Brew Review: Elysian Brewing’s Mortis (Sour Persimmon Ale), The Adventure Continues

Mortis

[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventurer, he had just found the tenth seal OMEN.  But now the search for the eleventh seal proves daunting, and he finds himself about to cross paths with a living legend.]

I’d almost lost track of how long I’d been traipsing through the Peruvian jungle.  I didn’t even know what day it was.  I truly wasn’t even sure what month it was.  The one thing I did know was that many days back the people who had employed me became aware that I was not coming back in as I had indicated.  The incident at Angel Falls had proven that they somehow had an indication of my whereabouts, especially when the cigarette man commented “we have our ways” when I questioned how he’d known I was there.  With that little piece of information I stripped down to just the bare essentials for this trip, which included leaving everything they’d supplied me, especially the cell phone, back at a cheap, one room apartment in Merida, Mexico.

If my suspicions were correct someone, most likely a goon with a huge jaw, had broken down the door of that apartment, only to find a pile of my former belongings on a table in the center of the room.   Well, not everything on the table had been mine.  I couldn’t resist leaving the cell phone that I was positive they’d chipped in some way, sitting on top of a carton of Morley’s.  After all, I was sure that chain smoking bastard was going to be chewing a lot of those while he tried to explain to his “superiors” how he had let me just walk out of that jeep.

But I couldn’t gloat over that now.  I’d been lucky so far, most of the previous seal’s hiding places had been discovered and were well known, but this place apparently wasn’t.  The clue had indicated a temple dedicated to Cum Hau, a very different god then the one whose temple I’d just left in the Yucatan.  Cum Hau was an underworld God or as one of my old archeology teachers, who had a annoying over fondness for the Latin language would have said, “MORTIS“, meaning “of death”.   But most of the temples dedicated to Cum Hau had been found deep within a certain region of the Amazon jungle.  All had been highly excavated.  And none had been found to contain a bottle of magical liquid.  No, this particular temple was probably yet undiscovered.  And it was proving to be my arduous task to find it.

But after a long search of the surrounding jungle, and talking to numerous local tribes, I’d finally found an over grown cave opening that lead into a tunnel that had obviously been carved out of the surrounding hillside.  I was certain that I’d finally found the right cave when not far past the opening, I found two stone mosaics of Chaac, one on each wall, just like in Kabah.  But a little further down the tunnel I found something that I hadn’t expected.

The  floor disappeared, for a distance of about nine feet, for the entire width of the tunnel.  I couldn’t see the bottom of this “pit”, even with my flashlight, but that’s not what had captured my curiosity.  No, what held that was the object that hung from one of the beams that transversed the ceiling of the tunnel over the top of the pit.  It took me a bit to convince myself, that yes, it was a bullwhip.  Obviously I was not alone.

Garnering the nerve to swing across the gap in the floor using the whip took great effort, but I did it.  When I’d gathered myself I continued on down the tunnel that I was sure would open up into a larger room that I hoped would contain what I was looking for.  A room that I was positive I wouldn’t be alone in.

When I turned into the main chamber, the one thing I’d feared greeted me.  Standing on a raised section of the floor in front of what was apparently some kind of altar was a man in a leather jacket and a fedora, both of which looked a little worse for wear.  I quietly made my way around the edge of the wall a few feet until I could see that he was poised in front of the alter facing a familiar looking box, with what looked like a bag in one hand, and the empty fingers of his other hand waving in the air in anticipation.

I watched for a minute as he brought his hands closer to the box, his gaze intense as he glanced back and forth between it and the bag in his hand.  Realizing what he was about to do, I figured my best chance of walking out of the temple with the box was to not let this guy get his hands on it first.  So, throwing caution to the wind I yelled out.  But I was too late.  The “Wait” barely got from my throat when the man quickly grabbed the box from the altar and placed the bag where it had been.

The man, as if oblivious of me, stared at the altar for a brief time as if waiting for something to happen, and apparently satisfied that nothing was going to, finally turned to me with a smug grin on his face.  “Don’t worry, Sonny.  I know what I’m doing.”

Sonny? Who the hell was this guy?  I raise my finger in a confrontational gesture to ask that very question when suddenly an odd sound emanated from the altar.  The sound put me in the mind of machinery moving, but the tone was  more like stone moving against stone than metal against metal.

Apparently this was not a good thing, as the man’s grin evaporated and was replaced with a look of concern.  He turned slowly back at the altar, and it was at that moment that I noticed the whole alter was slowly lowering to the floor.  That might have been the most ominous thing in the room if not for the fact that several seconds later, chunks of rock and dirt from the ceiling began to rain down all around us.

The man yelled “run!”, but he didn’t need to.  I was already out the cavern door and a good 20 steps in front of him.  It didn’t take me long to reach the pit in the floor, but in that brief time it was obvious that the noise from behind me was getting louder.  What do people say?  If I didn’t know better I’d swear the whole temple was about to collapse down on top of us.  Well I knew.

In one scared act of desperation I leaped across the darkness on the floor in front of me, grabbing the hanging whip as I did.  I didn’t so much swing across the gap in the floor as hurled across it, my body being yanked hard as I reached as far as the whip would allow me, my ribs screaming in pain as I crashed violently to the floor on the other side.

I wanted to lay there for a while.  To rest.  To let my ribs stop aching.  But the noise in my ear was growing louder, and with everything I could muster I sprang to my feet.  It was then that I noticed what had happened.  The beam that the whip had been attached to had broken under my weight.  It was then that I noticed something else.  I was still holding the whip in my hand.

I had very little time to assess the situation when the other man came skidding to a stop on the other side of the pit.  Looking the situation over quickly, he put his hand out in front of him, “Throw me the whip!”

I had to think fast.  Obviously leaving this guy to be crushed wasn’t the kind of karma I wanted to walk away with, but I had to get that box from him as soon as possible.  And now seemed like the appropriate time.  “Throw me the box, and I’ll throw you the whip.”

The man gave me a look of incredulousness at what I thought was a pretty straightforward, fair offer.  “No way Sonny!  I’ve heard that one before!”

Who was this guy?  And why in the hell does he keep calling me Sonny?  “Look,” I said very aware that we didn’t have time for a prolonged argument.  “We don’t have time for this.  But I can’t leave here without that box and what’s inside of it.  I’m sorry, but I can’t.  So you’ll have to trust me.  Throw me the box and I’ll throw you the whip.”

The man surveyed his surroundings as if looking for an alternative to my proposal.  What?  Was he really considering not doing it?  Then suddenly with a look of determination, his other arm swung forward and the box flew end over end towards me.  I caught it in front of me with a sigh of relief just as a loud crash drew our attention towards the direction of the altar cavern.  As dust began to billow down the tunnel he turned his head back to me, spreading his arms in pleading manner.

Placing the box next to me on the dirt floor, I coiled the whip up as tightly as I could and with what I hoped was my best aim (I’d never actually thrown a whip before) tossed it over to him.  The man caught it and in one fluid motion flicked it behind him letting the leather cord extend to its full length.  I saw the blur of his arm and heard the crack, but I was unable to follow what had actually happen with my eyes.  Before I knew it he was swinging across the pit, having obviously been able to wrap the end of the whip around another beam.

