Jungle Empire, a Novella: Part Two
The jeep drove down a long straight stretch of road, passing another abandoned vehicle. This one was overgrown with vines and the few spots of metal that were visible were nearly rusted through. Unable to shake the feeling Dirk turned and looked back, knowing that they were being followed.
With the sun hanging low ahead of them and a long stretch of road behind, it seemed like his best shot at spotting them.
He squinted through the cloud of dust, several times almost making out a shape. Frustrated, he pulled out a spyglass form his pocket, hoping that their pursuer wouldnâ€™t know he was onto them. Through the looking glass he was able to make out a person in a black uniform riding a motorcycle.
Before he could make anything concrete out, the dust began clinging to the lens. He pulled out a cloth to clean it, but the trail swung back north before he had finished. Dirk sighed, settling back into his seat.
â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ Tarcia asked quietly.
â€œSomeoneâ€™s following us.â€
â€œNot likely,â€ Kantokâ€™ interjected. â€œProbably just some government patrol, or something using the road.â€
â€œThis was a lone person on a motorcycle, keeping their distance.â€
â€œSay they are following us, so what? Weâ€™ve not broken any laws, nor have we been all that subtle. Worse come to worse, weâ€™ve got them outnumbered.â€ He chambered a round in the Enfield, the bolt locking with a clack. â€œJust let them try.â€
Dirk shrugged, reaching for the pack of lifesavers. He popped one in his mouth, glancing over at Tarcia. Then he turned to face her. She was staring behind them, a look of contempt on her face. After a half minute of staring Dirk began feeling uneasy. He tapped her shoulder.
â€œSorry, itâ€™s just, Iâ€™m not sure how I feel about being followed, you know?â€
â€œI guess so.â€
â€œMy grandfather made a few enemies, and, itâ€™s, this whole place gives me the creeps. People get lost out here and are never found. And, and it might be because of, of followers like that. Am I making sense?â€ She sighed, putting her face in her hands.
â€œYouâ€™re just nervous,â€ Dirk said, patting her on the shoulder. â€œNo doubt we all are, uh, Kantokâ€™?â€
â€œWhen are we getting to that village you talked about? Iâ€™d hate tah-to spend a night in the jungle.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t be far now, Dirk. Keep your shorts on.â€
Night fell around them, the jungle around them turning hostile and alien. Dirk shivered, placing a hand on the revolver. As the darkness spread from the eastern sky to the western horizon, the sense of unease returned.
Mercifully the wall of trees broke to wither side, depositing them in the middle of a grassy plain. He breathed a sigh of relief, spotting the lights of a village twinkling just ahead. The jeep trundled over a rickety bridge, slowing as the huts became visible.
The little town couldnâ€™t have been made of more than thirty buildings, the largest of which would fit snuggly in Dirkâ€™s office. A few eyes peered out at them through the windows, one lone soul brave enough to stand in his doorway as they passed.
Kantokâ€™ pulled up beside a small central fire pit. Behind them, the one man brave enough to stand in his doorway had taken a few tentative steps outside. Kantokâ€™ hopped out, slowly approaching him. Several other doors opened along the road, causing Dirk to feel anxious.
The two men began speaking, slowly at first, but soon began a full conversation. Though not a single word was intelligible to Dirk, he knew by the tone that the man was calming down. A few others ventured out to join their neighbor, one carrying a can of petrol.
Soon Kantokâ€™ reached an agreement with the locals, handing the man with the petrol several bills and the flask of liquor from the truck. As the crowd dispersed, Kantokâ€™ rushed over with the gasman in tow.
â€œWeâ€™ll be staying the night in the old Motel just up the road.â€
â€œIndeed, this used to be a tourist spot till the drug lords moved in,â€ Kantokâ€™ replied, â€œForced the people who couldnâ€™t flee to eke out an existence here.â€
â€œGuessing itâ€™s not a five star affair?â€ Tarcia asked direly.
