Rock, Rattle and Roll by Stareagle

Chapter 1

"Daddy, I have to go now, I can't wait"

"Jeremy, we'll be home in a little while, can't you…"

"Paul, pull over, it will just take a moment."

The door slammed shut as the child took off from the car, running about 10 feet away. Noticing a curious mound in the otherwise flat terrain, he aimed for it, with relief. He watched in fascination as the mound suddenly became dotted with moving spots, moving a few steps closer as he finished his business. Suddenly swarms of the moving spots made their way toward him, sparking his curiosity. He leaned to get a better look, as the edge of the moving finally reached him, realizing he had never seen ants like this. Impulsively, he put his finger down to capture one and several climbed aboard the digit. Bringing it closer to his face, he didn't notice several had climbed on his shoe, making their way up his leg until he felt a stinging sensation on his finger. Shaking his hand in surprise, he took a step to squash them, and was shocked as the dots started to climb on his bare leg, stinging as he went.

"Jeremy, hurry up!" exclaimed his mother as he turned to run back to the car, shaking his feet in an awkward frantic dance. "Stop fooling around, let's get… Jeremy, what?"

His howl of pain shocked her into action, springing from the car to the wailing child, scooping him into her arms. Turning to return she was aware of painful biting sensations as dots from the child moved to her bare arms. Meanwhile, Rocky, the family dog had escaped through open door, bounding up to them and yipping in excitement.

"Rocky, come…" shouted Paul in frustration as he opened his door in frustration, and then alarm as he realized something was wrong. Barely hold the screaming squirming child, his wife was trying to swat at something on Jeremy and then herself as she turned to run back to the car. Rocky's playful barks turned into yelps of pain as he instinctively sat to scratch, and then leaped up frantically shaking his body.

"Betty what the hell?" and now he realized they had tiny little ants on their arms and legs. Jeremy's face was getting red, and blotchy little spots were forming on his arms and legs. Ignoring Rocky's frantic yelps, he rushed to meet his wife and son, grabbing him as she finally lost her grip. The little dots climbed to his wrist and then he understood. They ran back to the car, and he threw the child and then his wife in through the open door, slamming it behind them. Brushing the few insects that had clung to him off, he raced to his side, slammed the car in gear letting the inertia of the forward motion close the door.

Sometimes he really enjoyed being out of the office. Today had been one of those days- a chance to work with NV State Entomologist, and Agriculturalist, on the new strain of fire ants that had claimed the life of a family dog and disrupted the social plans of several visitors to Lake Mead's shores. The potency of the new strain was frightening. The mound they found on the north side of Lake Mead had not been that large, but the numbers and aggressiveness of these ants had been intense. Jay was going to email the results of his tests, but it was clear that a new strain was evolving, meaner than its predecessor. Gil hoped the new strain would never make its way to more populated areas, shuddering to think what such ants would do to a child or even an adult who unwittingly disturbed the innocuous looking mound. Fire ants were not natives to the desert; he was sure the new strain had been deliberately transported to the area but baffled by the intent.

Glancing at the dashboard clock, he realized he was going to be cutting it close to get to work on time tonight. The cutoff to 147 would save him miles even though he couldn't go as fast, but the traffic would be minimal, so he opted for the shortcut. The desert beauty and solitude was as soothing as the classical piano music on his CD. Cresting a slight rise, he focused on the lights of Vegas, glimmering in the distance, belatedly noticing the shadow of a wash on the right side. The front tire barely caught the edge as he swung the steering wheel to the left, but the rear tire thumped a little more deeply into it – jarring the vehicle and spiking an adrenaline rush. A few moments later, the tug of the wheel and thud – thud – thud from the rear informed him the right rear tire had not fared well in the encounter.

Pulling to the far side of the narrow apron on the road, he stopped to survey the damage. "Damn! Where's Warrick when I need him?" He grumbled, realizing that the spare was going to be required. Looking in the rear of the packed Denali, he gave an exasperated sigh and started unloading his kit and several boxes of supplies he had picked up earlier that day in order to access the jack and the spare. Glancing again at the dashboard clock, he realized he was going to be late and reached for his cell. "Damn…. No reception?" Well at least Catherine was on tonight too, and would hand out assignments if he were more than 15 minutes overdue.

Giving a frustrated impatient tug, the spare sprang suddenly from his grip, bouncing up into his right hand jamming his index finger. Bouncing on the pavement, it rolled off the side of the road, bouncing for another 20 feet before flopping along side of a large rock. Thoroughly disgusted and grabbing his throbbing finger, Gil didn't hesitate to hop down off the apron and skirt the wash, which had claimed the edge of the road and contributed to his misfortune. Stomping petulantly, grumbling about time and manual labor, he leaned over to reach for the center of the tire with his left hand, while using the right middle finger to keep his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

Perhaps that habitual gesture obscured just enough of his peripheral vision that he didn't detect the movement. Excruciating pain shot through his left arm- dead center and two inches below the crease of his elbow, and then again on the inside of his left thigh. He rolled to the left, away from the unseen assailant as the supporting left leg collapsed. He never heard the rattle; never saw that movement until it was too late. The fall knocked the wind out of him; his racing heart and mind registered the danger… as the burning sensation increased and seemed to travel to his shoulder. "Must have hit the vein or artery," he mused in abstraction as he froze, fearing another strike. Mojave Rattler venom was a neurotoxin, more dangerous than that of its relative the Western Diamondback. Mojave bites, usually painless, lulled one into a false sense of security. But the Western Diamondback bite was excruciating and dangerous in its own right.

Finally he resumed control of his shallow breathing, trying to assess the danger while lying unnaturally still in an uncomfortable position. Desert Survival First Aid flashed through his mind as he considered his situation. "Keep the patient calm, the affected extremity below the level of the heart. Avoid unnecessary exertion, treat for shock, and get patient to a doctor immediately." Well that was going to be a problem. Here he was a good 20 feet from the road, with a slightly uphill climb over some rough terrain with a cell phone in a dead zone and a disabled vehicle. The rattler had probably moved away, attacking because of the thunderous vibrations of a bouncing tire and his careless stomping. But… he wasn't sure enough to venture a movement. Slowly regulating his breathing, he was aware of the toxic sensations coursing through his body as the venom disrupted cell and platelet function. He felt an ache in the underarm lymph nodes starting.

On his back, gazing up at the star-filled sky, he tried to make himself more comfortable with a minimum of movement as he contemplated his options. They were limited. At worst, the toxin could kill him if left untreated for more than twelve hours. If he tried to move closer to the road, exertion would decrease that time, and he still couldn't drive. Susan and Jeff had left ahead of him. Would someone else come by in time? The short cut was well used, but the frequency of travelers at this time of night was an unknown.

When he was 5 minutes late, he knew Catherine would try his cell. By ten minutes, Sara would probably try it too. Maybe she would be concerned enough by the time he was 15 minutes late to call Jay or Susan. They would realize something was wrong and send out a search party if he was more than a half-hour late without calling. That scenario was a long shot, not to mention the likelihood of anyone thinking he'd be taking this road.

A rubbery metallic taste and sense of constriction by shirt sleeve and pant leg confirmed that the swelling of the bite zones in the extremities was already underway. He examined his emotions. Sara's image filled his mind, as he faced the very real possibility of never seeing her again. A sense of sadness and regret brought tears to his eyes that physical pain could not- a startling realization.