The Message

As Told by Doc Forgey
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Excerpted from Campfire Tales by William Forgey, M.D.

At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the father of one of my scouts got himself into trouble. This is an area that has a lot of nice sandy soil, beautiful pine trees—it is also an area of swamps. And, in those swamps, one has to be careful and remain alert as to what he is doing. You should not become too mesmerized by walking and daydreaming, by enjoying a walk in the woods without maintaining at least a certain amount of vigilance.

This particular hunter was very smart because when he left for a pheasant hunt he told people where he was going and when he would be returning. He went alone, which always increases the risk one might run when traveling in the swamps, but at least he notified others of his planned whereabouts.

A long day hiking in the hot, North Carolina sun tends to exhaust a person. Enjoying the beautiful countryside at the same time also lulls one into a comfortable, mechanical stride that minimizes the effort. He was walking along, paying no attention to where he was going. As he was moving, he failed to notice that he was entering a depression, a shallow, valley-like area. Suddenly, something moved catching his eye and jarring him to reality!

What moved? To his astonishment it was a snake at his feet, not just a snake slithering away from him, but a sudden excitement and rippling movement of dozens of snakes, all Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, lying virtually on top of each other, spread all throughout the depression area and surrounding him on all sides!

Reacting with instinct, he gave a leap upon a stump that was moldering in the ground next to him. He stared in horror at the writhing mass of snakes, all deadly poisonous and now all awake and active—crawling over each other, hissing, and even striking at each other. The heat in this depressed area was oppressive. But fear more than the heat made the sweat stream down his face. He had his .410 shotgun with him, but he knew that he did not have enough shells to clear his way through this mass of snakes.

As he stood there staring in fascination looking all about him, the movement of the snakes gradually quieted down. They again became dormant—fewer and fewer of them seemed to have noticed the intrusion upon their resting place. He could not believe what had happened. His heart was still pounding at the thought of his narrow escape and with apprehension about his present situation. He could not understand how he walked into the middle of this mess without being bitten! But now here he was—stuck in the middle of a swampy depression, surrounded by poisonous snakes, any one of which could possibly kill him, or at least cause terrible injury.

At least they were not attempting to climb up the stump to get him. But if noise and excitement seemed to have left this valley, the heat had not. Standing there on the stump, the heat seemed more and more oppressive. Afraid to move a muscle for fear of arousing the snakes, the hunter wisely stood as motionless as possible. He hoped that the snakes would leave this area when the day cooled down towards evening. Perhaps then he could find a pathway out of this mess.

The minutes passed like hours, slowly—almost imperceptibly. The heat and sweating added to the thirst of his earlier activity. His mouth was parched, his legs fatigued. His only hope was that these snakes would leave the valley after it cooled. Perhaps they would become fearful of owls or other creatures of the night—if only he could just remain perched where he was until nightfall.

Perching on a stump is never easy. In this case it was sheer torture. It seemed as if the sun would never lower, that the day would never cool.

SUDDENLY, a clatter and hissing snapped him awake! His shotgun had fallen from his sweaty grasp! While this commotion continued for a few minutes, the heat of the afternoon soon caused it to slow down. Soon the only sound was the occasional buzz of a fly, the occasional slither or hiss of a restless snake.

But finally, the imperceptible movement of the sun, lower and lower towards the horizon, did make a difference. It became cooler and more tolerable, but this dimming of the sun's rays caused a stir throughout the depression. The snakes were becoming more active, they were moving in anticipation of feeding—more at ease in the cooler evening temperatures!

The hunter stared in horror as the snakes raised their heads, hissing at each other. His skin crawled whenever some of the nearby snakes seemed to notice the stump, when their actions seemed to indicate an interest in his position. His escape at night now seemed in doubt.

Darkness finally came. He had stood on that stump as long as he possibly could. He was dehydrated. He was exhausted. The snakes were still twined all around the stump and escape had become impossible. There was no moon. The stars seemed distant and unfriendly. If he stared at one too long, it seemed to move—almost as if it wanted to pull him off that stump!

And that stump. His feet were now made sore by every lump and irregularity on it. The pain did not stop at his feet. It traveled up his legs making every muscle in his body ache.


A shout, a scream broke the silence of the night! The noise startled him awake—almost startled him off the log. (If the above is handled properly, when you scream, everyone at the campfire will think that he has fallen off the log, hence the scream). Bright lights shined in his face, making it impossible to see in the surrounding darkness!

With a startle he realized that his wait was over—a whole group of rescuers had found him, had shouted to him and turned their lights upon him. Calling encouragement to him, they carefully started shooting the snakes that were crawling near their position or along the pathway they had chosen to reach the stump. He was saved—saved because he had left a message where he could be found!

©Article copyright ICS Books Inc. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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