â€œIt will do, trust me. Letâ€™s get going.â€ He clambered back into his seat. â€œAre we full?â€
â€œYeis,â€ the man with the petrol can replied.
â€œGood, letâ€™s go.â€
The engine roared back to life for the last time that night. Not half a quarter mile up the road still a small enclave of modern buildings. A two story motel with faded pain and large holes rotten in the faÃ§ade, a gas station with its pumps missing, and a few smaller structures whoâ€™s nature they could only guess that had completely collapsed.
The jeep pulled into the gravel parking lot, coming to a final stop. The three stepped out, looking over their abode. Every single window was missing. At first, Dirk assumed they were broken, but when he looked closer, he realized that not a speck of glass remained inside, outside, or in the window ceil.
The indoor of the building was completely stripped of furnishings, a few makeshift trusses supporting the ceiling and the fairly clean floor suggested the villagers hadnâ€™t completely abandoned the place. He looked over the collapsed buildings across the road, imagining that they had once been the living quarters of the staff.
He pulled the door ajar, stepping inside their room. The peeling paint and tarnished light fixtures suggested to him that the place had once been a fairly decent place to stay. Then he noticed there were still light bulbs in the sockets. Curious, he reached for the switch.
â€œWhat a dreadful place,â€ Tarcia moaned, brushing past him.
â€œSurely you didnâ€™t think exploring the jungle for your brother would be a cake walk, Miss Jones,â€ Dirk replied, flipping the switch.
â€œCertainly not, but, I guess I hadnâ€™t prepared myself for quite such a dismal place. At least the lights work.â€
â€œY-yes, it certainly is nice,â€ Dirk mumbled, looking outside.
â€œMake way, make way,â€ Kantokâ€™ exclaimed, pushing inside.
He laid out a couple mats onto the floor, leaning his Enfield in the corner.
â€œI thought you trusted the people here?â€ Tarcia said concerned.
â€œPeople yes, wildlife, no. Whereâ€™s Dirk?â€
Dirk stepped outside, looking up at the intact electrical wiring. Transfixed, he approached the power pole, shining his flashlight upon it. There was no mistaking it, the pole was new, still glistening from the coat of preservatives. He looked down the road, noticing a line of them leading to the village, past them, and into the jungle far ahead.
â€œHey, moron, get back in here where itâ€™s safe,â€ Kantokâ€™ called.
â€œJust a minute,â€ Dirk called, slowly backing away. â€œJust finishing up a little investigating.â€
â€œFinish soon, these ration packets get ready in a hurry and you donâ€™t want cold beef rigatoni.â€
Dirk was back in his office, gluing model airplane pieces to his arm. At the sound of the bell he jumped out of his window and glided down to his car. There, in the passengerâ€™s seat, was a mass of tentacles. Unalarmed, he sped off for the beach, batting the creature away as it tried to change the radio station.
â€œStop it,â€ Tarica moaned, slapping him away.
In the blinding dawn light Dirk slowly awakened, sitting up from his uncomfortable beddings. Perched on the window ceil nearby was Kantokâ€™, enjoying a the tequila heâ€™d stashed away. Outside the sounds of vehicle maintenance wafted through the window.
â€œWhat were you doing,â€ Tarcia asked, rising to her feet. â€œYou started smacking me a few minutes ago.â€
â€œA strange dream. For some reason I owned a car.â€
â€œFascinating,â€ she muttered, pulling her shoes back on.
â€œHey, Kantok, youâ€™re familiar with this area; did that little village always have power lines running to it?â€
â€œWhat?â€ he said, looking out the window, â€œHuh, I never noticed that before. Must be new.â€
Dirk remained quiet, gathering their beddings up and heading back to the jeep. As the others piled inside, he took another look at the lines, feeling as though he was missing something. He glanced back at the village, tempted to go back and start some interrogations.
â€œSay, whatâ€™s the name of this little town?â€ Tarica asked.
