[Author’s Note: To my readers, November is both ‘National Blog Posting Month’ and ‘National Novel Writing Month’. As a tip of my hat to both, I’ve decided to focus on and catch up on, my Elysian Twelve Beers of the Apocalypse reviews. I’ll try not to make them too wordy (although admittedly, this one did get away from me), but at the same time my goal within this series is to attempt to put together a little story beyond just doing a simple review. I hope I succeed.]
[When we last left our apocalyptically doomed beer adventurer, he had been admonished for his failure to find the fifth seal. But now, he was back on the trail of the others.]
The man walked into the dark room quickly illuminating every inch of it with sweeping motions of the small flashlight in his hand. No sooner had he entered when a man wearing an identical black suit and tie entered the doorway and also stepped silently into the room. The two men circled the table that was obviously in what was supposed to be the dinning room, although it didn’t look like it had been used for that purpose for quite some time.
The table was totally covered with photos, some appearing to be arranged in a purposeful fashion while others looked like they had been just carelessly strewn about. The second man walked around the back of the room and started to examine some of the photos. It wasn’t until the odd arrangement in the corner of the room was illuminated with a glancing sweep of his partner’s flashlight that the second man broke the silence. “Hey,” he whispered to the other man as he pointed over into the corner.
The first man replaced the empty bottle of Arrogant Bastard from where he’d picked it up and walked around the table to the sight of a small utility ladder sitting in the corner of the room. On the floor in front of the base of the ladder were more photos that had obviously been placed in their spots with great care. The second man knelt down and studied the pictures trying to make sense of the mosaic that they obviously were intended to make.
Finally the man stood up, straightened his thin, black tie with his right hand and placed his left wrist up to his mouth. “Yeah, this is V. He’s on the move.” the man spoke out loud as if talking into a non-existent cuff link on the sleeve of his black suit. The man stood silent for a minute as if trying to hear a sound in the distance moving only when his partner, who had made his way back to the other side of the table, offered a large sheet of paper in his out stretched hand.
Taking the paper, the man turned slightly in an attempt to better illuminate it in the beam of the other man’s flashlight. He turned it a few times until the pictures and words made sense. With a sly grin on this face the man turned and nodded knowingly as he again brought his left wrist up to his mouth. “Yes. He’s gone to Nazca.”
“I must say Doctor Hunter, that I am immensely impressed with your benefactor’s resources,” the man said in accent that revealed that English probably wasn’t his first language, but also contained the polished perfection that indicated he had studied at some high profile American or English school. “Not many people get to excavate in the middle of Nazca unsupervised.”
“You’re here,” I said not bothering to take my eyes off the work that was going on in front of me.
“Well, yes, yes. But purely in a capacity to assist with any issues that may arise from the local authorities. I have strict orders not to interfere.”
I didn’t respond, hoping he would let conversation drop. Apparently the short, roundish man didn’t have strict orders to not ask a ton of questions that I’d rather not answer, because he hadn’t shut up since he had joined my party.
“But tell me Doctor Hunter, in all this WASTELAND, how did you know to dig in this particular spot?”
“I got lucky, ” I stated, turning my head over my right shoulder, finally meeting his eyes for the first time since my team had started their work. “Now if you excuse me, I want to go make sure the men are setting up this rigging correctly.”
That last statement was true. After all, in a few minutes I’d be hanging pretty much helpless on the harness system the men were setting up, so I did have more than just a casual interest that it was being done properly. But the first statement was equally as true.
After spending the better part of a week studying photos which contained shapes painted on a floor, debris, and some idiot’s feet, I was no closer to the sixth seal. It actually didn’t take me long to figure out that the symbols on the floor represented the Nazca plains, but all of the lines and geoglyphs on the floor were accounted for in a detailed map of the site that I obtained from the United States Air Force, as well as what I could glean from Google Maps. I was looking for something different, something that wasn’t on that map, something to show me where I should start my search.
And half way into what must have been my sixteenth bottle of Arrogant Bastard, it hit me. The Nazca lines could only be seen from a vantage point well above the surface of the desert. The floor was almost a perfect scale replica of the field but there was one section of the desert not represented on the floor – the section where the alter was positioned.
Whoever had left the clue had been very clever. They had elevated the section of the map being covered by the footprint of the alter, so that it was actually on the top of the alter. Where I had gotten lucky was that parts of the top face of the alter appeared in the corners of some of the photos. After all, if you’re not going to worry about getting your feet in the pictures, why worry about getting the alter in them. From there it was a couple of hikes up my utility ladder to figure out that the important part of the map must have been on the alter top. You just had to see it from above, at the proper height to get the perspective needed to get the lines on the alter to line up perfectly with the ones on the floor.
