WOW! This is just the kind of thing I've been looking for! I still wish the Hohlbein books (and Indy books of other languages too) could get official English translations released, but until that happens- I very much appreciate your efforts to do just that for the fans here! Thanks so much!
Hold the phones as Indymag - the magazine for...well, Indiana Jones fans have been working with top...TOP MEN and top, TOP WOMEN in ending this particular and the other anomalies once and for all in 2017.
Reuben had assigned the captain’s cabin to Marian since it was the only lockable room with abed on board the boat. But when Indiana arrived, he found she was not there. The door was open and the bunk was untouched. Marian had so little sleep over the last few days, especially on the previous night, Indiana was surprised that he hadn’t found her sound asleep. He was also confused as to where she could be. God knows the ship was not large enough to go wandering around without being seen. The only other rooms on board were the cubicle which Reuben and Indiana shared, the engine room, and the storeroom where Ramos’ men were being held!
He turned away from the captain’s quarters and headed back to his own cubicle to gather up his few belongings, confused as to Marian’s whereabouts. It was several minutes later before he stepped back out on deck.
The rumbling of the rapids had grown so loud that it nearly drowned out the sound of the ship’s engine. Where the green wall of the jungle had previously hidden the river ahead, there was now a glittering churning of white foam and spray around sharp-edged wet stones that penetrated the river’s surface. The flow had increased dramatically, so the ship had changed directions slightly and was heading for the shore. Reuben and Henley were no longer alone on in the wheelhouse. Ramos was standing up beside them, guarded by one of the mercenaries.
Indiana shot Ramos a brief glance, then turned to Reuben who was staring out the window.
“Where is Marian?”
“Mrs. Corda?” The FBI agent shrugged his shoulders. “She isn’t in her quarters?”
“I wouldn’t be asking if she were,” answered Indiana with irritation in his voice.
Reuben looked at him with momentary confusion, shrugged his shoulders again, and then focused his attention back to the shore as it gradually inched closer. Indiana remarked with a slight feeling of anxiety about how especially dense the jungle seemed to be at this point. But he relaxed quickly knowing that they were still quite a way off from the rapids. And even though the aging ship was small, its engines were quite adequate at this distance from the churning water.
“What are we going to do with him and his people?” Indiana asked with a nod toward Ramos.
Reuben pointed at the radio. “We will leave them here. It would be impractical to drag a dozen prisoners through the jungle with us, would it not? I’ll send a radio message to the Bolivian authorities once we get to shore. They are probably close behind us anyway.” After a brief but calculated pause, he turned directly to Ramos. “What happens then is entirely up to you, Ramos. And it doesn’t bother me at all. I’ll lock you in the cargo hold with your gang of murderers. And I can’t imagine what the Bolivians will do to you once they get here. Or you can accompany us on our journey. On our conditions.”
Ramos did not answer. And it was as if Reuben had not seriously expected an answer because he turned back around with a casual shrug and concentrated on the shore.
Indiana’s gaze wandered undecidedly back and forth from Reuben’s face to Ramos. He knew Reuben was only doing what was in his power, but that did not change the fact that when they left Ramos here for the Bolivians, it would seal Marcus’s fate. He felt more helpless than he ever had in his life. He knew he had to do something.
A movement at the rear of the ship suddenly caught Indiana’s attention. He turned around and saw Marian stooping as she came out of the low door of the aft superstructure. She looked around for a moment, then headed to the wheelhouse.
“Where were you?” asked Indiana as she opened the door and entered.
“Down below,” she said. “I made coffee for the men. They needed it. The night was…”
She broke off her sentence. Her face darkened when she saw Ramos, and Indiana saw how her whole body started to tremble. He could see some kind of emotion fluttering in her eyes.
He casually stepped in between Marian and Ramos and explained their situation. “We are going ashore soon. You should fetch whatever you have in your quarters.”
“Ashore?” Marian was briefly confused. “Oh, yes. The rapids.”
Reuben looked away from the shore momentarily and scrutinized Marian, perplexed. “How do you know about them?”
“It’s hard to ignore them,” Marian smiled. “And Stan briefly mentioned something about them once.” She took a step toward Indiana but her eyes remained steadfastly fixed on Ramos.
“No, Marian,” Indiana said gently, raising his arm and touching her lightly on the shoulder. “I know what you are feeling, but he isn’t worth it.”
Marian pursed her lips into a thin, bloodless line. Indiana could almost see her brain working behind her forehead. Then she turned around with a jerk and stood beside Reuben at the window. Her face was rigid and unmoving, but her hands were alternating from opening and closing, balled into fists.
For a moment Reuben looked at them worried, but he said nothing. He just raised his eyebrows, shook his head almost imperceptibly, and then turned around to face Ramos again.
“You’ve had long enough to reflect on the situation, Ramos,” he said. “So, for the last time, do you want to wait here for the arrival of the Bolivians, or do you prefer to cooperate with us?”
“Maybe there is a third possibility,” Ramos said quietly.
Reuben cocked his head and looked at him suspiciously. At the same time Marian turned from the window, and with a swift movement yanked the gun from Reuben’s holster and retreated two rapid steps away from him to prevent him from taking the weapon back from her. Reuben froze when Marian cocked the trigger back and pointed the muzzle of the pistol at his head.
“Marian!” Indiana had also made a step toward her but stopped abruptly when she waved the revolver about threateningly.
“Step aside!” demanded Marian.
Indiana did not move.
“Get back!” she demanded again. And this time her voice was filled with a sharpness that made it clear to Indiana she was serious. For the duration of a heartbeat he looked at her imploringly, then obediently raised his hands in the air, but he did not step out of her line of site to Ramos.
“Don’t do this, Marian,” he said. “He isn’t worth it. And we need him.”
“Think of Marcus,” said Indiana. “And Stanley. Without Ramos we may never see your husband again.”
“Please, Mrs. Corda. Be reasonable,” Reuben pleaded. “Put the gun away. It’s totally not worth it.”
Marian’s eyes flickered. She looked at Reuben then Indiana, and finally at Henley, who stood at rapt attention at the helm, but the gun in her hand remained aimed steadfastly in Ramos’s direction, which happened to be through Indiana’s chest.
“Step aside, Indy,” she whispered.
Indiana shook his head. “No,” he said firmly. “I will not do it.”
“Please, Indy,” Marian said. “I don’t want to hurt you.” Her voice wavered, but sounded firm and resolute nonetheless.
Indiana decided to stop pleading. He realized Marian was not in her right frame of mind, and his words would not change her mind. In a flash he was estimating his chances to throw himself at her and snatch the weapon from her hands, but he immediately rejected this idea.
“Mrs. Corda, this does not make sense,” Henley interjected, trying to calm her. “What do you expect will happen if you shoot him? I give you my word of honor that he will get his punishment. He will spend the rest of his life in prison, I swear.”
“I don’t think so,” Ramos said quietly.
Despite his blindness, he stepped out from behind Indiana and walked toward Marian. He stopped one step beside her when he felt her presence. Indiana stared in disbelief, and Reuben and Henley’s faces went from a stunned to horrified expression.
“What about the men?” Reuben asked her.
Marian smiled briefly without taking her eyes off Indiana and Reuben. “I told you I made them coffee. They will be sleeping for at least two or three hours.”
“I don’t believe it,” Reuben whispered. “You are not serious.”
“You really shouldn’t try and find out,” she said quietly.
Reuben did not try. But Henley did. Quick as a flash, and without any warning, he jumped and struck Marian’s arm. She backed away just in time, lowered the weapon and sent a bullet racing into his thigh. Henley screamed and staggered back against the rudder, collapsing with pain registering in his face. The weapon in Marian’s hand quickly turned back around toward Reuben who had taken just one step toward her in the excitement.
“Don’t try,” she said again. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. But I will if you force me to.”
Reuben slowly raised his hands again and backed away. From the horror and amazement on his face, it was clear that he really could not believe what he was seeing.
Marian pointed to Henley, then spoke back at Reuben. “You help him.”
While Reuben stepped over slowly to help his wounded colleague, Indiana stared at Marian incredulously. She held his gaze for a moment, but then looked away without lowering the gun. Indiana was not sure she would shoot him. But he wasn’t sure she wouldn’t, either.