â€œNot sure if it has one,â€ Kantokâ€™ replied, checking the map. â€œToktzin junction, maybe.â€
â€œGood, weâ€™re getting close.â€
â€œIf you say so. Just a fair warning, itâ€™s all wilderness form here on out.â€
â€œSomewhere in that wilderness is my brother Michel.â€
â€œSure, sure, and the mythical tomb as well.â€
Tarcia shook her head. Soon they the walls of trees raced back around them, enveloping the road in gloom. Just before the first turn in the road concealed the plain Dirk pulled out his spyglass and took a look behind them again.
The motorcycle person was just passing the motel, back on their trail. The jeep swerved around a bend in the trail, leaving Dirk to ponder who their pursuer might be.
Soon they fell into a stupor, Dirk finding the ride north as mentally stimulating as one would expect. Endless miles of trees blurred together in his mind. It was almost a welcome relief when Kantokâ€™ slammed on the breaks.
Dirk was jarred back to reality as the jeep came to a screeching halt. The trail lead over a six foot deep gash in the jungle floor, a small river flowing between them and the far shore. Dazed, he jumped to the ground and inspected their predicament.
The bridge was gone, or more specifically, had been removed. He examined the splintered timbers jutting from the earth, spotting took marks and footprints all over.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Tarcia asked, approaching Dirk and Kantokâ€™.
â€œEnd of the road,â€ Kantokâ€™ replied, grabbing up the Enfield and slinging it over his shoulder. â€œWeâ€™ll have to make our way overland from here on out.â€
â€œYou sure you donâ€™t wanna turn back?â€ Kantokâ€™ asked, collecting his pack and machete. â€œItâ€™s a jungle out there.â€
â€œI noticed,â€ she replied, grabbing her purse, â€œand that wonâ€™t stop me even for a moment.â€
â€œYep, to the Tomb of Mamintlallapalla,â€ Kantokâ€™ chuckled, â€œor, really, wander around until Miss Jones decides she canâ€™t handle the jungle anymore.â€
â€œQuiet you ass.â€
â€œHey now,â€ Dirk said stepping between them, â€œthere are lives at stake; letâ€™s try to focus. Miss Jones, is there anything you know that might point us the right way?â€
â€œThis letter,â€ she replied, â€œthe last one he sent.â€
â€œSeventy kilometers north of Toktzin basin, presumably that town were in was named for the basin.â€
â€œNorth as in true north or just generally north though?â€
â€œLetâ€™s try true north, then.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll have to cross that river somewhere,â€ Kantokâ€™ replied, pointing his machete at the far bank. â€œThough Iâ€™m not sure how.
â€œDoesnâ€™t matter,â€ Tarcia said, â€œwhen you come to a river, you cross it.â€
Kantokâ€™ lazily walked along the back of the river, whistling a tune that changed at random. It seemed clear from his demeanor that he think much of their endeavor. Behind him, Tarcia was becoming increasingly annoyed, grating her teeth as she endured his apathy. When he stopped to pick some berries from a bush directly in their path, she turned and faced Dirk.
â€œWhy did you have to hire him?â€ She asked. â€œIâ€™m about fed up with his attitude.â€
â€œHeâ€™s good,â€ Dirk replied, â€œbesides, how many people do you think I know in Belize? Let alone skilled guides.â€
â€œUgh, hey, Tonto, do you have any clue where youâ€™re going, any at all? Or are we just taking a sightseeing tour?â€
â€œIn fact, Iâ€™ve found the place we shall cross the river,â€ Kantokâ€™ replied, pushing the bush aside.
A small rope bridge appeared on the other side. Then he let the plant go and dove to the jungle floor, waving for them to follow suit. Confused, Dirk looked around, spotting a well maintained trail through the vines leading up to the bridge and presumably continuing on the other side.
The area fell quiet, the babbling of the nearby river the only noise echoing through the trees. As he lay in the dense carpet of leaves, Dirk listened for what had alarmed Kantokâ€™. Slowly, he began to hear something amiss.