His motion, unlike mine had been, was graceful and effortless – that is until he came up obviously short of the other side.  He was able to get one foot on the ground, but the beam the whip was attached to was closer to the far side, so in order to keep hold of the whip, he’d left himself precariously stretched out over the lip of the hole in the floor, his center of gravity getting very close to the point of no return.

I quickly stepped up and grabbed the man by his jacket and tried to keep him from falling.  He looked at me with an expression of surprise as if he couldn’t believe I was actually helping him.  “Let go and I’ll pull you back.”

“My favorite whip,” he said through his teeth as he continued his attempts to release it from the beam.

With a couple more tries, and the leather of his jacket starting to slip through my fingers, the whip finally came loose from the beam and as soon as it did, I pulled back with everything my ribs would allow, their reward for their effort being another hard crash to the cavern floor.  “Thanks,” I heard a voice say from along side of me.  “But you really need to be less demanding.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, trying to get my lungs to breath properly again.  “And you really need to be more trusting.”

Unfortunately our little bonding session was cut short by a  thunderous crash that caused me to snap my head in the direction we’d just come from.   Through the dust I saw a huge boulder roll out of a tunnel from over top of the alter chamber and come crashing down into the tunnel we were in.  Unfortunately, its drop didn’t slow down its forward progress any, and it was quickly obvious that we didn’t have much time.

Again the stranger sensed the need to tell me to run, and again I was way ahead of him as I had already grabbed the box and was scrambling to my feet.  I didn’t look back.  Hell I didn’t even look to see if he was nearby, I just ran down the tunnel as fast as I could until I was greeted by the possible life saving sight of sunlight gleaming into the cave opening.

I hit the opening and jumped, landing on the embankment in front of the cave and, clutching the box as hard as I could, rolled down to the bottom.  When I finally came to a stop, I quickly looked up at the cave just in time to see the huge boulder slam into the smaller opening , sending dirt, stone and vegetation spraying down over me and the embankment.

I lay there for a minute eying the now sealed cave, and marveling at my narrow escape when a voice came from behind me.  “One of these days I’m going to get the hang of those counterweight traps,” the man said, punctuating the sentence with an embarrassed laugh.

I turned my head to see the stranger sitting several feet away from me, likewise covered with debris.  “Who the hell ARE  you?”

“Jones,” he said brushing the dust of his fedora and placed it back on his head with a slight tip,  “Henry Jones,” he paused as if the next word was significantly more important than the previous ones, “Junior.”

That rang a bell with me.  Something I had heard recently.  What was it?  I closed my eyes and let my mind drift backwards through the previous several months of memories.  Suddenly I snapped open my eyes.  The amateur!  The one that had found the sixth seal!  He was following notes from a journal of a Doctor Jones.  I hadn’t thought about it much at time, but now everything started to fit together.  Including somethings I’d read and heard from my early days at school.  “Doctor Jones?” I asked, not believing that this could actually be the same guy.  “India…”

“Oh no,” he held up a hand and cut me off.  “I haven’t gone by that in a very long time.  It’s Henry now.  Junior to my friends.”

“But that’s impossible,” I said as I did the math in my head.  “I remember hearing stories about you and the Nazis when I was just starting out in archeology.  You’d have to be…”

“Older than I appear,” he said in a assuring voice.  “It’s a bit of a long story.”

“Yeah?” I questioned as I opened the box that had landed next to me and pulled out the cold, quartz-like bottle that was inside it.  Only recently I’d have balked at sharing the liquid with someone else, considering that I’d been specifically instructed not to, but at this point I wasn’t really concerned about my former employer’s disapproval.  “Care to share stories over a drink.”  I pulled out a couple of glasses from my backpack and set them down in front of me and when I was ready, opened the seal.

“No!”  Jones yelled letting the word trail off into a face of disappointment.  “That should have been in a museum.  Unopened.”

“Believe me.  This was never heading to a museum.  To be honest,” I poured the liquid from the bottle into each of the glasses, “I don’t know where it was heading.”  Once the two glasses were full, I picked one up and handed it over to Jones.  ” A story?”

He looked at me uncertain for a bit and then one corner of his mouth turned up in a grin as he reached out for the glass.  “Why not.”

He began his story as I took my first whiff of this new liquid.  It was light, with a touch of fruit and a certain Belgian beer like quality.  I marveled for a moment at  the carbonation.  The liquid was cloudy, but I could still see the fountain of rushing bubbles that were emanating from the bottom of my glass.

The tale he was spinning was fantastic to say the least, but it certainly wasn’t any more outlandish than the ones Lara had told me when she’d had one to many glasses of wine.  Rat filled caverns under the city of Venice.  A traitorous Austrian blonde temptress (and a fellow archeologist to boot).  Chases and escapes from the Nazis involving motorbikes, Zeppelins and bi-planes.  Getting Adolph Hitler’s autograph.  I listened intently as I drank the liquid in  my glass, enjoying the  light nuances of grapefruit, tropical fruits, and maybe even a touch of honey, that comprised the flavor.

I listened quietly to his story as I tried to figure out if there was a touch of spice in the mix as well.  It wasn’t until a 700 year old knight and the cup of Christ popped into his story that I interrupted him, “Wait, you want me to believe that you actually found THEE Holy Grail.”

“Sure did, ” he beamed and then, as if he couldn’t resist the urge to show off he leaned towards me a bit. “The Ark of the Covenant too.  But that’s a story for another time.”  And he continued where he’d left off as if my interruption hadn’t even happened.  At this point my glass was almost empty, and I was starting to feel the familiar warmth of the liquid course through my body.  Some of my minor aches were already starting to dissolve away, although as usual there didn’t seem enough potency to quell the pain in my ribs.

At this point I was starting to really enjoy the finish of this liquid.  It was really clean, with a little malty after taste and a touch of bite from the carbonation, but not as much as I’d expected.  There was also a mild sourness about the liquid that was some what thirst quenching, which was quite welcome in the hot, steamy jungle.

Soon he was finishing his story and his glass, ” The knight told us that the Grail’s gift of immortality wouldn’t go past the seal at the entrance of the temple.  And while that was obviously the case, I believe there was enough power within it to slow things down a bit if you will.  At least that’s what I believe.”  He shrugged almost apologetically.  “After all, I’m still here.”

“And your father?”

“Passed away.  Some time ago.”

“But you said he’d drank from the Grail as well.”

“True.  But most of its healing power was probably used up on his wound.  There wasn’t much left in him.  If that makes any sense.”

I nodded, although he probably didn’t think I truly understood, thanks to my recent adventures I too knew a thing or two about liquids with unusual healing properties.

“Your turn,” Doctor Jones said as he passed me his empty glass.

“Well, I’m afraid mine’s not as interesting and sadly,” I tilted the bottle up-side-down, “we’re empty.  So if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell my story while we walk.  To be honest I don’t know how long I’ve been in this jungle and I’m pretty tired of staring at vegetation all day.  I wouldn’t mind a city bar with Arrogant Bastard on draft right about now.”

“Fair enough,” Doctor Jones said as he got to his feet.  Once there he bounced a bit on the balls of his feet and crossed his arms back and forth across his chest.  “Hmmmm, this old body feels surprisingly good considering what it’s just been through.”