“Why?” he muttered.
“Why?” repeated Marian, without looking at him. She laughed, very quiet, very hard but also very sad.
“What has he promised you?” Indiana asked. “To bring you to Stan? He won’t do it. And even if he does, then he is going to kill you both.”
“Stan?” Marian looked up with a start and fixed her glare on Indiana now. Suddenly her eyes were filled with a hardness that frightened Indiana.
“Stan?” she repeated. “I don’t care about Stanley, Indy. It doesn’t matter to me whether Ramos kills him or leaves him alive, or whether he shares the wealth they find or chases him into the jungle. What do you know?”
“Nothing!” Interrupted Marian. “You certainly have no idea who Stan really is. None of you do! The last ten years with him have been hell! Oh, you think you know everything about us?” She laughed again. “You know nothing, no more than anyone else. I’ve noticed the looks they have thrown at me, and I’ve heard how they whisper behind my back when they thought I wouldn’t notice. But it was not as bad as you all thought. It was worse. He stole everything from me. My family. My freedom. My youth. I sacrificed the very best years of my life for him, and in gratitude he beat me and treated me worse than his dog.”
“And you think Ramos is any better?”
Marian made a disparaging noise. “Ramos doesn’t interest me. We are business partners, nothing more.”
“What about him and Stan?”
“Stan has betrayed him,” Marian answered so hard that it was almost a scream. “I would not cheat him. I keep my end of the bargain, and he will keep his part. It’s not much that I want. Not enough for it to be worthwhile to kill me for, anyway. But it is enough for me.”
“Please, Marian,” Indiana said, almost pleading. “Come to your senses. You know what you are saying is nonsense.”
“Nonsense?” Because I want to have something to make up for the past decade? Because I don’t want to be hurt anymore?”
“And you think money could make up for what Stan did to you?”
“No,” Marian said. “But I can start a new life. A life without fear and humiliation.”
“With money that’s not yours? Then you are no better than Stanley.”
“Then I’m not better than him,” Marian replied defiantly. “Why should I be? After all, he has been successful. And you guys knew how he was all along. You knew where he was getting his wealth from. And you also knew how he treated me. But you have despised me, not him.”
“But that’s not true,” cried Indiana.
“Enough!” Ramos intervened. “You will have enough time later to talk to Mrs. Corda, Dr. Jones.”
“So,” Indiana said sarcastically. “Do you plan to bury us together?”
“You shouldn’t believe your friends, Dr. Jones,” Ramos mocked. “Have I really done you any harm before? And I won’t as long as you do not force me to. But you will join us.” He smiled. “Do you remember last night, Dr. Jones? They asked me why I came back. Well, now I will answer: I specifically came back to fetch Mrs. Corda. And you.”
“I need you, Jones,” Ramos said. “I confess, it’s quite reluctant. But I am afraid I’m at the point where I need your help.”
“You’re crazy,” said Indiana.
“Possibly,” Ramos replied calmly. “That has often been the rumor about me. But I’m still alive, while most of those who have boldly claimed this are no longer with us. That should give you pause. And before you waste more of my precious time by insisting you will not help me, please bear in mind Mr. Brody is still within my power. It does not matter what you think of me – I stand by my word. Help me, and I’ll let Mr. Brody go.”
“And Reuben and his men?”
Ramos shrugged. “Mr. Reuben has already said it aptly enough: it would be very inconvenient to march through the jungle with a dozen prisoners, is it not?”
“He’s going to kill us,” Reuben said quietly. He squatted next to Henley on his knees and pressed a folded handkerchief to the bleeding wound in the upper leg.
“I ask you, Mr. Reuben,” Ramos said. He sounded saddened by Reuben’s assertion. “I’ll give you the same opportunity that you were about to give me and my men. However, you will understand if I refrain from contacting the authorities and giving them your whereabouts. They are probably on their way here anyway. You will likely be burdened with imprisonment for only a few hours at most.” Ramos instructed his men to secure Reuben, Henley, and the remaining agents in the hold below, restraining them with cables and rope so they could not move and attempt to escape.
They were within half a mile of the rapids before they spotted a place on the shore adequate enough to moor the ship. The rumbling of the raging waters had become so loud it drowned out almost all other sounds, and the ship trembled and shook in the raging current so fiercely that Indiana had trouble staying on his feet. A thick cloud of water and spray hung heavily in the air over the river, and what had looked like tiny rocks piercing the surface of the water from the distance were now revealed to be monstrous razor-sharp stones that transformed the river ahead into a 2- or 3-mile passage of death. Although the ship’s motors were working at full capacity, they were straining from the effort of keeping the ship in its spot.
Indiana and Marian were with the last squad to depart the groaning vessel. Two steps behind him one of Ramos’s men followed, pressing the barrel of his machine gun into Indiana’s back to spur him forward. Despite Ramos’s silence since the off-boarding began, the villain had left no doubt in that the man behind Indiana had permission to use the weapon if even the tiniest action was taken to resist or escape; no matter if Ramos needed him or not. And Indiana believed him.
Apart from that, Indiana didn’t have the constitution to do anything anyway. He was still reeling from the shock of staring down the barrel of Reuben’s gun after Marian had snatched it away and turned it on him, and that feeling had not subsided in the least. It was still hard for him to believe the past several minutes. He just did not understand it. It was not the first time that he had been used and lied to, but his knowledge of the human heart had never let him down more than it had in this instance. He still refused to accept it, especially with Marian.
With his arms raised, Indiana balanced himself unsteadily on the swaying plank that led from the deck of the ship to the shore. As he approached Ramos and his murderous henchmen, he hopped the last foot and a half of the plank, landing firmly next to the blind man and straightened himself cautiously as half a dozen rifles turned on him at once.
“What are you doing?” Ramos asked sharply.
Indiana jerked his hands higher into the air. “Nothing!” he answered hastily, feigning his best startled look. “I slipped…” he said sheepishly.
Ramos’s dead eyes seemed to focus on him, as if he could actually see. But he said nothing further on the matter. He turned with a jerk back to his men and made an imperious gesture. “Take care of the ship.”
Two of Ramos’s men fastened the boat with mooring, which Indiana surmised that it was far too thin to withstand the torrential current. The others searched the equipment that was brought ashore from the ship. Although Reuben’s squad was barely half the size of Ramos’s mercenaries, they had brought enough supplies for a week-long march through the bush for all of them. And the mercenaries had taken everything to shore that wasn’t nailed down. Nevertheless, Indiana noticed that they picked through the supplies and very carefully shoes what they would bring along. When they were finished he also noticed that they were actually taking very few supplies with them. He suspected that they must not be far from their destination - or that Ramos had a second camp already built somewhere ahead to serve as a depot for the remainder of the journey.
He noticed Marian had positioned herself at the edge of the little clearing where they had come ashore, and he took a step in her direction. The lad who was guarding him followed faithfully, but did not attempt to hold him back. Indiana saw Marian’s eyes fall on him, a look of grief and spite in her expression.
For several seconds Indiana just stared at her silently. He wanted to say something, but simply could not find the words. He figured this was not the time to bombard her with accusations, or even attempt to appeal to their past friendship. Whatever had happened to drive Marian this far had taken a long, very long time. And whatever few words he could muster was not going to change that.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last.
“Me too, Indy,” she replied. “Hopefully you will understand me when everything is over.”
“What makes you think I don’t understand now?” asked Indiana.
Marian bit her bottom lip as if holding back her words. She avoided his gaze, looking nervously back and forth. She shuffled her feet unsteadily. Indiana felt Ramos step up behind him, grinding to a stop. A second later, when he heard Ramos’s voice, he noticed Marian’s breathing had stepped up visibly.
“It’s time to move, Dr. Jones,” said Ramos. “You will have plenty of time to talk to Mrs. Corda along our journey.”
