It is too damn hot and too damn humid to feel like a decent human being.
Plus, this is my last beer – maybe for months. Lukewarm as piss…
How the hell do people here cool themselves?!
The food is spicy, the liquor nasty. To shower is useless, cause I’m sweating.In. The.Shower! The river looks tempting though. But… I won’t take my chances, to end up with a weird, or nasty disease, or both.
Putting clothes on is utterly pointless, if it wasn’t for leeches, mosquitos, spiders, ants and snakes… So yeah, clothes stay on.
The nights are hot, the days are hot, it rains. Then it rains a lot. In one word: hell! Oh. Forgot. Everything here is GREEN! I’m trapped in a green humid hell. Ugh, my brain needs to be chilled! And now the beer is gone too. Dammit! The local dive has tainted booze and no nice women, or men to look at and play with. Fuck.
My only pleasures are sleeping by day, and surfing the web by night. Killing time in camp, till the equipment picks up something unusual. Waiting for the locals, to bring us some news, or strange animals.
Nicky-boy is delighted, to the roots of his black hair. Cooing and petting everything with fur and feathers, that isn’t fast enough to run for it. He could be petting something else… Fuck! It’s the heat talking.
My favorite cryptozoologist is a nice hetero guy, don’t let me convince you otherwise. All head over heels into his books and myths. He won’t recognize a flirt, even if it sat on his face. He’s so neat, that you could throw up…
The plan is, that Nicky-boy searches for a local legend, a so called „boca de morte“. A mouth of death, some strange giant ghost lizard. Maybe we stumble upon unknown ruins, or undiscovered petroglyphs. My plan is to interfere and annoy as much as I can, doing the climbing, the crawling into caves, the hiking. You know, the daredevil parts- the getting on, getting in, and getting under mystery places. Mainly getting on each other’s nerves, till we both lose it…
Last week, Nicky-boy, Pedro – our guide- and me, we were out in the jungle, exploring some places people are scared of. Places of taboo, places of burial, with strange names, translating to „Devil’s Hole“, „Angry-trees“ and „Ghost-making-River“. Places your hair stays on end. Surprisingly, they are within a three mile radius from each other. We set up some self timer cameras, just in case.
Meanwhile, Nick, that early bird, put together a kind of folklore folder, trying to decipher similarities in different old tales from the region in question, looking for hints, what that mythical creature may look like.
They all are about some kind of monster, from the belly of the earth. It always appears near a river, or a lake. It is said to be a giant lizard, sometimes a human, sometimes a mix of both. Considered a very bad omen, humans encounter it mostly during wartimes, and in times of famine and pestilence. In some stories it is the hungry god of the jungle, in other a gatekeeper to the realm of the dead, sometimes it has a function as a judge and hangman. The tales also suggest that it is a scavenger and that it hunts smaller mammals, birds. Everything it can catch, I guess. You aren’t picky about your food, if you are the gatekeeper of death, are you?
Yesterday Nick showed me his drawing of what it might look like – a huge lizard like figure, as big as a human, wrinkly, with tiny eyes, huge mouth and whiskers.
„It could be a giant salamander,“ my favorite cryptozoologist says over our breakfast. „I heard something like that lives in Japan and China,“ he adds. Disgusting thing, I hope I get to see one.
Now, that the sun is down, let’s have some fun. Where’s that laptop? Nick has got it again, I bet.
„Nicky?“ And ignoring me.
„Nicky-boy?… Doctor T!… Are you done?“ More typing and ignoring.
„Come on, man! I know you’re the scientist and stuff… But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to have some fun too…“ Nothing.
„Don’t make me sit on your lap!” He doesn’t even look up from the laptop, types on furiously. I plunk myself across the table and rest my feet on top of it. This is a perfect opportunity to smoke. Now where’s my lighter? I’ll annoy the hell out of him.
“You certainly can wait with your porn, can you? I’m discussing some routes and places of significance with the Professor. Your precious Howard-time can wait, since all your favorite sites do not sleep. And. Next time you ‘borrow’ the laptop, please be kind and clear the history.“ He gives me lectures? Why the disgusted face? I let the smoke billow his direction.
