Life blood, p.26
I began by feeling along the fake-stone walls to find where thecrevices were, the doors that enclosed the medical instruments.Somewhere, I was sure, there was a cabinet that held a complete set ofsurgical equipment.
When I found the first crevice, I gave the wall on either side a pushand, sure enough, the panel was spring-loaded. Good. The side on theright of the crevice popped open to reveal the microscope Goddard hadused. But nothing else was there.
I moved on down the wall testing for cabinets, trying to remember whatMarcelina had done when Alex Goddard told her to prep the Mayan woman.One after another the panels snapped open till . . . yes, this was theone I wanted. Hallelujah.
The third drawer held the scalpels. I took out the largest I couldfind, heavy and steel, then wedged it into the metal sliding mechanismand snapped off the tip. Perfect.
I felt like I was holding the key to my escape as I carefully reclosedall the panels. Since there were no windows in the OR room, I slippedback through the lab--it had now become a haunted place of monstrousobscenity to me--and checked out the office.
It was still deserted, but now the hazy light of early day was minglingwith the sounds of nature seeping through the slatted window. As Iwalked over to it, the cool, moist morning air once again felt likefreedom. How long did I have before the clinic started stirring?
I'd originally planned to try to unscrew some of the slats, but thatturned out to be unnecessary. The strips of wood were held in withcrude, rusty clamps, and one by one I began prying them out with theblunted scalpel. I figured five slats should give me enough space tosqueeze through, and I'd already removed three when I heard afrustrated voice in Spanish just down the hail. Uh-oh.
"_Tengo que mear que mis dientes flotan!_" It was followed by the soundof boots headed toward the office.
I ducked down behind a desk, holding my breath, but then the footstepsmarched past, headed for the front door of the clinic. That was when Ifinally processed what he'd said: "I've got to piss so bad my teeth arefloating."
So where was he headed?
Moments later I knew. I heard the noise of someone kicking their waythrough the underbrush till they were right next to the window,followed by the sound of a zipper.
My God, I thought, he's right here. Will he spot the missing slats?
I bit my lip as I listened to a member of the Guatemalan Armed Forcesvigorously urinate upon the north wall of Alex Goddard's clinic. Well,I told myself, that's probably what they think of him. I'd like to dothe same.
Then came a confirming re-zip, after which the sound of slashing bootsfaded back into the distance. If he'd noticed the window I'd justburgled, it hadn't alerted his curiosity. Moments later I heard hisheavy footsteps returning up the hall.
Jesus, two minutes more and I'd have been out there.
I was trembling, but I managed to finish prying out the last two slats.I then pushed all five out onto the ground, hoping the clatter would belost in forest music, and climbed through after them, trying to be asquiet as I could. I ended up going out headfirst and collapsing ontothe ground in an unceremonious crumple. Thirty seconds later, though,the slats were wedged roughly back into place, and I'd discarded thebroken scalpel in the jungle underbrush. Yes!
Now the cool air of freedom was all around me. My first small step.
How long before Alex Goddard discovers I'm missing? Will I have time tofind Sarah, bring her to her senses, and hide her from him? A lot woulddepend on what kind of physical and mental shape she was in.
As I passed around the parking lot, gray clouds were thickeningoverhead and I noticed that half a dozen new olive-green Jeeps wereparked there. The Army was arriving in force, getting ready for Godknows what. I took one look at them and felt my breath start coming inbursts. Steve, we're going to need our own kind of miracle. How are wegoing to get out of here?
I skirted the edges of the lot and reached the trail leading down intothe village. And I was trying to quell my pulse. What was down there?With the dense rain forest arching over me, I felt as though I wasentering a domain of Maya dreamtime where the past lived again, onlywith a sinister twist.
The air in the dark groves was thick with the buzzing of insects,harbingers of the coming rainstorm, but before long I caught a glimmerof daylight ahead. Soon I emerged into a wide arbor that, after anotherhundred feet, opened onto the central plaza and the pyramid. Now . . .
It was daylight, but it also was . . . The sight took my breath away.What was going on?
A milling horde of men was gathered in the square, and resinous torcheswere flaming on each of the pyramid's tiers of steps. A lot of drinkingfrom clay jugs was getting under way, and the men were in the processof painting their faces, stripes of black and white, with dark circlesaround their eyes. Some also were applying rows ofred-and-green-colored seeds to their cheeks with white glue. Thebizarreness of the scene rippled through me like the shards of adysfunctional dream. Jesus!