“Ah, well let’s just say that you have my story to thank for that,” I shot him a wink as I placed the box in my backpack and tossed it over my shoulder.  “I’ll explain as we walk.  Lead on.”

As we walked away from the cave I thought back to how this whole journey had begun and everything that had happened to me along the way.  And here I was walking in the jungles of Peru with a legend, and only one step away from finding the final seal and completing the journey I started many months before.  I had to admit, although it wouldn’t rival finding the Holy Grail, it was an interesting story that deserved to be told.

“Well Doctor Jones, my name is Doctor Micheal Hunter, and it all started when I was approached…,” but I never finished the sentence.  A hand rested on my shoulder so carefully that its presence didn’t even cause me to break my gate.

“I thought I told you, Micheal.  My friends call me Junior.”

[Coming up next – Our Adventure’s tale comes to an end as he comes face-to-face with the mastermind behind his quest.]

Brew Review: Eylsian Brewing’s OMEN (Belgian Raspberry Stout), The Adventure Continues

Omen

[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventurer, he had just found the ninth seal BLIGHT.  Now he finds himself at a crossroads, and quite possibly, the end of the trail.]

“Yeah, I got it,” I said quietly into the phone as if sneaking a call from behind a library book shelf when in fact, there was little chance of anyone hearing me in the dark alleyway I was waiting in.  From where I stood in the shadows, I could see a good section of the dimly lit street I had just turned off of, which lay good distance down from the Museum, and the only thing I could see were a couple of piles of garbage and a stray dog that they had attracted.  My only hope now was that my ride would get here in a timely fashion.  It wasn’t the pouring rain that had me uncomfortable, no it was the thought that any minute I might bump into someone from the local authorities and have to answer a lot of questions about why I was out this time of night and what I had in my backpack.

“Well make it quick!  I’d really like to have a few miles between us and this town before someone discovers it’s missing,” I put the exclamation point at the end of my statement by pushing  a button on my phone and disconnecting the call.  Nothing to do now but wait.  Leaning against one of the building walls, I allowed myself a slight grin as I remembered the phone call which had a slightly different tone only four days earlier.

……………………………………………………………………..

“Yeah well it’s not here,” I stated firmly into the phone.  “The clue in the caves at Dos Pilas was a specific reference to the Kabah site.  At the temple of Chaac’s many faces.  That’s an obvious reference to the Palace of Masks. ”

Indeed, the clue was unmistakable.  Kabah, just south of the town of Uxmal in the Yucatan region of Mexico is the site of one of the most interesting ruins from the Mesoamerican era, The Palace of the Masks.  Built around 7 AD, the structure is covered totally with faces of the rain god, Chaac.  This massive repetition, and the fact that the figure of Chaac is prominently displayed on many of the Mayan structures in the surrounding area is totally unique in Mayan art.  But the reasoning behind it is simple, this region of the Yucatan had no cenotes, so the Mayans in this area were totally dependent of rain for their water.

“Actually, I think we’ve been pretty damn lucky up to this point.  These seals were placed in their hidden locations probably over a thousand years ago.  Did you really think that all of them would still be laying around like a bunch of over looked Easter Eggs?”  The last thing I needed right now was cigarette guy giving me a bunch of crap.  I had spent hours combing the Palace of Masks looking for a clue to the next seal’s hiding place.  And my heart sank when I found it because instead of the cause for celebration it should have been, it was quite possible an OMEN that perhaps my quest had come to an end.

The “masks” in the Palace of Masks are constructed using a mosaic of stones.  Each mask at one point in time had one stone that had been carved into the shape of  Chaac’s long hooked nose, inside many of which it was not uncommon to find hidden compartments that housed incense, bottles of oils and the like.  With that in mind, I was sure the next seal was hidden in one of the many noses on the Palace of Masks since the second line of the clue translated into, only one protects the next.  Sadly, it also wasn’t uncommon for these noses to be missing, many of them broken off throughout time and forever lost.

“Well I don’t appreciate the attitude as if this is some how my fault!  It could have been removed 500 years go for all I know!”  As I continued to listen to him tell me about his “disappointment”, my brain began to really process that this could actually be the end of the trail.  What I said wasn’t a lie.  Considering everything that had happened and how long the seals have been laying around, the fact that I’d gotten this far was amazing.  But having gotten so close to the end of the trail, I was at the moment finding little consolation in that fact.

After a few more minutes of listening to cigarette man drone on, I quickly excused myself and disconnected the call.  Shaking my head in disgust I turned back to the image of Chaac, its missing nose taunting me.  I must have stood there for quite awhile, because the voice that came from behind me caused me to jump.

“Noticed the discrepancy, then have you?”  I spun to see a short man, dressed in tan shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.  He looked like he’d be more at home on a Caribbean cruise than a Mayan ruin.  “Most people don’t notice it.”

“Discrepancy?” I echoed, knowing full well what he meant, but still being able to think fast enough to know that I’d probably get more answers from this guy if I played dumb.

“Yeah, the nose or what’s left of it, you could say,” the man walked past me and placed his hand up to where Chaac’s nose would have been had it still been intact.  “This particular nose, out of the hundreds here, was chiseled out of a different material than the rest of the complex.  Every stone, every facade of this structure was made from stones that came from an area a little ways north of Campeche.  But this one,” The man continued to caress the stone like it was a long lost lover.  This one came from somewhere else.”  The man turned smiled at me, “Spent many a nights wonder why that was.”

I didn’t have to wonder.  Although the nose was gone, it had broken off at the surface of the wall, leaving the part that anchored into the wall still there.  It had taken me awhile to find it, but I recognized composition of the 6×6 inch square the moment my eyes caught it.  This nose had been fashioned from stone that was taken from the cave where I’d found the previous seal.  As with previous locations, they had used something from where one seal had been hidden to mark the location of the next.

“To bad it’s gone, ” I turned away, as if the very act of saying the words had put the final curtain on my quest.

“Gone?  Oh, it’s not gone.  Most of the pieces of debris from Kabah have been shuttled off to various Museums and Scientific Institutes.  But back when the excavation of this site began, the local magistrates made an arrangement with the government archeologists that some select pieces would remain here, you know, to respect the local history,  to aid in the tourist trade.  That particular piece was one of them.  It’s housed over at a museum in Uxmal.”

My heart almost stopped as I spun on my heels to face the man.  Could I really be this lucky? “What museum?”

………………………………………………….

That had been four days ago.  I planned everything careful, including being picked up at this precise location within a few minutes of completing my task.

As I finished my thought a black jeep pulled up to the opening of the alleyway and its back door swung open.  I didn’t need to wait for a verbal invitation, the cloud of cigarette smoke that drifted out of the door and  into the damp, night air was confirmation enough that this was indeed my ride.

I didn’t even look up and down the street as I walked out of the alley, slide into the car and closed the door behind me.  I felt a rush of welcome relief flow through my body as the driver pressed down on the gas pedal, steering the jeep out onto the street to begin our journey out of the city.

“So,” a familiar voice said from the seat next to me. “We can add breaking and entering; theft, and possession of stolen property to your impressive resume.”

