The only thing missing was customs, which was seemingly replaced by a single military officer with an overly tucked green shirt, an ill-fitting hat and a gun which if drawn would fire more rust than lead.
Carlos’ private jet looked completely out of place among the dust flyers, freight delivery craft and planes so obvious they were used for drug running, they were only missing a logo painted along the side advertising, ‘Cocaine. Fastest High Anywhere.’
Once free of the airport, Carlos signaled for the pilot to take it home, and quickly, before he found the hubcaps and the wings for sale in the local airplane chop shops.
The jet was off the ground even before they were outside the property.
The trio were met by a rental car courier at the exit. He adorned in white shorts, a matching collared T-shirt and Sahara hat, having driven one hundred and forty-two miles to bring them the vehicle. He was provided a second bundle of funds to take a bus home with a generous tip for his efforts.
Once inside their four-by-four all-terrain vehicle, designed to carry six people, or three with lots of equipment, the trio felt they were ready to get going. There had been no need to load any gear as Danica’s father saw to it that everything was ready and stored upon their claiming it.
Having only lost an hour in their arrival, they spun the tires and raced forward in hot pursuit of the Thornes, eager to close the gap between them.
The next two days were long, spent with them driving deep and hard into the heavier jungle areas of South America. Most of the travelling conversation being more theories, continual conjecture and the occasional request by Hayden whether they would be passing a bar anytime soon.
Hayden was thankful for the air conditioning, as he spent a good deal of his free time draped over the rear seats in snoring bliss.
The trio exchanged turns driving, for maximum distance, over the days and nights they moved.
Numerous times they found themselves stopped by locals crossing with cows and horses. Twice they were forced to get out to move trees and fallen brush. And once even to allow a squad of ducks to pass to safety in front of them.
Carlos felt it was bad karma to kill innocent animals for a few minutes of road time.
On the third morning, Carlos pulled over into a large tree covered area and parked. He had warned them of this in advance, but reminded them the next two days would be on foot as the vehicle could not reach the cave entrance by any artificial means.
Once the vehicle was parked, Danica found her way to the hatchback where she found the long aluminum crate her father had informed her about. Dragging it from the back, she angled it downward at a forty-five degree angle against the rear bumper and opened it. Inside was an array of weaponry for the three of them to distribute amongst themselves.
As her father told her, the permit requirements in this part of the world were somewhat far more lax than Canada.
Danica sorted quickly through the rather comprehensive arsenal. Quickly thinking to herself, she knew she would have to have a long discussion with her father as to how he acquired such arms contacts, regardless of his novel research. She selected a handgun, three clips, and a leather holster. Her weapon was a 9mm Parabellum with 98mm barrel, six rifling grooves and an eight round capacity. She dropped the magazine at the heel of the butt and slammed it back into place, satisfied with its easy to hold weight.
Hayden chose an equivalent sized weapon, three clips and a leather holster which was worn around the waist. His firearm was of a UK design, with a 9mm IMI, 94mm barrel and fifteen round capacity. The magazine catch hung to the left side of the butt behind the trigger.
Danica warned Hayden if he started twirling it on his finger and re-holstering it into his side holder, she would take it from him and he could carry a sock filled with dimes to defend himself.
As Hayden secured his weapon, he double checked the case to ensure there really were no rolled dimes in there. He would not put it past Danica to have asked for it.
Carlos on the other hand hefted a high powered bottom-loading, side-ejecting shotgun with dual action bars, internal hammer and a slide release that could hold eight rounds in the tubular barrel. It sported a leather strap for over his shoulder and a sling to slip it into. Filling a small satchel of cartridges, thirty in total, he felt prepared for their incursion.
Once the trio was fully loaded up, most of their gear could be carried in packs, they engaged the auto locks on the vehicle and were back on their way.
Over the first day, the terrain was arduous and hard. Even the muddy areas were slick and difficult to traverse. Combined with heavy tree cover, though attractive and shielding them from the hot sun, it was still thick and annoying to pass through. Despite the generous use of a razor sharp machete in Carlos’ hands, there were still significant delays.
