If you are new to this series here is the link to Chapter 1 Part I.
Chapter 3, Part II
Preoccupied with the stick I’m fortunate that he doesn’t strike at my face which is definitely within his reach. Be calm I mutter to myself, move slowly. If he doesn’t sense quick movement he’ll move slowly. If I flinch, he’ll react. I unsnap the buckle around my waist and let the pack slowly fall off to the side. Regaining my footing and not learning from my past I go for attempt number three. Pinning his head against the ground his long body coils around the stick giving me time to bring my knife down behind his head and cut it off. The body writhes and twists as the head now severed continues it’s biting reflex. Pulling the tail away from the head I hold it up and let the blood drain out for a minute then hang it around my neck. He’s a good four to five feet long and will make a good dinner. The smell of a snake is almost as bad as a Zombie, but not bad enough to make me gag.
Luckily the water is flowing, only a trickle but it is flowing. Sitting in the shade I look down the trail, no tracks from human feet, just some deer and small dog or coyote. I always forget which is which. I know one has overlapping footprints but I can never remember which is which. I think dogs rear feet step where there front feet landed but coyotes don’t. Just then I see two eyes looking out from the bushes.
“Hey, I won’t hurt you? Where’s your Momma?” It’s a baby coyote, looks about six months old but how was I to know for sure? I don’t have any food to offer him so I just sit and watch him. He slowly steps forward out of the brush and tentatively takes a drink from the stream. I wait and watch.
After a bit of him staring at me and me staring at him, I take out the hydration bladder from my pack and open it up to fill it. He’s a skinny little guy, maybe 25 pounds. With my bladder filled I kneel down and splash water on my face throwing some onto the back of my neck and letting it run down my spine.
“Where you headed?” He looks at me and cocks his head. “Well I’m going to find a good spot to make camp. Want some rattle snake for dinner?” With that he gets a little skittish and retreats back into the brush. This would probably be a good place to set up a snare using the wire from the piano. I have a good amount of time to make a camp before sun down and set a snare near the water. Most all the animals in the area will be heading to the stream for water when it’s cool.
Walking up the bank I find a good spot to set things up, there is a great big oak to rig my hammock and a big enough area to dig a Dakota fire pit. Even this far out I don’t want to risk having an open fire. I set my pack down and take out some of the twine I got from Grandpa’s garage. Cutting off a length I tie it around the tail of the snake and worked the end over a branch just high enough no critters will be able to steal my dinner. I take the rest of the twine, the piano wire and my knife down towards the bank. Locating a good spot where game has traveled before I use some rocks and logs to create a funnel towards the snare. Using a sapling and two vertical sticks I’m able to create a trigger with a horizontal stick and a noose with the wire. Any animal that heads towards the water will be funneled right into my snare and the sapling will be triggered lifting him up hopefully out of the reach of any other animals who might like to claim my prize.
With that set I head back to the camp and begin to use the knife to break up the soil to make the two holes for the fire. It’s best to have one hole for the fire and one which allows air to feed the fire from below with a tunnel connecting the two holes. This keeps the smoke down and helps with light discipline because the flame is below the surface of the ground. For added insurance and some extra heat I use rocks to ring around the outside of the fire hole. They will retain heat for a while when the fire dies down and prevent anyone from seeing the flames which may rise above the surface of the hole.
As soon as that’s ready to light I then pull out my hammock and begin to square it away. Usually you hang a hammock between two trees and you can lay flat but I try to get as high in the tree as I possibly can so my rigging options get limited. A trick I figured out which works well is to attach both ends close to each other on the same branch making what looks like a cocoon hanging from the tree, if you think it might rain you feed the ends of the hammock through the neck hole of the poncho and with some paracord you tie the hood around the carabiners. It makes a near water tight seal protecting you from foul weather. The downside is you have to sleep either with your knees drawn up to your chest or sit indian style in there. It wasn’t very comfortable at first but I’ve gotten used to it and feeling safe high above the ground is a good thing. If you position the hammock well into the canopy, people or Zombies can walk below and never notice you tucked away in your little cocoon. Just remember to pee before getting in there, because getting out in the middle of the night in the pitch black is a tricky proposition.
After cleaning the snake I sit back and take a gulp from the Knob Creek. Pulling the lint from Grandpa’s house out of my pocket I pull it apart making it a thin blanket over dried grass and small twigs, it catches quickly from the sparks thrown from my Swedish fire starter and soon the twigs and leaves have ignited. The downside of the Dakota fire pit is it takes a bit of time to dig the holes and you waste valuable calories so unless you have something good to cook it sometimes isn’t worth the hassle. As the snake cooks the fat drips down into the fire and little spits of flame rise as they ignite, it reminds me of cooking a steak or Italian sausages on the grill before everything went wrong. The last time it was this quiet was a night I spent in an isolated cove along the ocean. The waves crashing against the rocks blocked out the moaning and the salt air erased the pungent smell of infected rotting flesh. It’s much quieter here, there’s the fire snapping and the smell of the fire mixed with cooking rattle snake, the dusty smell of nature and the fresh breeze – that’s all.
As the snake cooks I hear some footsteps in the brush, not human or Zombie, they’re too careful for that. A man would be snapping twigs and stumbling when loosing his or her balance, these are petite little feet. Grabbing my tomahawk off the outside of my pack I take a knee to defend my dinner if I have to. Slowly out of the brush the little baby coyote’s head pops into view.
“Hey there, you come back for a little snake?”
He sits at the edge of the brush and cocks his head to the side. Sitting cross legged next to the fire and pulling out my Benchmade knife I cut away some of the nearly cooked snake off the stick and throw it to the little guy. He sniffs at it and swallows it whole then sits back down waiting for more.
“Hold on, I’m gonna have some first.” Rotating the stick I find some meat that looks nicely cooked and slice some off. It reminds me of the way gyro meat used to look at the local Greek restaurant. The meat is hot and it nearly burns my fingers, I should really find a fork at some point. Blowing on my hand to cool the meat, the savory smell overpowers me with a sense of pleasure. It’s one of the best hot meals I’ve had in a long while. The meat feels like it melts in my mouth, my tastebuds have been so neglected they’re overstimulated and I’m almost drooling. “Wow, that’s pretty good huh?” I grab the salt from the house and sprinkle it on the cooking meat. “Want some more?” I toss him another chunk. It’s gone before it hit the ground.
The meal goes well with sips from my water and some of the bourbon for dessert. I lay back against my pack looking up at the dense cluster of stars while the fire flickers and illuminates the canopy of the oak tree over my head. When backpacking we always called the campfire channel 13, I think it’s the most mesmerizing channel ever created. Humans had been infatuated with channel 13 since the dawn of humanity. It’s the same show every night, but everyone would stare at it till hiker midnight.