Here is the refined, official version of chapter 1 and the prologue, edited, as well as chapter 2. More coming soon. Enjoy!
"Quite possible," I dryly remarked. "But, Uncle, if these antediluvian animals formerly lived in these subterranean regions, what more likely than that one of these monsters may at this moment be concealed behind one of yonder mighty rocks."
-JULES VERNE, A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
A SCIENE FICTION NOVEL
PROLOGUE: THE FALL OF THE INCAS
CITY, ARARANKHA VALLEY, ANDES, PERU
The jungle was silent that day. Long, fathomless hallways of dense forest path, trodden down by the footfall of gigantic animals, wove a labyrinth across the land only they knew by heart. Dense cycads, reeds, ferns, and toadstools the size of your fist made a thick wall on all sides, and the sky was cloaked in a thick canopy of vegetation.
“No light entered fractured. No life exited in one piece.”
Those wise words from his Grandfather reverberated through his mind on loop, as he noisily crashed through the jungle. He stopped, panting in breath. Birds scattered from the trees, and a millipede the size of a dog scuttled out of his way and into the dense bush.
The world was dead silent. He hadn't thought about it. His Grandfather was killed just two minutes ago, fell to the stocky jaws of a bull Majong. He held his Grandfather’s token of good luck to his heart, an engraved symbol of a winged serpent, little wings stretching out of it’s coiled body, and wept. The tears fell, silent as they hit the ground.
It was gone. The people knew. They had fought for this land for decades, but they knew their time there would end soon. The corn fields dissipated, the livestock killed, the transportation devoured. All they could do was hole up in their small stone city, the inevitable slowly dawning on them when a Majong pack tore down the wooden fence and started to kill:
This land would never be tamed.
His mother knew this. She had planted a series of stones into the pathway, leading a trail to the river. She vanished that night, but hopefully her attempt wouldn't be in vain.
He ran down the pathway. Suddenly, to his relief, the jungle opened up at a corner, and a lazy river was in sight! He turned back, listening one last time to the faint chaos in the village, and made a mad dash for the river. He jumped.
The cold, clear water felt good on his skin, as he sunk down. He staggered upward, pulling himself in a foamy splash, upward to the air. He seized a passing log, and held on.
As he rushed down river, he saw a serpent perched in tree, eyeing him. Like all serpents here, with the exception of the real snakes, he was covered in downy plumage, and bight green wings.
“Get out of here, you filthy monster!” The boy shouted in spite. The serpent spread its wings and flew, disappearing from view as it soared over the canopy. He didn’t hate the serpents. But they had failed to save his people, and that was bad enough for him.
Soon, the boy heard it. He had never been this far from the town, only heard stories, but he knew now how to exit this accursed valley. He looked up. The canopy was gone, only the high walls of the mountains.
He was speeding now. Speeding towards the rushing, foaming maw that would show him sky, then plunge him down into the black, and decided wether he would die or live. The trees parted back, showing him the gateway. He saw the sky. He held the stone of the winged serpent tight in his hands.
I will be free soon, Grandfather, he thought. I will not let you die in vain. I will escape, and tell of the bravery of you, and your father, and your grandfather, and his-
He felt the drop, and plunged into darkness.
EL RECTO CAMINO AL INFIERNO(THE ROAD STRAIGHT TO HELL), ANDES MOUNTAINS, PERU
She was looking at the floor of the bus. Striped rubber, vertical grooves from top to bottom, covered in leaves. She would focus on that. Not anything else. She cursed herself for taking the right side of the bus. Silently, Marika looked over, and peered out the foggy, glass window.
“Shit!” She startled everyone on the bus, and jerked back, once again looking to the floor.
Marika had Acrophobia, the irrational, pathological fear of heights. It was phycological, she never had a bad experience with high places ever, but that didn’t prevent it from being a huge pain in her ass whenever her travels took her to edge of a high drop off.
The glass window fogged a bit, but she could still see the monstrous drop to the jungle chasm below. She was unfortunate enough to be on el Recto camino al Infierno, rather humorously translated to the road straight to hell. A little known but nonetheless dangerous road, carved by dynamite as a traveller’s pass in the 1870s, was only big enough to hold a small buggy. It clearly wasn't designed to hold a traveller’s bus, the type of bus she was on right now. The right tires were barely on the dirt road as the right side jutted out, right into thin air. It wasn't nearly as long as Yungas Road in Bolivia, which had higher death count, but only because more people travelled on it. The massive overhang of rock over the bus didn't help either.