Alex Goddard had said the ceremony got "frenzied," and now I wasbeginning to realize. . . . What were they getting ready to do? Had Ibeen wrong in thinking the classical Maya never got around to rippingout hearts? Did that explain the half-dozen young Army privatesloitering there at the far side, rifles slung over their shoulders?
I melted back into the trees and studied the geometry of the plaza,reconsidering my situation. I needed to find some way to get around itand onto the cobblestone pathway at the far side, which led into thevillage. Finally I decided I could skirt the periphery if I was carefulnot to advertise my presence. Dawn had come and gone and the quicklight of tropical day was arriving, but everybody appeared to bepre-occupied with their nightmarish preparations.
Thank God it worked. I weaved in and among the trees and in fiveminutes I'd reached the central pathway, now deserted. Still barelyletting myself breathe, I turned back and gazed up at the pyramid. Ihad no idea what was next, but I decided it would be my signpost, tohelp me keep my bearings as I moved through the confusing,tree-shrouded huts of _Baalum_. Except for the men in the square, thevillage now seemed deserted, though a pack of brown dogs, curious andannoying, had spotted me and now circled around to sniff. Don't bark,damn it.
That was when I saw Marcelina, in her white shift, striding through thecrowd of drinking men like an alpha lioness parting a posturing pride.My God. My heart stopped for a moment. Does Alex Goddard already knowI've fled and has he sent her to lure me back?
No way. I clenched my fists and kicked at the surly, long-tailed mutts,still circling and nuzzling.
As she came closer, I saw she was smiling and carrying a brown wickerbasket. What. . .
"I've brought you something," she announced as she walked up, her darkeyes oddly kind. "You must be starving by now."
"How did you know I was down here?" Looking at her earnest Mayan face,I suddenly wondered if she could have any idea what Alex Goddard haddone to Sarah, and to me?
"You were gone from your room," she declared, settling the basket ontothe walkway and beginning to open it. "Where else would you be?" When Ilooked, I saw it had a sealed container of yogurt, a banana, and twoeggs, presumably hard-boiled--traditional "safe" food for gringos inThird World places. "I'd been planning to bring you down today," shewent on. "They all want to meet you."
Was she coming to look after me? The more I examined her, the more Ibegan to suspect something else was going on. Would she help me getSarah out and away from Alex Goddard?
"I want to find Sarah," I said. Why not start out with the truth? "Doeshe . . . Dr. Goddard know I'm here?"
"He's not here now," she said, her eyes shifting down. "He left forGuatemala City early this morning. I think to meet with the Army. Onbusiness. . . ."
Yes. His big Humvee hadn't been in the clinic's parking lot when I wentby. Why hadn't I noticed that? For the first time I felt the odds weretipping. Now was going to be the perfect time to get Sarah. Yes. Yes.Yes.
"If you want to see her, I can take you," Marcelina offered
Yes, perfect. I wanted to hug her.
"Then let's go right now" And while I was at it, I was determined toget through to this woman somehow, to enlist her help.
As we headed down the central walkway of the village, we passed therows of compounds where I'd seen the women that first morning. None wasin evidence now, and the gardens were empty, as though the entiresettlement had been evacuated. It felt very strange.
And what about those bizarre proceedings now under way in the square?Was that going to interfere with getting Sarah out?
"Marcelina." I pointed back toward the milling plaza. "What's that allabout? The drinking and the--?"
"It's begun," she answered, both simple and vague. "They're gettingready."
I didn't like the way she said it. Her tone seemed to imply I wasinvolved somehow.
"The ceremony. They like to drink a tree-bark liquor we call _balche_.It's very strong and rancid." She smiled and touched me. "Take myadvice and avoid it."
"I plan to." Why did she think I'd even be offered it?
As we hurried along, two women abruptly appeared on a porch, bowed, andgreeted us. Marcelina waved back, then went over and spoke earnestlywith them for a moment. Finally she turned and motioned for me.
"They've invited you in."
Something about the easy way it all just "happened" felt as thoughthey'd been expecting me. Had Marcelina's trip down to the village beenpart of a setup, wittingly or unwittingly?
"I told them we could only stay for a minute," she went on. I sensedshe was reluctant, but felt we had no choice.
The last thing I wanted to do was this.
"Marcelina, can't you tell them we'll come back later?"
"It's . . . it's important." She was beckoning for me. "Please."
