Life blood, p.28
Sarah was hovering around me, a sylphlike presence, as I watched myselfdrift up the steps of the pyramid there in the square, my senses waxingand waning like the waves on a distant ocean shore. There seemed to berain, or fog, or smoke, but it had a luminous, purple cast one moment,a Day-Glo orange the next. In fact, all the colors were swirling andchanging, shimmering from hue to hue. A pack of howler monkeys wascavorting up and down the steps on my left, like circus Harlequins inelectric red-and-blue suits, doing pratfalls and huffing as they flewthrough the air and tumbled one over another.
Sarah was floating silently beside me, but where was Steve? Had hecome? Were we escaping?
No. I sensed his face drifting across my sight like a cartoon cloudbefore dissolving into nothingness. He wasn't here. I was having theeeriest dream I'd ever had.
When I reached the stone-paved platform at the pinnacle, I felt AlexGoddard clasp my arm and turn me around to face the plaza below.
"They are waiting," he said, pointing toward the hazy square.
I looked down, and at first I couldn't see anything except rain andsmoke, but then slowly a crowd materialized. The scattering of men I'dseen earlier had become an undulating sea of upturned faces paintedwith stripes and swirling circles of blue and white and red, atorch-lit garden of brilliant blossoms. They all were looking up at us,at Sarah and me.
Next he held out a mirror whose reflecting surface was a polishedsilver metal.
"Behold yourself, Morgan. As befits a royal one, a special one, yournose has been built up with clay and pierced with lustrous bluefeathers and a giant topaz. Your front teeth have been filed to a pointand inlaid with jewels, your royal skull has been shaped back andflattened."
I gazed into the mirror and gasped. I was monstrous, a Halloween harpy.
Then he moved over to a waist-high censer stationed there on the edgeof the platform and began adding balls of sticky white _copal_ resin,together with bark and grasses, which he ignited by the quick frictionof a fire stick spun by a bow.
Finally he turned to me and held out his hands. "Now we will make amiracle, the miracle of _Baalum_."
Heavy smoke from the censer was pouring out into the rainy sky as westarted a stiff _pas de deux_, the strains of a clay flute driftingaround us. Was it the "ceremony"? Was I dreaming it?
As the incense billowed, our Maya dreamtime dance became ever moreintense, and then a faint form began to writhe up out of the hazebetween us, an undulating serpent the deep color of jade. As AlexGoddard wrapped his arms around it, it began to form into two darkheads, then pirouette above us. Finally, as the two-headed specteropened its mouths and gazed down on the platform, Sarah stepped towardit and held out her arms.
I screamed to her to get back, but as I did, the . . . thing reacheddown and swallowed her in flames. It was the Vision-Serpent come toreceive her.
"Sarah . . ."
"Can you get up now?" said a voice, cutting through the haze thatenveloped my consciousness. At first I thought it was more of thedream, but then someone was touching me and I opened my eyes to seeMarcelina standing beside the bed I was in, dressed in white andholding a candle. For a moment I thought I was still atop the rainypyramid but then I felt the moistness of the sheets and realized thestorm Id been dreaming of was being blown in through the slats of thewindows. I was shivering.
"Marcelina, where's Sarah?" The nightmare had seemed so real, and now Iwas hallucinating, having flashes of colors I didn't want to see. "Ijust had the most horrible dream. I was on the pyramid and there wassmoke, rain and some kind of ghastly--"
"It's the elixir. From the toad. It makes you dream dreams of the OldOnes." She took my hand. "She's resting now. He gave her something tocalm her."
More drugs, I thought angrily.
Then I caught the "he." Alex Goddard must be back. Everything had gonewrong.
"I've got to get her and--"
"Not now," Marcelina went on, helping me up. "Come. I want to show youthe true miracle of _Baalum_. Now is the time you should know."
The upstairs hallway was dimly illuminated by rows of lights along thefloor as she led me forward. There also was total silence, except forthe occasional whimper of a baby in one of the rooms. Where was shetaking me?
When she stopped in front of the third door from the end of the hall, Itried to get my mental bearings. I was still hallucinating; in controlof only half my mind to the point where I wasn't sure I could find myhand in front of my face. But then she tapped on the door and when sheheard a voice inside, something in the Kekchi dialect, she gentlypushed it open.
