because there aren’t any cute Rangerettes in those short green shorts to pick us up off the ground.” Just as cautiously, he lowered himself back to the ground before asking the question I had been dreading. “What the hell happened, anyhow?”
I didn’t have a response. My body was one giant bruise, and my brain struggled just to get through the background aches and pains. I opened my mouth once; twice, and finally, on the third time, started to talk.
“Snake.” I said dumbly. “Big rattlesnake on the ledge. Big, angry, rattlesnake.”
“Ah.” He said tiredly. “I knew there had to be some good reason, because I knew that you didn’t really think that today was a good reason to die.”
There was a silent pause as the wind whirled the words around, and then we began to laugh. It was a slow, quiet, desperate laughter that nervously wrapped around the fact that we shouldn’t have survived the fall with nothing but bruises. But it was genuine, grateful laughter at the fact that we were still alive. Eventually, we calmly wiped our surreptitious tears, and dragged ourselves back to the car for the drive back to civilization to resume our lives.