La Ciudad Muerta, Part VIII

[Part VII]

James grabbed at Rodrigo’s arm, yanking him back.  Patrick is dead, he yelled; he ran off and this is what happened.  I’m not staying to find out who’s next.  Rodrigo tried to turn away, but when James kept his hold, Rod spun back around and put a fist across his jaw.  I just blinked, like I was watching a movie, something I wasn’t really part of.

Rodrigo turned again and went into the temple.  That’s when James grabbed my shoulders, giving me a firm shake, yelling that we had to go.  I finally started to come out of the fog I was in, noticing for the first time my cheeks were wet with tears.

James was pleading with me now, begging me to leave.  He had always been the calm one among us, but this had sent him over the edge, had sent us all over the edge in our own ways.  He started to tug me, trying to get me to follow him back down the steps but I finally pulled back and shook my head.  We have to find Patrick, I told him, though my voice sounded strange to my own ears.  We can’t just leave him, we can’t leave Rod.

Our eyes met, but he couldn’t hold my gaze and turned away, heading down the steps, bent with guilt or sorrow, I know not which.  I turned and stared back into the temple’s opening, trying not to look at the blood as I walked, deliberately putting one foot in front of the other.  I stepped inside and was immediately enveloped.  The black consumed me and I blinked as if the lack of light was a failure of my own eyes before it dawned on me it was simply dark.  I felt around the side of my pack until my hand closed around my flashlight.  I unclipped it and turned it on to see the room before me.

In the center of the floor was a statue, like that of a man but with the skin of his torso peeled away to reveal his ribs and inner organs.  In one outstretched hand was a human heart, the other holding a severed head, and he wore a crown of eyes and bones.  It reminded me of images of Mictlantecuhtli, god of the dead and the underworld, but from a far earlier period of time than had ever been recorded.

All around, the walls were filled with images of death, intricate carvings of scenes of horror.  Each wall held a central mural with three figures: the god on one side, a feminine counterpart on the other, and between them a central figure – one of the four travelers we had seen all over the city.  Surrounding all three were demons and serpents and skeletons, depictions of sacrifice, even images of cannibalism.

As I looked at each mural, I saw the gods were interacting with the travelers – with us – in different ways.  One was the figure that looked like James, he was standing on the steps of the temple, hands raised and covered in blood, each god holding one of his wrists.  The one which resembled me stood inside the temple, a rope around my waist which was held by the gods as if I were being lead.  To the other side was Patrick stretched across the altar, his arms and legs held as his blood spilled out.

I turned back toward the center of the room, and as my light passed across the statue, my eyes grew wide and my breathing stopped; the heart glistened with moisture.  It was not a part of the stone statue as I had thought, but was real, blood still dripping to the floor.  I took a step back, screaming when I felt something grab me from behind.  I turned to swing, to fight, to get away until I realized it was James I struggled against, his face white as a sheet.

It’s just me, he was yelling; It’s just me, snap out of it!  When I finally got hold of my senses I grabbed him and pointed to the statue, the walls, the figures, I dragged him over to the one of Patrick.  I don’t even remember what I said, I just remember yelling.

We’re leaving, he said, grabbing me, and I made no objection this time.  Yet no matter which way we looked, there was no longer a door to exit by.  Instead we saw the fourth mural, the figure of Rodrigo.  He was being held against a wall, a knife slicing away his skin.  Then we both seemed to realize that Rodrigo wasn’t here, even though there was no other visible way out of the room other than the way we’d all come in.  Next, we heard his screams.

[Part IX]

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