Ramos’s men had finished plundering Reuben’s equipment and supplies, and the remnants were scattered haphazardly along the shoreline. Indiana noticed that a large quantity of weapons and ammunition were among those things that were left behind. The sight of the abandoned firepower irritated and perplexed him. Either they were unusually reckless – or they simply did not expect to be persecuted at all for their past actions and barbarism. His gaze wandered back to the shore. The ship, which trembled in the current and strained against the two inadequate mooring straps, groaned in protest at the rapids nearby. Indiana was about to make a remark about the mooring, but Ramos interrupted him furiously and gave the final sign to his men for departure. The man behind Indiana reinforced the gesture with a rough push of the machine gun barrel into Indiana’s back.
The party of mercenaries wandered along the banks of the river for a good half an hour, but had traveled less than a mile from where they had moored the ship. From the boat, the jungle had looked like a dense wall of foliage and greenery, and that was exactly what it was: an almost impenetrable scrub of trees, undergrowth, fern, and broken remnants of giant fallen trees, from which the tangled roots of new trees had sprouted. All of this was set against the incessantly chopping machetes of the mercenaries and their tenacious resistance. They remained in close proximity of the river, which Ramos seemed to be using as a marker. Most of the time, Indiana could make out a glimmer of the blue and silver surface of the river to the left. Only once did they lose sight of the water and make their way in an arc through a dense jungle hill. One of the men, who had made his way to the top, called out a warning Indiana did not recognize, and the others charged hastily toward him.
Indiana surmised the river must be far below them now. Finally, the undergrowth thinned somewhat, and after another half an hour of sweating and chopping, the primeval forest gave way to a fifty-yard wide rocky strip of stone. He had guessed correctly: the river had cut a swath through the stone millions of years ago and was now several stories below them. The rocky shelf abruptly stopped at the edge of a smooth-cut rock face that fell downwards toward the river. Indiana wondered how Ramos intended to overcome this obstacle, posing the question aloud.
Ramos responded with a laugh. “Have patience, Dr. Jones. We go down.”
Progress along the rock face was slow and difficult. They had been able to move slowly but safely through the jungle behind. But here the ground was uneven, strewn with sharp-edged rocks and stone debris that made movement not only difficult but perilous. Frequently, one of Ramos’s men had slipped to the ground and triggered a small rock avalanche showering those below. And Indiana himself had slipped more than a few times, and more than once barely regained his balance to avoid a nasty spill into the rapids below.
Despite the nature of the climb down, Ramos moved with an uncanny security. Indiana had long-since given up trying to figure out how a blind man could navigate a country like this, let alone how he remained on his feet without help in this tangle of rocks and debris. He had heard that some blind men had an acute sense of hearing that enabled them to orient themselves on the basis of sounds alone, but if that were true Ramos had to have the ears and senses of a bat!
It took another half hour to reach the base of the rock face. Indiana noticed that he wasn’t the only one fighting the exhaustion of the climb: Ramos’s men were also dragging more and more as they continued onward. Marian had fallen several times, and with the last two she laboriously managed to get back on her feet. Indiana had wanted to help her, but his armed guard had prevented him from doing so. The only one who showed no trace of the fatigue that plagued them was Ramos. But he also raised no objection when his men sank down to take a break at the foot of the cliff.
Indiana dropped down onto the rocky ground and closed his eyes for a moment. The heat of the rainforest had become unbearable, especially with the laborious climb they just endured. The humidity was so thick he felt like he was breathing in liquid instead of air. His heart pounded within his chest as if it were about to explode at any moment. He gradually began to comprehend what Ramos had meant when he told Reuben that fifty miles in this country was equivalent to five hundred where Reuben had come from.
After a while he opened his eyelids and looked around, finally rested enough to take in his surroundings. He wondered how they would continue at all. To the right was an impenetrable and repellant black green wall of jungle. On the other side, the rapids gave way to a raging cloud of spray that spilled around a cube-shaped rock fifty or sixty yards high, reaching right out of the churning waters and stretching skyward.
Indiana felt a shadow fall over him, and when he looked up he saw Ramos’s disordered face. It filled Indiana with an absurd sense of satisfaction seeing the beads of sweat form on the blind man’s brow.
“What do you want?” Indiana asked rudely, almost shouting so he could be heard over the roar of the rapids.
Indiana noticed that Ramos was not looking at him directly, but was staring a couple of feet from his face as he answered. The noise of the raging waters must be disorienting his usually uncanny sense of direction, Indiana surmised. He locked this observation away for a later time. Perhaps he could use it to his advantage.
“I want to talk to you, Jones.”
“What is there to talk about?” Indiana retorted. “It looks like we’re at the end of the line.”
“Please, Dr. Jones,” said Ramos. “We both know we are keeping things from each other, and we both know the situation we are in now. There is no time left for games!”
“So you’ve finally come to your senses,” growled Indiana.
Indiana stood up. Ramos’s blind eyes followed the movement, but only after a few seconds. Once again Indiana noticed that his gaze was not very precise.
“The road ahead is very difficult, Dr. Jones,” Ramos explained. “Very difficult and very dangerous. I can see you are trying to come up with a plan to escape in that overworked brain of yours. So I want you to know: I have ordered my men to not only shoot you if you try, but to kill Mrs. Corda as well. And there is also Mr. Brody you must think about…”
Indiana stared at him angrily but remained silent.
“I see you understand what I have just said,” Ramos continued after a moment. “And now they come.” He made a directional gesture. Indiana’s gaze followed the gesture, and he saw that Ramos’s men had gathered at a point on the rocky edge five or ten yards from the edge of the river, just on the other side of the rapids. In the glittering light of the sun, he saw the anchors and braided line of a rope that trailed up and over the edge of the rock face next to them. As Indiana approached he peered over and saw that climbing hooks had been driven into the stone at regular intervals. A surprised sound parted his lips.
Indiana looked back to Ramos and saw the blind man’s thin smile. “Professor Corda was kind enough to prepare the way for us,” he explained, and Indiana realized he had known all along that the way forward was there. He just had a difficult time finding it in the disorienting noise of the rapids.
Indiana slipped his hand around the anchor and the rope, confused. “Does he have a truck waiting for us at the top, too?” He said mockingly.
“Of course not. But he’s not far now, just beyond the jungle’s edge. Didn’t you see him?” Ramos laughed humorlessly. “I thought I was the only blind man here.”
Indiana bit his tongue and saved his answer to that.
One after another the men began to ascend the rock shelf next to the river using the rope and hand holds. They positioned themselves at long intervals, so that only two men were on the rope at any given time, understanding it’s carrying capacity was only designed to hold one person. Indiana hesitated as his turn came. Despite the fact that he was in good shape for a man in his mid-forties and that he was an experienced climber, the height to which they were to ascend combined with the sight of the sheer wet rock face made him shudder anyway.
“What are you waiting for, Jones?” snapped Ramos.
Indiana hinted with a head movement towards Marian. “She’ll never manage to make the climb.”
“Oh, I think she will,” Ramos replied. “She has no choice.”
“Let us go together,” asked Indiana. “I’ll help her.”
Ramos laughed. “Do you think I’m that stupid, Dr. Jones? But if it will make you feel better I’ll get my best man to assist her in the climb. After you have arrived. Now please, our time is scarce.”
Indiana stared at Ramos, but hastened to grab the rope before the man behind him decided to emphasize Ramos’s words with another thrust of the gun barrel into his back.
The first few meters were easier than he had anticipated. The rope was rough and allowed sufficient grip to hold his weight. The footholds were placed evenly and allowed him to utilize them without too much effort. He was able to climb quickly but safely, and five or six steps up he paused to look around.
The forest and the river looked the same from his new vantage point. Once he was just about as high as the treetops, he was able to see that the jungle stretched to both sides of the river as far as the eyes could see, and the river itself-
Indiana froze. There was something moving on the river. A small, heavy handed and rust-covered iron boat that had apparently drifted out of control in the current and approached the deadly rock barrier at an increasing speed! Indiana recognized it immediately as the vessel they had abandoned just hours before.
“What are you waiting for, Jones?” cried Ramos from below. “Keep moving!”
Indiana grasped the rope with his left hand and pivoted, strongly gesturing with his right hand down the river. “The boat!” he shouted back, pointing. “It broke free and it’s heading for the rapids!”
The men beneath him turned around to look at what was causing Indiana to behave so oddly. Only Ramos continued to direct his sightless gaze at him. “Keep climbing, Dr. Jones!” he ordered.