“Whoever left this trail wanted these to be found.  I’m just following the wishes of the original owners.”

“Convenient attitude.”

“Just a matter of perspective,” I returned trying to convince myself more than anyone.  I had no idea what the people who left this trail had intended.  But that didn’t truly matter now.  It was time to focus on the task at hand.  “Did you bring it?”

“Yeah,” cigarette man nodded as he reached down and pulled a hammer from the floor of the jeep. “Would you believe that this was almost the hardest request you’ve made of me?  Not exactly a lot of Home Depots around here.”  He let out a soft laugh as he passed it to me.

I reached down into my backpack that I’d positioned between my legs and pulled out a large object wrapped in a towel.  I positioned the object across my knees and unfolded the towel from around it revealing a hook shaped stone that to most people could have been anything, but to those who’ve visited Kabah, was quickly recognizable as one of Chaac’s noses.

Carefully tucking the edges of the towel under the stone to cushion my legs, I planted my feet firmly on the floor of the jeep until I was sure I was well braced and, taking a deep breath, swung.  The backseat of a car proved not to be the best place to do this .  Stone chips flew all over the jeep with each swing of the hammer, and I caught cigarette man flinching out of the corner of my eye on more than a couple swings.  Small pieces were breaking off, but I was making no progress in actually breaking open the stone.

Miles and miles of roadway must have past under us, as I switched hands every time the one I was using got tired.  And just when I thought I was going to have to take another approach, the stone abruptly split and fell into two pieces.  Two solid pieces.

“Where is it?” the cigarette man whispered.  “You said it would be in the nose!”

“I said it was likely in the nose,” I snapped back, staring at the chunks of rocks on my lap. “Apparently I was wrong.”

“Damn it!!” I screamed as I flung the hammer into the back of the jeep.  I pulled off my hat and ran my sore fingers through my hair.

“Now what?”  my co-passenger asked in a tone that indicated he expected me to have some sort of plan B.

“Now?  Nothing.  It’s gone.  They’re gone,” the final words escaped my lips as a whisper.  I sat back against the leather seat of the jeep and closed my eyes, “Like I said, we were lucky to find as many as we did.”

We sat in silence for the remainder of the drive, my co-passenger’s obvious anger illustrated by the fact that in the next 15 minutes, he didn’t even bother to light up a Morley.  Soon I could see lights in front of us and not long after that the jeep was pulling into the the city of Merida where, after a  few blocks we pulled up to the prearranged corner and came to a stop.

“I think considering the circumstances you should come in, Doctor Hunter.  My superiors would probably like to hear about this failure from your own mouth.”

I let the word “failure” go.  “Tell them I’ll be in soon.  I’ve got stuff scattered all over this area that I need to collect, plus I have to get the bottles I did find from where I stashed them.  I’m sure if nothing else they’ll want to see them.”

“Very well.  Shall we say two days.”

“Make it three,” I countered opening the door and quickly stepped out into the street.  It was late and quiet, which was exactly what I wanted.  Not wanting to prolong this conversation any longer I quickly closed the door and started walking in a direction opposite of the way the car was heading.  I walked slowly, deliberately listening for the sound of the Jeep as it pulled away from the corner.  I waited a bit just to make sure that they didn’t double back up the street and then turned around.  Sure that the car had indeed driven off I finally allowed myself to smile.  “Cheers,” I said as I gave a half-hearted salute with my forefinger.  “On to Peru,” I said as I turned and continued to walk up the street.

[Two Days Earlier]

I paused and looked around.  The last thing I wanted to do was to be caught defacing a Mayan ruin.  I had managed to get the piece of the nose that was still in the wall loose, but still couldn’t get enough hold on it to pry it out.  I was starting to get impatient, and as such was starting to make a little more noise than I wanted.  Just calm down, I told myself.  You’re almost there.

The day had been eventful, I rose early to scope out the Museum to find it lightly guarded and with a minimum security system.  This, happily, wasn’t going to be like breaking into the Louvre.  I paid the three peso fee to see the exhibit and walked around the small rooms for 20 minutes pretending to be interested in all the relics they had recovered from the site, until I found myself in front of the object of my quest, housed in a glass display case, a hooked nose of Chaac that had obviously been carved out of a stone different from all the other pieces in the exhibit.

I nodded approvingly, as I started to devise a plan to liberate the nose from it’s current location when my eyes fell on the index card that was positioned next the nose.  My joy turned to despair as I read the description:

This nose was removed from the Kabah site in 1894.  It is carved from a single piece of stone that is unique from all the others found in the Palace of Masks, and because of this it was once believed to house a hidden chamber as many of the noses have.  However, the piece was temporally transported to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City in 1973, where X-Ray and Ultrasound tests revealed this not to be the case.

I brace myself on the glass case as for the second time in two days the sensation of defeat washed across my body.  If there had been anything in the nose they’d have found it, and yet I had been so sure.  So positive.  After a minute I slowly turned and started to walk away when the line from the Mayan clue flashed into my head. “only one protects the next.”  I stood up straight and turned my head back to the display case.  The entire clue rolled around in my mind…. Chaac’s many facesonly one.   “You’re a dumb ass,” I said to no one but myself.  I had let a piece of knowledge about the Kabah site lead me down the wrong path. “The bottle wasn’t in the nose.  They placed it behind it!”

That revelation had led me here, standing against a wall in a Mayan ruin, hoping the security guards didn’t feel particularly diligent about doing their rounds tonight.  I had finally gotten the broken piece loose and very gently pulled it out of the wall.  With a curious look I tossed the piece aside and reached into the cavity in the wall.  My arm had gone in about two feet when my hand came into contact with an object.  Feeling around until I was sure I had a good grip on it, I pulled out my arm to reveal a box that was happily reminiscent of one’s I’d seen before.

“Bingo,” I allowed myself a brief moment of celebration as I turned the box over in my hands.  I knew I didn’t have much time so I walked quickly over to a secluded area and opened it.  As I’d  seen several times before, the inside of the box softly cradled a quartz like bottle and the inside of the lid contain inscriptions that should lead me to the next seal.  I grasped the bottle by the neck, once again noticing that it was cold to the touch, and realizing that I had very little time, quickly pulled out my glass and opened the seal.

The liquid poured black with a nice tan head.  I brought the glass up to my nose and was immediately struck by the essence of  raspberries with undertones of roasted grains that almost slipped into a coffee like aroma.  Having always loved raspberries, I let my apprehension about staying to long abate and allowed myself to sit for a bit enjoying the aroma of the liquid.  Finally I raised the glass and took a healthy drink.  My tongue was greeted initially with malt, chocolate, raisins and hints of roasted grain but as the liquid started to work it’s way back in my mouth, the raspberry reappeared.   I thought the raspberry in the flavor was almost sharp, like what you get in something where the flavor has been add as a syrup, not with fresh fruit.  Over all the liquid had nuances that I would expect in a Belgian style beer, but the malt, chocolate and raspberries were definitely the main players here.  The ending was clean with a little hint of lingering stickiness.  All in all I thought this one had been pretty darn good.

