Cody and his mother squeeze through the tiny doorway of the gigantic pyramid. They find themselves in a gray tunnel that’s lost in the dark as it winds upward.
“Mom,” Cody says, with awe, “I counted seventy-three steps on the outside. So there’s probably the same number here inside.”
The light’s so dim they can’t see much of anything around them. Only a light bulb dangles from a string of wire over their heads. Wide stones perform as stairs into the darkness.
Becca says, “I’ve gone up these things steps before. Maybe I should go first.”
The light flickers. They stare at the jagged, tall and winding steps. Should they still continue up or turn and go back outside?
They hear the voices of the man and woman who came in faint ahead of them. The man says something in Spanish. Becca, who still remembers how to speak Spanish, whispers, “She doesn’t like being in here. She wants to go back.”
Cody can’t make a decision. His mother seems to be getting farther ahead. The lights go off and then go back on again.
There isn’t much air inside this tight space. It’s hard to breathe. There are no windows or air vents. Inside the pyramid, it feels just like another super hot Iowa summer afternoon. . . damp, hot and humid.
“It’s slow . . . going . . . “ Becca calls down. Cody can’t see her. And then, the lights go off. The tunnel-like space is very scary.
“Are you okay?” he shouts.
Becca calls down, “I’m fine. How about you?”
“Good. I’m good.”
“What are you thinking about?” she asks, standing still. “Let’s wait here until the lights come back on.”
“I was thinking about last night. In the morning, we left Iowa where there was snow on the ground. Then last night we were in Mexico, swimming in a pool with warm water. The place we’re staying must be very old, yet it has a modern pool.”
“It’s an old hacienda, or big ranch, built in the fifteen hundreds, and made out of adobe bricks. I’m glad they put in a swimming pool. Didn’t have one when I was first here. Isn’t their restaurant great, too?”
“Sure is. My class will never believe me when I tell them that in Mexico restaurants have no roofs overhead, and that big trees and water fountains can be found inside of them along with the tables and chairs.”
“How did you like the Mexican Milk Cake?”
Cody laughed and his sound echoed in the tight space. “I want to make one and take it to class as a treat. You told me it’s easy to make.”
“Sure is,” said Becca. “You punch holes in a yellow cake mix when it comes out of the oven. Then you pour three kinds of milk over the top and put it in the refrigerator.” Becca pretends she’s not worried because so much time has passed with the lights off. Will they ever come back on?
“The lights are back,” shouts Cody. “We move up again.” Then he yells, “Mom, look! Have you see? The ceiling’s painted green.”
Becca calls down, “It’s condensation. The air is so damp inside this pyramid that it makes the surfaces look that way. By the way, when we get to the top, there are things called hieroglyphics . . . pictures cut into stone.”
“Are they like the snakes I saw on the sides of the pyramid?”
“Good eye,” she says. “They most certainly are.”
“Just twenty more steps, Mom, and we’ll be at the top. I’ve already climbed fifty-three of them.”
“And then, you’ll see the Red Jaguar.” Becca moves faster Soon she yells down to him, “I’m here. I’ll give you a hand up.”
Once at the top, Cody discovers he is standing in a space about the size of his small bedroom. The man and woman who were ahead of them see the Clarks come in. The man says something to them they can’t understand. Then the couple disappears in a hurry down into the tunnel.
Now the Clarks are alone. Unless, you count the Red Jaguar.
Cody rushes over to see it.
There it is . . . behind steel bars.
“It’s not as big as I thought it would be,” he says, somewhat disappointed. “Why is it behind bars? Is it coming to life? I’d like to see it up closer.”
“It’s thieves,” says Becca. “The bars keep them from taking any more objects from Chichen Itza than they’ve already stolen.”
“Who are the people who do these things?”
“It started with the Spaniards who came to conquer Mexico. They were the first to loot these forgotten cities. They took anything made of gold or that had jewels in it. They robbed all the ancient Mayan cities. They worked their way up here from South America, just stealing and destroying. Others through the years have taken their place.”
“Bet that’s stopped now,” said Cody, who couldn’t take his eyes off the jaguar. “I’ve seen a lot of Mexican soldiers around here. They all carry rifles. They look fierce. I’ll bet they could stop anyone who’d try to steal this jaguar.”
Cody can’t stop staring at the jaguar’s green eyes. As he looks into them, they turn a brighter shade of green.. Suddenly the air turns thick and he finds it hard to breathe. A blast of fear goes from his heart to his stomach and he looks around for Becca.
She’s standing near the opening of the tunnel looking nervous. “We’d better get back down.” Becca rushes over to pull his hands off the bars.
“You go down first,” she says, almost pushing him through the opening. “Going down’s easier. It’ll be just like the time Dad was with us when we were inside the gold dome of the Iowa Capital building.”
But Cody isn’t thinking about the Iowa Capital. All his thoughts are upon the Red Jaguar. He’s certain that he saw open its eyes. Behind them was something like a video playing.
Then he remembers exactly what he’s seen and feels another shudder of fear. In the picture was two big, stout men who wore weird skirts and wild headdress holding someone, yes, a pretty girl a little older than him, down on top of a pyramid. Another man dressed in animal skins was holding a knife in his hand. He was getting ready to plunge it into her chest.
Cody wants to scream for someone to help her.