I looked up and the moon was so bright as to be blinding as sunlight. It was then that I felt the movement of an insect’s legs on the back of my hand. I quickly looked and saw a large black tick. At the exact moment I noticed it, it spoke to me, saying: “I wouldn’t get rid of me if I were you. You need me. I am your key. I am your guide.”
There was much emphasis on the last word. I couldn’t believe my ears but I didn’t flick it off my hand. It seemed like the tiny thing was actually looking up at me somehow. I couldn’t believe my eyes either. The tick continued, “As I said, I am your guide and you need me. I am your wish-granter. I am the one who will speak to you and I am the only one who can hear you. Do not lose me or you may be lost forever.” The deep voice seemed to come from everywhere; it surrounded me. Now I was confused and frightened. This dream was getting too weird. It was turning into a nightmare and I wanted to wake up. The tick, which had walked up onto my right sleeve, spoke again: “I am very much for real. You’ll see. I am going to grant you your wish as of this moment. If you need to talk to me, you can come back to this spot and I will probably be here – though there are no guarantees.” I could hardly see; the moonlight was blinding me. The tick was gone and I was sitting there in my sleeping bag in the early morning before sunrise.
Rather than feeling tired, I felt strangely exhilarated. I jumped up, grabbed my knapsack and started running down the path heading towards the camp. In a part of myself I actually wondered if the tic had granted me my wish. I was imagining what I would do and the fun I would have if it were so. But then I knew it couldn’t possibly be. This had to be some kind of a dream but it wasn’t a dream. It was real. When I brushed a sharp rock with my left knee, my knee bled. I touched the blood and tasted it. This was no dream! Finally I reached the campsite, expecting to see the people around the table getting ready for breakfast. But there was no one there and no one in sight. Nor were the horses there. The tents were all empty. The sleeping bags were laid out and the backpacks were in the tents but no one was there. I thought that Little Bear, in his great propensity for humor and pranks, may have gotten everyone up early and hightailed it out of there before I arrived. Maybe they had been keeping watch on me all night. This was all I could imagine anyway.
After helping myself to some cereal, I hiked the five miles out to the road where my truck was parked. It was a tiring two-hour walk on tough terrain. I expected to see some people around since it was a central location where people congregated to hike, bike or horse ride on the many mountain trails heading to unknown, wild camping places. But I saw no one at all. Not one person. That was very strange. All their vehicles were parked around but not one person could be seen. I knew Little Bear’s trickery could not extend this far. I became very uneasy and a bit afraid. I had a feeling of dread.
I got in my truck and drove all the way to the Carmel Valley road, then an hour up Carmel Valley to the Coastal Highway without seeing a single car on the road or a single human being anywhere. I turned on the radio to KGO in San Francisco and there was only static; no voice, no music, nothing. I was terrified. What I had wished for had come true! I had gotten my wish: I was the only person on the planet! My mind turned to surviving and that seemed relatively easy. Somehow the electricity was still going; I had been able to fill my truck with gas – for free. I stopped at a grocery store, walked in and took some snacks from the shelves. There was no one anywhere.
I began thinking as the last person on earth might think. It began to sink in that I was really the only person here. I thought, “Well, let’s see, what would I like to do? What would I like to explore and discover? Where would I want to settle? Would I have to protect myself from wild animals? What are the dangers of being the only person and how could I protect myself from harm?” Though feeling a bit paranoid, I also began to feel adventuresome. I would drive down to Esalen and partake of the hot springs there and then stop off at home and then go to San Francisco and explore all the hidden and magical places there. I would eat well and read books and explore and discover new things every day. But there was this sense of dread and of loneliness that was slowly creeping into my awareness. I felt as if I were being watched. The fact that I would never have another person to talk to began to weigh heavily on me. I noticed I was already talking out loud to myself as though I were someone else. I hoped this “spell” would be over and people would come back. I would give it a few days and see what happened.
I drove right down the steep driveway into Esalen. No one was there to stop me. No one was there at all. I walked down the baths and sat there looking over the crashing waves below and wondering how this had happened or even if it was real. It sure seemed absolutely real. I felt terribly lonely. There were some birds I saw in the trees and I thought that perhaps I could find some wild animals and feed them and tame them enough to be my pets, my friends. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find my dog, since she was just about human to me; I talked to her like she was anyway. I left Esalen and drove north to my home and family in Santa Cruz. They were not there. Nor was the dog. Nor were there any cars on the roads or any people whatsoever. It was so utterly bizarre and strange. Everything was so quiet and peaceful with birds chirping and the sun shining and gentle balmy breezes. There were no traffic sounds or barking dogs or vibrating basses of car radios or screaming children or inane, mundane conversations among adults or blaring TV’s. Everything was quiet and peaceful. In a sense it was perfect. I thought, “This is a veritable Garden of Eden.” But then I realize Adam and Eve got absolutely bored and had to make it so they would be forced to leave. This all had to be a dream, I told myself over and over. It couldn’t be real. And if it was, I didn’t want to be in it.
At that moment I remembered the tick and his words that I could talk to him. I thought that if I begged him, he might take back my wish and make things as they had been. It was dark now and late, but I jumped into my truck with a sense of hope and desperation, and drove straight back to Chew’s Ridge. I got my flashlight and started the long walk back to the camp and then up to the ancient fire circle. I finally arrived at my old camp site with the tarp now flapping in the wind from the top of the flat rock and the sleeping bag in a heap. I sat down exhausted and called out for the tick to come back to me. I shined my flashlight all over myself and all over the ground looking for it, but I could not see any tick. I felt hopeless. I wanted to die. I was so lonely and so empty. Putting my head in my hands, I sobbed. I decided I would just stay there and never leave that spot. I would just die right there and that would be an end to my misery; to the misery that I had brought upon myself.
I don’t know if I fell asleep or not, but I felt the movement of an insect on my cheek and awoke, being aware enough not to brush it away. I put my hand to my face and it walked onto my index finger. It was the tick. He spoke: “I didn’t you’d last very long with that wish of yours. It wasn’t a good wish, was it?” In tears, I shook my head. It continued, “Well, I’m glad you made it back to me without complications. I will undo “your wish if you like.”
“Please, please,, I beseeched the tick; with all the hope I could muster within myself. “OK, » it said. Then he walked to the end of my finger and tumbled down into the soft, dark earth at my feet.
Awaking with a start, I found myself in my sleeping bag with the tarp flapping above me. The sun had risen. In fear, I jumped up and ran as fast as I could down toward the camp, bumping and bruising myself without any notice, all the way down the rocks. My heart leapt as I first saw the horses lined up and then the smoke from the breakfast fire. I was crying; I could feel the wetness on my cheeks. Little Bear had watched me run down the rocky path and knew something had happened. I suppose it was pretty obvious. When I got to the table, he told me to eat first and then tell him. As I told him my experience, his eyes lit up again and again. When I was finished, he said, “You have strong medicine in your family. Who are your ancestors?” I told him I had a great-grandfather who was a Cherokee medicine man, and he somberly nodded. Then he said, “You yourself have strong medicine. Do you know why I say that?” I didn’t know, and he continued, “I am Little Bear. In the forests and homelands of my people, the bear is king of the forest; the strongest and most formidable creature of all. However, there is only one other creature that has the power to take a bear down. Do you know what that is?” “No,” I replied. “The tick.”