“Pfff. You’re just jealous.” He’s got a clingy girlfriend waiting for him at home. I’m free. Completely! „Don’t blame me! I’m the epitome of sexiness, the king! The lush ladies and gents love my craft!”
“OH! NO! No, no. Don’t wiggle your ass in my general direction. It’s bad enough, that I’m stuck here, with a maniac like you. Maybe for months. Please, hold your crown jewels the other way. I’m going to throw up from so much… Howard-ness. Come on. Don’t blow that smoke into my face, will you?“ Ha. It’s easy to piss him off! It’ll be fun! Maybe I survive without liquor.
“So? Any new routes, we can check out? Or ruins? I’m not mad, if we discover an ancient sunken city. Boredom is poison for me. I’m dying here. You know what happens. Dense ideas and trouble.” He shrugs. I thought so. Nothing. Sigh, I’m bored. Bored. Booooooored. Oh! Wait a minute! I know that look on his face! Something’s up! Hell, yeah!
“Howard! Look! One camera went dead. I just lost signal, like now – now. Another! We’ve got to recover it. Maybe it caught something. Both of them by Devil’s Hole. I just told Professor Henriksen, that it’s the most likely location, we should start with the search. Erm, Howy?” Nick tries to enchant me with his puppy eyes. Finally some action!
„I’m not Helen, Nicky-boy. No use for your puppy-eyes technique… But who knows, if we get lonely… Ahahaha, just kidding- You know, I’m nuts for action, but if I have to climb, I’ll need a second man. Pedro isn’t keen on climbing, or holding a rope, or holding stuff, or just walking… Plus, I saw him half an hour ago barging into Dragon’s Den. He’ll be useless for three days straight.”
“What the hell was that? The laptop? A personalized jingle? Hahahahaha. Don’t tell me it’s your chat, with Helen? Or email from her. NICK! She’s got your balls, and painted them pink and spaaaaarkly!“
“Shhh. I call you back, darling.” Bwahahaha. “No, dear. It’s Howard. Yes, him. You don’t say a word! No! There is a mute button!” Nick closes the computer and tries to recollect himself, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look, Howard. You’re my best friend, whom I owe gratitude. For the money, for the help with the equipment, and for catching me before I ran into that knife… But… God! You’re annoying, disgusting. You’re a drunk, a liar, a gambler and bully!”
“Thank you!“ I bow graciously, „I do my very best.“
Nick shakes his head in disbelief. „Let’s get prepared, buddy. The equipment doesn’t safe itself, does it? We’ll leave before dawn.“ His surprised look stops me. „What!?“
„I don’t know… It seems funny, that you are now keen on recovering cameras. The last time we were setting them up, you freaked out. And now you can’t wait to get going to the very same spot? Isn’t that strange?“
Pffff, bullshit! Some old tribesman has managed to sneak up behind me, and played a flute. Chilling tune it was though…
„No jungle man scares me shitless. If I catch Pedro before he’s cold out, he can be our guide. But, I know our luck… And I have to find us a new guide. Lets hope that there are more than I can shake a stick at. I’m off to Alcohol’s Den, then. Wish me luck!“ I stand up, stretch a bit, cigarette still burning and ruffle Nicky-boy’s hair. He hates it.
Dragon’s Den is a one-room-shack with a plank on two boxes as bar, and one table with four chairs. It’s pretty crowded. Everyone’s head flies my direction as I enter. Silence. Peachy!
I wave at the most bartender-like looking person. „Tequila!“ Everyone start to laugh. I get a colorless liquid in a small fish can. A fish can! Blimey, I might even get tetanus from looking at my drink. An „Obrigado“ can’t hurt. Pedro is already snoring, leaning against the wall. I knew it!
Now who looks like willing to be our guide? „Senhores! Necessitar de liter. Selva. Bom negotio. Bom dinheiro.“ I speak slowly and carefully, hoping that I make it clear. My Portuguese is not the best, I know. Good Money, good deal. Jungle guide, where are you? Not one of them reacts. They are eying each other. Fine then, I sip out of my fish can. It is Tequila! Color me surprise.
