James began to pound on the wall where the door had been, insisting it had to still be there. I went the direction the scream had come until I bumped into the wall with his mural on it. Now it only showed a skinless man.
It would of course be expected by this point that I was beginning to lose my mind. Despite being locked now in a room with seemingly no doors or any kind of light, I turned off my flashlight, unwilling to continue to look at the images all around me.
James gave a small cry at the sudden darkness, but then I heard him cry again, this time in surprise as he started saying he could see light. I looked around, my eyes adjusting, but then I could see it too. We both moved toward it, bumping into one another but finding our way to a seam in the wall, a crack open enough to the outside to let light in.
I turned my flashlight back on and we rummaged in our packs, looking for something to wedge into the crack and pry it open. Neither of us had been carrying the crowbar, but I had my machete. It wasn’t much for such a task but better than nothing at all. Wedging the blade into the crack, I pulled as hard as I could, trying to pry away the stone.
When I exhausted myself James took over, and we went back and forth a few times, trading off as the other tired. James started to pry at it again and I turned to get some water from our packs. I was starting to despair of this doing any good when I heard the sound of stone slip against stone.
You’ve got it, I cried, turning back around, but James was nowhere to be seen. The machete was sticking out of the crack in the stone, and then before my eyes, a section of the stone wall began to slide up out of the floor, bringing a new scene into view. James: entombed alive and clawing desperately at the walls. The detail was so fine I could see the fear on his face and the blood of his nails as he broke them against the wall of his stone coffin.
I stumbled backward, turning to see the door had again opened in the wall. I fled from the room. Racing down the stairs as fast as I could without falling, I did not stop for anything, not even the screams that echoed from the temple. Not even the dim promise of saving my friends, the lingering hope that they were yet alive inside, was able to outweigh the fear for my own life I felt in that moment.
Running down the avenue, my only instinct was to be free of this city. I could feel it trying to catch me, trying to pull me back, like the sensation of just slipping out of something’s grasp. I could feel the rope around me tightening. I fell once, almost twisted my ankle, but I got up and ran again. As I neared the gate, and the air seemed thick as water and I had to push through, screaming, fighting to escape. When I cleared the wall at last, I fell to the dirt and cried. I was back in the jungle.
I had left everything behind, I did not even think of my pack, food, supplies, or the GPS to get me back to civilization. All I cared about was that I was alive. I would have rather died in the jungle than let the city take me, and nothing would have tempted me back inside. I can give you no account of what happened to me after that, not until I woke in a hospital in Lima. The doctors said a local tribe found me wandering in the forest, half starved and entirely mad.
La Ciudad Muerta, the Dead City. But it was not the city which was dead, it was those who would tread there who lost their lives, sacrifices to the spirits that inhabited the ancient ruin. It was the thirtieth of October, the Day of the Dead. We had been right, we had been brought to the city for a purpose: to die, and die we did.
Me? I did not escape. You call this alive? The city devoured my soul, my very spirit. Would you want to live with these memories, with what I’ve seen? It would be a mercy to kill me now, to put me out of my misery.
Now I have given you an account of everything I can remember. No need to pretend or apologize, I know you do not believe me, no one has. But go ahead and print it: the last confessions of a madman. Is this my last? Oh yes. I don’t expect to come back this time. You see, I was never meant to get out.