When we moved inside, the room was dark and there was no sound, excepta gasp from the bed when the woman realized I was a gringo. The dimslant of illumination from the doorway revealed a small night lamp justabove the head of her bed, and Marcelina reached for it.
As the light came on, a pale glow filling the room, I noticed the womanwas staring at me, her eyes wide and frightened.
"She's afraid you've come for her child," Marcelina whispered, pointingtoward the bassinet. "She knows we have to give him back."
The woman was pure Maya, a powerful visage straight off that uprightstele in the square. I walked over and took her hand, hoping to calmher fears. Then I lifted her hand to my cheek and realized my face wasmoist with tears. I held it there for a long moment, till the alarm inher eyes diminished.
Her newborn infant was sleeping quietly in a crib right next to her, onthe opposite side from the table. When I looked closely at him, Ifinally understood everything.
I laid her hand back onto the bed and walked around. While the womanwatched, I pulled away the stripped red and green coverlet and liftedout her groggy little boy, tender and vulnerable.
He made a baby's protest as I cradled him, then began sleepily probingmy left breast, making me feel sad I had no milk.
"It's okay," I whispered, first to him and then to his mother. "_Estabien_."
"_Tz'ac Tzotz_," the woman said, pointing at him. I could feel herdeep, maternal love.
"His name?" I asked in English, before I thought.
When Marcelina translated, the woman smiled and nodded.
Then the blond-haired Tz'ac Tzotz started to sniffle, so I kissed himgently, turned, and took the woman's hand again. There was nothing elseI could do.
Tz'ac Tzotz was Sarah incarnate. This was no hallucination. He had herspecial blue eyes and her steep cheeks, her high brow. I was holdingher child.
"They are sent from Kukulkan," Marcelina was saying, "the white god ofthe plumed serpent. Then there's the ceremony on the pyramid and theygo back."
The woman was staring at me, seemingly awestruck. Then she pointed atTz'ac Tzotz and at me, saying something to Marcelina. Finally the womanbowed her head to me with great reverence.
"She says he looks so much like you," Marcelina explained. "You aresurely the special one. The new bride."
I was still speechless, but then I noticed the baby had a little silverjaguar amulet tied around his wrist with a silken string, and on theback--as on Kevin's and Rachel's--were rows of lines and dots.
It finally dawned on me. They were digits, written in the archaic Mayascript. What could they be, maybe his birthday? No, I realized, thatwas far too simplistic. This was the original bar code; it was his_Baalum _"serial number."
For a long moment it felt as if time had stopped. Sarah, and nowme--we'd been lured here to provide the life force for Mayan surrogatemothers. This whole elaborate recreation wasn't about rainforest drugsand research into fertility; it was just a cover to use the bodies ofthese intensely believing Native Americans. Alex Goddard hadperpetrated the greatest systematic exploitation of another race sinceslavery. The difference was, he'd found a way to get them to givethemselves willingly.
_Baalum_ was definitely a place of miracles. There could scarcely beanother isolated spot on earth where he could find this many sincere,trusting people with powerful beliefs he could prostitute.
But I had to be sure. I turned around, leaving Marcelina to watch inconfusion, and marched out into the hall and into the next room. TheMaya mother there cried out in shock as I unceremoniously strode overto her crib and checked.
Her baby was the same. Sarah stamped all over him. My God.
When I went back, Marcelina was still trying to calm Tz'ac Tzotz'smother with her bedside manner.
As I stood looking at them, the extent of what was going on finallysettled in. All those new babies at Quetzal Manor, even Kevin andRachel--they all looked alike because they all were from the samewoman. The one who was here before Sarah. And now hers were ready.
I was going to be next. The new "bride." Those fresh petri dishes downin the lab . . . My God, why didn't I destroy them when I had thechance?
So whose sperm would he use? Of course. It would be from the man AlanDupre was going to deliver to him.
"Marcelina, don't you realize what's happening?" I wanted to pound somesense into her. They didn't have to let him do this to them.
"I know that with miracles must come sadness," she said, reaching totouch Tz'ac Tzotz's tiny brow. "We all understand that."
"It's not a miracle. It's science, don't you realize? _Ciencia_. He'susing you."