„Maiz uma vez.“ I hold the can under bartender-persons nose. He refills it. A huge smile reveals his big crooked yellow teeth, which match perfectly with his yellow sclera. What strange blueish gum he has… He really is fat, belly and all, but the left lower arms and hand looks dried up, skinny. Nearly unnatural… Noticing my looks, he smiles even wider. A slender man comes to sit down beside me.
„Senhor branco. Liter!“ The man points at himself, noding. „Selva selva. Bom liter.“ Jungle guide, there you are! „Maiz uma vez,“ I point at my new friend. Yellow-teeth gives him a small broken glass with some liquid in it. Both smile at me, like a starving man would smile at a steak. I put some coins on the plank, and turn to the slender man. I show him my watch and hold up five fingers. 5 o’clock. He nods violently, holds up five fingers too, and smiles his starving-man-smile. I point at myself, and overarticulate my name: Howard. He nods and smiles. In expectance of his name I point at him. „Nome?“ He nods. No answer. Peachy! Again then. Howard. Pointing… „Pedro“ he says finally. Maybe we have better luck with this Pedro…
At five o’clock I bounce Nicky out of his bed. I’ve been busy the whole night checking and packing the climbing gear, ropes, hammocks, tequila, tarp, food, water, first aid kit, some knifes and what not… And of course I surfed a bit the naughty sites. Pedro-Two stands outside, as ready as he can be. I fill an extra cup with coffee, and give it to him. I brew too much. Nick gets his stuff together, and we show him where we want to go. Pedro looks shocked, shakes his head. „Maldoso. Maldoso. Morte, maldoso,“he keeps stammering. Yes, we know. Evil place. Some Real and two cigarette packs convince him otherwise.
At noon we are in the middle of nowhere, absorbed in the twilight of the huge trees, in the ear piercing sound-sphere of screeching, shouting, singing, snarling of who knows what kind of animals. Nick is thoroughly enjoying himself, stopping every few step to take out his magnifying glass, or taking a photo of whatever crawls across his path, smiling at it stupidly. Pedro-Two is in front of us, making the path visible with his bushwhacker. Every now and then hollering an „Oy,“ so we know that he is still there, or we should keep up. I don’t know. In the evening we should be at Devil’s Hole, camping.
Before sundown, we reach a spot, where Pedro-Two starts building a camp. Devil’s Hole is some hundred yards away, but he refuses to go anywhere near it. Three hammocks hang under a tarp and a cosy little fire nearby, food nearly ready, freshly brewed coffee; feels like home to me. I’m starving!
Nick is satisfied with the findings of the day and tries to tell me about it. His babbling submerges into the background noises. I try to listen, I really do – is there a flute playing somewhere? I could have sworn that just now… No, must’ve imagined it. „Sorry Nicky-boy, you’re far too boring. If you continue, I’ll be snoring before I finish my cig. Better stuff your cake hole. In the morning we’ll see what happened to the cameras.“ Fed up with me, he turns to the fire. Pedro is quiet too, as if listening for something himself.
I smoke in my hammock, swatting some nasty mosquitos. I wonder if mosquitos ever get drunk, from all the boozed people in the village. Or if they keep preferring the drinkers, because they’re drunk too. Hehehe…
„HOWARD! Wake up, for God’s sake! Wake up! HOWARD! WAKE UP!“ Nick’s hysterical voice bulges into my ears. I get slapped and thrown out of my hammock. Ouch, belly flop.
„What’s the fuss? I swear, if it’s not important, I’ll whack you. Why are you screaming?“ I try to sit up, but can’t. „What the fuck?“
„Howard! Up here!“ I try to, but only see the tarp and one hammock strangely pulled upwards. What is he doing up there? „Can you move?“ No I can’t.
„No.“ I can raise my head, but my arms and legs won’t respond. I try to crawl in the direction of the fire.
„Me neither. There is something in the tree. Something big! I can see it’s eyes. I was screaming at you for twenty minutes. You sleep like A STONE. Pedro’s gone! This thing… It’s coming down. You hear me?“
„Who slapped me then?“ –
„Not me. I’m fucking up here, rolled into my hammock, like tobacco into cigarette paper! I can’t feel my feet! Get me down! Howard!“ Nick’s horrified voice pitches.
In the shine of the fire I see Pedro moving slowly towards the camp. He is inching my way. What is he up to? He’s naked. What the hell? Quietly, he comes closer, steps into the ember! He- he must be sleepwalking! Eyes rolled back in his skull, he steps over my back, still live coal between his toes. The fabric of my shirt heats up. Hot! „Aaaaaahhhh!“ It burns between my blade bones. Stinging races up my neck, claws into my left temple. Ah, shit. That hurts. „Shit! That jerk-off will pay for this! I swear.“
„What is it? What happened?“ Pedro shuffles away from my periphery field of view. I try to creep further to the fire. Strange, I move better now, hands still numb and unresponsive, but at least I can roll over, and dig my elbows into the ground.
„Pedro is sleepwalking,“ I huff. „He burnt me with live coal, that fuck tard. I can move better. Try it too.“
„What?! You can move?“ Nick’s hammock swings a bit now. Looks like it is slowly sinking back in its regular position. What the hell is happening?
“Whatever you do, keep doing buddy! It’s working!“ I manage to sit up, hands still useless in my lap. „Hang in there, Nicky-boy.“ I hear him grunt and moan with effort, till he plops out of his hammock. „Buddy, your legs! What happened to them?“ Something black, mold like is all over his legs, patch near patch. „What is that?!“
Nick gapes at me helplessly. „I don’t know… I can’t feel them… Like they are missing! Howard, I can’t feel them at all!“ He tries to sit up, but slumps over trying. Come on, try it buddy! I crawl his direction. There it is again, the flute playing. I stop and listen. It is much nearer now, then in the evening.
„Do you hear that?“ – „Hear what?“
„No… there is no flute. Howard, are you- just now, your eyes -are you okay? Your face went blank, like you were about to have a -Howard? Howard? HOWARD!“
I only hear the clicking of my teeth, their grinding, stiffening in my jaw and mouth. The rest is a red hot blur, turning into a thick blackness. Far away, bulging warmths rips up my throat and lap. I think my stomach tries to escape my teeth. Why drums? Drums. Who twists my fingers? Stop it! Skin fizzles, blisters. Shaking. Stop shaking! Stop! Hot! HOT! The fire! I’m burning! I can’t breathe! I can’t! Heat! It stings! No… Stop… The blackness lifts me up.
„Howard! Breathe! Breathe, dammit!“ Nick’s pale face fogs up in front of me. Why is he so pale and blurry?
„Are you smoking?“ I mumble. He’s terrified. But why?
„You self-centered bloated egomaniac! Don’t scare me like that ever again!“ What am I doing down here? I don’t sleep on the ground, do I?
„Why do I? …Why are you? …Were we kissing?“
„Howard, you had a seizure! Did you ever have one before? Fever?“ No. „Do you take any medication, or drugs?“ I shake my head. Not this time. „Then it could be poisoning. Did you eat any mushrooms? Or did you drink or eat something unidentified?“ I think of the tequila in the fish can. „Maybe…“
„Did you have dizziness or sleeping problems in the last weeks? Did you see, how Pedro prepared the food, or the coffee?“ Again, I shake my head.
„Where is he, by the way?“
„Wandered off that way.“ Nick nods into the jungle, away from Devil’s Hole. „I can move somewhat now. Fingers and toes still numb. It is dawning already. Let’s hope the daylight makes things clearer. Tell me, why did you ask about flutes?“
„I heard a flute playing, like the first time we were here.“ Nick gives me the eyebrow.
„What do you mean, like the first time?“
„The old tribesman playing that tune, the one that spooked me.“ Is he dumb or what? Forgot that sneaky old fart?
„What old tribesman? Howard, we were alone. Just the three of us: Pedro, you and me! I thought you were just freaked out, about the jungle and the hole… You said that you saw something, down there. Some bones or so. You didn’t tell me… After all, it is a burial site, so I thought that must’ve been it.“
„I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember? I was in that hole? Down there? By myself?“
„Yes. Pedro was your safeguard. When you climbed up again, you were spooked out, shaking like a leaf. The only thing I could get out of you, was that there are bodies down there, skulls and shattered bones.“
„What?! I can’t imagine! I don’t simply forget stuff like that…“ I sit up and scratch my head. I seriously need to wash up – got puke and scat all over me. Disgusting… If I really got poisoned, or drugged, I’ll teach that fuck tard a lesson never to forget. Either Pedro-Two or Yellow-teeth – I’ll sweep out that shack with fire!
