Bitten

Careful where you step.

Jerry’s pace quickened against the crisp mountain air. Dusty clouds emitted from his jogging shoes as he traveled up the dirt road. A view of the Rockies was on his left and an Aspen covered slope on his right. His agile legs expertly guided his feet around the rocks that could twist his ankle.

The smell of pine and fresh air filled Jerry’s nostrils, and a smile remained transfixed across his face. The dirt road turned sharply and substantially increased in grade. His leg muscles started to burn. The smile left his face for a few moments before it returned, and the burning disappeared.

The sun was beginning to break over some of the lower crests, and its warm glow fell on the back of Jerry’s t-shirt. He turned the next switchback, and the sun heated his face. He glanced up at the clear, blue sky when a sudden pain struck his right ankle mid-step. Instinctively, he kicked and saw the small rattlesnake go flying off into the bushes.

He stuttered, wobbled, and stumbled. The blood swiftly pumping through Jerry’s veins began to burn.

Jerry let himself collapse in the middle of the road. He screamed, and the morning’s smoothie ejected from his stomach. Tearing at his shirt, he fashioned a tourniquet using a nearby stick. His hot muscles and veins fought against the restriction put upon them.

Jerry blocked his instincts to stop tightening the torn fabric and twisted the stick between gasps for air. Dizzy and nauseous, he worked to control his breathing.

He had wanted a quiet run, and now it looked like he was going to die in the effort. The minutes ticked by, and his right leg became numb below the tourniquet. Looking down, his toes and foot looked as though they would pop if someone poked them with a needle.

An unnatural rumble emitted from the bottom of the valley. Jerry blinked, shook his head, and strained to decipher the sound below. Whatever it was, it was climbing up the dirt road. The distinct sound of an engine began to grow louder, and Jerry said a prayer of thanks.

A black jeep appeared around the bend and Jerry hollered and waved with everything he had left. The red-headed driver stopped and jumped out. Her tight hiking outfit and boots fit her girlish figure like a glove.

Jerry gasped, “A rattlesnake bit me.”

“Don’t move,” insisted the young woman.

The hiker went back to her jeep and got one of her walking sticks.

“Grab hold of this. I’ll take your other shoulder and help you up. Then we’ll get in the jeep.”

Jerry managed to keep his foot off the ground. A warm wave rose from his stomach to his chest, and the road rose and fell under his feet. He swallowed hard, and they worked their way over to her jeep.

The young woman already had the passenger seat tilted forward, and Jerry eased into the rear. He laid there on his back with his foot elevated. She grabbed an ace bandage from her first aid kit, and the two of them tied off his tourniquet. Dialing 911 on her cell she jumped in the front seat, turned the jeep around and made her way back down the mountain to meet the ambulance.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you have a cell phone?”

Mumbling through the pain, he responded, “Solitude.”

The young woman glanced at him over her shoulder, “Judging from that swollen foot, I think your running days may be over.”

Jerry attempted to smile, his voice strained, “Maybe. There’s always swimming.”

“Does that mean next time I’ll find you floating in one of the lakes?”

“Possibly.”

The woman reached back with one hand grasping at the air. Jerry grabbed her hand for a moment. “My name’s Maria.”

Although he was wincing with pain, the conversation was keeping his mind occupied. “I’m Jerry. Thanks for the rescue.”

The ambulance appeared ahead, and she pulled to the shoulder. The EMTs brought the gurney to her vehicle and Maria hastily scribbled something on the back of a card from her purse. She walked over and put it in Jerry’s hand.

“Don’t lose this. It has my business number on the front and my cell phone on the back. Let me know how things turn out. Maybe we can go to dinner sometime, and you can tell me how you managed to avoid this from happening until now.”

Jerry looked into Maria’s bright, blue eyes and muttered. “Remind me to thank that snake later.”

The EMTs delivered a quick dose of pain medicine and pushed the gurney into the ambulance. Jerry felt himself relax and closed his eyes.