Forgotten canyon, p.1
Forgotten Canyon, p.1Lois D. Brown
Forgotten Canyon (A Short Story)
by Lois D. Brown
Copyright 2011, Lois D. Brown
The thought of finding Montezuma’s hidden treasure urges Johnathon Scribner deep into the Forgotten Canyon. Why he stays there, however, is a different reason altogether.
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Digital cartographer Jonathon Scribner was accustomed to a generously padded computer chair with a foaming latte in the morning—not a muddy sleeping bag which was, at this very moment, being attacked by the ugliest flying insect he’d ever seen.
“What kind of bug is this, anyway?” Jonathon directed his question to the rugged, dark haired man named Riley who had just entered the tent carrying a thick metal coffee mug. As usual, the man ignored him.
Shooing away the mutated-looking horsefly, Jonathon sat up, shivering. He'd worn every piece of clothing he'd brought with him to bed but had still frozen most of the night. Who would have thought the canyons of southern Arizona could get so cold?
“Sun's up,” said Riley, Jonathon's very expensive, very no-nonsense back country guide. “We need to take down camp and travel during the cooler hours of the day.”
Riley was both the man's first and last name, which made sense because it was hard to think of him belonging to anyone but himself. Rumor had it that for the last decade he had amassed a small fortune accompanying rich CEOs on their mid-life crisis adventures.
Tenderly, Jonathon slipped one leg from his bag, then the other. His slender frame wasn't made for this kind of exhausting life. He'd found the old map in the Library of Congress while working for an unnamed government agency; and, at the time, he thought it sounded like fun to track down the Aztec treasure himself. That was three months ago.
Now, after a week of eating pork and beans with fresh squirrel roasted on an open-fire, he was ready to call it quits. He promised himself his next undertaking, whatever that might be, would be done in a climate-controlled room with a chilled glass of green tea at his side.
“Can you help me get these on,” he moaned, trying to shove his feet into the firm, new leather of his designer hiking boots.
Riley leaned down, disgust on his face. “I'll hold while you push.”
Jonathon did what he was told. His boots slide on.
“Ouch,” he yelped. “Blisters!”
Riley stood up, caught the black buzzing nuisance with his bare hand, and gingerly carried it out of the tent.
It took Jonathon longer than normal to wash his face and armpits using water from his canteen. He then ate his dehydrated breakfast and organized his backpack. He didn't look forward to the grueling hours ahead. To be honest, he’d expected to find the petroglyphs before now. On the map they were so clearly detailed. A surge of determination filled him. Today would be the day.
“So,” Jonathon said, adjusting his Crocodile Dundee hat. “Which direction do we go? East or west?”
Riley grunted. A copy of the 500-year-old map Jonathon found sat on his lap.“We need to go north, deeper into the canyons.”
“I must say,” began Jonathon, “I've looked at the topography a hundred times and I'm quite sure we're far enough north. Perhaps we just missed the drawings.”
They were in the area where the map indicated there should be markings of the Aztec diamond flower, an old symbol consisting of six parallelograms placed next to each other, points together in the middle.
“We're not deep enough into the canyon,” said Riley, and he turned his head, letting his traveling companion know that the discussion—if you could call it that—was over.
“Very well,” Jonathon conceded. “More walking.” He spat out the words as if they tasted like the snake stew Riley had made as a “treat” their first night in the desert.
“No reason to sit on our laurels,” he added, putting on his best-face-forward look.
Riley stood, towering over the slight middle-aged man. They both slung their gear over their shoulders and headed out. Their boots scattered the dry red dirt with every step. At times, cactus and other desert shrubs blocked their path and they had to find a different route because, as Riley had explained to Jonathon, he didn’t like disturbing God’s handiwork.
Around them the air was still, except for an occasional black winged pest. Jonathon didn't know if they were some kind of fly, bee or wasp, and Riley simply didn't care.
“I leave them alone,” he'd said to Jonathon on their first day, “and they do the same to me.”
Riley's arrangement with the bugs, however, wasn't working for Jonathon who had already been stung three times—once on the neck and twice on the arm. The bites throbbed as bad as when he'd had the varicose veins in his legs stripped last year. Not that he went around telling other men about that. It had been for legitimate medical reasons. Still, he kept it his little secret.
The canyon walls became steeper, protecting the two men from the brunt of the sun's relentless rays. Even with shade, however, Jonathon shed the layers of clothing he still wore from his frigid night's sleep. At last all that remained was his khaki brown pants and yellow cotton shirt.
“Be sure to keep your eyes open,” Jonathon called to Riley. “If you see a petroglyph first, it's an extra five thousand.”
If Jonathon was right about the old map, he'd have plenty of money to spare after claiming the treasure for himself. The map he'd discovered had years ago been salvaged by American archeologists cleaning up after a monastery in Mexico City was destroyed. According to government documents, the map was found inside a locked chest with ancient writing carved into the wooden lid that referred to the secrets of the high priests.
Jonathon had recognized the map for what it was: the location of Montezuma's treasure hidden from the greedy, blood thirsty Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes in the early 1500s.