Well, I thought, this could give me the time I need, the personalmoment, to get through to her. Even after I locate Sarah, spiriting herout isn't going to be simple. I've got to make Marcelina understandwhat's really going on, then get her to help us.
As we headed through the yard, the women smiled, then politely led usunder the thatch overhang and into the hut. They both were short andMaya-sturdy, with white shifts and broad faces, and they exuded aconfident intensity in their bearing, a powerful sense ofself-knowledge. I tried a phrase in Spanish, but they just stared at meas though they'd never heard the language. Then I remembered my firstattempt to ask about Sarah. The women hadn't understood me then either.Or had they?
The room they ushered us into had no windows, but there was cool,shadowy morning light filtering through the upright wooden slats of thewalls, laying dim stripes across the earthen floor. A cooking firesmoldered in a central hearth, and from the smoke-blackened roof beamsdangled dried gourds, bundles of tobacco, netted bags of onions andsquash, and several leaf-wrapped blocks of salt. The room smelled ofancient smoke, sweet and pungent.
They immediately produced a calabash bowl with a gray liquid inside,pronouncing the word _atole _as they urged it on me, smilingexpectantly.
"It's our special drink," Marcelina explained. She seemed to be wary,watching me closely as they handed it over. "It's how we welcome anhonored guest."
I wasn't sure how politic I ought to be. Third World food . . .
"Marcelina," I said, taking the bowl and trying to smile. "I'm notreally--"
"You must have a little," she whispered back. "It would be very rude. .. ."
Well, I thought, just a taste. I tried it and realized it was a densegruel of cornmeal and honey-water, like a lukewarm gluey porridge,though with a bitter after-jolt. But I choked it down and tried to lookpleased. Marcelina urged me to have more--I took another small sip--andthen they produced corn dumplings wrapped in large leaves, togetherwith a pile of fiery chiles and a bowl of squash, corn, and beans, allmixed together.
After one bite, though, Marcelina reached out and--her eyesdowncast--whisked the bowls away, passing them back to the women. Shesaid something to them, then turned to me.
"Eating too much would be as rude as not eating at all."
That was a cultural norm I didn't remember, and I suspected she'd justchanged her mind about the wisdom of my eating local food.
I smiled at the women and used some of my so-so Spanish to offer themthanks.
"_Muchas gracias_." I nodded toward the bowls. "_Esta es muydelicioso_."
They beamed as though they understood me. Who could say? But they'dbeen intensely interested in watching me eat, even more than Marcelina.
Work on her. Now.
"Marcelina." I turned to her, only vaguely noticing she hadn't had abite. "Do you understand why Dr. Goddard moved me down to the operatingroom yesterday? There in the clinic? What did he tell you?"
"He said it was for special tests." Her voice was gentle through thegloom. "You were very . . . sleepy. You must have been very, verytired. But he told me something in your blood work was unusual, so hehad me bring you down for a pelvic exam. I gave you a sedative"--shewas pointing at the Band-Aid still on my arm--"the way we always do.But then he said you were fine."
"Do you realize he did things to my body I didn't agree to?" I studiedher trusting Mayan face and tried to get a sense of how much she knewabout what was going on. That was when I first became sure of anincreasing disquiet in her eyes, as she kept glancing away. Why was sheso uncomfortable talking about Alex Goddard? "And I think he did someof those same things to Sarah."
"Dr. Goddard tried to help her in many ways when she was here before."Marcelina's tone had become odd and distant. "Now he wants to help youtoo."
Yes, there was definitely something uneasy in her eyes.
"Before he came here," she went on, trying to look at me, "_Baalum _wasjust a poor, simple village. Many children died of diseases. So I leftand went to Guatemala City to study. To become a public-health nurse.Then after he came here, I moved back to help him with his clinic, thechildren."
She was trying to make a case for him, and I noticed she'd avoided theactual question.
"Now _Baalum _has become a special place," she said finally. "A placeof miracles. And if a woman from outside comes, she can be part ofthat. When Sara was here before, I started teaching her to speak ourlanguage, and the others did too. She truly wanted to be part of hismiracles. Sometimes we don't understand how they happen, but he hasgreat medical powers."
One thing's for sure, I thought. He's got plenty of power over thepeople here, including you. The whole place has been brainwashed. Ilooked her over and realized she'd just gone on mental autopilot. Shewants to be loyal to him, and she can't let herself believe there'ssomething rotten in the "special" paradise of _Baalum_.