Barely different from the flowing water, the sound of distant marching reached his ears. At first it was nearly indistinguishable from the flowing water, but gradually the two sounds diverged as the strangers drew near.
From around a bend emerged a troop of men, twenty at least, carrying machetes, crossbows, and two with rifles bringing up the rear. They were dressed in crudely fashioned military uniforms. In the rear, apparently in commend, was a man wearing a green cap and holding a Kalashnikov.
he men marched northward, passing within inches of them, before crossing the bridge. Dirkâ€™s heart sank, knowing that these men could pose a serious threat to their expedition. The moment they vanished from sight, Kantokâ€™ shot to his feet, brushing himself off.
Dirk rose moments later, though he would have liked to let the armed patrol get a bit further away first.
â€œThose must be the guys clearing out the cartels.â€
â€œYou think?â€ Dirk said quietly, â€œWho are they?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re a problem, thatâ€™s what they are,â€ Kantokâ€™ replied, stepping out onto the trail. â€œWe cross the bridge then veer off the trail, immediately.â€
â€œBut that trail must be the most direct route north,â€ Tarcia protested, â€œIâ€™m certain my grandâ€¦â€
â€œDid you not see the armed guys walking that way not two minutes ago? There is no way weâ€™re putting ourselves anywhere near them, none.â€
â€œYou heard them coming long before you could see them. Iâ€™m certain there would be enough time to clear of the trail, should more of themâ€¦â€
â€œPlease, lady, letâ€™s not push our luck.â€
â€œThen push north with it in eyesight, please, Iâ€™ll pay more.â€
â€œGah, Dirk, where did you find this crazy lady?â€
â€œShe just walked into my office, sorry.â€
â€œAgh, fine, but Dirk, you and I are going to have words when this is done.â€
Kantokâ€™ stormed across the bridge, clearly irritated. They thrashed a path through the jungle, keeping an eye on the trail a few hundred feet to their right. Above them the sun shone through small holes in the canopy, giving the only hints as to how far they had come and how long they had been walking.
Late into the afternoon another patrol appeared, around half the size of the first one. They concealed themselves as best they could, watching as the armed men passed. Carefully, Dirk drew out his spyglass, and took aim at the one he assumed to be the leader.
The man wore a fairly crude, yet lean uniform and a matching green cap. Then Dirk spotted something he hadnâ€™t noticed with his naked eyes. A red hammer and sickle stitched onto the leaderâ€™s sleeve. His stomach churned, knowing what that must mean.
Once they had passed, he hurried to the others.
â€œHammer, sickle, on the leaderâ€™s arm.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re communists, rebels, bad news.â€
â€œShit, thatâ€™s no good.â€ Kantokâ€™ said wearily, â€œGuess that explains how the cartels fell.â€
â€œIt matters not, we have to push forward,â€ Tarcia said.
â€œFine, but weâ€™re putting more distance between us and that damned trail.â€
â€œJust take me north.â€
Kantokâ€™ sighed, slowly starting the trek back up. They had not gone more than a few hundred yards before the sky turned black. Several rain drops dripped through the canopy, heralding a coming rainstorm.
â€œThis way,â€ Kantokâ€™ called, racing away from the trail. â€œWeâ€™re camping far away from that thing.â€
He lead them past a thicket of vines and to a small cluster of trees. After dousing the area with a bottle of insect repellent, he pulled out a tarp and propped it up. Within moments the sky opened up, and pouring rain fell around them.
The three huddled against the tree, all but Tarcia drawing out a weapon. Tarcia instead lit a small reading lamp and pulled out her book.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ Kantokâ€™ hissed.
â€œReading, and before you say anything, weâ€™re not facing the trail, so they canâ€™t see us.â€
â€œAnd I thought your last client was a pain, Dirk, youâ€™ve got to get more selective.â€
â€œHey, I take them as they come.â€
â€œWhatever. It was late regardless.â€ He pulled out a blanket. â€œWeâ€™ll pick up the trail in the morning.â€