THIRD AND FINAL PART
Improvisation might be called for in a jazz riff or linebacker blitz, but my improvisation had painted me into a corner. Aware that the gods were notorious suckers for stories, I’d struck a bargain with Ohlétteh: I would weave an entertaining tale, and he would let me keep my camera.
To his credit as a negotiator, he hadn’t actually agreed to the bargain; he’d simply given me the green light to start telling the story. A really really good story – or else. And thus the painted corner: what story would I tell?
Ohlétteh strode over to a hollow log and sat down, grasped a knee with each hand and bent slightly forward as if to say, “You’re on.”
My camera was resting against my chest. I slipped my left arm through the loop of the strap, shifted the camera to where it hung a few inches below my left armpit, and crossed my arms, grasping the camera with my right hand, shielding it from view. Ohlétteh’s narrow grey eyes followed the whole operation.
I softened the defiant display of my folded arms by widening my stance and clearing my throat as prelude to what would surely be a pronouncement weighty and wise. “Many are the tales of the world’s beginning; few of its ending. Hearken, Ohlétteh, and I will tell you how the world ends,” I declaimed while opening the memory stick hatch with my right thumb and feeling for the stick with my index finger.
Now for the tale. My problem: Ohlétteh had heard it all. I needed to maneuver him into unfamiliar territory. I needed a story so stupid, he wouldn’t know whether to devour me or deify me.
With a nod of my head, I gestured to a nearby hill. “You see the large oak on that hill?” I said, ever so gently pressing the memory stick against its spring-lock release, feeling it come loose and pinching it out while Ohlétteh’s gaze was diverted to the hill. “When evening falls, a star will rise above that oak. We call the star Bingle-Dworp 677. Around it circles a world called Whygo. On it dwell the Whygons.”
Ohlétteh was looking at me now with an expression not overly favorable. I tiptoed farther out on the precipice: “Whygons have been monitoring humanity from Earth orbit for 3,500 years, waiting for something significant to report,” I said with a scientific solemnity. “To a Whygon, 3,500 years is practically a lifetime.” (Uh-oh. Where do I go from here? And how do I get this memory stick from my hand to my pocket? It’s too small to palm.) “Now, the Whygons are divided,” I said as my palm perspired onto the stick. “Factions A and B want to destroy Earth right now; Faction C wants to spare us for another century or two.”
Ohlétteh cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow. I could almost hear him forming the thought: “Don’t screw with me.”
“And how, you must be wondering, would the Whygons destroy Earth? Well, I’ll tell you,” I said, padding the narrative for all it was worth. “Faction A wants to blow us up in a spectacular smoky foof but Faction B claims that would leave a messy debris cloud in solar orbit ‘in clear contravention of the Space Littering Act of 200913.545.’ Faction B would rather inject a gravitational virus into Earth’s core and watch the planet suck itself right out of the space-time continuum.” (Need I mention I had no idea what I meant by “the space-time continuum”?) “Faction B calls Faction A ‘juvenile’ while Faction A calls Faction B ‘a bunch of neat freaks.’”
I felt my tether running out fast. Time to drive this train wreck home. After all, I was dreaming. What’s the worst that could happen?
“Faction C, comprising an overwhelming minority of Whygons, wants to watch humanity continue to self-destruct before pulling the plug. Factions A and B call Faction C ‘disgusting voyeurs.’ Oh, and then there’s Faction D, which –”
“Enough!” cried Ohlétteh. He leaped from the log, I uncrossed my arms reflexively and found that the memory stick was poised smack above my pant pocket. I let go of the stick and it obeyed the law of gravity. I’d done it.
What else I’d done came as a shock. “I have not granted the Whygons permission to destroy Earth!” Ohlétteh howled. “I shall journey to Bingle-Dworp 677 with Kélok the North Giant and slay the Whygons utterly. Molluk the Condor will feast on their rotting flesh.”
Incredible. He’d taken my story for fact, not fiction. And so, standing on the hangman’s drop, I said gratuitously, “Better not tangle with the Whygons; they’re pretty nasty hombres. Let Whygons be Whygons.”
Under normal circumstances I’d be miffed to see a perfectly serviceable quip go zinging right over the head of its intended victim. In this case, I was counting on Ohlétteh’s unfamiliarity with modern English – despite his earlier use of “humdinger” – to prevent something really icky from happening to me.
“Your tale was sufficient; your life is spared,” he said to my surprise. “But I still require your black box.” No surprise there. I surrendered the camera and he turned to leave.
I couldn’t believe my stupid luck. I was home free. Three primo jpegs of the Miwok god Ohlétteh were etched on my memory stick, safe in my pant pocket. Life was good. Then the god stopped in mid stride and made a half turn.
“One more thing,” he said, and for the first time I saw a gleam in his grey eyes. “As your medicine men are accustomed to saying: Take off your pants.”
To read how it all began, click here for part one of this three-part column.