“But they will be helpless in the rapids!” cried Indiana back. “The boat is guideless with the men all tied up! They will all die!”
“What a tragedy,” grinned Ramos mockingly. “But it is not your concern!”
Indiana stared at him full of wrath. “You did this on purpose!” he cried. “You wanted them to die all along!”
“You can’t save them anyway,” returned Ramos coldly. “So go on climbing or I’ll have Mrs. Corda drug up the cliff by her feet!”
Indiana didn’t budge. His mind raced. His gaze shifted between the raging rapids below back to the ship, which careening their direction, approaching more and more quickly as each second passed. The current was so strong that even if the engines were running and the crew was not locked away in the cargo hold, it probably wouldn’t survive the impact with the rocks. But he could not stand by and watch as more than half a dozen people drowned helplessly!
Ramos waited another ten seconds in vain for Indiana to continue climbing, then he stepped back and made a sinister gesture with his left hand. Two of his men set their rifle sites on Indiana, while a third slung his rifle over his shoulder and then grabbed the rope with both hands to climb up to him with swift agility.
The boat had come even closer. Indiana estimated it had roughly a minute or two before crashing against the first barrier of rapids. It would not survive.
Resolutely he grabbed the rope again with both hands in a firm grip, braced his feet against the sheer rock wall-and pushed away with all of his strength! The man under him cried with surprise as the lower anchor snapped free, clinging to the rope with both his arms and legs wrapped tightly around it in an effort to hang on. The rope swung outward toward the river just a little, then left and then back to the right, then crashed back toward the wall a second later. Indiana braced his feet and pushed out and sideways again, and it began to move wildly.
“Jones!” Ramos cried. “What do you think you are doing?”
Indiana wasted no energy on answering senseless questions, looking down as he bounced away from the wall again. Though the rope was now arcing back and forth like a pendulum, the man beneath him had managed to climb closer and closer to Indiana. He was less than six feet beneath him when a crack from a rifle rang out. Someone was shooting at him! The bullet struck the stone wall next to him and showered him with debris. Ramos immediately made a roaring order to continue firing. Indiana bounced off the wall again. The rope oscillated more and more and began to grind from the friction. His right shoulder repeatedly brushed the rock wall, which sent sharp lances of pain down his arm but he managed to maintain his grip and actually increase the swing of the rope from side to side.
Something touched his foot. He looked down and saw that Ramos’s man had almost reached him. Despite the life-threatening situation, the other man continued to inch upward reaching out for Indiana’s foot with one hand in an attempt to yank him from the rope and stop the maddening swing. Indiana locked his grip, pulled up his leg, then firmly planted the heel of his boot right in the gloating grin of the man beneath him. A painful grimace covered his pursuer’s face. But the guy seemed to have the strength and climbing prowess of an orangutan, because he didn’t let go and was able to intercept Indiana’s foot as it came down for a second smash.
Out of the corner of his eye Indiana glimpsed the boat. It was less than a hundred yards away and was moving haphazardly at a reckless speed. The undertow of the current was dragging it towards a gap between the rocks, perhaps fifteen or twenty meters from the shore. The water was so smooth there Indiana did not try to imagine what the undertow would be like.
The rope swung back again, and for a moment he lost sight of the river. He saw Ramos’s men several feet beneath him trying to keep up with the rapid movement of the rope. Ramos was pointing wildly, apparently losing his orientation as he pointed and yelled at a point several meters from where Indiana and the rope now swung, while Marian stared in horror at him.
The rope had reached the pinnacle of it’s pendulum movement, then swung back. Indiana ran along the rock face, trying to help increase its speed. His shoulder once again dragged along the rock wall, this time leaving a bloody trail on the stone. Faster and faster, Indiana raced along the wall. He slammed his foot down again at the man below, this time at the hand that held onto the rope. He felt the man’s hand below give away. A scream filled the air as the pressure on his leg vanished, and the man flew from the rope like a projectile, landing in the midst of Ramos’s remaining men below, knocking three of four of them off their feet. The rope continued to swing upward, back and forth again until he only noticed the white foam-crowned water below. He prayed he had timed this right!
Indiana let go.
For a second he had the remarkable sensation of floating weightlessly in the air, but it was almost immediately replaced with the rush of falling. Seething water and razor-sharp rock edges raced upwards toward him. Before he could process what was happening, it was replaced with a large lifeless gray form.
The impact on the iron deck of the ship was less harsh than he had anticipated. Although he landed feet first he absorbed the impact with his knees and immediately proceeded into a duck and roll maneuver. The momentum of his movements brought him right back to his feet as his tumble slowed. He drove around lightning fast, took a step, then plunged back to his knee as the boat under him dropped several feet in the uneven surface of the river. It bucked like a horse as something beneath the water’s surface groaned against the hull with a horrible sound. Indiana struggled as he fell to his knees again, catching himself with his hands as he made his way toward the wheelhouse. Through the raging spray he could see that some of Ramos’s men had stormed to the shore and pointed wildly at the boat as it crashed by. The ones who had not lost their rifles in the mercenary’s fall from moments ago pointed their weapons toward him, but no one shot. Or maybe the roar from the water was so loud it drowned out the sound of bullets being fired. Regardless, it took only seconds before the men were well out of range of effectively shooting him as the ship rushed wildly away from Ramos’s position on the shore.
Again, something with unimaginable force struck the iron hull of the ship, and Indiana was hurled to the deck. Helpless, he skidded over the flooring and crashed painfully against a wall. He instinctively looked for a hand hold before he could be tossed like a rag doll again.
In his misfortune he found a bit of luck: he had landed very close to the door of the rowing house, and in spite of the wild up and down bucking of the ship, he was able to brace his feet and yank it open. He lurched into the room, bouncing against the rudder, and clung desperately to it as the ship lurched again. The wooden wheel spun uncontrollable in his hands like a wild beast, resisting his grip. In front of the window was nothing but a churning spray of water, flashing rough and deadly with great force. The ship tilted to it’s side, straightened up again, then struck another obstacle. This time Indiana could hear the metal hull below tearing and splintering away.
He tried desperately to keep the rudder straight with the wheel. He could barely see anything. The ship was still moving at remarkable speed even though it was incessantly crashing against the reefs and rocks. He glimpsed something ahead, a gap between two large reefs, but he could not be sure - and he had no idea whether more razor-sharp stones hid just below the water’s surface that would split the ship open like a can opener.
His gaze took in the control panel of the ship next to the wheel. He finally found the control that started the diesel engine. With a desperate force he pressed the button downwards. He heard the sputtering of the engine in the hull below as it tried to light. But it did not work. And even if it had, it was unlikely it could have helped get them out of the current.
Indiana gave up the futile effort to start the engine. Instead he concentrated his strength on the wheel in an attempt to steer the ship towards the gap in the rocks. The raging current bounced the ship back and forth, hurling it up and down deeply into the water. Something struck the right side of the rowing house and the round glass portals exploded into glass shards. Ice-cold water and glass splinters rained down on Indiana. He ignored it and focused the entirety of his effort on driving the ship into the gap between the rocks, which approached at breakneck speed. The boat drifted to the right, swung back to the left and turned almost completely on its side, before it reaffirmed itself upright. The rocks came nearer, jumping at the sides of the ship, and Indiana registered with full horror that the gap was much narrower than he had imagined. He could see the shadows of deadly reefs in the waters beneath.
Straining with every muscle in his body, the ship squeezed into the gap with a terrible blow. The hull rang like a giant bell, and something broke with a terrible sound. A second, even harder jolt followed almost immediately, and the momentum of the ship abruptly decreased with the sounds of tearing metal.
The roar of the water and the ice-cold spray that poured through the shattered windows persisted, but the ship rested from one second to another.
Indiana found himself on the floor again, thrown there from the impact of the ship’s abrupt loss of momentum. His breathing was laborious and his vision was spinning wildly. He was dazed, and it took several seconds before he realized that the boat had become wedged in the gap between the rocks. Uncertain – at any time a new blow to the hull could quickly end the reprieve, he got back to his feet. At once he noticed water was rapidly filling the wheelhouse, and he waded back to the helm.