"Listen," I said, getting up, "I need to go see Sarah right now. Herfather's been in the hospital, and he's not well. I spoke with himyesterday, and he's very worried about her. I know Dr. Goddard istreating her, but it's better if I just take her home immediately."
More and more I was beginning to suspect this detour for the two womenhad been a diversion, an attempt to stall. Marcelina had set it up.Maybe she wanted to tell me something, and she didn't have the nerve todo it point-blank.
"Families are very important," she said, sounding sincere. "We'll gonow." She spoke to the women briefly, an animated benediction thatseemed to leave her even more disturbed. As we headed out and on downthe path, I again wondered what was really happening.
When we reached the end of the long "street," the arched arbors stillabove us, she stopped in front of an odd stone building unlike any ofthe others and pointed.
"This is where she likes to be," she said quietly. "Except for thepyramid, it's the most sacred place in Baalum."
The doorway was a stone arch about five feet high and pointed at thetop like a tiny Gothic cathedral.
"What . . . is this?" I felt as though I was about to enter somethingfrom the Temple of Doom.
"It was once the royal bath," she explained. "In ancient times heatedrocks were brought in, with
We walked through the portal and entered a room whose roof was a stonelatticework that let the gray daylight just filter through. The spacewas vast, with carved and colored glyphs all around the walls, whilethe air was filled with clouds of incense from pots along the floor. Itfelt like a smoky pagan church.
At the far end was a large stone platform, and in the dappled, hazylight I could see it was embossed along its sides with carved andpainted classical scenes and glyphs, glistening little red and greenand blue pictures of faces and figures.
My eyes finally started adjusting to the shadows, and I realized theplatform had been fitted with a covering across the top, a jaguar skinover bundled straw, and a tiny form was lying on it, wearing a whiteshift. . . .
"Morgy, I've been so hoping you'd come," Sarah said, rising up andholding out her hands. Then she slid her feet around onto the roughstone floor and managed to steady herself. Her shift was wrinkled now,but she still was wearing the brown slippers and the braided leatherwaist-cinch. She appeared sleepy, though her eyes were sparkling andshe seemed to have more strength than she'd had when I first saw herout in the square. I looked at her and weighed the chances she couldwalk. Possibly. But I'd carry her if I had to.
"Sar, honey, we're going home now," I said, finally finding my voice.
She didn't respond at first, just turned to caress the decorated sidesof the platform. "I've been wanting to show you this, Morgy. It tellsmy story." Her voice sounded as if it were coming from a long way off,as though through a dense haze.
"Please, we don't have time for stories." Was she hearing me at all?"Let's just--"
"See," she went on, ignoring me as she pointed down, "that's the CosmicMonster, that one there with maize sprouting out of his forehead. Andthat man next to him with a flint knife is my father, letting bloodfrom his penis. He's the king. And that one there is me, Lady Jaguar.He gave my name to this place." She paused to reverently touch thecarved stone. "Look, I've just stuck a stingray spine through my tongueand put my blood in the _copal_ censer there."
"Here, see it?" She was pointing to a section at the very end. "That'sthe two-headed Vision Serpent up above me. He's the god Kukulkan . . .or something. I've made him come to me by giving him my blood. I'm--"
"Sar, what in heaven's name is going on with you?" I grabbed her and inspite of myself, shook her. Jesus! The whole scene left me in shock.She was sinking back deeper into her fantasy world. Was she taking thedrug again, I wondered and fantasizing she was some dead Mayanprincess? Please, God no.
That was when I saw Marcelina walk over to a shelf along the wall andlift down another clay-pot incense burner, along with a small whitebrick. What--?
"Oh, yes!" Sarah exclaimed moving quickly over to her. "Let's do it forMorgy."
Marcelina nodded warily and handed her the white brick, then turned tome. "She likes to do incense. It always calms her. This is _copal_,what the shamans use."
I watched while Sarah shakily began crumbling pieces of the stickysubstance into the pot. My God I thought, she's truly, truly lost it.Next she inserted dry tinder and began trying to knock sparks into itwith a piece of hard black jade and a flint. But she was too weak, andfinally Marcelina had to take the flint and do it for her. Then, as thegray smoke started billowing out, Marcelina began a long chant, shrilland strangely melodic. I felt a chill creep down my back. When shefinished she turned her dark eyes on me sadly, waiting.
"What were you saying?" I asked finally, sensing she wanted me to.
"I was singing from the Popol Vuh." Then she translated.
Life Blood by Thomas Hoover / Horror have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes