Bangkok

 

It’s only my second time on a plane…and I’m buckled in for 16 hours. I have a light backpack of clothes in the belly of this beast, 600 books on my Kindle and this journal. Not much else.

The only other flight was from Detroit, Michigan to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Some kind of summer program for “at risk” youth. A week eating quinoa wasn’t going to keep us from the risks we faced every day, but poor kids don’t say no to free vacations.

At first the big skies and bare cliffs Out West scared the crap out of me. Used to Michigan’s low clouds and tree coverage, it felt like someone ripped off the roof and exposed us directly to the wrath of the universe. After a couple days I loved it though. The freedom to run a horse across a field without any street signs or traffic lights. Seeing stars instead of the 711’s orange glow in the night sky. I felt small and significant at the same time. Coming home sucked.

I guess I’m chasing that feeling. With a round-the world ticket and Aunt Mary’s “estate” in my bank account. I’ve got it figured out- if I average $120 a day (Asia days much cheaper than Europe days) I can be out for an entire year. See ya never Battle Creek.

I got the window so I could see the Pacific. I read once the Pacific Ocean has 75,000 volcanoes. I hope I see at least one. The joker in the middle seat is gorgeous and I’m trying not to look. He passed out right away and I’m going to have to wake him up soon to pee. Should I shove my crotch or my ass in his face? These are Coach Choices.

Damn, he’s cute. Long, legs all scrunched up in the tiny seat. Eyelashes curled into a perfect semi-circle, like the smile on an emoji. Honey skin, and I caught a flash of greenish eyes while he settled in. Pile of nappy curls, bleached at the tips, either from sun and surf…or a kit. I snort, realizing my opinion of him will change entirely depending on which one it is.

I also am realizing I might think he’s cute cause he kinda looks like me, like we could be cousins. Ok I really have to pee, but waking people up is so intimate. Good morning baby, how’d you sleep? Focus on the spray of blackheads on his big nose and the stream of drool.

Turns out his name is Gabriel. His t-shirt was crazy soft. And I went Crotch First. We talked for a long time after I got back, shared a couple beers. He’s passed out again. Eee! Good start.

I’ve never felt jet lag before. Puke. It’s all greasy and nauseous and headachy. Gabe followed me through customs. He’s Gabe now, and his mother is Irish, and his dad is black (from England black), he loves papaya, the scar on his wrist is from a dog attack and is visiting Thailand for a “vacay”. It was a long flight. And his accent is adorable.

“That’s a blank book you’ve got there,” he said when they stamped my new passport.

I didn’t hear that stamp, I felt it. CLunk. My first country. Grinning, I told him I lost my last passport.

He was in a big rush at baggage claim. I watched/didn’t watch as he grabbed his light bag. He took off with a long stride. Narrow hips, jeans barely hanging on, slightly duckfooted. Fuck it.

“Want to share a cab?” I nearly shouted.

He stopped. “That’s…not a good idea.”

“Oh.” Well fuck you too, Friend.

“I mean, sure, come on. Bangkok is intense your first time. Let’s get you to the hostel district, that’s where I’m headed.”

Intense is the right word. Stepping outside the airport, mid-day humidity and heat instantly made my armpits prickle. The chaos of motorbikes, shouting people, bright signs, and intense smog bounced around my foggy brain, trying to register. I couldn’t move, because I couldn’t compute. There was foreign, and then there was this.

Gabe grabbed my hand, not noticing my sweaty shock. We piled into a cab and joined the river of honking traffic. I couldn’t stop staring at the power lines. Hundreds of power lines, running all crazy back and forth across the street. What kind of system was that? What happened if one fell? All my mental preparation to be an impartial observer, a blank slate, absorbing new cultures without judgement, flew out that cab window. This place was loud, smelly and an electrical fire disaster waiting to happen! WAS THAT A BABY RIDING A MOTORCYCLE?! Sweet Christ.

We got out at Khao San Road, which Gabe explained was the place all the backpackers hang out in transition to somewhere better. By this point I think he realized I was a little out of it, mostly clued in by the fact that I sat down on the curb, retched a couple times, and almost passed out. Observant, this guy. He stationed me at an open-air bar in front of the world’s most refreshing box fan and told me to eat something. I groggily watched as he crossed the street, went into a halfway decent hotel and exchanged high fives with a Chinese man in the lobby.

I ordered a green curry and a beer. I know. It should have been water. But…it was vacay. The curry shocked me back to reality a bit. Creamy, crunchy, sweet and savory at the same time, I didn’t know food could be that many things at once. I ordered another plate before the first one was gone. And another beer. Gabe came back and offered to help me find a room. Good thing too, because when I stood up, I couldn’t stand up.

He sighed and one-shouldered my pack for me, scooping the other arm across my sweat-soaked back. I wasn’t so out of it that my ears didn’t prick up nervously when the receptionist at the shoddy hostel next door asked if the room was for one or two.

“One,” Gabe said firmly.

Fine, I think you’re kinda sad too, Gabe. Get your soft and slightly calloused hands off me.

I sank gratefully onto the abused cot in the small room.

“Drink some water before you pass out,” he said, tossing me a giant plastic bottle. “And if you’re conscious later, my friends and I will be at Brick Bar at the end of the strip. Come by,” he stopped at the door. “And if you go out alone…don’t drink too much ok? There’s a lot of sketchy guys around here.”

Thanks Gabe, I don’t know anything about taking care of myself. Still it was kinda sweet.

Have you ever woken up in a panic, thinking you had forgotten something incredibly important, like, to breathe? I could somehow feel how far I was from home, mentally running down a rosary that ticked every mile, and it was unending. Also, so thirsty. So, so thirsty.

Gratefully chugging Gabe’s water, I considered my options. My phone said it was 10:30 p.m. I could read (hide) in my room and wait for the train to Chang Mai tomorrow at noon. I read once about the Santika nightclub fire here. 66 people died and they were so crisped it took a week to identify all the bodies. I should really just chill out and rest.

The club was loud and blue. Gabe was sprawled across a low couch with a bunch of other hipster guys. Young Thai women in fuck-me heels floated around them hopefully. Ew.

He hopped up right away when he saw me, and settled me in his spot, shooing away a bro who looked like Scooby Doo with a man bun, then squeezing in next to me. He smelled like pot and sweat and curry. In a good way. He passed me a bucket with multiple straws.

“Knockoff Thai Red Bull, Coke, and vodka. A local favorite. It’s rocket fuel for a party.”

It tasted like bubble gum and bum piss. Wanting to play it slightly cooler than I had that afternoon, I sipped a beer from the iced bucket on the table instead. Gabe slid a long arm across my shoulders. Guess somebody warmed up from not wanting to share a cab. I felt a mix of annoyance at pretty much being peed on to mark his turf from the other guys, and a tug of excitement at the soft hairs on my bare skin. Doesn’t take much to make a girl feel special, guys.

We kissed in line for the bathroom. In the close, dark hallway he gently lifted my chin and gave me a quick graze with his lips, then looked at me to see what I thought. Fuck it, is what I thought. I did what I had wanted to do for 16 hours on the plane and tugged one of his curls straight. Then I pulled his face down to mine and took it slow. We lost our place in line for the squatter toilets.

The night was still balls hot as we made our way back to his hotel. He stumbled a little dodging the crush of wasted 20-somethings on the street. At 1:00 a.m. the already busy road was a sea of tank tops, tattoos, sloshing Singha beers and hopeful whores.