The control cabin was in terrible disarray. Anything that had not been bolted or welded down was torn and smashed. The water was already ankle-deep, and with the exception of the windscreen every window was shattered. The door hung obliquely, half ripped out from its broken frame. The stern of the boat had disappeared into a frothing spray. He now felt that the ground was not quite as calm as it had been seconds ago. It trembled and vibrated all around him. Perhaps, he thought full of terror, the ship would once again tear itself away. He knew they would not survive if it did so.
With clenched teeth and like a man defiantly facing the coming storm, he leaned forward and made his way through the control house to the stern. It took him several minutes to navigate only a dozen or so steps – he slipped again and again falling backwards the way he came. Again and again ice-cold spray hit him with impossible force, threatening to send him overboard. He could feel the structure beneath gradually but almost certainly breaking away.
When Indiana reached the door of the hold, he was almost to the point of exhaustion. He crawled on his hands and knees down the iron staircase to the cargo bay and felt around blindly in the darkness until he found the door. His fingers groped the rusted wet metal latch. He yanked at it a few times before he noticed the heavy padlock holding it shut.
Indiana sighed with desperation. For a moment he yanked in vain at the lock, then began hammering the door with both fists. For a second there was no response. Was he too late? Had they been sucked out of the damaged hull already? Then he heard a faint series of muffled strokes. Finally Reuben’s voice penetrated through the metal hatch. “Jones? Is that you?”
“The door is locked!” Indiana yelled back.
“Open up!” Reuben roared. “We will drown. Water is quickly filling the hold!”
“I can’t get it open!” cried Indiana despairingly. “It has a padlock!”
Behind the door, panicked voices chimed in, demanding he let them out. Someone started banging against a wall, and for a moment Indiana’s mind drew a blank. Then Reuben, his voice concerned but remarkably calm, reminded him. “There was a crowbar out there secured to the wall. It has to be somewhere. Look for it. And hurry!”
Indiana turned around on his knees and started to blindly grope around. His hands penetrated the ice-cold water, dragged the floor and walls, gliding around in a desperate search. He felt momentary rush as he gripped the railing, mistaking it for a crowbar or lever. But it was immoveable.
In truth, it probably only took a few seconds for him to find the crowbar still hanging from the wall near the door, but it felt like an eternity. The water continued to beat the hull with dreadful force, and the gentle trembling from before had increasingly become more erratic. The swaying of the ship had become more and more violent as time progressed. Occasionally, a grinding or tearing sound penetrated the metal walls of the ship, and Indiana felt like the ship was coming apart around them. When he had finally positioned the crowbar and braced himself, the ship lurched loudly to its side. He was on his second attempt when he realized the absurd balancing act he was in, with one leg one the side wall and the other on the floor.
“Hurry!” Reuben cried. “For God’s sake!”
Indiana regripped the crowbar and braced himself, pulling with all of his strength. In the first few seconds, nothing happened, and he began to fear that he simply did not have enough power to break them free. Then the padlock gave with a crunching sound and broke away. Indiana hurled the crowbar to the side, yanked the remainder of the lock away with frozen fingers, and tore the latch back.
At the same time force from the inside pushed the door away. Reuben, Henley, and two of the other men flung themselves through the now open doorway as they tried to exit the cargo bay. At the same time, an unimaginable blow struck the ship in the opposite direction. Indiana was torn from his feet, sailed helplessly through the air, and plunged against Reuben and the others back into the cargo hold. They crashed to the ground in a bundle, while the ship lurched wildly as it broke free of the rocks it was wedged between.
The last thing Indiana perceived was one of Reuben’s men flying at him like a living projectile across the storeroom and landing atop him. Darkness overcame him.
He imagined he was out for several minutes. Even after he came to his senses, he could see nothing. He was adrift in a pool of icy water that rose to his mid-section, surrounding by a semi-circle of men who spoke frantically. He could he moans and groans of men who were dealing with pain or panic. Then he heard Reuben’s voice, speaking with someone loudly. The ringing in his head kept him from understanding the conversation. Then a brief flicker of a lit match broke the darkness for a second, then extinguished immediately.
Indiana heard Reuben rustling for something: another match was struck, which flickered a moment longer than before, but extinguished again.
Reuben cursed a little louder.
Indiana cautiously moved his hands beneath the water. The ice-cold water absorbed almost every feeling, draining them from his limbs. But he could move them – he was extremely grateful he had not broken or fractured a bone or suffered any other major injury.
A third match was torn from a matchbook and lit, and this time the flame did not extinguish, but flared brightly and long enough to light the wick of the only kerosene lamp that didn’t get destroyed in the maelstrom. “Be careful with this thing,” Indiana heard Reuben announce. “It’s the only one left.”
Indiana blinked in the growing yellow light, and the darkness and shadows slowly retreated. His eyes eventually adjusted to the light, which danced along the surface of the water that now covered the floor. He realized they were still in the cargo hold of the little boat, but it had changed in a surreal way. It was completed devastated and partially submerged with icy water. Debris, wood, scraps, and torn packages spilled and floated in the water. But that was not the most startling: the floors and walls had swapped places. The ship had turned and was obviously listing on its side.
Reuben noticed that Indiana had come to his senses, so he waded toward him, his arms raised to avoid dragging them through the dirty, icy water. “Are you hurt?” he inquired anxiously. Before Indiana could even answer, he added: “You almost drowned when you were knocked out. One of the men managed to fish you out in the ruckus and get you leaned against a wall.”
Indiana raised his hand to his aching head and groaned. “I am not so sure I should thank him yet,” he murmured.
Reuben smiled, but his gaze remained serious. When Indiana scrutinized his expression, he realized he was seeing a fear that he had not seen in the FBI official before. Reuben was doing his best to hide it behind a mask of security and authority.
“What happened?” Indiana asked, alarmed.
“Still not sure,” Reuben replied. “I don’t know how you managed to get upstairs. But it looks like we are capsized.”
“The rapids,” murmured Indiana. His memories were still fragmented.
Although the blow to his head hadn’t caused him permanent memory loss, he was still dazed and had trouble organizing his thoughts. “The boat must have torn itself away. I told Ramos the mooring needed to be strengthened when we left.”
“Torn away,” Reuben laughed hard. “I guess you could call it that.”
Indiana looked up. “What do you mean?”
A grim expression filled Reuben’s face. “After you left, we heard someone return. We were pretty sure whoever it was had cut the mooring ropes. We didn’t see them, but we could hear them moving around on the boat.”
Indiana was not even surprised at the revelation. But he was deeply shaken at the cruelty of criminals he had faced in the course of his adventures. He had seen more people die (some at his own hands) than most normal men had seen their entire lives. But he had never met a man who acted so utterly without conscience than Ramos. For a moment he wondered if the man’s blindness had turned him cold, if his lack of ability to see gruesomeness and death had hardened his feelings.
He chased away the thought. Ramos was crazy, simple as that. Crazy, unpredictable, and dangerous. Which was why Indiana resolved to break his neck when they got out of there. If they got out of there!
He turned his thoughts back to the matter hand. “What about the door? Is it still open?”
“Jammed,” replied Reuben. Something heavy must have fallen when the ship overturned and it’s blocking the door from opening. We tried to force it, but it won’t budge. And now it’s underwater.”
“Is it rising?” Indiana asked.
“The water?” Reuben shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head in thought. “Not right now. The ship seems to have partially run aground. It looks like lady luck was with us after all. If the current had pulled us any further, we would have probably drowned a long time ago.”
Indiana looked at him with uncertainty. He had felt first-hand the terrible power of the water and the current. The ship was probably still wedged between some rocks, but how long would it stay that way?
“But it’s not the water I’m worried about at the moment,” Reuben continued grimly. “The cargo hold is still air-tight. Water is blocking any holes in hull. If we are lucky, we may have an hour’s worth of air left, at best.”
As if to confirm the hopelessness of their situation, a gentle tremble vibrated through the hull of the ship. Waves were crashing against the boat, causing some of the men to become restless. The situation was precarious: if the ship broke free it would almost certainly sink or break apart, drowning them all. Or they would simply run out of air and suffocate within an hour. Despite their situation, the men seemed remarkably disciplined. He took a closer look at the half a dozen faces in the hold. There was something different about these men: the mercenaries in Ramos’s employ lacked the attitude of these men. Those men were driven by money. These seemed to be driven by duty. Although he could see the fatigue in their bearded, over-tired faces, there was still a trace of calmness and discipline.