A marker with the location of the next seal had probably been on the top of the alter, but without a picture of the whole top, I didn’t know where to look – exactly. But I had to trust that my discovery had narrowed down my search area small enough that I could find whatever it was I was supposed to be looking for. And like I said, I got lucky.
As I walked up to the rigging that had been set up over what on the surface looked nothing more like a deep hole dug into the ground I caught the eye of a man who was examining the electric wench. “How we doing?”
“Ready Doctor Hunter,” he said, tossing a harness rigging in my direction.
Twenty minutes later I found myself some 40 feet down a shaft that was probably no more than six feet in diameter. The first 15 feet of the decent gave no evidence of anything other than being lowered into a pit in the desert, but then it quickly changed. First, there was the door like structure that had covered the shaft I now found myself in. The shaft was circular, the wall of which appeared to be made of a smooth, almost metallic substance.
Ignoring the wall, I focused my attention to what was immensely more important to me at the moment – the bottom. A few dropped objects down the shaft had revealed no sound, except for one time that the object had obviously hit the wall on the way down, and the light I had brought down with me still showed no sign to an end to my descent. The thought of being at the end of a couple hundred feet of rope in a shaft with no apparent bottom was really starting to weigh on my mind when the harness jerked to a stop.
“Hunter?”, my walkie-talkie crackled to life.
“Yeah, go”, I replied, already knowing what the issue was.
“Do you see the bottom? We’re running out of line.”
“Not yet”, I said shaking my head. The system we were using wouldn’t allow the men to attach another length of rope without pulling me all the way back up. That was time I didn’t want to waste. After all, my diminutive comrade may have faith that the people I was working for could run interference with the locals for an extended period of time, but I personally had been on the wrong end of such beliefs in the past.
I reached into my vest and pulled out a foot long plastic tube and, balancing myself the best I could, bent the tube until it made a sharp crack. A vigorous shake brought forth a blue light, and once I was sure the tube was glowing as strongly as it was going to, I sighed, and dropped it. It took a few seconds for my brain to process that at some point, the glow had indeed stopped moving away from me. The stick had hit bottom just out of the beam of my flashlight.
“How much line do you have left?” I asked trying to figure out from past experience how far the beam of my flashlight reached.
“About 50ft,” the walkie talkie crackled. Far less than I’d hoped.
“Lower me as far as you can.”
In a few seconds the harness started to work its way down again. I focused intently on the glow stick, hoping every few feet to catch a glimpse of the floor with my beam. I was about halfway through the remaining line when I caught something in the far distance of my flashlight. A few feet lower revealed that I was indeed looking at the shaft floor, or at least what was now serving as the floor as the shaft looked to be filled with sand.
Suddenly there was a quick jerk in the line and my descent stopped. “Damn,” I whispered. So close.
“That’s it. That’s all the line we can give you.”
I didn’t bother to respond. I quickly figured out how much time it would take for them to haul me up and replace the rope; and mentally compared that with the time we probably had left before the sun came up and people began to notice us. Not liking the result of that mathematical exercise I did what any sane man would do. With a quick outward motion I pulled on the harness system’s quick release straps, and fell to the bottom of the shaft.
OK, for the record, that’s probably not what a sane man would have done. Although the floor of shaft was indeed sand, it still was very efficient at stopping my descent with a painful thud. I laid on the sandy floor for a bit, waiting for my body to report in on all the damage the abrupt stop had done. One ankle from the sand. My head and one shoulder from falling against the shaft wall when I landed. And some ribs that were reminding me that they still hadn’t completely healed from my adventure in Guatemala.
I retrieved my flashlight and, coaxing it back to life with a few quick thumps of my palm, examined my surroundings. The shaft just seemed to end in a sandy bottom which was quite disturbing in its emptiness. Nothing. Anywhere. If the sixth seal was down here, it certainly wasn’t just laying on the floor.
“You OK, Hunter?” a voice questioned from my hip.
“Yeah,” I replied still looking around for anything that wasn’t sand. “Go ahead and rig the longer line. Drop it down when you’re ready.”
I stopped. A fleeting shadow had caught my attention and I took a step closer to a section of the shaft. I dropped to my knees and started to dig sand away from the wall when I noticed something, part of the wall was starting to angle in. The indent started as a sharp point, and then slowly curved out the deeper I dug.