Marika shuffled uncomfortably on the leather bench. With short, reddish hair, thick jeans, a white tank top under a green flannel shirt, and wool scarf from the Andes, any passing person could guess with ease that she was traveller. Indeed, she spent most of her summers on trips around various places, something she did with her father when she was younger. Now that her father was dead, she did these trips mostly by herself during the summertime. She felt she could never get the approval she desperately wanted from her father. Her father was a very proud and stoic man who casted a long shadow into every room that he entered. He was happiest when he was traveling in search of archeological treasures. Although her father would never had admitted this to Marika, she knew he secretly wished she were born a boy. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he loved Marika completely, but her father was a Man’s Man, alway telling Marika to “toughen up” and “face her fears head on.” Times like these made her feel proud and inadequate at the same time.
“It’s never fun, this road.” She looked up. Most seats were occupied by various types of people: goat herders, mountaineers, botanists, and filmmakers. The man two seats ahead of her was an old African man in his 50s, with greying hair and glasses. A camera crew sat across him, holding two large black nylon bags full of equipment.
“Recto camino al Infierno has been a common road for me, every time I go to Peru. Executives say viewers can’t get enough of a “death road.” It’s not bad, once you get used to it.”
She paused. “Wait,” she said. “You're....”
“Amani Abasi, at your service. Good to meet you, m’am.”
For a brief second, she hardly believed what she was seeing. Abasi was a famous traveller and professional photographer, host of the traveling show Wild Earth. A botanist from Kenya, he spent his entire life filming the most beautiful locations in the world, from the peaks of the Himalayas to strange fish on the darkest depths of the ocean floor. A big name in travel, considering he pretty much visited every place on earth.
“It’s an honor to meet you, sir! Why are you, why are you here?”
“Well, not for the best reasons. I’ve been hired for this show on Discovery called First Contact.”
She chuckled. “ You’re doing a show about Aliens?”
“Worse. They’ve got permission by the Peruvian Government to be the first people to visit an isolated and uncontacted tribe. I’m basically here to film the culture shock of natives discovering technology and stuff.”
“That’s pretty wild.”
“Yeah, but I don't think it’s right. Uncontacted tribes are usually antisocial, some are even violent. I’ve met a couple during my trips to the Amazon. They don't like outsiders. Even worse, contact is extremely dangerous for them, too. It’s like War of the Worlds.”
“It’s an old science fiction book. In the book, the Martian creatures try to attack earth and then die from the flu because they have no immunity to it. It’s like that, going to tribes. You gotta be careful.”
“Well, new technology could be a good thing, right?”
“Sometimes. But this isn't as much an operation as it is a gimmick. Science television has gone downhill in recent years. They pull pathetic stuff like this all the time, doing dangerous stunts and shoddy documentaries, all for the sake of ratings. Ever seen Mermaids?”
“Heard about it.”
“It was a documentary on Animal Planet, aired a couple years back. It claimed they found real Mermaids, even had talking heads and scientists. Turns out, those scientists were actors, and only a small blink and you’ll miss its disclaimer at the very end. It was a lie, on a science channel, to get ratings. Now they’re all doing it: Giant sharks, alien abductions, Bigfoot. You can find at least one pseudo science show for every science channel. I got into this job to teach people, now they send me into this.”
He sighed, coughing a bit into his shirt. He obviously had vented a lot of frustration.
Abasi turned to Marika and smiled. “Sorry you had to hear that, just needed to vent that out.”
“No, no, it’s all right.”
“So, what are you here for?” asked Abasi.
“I just got back from a nature hike to Machu Picchu. On my way to Argentina next. Every summer I spend at least four weeks traveling around South America.”
“My father took me places every summer. I love to see new places even thou the travel makes me nerves. I do this in his honor.”
Abasi smiled. “That’s a good reason.”
“I’m a Professor of Folklore in Arizona. I research mythology whenever I can, so I can answer my student’s questions.” She chuckled. “I family consists of a big, grey Tabby cat called Mr. Glumblington. One time, I accidentally put the opening of his cat little box against the wall. Well, when I returned a week later to an unseasonably cold house, I started a fire in my fireplace......... Who knew that cat poop stunk that bad when burned. I fled the house. It smelled so bad, I thought it was some sort of gas leak!”
She laughed. Abasi looked at her curiously.
“Your lucky, my neighbor cat was so mad at its owner that it would poop in his bathroom sink and one time in his shoe!”
Marika started laughing again, but just then the buses back wheel dropped quickly off the edge and everyone jostled in their seats. Marika quickly grabbed the seat in front her as her eyes went wide with fear.
“Are you a little afraid of heights?” Abasi asked as he peeled Marika’s fingers from the mangled seat back.
“Yeah, I guess I am. This road doesn't look very safe.”
“It isn't. But I have deep respect for Bud’s driving ability. You know Bud drives this road four times a week, sometimes more. The first time I was on this road I was as white as a sheet. I think the people around me thought I was having a heart attack! So I learned a trick to combat the fear.”
“Just look down the aisle, straight ahead to the road. Now it looks as if you are driving down a normal old run of the mill road, no drop off in sight.”
“Thanks, Mr. Abasi.”
“Don't mention it.”
He turned back in his chair. Marika peered down the Aisle. It was a fairly normal sized travel bus, and she could see the large, tinted glass pane easily. The road ahead was dirt with intermittent gravel. It seemed as if the ground moved forward, and the bus stood still. Abasi was right. It was comforting, if only a little bit.
The dark overhang rose up and disappeared. They were now on the edge of a cliff. The bus stopped.
An intercom hissed to life, silencing the passengers. “Okay, everyone, the overhang clears up into a cliff-face. Now, this area is a common rockslide hazard, and I need everyone on their best behavior so I can concentrate. Otherwise, it’s a fifty foot drop to the forest below. Got it?”
Everyone was silent.
“Good. Now, relax. This is only a two mile stretch, then we can get to Argentina! I got some rather appropriate music to calm your nerves.”
The Intercom clicked, and music began to play. Marika recognized it: it was a song from Evita, a play about Argentina’s revolutionary war. A couple elderly gentlemen chuckled, getting the reference. The bus turned on, the engines humming, and started to climb up the road. Replacing the overhang, on the left side of the bus was a massive, steep slope, ranging from gravel to boulders the size of a small houses. Light rain splattered against the window. We passed a couple of signs, ROCKSLIDE emblazoned on bright yellow paint. She kept her eyes focused on the road. Thunderclouds rolled in, darkening the skies. The rattling increased enormously, a few people pulled out their iPhones to tune it out. Lightning flashed overhead, blinding the road for a split second.
She looked up towards the rockslide. It rose up in a steep slope for 70 feet, disappearing over the horizon. For a split second, something dashed between the boulders. Startled, she rubbed the fog away, staring. It was gone.
45 minutes passed. The road is now flooded, and the windshield wipers strained to control the flood. Muddy pools poured off the edge like miniature waterfalls. Thunder rumbled.
The driver cursed. Half the passengers jerked up, just barely catching the monstrous streak of lightning crash over the bus, scarring a massive boulder with an ashen black mark.
They mumbled, concerned. The driver was probably concerned, too, considering he picked up the speed a bit.
A flash of lightning hit the ground twenty yards in front of the bus. The driver cursed, picking up the pace. The crowd panicked, some screaming. The bus shot forward, the tires tearing up dirt and mud as it shot down the trail.
“STOP! The lightning can’t hurt us inside a car!” Abasi shouted, but the driver didn't listen. He shot down the road, mad with fear.
Ten feet away another flash of lightning clashed against a boulder, blowing chunks everywhere. A large animal, moving too quick to be seen, dashed from it’s hiding place onto the road. A green blur with glowing eyes locked eyes with driver.
It all happened so fast. The animal jumped, crashing into the windshield, the tinted blue disintegrating into a white spiderweb. A massive, leathery creature crashed into the bus, hurtling down the aisles.
There was a swerve, a sound of screeching tires, and a jolt. The road looked as if it abruptly stopped into thin air. No more road. The bus plunged into a swirling vortex of alternating colors:
Blue, brown, and green. Blue, brown, and green.
Sky, cliff, forest. Sky, cliff, forest.
Everything floated for a split second. People who didn't wear seat-belts flew up and crashed against the walls like a pinball machine.
Marika’s heart pumped. Everything slowed down. She could hardly believe what was going to happen.
Oh my god, she thought. I’m going to die.
She was jerked upwards by a large crash.
“Get Lighthouse over here!....I don't care, just get him! These people need help!”
Marika coughed, sputtering water. The ground beneath her was not leather seating, but cold rock, wet and slippery. Aching, she slowly got up. She was soaking wet, bruises and gashes everywhere. She paused, pulling a two inch shard of glass from her shoulder.