The mold like patches from Nick’s legs are nearly gone. I help him stand up, he’s still a bit shaky though.
„I’ve got enough granola bars on me, for a day or two. We can eat that for breakfast. We should save some for the way back.“
„Thanks. My favorite bird-food: granola. Hmmmm, tasty. What’s next, buddy?“ Nick leans into my hammock and scratches his chin.
„We are here, so why shouldn’t we check the cameras? Don’t you think? Aren’t you curious? Maybe we see a boca de morte!“ I nod. The cameras we set up, are at the edge of the hole, overlooking the area. One from north, one from southwest- where you can see a small entrance to a cave, or a hole in the wall of the structure.
„Should we check for Pedro?“ Nick shakes his head.
„Yesterday he refused to come near the place. I don’t think he will be bothering us there. But just in case, we should bring the water and the food.“ He’s right. I’d hate to run after him through the jungle. We walk over after packing the most important things. Nick is slightly dragging his right foot. We put down the baggage by the roots of an old tree.
A nearly circular hole gapes open before our feet, forty feet deep, 20 to 25 feet wide. The rocky walls are overgrown with fern and moss, shot through with the roots of the huge trees around. The hole looks drilled into the ground. I can’t see the southwest camera… Only a bent bracket and screw on the ground. That’s strange…
„Look at that! Where do you think the camera went?“ Nick points down into the Hole. I definitely agree. Something has hit it violently. „Lets check the north camera.“ I bet that one is gone too. And indeed, I’m right. The same bent mounting and screws. „Who will fetch them? With those legs you can’t possibly be my safeguard, Nicky. I will let you down and pull you up. Is that okay with you?“ He nods absent-mindedly.
I help Nick into the climbing gear, and let him slowly down the wall of the the structure.
Nearly at the bottom he shouts up. „I found Pedro!“ What?! He staggered the other way, didn’t he? „He must’ve fallen down here sleepwalking, I guess. Poor guy, he is pretty banged up and mangled… Definitely dead… Rest in peace!“ Then suddenly, „Touch down. Howard? You were right, these are human skulls and bones scattered all over the place. Cool, these must be ancient trinkets, with jade. Awesome! Howard! Give me more rope! I see something shiny at the mouth of that opening. Might be a camera.“ I let more rope glide down into the hole. The noise Nick is making, moving around at the bottom of the Hole, sounds like breaking of little dry twigs. Somehow it reminds me of ocean waves, coming and going. A sharp pull! So abruptly… nearly sending me off, over the edge. Muffled cracking noises- breaking… Silence.
„Nick? Are you all right? I can’t see you. Nicky?“ I ask leaning a bit over the rim. „Did you trip over your own feet?“ I can’t see him, nor the entrance to the supposed cave. „Nicky? Where are you? Are you okay? Did you find the cameras?“ At the bottom, I see his back pulling intensely out of that small opening, against a force from the inside. What the – Something snaps and Nick falls on his back. His face immediately shoots up to me, eyes wide with terror, white as a bleached bone. Why is he freaked out?
„…Howard?! I found you, Howard!“ What? What is he mumbling?
„I FOUND YOU! I FOUND YOU! YOU… YOU WERE DOWN HERE, ALL THE TIME!“ He screams frantically. What?! What is he talking about? Is he mad?
„…All the time, down here… WHO THE HELL ARE YOU, HOWARD!? WHAT ARE YOU!?“
I don’t understand… Down there? I start to reel the rope in. That can’t be…
The flute is playing… From down there?
„Howard look at me! Look at me! Come on, focus! Get me out of here!“
He looks… aghast. Nicky is out of his mind. But I can’t help from up here.
„Howard! HOWARD! Pull me up! Pull me up! Come on! Pullmeuppullmeuppullmeup! PULL ME UP! PULL! ME! UP! PULL ME UP!“