Soon I had enough sand moved away that I was pretty sure I’d discovered a niche of some type that had been constructed into the wall of the shaft. I was making good progress clearing the sand from around it when my hand hit something. I paused for a second and then slowly pushed my hand deep into the sand, and pulled out a bottle.
I crawled away from the hole I’d created and examined my prize. The bottle was just like the others, made from a quartz like material that caught the light in a way to almost be hypnotic; and cold, as if I’d just taken it from a refrigerator. From what I observed I mentally pieced together that whoever had constructed the shaft had placed the bottle in a niche at the bottom. Whether they had then partially filled the shaft with sand to make its discovery more difficult, or if sand had simply been slowly sifting into the shaft all these years through the door at the top, I didn’t know.
I slipped my backpack off my shoulders and removed a glass, which luckily had survived the fall, from its compartment. Sitting down I positioned my flashlight in the sand to give me some illumination in front of me and free my hands for the task ahead. The hiss of carbonation greeted me as, with one quick motion, I removed the seal from the top of the bottle.
As I poured the liquid into the glass the reason for the hiss became apparent, the liquid held an abundance of carbonation which showed no signs of ceasing even after the liquid had been in the glass for a few minutes. The liquid was amber, with a slight haze and a white head that covered the entire surface. Essence of Belgian yeast filled my nose as I inhaled deeply, followed by hints of bread and tea.
I closed my eyes and took a long drink, allowing the liquid to flow through my body bringing the rejuvenating feeling that the previous liquids had also brought. It might not be enough to calm my ribs, but at least the throbbing in my ankle and head soon abated. The liquid tasted floral with a slight hint of the Belgian characteristics that had been in the nose. But there was also a spiciness, and citrus quality to the flavor.
I poured the last of the liquid into the glass, still amazed at the cascade of bubbles that continued to rise from its bottom. The after taste was clean, with only a touch of a malt sweetness. All in all, the liquid was light in the mouth, the flavors coming together in a nice harmony. I was enjoying this one, it made the drop I had to take to get to it sting a little less.
As if on cue the re-rigged harness came into my vision as I finished the last sip from my glass. I looked around one last time for the supposed clue that should lead me to the next seal, but all I could see around me was a smooth wall and sand. If there had been a clue, it probably had been covered up by the sand that had been leaking into the shaft all these years. With no place to really put the sand, digging wouldn’t get me very much farther than I had already gotten. I had to come up with another idea.
I slipped on the harness and made sure everything was secure before I gave the OK to start pulling me out. As the rope began to pull me up my mind was churning on how to make my current situation not the dead end it appeared to be when something caught my eye.
“Whoa, whoa whoa! Stop a minute!” I started to scream even before I got the walkie-talkie fully up to my mouth. There on the wall was a collection of swirls; faint, subtle lines that seemed to be actually raised from the wall rather than engraved into it.
But that wasn’t what made my heart jump with excitement; it was the shape that was on the wall immediately to the right of the swirling mass, a bottle, no doubt a clue to the next seal. “How did I miss this,” I wondered as looked down to get my bearings. “Oh,” I said out loud to no one as I realized that I had fallen past it when I released myself from the harness. “And what have we here?”
From the mass of swirling shapes came seven thin, evenly spaced lines that seemed to run straight up towards the top of the shaft. I hastily took a few pictures and gave the command to pull me up, being sure not to take my eyes off the lines as I moved. As I ascended the shaft I chided myself for missing the lines on my descent, I had been so preoccupied with the floor that I had missed what was on the wall right in front of my face.
As I glided upwards to almost the top of the shaft, I was starting to wonder if I was going to find anything at the end of these lines when suddenly they changed direction so quickly that it almost startled me when I saw it. Giving the command to stop I leaned over a little and examine the section of the shaft more closely.
The lines turned right, almost simultaneously, and joined to make a single, thicker line that traveled about one quarter of the circumference of the shaft and then stopped. I stared at the end of the line for a second and then followed it around the shaft until it split and made it’s way downwards. I stared down the shaft for a bit trying to mentally piece together what was in front of me with what I had seen at the bottom of the lines.
There was definitely a purpose to these lines, they had a certain feel to them, almost a flow…I stopped in mid thought. A flow. “Get me out of this hole,” I barked. “Tell the guys to get ready to start filling the shaft in with sand.”
My plan at this point was clear: cover our tracks, ditch the annoying little man, and get to Venezuela.