She was surrounded by a dense rainforest, the canopy rising high above her head. She sat on the rocky shore of a black, foggy lake, enveloped on all sides by walls of twisting, tubular trees. She looked up, through the leaves. The cliffs rose high above them all, as if laughing at their foolery.
She looked down. The bus sat in the centre of the lake, slowly sinking deeper into the dark abyss. Natives wearing T-shirts and shorts scrambled over the bus, pulling more people out. Suddenly, a man ran up to her, his voice reverberating in her disoriented, ringing ears.
“Are you okay?”
She looked over at him. He wore mud-stained Khakis and a t-shirt, with a fedora. He was a tall man, six feet in height, with a stubbly beard, short brown hair and glasses.
“I... I’m fine.”
“You might have a concussion. Your bus fell off a cliff. If it weren't for the lake, none of you would have made it. My name is Brian, I’m here to help you. How do you feel?”
She staggered back. None of you would have made it.
The man stood silent, a somber tone to his voice.
“We don't know their names. Most people up front died, including the driver. We cant pull the bodies out, they’re impaled in the metal. A couple people are unconscious, some are injured. Now, we need to get you-”
She fell back onto the rocks, her head hit against a cold stone. The world blurred around her, and all went dark.
Slowly, the darkness peeled back, light blinding her eyes.
“There, there, you’re alright.”
She looked up past the surgeon light, to see the wavering fabric of a tent. Muttering became audible, as natives shuffled back and forth, talking in Spanish.
A man loomed over her, this one different. He was a thin man, with soft features, a cleanly shaven face, and greying hair. He was visibly clean, and didn't look like he ever visited a jungle a day in his life.
“My name is John. John Lighthouse, local minister and part time doctor. Brian Sorkin brought you here to the village. It’s okay now.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re in Gente del Valle. A small village, relatively isolated from mankind, at the foot of the Great Andes Mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world! You are lucky to have fallen so close to our village, Sorkin may never have found you!”
“Can I get up?”
“You can try.”
She sat up. Her clothes were dry, her shoulder bandaged.
“Am, am I alright?”
“Yes, thank the Lord. You got a concussion from that bad fall, but I have a lot of medical experience from my travels. We will want to keep an eye on you for the next 24 hours.”
Marika stumbled up, walking toward the door of the tent.
“Please don’t go too far Miss. The house of God is welcome to everyone. Except Sorkin.”
He chuckled. Obviously a joke only he understood. She left.
The village was quite beautiful, constructed on both sides of a mighty stream, with various bridges crisscrossing over it. Natives bustled through the dirt pathways, collecting fish, weaving baskets, and herding cows. A large fence surrounded the village, made of sharpened tree branches carved into spears. The man from earlier ran up to her.
“Are you okay?”, asked Brian.
“Y-yes. Im fine.”
“Good. You had a nasty fall, hope John patched you up.”
“I feel fine. Are you Sorkin?’
“Yes, actually. Brian Sorkin, professor in Biology.”
He held out his hand.
“Marika Jackson, Professor of folklore from the University of Arizona.”
“Folklore Professor? Fascinating. You might like it here, there’s some, well, interesting legends. Anyway, come along..... We rescued a bunch of survivors from the crash, many of them are looking for family.”
They strolled down the path. Brian was a fast-talker, a sporty, verbal boxer. Probably an expert in arguing.
“So, why are you here?”, asked Marika.
“I’m investigating reports gathered from a colleague that visited here previously. He was my friend. He got a virus and had to be hospitalized, so I’m continuing his research for him. He was researching native accounts of a new species of frog. It allegedly broods it’s young inside other animal’s stomachs. Kind of like the movie Aliens. Have you seen that movie?”
“Yeah, I saw it. Sigourney Weaver was a badass.”
“I don't think it’s real, though, this frog. No one’s seen one in decades. There’s a lot of stories like that around here. I’m not into wild goose chases, like Lighthouse. He still believes dinosaurs still exist...”
Brian and Marika stopped at a crossroad. An old man with a gray beard gently herded a few cows past them with a long stick.
They resumed walking. Brian began again.
“I’m just helping my friend collect research. Although, the accounts of this frog do remind me of the Gastric Brooding Frog, a species that survived up until recently in Australia. Its young lived inside its stomach as tadpoles, then hopped out of the parent’s mouth when mature. They died off in the late 20th century due to pollution.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Can you tell me some of the folklore stories you’ve heard? I might want to write it down in my journal.”
