Excerpt: "The Lost City of the Monkey God"

In his new book, “The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story” (Grand Central Publishing), Douglas Preston relates the remarkable discovery of a city hundreds of years old, located via a high-tech aerial survey of an unexplored valley deep in the mountains of Honduras. Preston was part of the original scientific team that flew into the valley by helicopter in 2015 and explored the ruins on foot.

In this excerpt, he describes an incident that occurred during their first night camped in the jungle, when his expedition encountered the deadliest snake in the New World:

Grand Central

On my second circle of the hammock, I froze as my beam passed over a huge snake. It was coiled up on the ground, just to one side of Juan Carlos’s hammock, three feet away from where I stood. Impossible to miss, the snake was the opposite of camouflaged: Even in the dim flashlight beam it looked practically aglow, the patterns on its scaly back brilliantly etched against the gloomy night, its eyes two bright points. It was staring at me, in striking position, its head swaying back and forth, its tongue flicking in and out. I had walked right past it -- twice. It seemed mesmerized by the flashlight beam, which was already starting to fade. I hastily cranked it back up into brightness.

I backed up slowly until I was out of the snake’s range, which I figured might be more than six feet -- some snakes are able to strike their entire body length. I have had many encounters with venomous snakes -- I’ve been struck at several times and hit once (a rattler that bounced off the toe of my boot) -- but I had never in my life faced a snake like this: so fully aroused, so keenly focused, so disturbingly intelligent. If he decided to come at me, I’d not be able to escape.

“Hey, guys?” I called out, trying to keep my voice steady. “There’s a giant snake here.”

Woody responded, “Get back. But keep the light on it.”

The snake remained motionless, its gleaming eyes fixed on me. The forest had fallen silent. Woody arrived seconds later, with the rest of the group in tow, their headlamp beams swinging wildly through the murk.

“Jesus Christ,” someone said loudly.

Woody said quietly: “Everyone stay back, but keep your torches on him. It’s a fer‐de‐lance” -- the deadliest snake in the New World.

He pulled his machete from its scabbard and, with a few strokes, transformed an adjacent sapling into a seven‐foot snake stick, a long pole with a narrow, forked end.

“I’m going to move him.”

Douglas Preston. Mark Adams

He advanced toward the snake and, in a sudden thrusting motion, pinned its body to the ground with the forked end of the stick. The snake exploded into furious action, uncoiling, twisting, thrashing, and striking in every direction, spraying venom. Now we saw just how large it really was. Woody worked the forked stick up its body to its neck as the snake continued to whip about. Its tail was vibrating furiously, making a low humming sound. Keeping the neck pinned with the stick and his left hand, Woody crouched and seized it behind the head with his right hand. The snake’s body, thick as his arm, slammed against his legs, its dazzling snow‐white mouth gaping wide, unsheathing inch‐and‐a‐quarter‐long fangs that pumped out streams of pale yellow liquid. As its head lashed back and forth, straining to sink its fangs into Woody’s fist, it expelled poison all over the back of his hand, causing his skin to bubble. Woody wrestled the snake to the ground and pinned its squirming body with his knees. He pulled a knife from his belt and with his left hand, never releasing the snake with his right, neatly sliced off the head. He impaled the snake’s head firmly to the ground by driving the knife through it, and only then released the snake. The head, along with its three inches of remaining neck, wiggled and struggled, while the headless snake also began to crawl off, and Woody had to pull it back into the pool of light to prevent its escape into the brush. Through the whole struggle, he never uttered a word. The rest of us had been stunned into silence as well.

He rose, rinsed his hands, and finally spoke. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to move it. I had to wash the venom off right away.” (Later, he said he was “a bit concerned” when he felt the poison running into a cut on the back of his hand.)

“Nothing like this to sort of concentrate your mind, is there?” Woody said. “Female. They get bigger than the males. This is one of the biggest fer‐de‐lances I’ve ever seen.” He casually slung the body over his arm. “We could eat it, they’re quite delicious. But I’ve another use for it. When the others arrive tomorrow they’ll need to see this. Everyone needs to be fully aware of what they’re getting into here.”

He added quietly, “There’s rarely just one.”

The business end of the fer-de-lance, tied to a tree in the middle of camp to impress upon everyone the risk of venomous snakes. Douglas Preston

This is an excerpt from THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD by Douglas Preston. Copyright © 2017 by Splendide Mendax, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Don’t miss Lee Cowan’s interview with Preston on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” January 8!

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