“Did I ever tell you how Montezuma's treasure came to be?” Jonathon asked.
“No,” Riley answered. “ I never asked.”
Ignoring his tone, Jonathon picked up the pace until he was at the mountaineer's side.
“In 1515, Cortes discovered Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec capital,” he explained. “His arrival scared the emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma, who sent Cortes gifts of gold and jewels as a bribe to leave them alone.”
“Of course, the gifts only spurred Cortes onward in search of more. Eventually, he infiltrated the Aztec government and Montezuma became Cortes' puppet. He stole everything from the Aztec people. Eventually, the people got sick of it and revolted, killing Montezuma and many of Cortes' men.”
Jonathon took a swig from his canteen and continued.
“The Spaniards who survived, left the treasures they had collected and retreated to their ships, setting sail back to Europe. Several years later they returned with more men to recoup what they lost; however, the enormous amount of gold they had pilfered was no where to be found.”
A buzzing near Jonathon's ear distracted him, and he swung at it.
“Stupid pests,” he grumbled.
“So what happened to the Aztec treasure?” Riley didn't look at him while he spoke.
“Convinced the Spaniards would return, Montezuma's successor Cuitlahuac sent it northward with several of his most trusted high priests and an army of slaves to carry it. After the gold was hidden, the high priests killed the slaves to ensure the location's secret.”
Jonathon's voice echoed on the red rock cliffs, sounding as i
“Of course, when the priests returned with no slaves, the new emperor exterminated them as well, making him the only one who knew where the riches had been hid.” Sweat dripped down Jonathon's temples. “Cortes didn't take kindly to the fact that the gold had been hidden from him, so he tortured Cuitlahuac to death, but the Aztec leader never revealed its location.”
Quite a simple story, really, yet this mystery had outsmarted the best treasure hunters of the modern century. . . until now. With the right map, thought Jonathon, anything is possibly. And luckily, he was the one to have found it. And why not? He deserved it. Only he would have been able to successfully compare its topography to that of the gorges and mountains of the Forgotten Canyon where he and Riley had spent the last week together. Even more important, other cartographers not as knowledgeable as he, would not have recognized the symbol of the diamond Aztec flower—made up of six touching diamonds—as the treasure’s resting place.
The two trudged on in silence for most of the afternoon. Squirrels were getting sparse, so dinner's menu consisted of Thistle tea and canned beef. Riley gulped it down like he was eating at a five-star restaurant. Jonathon, however, did not.
“You know,” he said slowly, warming himself by the campfire. “When you advertised your services, you said delicious outdoor dinners were provided every night.”
“And?” Riley looked up for only a moment from the stick he was whittling into a whistle.
“I didn't have Thistle tea in mind.”
“And?” The wood shavings fell from the sharp knife.
Jonathon let out a sigh. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” Bundling himself up as best he could, he slithered into his bag and closed his eyes, wishing for morning.
After another week and a half, Jonathon was starving. Pounds were flying off his already tiny frame, and his energy level had plummeted. Riley kept up his superhero pace.
“Can't you slow down?” murmured Jonathon. His face was sunburned and covered with insect bites. Scratching brought no relief, and he had taken to smearing red mud on them. At least his fingernails didn't tear into the skin that way. Riley, of course, didn't have a single one.
“If you have no energy, then I suggest you eat more of your dinner tonight,” stated Riley, like he was Jonathon's mother.
“If you would make something digestible then perhaps I would.”
The expedition was on the brink of disaster. The two had wandered around the deepest part of Forgotten Canyon for what seemed like forever. They hadn't found a single Aztec petroglyph, and certainly nothing that looked like a diamond flower. But knowing he would never have the nerve to come back out, Jonathon kept on moving, entertaining himself with thoughts of drowning Riley in his own grasshopper-leg soup.
“I don't get it,” he said at last. “I followed the map exactly. It should be here.”
“I believe it's time to return to our homes.” Riley’s demeanor was perfectly calm “What you're looking for is simply not here.”
Resentment spread through Jonathon's body.
“I must say,” he retorted, “you've turned out to be the world's biggest disappointment of a guide.” Making Riley mad would at least break the boredom, he thought.
But Riley didn't get mad. Instead, he shifted the weight of his pack and turned around.
“You can accompany me back to civilization, Mr. Scribner, or you can stay here. Either way, I’m leaving.”
Leaving? They couldn't leave. Not yet. Not with one of the world's largest hidden treasures calling his name.
“You're not serious,” huffed Jonathon.
Riley set down the food pack containing the Bunsen burner, matches, and lighter fluid. “I'll refund your money once I'm back in Phoenix. I'd wish you good luck, but I know it won't do you any good.”
Riley turned and walked south. In a few minutes he was lost from Jonathon's view.
The first thing Jonathon did was search the food supply: two cans of beef, one of pork and beans, and two strips of jerky. Not much. But that wasn't a problem. Without Riley underfoot, he was sure he'd find what he was looking for in no time. He hoisted the mess bag and attached it to his already heavy backpack. All of this would soon be just a hazy dream while he sat surrounded by beautiful women in his personal hot tub at his own up-scale California mansion.
