domingo, 10 de junho de 2012

That night we were camped somewhere in the Klamath National Forest. It felt like some of my strength had somehow returned, and for a while, in camp, I was sure that the mystery bug was finished with its business inside of me, and yet I could not be too sure. It was a cool, clear evening in the high country. Allison fired the stove while I traipsed across a rocky finger leading me out into a night-black lake. I decided to filter some water from the shallows. Just as I'd done hundreds of times before, I dropped the intake tube — attached to a floatation device — into the water and started pumping. Suddenly, the water near the lake shore stirred and frothed with motion; a dozen salamanders, black, flat, and staring, moved across the lake. In silent motion the six-inch shadow people surrounded my filter and closed in on it, the circle growing smaller.

The first one, with an orange belly, swam forward and kissed the filter's intake valve in an open-mouthed, sleazy way. Then, to my surprise, a second salamander rose up, knocked the first salamander out of the way, and mounted my filter's intake tube, grabbing onto the flotation sponge with all fours and thrusting itself right into it. After a while it let go and floated back into the pond. Salamanders kept bubbling up to take the previous one’s place. I'm not naive. I knew what was really going on here. The salamanders were attempting intercourse with my water filter or using it as part of a group masturbation ritual. I was not about to sit back and let them get away with it. "Stop it!" I roared at the salamanders, but they would not listen. In a savage gesture, I yanked the intake tube as hard as I could and sent the salamanders flying backward into the deep — "Fuck off!" — but they kept coming back for more. Soon the lake shallows squirmed in Caligula contortions, salamander limbs and torsos thrashing and splashing as they mounted my water filter again and again. Clearly, this was not a battle I was going to win. It was time to retreat to my campsite.

I had just enough water to get us through the night and the next day, but now it was cloudy and discolored. Perhaps it was the effect of the tiny bubbles in the water. Still, I could not help but wonder what, exactly, was floating around in our water supply. I ran back to camp, jabbering that our water filter had just been gang-raped by amphibians, but Allison did not believe me, nor did she believe it was possible for salamander jism to find its way into our water supply. But how could she know for sure?

Salamanders do produce sperm, and certain species engage in, and enjoy, sexual intercourse, although, technically, it’s outer-course, because the males lack penises. As part of their mating ritual, the male straddles his salamander girlfriend, grabs hold of her pelvis, and releases a goopy pile of spermatophores, which the female stuffs into her cloacal opening, also known as a "vent". I can't say which variety of salamander released its sour payload into my filter. All I know is that the water, even when blended with Gatorade powder, was sticky and bitter that night. I drank a lot of it anyhow because I was very thirsty. Allison tried to reassure me. "It’s the food itself that tastes so bad", she said. "The bitterness comes from the food, not the water". But I woke up the next day feeling sick, overcome, vomitous, staggering, barely able to move, hallucinating, out of my mind. Trees sprouted legs and surrounded me in a tight circle.

The Pain People were taking over, closing in on me, and now there was no way out.



Dan White, The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind — and Almost Found Myself — on the Pacific Crest Trail, Harper Collins, 2008.