“These aren’t mercenaries,” he said softly to Reuben as it dawned on him.
Reuben looked at him and remained silent.
“They’re soldiers, aren’t they?” Indiana continued. Reuben still did not acknowledge the comment, and Indiana had not succeeded in making the accusation as reproachful as he actually intended. “You came here to a foreign country with a small army. This could be interpreted as an act of war! That’s why you didn’t hang around when the Bolivian authorities arrived earlier. You have dragged me into your private little war!”
Reuben tried to make an angry gesture toward Indiana, but apparently forgot he was almost to his chest in water. It splashed, surprising Reuben, who blinked as the cold liquid struck his face. He picked up the hand and instead of pointing accusingly at Indiana, he wiped the water out of his eyes. “It’s not a private war,” he said. “And I’d rather we talk about this when we get out of here – if we survive, I mean.”
Indiana swallowed the furious response that lay on his tongue. Instead, he stood up straight and walked towards the staircase that now ran at an odd angle from the wall and ceiling. He found his body uncontrollable trembling with the shivers. The cold was unbearable, and the icy water did its best to drain the last bit of heat from his body. Perhaps drowning and suffocation weren’t the only things threatening them with death: you can add shock and hypothermia to the reaper’s choices.
He reached the staircase, and searched his mind to piece together the cargo hold and the position of the door in its current orientation. It would be several feet below, so he took a deep breath-then dived beneath the surface of the frigid water. His hands groped aimlessly around until he felt the railing of the stairs. He gripped it tightly and pulled himself along, realizing that the door would be at the end. His heart raced. The coldness of the water had reduced his ability for air intake drastically, and his lungs began to burn for oxygen. He felt breathless before even reaching the door a few feet below. His fingers found the door, and he groped over it’s surface with his right hand while maintaining grip on the railing to keep him in position.
The door moved two or three inches before meeting something heavy that resisted any further opening. He repositioned and pressed his body against the door, trying to budge it while holding the railing with his left hand. He pushed with all of his strength. The metal trembled, and he felt it yield a few more centimeters. He tried again with all of his force, which knocked the remaining air from his burning lungs. It became unbearable. He popped to the surface, gasping for air, and clung to the first thing he could grab – Reuben’s shoulder.
“Any luck?” the FBI agent asked quietly when Indiana had halfway caught his breath.
Indiana shook his head. “It’s not opening.”
Reuben raised his eyebrow. “I would have been surprised if it had, Dr. Jones” Reuben explained. “Four of us have already tried.”
Indiana still shook his head. “I…I felt it move a little. I think…keep trying… a little bit more…”
“Yeah, that’s what we thought,” Reuben said. “There’s something big in front of it. A few strong shocks and it might move.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Unfortunately we can’t hold our breaths long enough to make any headway.”
“We need a tool,” murmured Indiana, as he turned his attention to what was left of his surroundings.
Reuben shrugged his shoulders again. “We’ve already looked. Ramos’s men took everything. At least everything useful.”
Indiana did not answer. He concentrated on the debris floating around. Reuben was probably right – although there was enough junk floating around to fill a small garbage dump, there was nothing floating around that would break the door free. Then something caught his eye floating in the corner –
There floating between some splinters of wood and one of Rueben’s men was a small circle of metal protruding from the water. A bucket, partially filled but still floating. Indiana waded to it and lifted it up, poured out its contents and held it up in the air. It was undamaged.
Without a word Indiana waded back over to Reuben, held the bucket up in front of the man and proudly displayed his find.
“Do you want to empty the water out of the boat with it?” Reuben asked incredulously.
Indiana did not even entertain Reuben with an answer. Instead he turned the bucket around in his hand, convincing himself once again that it was completely undamaged. Reuben looked at Indy with a furrowed brow and said nothing.
“Help me,” Indiana commanded. I need to keep it straight. As straight as possible."
Reuben frowned again, obviously evaluating whether shock had finally taken hold over the scientist. Suddenly his face brightened as he finally realized what Indiana was up to – science! At the same time, two of Reuben’s men waded over, curious as to what was on Indiana’s mind.
Indiana positioned himself as close to the door beneath him as possible, then dropped to his knees in the water. Water rested at his bottom lip when he pulled the bucket as straight as possible down over his head like a knight’s helmet.
“You have to keep it straight,” he said. Reuben and his men placed their hands firmly on the bottom of the bucket, which was not facing upwards. It was much harder to keep it straight than expected. Seeing this two over men waded over to help. Indiana tried to submerge and found the bucket, filled with air, was much harder to pull down than he had anticipated. But he finally managed to pull it down slowly and in a fashion where, with the help of the men above, it stayed fairly straight. He cautiously forced his way to the bottom, praying that the men above would not stumble or trip over him. Even with the bucket of air, he knew he still had very little time – two or three minutes at the most. But two or three minutes – and a little luck – just might be all he needed!
He had lost at least half the time and air before he finally found the door again in the murky water. He had descended down the staircase while Reuben’s men remained positioned on the higher edge at each side of the railing. Keeping his movements in tune with the men helping proved to be the most difficult and time-consuming endeavor. But he eventually reached the door and his fingers groped through the opening.
He pushed with all his strength. The door trembled, and moved a few millimeters more. It groaned like a living creature, resisted, then stopped. But it had moved.
The air supply in the bucket was almost depleted when Indiana popped quickly back to the surface. He waited for his lungs to refill with oxygen, then looked at the faces of anticipation around him.
He nodded. “She’s moving,” he gasped. “I need a tool. Anything to use as a lever.”
All of the men together started to scan the room. They dove under the surface, dragged things around, tore up tattered parcels, and evaluated every piece of soaked wood floating around. Nothing. They even dragged at the beams of the walls and ceiling to see if anything had broken lose. But the only thing Indy held in his hands at the end was a splintered box-board that was completely swollen and saturated with water. But if that was all they had, he hoped he could make it work.
He took in another deep breath, then positioned his make-shift diver’s helmet back on. Once again he dove under. He found the door a little faster this time. With clenched teeth he squeezed the board through the crack and leaned all of his weight into the soggy lever. It held only for a second, then snapped in half. He fell helplessly backwards as water rushed into his helmet and lungs.
Panting and gasping for air he broke to the surface. Reuben looked at him in silence, but this time he no longer had a look of anticipation. His eyes were now filled with fear and desperation, as were the others.
Indiana waited a few minutes for his gasping lungs to settle. “All right. We have to come up with a new plan.”
He reached for the bucket. But Reuben hesitated giving it to him. “You’re spent, Jones. Let one of the others try.”
Indiana shook his head. “Next time,” he answered. “I have an idea.” He lifted his arms out and stretched them outward to the men. “Hold me tightly.”
Two men grabbed and held his outstretched arms, while Reuben and three others held the bucket again. Indiana was gently sinking into a squatting position. He crawled-in a grotesque half-tilted stance- on the door and sucked in his entire air supply from the bucket all at once. He forced himself to bounce with all his strength on the door, and despite those holding his arms from above almost lost his balance. His lungs cracked as the air was now completely drained from the bucket. Nevertheless, he did not give up. He attacked the door once more. It had opened enough for him to get his arm through the slit. He pushed his arm though, but pulled it back a split second later after he brushed against something…a giant clammy…hand?
The door slammed closed again. But this time something was pushing at it. It was not a piece of debris blocking the door. Something was scratching at it…fingernails or claws over the iron…
Indiana shot back to the surface, gasping in fright. He was dizzy and his head pounded from lack of oxygen. Had it made him imagine the fleshy claw? Was he hallucinating? He tried to put together a sentence, but he just stammered. He straightened immediately and almost fell.
“Something…” he stammered. In front of his eyes were colorful rings and flashes of light danced as he breathed in and out. Through the shimmering grey veil he saw Reuben take the bucket and motion his men to come assist him so one of them could take Indiana’s place at the door. Indiana tried to motion him to stand down, but the faint gesture and his inability to form a sentence produced only a gasp and a groan.