As I took a few more drinks, the familiar warmth that had also experienced from the previous liquids began to flow through my body.  Not really focusing on it since I didn’t really have any pains that it could work it’s magic on, I started to think about my earlier run in with Lara.  She warned me about knowing secrets, and indeed, I had a growing knowledge of a pretty big one.  I mean, not that a bunch of bottles of mysterious liquid buried in and around Mesoamerica was a national security issue or anything.  But the mysterious group that I was working for was taking great pains to keep my activities secret, and because of that, in the end I’d be the only one with any real knowledge of these seals.  And I couldn’t lie, because of that, I had been questioning the motives of those who had hired me even before my conversation with Lara.

I mulled my current situation over in my head as the last hint of raspberry flowed over my tongue, when I suddenly found a surprising clarity slowly seeping into my mind, as if the strange health properties of the liquid, unable to find anything in my body to work their mysterious reparations on, had begun to focus on the perplexing problem in my head.  As if lifting a veil, my thoughts coalesced into the rational conclusion that it was probably better to put a little distance between me and my employers until I could figure out what their end game was.

Putting the bottle and glass into my backpack, I walked over to a table that was obviously used to clean and catalog pieces from the surrounding ruins.  The table had a nice collection of objects on it, including a couple that would probably serve my purposes quite well.  My mind made up, I placed my backpack on the table and reached down to pick up a towel that had fallen to the ground.  Looking about the table, I found a suitable nose that was mostly intact and figuring it to be perfect for my plan, started to wrap the towel around it.

[To Be Continued]

Brew Review – Elysian Brewing’s Blight (Pumpkin Ale), The Adventure Continues

[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventure, he had just found the seventh seal, MAELSTROM.  Now he finds himself on the verge of running into an old acquaintance.]

I ducked behind the next big boulder I could find and surveyed my surroundings.  I hated being shot at.  Of course, that would be axiomatic for most people, but their beliefs would  have been built most likely from what they saw in action movies and police shows.  My hatred however, had been built by hard empirical experience.

I looked around for another vantage point as two more bullets ricocheted off the cave wall above me.  It appeared at the moment that I had efficiently pinned myself into a corner, there being to much open ground between where I was and the next group of cover.  Deciding that escape was not going to be an option, I took the only other one that seemed left to me.  “Hey!” I yelled out into the darkness of the cave.  “I don’t know who you are, but I’m not here to stop you or take anything from you.  In fact, if you’d give me a chance, maybe we could help each other.”

I stopped and listened.  My hope was to get this guy talking, bide some time until I could figure out my next move.  Hopefully his curiosity about how I might help him would prove greater than his actual knowledge that I couldn’t.  The stretch of silence was encouraging, he hadn’t jumped at my invitation to talk, but at least he had stopped shooting.  Throwing caution to the wind, I raised up on one knee and peered over the rock.  The cave seemed empty and silent, but I knew he was out there somewhere.  Unfortunately, I made the foolish mistake of directing my focus to much in front of me and I caught the flash of movement behind me to late.  I turned as quickly as I could,  only to be greeted by a sharp pain to the side of my face.

You

My jaw throbbed with pain as I started to regain a sense of my surroundings.  I was sitting on the ground, leaning against the rock that only a moment before had been my shield.  My mind was still to fuzzy to totally make out the voice that was coming from above me, but I definitely caught the a spark of recognition in its tone.

“What are you doing here?”

I looked up but was greeted by two flashlight beams shining in my face.  I blinked a couple of times, and as my vision cleared, the two beams merged into one.  I contemplated my first words when something caught my eye.  Standing on the cave floor before me, directly under the flashlight, were a pair of leather boots.  I slowly followed the boots up until they ended, their lines continuing into a pair of very attractive legs.  I shook my head and looked again, making sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  “Lara?”

The flashlight lowered to reveal a stern but beautiful female face, her piercing brown eyes looking down at me with contempt.  “I said, what are you doing here?”

“Asked”, I replied wondering why so many people always got that wrong.

“Asked?”

“You asked, what am I doing here.  And if you can resist the urge to shoot me for a few minutes, I’ll be more than glad to answer you.”

…………………………………………………………………….

I stood propped against the rock rubbing the side of my face trying to make the pain go away while I assessed my situation.  Lara stood in front of me, clad in her usual…unconventional…outfit.  But it wasn’t her tight shorts that was the object of my focus.  Nor the leather top that didn’t cover her mid rift.  Nor was it her face, framed with one lock of brown hair that had fallen out of her trademark ponytail.  No, it was the 9mm Desert Eagle she had pointed at me, a BLIGHT on the otherwise captivating vision in front of me.  I had to laugh on the inside, only Lara could manage to pull off sexy while she had a gun on you.

“Now, as I asked, what are you doing here?”

I thought for a moment.  I could try several approaches with Lara, but she probably would see through any deception I attempted and this wasn’t the situation in which to piss her off as I had done on occasions  in the past.  Instead, I decided to us a tactic that I probably wouldn’t have used with anyone else, the truth.

“About a year ago I was contacted by a group of unknowns to track down certain artifacts of interest to them.  They claimed these artifacts were spread in and around Mesoamerica  and had some link with the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy.”

Lara laughed, “Really, Hunter?  That’s bullshit and you know it.  There is no ‘end of the world’ prediction in the Mayan calendar.  The prophecy isn’t real.”

This coming from the woman who bragged one night over a couple of bottles of wine about how she’d saved the world with some “Triangle of Light” thingy?  Really?  “Well the artifacts I’ve discovered so far definitely have been real.  Eight bottles, or seals as they refer to them, each containing a different liquid with some interesting properties.  There are twelve all together, one of which I believe is hidden in this cave.” I kept going with my story, recounting my adventures of how I’d came upon each seal and the clues that had lead me to the next.  I was doing a nice bit of mental multitasking, keeping the story flowing uninterrupted as I tried to figure out what that flash was that went across Lara’s face whenever I said the word bottle.

When I’d finished my tale, I could tell that Lara was skeptical, but still curious.  “And that’s all they hired you to do?  Find each of these, seals, and drink them?”

“Yeah, I was given specific instructions.  Drink each one.  Take no notes,” I tapped my temple with my forefinger as I said the last three words.  From the several times our paths had crossed, Lara no doubt remembered my almost eidetic memory for remembering flavors in things I ate or drank, and realized why I’d be a perfect person to trust to such an unusual task.

I regained my feet and took a step towards Lara, hoping our conversation and our past had bought me a measure of trust.  The gun re-aimed at my head informed me that it had not.  “Look Lara, I helped  you out a bit several years ago with that whole Pandora’s Box business you were caught up in.  I’m just asking for a little help now.”

Lara eyed me for a minute, obviously trying to process everything I’d just told her.   “OK,” she said, finally re-holstering her pistol.  “Let’s see if you’re telling the truth.”  She reached into a satchel that was draped around her neck and pulled out a familiar bottle.  She rolled it around in her hand a bit, examining it as if almost mesmerized by the light bouncing off its quartz like surface.  Finally she held it out between us.  “Open it.”

This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but there didn’t seem to be another option.   I cautiously reached into my pocket, making sure Lara got a good look at the object I was removing, after all I didn’t want to get shot over a bottle opener, stepped forward and with a quick flick, opened the ninth seal.

