The Snake Lady lived high on a sinuous ridge, her lair hidden by day but illuminated at night by bright lights. The background hills looked straight out of the Stone Age, but a shiny road wound through them, lined by poles bearing a power line.
“I reckon we should pay her a visit and find out where this wave is,” Robert said, gazing up at the glowing bubble of light high above. The Bajo Baji was anchored in a small bay at the foot of the ridge, and the wave he referred to was Albert Taylor’s Mystical Wave of Legend that we had not found. We were starting to think it was a hoax.
“How do we get up there?” Steve asked without looking up from the card game he was playing on his cell phone. There was a gap in the 3G cell phone tower coverage. He’d been a full day without Internet. These card games were his methadone to stave off withdrawals.
“There’s a trail from the beach,” Murray said. A few canoes and fishing huts huddled under the front rank of coconut palms, catching the last rays of the sunset afterglow.
“One heck of a long steep hike,” Steve said, his fingers tapping away as if they had an intelligence of their own at their tips. “Now if there was snow, I’d haul my snowboard gear all the way up to the top.” Steve’s a snowboarding fanatic.
“Albert also says she gets a cell phone signal up there,” I said. “A lot of backpackers trek to her place to use it.”
Steve blinked, his ears pricked with sudden sharp interest. “Oh, yeah?”
“Albert says we should her bring a gift,” I said.
We all glanced at young Clayton, seated in the corner of the boat’s salon and doodling his crayons on his art pad. He stopped in mid-draw, glancing at us in alarm. “Not me,” he said. “I’m too scrawny. I’m married.”
Robert said, “We’ll give her a couple fish.” It’d been a good day of fishing if not surfing.
So early the next morning, an entourage of Robert, Steve, Clayton, Murray and Mike took the dinghy to the beach, bearing a cooler of fish.
I did not go. I had bad feelings about this and a good book to read. Tim Watts did not go, either. Being a man of rampant action, he went kiting instead.
The boys returned hours later, stumbling through the palms and onto the beach, boarding the ship in a dazed trance. Glazed with sweat, they sat in the salon’s air-conditioned comfort in silence, sipping chilled drinks.
I put down my book. “So?”
“The horror, the horror,” Clayton whispered.
“She told us where the wave is,” Robert said.
“She told us how to find it,” Murray said. “It’s complicated”
“Through worm-holes and space-time gaps,” Steve added.
“She had a couple surfboards on her porch,” Murray said. “Left by surfers passing through.”
“Or maybe they ended up in her place for good,” Clayton murmured. He seemed distraught, his perpetual cheer on tilt.
“I wonder if she could sell a few of my boards,” Murray said. Constantly looking for ways to grow his biz.
“But she didn’t want us to leave,” Robert continued. “She wanted to keep us. Fatten him up,” he said, nodding at Clayton.
“You boys were dicking around,” Mike said. “Good thing I got us out of there.”
“She didn’t like that,” Robert said. “And Steve, she didn’t like you not paying her any attention. You didn’t look up once from your phone.”
“The Internet signal was good,” Steve protested. “I had a lot of posts and messages to catch up on.”
Robert frowned. “When we were leaving, she said something strange. She said be careful about smashing into things at high speed.”
“A curse,” Clayton whispered.
Tim chuckled his patented amused and sardonic Wattsian chuckle. “Come on, guys. Snap out of it. Action! Let’s go find this wave.”
And find it we did. I won’t tell you how. I’m not sure I could tell you. Aquatic blue birds, swooping up from deep water, double-overhead and smooth. Mike was in a froth to get out there but Murray, from wisdom born of experience, advised us to sit in the dinghy and watch for a while. (Sidelined by shoulder operations, I was going to be watching the whole session). Good advice, because it soon became clear that there was a deadly trap. If you got caught inside, you had one narrow tiny niche of a chance to paddle through the section soup before you were smashed and splattered onto an outcrop of rocky fangs. This caught inside business happened to Tim, and even though he hadn’t gone to see the Snake Lady, for a tense minute I thought he’d been cursed at a distance and was going to get impaled. Smashed into a hard thing at high speed. But he knows the sea as well as Murray, does Tim, and floated on his board just off the beach for a lull and then paddled like hell.
Later, I asked Clayton to draw a picture of the Snake Lady. That image has since unfortunately been lost, but it was something like this:
“Mate,” Robert complained, “she didn’t look like that at all. She was gorgeous.”
“That is true,” Steve said, “but she was freakin scary.”
From what I gathered, when she was a young woman, an anthropologist had swooped her up from her village near the ridge and carried her off to Europe, where she soon gained fame as mentalist and fortune-teller and esoteric magician, performing astonishing feats of legerdemain that led to her to stardom in Las Vegas.
What brought her back to that ridge in the wild southern waters of Eastern Indonesia, I don’t know. But once one has traveled and tasted the world, the lure of home, where one was born, rises strong. Maybe that was it. Or maybe she was hiding out from certain underworld folks who hadn’t taken kindly to her vanishing a few million dollars (or so went one story I later heard).
The swell died. We moved on, into the less magical waters of a certain well-known Bay, with a small village homestay for surfers. The Snake Lady no longer dominated our thoughts and conversation. The curse? What curse? We had an excellent wave and a new swell to surf.
And now, a word from your blog correspondent, a strictly commercial and crass and tacky appeal for you to click on the sidebar photo for a peek at my novel Bones of the Dark Moon. I have had many people come up to me and say “I loved your book, a friend lent it to me.” I am happy and pleased they enjoyed the book, but an author makes his or pittance from royalties, and not from lending. Buy copies for your relatives and friends and enemies. In other words, I am blatantly trying to guilt trip you into buying my book. Help motivate me to write a sequel.