The Occupational Hazard

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Jonathan trundled along, leaning into Steve. He pressed the blood – soaked napkin onto his right hand and held it in a sling made from his left hand.

He could already feel the onset of spasms deep in his belly. His occasional groans would echo in his ears for a while and then fade away into the dense undergrowth. He could still see, that speckled band, hissing. Should he not have been dying, Jonathan knew that that image would haunt him for a long, long time.

A sparrow, chirping its lungs out, flew above them with another in pursuit.

The spasms grew exponentially over the next couple of minutes and gave way to delusions. “Why am I so stupid, Steve? Huh?” he would mumble. He would keep mumbling for several minutes and then stop as suddenly as he had begun.

“Just hang on Johnny. We’re getting there. I just need you to hang in there, okay buddy?” Steve held back a tear.

Steve understood the gravity of the situation. He knew what was going on. He knew what was going on even before it happened.

You know that tingly feeling you have before you do something exciting? That feeling that people call the adrenaline rush? And then when you look back at how awry things went you realise that that feeling was mixed with a tinge of fear, of apprehension. This was the feeling Steve had. This was the feeling he dreaded. This was the feeling we all shrink from.

He saw the mornings events replay in his mind.

The two of them were very enthusiastic when they awoke, even before first light. Their sacks were packed from the night before and everything except for the water bottles was ready for the day ahead. They  completed the remaining bit and set out to explore the wilderness. Steve had done a bit of research about the area they were to explore and had taken precautions accordingly.

The first couple of hours went by fleetingly and there was nothing much to ‘observe and report’, as they say. This could be attributed to the fact that they were just on the outskirts of the forest. After they really started getting to the ‘heart’ of the forest, the surroundings started becoming darker and the sounds of the forest made the atmosphere eerie and at the same time, relaxing.

Animals and insects, alike, crept about  and branches shook in the undergrowth. Random streaks of light breached the canopy cover and fell on the forest floor as welcome as summer rain.

Jonathan was always a chirpy fellow and was not irked by the murkiness of his surroundings at all. The next settlement was a minimum of four and a half hours away and that worried Steve a bit. It was not because he was a wildlife journalist against his will (he wasn’t) but because he was one in spite of his nature.

Funny, isn’t it? The way, who one is, gets in the way of who one wants to be. Change one, and you inevitably change the other. But, don’t change either, and you’ll eventually find yourself in a muddle, sometime or the other.

The two of them were nearing a small clearing in the forest that had a bathtub – sized waterhole. A spotted deer was sitting on its two front legs to quench its thirst. They immediately captured a few photographs before the deer scampered away.

Jonathan casually jogged towards the waterhole. “I’m gonna look for fish and frogs and stuff in here. There’s ought to be something. We’ve had absolutely nothing to look at all morning.”

There’s often times in our lives when we wish we could go back to a particular date, a particular time and change something. Something that turned our lives around, often for the worse. We all know it can’t be done. We all know it couldn’t be done because that’s the way things were supposed to be and though people say its all for the best, we’ve got to live with the decisions – or indecisions – we’ve made. And that’s the toughest part.

Jonathan was still jogging and Steve was still worrying about the darkness and the dampness when Jonathan slipped and fell into the waterhole. It was deeper than it looked. Jonathan was a tall man and he sank whole into it. And he still hadn’t touched the bottom. He let out a groan from the cold water and then laughed. “Hahaha don’t worry. Its just the moss. I should have been careful,” he said in a typical Jonathan way of saying, these things happen, no biggie. “Now, come be a lad and pull me out. The moss makes it difficult.”

Steve was a bit flustered but went over to help and approached the hole carefully. He took out his climbing axe and lodged it firmly into the ground and held onto it with his right hand and offered his left hand to Jonathan. Just as Jonathan grasped onto it, he let out a loud cry of agony.

“What is it? You okay John? What is it?” Steve was startled.

“Nothing…nothing. Thought I felt something.”

“Come on. Quick. We’ve gotta keep going.”

And then there was another cry. And then another. The cries did not cease even after Jonathan was pulled out. ‘Safe and sound’ was probably the understatement of the century.

There was a snake coiled around Jonathan’s right lower arm and it was covered in his blood.

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