Another one of the bothersome flying terrors jabbed its stinger into his arm. It seemed the nasty creatures were getting larger.
The food was gone in two days, and Jonathon hadn't seen one squirrel, snake or grasshopper. Everywhere he looked there were only black buzzing insects coming in and out of gray nests attached to the side of cliffs and tall shrubs.
Sucking on a chunk of cactus flesh, a trick that Riley had taught him, he wondered what he should do. If only there was some kind of food source in the canyon that could sustain him until the treasure was firmly in his possession.
Another black bug flew by, threatening his now swollen arms. He wondered if it was edible? The idea was ludicrous. However, he thought, how many times had he seen the annoying pests land on cactus flowers. What if they were bees, gathering some kind of pollen and turning it into . . . honey?
Using the lighter fluid, some dead vegetation, and a few matches, Jonathon started a small fire. He then took a long knife from the mess bag and with it removed one of the low-hanging nests from a nearby ledge. Even though he was stung several times in the process, he didn't care. Carefully, he laid it next to the smoldering fire. A hoard of the awful, buzzing beasts flew from the hole at the bottom, leaving it safe to explore.
Gingerly, Jonathon took the knife and sliced. Sure enough, the knife came out sticky and sweet.
“I don't need you, Riley!” He shouted into the air with defiance.
At the place where he’d cut it, the nest pulled apart, revealing an intricate design of honey combs. Surprised, Jonathon noticed the cells of thenest were not the usual hexagon shape. Instead, the canyon bees had repeated one shape over and over again, interlocking them like a finely crafted puzzle. It was a six-diamond Aztec flower.
Jonathon's mouth dropped open, a glob of honey still on his lips. This was the secret. Look for the bees, and he'd find the treasure. There must be a mother nest and that would be where the Aztec priests had hidden the valuables.
Jonathon was irked that it had taken him so long to figure it out. Probably due to Riley's incessant complaining, no doubt.
Covering every inch of his body with spare clothing, he set out, certain this would be the most important day of his life. He noted the most common flight pattern of the bees. The majority of them headed to the northeast.
As he made his way further into a deep gorge, his boot slipped on the loose dirt and he fell onto his back. Looking up into the air, moving black polka dots were everywhere. The stings were so frequent now he hardly noticed them. Adrenaline does funny things to a person.
Dusk was settling in. The cool felt good on his skin, and the bees made their way back into their homes for the evening. Relief at last.
Jonathon kept walking, using the last batteries in his flashlight. He couldn't have gone more that 200 feet in the dark when something appeared before him, like a sign from the mighty Aztec gods themselves. In an alcove off to his right sat a bee’s nest the size of Volkswagen bug. The thing was enormous, majestic in fact.
Behind the eighth wonder of the world was the opening to a cave, a pool of water sneaking out from its entrance—the hiding place of Montezuma's treasure for the last five hundred years. It felt like sacred ground, except that nothing was sacred to Jonathon.
Inching his way forward, fearful that the bees would hear him and exit their gigantic home to see what the disturbance was, he approached the cave entrance.
The water felt like ecstasy on his bleeding feet. He dipped his hands into the pool and felt its soothing power.
He set down his packs, lit a lantern, and immediately began sorting the treasure into objects that were easily carried by hand and those things too large that would have to be gathered in subsequent trips.
Hours passed and he lost track of time. When he finally noticed the growling in his stomach, he realized it must be near breakfast time. He already knew what was on the menu—honey.
He loaded a few of the smaller pieces of gold into his backpack and headed toward the entrance. Nearing the opening, he realized it was later in the day than he thought. He hoped the bees wouldn't be out in mass yet. Cautiously he peered out the cave, hugging close to its walls. All seemed quiet.
He tiptoed out into the sunlight. It warmed his head and shoulders, and for the first time in weeks Jonathon felt relaxed. The treasure was his and he was on his way home.
He'd passed the enormous nest and walked about a few yards south when a wall of darkness appeared in front of him. It reached twenty feet in the air, like a large black curtain drawn in front of a stage. But unlike the audience of a play, Jonathon had no desire to see this performance. A steady hum reached his ears. He stopped, prickles ran up and down his arms. Slowly he took a step backward. That was the insects' cue. They flew toward him in a solid mass. He turned and ran for the safety of the cave but tripped over a low growing cactus.
“Help,” he screamed, but no one heard his cry through the blanket of Aztec bees simultaneously injecting poison into his body.
From the top of the gorge's ledge, Riley lowered his binoculars, spit out a piece of cactus, turned around, and walked away.
About the Author
Lois received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and worked as a news correspondent in Washington D.C. She later completed a master’s degree in communications and moved into the corporate world, creating her own freelance business.
Recently she has turned her interest to writing fiction after realizing the bedtime stories she tells her four kids never put them to sleep.
Forgotten Canyon by Lois D. Brown / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on33 votes