“You all right” Reuben asked anxiously. He was misunderstanding Indiana’s excitement as progress. The men continued their preparations, and one pulled the bucket over and proceeded to dive below.
Instead of a direct answer, Indiana moved by him and positioned himself to observe the trail of waves left behind by the diving man. After a few moments the shadow beneath the surface of the water ceased to move, and then two or three echoing strokes were heard as the man pounded against the door with all of his force.
Indiana breathed audibly. Reuben looked at him, confused, and Indiana uttered panting: “It’s all right. I just thought for a moment, I…”
The water beneath them immediately exploded. Panting and spitting water, the man resurfaced, threw himself back with a piercing scream and showered them all with icy water in his panic. “A monster!” he roared. “There’s a damn monster down there!”
A roaring blow resounded, as though the door were yanked from its hinges with terrible violence. The water surged and thrashed, and he felt as if something else had come in with them!
A monstrous shadow appeared beneath the surface of the water and glided with fantastic speed at Reuben, who appeared to be paralyzed with fear and confusion gazing with wide eyes at the monstrous shadow below. Reuben staggered back from the impact of something below, and suddenly a scaly arm with monstrous claws locked onto his shoulder and dragged the FBI official beneath the water with unimaginable speed and force.
Indiana finally snapped out of his shock and threw himself at the man, but he was too late. Foam and waves remained were Reuben had vanished. For a moment he could see the shadows of the two beings – man and monster, fighting in the waters beneath but when he grasped with his hands they came up empty.
The other men began to panic and shout.
They began to move frantically around, crashing into each other creating waves in the cargo hold. The light flickered.
“The lamp!” Indiana cried horrifically. “Watch out for the lamp!”
No one noticed his words. On the contrary, the panic grew worse. A second later Indiana had forgotten about the lamp as well. On the spot where Reuben had vanished, a new series of rings broke the surface of the water. A head appeared in the center of the tiny waves – a horrible scaly head broke the surface.
Indiana was not sure if it was human. The face was distorted, and its eyes glared at him like a nightmare. The creature lacked a discernible nose, and its mouth had no lips, but was shaped like that of a fish. The skull was hairy on one side and covered with ulcers and warts on the other. At places it appeared as if the skin had peeled away to bare bone beneath. When the creature opened its mouth, Indiana was staring at a double row of needle-sharp teeth bent inward.
Again the water bubbled, and a second creature appeared next to the first. It was more appalling than the other, staring at him with huge, swollen eyes. It lifted a crippled arm out of the water and reached for Indiana with a mangled three-fingered hand.
He screamed and threw himself back, but the reaction came too late. He couldn’t move fast enough in the water. The hand grabbed him and yanked him around with terrible force. Indiana barely had time to gulp in some air before he was dragged underwater. Two or three other inhuman hands grabbed him. He fought back fervently, barely managing to get his head above water again. The last thing his brain registered was a violent wave in the cargo hold that knocked over and extinguished the lamp, then the sensation of the hold filling up with the creatures to overtake the remaining men as he was dragged back beneath the blackened waters through the now open doorway.
Although he did not really lose consciousness, but he felt as if he were being dragged underwater for an eternity. Finally the resistance of the creatures subsided, and he was able to break for the surface. His head breached the water and he gasped again for air. He felt like he was closer to death than he had ever been before. He was not sure how long he had been dragged about underwater, but he had surfaced near the shore. He struggled and made his way to where the water was only inches deep and collapsed, leaning against a rock. He perceived distorted shadows in the river around him, and heard unnatural sounds as if they were communicating somehow. He tried to block them from his eyes and ears.
He was unsuccessful in blocking either: mixed in with the roar of the rapids were what he made out to be words which he could not understand. They sounded like a completely alien language, and could not be made with human mouths. He clenched his eyes shut for several minutes as he tried desperately to recover his breathing. Something touched the edge of his face. At first he thought it was his imagination and he tried to force it away. But it lingered: it was cold and hard, almost like metal. Even though he held his eyes tightly closed, it was not difficult for him to visualize: a huge, scaly hand with three fingers that were tipped in long claws.
That’s crazy, he thought. Pull yourself together! He had to be imagining all of this. The poor light and lack of oxygen had caused him to lose his senses for a moment. There are no monsters. Neither here nor anywhere else in the world. He kept pounding this into his mind as he forced himself to ignore his exhaustion, lift his head and open his eyes. There are no monsters!
It is a monster! As he opened his eyes, one of them was standing before him, a two-meter colossus with a tiny head that rested on an unnaturally thin, scaly frame with wide shoulders. Its arms and legs were too thin to be human. Its hands and feet had three appendages and long claws. Its skin was leathery and scaly, littered with countless ulcers and inflamed wounds. Even though it was still soaking wet, a piercing odor emanated from its ulcers. It smelled like sickness and death.
Indiana surmised it had been bent over his motionless frame for several minutes, examining him to see if he were alive. Once it had convinced itself that Indiana was indeed alive, a toothy grimace filled its face (only later did Indiana understand it was probably the way this creature smiled) and it turned away, wading and disappearing back into the icy water of the river.
He watched in terror as five or six of the gruesomely deformed figures brought Reuben’s men out of the water and to the shore. Most were unconscious, or did not have the constitution left to struggle. Only Henley, who was last to be brought from the hold of the ship, raged like a madman. It took two of the monstrous creatures to drag him to the shore to be dropped between Reuben and the others. The hastily wrapped wound on his thigh had been agitated and was bleeding heavily again, but he did not seem to even notice it.
While Reuben looked after his injured colleague, Indiana inspected their eerie saviors a little more closely. In the bright daylight their form appeared a little more human than it had in the dimly lit hold of the ship. The scales were nothing more than chunks of flaking leathery skin which was covered in ulcers and warts, some of which were whitish and discolored. Now that the initial shock and excitement had died down, Indiana realized these were not monsters at all. They were people. They were horribly disfigured, but they were people nonetheless. Most of them limped and actually moved quite slowly on the beach. They had unnaturally long arms and legs, crippled hands, disfigured and mangled faces, and horrible deformities.
“What in God’s sake are these things?” Reuben whispered, horrified that they might hear him. “These are not human beings, are they?” His voice was shrill, almost hysterical.
“I’m afraid they are,” answered Indiana quietly.
“But that’s impossible,” whispered Reuben. “So…I’ve never seen anything like them before. What are these men?”
Indiana did not answer. But it was not because he did not know the answer. On the contrary, he suddenly had a terrible premonition that they were very close to the incredible secret that Corda had discovered. The secret Ramos coveted. It was a secret that had brought so many before them. But none of those before them had come out alive. It was a secret that he was not quite sure they were ready for.
The previous update (parts 53 through 56) Are what I would consider the beginning of the third (and final) act of Indiana Jones and the Gold of El Dorado. I know I've probably lost some people, and hopefully gained a few more in the years since this adventure began. Another member has offered to help finish the translation. I have sent him some of the text files I've been working off of. Hopefully between the two of us we'll get this done.
I'll keep working on it as the other party said school will occupy most of their time until this summer. Who knows, I may have it finished by then. If not, I greatly welcome his or her help to bring you the final act of this fantastic story.
Just to bring everyone up to speed, I DO NOT speak German at all. I am using a combination of translating tools to get a rough English copy. Once that is done, I take the rough English and rewrite it into what I believe to be colorful, adventurous wordsmithing worthy of an Indiana Jones story. So, as you can probably gather, I am retyping this story word by word. It is time-consuming (I started this in 2009 and have worked on and off on it since then, between a military career, jobs, school, moves, numerous overseas trips, a post-military career, jobs, schools, moves, numerous overseas trips...you get my meaning).
The large cave was moist and cold. A glowing orange-red light sprayed across the uneven walls from a dozen blackened torches, filling the chamber with dancing shadows and surreal movements that invaded the imagination.
Indiana did not know how long it had taken them to reach that shelter – none of them knew. They did not know where they were at all. Indiana could not tell how long they had been travelling. Had it been two days? Maybe three. Their sinister saviors had given them only a brief time to rest and regain their strength before urging them onwards. That brief rest was all that they had been granted.