Gabe grabbed my arm and pulled me into an alley. He pushed me against the crumbling wall roughly and kissed me softly. His breath started coming faster as he ran his hands up and down my waist, barely brushing the bottom of my breasts with his thumbs. I was having a little trouble breathing too, damn he was good. His mouth insistent on mine, I could feel him hard against my leg and it was definitely worth a grope.

“What the hell?” I yelled, whipping my hand out of his pants. Was there a bunch of a bubble wrap around his dick? Was it wrapped in Pillsbury dough?! What WAS that?

At the same time he gasped again, and hurled all over the alley. It smelled like bubble gum and bum piss.

I seriously considered running away, locking my hostel door and seeing if there was an earlier train out of this hellhole. Then I remembered how good his water tasted when I woke up. Dammit.

The First Time

Gabe was heavier than he looked. Sweating through my tank top (again), I finally got him into bed. I forced him to drink some water and turned him on his side before he passed out for good. Aunt Mary’s first husband died from vomit asphyxiation. No one was sad about it though.

The right thing to do was put a wastebasket by his head and leave.

I stealthily pulled down his worn cargo shorts and Lucky boxers. What the fuck was going on with his dick? It had all kinds of extra. I couldn’t see the head, there was like…a skin blanket all around it. It looked like a supersized sausage roll. I stared for a long time.I guess when you only have sex with one guy since you were 13, you don’t know everything about everything.

He woke up when the sun hit his joyful little eyelashes. My clock all messed up, I was reading his paperback copy of Alex Garland’s The Beach. The Beach, in Thailand? So freakin’ basic Gabe.  I read once that Garland was 23 like me when he started writing the book. If Gabe gives me a map and slits his wrists, I will shove it down his corpse throat and never look back.

Instead he moaned weakly and blinked. In the bright light it turned out only one of his eyes was celery green. The other was hazel.

He jumped and scrambled at sheets when he spotted me cross-legged at the end of his bed.

“Shit! Shit you scared me. What are you doing here?”

Making sure you don’t choke on your own vomit, asshole. And visually molesting you.

“You got pretty sick, so I wanted to be sure you were ok.” I said, getting up to leave. I saw the flashbulbs of memory pop one by one in front of his eyes…and could tell when the last one hit with a flinch.

“Oh. Oh man. I’m sorry. Wait, shit. Let me…like…clean up and get you breakfast or something.”

“That’s ok, I have a noon train I gotta get.”

“No wait, I’ll be two seconds.”

He came out of the bathroom much more collected, with a white towel barely hanging on to his cut hips and knife-flat stomach, smelling like man soap. This guy. Not his first rodeo.

He sat down next to me on the bed and picked up the book.

“This book is crazy. You have to read it while you’re here. If you like to read, I mean.”

Kissing shut him up.

I expected things to go fast and got embarrassed when he took my hand away and said, “It’s only 7 a.m. We have four hours till you have to leave. Let me look at you.”

He stripped off my already grubby tank top (I had brought three for a year) and clicked open my bra with a snap. My breasts are good. Especially the right one. He inhaled slowly and laid me back on the bed. I felt them spread out and tickle the sides of my arms. The sun streak that lit his mismatched eyes was warm across them.

He knelt at the side of the bed and slowly ran the tip of his middle finger from top to bottom. The dark nipple reacted right away and I saw the tiny hairs around it stand straight up in the sunlight. Quick as a fish he licked both nipples with a single swipe, making me gasp, then stood up and turned on the overhead fan. The blades started a slow spin, kicking cool air onto the wetness.

He stretched out beside me and worked my thin cotton skirt off. I couldn’t help leaning in to him, but he held me firmly apart, stroking my waist and kissing my neck, gradually working down to fasten his wide mouth on the left nipple. Well that one’s pretty good too I guess.

I had only been naked in front of one man. Packing practical/pretty underwear, I thought I’d be nervous the first time someone else saw me. Instead Gabe’s gentle stroking, intense stare, short breath and giant hardon made me feel totally comfortable, in control and sexy as hell.

His tongue followed the curve of my waist, replacing his mouth with a gently pinching hand on my breast. I tried to hold still, as his tight grip on my shoulder and thigh told me to. Still I couldn’t help arching and quivering as his light kisses moved over my thin underwear. His long pink tongue slipped between the fabric and my thigh and I yelped like a stepped on puppy. His head shot up and he fixed me with two different colors of concerned eyes.

“Is that ok?”

It could be ok. I hadn’t ever done it before though. Not that I wanted him to know that.

“It’s good…I was surprised. Don’t stop. Please.”

He grinned cockily and went back to work. His curls tickled my inner thighs, making me stifle giggles with the back of my hand.

“You don’t have to be quiet. I want to hear you,” he said, slightly muffled. What did he mean, hear me?

Oh. That’s what he meant. At first it was so sweet it almost hurt my teeth. I moaned and tried to wriggle away. He persistently hung on to my hips and held them tight. It rode the edge of being too much and not enough. He was determined, and when he would break to kiss my stomach or thighs, I could see he was excited as hell too. I was about to tell him to stop, worried I was taking too long or something, when his persistent licks slowed down excruciatingly, and he very gently inserted a finger into my slippery wetness. I could feel him beckoning toward my belly button and then Bangkok exploded.

I slowly came back to reality, the fan evaporating the sweat off the whole length of my body. Gabe, looking quite pleased with himself, ran light fingertips all over me, making me shiver in the heat.

“You are so soft,” he said, running that middle finger down the inside of my arm, stopping to tickle my armpit briefly. I laughed and he finally let me feel his hard arms too.

“You’re not so soft,” I whispered. He laughed. Good. Aunt Mary always said you shouldn’t have relations with someone you couldn’t laugh with.

Turns out his lightly furred, honey colored skin went all the way down. His wide shoulders kept his skinny frame from being scrawny. His abs crinkled into ridiculous ridges when he laughed or stretched. I mostly liked the length of him; long, graceful bones and sinews close to the skin.

And damn if he didn’t kiss like a choirboy possessed by the devil. I was drowning in his mouth and couldn’t stop myself from sliding my hands all over his tight skin, lower and lower. He didn’t stop me this time either. There it was again, the cock that had scared the pants on me last night. Now that it was erect though…nah erect is too a polite word for that veined, pulsing beast…now that he was boned out like a dog, it seemed totally normal. I wanted to ask but I wanted other things more.

I brushed it with my long curls and he took a sharp breath. I smirked at him and started south. He grabbed my arm.

“You don’t owe me anything. I want you to know that. I spent half that flight picturing what I did to you and keeping the blanket on my lap. I’m happy I got to taste you…especially after I was such an arse last night.”

Oh Gabe. You evolved man. You shining white knight. You have no idea what you would be missing.

I am very good at a few things in this life.

Taking care of dying people.

Driving in the snow.

Lying.

And blow jobs.

I knew I didn’t owe him shit. But I really wanted to suck his cock. After a few deep swallows, stopping for a second at the top to make a neat circle around the tip with my tongue, I asked him if wanted me to stop.

“N- No!”

Thought so Gabe. I put my dark little heart and soul into that BJ, making him squirm and gasp, stopping short of him coming multiple times to brush his length with my breasts. Finally, jaw sore and very pleased with myself, I cupped his balls and nearly swallowed him, letting the back of my throat convulse around his tip.

“Glarg-u!” he shouted, tearing me off him so he could buck hard into his orgasm without breaking my nose.

I grabbed his hand to nibble on a fingertip and saw what time it was on his (oddly expensive) watch. 11:24 a.m.

Fuck.