Lara put the bottle up to her nose, but her face gave no indication of what she was smelling.  “Cheers,” she said as she put the bottle to her full lips and took a long drink.  When she finally pulled the bottle down a displeasing look came across her face. “Not my thing,” she said as she handed the bottle towards me.

I took the bottle and, deciding that reaching for my glass would probably be pushing the situation, I took a long drink.  “Pumpkin,” I said after I had swallowed, ” or at least pumpkin spices.”  Well, one spice anyway.  The beer definitely had a touch of cinnamon, but the predominate flavor was more like brown sugar, giving the beer an almost pie crust taste.  I waved the opening of the bottle under my nose and picked up similar notes in the aroma.  I took another drink and passed the bottle back to Lara.

The second sip allowed me to get a better taste of the liquid.  It didn’t seem to have a lot of malt but did have a nice touch of pumpkin under the spice.  The finish at the end was clean with a nice soft bitterness and a lingering spiciness.

As I watched Lara take another drink, I felt the warming properties of the liquid begin to flow through my body.  My jaw began to ache less and I could sense the cloudiness of my mind starting to lift.  About the time the liquid was starting to have its reinvigorating effects on me, I could see that Lara suddenly was very interested in her right hand.  She turned it around in front of her several times and then began clinching and unclinching it into a fist.

“Hand felling better?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yeah,” she nodded, a look of amazement and disbelief etched across her face.  “You were telling the truth.”

“I always tell the truth,” I said in a mock insulted tone.  “To a woman with a pistol pointed at my head, anyway.”

Lara, took another swig and then without a word, resealed the bottle and put it into her satchel.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You got what you wanted.  You tasted it,” she said tapping a finger to her temple in a mocking fashion.  “It would be a shame to waste all those interest properties on just a sore wrist.  They may come in handy sometime in the future.”  She stopped for a second and licked her lips.  “Although, I wish it came in another flavor.”

“It does,” I permitted myself a joke, “eleven others.”  I couldn’t  just let her walk out with the bottle and the rest of its contents, although at this point I didn’t see any way to stop her.  I’d rather go a few more rounds with the goon again then mix it up with Lara.  Could I take her?  Maybe.  Was I willing to risk getting shot to find out? No.

“Watch yourself  Hunter,” Lara looked back at me, a hint of compassion now on her face.  “I’m sure you’ve figured out that you’re being placed in a dangerous situation.  When you reach the end of your quest, you’ll be the only one with any real knowledge of these, seals.  We both know history hasn’t always been kind to people who hold a secret.”

I nodded softly in agreement, “Thanks.”

Lara turned and started walking back down the tunnel, her long ponytail swaying with each step.  As I watched her figure disappear into the darkness my mind snapped to a sudden realization. “Lara?” I called into the darkness.  “Can you be a dear and tell me where you found it?  I need to find the clue to the next one.”

“Go down the tunnel about 150 feet,” a disembodied voice called from the darkness.  “On the left you’ll find a small passageway which leads to a room filled with stalactites.  You can’t miss it.”  I started to gather my things when suddenly the voice echoed through the cave again.  “Oh, and Hunter?”

“Yeah?”

“If you ever call me ‘dear’ again, I’ll deck one more time.”

[To be continued]

Brew Review – Elysian Brewing’s Maelstrom (Blood Orange Ale), The Adventure Continues

[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventure, he had just found the seventh seal, TORRENT, behind Angel Falls.  Now he finds himself back in the water again, but in an entirely different manner]

This is heaven, I thought as I floated around the pool suspended by my arms in a yellow inner tube used by shallow water divers to hold supplies so that they don’t have to swim all the way to shore if say, the batteries in their flashlight die or they just want a break from swimming.

I  could see why every day people who visited Cancun traveled over an hour  just for the chance to visit this place.  Every day except today that is, as my current babysitter assured me that I would have the location all to myself for the day.  A feat by my employers that probably wasn’t nearly as hard as getting me out onto Nazca, but was still impressive none the less.  I closed my eyes, drifting quietly as I thought back to the meeting that got me here.

Initially I was worried that flying to Hawaii would prove to be a huge waste of time, but I hadn’t been in Lyle Campbell’s office for more than ten minutes when I was sure Robert had put me on to the right guy.  As professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and author of over 20 books related to Mesoamerica language, this was the guy I needed to talk to.

“The symbol on the bottom represents Xibalba, or what the Mayans considered the underworld.  And that the figure on the top bears the symbol of Chaac, the Mayan rain God, as you can see he is pouring what appears to be water from a pitcher into the middle symbol.  But it’s that particular symbol and the one to the right of it that have me the most confused.”

“That’s why I came to see you Doctor, I’ve never seen anything like them in my travels.”

“Well,” he paused and turned the pictures a bit, “the middle picture is obviously the heart of this depiction, but I’ve never seen anything like it in Mayan art.  It’s simply a tilted spiral, like a whirlpool or a MAELSTROM.”

Whirlpool? Thank you Doctor Campbell!, I thought.  Why had I not made that connection?

“And the figures on the right seem to be….”, he paused, stood up and walked to one of his shelves.  “You know, they actually remind me of something I’ve seen in Egyptian hieroglyphics. ”  He pulled a book down from the shelf and began leafing through the pages.  Finally he nodded, spun the book and placed it on the desk between us.  “There you go.”

I picked up the book and looked at the picture that was on the right hand page.  The picture was of a hieroglyphic of people using jugs to get water from a fountain.  Yes I thought, trying very hard not to smile as I began to put together the meaning of the images.  “And the top right symbol?” I asked turning his focus to the one symbol I hadn’t totally figured out.

“A depiction of the Mayan solar calendar.  It was used for various purposes like marking solar months, marking the equinoxes or solstices,  tracking seasons.  It could be a water mark indicating when the pictogram was placed on the rock, or it could be indicating an important date in regards to what the pictogram is trying to represent.  You’d have to translate the markings inside it to get a better idea.”

“Doctor Campbell,” I said taking the photos back.  ” I’d like to thank you for your time.  If you talk to Robert sometime soon, tell him the first round’s on me.”

“You’re certainly welcome, Doctor Hunter,” he said shaking my hand.  “Although you could have just sent me digital copies by email.  It really didn’t require you to fly all the way to Hawaii.”

“I know Doctor.  But running up my employer’s credit card puts a smile on my face.”

Sliding into my rented convertible I finally allowed myself to smile.  It had been difficult to contain my excitement in my abrupt departure from Doctor Campbell’s office but I had to make him believe that the information he had provided hadn’t meant anything to me.

I unlocked my phone and called the number that filed me with reluctance me every time I dialed it.  “Yeah, it’s me,” I said in reply to the voice on the other end.  “I know where the next seal is.  It’s going to take me a few days to do some research here, then I’m off to the Yucatan.  I’m going to need a few things when I get there.  I’ll text my list when I’m ready to leave.”   I paused, “Oh and…I’m going to need a tourist attraction  shut down  for the day, think you could help me with that?”

And now here I was, floating in a clear pool of water, in an amazingly beautiful cavern.  Xkeken is a very well known cenote in the Yucatan region of Mexico, something  the people who had laid this trail certainly never envisioned.  They no doubt thought they were hiding the seals in obscure locations, but Xkeken cenote was now a huge tourist draw, with over 300 visitors a day.

