La Ciudad Muerta, Part IV

[Part III]

The fear that nipped at my heels persisted until I could hear the voices from camp and saw the little ribbon of smoke from a fire.  That helped solidify my grip on reality and I was able to keep from looking quite so harried by the time I arrived.  Patrick and Rodrigo were there, but James had not come back yet, they said, asking why he wasn’t with me.

I said he had not been far from here, inspecting one of the murals closer.  I pulled out the walkie-talkie and gave him a call.  It’s strange how one second you are merely waiting for a response and the next second you get that sinking feeling as you become aware it isn’t coming.  I called again, a small waver in my voice.  When there was still no reply, I cupped my hands and shouted.

That was when I began to feel sick, realizing I had not just wandered off myself, and in doing so had also left James alone, but that I might have to go back into the darking city to find him.  I could not bring myself to admit to the others that I was terrified of doing exactly that and so forced myself, despite my rising panic, to head toward where I had left him.

I was saved from having to be too terribly brave, however, when we heard his return call echo through the stones, and a minute later he emerged from the maze of walls.  I must have been white as a sheet by then because the first thing he did was laugh and pat my arm, saying I looked as if I’d seen a ghost.

I asked why he hadn’t responded on the walkie-talkie and he said he hadn’t heard it.  I said I’d called twice, and he took his out to test it, finding the batteries were dead.  I punched him in shoulder to cover the shaking of my hands and told him to take better care of his equipment, he’d given us all a fright.  I think that was truer for me than for the others, though.  They hadn’t heard what I had.

While Robert, Patrick and James discussed what they’d seen over dinner, I stayed mostly quiet, only speaking up when asked a direct question or when it seemed awkward not to say something.  None of the others seemed to have seen or heard anything unusual, and I began to wonder if it really had been all in my head.  Maybe the month in the jungle had gotten to me; maybe the childish nightmares had hung on more than I thought they had.  Whatever the reason, I convinced myself it had all been in my head.

The swirl of clouds that had hung over the city all day began to settle into a thick fog, and within an hour, coupled with the fading light, we could barely see ten feet in any direction.  The silence itself seemed to echo around us.  All of the sounds that one can typically hear in the jungle were absent.  Maybe that’s why earlier had unnerved me so, unexplained sounds in the midst of unnatural silence.

The others were discussing a plan for the next day; we’d go to the temple and see what could be seen, gather as much data as we could.  The day after that we’d start the trek back to Chilca and then home.  I murmured some sort of agreement and gave a brief goodnight before turning in.  It took a long time for sleep to find me.

[Part V]

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