I was dressed before he stopped shuddering. I still had to get my bag from my hostel, get a cab to the train station, buy my ticket and get on the noon train to Chiang Mai.

“Woah, did I do something? I’m sorry, I thought you wanted me to come…” he spluttered, still half hard and dazed.

I grabbed his stubbly chin and gave him a quick and deep kiss.

“You’re fine. I’ve got to get to my elephants.”

I ran out of his room, glancing back once to see him fall over trying to put shorts on to follow me.

Bye Gabe. You were the perfect kickoff. Minus the puke.

The street seemed more manageable than the day before as I half ran toward my bag.

I now had 30 minutes to make that train, and I knew I could do it if I hustled.

Elephants and Old Balls

She had dark brown eyes and eyelashes to die for. I swear she winked at me as I came near with chunks of pineapple. The soft snout shot out and deftly took a piece out of my hand. It felt like a kiss and it was the best kiss of my life.

Fuck Disney, the Elephant Nature Park was the happiest place on earth. When I was little I saw an elephant for the first time at the Detroit Zoo. I remember thinking I has fallen asleep and was dreaming. No one animal could have a trunk, giant ears, tusks, and be that big at the same time. I stared and stared, refusing to leave the enclosure and Aunt Mary said I cried the entire two-hour drive home till she smacked me.

I read once elephants are one of the only species who can recognize themselves in a mirror. They also mourn their dead, repeat musical melodies, live more than 70 years, remember each other after decades apart and have matriarchal society. Elephants are dope.

At the Elephant Nature Park they are treated like Kardashians. Following the preserve and it’s roly poly pachyderms forever on Instagram, I fell in love with each new baby born. When I first decided to leave I knew I was making a straight line to this place as my first destination. Seeing all of them IRL made my heart sing.

In the afternoon we went to the river with them and I got to witness what pure joy looks like. It is a baby elephant spraying herself and her friends, they were actually freakin’ frolicking. Eee!

I realized how much I had kept to myself on the long train ride and night in Chiang Mai when I laughed out loud at Dok Mai tripping over her own giant padded feet. No wonder my voice sounded rough, it had been 48 hours since I’d last said anything.

I tried to imagine going two days at home not speaking. Everyone yelling every damn thought that floated across their brontosaurus brain. Work was 90% talking, asking patients questions and reporting out. Plus the mindless chatter coworkers feel the need to pass back and forth. I learned early you had to catch the ball and instantly bounce it back, whether you had something worthwhile to say or not, or be labeled “that stuck-up bitch”. One time still in that mode I asked Aunt Mary about the weather.

“We’re talking about the weather now? Sweet Jesus, come take me home to the Kingdom of Heaven immediately. I’m ready. Everyone here is boring me to tears.”

I finished wiping her ass a little less gently and kept quiet after that.

I only had two days here. I wanted to stay for the rest of my life. I had emailed the director with my resume, highlighting I was a very accomplished Ass Wiper, and noting was a whole lot of giant asses to be wiped. I guess they need more like “veterinarians” and “large mammal specialists” than registered nurses though.

I decided to break my vow of silence at the communal dinner for visitors staying two days.

Eyed my options.

Elderly Australian couple, softly bickering over a fish head. Nope.

Rowdy pack of young Brits, hiding their money under boho clothes and dreadlocks. Nah guys, I can smell the rich on you under the BO.

Kinda sad looking older guy alone. Hi new friend.

“Can I sit here?” I asked, before setting down my tray of three different kinds of Curry Heaven piled around a rice mound.

He looked up and nodded, then went back to tucking away his portion. I sat and ate silently.

Three hours later we were BFFs.

“So I told Susan, ‘Listen woman, I love ya but I’ll not rot in this backwater village walkin’ yer poodles and fixing casseroles while ya work 14 hours a day in town.’ And she left me. Tried to leave the damn dogs too. Heh, I shoved em into the boot before she drove away. Think she made it to Bristol before she realized they were back there!”

His name was Richard, he was a 64-year-old retired plumber, and he was so funny I didn’t mind that he kept spilling his Singha down my leg each time we laughed. He had been married four times and I could see how he had charmed the ladies back in the day. Under the soft belly and wrinkles you could see outlines of a hot guy with bright blue eyes and broad shoulders.

“Here I am telling ya all my failures and faults and I’ve na asked ya nothin’ about yerself. Hows it that you got here and whereya goin’ next?”

“I’ve wanted to come here since I was little. I read about it one of those like, National Geographic for Kids magazines and promised myself I’d see the elephants in person some day. I don’t know what’s next…I have one of those around-the-world tickets, you know…where do you think I should go?”

It is shockingly easy to get people to talk about themselves instead of you.

“Well now that’s a big question, ennit! Let me tell ya, I spent a week in Morocco in the 70’s with the most beautiful woman in the world, Shirley Blackwell, and I’ll ne’er forget the taste of the Alboran Sea on her skin…”

It was late by the time we stumbled back to the huts. I stopped, listening to the sounds of the elephants in the thick jungle air. The stamping and snuffling was loud and peaceful.

“Well ga night to you, Missy. It’s been a lovely night, and you’re a lovely girl.”

Fuck it. I hugged the old bastard. He had a good light to him.

And damn if he didn’t take the chance to grab my ass.

I wasn’t totally shocked. Richard was joining thousands of guys who appreciated my ass.

This thing I carry around is pretty fucking spectacular. It is big. Lots of women think they have a big ass. Mine is legit big. Like, disproportionate to the rest of my frame big. When I work out a lot it does not get any smaller, just rounder. It has been “vocally admired” by men on the street since I was 11 years old. And thanks to Real Ass Pioneers like J. Lo, I have always thought it’s my best feature.

And now a 64-year old’s strong plumber hands were on it. What would it be like to have sex with a guy 40 years older than me? On the one hand, he was not bad looking for his age, and would definitely know what he was doing. On the other…ew.

Old people are better at patience. A guy my age would have run away if I didn’t kiss him right away. Richard waited, card on the table, allowing me to make up my mind about my next move.

I kissed his cheek.

“A lovely night it twas, Sir. Sleep well.”

He chuckled and gave me a brief hug, taking the rejection well. Hitting on a woman who could be your granddaughter takes some solid balls. I admired his cojones. I just didn’t want them in my mouth.

Into the Green Room

I watched Khun Yai give herself a bath in the river the next day, wishing I could be an elephant. All power and inch-thick skin and sharp tusks. Maybe my next life. In this life I had to decide where I was going next.

For a half second I wished I had gotten Gabe’s number or email. I wondered where his Heady Bro Gang was off to next. Probably Whore Island. Besides, the point wasn’t to find a rando guy to tag along with. It was to do what I wanted to do.

I found the sanctuary director sipping tea on the deck of the kitchen hut. My bus back to Chiang Mai was leaving in 20 minutes. I read once the director won a Hero of the Year award from Time magazine. I probably should leave her alone and not bug her.

She was really nice and remembered reading my resume. They only needed vets for long-term volunteering though.

“You’re the one with all the hospice experience, yes?

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Wait here.”

She came back with a young Thai man in working khakis. He didn’t look pleased.

“An elephant is being released from labor near Nomtok Mae Surin. This is Daw, one of our vets. He’s going to get him and bring him to safety here. Do you want to go help him?”

“It will not be a tourist trip,” Daw said in perfect English. “It is a two-day trek in the mountain jungle both ways. On the way out it may take longer walking with the elephant.”

“Can’t we ride it back?” I asked. The words came out a second before I remembered the strict No Saddles rule that was a big deal in the Sanctuary.

