Elmer, Bev and family, friends who used to live on a ranch in California, were on the road enjoying their summer vacation. Mrs. Wilderness and I intended to stay a couple of days at the ranch before returning to our temporary home in Bullhead City,Arizona. The house had been closed up for a few weeks and the area had experienced very high temperatures. Even though the house is constructed of adobe bricks and has double-glazing on the windows it was very hot inside when we arrived.
There was no wind to move air through the house and besides, the thermometer in the shade at the side of the house read over one hundred degrees. Because the house holds its temperature so well, the only cooling they have is a swamp cooler in a window of a bedroom on the second floor. A swamp cooler is a fan sitting in a window opening that takes outside air and draws it across water soaked pads and blows it into the house. The window the fan is in opens to a deck outside the bedroom. This deck has a four-foot iron-bar railing around it and that's all, just a door leading to the deck with nothing on it except the railing and then a drop to the ground.
I turned on the fan from inside the bedroom where it was located and then decided to go outside onto the deck to make sure the water was running onto the pads of the cooler. I had just lifted the side of the cooler and verified the water was running when a gust of wind came from nowhere and blew the door shut. I thought nothing of it until I replaced the pad and tried to go back into the house … the door was locked! No problem, I'll just knock on the door and Mrs Wilderness will come let me in.
I knocked on the door and waited … knocked again a little harder this time and waited. As I waited for Mrs Wilderness to come open the door I started thinking about my predicament, Here I was on this raised deck with a railing around it, 8 feet off the ground plus the 4 feet of the railing, no shade, and the sun beating down! I had water but no food. How long could I last? I've heard of people lasting days as long as they had water. Almost immediately I sensed my lips starting to chap and skin shrivel. My throat was parched and I started whispering; "water, I need water!"
Wait, the cooler was blowing air "into" the house. I took one of the pads off a side of the cooler and started screaming into the fan. Surely Mrs. Wilderness would hear my desperate cries. I waited ... nothing. What is she doing? She was reading something on the other end of the house when I last saw her. She was probably studying my life insurance policy. Does she hear me, does she know I don't have long?
I started searching my pockets for scraps of food … a candy bar, something. Then it dawned on me, I had the keys to the car, which was sitting in the driveway. The car had a panic alarm and I had the button. Without question, this qualifies as a panic situation. I press the button and it works! The horn starts blaring… surely rescue must be at hand. I begin my long wait ... minutes go by ... nothing!
Now I truly am in deep trouble! Destined to crawl on hands and knees across the vast expanse of the "Deck of Doom." Wilderness Wally has finally met his fate. How long will it take? Hours, possibly days before I shrivel up under the relentless sun. Will I ever be found, will there be anything left, did I change my shorts? All these questions run through my mind as I search for escape. I can get one leg over the railing but there's nowhere to stand on the other side, just a drop to the ground. How many legs will I break when I hit … assuming I land right side up? It's not an option but I won't go quietly, I start yelling for Mrs Wilderness again. Yelling, pounding on the door all the while the 'emergency-alarm horn is blaring on the car.
I'm getting weak but I know the neighbors a half mile away can hear me ... surely they will call the rescue squad. I watch the dog walking away down the driveway ... there's too much noise for his sensitive ears ... even "Spunky" has deserted me.
Just as I think this must be the end, as I sense the light dimming, the downstairs back door opens, Mrs. Wilderness walks out, looks up at me and says; "What is going on out here, why are you making such a racket?"
Through chapped lips and raspy throat I managed, "What day is it?"
Mrs Wilderness did open the door to the deck - eventually - only after much soul searching I might add.
The next day we left the ranch and returned to Bullhead City. As we drove out the long driveway I looked in the rear view mirror to see the heat waves rising from the deck of doom that was almost the undoing of Wilderness Wally.
Later, after reading an account of my narrow escape, a friend asked; "How long were you actually out on that Deck of Doom?" My response, "An excruciating ten minutes."
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