With so much time at my disposal now, I can't help but snicker at the irony of my situation. My name is Nick McKenna. I am the impetuous one. I am the one who throws caution to the wind, stares danger directly in its tempting eyes, taunts it, and turns away its perilous consequences time and time again. Touché, my friend. Or fiend. I'm not sure which one it is now. I guess it depends upon how much pain medication is coursing through my system at the time. Its numbing effects help more than my physical ailments.
As impulsive and unfettered as I used to be, I still had a plan. I guess that was the paradoxical part. I was a reckless adrenaline seeking junkie with a well laid strategy for my future. Every single part of it. Career. Financial. Relationship.
Quicker than radioactive gamma rays bombarding matter, those intentions vaporized into a state of maximum entropy. Disorder. Chaos.
I have launched myself from a perfectly airworthy plane as a skydiver. I have soared above the ground on a motorbike while smatterings of mud obscured the view through my eye shield. I have skied ahead of an avalanche, perilously close to the advancing columns of snow that attempted to reach out and pull me into its powdery grave.
I scoffed at each of these unsuccessful attempts to ruin me, turning each one to the side with a casual arrogance. Instead, I met my match atop a docile elephant on a grassy savannah somewhere in the middle of Africa.
Christine and I thought it was the perfect opportunity. We were both between semesters in pursuit of a medical degree. Preparing to begin our internships, she would be at the local pediatrician's office, while I would be at the university hospital. We had met in the first year biochemistry class required for all new medical students. The class name proved to be rather serendipitous as the chemistry between us was magnetic.
We may have gone in different directions as far as our medical specialties were concerned, but we had come together in every other facet of our lives. Like two atoms of oxygen, we bonded covalently, sharing everything between us. We're engaged to be married once we complete school. I think. There's no ring or date, just an unspoken promise between two twenty-something medical students in love.
The impromptu vacation to the African continent was a perfect middle ground for the two of us. Christine needed an escape into the natural world. She was always the one that needed to immerse herself inside the cloak of a forest, or experience the unbounded beauty and awe of the open sea. This expedition was a new adventure in her quest to better converse with Mother Nature.
I obtained my requisite stimulation and adrenaline rush through observation of the diverse wildlife. Given the opportunity to watch the hunter pursue the prey was more than enticing enough for me. I was able to watch the circle of life unfurl before my eyes.
There were only a few documented dangers on the trip, and most of those were related to the medical maladies that we were at risk of contracting from disease carrying insects in the area. Both of us had received all the precautionary immunizations. We were more prepared than I thought we needed to be. Christine was always good that way, making sure we had our bases covered before diving into something haphazardly, as I was prone to do on most occasions.
There were a few passing reminders and informal warnings about respecting the wildlife and not intruding on their personal space. I half expected the tour guide to ask that we keep our hands, arms, and legs inside the elephant at all times while it was in motion. There was no lap belt even though his instructions instinctively caused me to look for one. The makeshift bamboo cage strapped around the elephant's torso was more comfortable than it looked. If it weren't for the scent of freshly deposited dung below my carrier, I could have closed my eyes and imagined myself boarding a ride at Disney World.
I had a sort of reverence for the wildlife that I would have the privilege of seeing function in their natural habitat. I feared the wild animals roaming the plains in a respectful manner. I was never under the impression that I would need to adopt that same awareness towards the domesticated animals that were carrying us on their backs.
We saw it all. Zebras. Gazelles. Lions. Cheetahs. Damn, that name still makes me cringe when I hear it. Cheetah. She wasn't supposed to be as rogue as she acted. Maybe she was in a protective mode because her cubs were nestled in a nearby pocket of waist high grass that was hidden from our view. Perhaps she sensed my adventurous spirit and was doing her best to impress me. Or challenge me. Whatever it was, the way she darted for the elephant that dwarfed her was unprecedented.
The elephant had let out a howl, surprised by the imminent attack, and moved suddenly in what can only be described as an act of self-defense. It was all a blur. I heard the tour guide shouting commands. Whether those directives were to me or the elephant, I could not tell. The thick accent that he fought to curtail in an effort to be better understood vanished in the face of panic.
Christine was on the elephant behind me. I heard her let out a scream. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, based upon the eventual outcome of those few frantic moments, I knew that her fate would not be the same as mine.
I remembered flying through the air once again. There was no time to prepare. There were no bicycle wheels to land upon. There was no parachute to deploy at the last second. The last thing I remembered was the taste of clay-like soil in my mouth before everything went black.
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