Daw’s face twisted like he’d taken a big swig of orange juice after brushing his teeth. He turned to go, and the bus driver waved at me to board.

The director grabbed Daw’s hand and gently pulled him back.

“I think you will find her useful. I would like her to go with you.”

“Can you carry a 40-pound pack?” Daw asked. I knew that I was in, pack abilities or not. He clearly followed the director’s orders.

Before dawn the next morning I climbed into the back of an open air truck. Jenny, the youngest female, ambled by and eyed my banana. I held it out and she took it gently. I’m pretty sure she winked at me.

“I’m going to bring you a new friend!”

“Assuming you don’t get bitten by a pit viper. Or stung by a scorpion. Or kidnapped by drug traffickers near the Burma border,” Daw chimed in, tossing gear into the back with me. “Hang on back there, I’d hate for you to bounce out along the way.”

I think he likes me.

I was already sore after three hours of bouncing on a wooden plank. Then Daw added the pack.

“Hooof!” I exhaled as he pulled the chest and waist straps tight.

“I made yours lighter. I’m carrying most of the supplies. You only have the food. It’ll get lighter as we go.” He shouted to the driver in rapid Thai and waved.

All of a sudden it was me and him, and a wall of jungle. What the hell had I been thinking?

I am a concrete jungle animal. I know not to replace a battery right away if yours gets stolen, because the scummer will come back the next night to steal your new battery too. I don’t know shit about vines and…undergrowth and whatnot. I did read once all about the Golden Triangle and how the CIA gave guns to insurgents/opium traffickers in the Triangle in exchange for protection during anti-commie ops in China. Cool story bro, but not helpful right now.

Daw took off at a legit clip. I wouldn’t have spotted the trail entrance in a hundred years. Right away I noticed the sounds. Birds calling, insects humming, wind in the tall trees, random scuttling I didn’t want to think about too hard. I thought of woods as peaceful. This was loud as hell.

I hustled to keep up with Daw’s narrow ass. I wanted to stop and stare at the crazy plants growing on top of other plants, on top of vines, on top of trees. Then I wiped out and learned a quick lesson about keeping my eyes on the rocky, root-covered trail.

Two hours in I was gasping, swatting bugs from my sweaty neck and questioning every decision that brought me to this tropical hell hole. I was incredibly/silently grateful when Daw the Trail Eating Machine stopped at a small river and filled a filter bag for water.

“Take off your pack, this will take a bit,” he said. It was the first thing he’d said to me since the vague death threats that morning.

I felt like I was floating without the pressing weight on my shoulders. Finally being able to look around, I saw tiny purple orchids clinging on to the vines over the river, and a thousand tiny silver fish darting in the water. A bright yellow bird landed on a branch and looked at me sideways. A creeping sense of euphoria grew under my exhaustion. Or I was having a heat stroke.

Daw handed me the first liter of purified water. I chugged it and checked out the front side of the deer-fast guy I’d been following all morning. He was probably in his early 30’s. My first impression last night was a hard face. Watching him relax by the water, I realized it must have been his expression of total disgust at having to take an American tourist with him. He had a boxy jaw, thin nose and big bushy eyebrows over sharp eyes. Shit Daw was kind of cute.

“So you’re a vet?”

“Yes. Large Animal Specialization.”

“What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened with an animal?

He looked at me strangely.

“Like, tell me about something weird or funny that’s happened while you were treating an animal.”

“Funny? They are very sick when I see them. Or in pain. Not very funny.”

It was going to be a long trek. After he got his liter of water and chugged it too, he waded into the river barefoot.

“One time there was a very rich landowner near the sanctuary. His favorite bull needed to be neutered to extend its life. However, the man was very proud of his bull’s genitalia. He was very torn. Finally I suggested we could cremate the genitalia, and he could keep the ashes. To this day if you visited his house you would see a very beautiful jar on his mantel, brimming with ashes of bull dick.”

I barked out a laugh. Good one Daw, I didn’t think you had it in you.

Once the water containers were filled we headed out again, and didn’t stop until late afternoon. I was dying. I also refused to ask for a break. I was gonna make this guy eat his words and be GLAD he had me along, not pouty.

We finally stopped at an large fall of vines over a large rock. Daw handed me a headlamp.

“There’s still hours of light?”

“Not in there,” he said. WTF? In where?

He pulled back the vines and there was a black hole in the rock, barely taller than me.

“No one said anything about a cave!”

“You’re a lucky girl. The cave trip is usually extra cost on the tour,” he said mockingly. I liked Not Funny Daw better.

All my resolve to be a badass evaporated.

“I don’t like small spaces.”

“The other way around has a large river rapid that has killed many elephants. You want to try that way?”

The Village

The best thing I can say about the cave was that it was a little cooler. The worst thing, neck and neck with my soul-crushing claustrophobia, was the spider that ran over my hand in the dark. It basically raped my fingers with the lightest, hairiest touch I’ve ever felt. I swung the light around just in time to see one of its legs. It was the size of a chicken thigh.

I didn’t scream. But I think Daw heard the panic in my breathing, because instead of driving ahead without looking back, he took my hand and helped me navigate the uneven passages. The bats swooping through the beams of the light beams didn’t bother me. Our attic always had a bat problem and I was the best at catching them with a lacrosse stick and Dustbuster.

What did bother me? The Casket. That’s what I called the super charming section where we had to take off our packs, shove them in front of us, and belly crawl through a damn tube the size of a coffin.

“I don’t like small spaces.”

“You said that.”

“Yes. I did”

He was waiting with his pack already in The Casket. I could feel the patience draining out of him. I made a decision.

“When I was four someone put me in a wooden box, so small my neck was bent between my knees. They hammered it shut and left me in it for the night.”

Daw’s eyes grew big in the dark.

“That is terrible.”

“I really don’t like small spaces.”

He nodded. Thought a moment. Took my pack and shoved it up with his. He went through pushing both packs, then came back so his face was peeking out at me.

“I will go through backwards. You come on, and only look at my eyes. Don’t look away. Pretend you are crawling across an open plain, looking at my eyes.”

“Why am I crawling across a plain? If it was wide open, I’d be walking.”

His mouth hardened a little.

“Ok sure. Here we go.”

It wasn’t so bad. His eyes were lighter brown than I thought. They seemed to glow in the darkness and I concentrated on counting the sparse dark lashes on his lower lids, each one standing alone without touching a neighbor. I pushed with my boots and knees and before I knew it he dropped out on the other side and I followed. There was light coming from around the next curve.

“That was easy!” I crowed.

He grunted and strapped my pack back on with more muscle than necessary.

Soooooo happy to be back in the open air. The heat and bugs died down as the sun started to dip behind the ridge.

“Where are we gonna sleep?” I wondered out loud. It literally had not occurred to me before. An image of waking up on the ground, snuggling a Malaysian pit viper flashed through my mind.

“There are many hill towns in this area. We are close to the one where we will stay tonight.”

It sprang out of the forest without any warning. We were deep in the green heart of the jungle, miles from any real road, and pop, there was a whole village. A cluster of huts on stilts surrounded a central fire pit, with longer huts spread out in a wider circle. Dogs and kids, both with a lot of ribs and not a lot of teeth, ran up to us on the path.

They all seemed to know Daw, and he scooped up a couple of both species in his arms, exchanging nuzzles. He was carried off with the pack and I didn’t know where to go. A skinny young boy in a monk’s orange robe stood by the gate to the village. He eyed me up and down and nodded like a king, allowing my presence.

Feeling like a lost puppy, I wandered around the compound, inspected by chickens and suspicious eyes from hut fronts. One side of the village was completely cleared of the jungle brush and I could see out across the valley, to the next set of mountains. The landscape looked like a crumpled velvet tablecloth someone dropped after a good meal. It was hard to believe the same sun that was setting behind those purple mountains would rise over the factories of Battle Creek, Michigan.

“It’s time for dinner,” Daw said.

I jumped. He was silent, that guy.

We went into a hut and my heart stopped. Honest to God, there was a mummy laying in the darkness. Her face was pale under a cross-hatch of deep wrinkles and the rest of her was bound in white muslin. Bats and spiders and mummies, fuck me, this was a House of Horror not a vacation.

“Daw…what…who…is that?”

“That is my grandmother. She has not been well lately. She is just getting older and needs more rest.”

I checked her pulse, pulling away the wrappings.

“Stop that, you have no business touching her!”

“I’m a nurse,” I snapped, “And your grandmother is dying.”

Daw left and brought in two village women, all of them talking in Thai at once. I ignored them and continued to check the woman. Stiff, cold appendages. Blood was collecting around the primary internal organs, trying to keep her alive. Viscous fluids in the mouth and nose. She stopped breathing and so did I. Ten seconds. Then she gasped without opening her eyes and started again.

“Ask them when’s the last time she ate or drank anything,” I said over my shoulder to the bickering sounds.

The dressing around her genitals was dark red. Not blood, distilled urine. Kidneys had stopped functioning.

“They say she has not taken food or drink for a day and a half,” Daw translated through the noise, “Before that, she was doing much better. They are making a broth for her now.”

“They can stop. She’s not going to eat it, her digestive system shut down.”

Daw said something to the women in rapid Thai. I knew it wasn’t a direct translation of what I said.

“You should tell them the truth. Tell them to get the family together and do…whatever they do for a final goodbye here,” I felt her pulse again, “She’ll probably been gone by morning.”

Daw grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out of the hut.

“Who do you think you are?” he hissed. His face was inches away and I could feel the angry heat coming off him. His blunt fingers dug into my upper arm, cords standing out on his forearm. “This is our family’s business, not yours. I am a doctor! I was educated in Australia! I know dying when I see it. And the aunties think she will be better soon.”

I was alone. No one knew where I was. This was his village, and I was the intruder. I should definitely not say, “Hey Doctor Dummy, your grandmother’s not a fucking wallaby.” The smart thing to do was back down and let them lie to themselves.

“Listen to me Daw,” I said in my Nurse Tone, “I am very sorry to tell you that your grandmother’s time is near. Her systems have shut down and all we can do at this point is be there for her during this transition. Did you know she can still hear us, even though she can’t respond? Let’s get all the people who love her to say goodbye, huh?”

My Nurse Tone is sweet as sugar. And the grip I used to take his hand off me was iron.

The fight went out of him. Tears sprang up and caught in the web of stubby eyelashes I had stared at earlier. He nodded and left me rubbing my sore arm.

Nearly everyone in the village piled into Auntie Anong’s hut. I stayed at the edge of the crowd as they sang to her, stroked her cheeks and took turns wailing over her body. Turns out death and the goodbyes look the same whether you’re in a sterile hospital room or a smoky hut.

Daw was missing for hours. I was getting spooked that he had abandoned me. Shit maybe I’d die in this village too, trapped by my inability to go back through the cave by myself.

He finally came back right before dawn. A younger version of him followed like a Daw Echo into the hut.

The man collapsed on the grandmother’s feet, sobbing. I took the opportunity to slip through the crowd and check her pulse again. Shuddery. It was close.

“Go easy and I hope your next life is beautiful,” I said in my head as I patted her shoulder. I’d probably said that little prayer to 500 people right before they died. I meant it every time.

The stars were fading and I could barely make out a line of mountain against the sky. Someone was singing now in Auntie Anong’s hut. Daw came out and sat next to me by the fire they had kept burning all night. He smelled like gas.

“That your little brother?”

“Yes. He is working across the valley. He would not have gotten to say goodbye if…Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Tell me your favorite memory of her.”

He took a swig of something cloudy in a jar and the gas smell intensified.

“Is that…booze?”

He chuckled. “It is our finest mountain moonshine. Special occasions only. Try it.”

OMG it seriously tasted like gas and rotten meat. I choked. He laughed. We watched the fire for a while before he spoke.

“When I was a little boy I liked to chase her favorite rooster. It stressed the animal, to where it’s feathers were falling out. She kept swatting me for it, and I kept doing it. I don’t know why. Maybe it felt good to be more powerful than him. To exert my dominance. She called me over one day. The rooster was letting her pet him in her lap. Animals love her…she’s the one who taught me how to earn their trust.

She handed me a knife and told me to cut his throat. ‘You want to cause him harm? You want to be the big man and bully him? Don’t pick at him piece by piece. Have the courage to kill him all at once.’ I remember how his eye twitched, following my hand with the knife. He didn’t try to run. He was safe in her hands. There was so much blood it soaked us both. And she made me eat two plates of rooster at dinner.”

“That is a badass parenting move.”

“Yes. It was quite badass.”

He hiccuped and started crying. He tried to hide it, pressing his face into his crossed arms. His shoulders were jumping though.

Shit. Ethically, you are supposed to “support the grieving individual with a minimal amount of physical contact.”

I scooted closer and gently rubbed his shoulder. He took some deep breaths and wiped his face on his sleeve.

I usually spot things coming, so it shocked me when Daw’s mouth landed on mine, urgent and hot. He tasted like that gross gas liquor and his lips were velvet soft. His face was wet from tears and maybe a little snot.

I shouldn’t let this happen. I still had days in the jungle solo with this guy, and he was hurting. Lots of people don’t know that horniness is a common reaction to death. Some people need to feel something other than grief, others want to connect with the source of life. Either way, witnessing death can give you a hell of a boner.

Case in point, Daw took my hand and rubbed it on the flagpole under his khakis. Despite myself I moaned a little into his mouth. He was a good kisser, even in his selfish agitation. And he grew even more under my hand.

He lifted me to straddle his lap, so I was pressed against it and wrapped his arms around me tightly, never stopping the breathless kissing. I couldn’t help wiggling against him a little bit and he groaned, biting my lower lip. I ran my hand over his back and it was all ropy muscle. One hand released me to reach under my filthy shirt and circle my breast. Right then I realized the singing had stopped.

Chai Son

I don’t know if it was the nipple pinch or the sudden quiet, but I froze. Bad! Bad Nurse! Having sex in the dirt with a grieving veterinarian a terrible idea. I hopped off his lap, just in time for most of the village to come out of the hut. A couple more minutes and they might have seen their Golden Boy riding an American whore by the communal fire pit.

An auntie showed me to a floor mat under mosquito netting, and I passed out right away. I dreamed about dark holes and roosters spurting blood and came really hard. I woke up gasping and embarrassed, hoping I hadn’t been making noise. If I had been, the only thing that heard it was the spider in the corner that was the width and weight of a Big Mac.

I got a lot of soft blessings and caresses as we left. After thinking these people might machete murder me for telling it like it was the night before, it was really sweet. Of course they made a big fuss over Daw, stuffing leaf-wrapped rice packages in every pocket and the men handing him wads of feather-shaped leaves.

We waved and set back on the trail, the day already half gone. Daw hadn’t looked me in the eye yet. I tried not to care whether he was embarrassed or angry. After all, he had jumped me out of nowhere. It wasn’t my fault I kinda liked it, then saved him from shame in front of all his aunties.