Mayans used cenote’s for a variety of purposes, not the least of which was the rare human sacrifice.  But these under ground caverns had a more domestic role in Mayan society; to collect fresh water, mostly rain water, that the Mayans needed to survive.

That’s what the pictogram on the rock face behind Angel Falls was depicting.  The symbol for Xibalba referred to the Mayan’s belief that these cenotes guarded the openings to the underworld.  The god Chaac pouring water into the swirl and the picture of people filling pitchers from it was an obvious reference to fresh water being given to the local people as a gift from the rain god.

Putting it all together, the next seal had been hidden in an one of the hundreds of cenotes scattered all over the Mayan territories.  Searching them all would be an impossible task, but luckily I happened to know a little bit of Mayan folklore.  Xkeken cenote, it was said, had such a strong feed of water during the rainy seasons that the water already in the sinkhole would swirl gently like a whirlpool.  Xkeken hadn’t exhibited this activity in modern times, but the stories persisted.

I deceptively made it seem like searching the whole interior of the cavern would take me most of the day I’d been given, but I was hoping that it would take far less time than that – in fact, the plan I had been formulating since I left Hawaii depended on it.  The markings on the solar calendar, after a little research, proved to designate both the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. These two points in the solar year are unique in the fact that on both these days, the sun travels the exact same path across the sky. This got me thinking about another interesting feature of Xkeken.

Besides being filled with stalactites, the cenote has a large hole, resembling an oculus, in the ceiling of the cavern through which the sun would shine and cast a beam onto the water below.  I was betting that solar calendar had been place on the rock face to indicate that on those particular days, at some particular time, the beam of sunlight through the hole would hit the water directly over where the eighth seal had been laid.

Of course, the people who had conceived this little puzzle had probably thought that this was very clever because it meant that not only did you have to be in the cenote on one of only two days out of the year, but you had to know the specific time as well.  Based on several markings I found around the depiction of Kinich Ahau, the Mayan sun god, on the solar calendar I believed that the correct time was when Kinich Ahau was in his “high house”, or noon.   Of course, I couldn’t wait for the next equinox, but luckily I had my own version of  a solar calendar – my cell phone with Google Sky Maps.

As I got out to the middle of pool I opened the Sky Maps app and set the time and date in the “Time Travel” mode to noon on the date of the recent vernal equinox.  Holding the phone up I moved it around until I found the icon for the sun.  Keeping the phone as steady as possible I paddled over to the spot in the pool where the icon of the sun lined up with the hole in the cenote.  If I was correct, on noon that day the beam from the oculus would have been shining directly on me, and the eighth seal was directly below me.  Of course, there was probably some astronomical error I hadn’t considered, the Sky Maps program could be off a bit, the normal level of water in the cenote could have drastically changed, or I could just be dead wrong about this whole idea.  But I had to start somewhere, and this was as good a place as any.

After placing my cell phone into the waterproof compartment of the diving ring, I pulled my mask down onto my face and popped my respirator into my mouth.  Then, with a quick raise of both arms, I sunk down into the clear water.

I had to go down about 25ft before I hit bottom, but once there it didn’t take me long to come upon an odd rock that appeared to be about twice the size of a bowling ball.  The rock was partially covered by silt, but enough of it was exposed to see that it was different from those around it, looking more like the ones that had surrounded Angel Falls.

I examined the area around it for a minute and not seeing anything out of the ordinary, I slowly attempted to move it.  It took a few tries to finally get the rock to break away from the surrounding sediment and slowly roll off to the side.  I waited for the silt that had kicked up from the movement to settle back down again and was rewarded with  a box, about one foot by 6 inches that was lodged in a niche that had been concealed under the rock.

I rose back up to the surface and returned to the shallow end of the cenote where I began ditching my diving gear.  I looked around the empty cavern, glad to see that my babysitter had heeded my request that he and the others remain outside until I was finished.  I opened the solid box and smiled as I saw the quartz like bottle nestled peacefully in the cavity inside.  My happiness turned to joy as I notice markings on the lid of the box.  I’d found both the seal and the clue as quickly as I’d hoped, if all went well, in just a few more minutes I could carry out my plan.

I sat down on the rocky shore in a place where my feet could hang in the water, and opened the eight seal.  The liquid was cold as always, and poured a cloudy, orange color with only a very light, quickly dispersing head.  I raised the glass to my nose and sat there for a moment, taking in the gentle aromas of malt and citrus.  I was in no hurry for the revitalizing properties of the liquid as, for the first time, I’d managed not to bust myself up finding this one.  After a bit I detected something else, there was more to the liquid than just the citrus like aroma you’d normally get.  There was definitely a real fruit aspect to the nose.

Finally I put the glass to my lips and took a deep drink.  The liquid gave an initial bite on the cheeks as if it had a fair amount of carbonation to it, even though this appeared not to be the case.  The liquid had a nice mouth feel, with a taste that reminded me initially of grapefruit citrus not with just the flavor, but with the slight bitterness one gets from eating to close to the rind. The finish was clean, with a mild lingering bitterness that left my mouth watering for more. As I drank more, I started to detect more of an orange than grapefruit quality about the liquid.  Considering the inconsistency of the last bottle I’d found, I was glad to see that this one was pretty good from front to back.

The warming properties of the liquid coursed through my body as if looking desperately for some pain to alleviate and, apparently finding  nothing it could work its magic on, finally dissipated leaving me with a calm, peaceful feeling.

After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I decided it was time to put my plan into motion.  I packed up my stuff on the shore, and then swam back out to the diving tube.  It took me several tries, but I finally managed to hop into it, ass first, like a vacationer drifting down a lazy river.  I pulled the cell phone out of its protective compartment and pressed the quick dial key for the new number I’d just been given.  “Hey!  No luck yet.  No, I’m sure more people wouldn’t help, they’d just get in the way.  I have to do this very methodically and the only way I can do that is to do it by myself.”

I listened to the agitated reply from my babysitter as I reached into the netting that hung off the side of the tube and pulled out one of the several Arrogant Bastards I’d managed to smuggle into the cenote with me.  “Nope, this is the only way, don’t come in until you hear from me,” I stated firmly as I pinched the phone between my shoulder and ear, and with my now free hand, opened the bottle.  “That’s right…fine…I’ll call you if I need anything.”

I put the phone back in its compartment and removed a glass from the netting and poured my beer into it.  I looked around the tranquil cavern that, for at least the next several hours, I had all to myself.  The ninth seal had waited several hundred years to be discovered, it could afford to wait a day or two longer.   After all, thousands of people a year visit Xkeken cenote to relax in its peaceful waters, and I had always wanted to be one of them.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Brew Review – Elysian Brewing’s Torrent (Pale Beet Bock), The Adventure Continues

[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventure, he had just found the sixth seal, WASTELAND, in the plains of Nazca.  Now he was off to a completely different environment to continue his search]

I had finally stopped in a shallow pool.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d been tumbling in the TORRENT of water from the time I’d slipped, but it felt good to finally be at rest, even if it was face down in a pool of cold water.  With a start, my mind cleared and I bolted up on my hands and knees,  frantically feeling around for  the object that I had dropped during my descent.  I sloshed around the knee deep water for what seem like forever when, as if someone was making a gag joke in a movie, a quartz like bottle floated serenely past me…..

………………………………………….

My body was aching, again, but not so much from my initial fall or the trip down the short cascade afterwards, but more from the final 20 to 30 foot drop down into the pool I now found myself laying next to.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been just a straight drop into the water below, but instead the small falls that feed the pool were more like a steep staircase of rock, and I had tumbled down it like an unlucky toddler, hitting every step on the way down.

I lay on the rocky bank of the pool, the only sound being the peaceful roar of the falls in the distance, watching the clouds float by as I tried to regain my breath.  I was actually enjoying the first quiet moments I’d experience since this whole adventure began when suddenly my serenity was broken by an annoyingly familiar voice.

“Are you enjoying Angel Falls, Doctor Hunter?”, the voice droned.  The fact that I had not detected the smell of his Morley in the clean, jungle air was a testament to how addled my brain was at the moment.

“Oh….yeah,” I replied, trying to get the words out between deep breaths.  “It’s a ….. wild ride …. down from the base …. to this pool.  You should try it.”

The smoking man seemed to ignore my comment as he walked over and knelt down next to me catcher’s style and scanned my prone, soaked body.  “Seriously.  Do you really call this archeology?”

I was getting enough feeling and strength back in my body to manage two moves.  The first was to raise my left hand and shake a bottle it held in a “Yeah, but I got it” fashion.  The second was to raise my right hand and flip him the bird.

“Ah,” he nodded seeing the bottle, ignoring my finger entirely.  “But surely this wasn’t your plan?” he straighten up.  “To end up washed up like a dead fish on the rocky banks of a basin downstream from the plunge pool?”

“No,” I tried to sit up but managed to only make it up to one elbow. “I slipped on …  the rocks behind the falls.”  I quickly recounted how I’d made my way behind the falls and was climbing up the rock face towards something that looked out of place.  Leaving out as many key details as I could (I still didn’t trust this guy), I explained how I’d found the seventh seal in a niche that was concealed behind the falls.

The real story was actually more interesting.  After climbing up the interior rock face behind the falls for a bit, I stopped at an irregular out cropping of rock.  At least, that’s what it was supposed to look like from the bottom.  What it turned out to be was hollowed out basin, like those half circle water bowls you’d see on a wall in a garden.  The bowl it formed had water in it from the continuing drizzle of an off flow from the falls down the rock face behind it , but it was what was in the bottom that really caught my attention.

Sand, and although I couldn’t be certain, the sand looked pretty familiar.  It didn’t take me to much digging before I’d found what I was looking for, both in the sand, and on the rock face above the bowl.

“But like I said, I slipped,” continuing my edited story as I pulled myself up into a sitting position, groaning all the way. “I didn’t stop until I landed here.”

“Ribs still bothering you?” the smoking man walked over and offered me his hand.  “You should really rest those.”

“You know, that’s funny,” I replied looking up at him. “That’s just what the doctor in Guatemala said right before some big goon came and tried to grab me out of my hospital bed.”  I stared at him for a bit and then finally giving in, clasped his hand, and allowed  him to help me up.  “How’s his jaw?”

“Better than your ribs I would say,” he returned.

I took a few steps to help work out the aches in my joints when I turned around and shot him a quizzical look, “And just why are you here?  And more importantly, how did you know I’d be here?”

“Oh, the man we had watching over you in Nazca gave us the heads up as soon as you had departed,” he said staring at the falls in the distance.  “After that,” he turned, “well let’s just say we have our ways.”

I shook my head.  I knew I should have buried the little bastard in the shaft when I had the chance.  Go with your first instincts, dad always said.  “And now?”

“And now Doctor Hunter, we say goodbye.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” he said as he pulled out another cigarette.  “My superiors asked me to make sure that you survived this little excursion, you having so unwisely decided to decline any aid from us.” he continued as he turned and started walking towards the brush line.

“Marching a full team through the jungle with, I’m sure another one of  your  appointed baby sitters,  wasn’t my idea of fun,” I called after him.

“They are called helicopters, Doctor Hunter!” he called back not bothering to turn around.  “Maybe you should look them up the next time you find yourself in a library.”

Soon he was gone.  I sat down on a large rock, removed everything I needed from my backpack and relaxed a moment as I allowed myself to be transfixed by the sight of Angel Falls in front of me.  Then with almost an absent minded motion, I flipped open the seventh seal.

I poured the cold liquid in my glass and watched the carbonation build to a very small lace of bubbles on the top. “They’re called helicopters,” I said in a mocking, imitation of the smoking man’s voice as I held the glass up to see that the liquid had poured a hazy, beautiful orange color.

The aroma had a touch of malt, and something that made me think of iced tea.  I took a long drink of the liquid in anticipation of its rejuvenating properties – and almost spit it out.   What the hell?  In the front, the liquid had very little of the malt character that had been evident in the nose.  Instead it tasted of earth, and a vegetal quality that gave me flash backs of when I was young and my mom would yell at me to finish my beets.

I held it in my mouth for a minute and with a final muster of resolve, I swallowed.  I couldn’t concentrate on the warm, revitalizing feeling flowing through my body as I waited for what else the bizarre liquid would bring.  Thankfully, the liquid had a nice touch of malt in the middle and finished with a lingering bitterness.

I took another drink and found that it echoed my first.  This was an interesting bottle to be sure.  The nose, the middle and the finish had some nice qualities to it, but that initial smack of earth and vegetable in the begin was off putting.  Earthiness isn’t an unknown taste in the libation world, some of the most expensive wines in the world rely on an amount of earth in their profiles.  But thiswas like a slap in the face, and it didn’t taste like the  underlying liquid was enough to support it. Maybe if the liquid had more depth, it would have worked better.

I contemplated for a minute on whether-or-not to finish it, but the pain that ran through my body as I stood up from the rock suggested that I had no choice.  So sitting back down with a sigh of reluctance, I poured the last of the liquid into my glass.

…………………………………………………….

It took me a little while to make my way back to Caracas, but finally I was sitting in a bar with what passed as a nice beer selection, the dirt and sweat from all that time in the jungle finally removed with a few hot showers.  I grabbed the beer I had ordered and walked over to a quiet table along the back wall.  Settling in I removed the pictures I’d take of the hieroglyphics on the rock face above the bowl where I’d found the seventh seal and studied them for the umpteenth time.

They appeared to be Mayan for the most part, although a few of the symbols weren’t familiar to me.  I had reluctantly come to the conclusion a while ago that if I was going to find the next seal, I was going to need some help understanding them.

Looking around to make sure no one was in ear shot, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed a number I hadn’t used in a long time.

I waited patiently as the gentle strains of “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole played in my ear.  “Really, that’s your ring back tone?” I thought.

“Hunter?”

“Hey Robert!  How are you doing?”  As a symbologist at Harvard University, my old Princeton University water polo teammate Robert wouldn’t be much help.  But I was positive he could point me to someone who could.

Brew Review – Elysian’s Wasteland (Elderflower Saison), The Adventure Continues…

[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.

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