Oct

19

The Cistern, from Bo Keely

October 19, 2016 |

 The cistern crouched beneath the creaking windmill in a slight breeze. It was a hot day out from Slab City, CA. An ancient lock prevented my refreshment.

An old desert lock is a cue to look for a 'dummy' latch because who keeps the key so long? The strap hinge on the cistern cover was bolted such that its nuts hand screwed loose!

The concrete cistern itself measured 10'x10' and who knows how deep it falls into the ground?

I lifted the 100-pound steel cover on its rusty hinge with a full body effort and peered down… The inside was a dripping cement cell, measuring 10'x10' and 6' deep with two feet of water at the bottom.

A pink stick – no, a 4.5' racer snake! had crawled in a crack of the cistern top and rested with its head on a protruding inch of rebar, while the rest of its slender body dangled underwater. The lifeless eyes were enlarged blue marbles like a Halloween mask. The thirsty serpent could have been there for weeks, as even October is a thirsty month.

I dropped a pebble and it sprang to life, swimming the perimeter of the cell again and again.

How to get it out, so I could go in for a drink and dunk? I talked to the snake bouncing my voice off the water for a few minutes, and as it calmed, reached and lowered a branch under its head and gently lifted it out onto the concrete top. Snakes don't have eyelids to blink; this one stared for a few seconds, and then slithered across the concrete top onto an overhanging limb, stretched out and air dried.

I jumped into the cement tank and splashed like a gleeful kid, and drank heartily.

In a few minutes, it was time to go and I peered up at the head high opening. Uh oh. I reached up but couldn't drag myself out the tank. So, I sat back down in the water and looked up through the 3' square at the snake on the branch.

We had traded positions. I yelled but received only echoes.

The significant thing at the moment that distinguished me from the snake was my shorts. I removed and stuffed them into a 3" opening in a side wall for a drain pipe that went off underground, and limited the water's rise.

In twenty minutes the water level climbed a half-inch. I could float to the ceiling in 32 hours, as long as the breeze kept up.

The water dripped from the hard-wearing windmill above into the cistern top.

The snake slithered off, and I was alone for the longest time. As the water rose, my eyes adapted to the dim and I spotted the rebar that had been the snake's hard pillow for so many days. I stood, and stuck one boot on it, and with the ceiling opening near its side wall, could boost myself up and out the watery crypt.

But the first step was to string an 8' length of abandoned hose in one corner of the cistern up from the water to the crack in the top that the snake had entered, and out into the sunlight.

Then with a big effort I leaped out.

Now I sip the memories of my escape from the cistern.


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1 Comment so far

  1. marion on October 23, 2016 12:18 pm

    Wish I were a man; then i could be as daring solo as Bo, and all my writings covered with the same reverence.

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