“What are the leaves?” I asked, mostly to break the silence.

“Kratom. Same family as coffee plants. Helps you stay alert. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover before we get to the animal, you want some?”

“Sure.” His hands weren’t totally steady and he was pale under his dark gold skin. Oh Daw gots a hangover, huh? Well maybe you’ll hike at a human pace today, Jerkwad.

Nope. He was still a machine. Fuck.

We rolled into a very different village at dusk. Even though his hill town had been poor it felt…homey. This place felt like a junkyard brothel. There was garbage everywhere and discarded humans too. Men watched us pass from doorways, murmuring to each other. Starving dogs picked at carcasses in the road. The hair on my neck prickled. I don’t use this term often, but this place was Hood.

There was no way in hell I was going to let Daw leave me alone here. I picked up my pace to walk next to him. He looked uneasy too.

“Are we staying here tonight?”

“Depends. How do you feel about getting your throat cut?”

“Not great.”

“Then let’s get the animal and go.”

As the tears ran down my cheeks I tried to remember the last time I had cried. It wasn’t at Aunt Mary’s funeral (something all The Crows had commented on in their crackling, passive aggressive way). Oh yeah, it was when I first saw Saving Private Ryan. It was a sleepover in Missy Hernandez’s basement. IDK why a bunch of 14-year old girls chose that one. Maybe we thought it was sophisticated of us to watch a WWII movie. I lost my shit after the first half hour of carnage, sobbing and struggling to breathe. I wasn’t invited to Missy’s again…and her table would chant “Save Private Pussy! Save Private Pussy!” when I walked into the lunchroom for weeks. Bitches.

Looking at the elephant I couldn’t stop the wetness on my cheeks. Long red rips ran down the thick skin of his legs. There were circles of raw skin under the shackle on his back leg. It smelled infected and attracted flies. He was emaciated, humps of spine visible under the blistered skin of his back. One of his eyes was nearly swollen shut. This was one miserable bastard.

Daw was talking in rapid Thai to a Gollum. I guess it was actually a man who was so weather-beaten and twisted he could have been a piece of petrified wood. He had a large machete at his waist and red stubs instead of teeth.

I carefully walked up to the elephant and laid a hand on it’s side. It flinched. There were long, dark hairs here and there on the thick hide and it was so warm.

The conversation got louder. I didn’t understand a word but I know a shakedown when I see one. The Gollum had his hand on his machete and Daw was shaking his head. He wanted money for the elephant. I knew the deal had been releasing this work animal to us now that he wasn’t good for logging. Otherwise they’d kill him if they were being kind or let him starve to death if they weren’t. There wasn’t supposed to be a payment, and I doubted Daw had been dumb enough to carry a bunch of cash on the trek.

There was a pair of bolt cutters leaning against the fence. Seemed like one of us needed an insurance policy in this situation. I wandered over behind the elephant and grabbed the handle. The Gollum was stepping to Daw, nasty red mouth inches from his face, yelling. I didn’t want to attack him with bolt cutters. I am a peaceful woman. And they’re too small to cut a good chunk off at once. What if…

Clever escapes are a lot easier in the movies. The bolt cutter barely nicked the surface of the elephant’s chain on the first cut. I had to set it sideways and sit on it to generate enough pressure to cut the steel. I mean, I fell over multiple times in the process, but that chain got cut.

And good timing too. The Gollum and Daw were now shoving each other and a group of shady characters were wandering over in the dusk. They weren’t going to side with elephant.

Now fucking what? What’s Pachyderm for “You’re free! Run away!”?

“Hey!” I yelled, “Hey buddy!” I jingled the broken chain as hard as I could. He turned to the sound of the chain, probably expecting pain.

I read once that the elephant cortex has as many neurons as a human brain. In the 70’s an elephant named Bandula would unlock her shackles, then go around freeing other elephants in the zoo. She always made the first one she freed act as lookout for the zookeepers.

This guy was no dummy either. He saw the broken chain in my hand and took off. Daw and Gollum rolled on the ground, the enormous feet almost trampling them. They both looked stunned.

“Let’s go!” I yelled at Daw. Guess he was a bit smarter than the inbred hillbilly, because he got off the ground and ran before the Gollum understood what was happening. It’s a Great Escape, asshole!

The elephant was hauling straight out of town. We ignored the screams and barks and tried to stay close, choking on the dust he kicked up. He let out an earsplitting trumpet as the road entered the jungle. The sound almost knocked me over. I hadn’t ever heard anything so happy.

It was so loud it covered the sound of the moped. I barely saw it out of the corner of my eye before a dark black pain whipped from the back of my skull over my eyes.

Ants in the Pants

Everything I saw, I saw sideways. I tried to lift my head. It weighed 2,000 pounds so I gave up and laid in the dirt.

Gollum was back, with new wheels. Same machete though.

Daw turned and yelled something to me. No idea what. Maybe, “Get out of the damn road,” because the elephant had turned and spotted Gollum too, and he looked pissed.

Gollum tried to nail Daw with the same golf club he laid me out with. I knew I was out of it because my thoughts wouldn’t stop circling around where a Thai hillbilly could have gotten a golf club. Instead of like, getting to safety.

Daw barely ducked the swing. Super Veterinarian, yes. Super hero, not so much. I yelled inside my echoing head, “Punch him Daw! Punch him right in the ‘nads!”

Instead he ran. At least it was toward me instead of into the jungle.

The elephant stood stock still watching us. Then he moved.

Have you ever popped a tick? That’s pretty much what Gollum’s head looked like when the elephant stomped it. He look three strides, knocked his abuser off the moped and straight curb stomped him.

Daw was running toward me and didn’t see it. To the guy’s credit, he scooped me under the arms and was trying desperately to pick me up.

“It’s okay.”

“It is not okay! Whether is the money or he is angry at being fooled, he means to kill us. Can you move?” He pulled me up to standing.

“Daw, it’s okay.”

I turned him around and he saw the shattered head. It took a minute to sink in.

“We need to go,” I said.

“We need to go fast,” he replied. “Are you hurt?”

I gently felt the back of my head. A giant knot, and a minor cut. Head wounds bleed like crazy, if it wasn’t gushing, the cut was superficial. I was more worried about concussion. So was Daw. He took his hands off my arms and I swayed a little.

“Do you know where you are?”

“No.” He looked worried.

“I mean, I’m in a shitty village 40 miles from nowhere, in some Godforsaken Thai jungle, with a sexy veterinarian. I couldn’t point to it on a map though.”

He grinned.

“You have a hard head. Come on.”

“Wait.”

I walked up to the dead man in the road. With all the death I’d seen, I’d never seen a head laid out like that before. I thought about Spaghetti-O’s. Then I puked in the bloody dirt. Maybe I did have a concussion.

I grabbed an ashy foot and dragged the body into the undergrowth. Ha, now I not only know what undergrowth is, I’ve hidden a corpse in it! Travel really does expand your horizons.

Daw came to help. No, no, I’ve got this murder covered Daw, you go stand over there and file your nails some more. We got him pretty well hidden and kicked some dirt over the blood stain in the road. It still looked like a blood stain. Oh well. I picked up the golf club. You never know.

“At least he saved us a walk,” Daw said, checking the moped’s fuel guage.

“There’s no way that thing will go over the trail!”

“We were going to take logging roads back anyway. Chai Son would not fit down those trails.”

“Chaison?”

“Chai Son. It means mischievous boy. Do you think it suits him?”

The elephant had been munching leaves peacefully since committing murder and saving our lives. He gave me a sideways glance and snurfed.

“It does! Will he…follow us?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, he is used to following human’s orders. And he is smart enough to know we don’t mean him harm.

Daw approached him silently, and offered his armpit. Chai Son sniffed it deeply. He mumbled to him in soft Thai, stroking his trunk firmly. He worked his way to the back leg, patting as he went. He pulled a large can out of his pack, and very gently worked the analgesic salve into the shackle-bitten flesh.

Finally he cut a number of leafy branches from the tree Chai Son had been munching on and stuck them through the straps of my backpack. He motioned for me to get behind him on the moped.

“A carrot,” he said, pleased with himself, then he made a loud, chirpy noise a couple times, and Chai Son magically followed us down the road.

We rode the moped through the night. We both wanted to be long gone from the Village of the Damned by the time someone missed Gollum. I tried to stay awake in case I did have a concussion, but the drone of the tiny motor and the comforting rhythm of Chai Son’s footsteps behind us in the dark made my head dip. I woke up every time we hit a bump (painfully shaking the lump at the back of my head), then drifted off again against Daw’s back.

At dawn another sound entered my foggy brain. A big rushing. I realized we had stopped moving. And that a large, delicate penis was tickling my ear.

“Gah!” I snapped up, ready to bust some teeth.

Chai Son’s trunk was gently pulling the branches out of my backpack. I watched the end of the trunk work with real precision to pull a single branch out. Damn, how could such a big sucker do such a tiny task? Daw was busy looking at a map. I hopped off the moped and followed The Hulk as he went for richer branches on a tree.

I wasn’t scared of him, even though I’d seen very exactly what he could do to a human in a second. Chai Son and I, we had a thing. I could tell from the first time I put my hand on his side. I didn’t think he’d hurt me on purpose. I stroked his front leg while he tugged powerfully on a branch.

At first it felt like someone poured a bucket of dark red sequins over me. They covered my eyes and hair and skittered everywhere down my body, into my clothes. Then the sequins started to bite.

I am not ashamed to say I screamed. It was some scream-worthy shit. The ants were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Each individual bite pulsed, then pulsed out to reach its friends, until every inch of my skin was on fire.

I tried to brush them off in swipes. No luck. Each tiny asshole had six sticky feet to cling on. Daw was there in a second, stripping off my clothes and pulling off the ants he could reach while I danced in a circle of pain. My hair was the worst. I could feel them crawling everywhere, especially over the tight knot. One bit the open cut.

“MOTHERFUUUUUUUUUUUUCKER!”

Daw picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. This was not how I had pictured being aggressively taken by him in my underwear. Not that I spent a lot of time picturing that on long jungle hikes.

He ran to the rushing river around the next bend and dropped me in the shallows. The cold water immediately helped the burning and made it easier to brush off the ants. We both worked fast and cleared most of my body in a minute. The hair though. They kept dropping out and biting my shoulders. I laid back in the water and let him fish the bugs out of my tangles. The gentle tugs gave me a flash of someone picking lice out of my hair when I was little.

The panic started to fade.

I was just a girl, in a scenic river, being held by a cute boy…with her tits out and covered in red welts. Sighhhhh. At least they looked fantastic in the cold water.

Daw took his shirt off and handed it to me without looking…for long, anyway. Very gentlemanly.

“Stay in the water. It will help. I will find your clothes.”

Chai Son came down to the water, all innocent curiosity.

“You bastard. I trusted you.”

What’s it called when you put human reactions onto animals? Anthropormizing or something. I knew he wasn’t a human. Doesn’t mean he didn’t look ashamed as he took a long drink from the river.

Daw chirped a few commands and Chai Son knelt on the river bank.

“Climb on his neck.”

“What?! You looked at me like I was scum when I thought we would ride the elephant back.”

“We do not believe in humans riding elephants for profit. However, do you see another way across this river?”

I looked across the crashing whitewater. It was littered with boulders and even in the shallows I could feel how strong the current pulled.

Daw ditched the moped in the brush, strapped my pack on top of his and easily climbed onto Chai Son’s upper back.

Ok then.

My hands scrambled for a saddle horn when the giant stood up. There was nothing to grip on to, only expanses of smooth grey skin. I started to fall sideways, with eight feet of air down to rocks below.

Daw grabbed me and pulled.

“Hold with your knees,” he instructed.

He pulled me tight to him and pressed my knees down into the flesh.

We moved slowly, rocking as Chai Son picked the safest route across.

I felt a strange rush of adrenaline and extreme calm. My heart was racing and my senses sharpened as I completely surrendered control to this animal. He was in charge of the crossing. My only job was to hang on.

The only sound I could hear over the river was the loud bird calls. Daw’s soaked shirt clung to me, shoulders already drying in the hot sun. I tried to focus on my balance, keeping centered over the mountain moving beneath my legs. But I was…distracted.

I could feel Daw close behind me. Hands on my waist to keep me centered. Bare chest pressed against my back. His heartbeat wasn’t slow either, but his breath on my neck was steady and calm. I paid close attention to his thighs behind mine. They adjusted a half-second ahead of the next roll or pitch. I tried to move with him and it made a huge difference in stability.

I was starting to actually enjoy the ride when Chai Son stumbled.

I pitched forward like I’d been bucked off a bronco. I felt Daw grab for me again. Too late, I was a lost cause.

Thankfully we were most of the way across. If it happened in the middle I would have joined Aunt Mary on the other side. Instead I got dumped into the shallows again. Soaked and rock scraped, I chose to lay there a minute and look at the sky. Scary dark clouds were rolling in. Fuck this. My next stop was going to be an all-inclusive in Indonesia. With monkey butlers.

Chai Son chose that moment to take another drink. And spray me with it. I will send to you to the Great Elephant Graveyard in the sky, Chai Son. Try me agin, dickhole.

Daw pulled me up by both hands. Then his mouth was on mine. The stealth was strong with this guy.

I pushed him away.

“No thank you. I am soaked, sore and starving. Not horny.” That was a lie. Even after a cold water dunk I was still super horny from the ride together.

“I told you this wasn’t a tourist trip,” he laughed, helping me to the sandy bank. “Let’s eat.”

There were still sweet rice packets from his village, beef jerky sticks and apples in my pack. We ate like wolves. He laid out on the sand and was asleep in a second.

I was free to stare. He looked younger with his intelligent eyes shut. His full lower lip sagged to the side. Patchy stubble had sprung up since leaving Chiang Mai. I held my thumb up to the width of his eyebrows. Yup, they were a full inch tall. The chicas in Battle Creek would have their work cut out for them with those caterpillars. His bare chest looked like a topographical map of a harsh climate. Sharp ridges and valleys, with two landmark dark brown nipple mountains. And the start of a low forest right above the line of his pants. Poor dude looked exhausted. I should let him sleep.

Thunder rumbled from somewhere downstream. Chai Son, busy playing in the mud down the bank lifted his head and perked giant fan ears.

I straddled Daw on the sand and put my face close to his. My dark hair made a curtain around our faces.

“Wake up,” I whispered.

His eyes fluttered.

“A storm is coming,” I whispered.

He turned his head, trying to hang on to unconsciousness. I got a chill up my back as the wind picked up and blew his soaked khaki shirt against my skin. Fuck it.

I took his chin and kissed him, sucking a little on that full lower lip. Like he had done to me by the village fire. I let the weight of my breasts rest on his hard chest and rubbed myself against his thin pants.

He opened his eyes.

Nudie River

The first raindrops hit the sand and my back with authority. The light tuned bruised yellow. The trees shook their fists at the dark sky. The birds finally shut up.

Turns out a sweet rice pack and some jerky can really revive a lady. I didn’t feel the hundred ant bites covering my skin, or the swollen contusion on my skull.

I only felt Daw.

He sure as shit was awake now. If he had been a gentleman about my breasts when picking fire ants off them, he was making up for holding back. He sucked the dark nipples hard through his own wet shirt while trying clumsily to undo the buttons. I helped and we were both quickly down to our functional black underwear.

He cradled a breast in his hand, like he was weighing it. Then he found my mouth. I felt the hard planes of muscle across his back, this time covered in sand. The arm propping him up was shaking a little. Maybe with exhaustion. Maybe not.

A teeth-rattling clap of thunder hit. We both jumped and down the river bank Chai Son made nervous noises.

I pressed against him, feeling the same response he had by the fire. This time I didn’t feel guilty. My hips ground into him, pushing him into the sand and inviting him to meet me with equal force.  He didn’t disappoint. He dug his teeth into my neck and my back arched involuntarily. Fuck me, was that some secret Thai massage pressure point?

Daw rolled me over into the sand and I did feel my head injury bounce on the hard pack. I winced, and he looked instantly regretful, wadding his shirt under my head. Somehow in that maneuver my underwear was off too. Its official, the guy was a ninja.

He pinned me down with a sinewy leg over mine. I got to squeeze the muscles that guided my own on the river crossing, slick with the rain. He insistently kissed me, pressed himself into my soft hip and slid a slightly cold finger inside me. Oh hell yes.

We were going to fuck on this here riverbank and not even the resurrected corpse of Gollum could stop us.

But an elephant could. The water spray hit us both head to toe. We yelled and looked up in time to see a crack of lightning split the sky in half. Chai Son snuffed and stamped.

Daw buried his face in my breasts and yelled in frustration.

“If I had to die, dying inside you would be ideal,” he said, still sliding his finger in and out, “Let’s not die today though.”

He helped me off the ground and dug my pre-Ant Invasion clothes out of my pack.

“We need to find shelter.”

I mentally said goodbye to the river. It was lovely being naked by you a bunch, Nudie River. Sorry you didn’t get to see me fully bang.

We dashed into the coverage of the jungle canopy where the rain wasn’t as intense. I wondered if being surrounded by a lot of tall trees was our best plan in a lightning storm.

Thankfully not too far down the road there was a ridge of rock with a friendly overhang. Daw and I scooted back into the depression and were mostly protected. Chai Son stood in front of us, providing a warm grey curtain against the storm. It was cozy under the rock and I hoped for a minute we could pick back up where we left off.

Daw was busy rummaging in his pack instead, taking out medical supplies.

“I wanted to wait until after the river to treat him,” he said while meticulously laying out vials and the biggest syringe I’d ever seen. “Let the water wash out some of the leg wounds.”

He handed me the salve. “You can use a little of that on your ant bites if they are bothering you. It is a numbing agent with topical antibiotics.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving me elephant tranquilizers to knock me out and take advantage of me?”

He looked at me strangely. “That would be terribly disrespectful.”

I am good at making out. I am not good at flirting. I rubbed the stinking goo onto my bites and kept my mouth shut.

Watching him work was amazing. I thought my doctors had a tough job wrangling obese patients with dementia. This was next level.

Chai Son stamped, wiggled, trumpeted and even whacked Daw with his trunk while he cleaned the wounds and administered shots. His power to kill wasn’t far in the rearview of my memory. Despite Chai Son’s whining he seemed to know Daw was helping and not trying to hurt him. Daw kept up a soft patter of Thai while he worked, constantly providing firm pats along with the procedures.

The storm blew itself out by the time he was done.

“It is all I can do here,” he said, reviewing his work. “We will give him a full treatment plan once we reach the Sanctuary.”

“How close are we?”

“Two days walk.”

“Oh.” I had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand I wanted a beer and a bed so bad it hurt. On the other I had no idea what would happen when we returned. There was no scenario I could imagine that didn’t involve saying goodbye to Daw and Chai Son. And that sucked.

“Now let’s sleep though, yes?” He was pale and shaky. I almost felt bad for waking him up and making him finger me earlier. Almost.

“Yes.” And as I said it I felt the exhaustion hit me too.

We made a nest under the rock with the backpacks for pillows and fell asleep. Right before I went under I felt him take my hand.

I woke up groggy, itchy and thirsty. The goo had worn off and the the initial sting of the bites was gone. It was replaced by intense, full-body itchiness. Fun.

Daw was on a satellite phone.

A. Fucking. Phone.

“You have a phone?!” I yelled.

He hushed me and continued talking rapidly. I had gone fully Dark by the time he hung up.

“You had a working phone this whole time?” I seethed.

“Yes.”

“Why…didn’t we USE it?”

“Use it for what?”

“Calling for help maybe?”

Daw was very obviously not reading my mood. He laughed.

“What should I have done? ‘Hello my peace-loving colleagues at an elephant sanctuary. I am being pursued by a very mean man with a golf club. Please get on the Elephant Chopper and come rescue me immediately.’ We got there by walking because that is the only way to get there.”

He made sense. However I sure did not appreciate his tone.

“Why are you calling them now then?”

“We are close to a main road. The one truck that can transport an adult elephant can go on that road. They should meet us in an hour or so.”

“You said it was a two-day walk!”

“It is. I did not know if the truck was available. I called to see. You are not in good shape. I thought you’d be happy for a ride.”

I felt like three different rivers meeting in one narrow canyon.

“I have to pee,” I announced haughtily, and marched into the jungle.

Instead of having two days to figure out my next move I had an hour.

I gave Daw a real kiss when I came back. It tasted good and lasted a long time.

For the last hour of our adventure I asked him to tell me about Australia. He was a careful observer, and full of details. For a doctor anyway.

Chai Son got a hero’s welcome at the Sanctuary. The entire staff was there to greet him with boat-sized basket of fruit. I ran my hand down his side a couple times, trying to memorize the feeling of his skin. Daw was busy planning his treatment with the other vets.

The bus for the day tourists pulled in. I grabbed my bag from the reception area.

“Thank you for bringing us our new friend.”

The Sanctuary director smiled brightly at me, taking in my bites, scrapes and general filth.

“I hope the trip was not too difficult.”

“It was fun,” I said, without sarcasm. “Do you know Daw’s grandmother died?”

“Yes, I had a feeling Auntie Anong’s time was near. And that you might be a help to his family. She was very famous around here for her skills treating animals…and her tolerance for moonshine.”

“It was an easy passing with her family all around. The best kind.”

“Wonderful to hear. You are leaving us then?” she nodded at my bag, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay the night? Perhaps…shower?”

I did smell terrible, she had that right.

“No, it’s time for me to go. Thank you though. Thank you for everything. Someone will post pictures of Chai Son, right? On your social accounts? I want to be able to see him and know he’s all healed up.”

“Of course. And you can always email me if you would like an update on his health. Or the health of anyone else here at the Sanctuary.” Winking was beneath her, but her eyes twinkled as she handed me her card.

“You’re…a very good person,” I blurted stupidly. It wasn’t what I wanted to tell her. I guess it was the truth though.

“So are you. Be well.”

You don’t know me very well lady.

The sounds of the elephants faded as the bus merged onto the highway to Chiang Mai. I decided nothing better than Chai Son was going to happen in Thailand. It was time to move on.