Where does one begin an exhaustive biography of one of modern day's preeminent Renaissance men? I'm speaking of none other than: Winston Ching.
I know Winston. You see he and I used to be Egyptologists together back in the '20's. But let me start at the beginning. Let me start this tale set in the time and place of our first meeting. Now sit back. And for you young people, pay close attention, for Winston is an example to us all. You'd be wise to pay heed to the lessons learnt in his life - as meticulously documented on the following hallowed pages.
It was the mid-1890's. The old metal-hulled steamer lay in the deep waters just off the coast. It creaked with each roll of the bright blue seas. Shuddering and wheezing, it was as fine an example of the modern shipbuilding of the day as there ever was. Birds of various bright colors caressed the skies far above. There was no port in these parts of Africa back then. We rowed to shore, and all before us the dense jungle growth pushed high and hard against the narrow white beach wedged between it and the lapping blue ocean waves.
We were about 4 days in when Gregor was bitten on the ankle by the small black millipede. No one had seen it on the trail beforehand. He died in horrible pain only minutes later. But first he swelled up like a balloon, a water balloon that is, like at a children's birthday party. He looked for all accounts like some kind of "Michelin Man" in stature. Discoloration over most of his body. It was quite disturbing, I must tell you. After he died we made it a party rule to wear socks and not just boots alone. Periodically we heard monkeys and loud birdcalls from the trees above. Nothing unusual, but we passed by beneath them, slicing through and gradually traversing the rugged terrain in the incessant steamy hot high humidity heat.
Just before sun up on the morning of the 6th day we suddenly became aware that our camp had become surrounded by two long columns of army ants. They consumed everything before them. Fire was our only defense. All escaped, but we had to leave most of our equipment behind. No longer would the party be graced by my guitar strumming around the campfire at night. None would admit it, but I know this was a devastating blow to the party's morale. But to a man they instead valiantly hid their severe disappointment by pretending to be relieved upon hearing the news. What a brave lot.
It was on the 9th day when we first saw him. But it was clear at once that he had already, and possibly for some time, seen us. We did not see the solitary man high above in the trees again until 4 days later.
It was late afternoon. The intense sounds and calls in the dense jungle seemed different this day. It made us feel uneasy. Four days since we had seen the man above. Reginald thought he had seen a long vine sweep above him on an occasion yesterday morning. It was out of the corner of his eye. We laughed off his worries. He must have imagined it, we thought. But it is true our supplies were running low. And we were tired. The heat drew your energy out like an oil company president driving an executive SUV. Descending steeply, we were almost fully down into the valley floor when we saw them stand. Silently. From all around in front of us. At least 200 warriors!
They had been perfectly camouflaged. We were hot, trying to get down to the river for fresh water. Feeling exhausted, caught by surprise, and we had delivered ourselves right into their hands. There was no escape; no time to load our clumsy flintlocks; no way to send a telegram; no feelings of irony that we should go out this way; and no - they were not a tribe of albino pygmy Eskimos. Their spears and arrows were poison-tipped. This was it. We looked all around us. It was inevitable. In seeming unison they readied to launch their volley of arrows and spears into us. I gazed beyond them but could see no exit. They all leaned forward. My men looked to me. I looked back at them. The warriors cast their eyes upon us. Their bows and spears at the ready.
Then we heard the call from above in the trees. We could not see him, but he was there. Everyone below stopped - startled! As he gave his sustained yell in the distance we could hear what sounded like him beating his broad chest. -A rustling in the brush. Why, it seemed to come from both sides - out beyond the surrounding phalanx of warriors. Birds above took flight and noisily disappeared amid the branches. Soon elephants came out of nowhere from all directions! The warriors yelled to each other, we ducked and dropped our packs. But there was nowhere to flee to. The steep valley wall we had descended from lay behind us. Elephants came charging in.
The warriors were scattering. From above a long vine swung down. Why - it was Winston Ching. We had heard about this man. But who could believe the stories. He yelled again and the dozen or so elephants moved concertedly in front of us. The warriors fled. The elephants charged them.
A rhino from out of nowhere, in fear and confusion, charged straight at Winston. He easily dodged this attack. The rhino disappeared into the brush. Then a huge spotted leopard - from out of nowhere - leaped onto Winston's back! They tumbled together down into the quicksand - just as the volcano that we hadn't noticed until now - began erupting.
I pulled my machete out and jumped down towards the leopard and his unarmed supposed prey. Winston struggled to free himself from the cat and against the enveloping quicksand. But just then a long, heavy python dropped from the tree above me and down onto my neck and shoulders, then pinning my arms to my sides. It began constricting. I called to James the Younger for my revolver, but James was just then dodging a chunk of molten lava. Winston was grasping a vine and wrestling the clawing leopard with his other hand while still sinking within the quicksand pit. They were both going down. I could not breath but I was able to get one hand free and with it to employ my machete.
You probably know that snake meat is quite a tasty dish. But first one needs to make sure that the snake doesn't kill him prior to suppertime. Right. The volcanic ash made the air hazy now. My neck was immobile in its coils; I could not see below and was losing consciousness but I quickly felt down the length of the snake and hastily sliced off the end of the snake. Oops! Wrong end. Cutting off the end of his tail made the snake mad.
Andrew bravely forged a flowing lava stream and gathered together our packs. I had not actually officially announced that we would be departing from this place in short order but Andrew had a way of anticipating my commands at times. It is a good thing to have a party member who keeps his wits about him and regards his superiors with attentiveness.
Winston and the leopard had gone down. I could not see either of them and the vine was sinking into the pit. I cut off the other end of the snake. Yes - that did it. I began working free of its coils. The head lay on the ground nearby, snapping at me.
Lunging forward, I got to the edge of the quicksand and began pulling the vine back up. There was a hand, then a set of claws. The leopard came up! It snarled as it took its first deep breath. I instinctively scooped up the snakehead and lobbed it into the leopard's open jaws. They clamped down on each other. Neither beast fully comprehending the other in their mutually painful grips. I had not wasted time on introductions.
With all my might I pulled on the vine. Winston came forth and released his headlock on the struggling leopard. His arms were badly scarred. As the leopard and snakehead remained clamped on each other - engaging the leopard's attention, Winston and I clambered up away from the pit. While turning, I sliced the vine, and the leopard began sinking once more. A pity. Such a handsome beast, though covered for the most part with stinking, mucky quicksand at the time.
I could go on and on, but one thing remains clear. Yes, we did survive that day. Yes, we successfully escaped the jungle. He taught me how to swing from vines without smacking into trees; I taught him everything I knew about how to play the guitar in ways that get the sharpest responses from folks nearby. And yes, we became famous Egyptologists, as was mentioned early on. But we later had years of struggle ahead when starting our fledgling Oklahoma country western band in the '50's too. Those were some times. Why, that old pickup truck just a kept breakin' down. The crowds were small. Smaller once word got around about our latest songs. Then there was that day back in 1954, as I still recall, when we ran into a struggling young singer named, Elvin Pretzely. He was down on his luck. We took him to a diner and bought him some vittles. And being experienced musicians ourselves, we lent him a word or two of advice. We suggested he change his name slightly. It sure seemed to work wonders for him after that. Another job well done.
Thank you for reading - "The Secret Life of Winston Ching."
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