The trio suspected the Thornes would be equally burdened by such tasking hurdles as they were forced to suffer, or at least they hoped.
The constant jungle sounds, a blend of insects buzzing, animals growling and birds squawking made for a musical melody of nature which Hayden found to be overrated when tromping through it seeking an unknown destination.
When they did make camp, the rainstorms and high winds made sleep hard to achieve, leaving them deprived of energy for the next daily trek.
With the exception of Carlos of course, who always woke up smiling with bacon and eggs cooking over an open fire.
Hayden did make the generous offer to snuggle each evening, but Danica made clear, she preferred to be cold.
When Carlos held his arms open for Hayden’s embrace indicating he was a tad chilly, Hayden found his body quivering, explaining his physique was uniquely calibrated to only provide heat for the opposite sex. So he offered Carlos a sweater.
This was followed by the tent filling with loud laughter by two, and eventually three comrades.
The next morning, three hours in, Hayden finally asked, “Why did we not simply take a helicopter? For my own information really?”
Carlos shook his head. “Though South America is not known for its militant factions, there are sufficient criminal activities to warrant prevention of flight access. That and the local authorities have little belief you’re not trafficking when travelling in such a manner.”
Hayden recalled news stories of such things. It was understandable.
“Plus,” Carlos added. “No matter how far away we would be dropped off, the helicopter pilot would still have to file a flight plan. And however it’s explained, three would-be adventurers dropped off in the middle of the Amazon with nothing known in the area would ignite interest pretty fast. People still believe in cities of gold, ancient Mayan chambers of jewels and other more fantastical theories like…”
“Like the Fountain of Youth?” Hayden sarcastically cut in.
“Yes. Equally silly notions.” Carlos commented with a grin. “So in no time at all, we’d have a horde of treasure hunters following suit. And in my estimate, in under a few weeks, no matter how hard I tried, the island would be discovered.”
Danica walked for several more steps and asked. “Ever think the island was meant to be found?”
Carlos stopped dead in his tracks, bringing their little human train to a stop. He turned, his eyes seeming to chill Danica’s bones as they bore into her. “Not for a solitary instant.” He offered nothing more, turning back around and moving forward, hacking away with his machete and clearing the path.
Hayden whispered from behind. “You’ve been told.”
Danica swung around and hit Hayden in the arm, causing him to wince. He muttered under this breath.
The trio trudged on.
After a few hours of Hayden’s continued and unwelcome, ‘Are we there yet?’ Danica suggested he be quiet.
Carlos checked his compass and confirmed they were moving in the right direction.
Hayden dodged downward as a leaf stalk narrowly missed his face. “Can I get in front of you?” He asked, speaking to Danica.
“Why’s that?” Danica replied.
Hayden used his forearm to knock the next one to his side. “Because I’ve been slapped at least six times by all the branches you keep pushing my way.”
“Slapped?” She let another sail back. “Must feel like you’re on a date.”
Hayden ducked under the next one with a scowl. “With you anyway.”
“Keep dreaming.” Danica replied, smiling to herself. She turned and looked at the somewhat stomping Hayden. “For an archeologist, you sure complain a lot about being in the field. I thought you’d be made of sterner stuff.”
“Know a lot of archeologists do we?” Hayden shot back. “Plus if you ever watch all the movies with us archeologists, when they seek out a destination, they usually drive. Or fly or at least have a horse. Ever see them do a lot of walking in films? No. What makes us archeologists is we live in modern times. We look back at the past and think, ’I bet they wish they had a car.’”
Carlos laughed quietly to himself as he pushed through the heavier plants and trees moving deeper into the jungle.
Trekking through the underbrush and heavy marsh for another hour, Hayden asked. ”How do you remember the way so well?”
Carlos hacked some tall grass away in his path. “My memory is quite good. In fact, back in the day, I could recall the entire crew complement of the Leviathan by name. This was why I found having forgotten what happened on the island so trying and why I was so reluctant to return. At least on my own anyway.”
Danica was swiping some insects away from her arms. “Well we thank you for coming with us. After having Maximus and Maxima stab us in the backs like they did, I feel it is only fitting we beat them to their prize.”
Carlos smiled. “The question is, is it a prize or a punishment?”
Hayden yelled from the back. “Nice upbeat conversation. Makes me keep wanting to go all the way people.”
Danica and Carlos laughed.
After clearing into another small open meadow, Hayden asked. “Would it not have been faster to come in from the cove point where your ship came in?”
Carlos shook his head. “Yes and no. In today’s present, the cove is a large shipping port, with less than admirable individuals running it. The last thing we need is to have a group of criminals following us through the jungle with all our gear. We’d be sitting ducks.”
Hayden understood the thought pretty well. South America was well known for its brutal criminal element.
Carlos continued. “And as I said, at the time, we were establishing a settlement. We originally came up river for fresh water. But once anchored, we stayed for a while. We took trips to and from the ship, which in some cases, took half a day.”
Danica brushed a mosquito off her arm. “But the Thornes are using the cove aren’t they?”
“Probably because they’re criminals.” Hayden remarked. “Would you want to try and overpower that lot alone in the jungle?”
Danica admitted to herself, she did not.
Carlos took a moment to rest. “What no one ever knew was we actually came ashore on the coastal side of Peru.” He stated. “These were part of the pages I was informed I had destroyed in the Leviathan Logbook.”
“You don’t sound too sure?” Danica commented.
“Of our arrival on that side of the Americas I’m certain.” Carlos replied. “Of my destruction of the logbook, I have no recollection of doing so. But I knew my Captain. He would have seen it written accurately in the log. So destroying it to prevent its location was the only logical reason I could surmise. Presuming logical was my mindset at the time.”
“This was when you went insane?” Hayden asked.
Danica gave Hayden a dirty look, but Hayden held his hands up innocently, mouthing the words, ‘What? It’s a fact.’
Carlos replied, having no regrets. “Yes. When I went….” He paused for a better word. “When I found myself outside my mental comfort zone.”
Hayden nodded. “No chance of finding yourself relapsing outside your comfort zone anytime soon I hope?”
“You’ll be the first to know Doctor Lattimer.” Carlos replied. “Presuming I don’t eat you first.”
“Nice Carlos.” Hayden shared. “Real nice.”
Danica inhaled deeply to swallow hard the laugh that almost followed.
The trio moved deeper into the heavier habitat. The machete now taking several swings to clear an opening where it originally only took one.
“I’ve imagined my return many times.” Carlos began, starting to reminisce as he moved forward. “And this route is the most unimpeded route to our destination.”
Hayden and Danica let Carlos talk knowing he was obviously extremely nervous at his return.
“I’ve used online topographical maps, three dimensional grid schematics and a GPS mapping system to find the most ideal path to the cave island entrance with the least amount of human contact.” Carlos commented. “Though mine is not the most direct route, mine is the best way to get there undiscovered.” He sighed. “And remember, my journal describes only keys landmarks I observed at the time, which may have been eroded, if not lost, over the past century. It was never meant to be a point A to point B situation, point B being the cave entrance.”
Hayden and Danica followed in accepting silence.
Hayden tripped and fell into a large packet of wet marsh, which was followed by a sucking sound as he pulled his leg free. He rose, brushed some wet dirt off his knees and cleared his throat. “I know you hate this, but is it much farther now?” He growled. “We’ve been walking for almost two days.”
Carlos turned. “Not much farther.”
“Are you just saying that?” Hayden asked.
Carlos grinned. “Yes.”
After two more hours, Carlos finally turned to Hayden. “Now I can honestly say it’s not much farther now.”
“How did you even find this cave this deep in Shits-burg?” Hayden asked.
Danica glared. “This cave does seem to be in the middle of nowhere. How did you ever find it?”
Carlos’ shoulders drooped slightly and his eyes sunk into his face. “Purely by accident I assure you. And of course, our deception.” Carlos clarified, guilt lacing his voice. “When we pulled into the cove and moved inward, we were simply hunting prey for stores. It was then we came face to face with the tribe that guarded the island.”
Hayden threw in. “The original one? Not the one who built the chamber?”
“Correct.” Carlos answered. “Surprisingly, they were very welcoming. We ate with them, drank with them and even danced with them over several nights. We enjoyed their company, shared our foods, even if we could not communicate that well.”
Danica seemed confused. “If this is the original tribe, why would they tell you about the island? Based on the renditions of the chamber, they guarded its secret quite devotedly.”
“They didn’t tell us anything.” Carlos seemed to lower his gaze with shame. “Like I mentioned, they made an error and we capitalized on it. To this day, I still have not forgiven myself for having betrayed their hospitability.”
Danica and Hayden exchanged a quick look.
Danica reached forward and softly placed her hand upon Carlos’ shoulder. “What happened?”
Carlos had stopped moving again. He let out a breath, planning to unburden himself upon them. “It was a different time back then. Suspicion of savages was easy, regardless of their kindness.” He took a moment. “The first inclination was after one of their ceremonial dinners. Our Captain felt they were hiding something. You see, during one of the meals, they were preparing their warriors for something special, but they wouldn’t tell us what. So, after some of us returned to our ship for the night, a few of stayed back in hiding to find out what was going on. And yes, I was among them.”
Hayden almost asked a question, but held it in check at Danica’s look to let Carlos continue.
Carlos took a sip from his canteen. “After the fire died down, the inhabitants returned to their leaf covered huts. The warriors left the camp, with us in pursuit, unknown to them.”
“No one spotted you?” Danica was impressed.
Carlos answered with. “Surprisingly no. But they were very focused on their mission. We followed them for a good hour, until we found ourselves before this small but oddly defined cave entrance.”
Hayden ducked under a tree branch as it sailed over his head and smacked the tree behind him. He glared at Danica who had held it for just that purpose.
Carlos was still telling his story. “We waited outside the caves. For hours. We almost left. At least until we heard the screaming.”
“Screaming?” Danica asked with curiosity.
Carlos turned to her. “Screaming so terrible, you felt your soul shiver.”
Danica gulped, followed by Hayden.
Carlos continued. “It was not until the next morning, but when they finally returned, the youngest warrior came out shaking spasmodically, being carried by the others out of the caves and back to the camp.”
“And you felt after seeing that, your team wanted a piece of it?” Hayden asked sarcastically.
Even Danica found imagining that horrible a vision would be more a deterrent than an invite.
Carlos face went taut, thinking back to that day over a century ago, still regretting that night’s decision to enter that cave unprepared which resulted in thirty years spent trying to recover. “When the warrior was carried out, he broke free from the others. He was frantic, running around in a frenzied display. The other warriors tried to subdue him, but the escapee’s rage was fueled by madness.”
Hayden asked again. “And you all felt, ‘Wow. That’s for me?’”
Carlos finally gave Hayden a cold look. “It’s was what happened next that grabbed our attention, not his insanity.” He was quick to answer. “After a good solid minute or two, they realized the frightened warrior was beyond negotiation, so one of the warriors used his spear to stab the crazed warrior, right below the lower shoulder, near the armpit, with a vicious thrust.”
“My God.” Was all Danica could say.
Carlos looked defeated as well, momentarily. “We honestly thought they’d killed him.” He paused. “But it did not. Even with the pain, the warrior remained animate, flailing about manically. But eventually, he was brought to rest. The warrior dropped to his knees and the spear user withdrew the tip.”
Hayden mentioned. “And…?”
“It was when we all saw it. The warrior’s wound healed right before our very eyes.” Carlos remembered with amazement.
Danica understood immediately.
Even Hayden could imagine the sailor’s astonishment at seeing that happening in the late 1800’s, not unlike he and Danica felt in London when Carlos unbuttoned his shirt, like they were witnessing a miracle.
“We had no idea what was down there.” Carlo pointed out. “But for us, we envisioned invincibility and even immortality. Maybe in the back of our minds, likely as you originally surmised, something fabled like the Fountain of Youth. But whatever it was, on that night, we knew we had to have it, no matter the cost.”
Danica and Hayden moved forward a few more steps, no words offered, waiting for Carlos to conclude.
Carlos ended his explanation with. “And like I told you before, some things were never meant to be found.”
Danica noted. “And you were never welcome to return.”
Carlos shrugged. “We figured that out the next day. Our intrusion had insulted the tribe. Thus our invitations were quickly rescinded. And from this point forward, we were on our own. Ironically, our hosts became our watchers. For some unknown reason, they chose not to intercede at the time.”
“I wonder why?” Danica queried.
“I’ve no idea.” Carlos was genuinely unaware. “And though I recall reaching the bottom, from that point forward, it’s a total blank. As I mentioned, I’ve flickering visions of things, but none with enough clarity to tell you what I saw, what I did or what happened to me.”
“You still have your dreams.” Danica added.
“More like nightmares.” Carlos stated. “Part of me wants to know what happened. Another part of me does not. After having spent three decades of my life in a blur of therapy, drugs and experiments makes me wonder if facing my fears is a wise decision.”
All Danica heard was, “Experiments?”
Carlos nodded sadly. “Mostly by the lower staff. Experimenting in the form of beatings to see how fast I healed. Not more than that as the administrator was being paid very well by Captain Rios. So any harm I befell was without his knowledge. And bearing in mind how fast I healed, it was always long gone before he could find out.”
Hayden looked annoyed. “That had to be horrible.”
“Well, the advantage was, when I got a chance, and I got a little payback, my energy levels were always charged, so I could go for a long time. Most never tried again after one bout with me.”
Hayden had to admit, it would be a very one sided fight.
The trio resumed their trudging for another half hour. They reached a very dark part of the forest when Carlos suddenly froze.
Carlos raised his closed fist up to the side of his head and opened it wide into a flat hand, fingers expanded, signaling for Hayden and Danica to come to a stop, which they did instantly.
The trio each turned and looked in every direction.
They were in a particularly dense area of jungle, the sun shrouded from above by high top foliage, with plants, bushes and greenery surrounding them from nearly every angle.
Carlos slowly turned his head around and whispered. “We’re not alone.”
Hayden and Danica unholstered their weapons, unlocking the safeties.
After several passes of his eyes, Carlos entire body stiffened. He stared into a thick canopy of leaves and tree branches.
Danica sensed it before she saw it, but having Carlos’ gaze locked on the spot, she saw the silhouette right away.
Even Hayden had to do a double take.
Standing near the trees was a tribal warrior, clad in a brief amount of animal skins for clothes, but every inch of his skin covered in green and brown body paint, distributed and covered so perfectly, he seemed to be a part of the background itself. The only evidence he was not in fact a picture was the slow and hesitant breathing motions of his chest rising and falling.
Hayden kept his weapon aimed downward, motioning the others to do the same. He whispered. “Do not make a show of aggression. He wanted to be seen as he moved enough to alert us. Also chances are, he’s not alone.”
Within seconds of the words leaving Hayden’s mouth, seven more warriors stepped out of the jungle, one from every side forming a circle around them. They were each adorned in the same war paint and outfits, bare feet and strong hands. All of them were holding long bamboo shafts with a wickedly sharp spear tip fastened to the end. The final piece, a decorative shield at their sides.
Danica kept her weapon down, but spoke to Hayden. “Any ideas what to do now?”
Hayden was examining the symbols etched on their skin, looking for anything identifying. His eyes widened when he spotted a symbol on the tip of the shield, a dark moon over a triangular shaped object beneath. “It seems we’re on the right trail.”
Carlos casually nodded. “I already told you that.”
“True.” Hayden responded. “But so did they.”
“How’s that?” Danica asked.
Hayden used his eyes to direct Danica and Carlos to the icon engraved into their shield. “Based on that symbol, this is the guardian tribe of our lost island.”
Danica was speechless. For seconds she held her breath until she asked with some confusion. “How can they still be alive today?”
Hayden smiled. “That’s something I’d like to find out.”
The warrior group remained stationed around them, spears held at ready.
Hayden threw in. “Presuming of course, they don’t eat us first.”
“Nice. Doctor Lattimer.” Carlos mocked. “Real nice.”