TaleofTales“They can’t bite you if you grab them by the tail,” promised Abrams, a friend and oceanographer from Mexico City, whom I called “Honest Abe.”

Porque no!” I responded, always up for a bit of adventure

Honest Abe was leading a team of divers on an expedition to Cedros Island off the Mexican coast to study the diets of sea lions and their effect on commercial fishing. Most days, we were in the water swimming with the sleek and darting animals, trying to stay out of their way. They weren’t normally dangerous to divers. Unless it was mating season, whereupon some overzealous big boy might take you as a willing female.

The porky elephant seals… These guys could be dangerous, but only if you disturbed them while they were sprawled around like giant slugs sunning themselves on the beach.

Honest Abe and I were tramping the beaches with rubber gloves and plastic bags, collecting samples of seal excrement for his studies when we came upon a rocky cove strewn with the sleeping creatures. Off shore, sea lions cavorted and barked at us while the fatties on the beach kept right on snoring like a bunch of blimps leaking air.

As Abrams and I walked among them, most simply ignored us. One big male got too close to another, stepped on his shoe shine or something, and the offended one roared and took a bite out of his tormentor with teeth the size of T-Rex’s.

“The tail, you say?”

Honest Abe laughed. “Si, mi amigo. Tiene miedo?”

“I ain’t afraid of nothing.” I’m not as honest as Honest Abe.

We each selected a victim and crept up from behind while they snoozed on. I recalled once when I was rodeo clowning and grabbed a bull by the tail, after which it dawned on me: What do you do with a 2,000-pound bull once you got him by the tail?

Same thing with a 1,000-pound elephant seal. Abrams and I each grabbed a tail at the same time—and the show was on. Elephant seals are graceful and swift in the water, sluggish and awkward on land. Even more awkward when you have ’em by the tail.

Around and around we all went while Abe and I held onto tail flippers and roars and teeth snapped at our behinds. Abe was right; they couldn’t reach you as long as you held on.

“Now!” Abrams called. “Let go!”

Momentum hurled me toward the shoreline. I stopped in the surf. My elephant seal threw back his head and roared in indignation. A pod of sea lions in the water flashed by, pausing long enough to sound off with a cacophony of barks and squeals.

I think they were laughing.

It rained a lot that autumn after I returned from El Salvador without my right hand. The fresh scars on the stump burned when it rained. . . From The War Chaser by Charles W. Sasser. Recently released on Kindle and Nook. A reader recently complained I wasn’t writing enough adventure anymore. This one is for him.