“I’m not very good at telling those stories. But if you’d like, I could introduce you to some of the elders in the village.”
They came across a large, white Church constructed from broken river wood and painted white. It had no windows, and the Steeple had eroded over time, but it was a very impressive structure, compared to the smaller huts surrounding it.
“Wow. What a beautiful church.”
They entered the church. The inside was a dusty, floor-less room. Seven people sat huddled in a circle. One man looked up, his body covered in a blanket. He turned to see Marika, and smiled.
She ran over, hugging the old man.
“Careful Marika, I broke a couple ribs on the fall.”
“So happy to see you alive!”
“Good to hear. However, I’m in a lot of pain. I was still conscious during the crash, hurt like hell.”
A man entered the church and collapsed on a chair.
“They just pulled Bud’s body out of the lake.”
The people turned towards the man. He had grey hair and was wearing a wrinkled and disheveled Armani suit. Marika looked down. She forgot. Out of the handful of people present, there were thirty on the bus.
Abasi walked over and sat down next to the man, on the verge of tears.
“I’m sorry for your loss. You knew Bud?”
“Yes, my work had me on his route a lot. He was a great driver, he was always a tad jumpy near cliffs, though.”
He planted his face in his hands, and sobbed. Abasi sat silently.
“It would have been quick.” Sorkin was still in the room, watching them.
The man quieted down, sniffing. Another survivor handed him a tissue, and he blew his nose.
Abasi looked at Sorkin.
“Where’s the nearest town and how can we get there?”
Sorkin shook his head.
“The nearest town is 300 miles away. Lighthouse is thinking about how to get you guys out of here. Satellite service is nonexistent. We can send some villagers to the town to send word.The town is a six day trek round trip. We could escort some of you to the town, but I don’t think any of you are ready to make that trek yet. I guess you will be staying here a while. So, we’ll be serving dinner and setting up beds here in the church. I gotta admit, Lighthouse is a damn fine cook with what he has. It’s his southern genes, all that fat and salt.”
He left, leaving them to their reconciling. Marika decided to break the silence.
“Since we are going to be here for awhile......My name is Marika.
An elderly woman wearing a grey poncho, slick salt and pepper colored hair pulled into a bun, raised her hand.
“Ruth. Ruth Gonzales. Goat-herder.”
The man in the wrinkled Armani suit spoke out.
“Mark Delgado, businessman.”
A young boy wearing a thick brown jacket raised his hand.
“Emilio. Emilio Rodriguez. I was on my way home to my Grandfather.”
A young couple, a blonde woman and bearded man in hiking attire, the man raised his hand.
“Michael and Carrie Winchester. We’re on our honeymoon.”
Two short men, one balding, the other with a scruffy beard, raised their hands.
“Mikhail and Antoine Macmillan. We’re Abasi’s cameramen.”
Slowly, the people began to talk, discussing their backgrounds, their hopes, and what messages to send to their relatives. Slowly, the concern broke off into relaxed conversations and idle chatter as the day went on.
When the natives of Gente Del Valle village saw Piero and Jose carrying back a massive, plastic bodybag from the lake, they didn't think anything of it. They turned back to their business, not questioning the fact it was twice as long as both of them. Probably another body bag for burial, nothing to be concerned about. Successfully, the two snuck it into their house, at the edge of the village, secluded from private eyes.
They both worked for John Lighthouse. He hired them as teen-agers to work in the church when he first arrived in the village. They knew their find would mean something to John.
Pulling out a table, Pierdo, the stronger of the two, heaved the bag onto the table, and unzipped it. A leathery green animal was inside, silent and unmoving. Jose shut the door, and went over to see the animal with his brother.
“How do you think it got on the bus?” Jose asked in Spanish.
“I don't know.”
“Do you think it’s a dinosaur of some kind?”
“It looks like the drawings in the book, doesn't it? We have been helped by Father Lighthouse to see the way, now we will help him! So everyone knows the truth!”
Suddenly, the creature’s eyes slid open. They stared at it. It stared back.
In a blinding flash of kicking and hissing the monster surged off the table. Lightning fast, pale fleshy jaws ripped open, and snapped shut upon Piero’s arm, ripping free a chunk. The man fell back, screaming, blood gushing from his arm. Jose jumped, trying to grab it, but one mighty thwack of his tail sent him backwards onto the hard bamboo floor. The monster dashed out the door and disappeared into the noonday sun.
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