Pool of the dead.
6:16 am . . .
Juan and I set-up two time-lapse, full-spectrum cameras. We hide them near a seismic sensor and do our best to obscure everything so that Evil doesn’t trip over our gadgetry. If anything seismically significant occurs, the cameras will begin filming and an alert will be sent both to us, and to the office where Billtruck and Hal can try and figure out what’s really going on.
We don’t yet know what Ricky and the others discovered. All I know for certain is that this place is haunting and quiet beyond explanation. I feel a bit guilty about something Juan and I did this morning. He came up with this idea for an experiment, but we needed some living creature to test his theory.
Well, the only living thing we’d seen, other than the two of us, was our little beetle friend, Juanito.
Juan was interested to find out what would happen if a living creature crossed the invisible barrier that separated the forest from the dead pool There was an honest moment of indecision, but in the end, Juanito was chosen to be our unsuspecting participant. We selected him because of his dedication and diligence . . . and the fact that he was the only animated creature we had seen in this disenchanted forest.
I felt that I should be the one to actually do it, just in case the offering of a living being might somehow give the offerer a curse. Seeing as I’m already cursed at the highest level, no half-assed, earthly curse it going to make much of a difference.
We found Juanito carrying a small clod of dirt, probably mixing clay or something equally industrious, that all beetles and bugs instinctively know how to do. I delicately picked him up, my fingers careful not to crush his abdomens. I marked his spot in the grass. We’ll either put him back when this test is complete, or give him a proper burial if he doesn’t pull through.
When we near the edge of the pool, where the grass and everything else living seems to stop, I look at Juan. He crosses himself, “Vaya con dios, Juanito.”
Go with God, Juanito.
And then he lowers his head in respect.
I kneel down and extend my arm past the barrier as I release Juanito. And the second he touches the black soil below, I start counting.
1 . . .
2 . . .
He’s walking in circles, trying to figure out where he is. Oh, by the way, watches and compass readings are impossible inside the perimeter of the dead pool. Juanito, he looks drunk, fumbling for a direction.
3 . . .
4 . . .
Juanito is crab walking, kind of veering right. He’d never pass a sobriety test in this condition. Especially in Texas. Although, maybe in Washington, D.C.
5 . . .
Turning, twisting, spinning.
6 . . .
7 . . .
“Esta borracho?” Juan asks. I shrug, watching the little fella spin in elliptical paranoid orbits, like he’s tethered.
8 . . .
This beetle’s more tanked than Robert Kennedy. Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Nick Nolte, Lindsey Lohan . . . they look like spokesmen for MADD compared to Juanito.
9 . . .
10 . . .
Wait a minute . . . he’s shaking violently. Almost vibrating. Quivering. And as I say, Eleven, he pops. Cute little Juanito explodes, half of his body still twitching as the other half lets out a bit of steam and liquefied guts mixture.
“Hijo de puta!” Juan says as he takes a step back.
Son of a bitch!
Eleven seconds. That means something.
I reach my hand down and pick up the hot, semi-smoldering halves of Juanito. 11 seconds and he pops. Heat death, like he’d been cooked in a skillet. Well, that certainly explains why nothing else wants to be anywhere neare this place.
At least, not for 11 seconds.
I glance over at Juan, trying to figure out how much he weighs, and if the same time constraints apply to non-cursed humans as they do to beetles.
Juan? I ask.
“No way, Yack. No fucking way!”
Just your hand, and only for a few seconds, or until it gets too hot.
“Estas loco?” he barks as he turns around.
According to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Psychological Illness . . . yes. Matter of fact, by just about every measure of what crazy is, I’m it.
“Vamos al hotel, Yack. Deja las cameras mirar este pinchélugar.”
Let’s go to the hotel, Jack. Let the cameras watch this fucking place.
We grabbed our bags, our guns, and our misconceptions, and headed back out of the forest to where Mr. Green and the gang were supposed to be waiting.
But we were more than a bit surprised by who was waiting for us.