"We know he does many things that are magic. He makes powerfulmedicines from the plants we bring him, and when women want to bear achild--"
"No, Marcelina." I felt my heart go out to her, and to all the others."It's black magic. It's all a lie."
The first thing to do was go down to the laboratory and dump every lastone of my petri dishes into the sink, ova and all. Destroy the nest,then call Steve and warn him. . . .
I glanced at my watch. NO! The time was 4:58 A.M. He was coming at nineo'clock last night. . . .
I was standing there in horror, unnatural colors flitting across myvision, when I heard . . .
"It's almost morning."
I jumped as Alex Goddard walked into the room, dressed in white, hairfalling around his shoulders. He took Tz'ac Tzotz from his crib,checked the number on his amulet, and then absently put him back. Nexthe examined me, his eyes brimming with concern.
"How're you feeling?" He placed his hand on my brow. When I lookedaround for Marcelina, I realized she'd vanished.
"Where's Steve?" I felt the bottom dropping out of my world, my wholebody trembling. "If you've harmed so much as a hair on his head, I'll--"
"He's here," he said quietly.
"I want to see him." Dear God, what had I done? I wanted to die.
"He's been given something to help him rest. Are you sure you want todisturb him?"
"I told you I want to see him." I could barely get out the words. "Now."
"If you insist. He's just downstairs."
We slowly walked down the marble steps, my mind flooding with more andmore hallucinations. When we reached the first floor, he opened thedoor of a room adjacent to his office. I realized the window slats wereopen, sending a rush of moist air across my face. Then he motioned meforward and clicked on the bedside light.
Steve was there on the bed, comatose. I walked over and lifted hisupper torso, then cradled his head in my arms. Baby, I love you. Pleaseforgive me. Please.
His eyes were firmly shut and he didn't stir in the slightest. He wasin a deathlike stupor, and there were large bruises on his face and abandage across his nose. Then his bed shift fell open and I noticedanother bandage on his groin.
"You've already done it!" I whirled back, ready to kill the bastard.
"As I said, he was injected with a mild sedative." He had walked overand started taking Steve's pulse. "Given the . . . condition he was in,I decided to go with the simplest procedure possible. After he wasbrought in, I made a small incision in the _vas deferens _and extracteda substantial quantity of motile sperm." He was turning down thelights. "Don't worry. I've performed the procedure before. The last wasa Swedish tourist who was in a car accident up by Lake Atitlan and thenlay in a coma in Guatemala City for weeks on end."
I listened to him, my mind racing. I'd thought Kevin and Rachel lookedNordic, big and blond. That Swede must have been their father.
"Those ova of mine you took, the way you stole Sarah's, and all theother women you've brought here--you don't use them for research."
"I have ample leftover embryonic material here for that." He startedhelping me onto the bed next to Steve. Now his face was undulatingthrough my vision, as though I were seeing it in a wavy mirror. "Pleaseunderstand, it's very expensive to run a laboratory up here. But thegood I'm doing--"
"You're a criminal." I remembered the frightened eyes of the womenupstairs and felt myself seething with anger.
"No! I am, in my special way, giving them back a small part of whatthey had taken away by people exactly like us. I'm providing themproof, living proof, their truths are still powerful."
He strolled over to the window and looked out. "The women come to mefor my blessing whenever they hope to bear a child. They know that ifthey wish, I can cause their first child to be a descendant of theirwhite deity Kukulkan. For them it is a sacred event."
"They believe that?" It was sickening. I felt a knot growing in mystomach, even as my hallucinations flashed ever bolder, bright rainbowsthat flitted about the room, then wound themselves around me.
"A great philosopher once said, All religions are true.' Who are we tojudge?" He paused. "Let me try and explain something. Those patternsyou see the women weaving on the fabrics down in Baalum, those patternsare actually just like the designs on that thousand-year-old pyramid.But though that pyramid had been buried and lost to them for so manyyears, they still made the designs all those years, because thosesymbols are a road map of their unseen world. Not the forest here wherewe are now, but their real world, where the gods dwell who rule thelightning bolts, the germination of corn." He was at the door,preparing to leave, but he paused. "They also understand the . . .special infants who come are miracles that must be returned. Theyreceive but they also must give. Now they wish you to be part of that."
With that he closed the door with a swing of his long hair, a slamfollowed by a hard click.
Life Blood by Thomas Hoover / Horror have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes