Cotopaxi Mountain, Ecuador.
7 minutes later . . .
A young boy, Carlos, Señior Machado’s youngest son, is pointing us in the direction of the strange place that he found while playing around the side of the mountain. Señior Machado assured us that he never contacted the policia because he was worried about what they might say about him and his family.
Their house, and the property they live on, might not be legally theirs. And they didn’t want to find themselves on the street begging for money. Before they lost their livestock, they were doing quite well, but the animals started disappearing a few months back. He no longer had the money coming in from the markets in Latacunga, and Hector had been sending food and money to them until this mess gets sorted out.
We make our way over and around large bumpy knots in the ground. Without the Hummers, this would only be possible on foot. And as dark as it is, there’s no way we’d ever find this place without a guide.
After a couple minutes of hemorrhoid battering we find ourselves at a thick wall of impassable trees. We stop the vehicle and Carlos jumps out about as quick as we can get the door open.
He’s having the time of his life.
We’re hunting the end of humanity.
Ms. Josephine has been playing with him the whole time we’ve been driving, and as he gets out he reaches for her hand. “Venga, venga!”
“Okay, sweetie,” she says as she climbs down.
We follow Carlos tugging on Ms. Josephine’s hand, leading us into the trees. We all have super bright flash lights, and the darkness is instantly illuminated to look like shades of gray. This is eerily familiar to when I was in the attic of the haunted house in Flower Mound.
This area is oddly different than the surrounding environment. These trees are thicker, and taller. The bushes and brush around here seem to sponge up all the excess light that our Hummer’s halogen flood lights were providing.
The deeper we went, I started to get those creepy-crawly feelings again. There wasn’t a sound. No birds. No frogs. No crickets or other insects. This place was devoid of life other than the dense foliage. The farther we went, the more surreal it all became.
We continued, trailing behind Carlos and Ms. Josephine for another couple of minutes. I don’t know how far we were, maybe half a mile, maybe less, but all of the sudden there was a clearing in the trees. And then I got this feeling like I’d been here before. Like I’ve seen all this.
The thick trees.
The unnatural silence and solitude.
This is hauntingly similar to the place where I come to drown myself when I’m crossing over to the Land of Sorrows. The same grass. The same pine smell. I don’t even think they have pine trees in Ecuador. But I can smell it, clear as if I’m sniffing one of Ricky’s scented car deodorizers.
Ms. Josephine, I say delicately. I think I’ve been here before.
But she doesn’t answer. She and Carlos have stopped at the edge of some invisible boundary.
“Mira, mira!” Carlos says excitedly.
We all make our way to their sides, the whitish-blue sabres of our flashlights crossing back and forth. And then I see what Carlos is talking about.
This is my lake.
Only . . . it’s not.
It is a place to cross over.
Only . . . we’re not supposed to be here.
None of us speak. Not a single word. This is a mistake. This can’t really be what it looks like. This is a syntax error. An illegal function of this place. A line of code that needs to be rewritten on God’s computer.
“What in the hell is this?” Mr. Green says as he squints, visibly shaken. And this is a guy that’s seen more than his share of horror. His hands drop down to his holster and I hear several clicks as he and the rest of our minders prepare for something violent.