They had marched, practically uninterrupted. First to the east, at a right angle from the river deeper and deeper into the verdant jungle. Then they had changed directions to a northern trajectory. The number of guardians had grown to nearly two dozen. Not all of them were as monstrous as those that had rescued them from their sinking ship. But all of them had some kind of severe deformation or malady. Apparently none of them understood or spoke English either, or Spanish or Portuguese for that matter. Their gestures and the presence of their weapons – along with their monstrous appearance- had deterred any of Reuben’s men from trying anything stupid or escaping. And as they continued from the river the jungle had become so dense they could scarcely see the sky above. When Indiana caught a glimpse of the sun through the thick vegetation he wasn’t even sure in which direction they were travelling anymore.
His fatigued mind had given up, his memory invaded only by images of green and gray, and monotonous thoughts such as simply putting one foot in front of the other to march on. The guards gave them food and drink, but hey never spoke. And they never allowed them even the tiniest break for rest. Henley, with his injured leg, finally collapsed when he couldn’t move any further. Two of the most monstrous guardians built a stretcher of boughs and plant fibers as they marched while some of Reuben’s exhausted soldiers assisted Henley in the march. The guardians even built the stretcher without slowing or taking a break.
As they continued, Indiana noticed the terrain was gradually getting rougher. The ground rose gently but persistently, and the grass and undergrowth gave way to more and more rocks and stones. Some time later it began to be dotted with large, sharp-edged boulders jutting from the ground between the giant jungle trees.
And finally they had reached this cave. The sudden gaping hole in the ground had been so perfectly camouflaged by natural formations that Indiana hadn’t even seen it, even as their guards were directing them to it. As soon as they entered the large antechamber, like the rest of Reuben’s men, Indiana collapsed to the floor and fell asleep on the spot where he had stopped. And like the rest, awoke to a bowl of fruit and fresh water, and some kind of delicious mash of vegetables. After eating and drinking, he slept again. He guessed they had rested a day or more, most of it in deep much needed sleep. The next time he awoke, the burnt torches that had been placed on the wall by their guardians had been replaced by new ones. And with the exception of Henley, who lay there in feverish dreams, all of the others were awake as well.
It had been a few hours since awakening. The men had spent most of the time discussing then discarding various theories about their mysterious lifesavers. Most of theories were either ridiculous or dull. At one point Indiana had tried to leave the cavern, against Reuben’s advice. He had not made it past the entrance, which was guarded by the same Indio-monster who had rescued him from the ship. Although its head was tiny compared to its frame, it had very attentive eyes. It had made a threatening gesture with the large stone axe it carried in it claws, so Indiana turned back into the cavern with the others. He had no desire to find out if the creature could use the menacing weapon it was brandishing.
“That was completely pointless,” Reuben said when Indiana dropped down on the bare rock next to him, resigning to the fact they were stuck here until their ‘hosts” decided to let them leave. “I’ve tried it too. Being nice to them doesn’t work. And neither does the threat of violence.” He shook his head. “That thing might be as deaf as these rocks!” He emphasized his ridiculous comment by picking up, then dropping a handful of stones off the floor. His attention was briefly diverted to Henley, who tossed his head back and groaned loudly in his sleep. Reuben looked anxiously over him, then turned back to Indiana when he realized there was little he could do to comfort his friend.
“Besides,” Reuben continued as if the interruption had not occurred. “It would do no good escaping anyway. I don’t even know where we are.” He looked up at Indiana. “Do you?”
Indiana shook his head. “No,” he stated. “But I’m still alive. One of the reasons is because I can figure my way out of these types of situations.”
Reuben shot him an irritated look, then shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, that may be true in the normal world. But this is a world full of monsters.”
“Do you really believe they are monsters?” asked Indiana.
“Well, they are not ‘ordinary’ people!” answered Reuben with agitation in his words. He realized how that made him sound, and that he probably should have directed his agitation elsewhere. He fought back his agitation and replaced it with an uncertain smile. “But the devil shall get me if I know what they are.” The uncertainty in his face became clearer. “I have only seen the likes of this once before.”
Indiana shot him an inquisitive look.
“At the carnival,” said Reuben, explaining. “At the time I was a child, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. My father took me to one of those freakshow tents. You know, that place where you can get a glimpse of the bearded woman, or Siamese twins. Or stare at the man with snake skin. But these were…” he was frantically searching for words. “Freaks, cripples – regrettable people. But still they were people.”
“And you’re sure these are not people?”
A hidden accusation resonated within the question, and for a second Indiana felt sorry for posing it in such a way. But Reuben did not seem to mind. If he did he ignored it.
“Something like this does not exist in great numbers!” continued Reuben.
“One in a hundred thousand people, perhaps.” His voice once again rose with passion. “They are the exception, Jones! So rare they are resolved to a sideshow act at the local fair. But here…there seems to be a whole tribe of freaks.”
“Maybe there is a reason it’s happening here,” said Indiana thoughtfully.
“And what is that?”
“I don’t know,” returned Indiana. “And I’m not certain I want to know. Maybe they are outcasts from local villages. There version of freaks exiled to live together. Or maybe there is something more…sinister at work here.”
Reuben was silent for several seconds, contemplating what Indiana had just said. “Do you know who these men remind me of, Jones?”
“Really?” Reuben responded, surprised that Indiana didn’t connect his meaning. He laughed, humorlessly. “Have you forgotten the blind, crippled ‘monster’ that got us into this mess?”
“Ramos?” asked Indiana dubiously. “What makes you think that?”
“I don’t know,” murmured Reuben.
Indiana shook his head. “No. Ramos IS a monster. Even I wouldn’t insult these things by lumping him in with them.”
Reuben shrugged, accepting Indiana’s assertion. “Yeah. But I have a feeling that there is much more to this story than we know.” He appeared as if he were going to keep talking, but suddenly closed his mouth and cocked his head slightly. He remained silent, listening. After a few seconds he spoke up quietly. “Someone’s coming now.”
When Indiana turned toward the entrance, he saw the misshapen shadows of two of the creatures. Another smaller shadow was in between them. When they reached the edge of the light, Indiana was astonished.
“Marcus!” he shouted with surprise. He was on his feet before he had even finished the name. He ran to Marcus Brody and grasped him tightly in his arms, lifting him off the ground by a few inches.
Marcus gasped with surprise. For a few moments there was silence as he evaluated Indiana’s sudden appearance in the cave before him. Indiana finally released his embrace and Marcus stepped gently back half a step.
“Marcus,” Indiana said again. “Thank God you’re alive! And you’re not hurt!”
“Of course I’m alive,” Marcus announced incredulously, as if Indiana had witnessed his funeral or something. “But what are you doing here? I thought you were a hundred miles away, chasing that scoundrel who kidnapped me and brought me here!”
It took a moment for Marcus’s words to register in Indiana’s brain. “Ramos brought you here?”
“Well,” stammered Marcus. “Not directly. But not entirely voluntary either! And I’d like to stress that it was not necessarily his merit that I am alive and in good physical condition!” Marcus’s brow furrowed as he recounted his story. “That Ramos is a most inhospitable man, Indiana. His manners leave a lot to be desired. That is why I chose to remove myself from his company.”
“You escaped?” Reuben asked dubiously. “How?”
Marcus turned with a condescending look to the FBI agent, but his words seemed to be trapped in his throat. Or more aptly, in his thoughts. Finally Marcus smiled in embarrassment and shrugged. “Actually, it was pure luck,” he explained. “These…guardians…attacked Ramos’s camp and in the confusion I escaped.”
“What happened next?” Reuben asked.
Again Marcus seemed to be at a loss for words. He stammered, his embarrassment more evident. “I confess, perhaps I was a bit hasty to flee at the first opportunity that presented itself,” he murmured. “To be quite honest I realized my mistake almost immediately. I became lost in the jungle, thirsty and exhausted until the guardians found me. I am certain I would have perished had it not been for them.”
“The ‘guardians’?” It was the second time Marcus had used the expression.
“The men who rescued you and your friends from the sinking ship, Dr. Jones,” declared another voice from the shadows at the entrance. “In our language, they are called something different, but I believe the meaning of this word is close enough.”
Indiana tore his eyes away from Marcus to stare at the source of the voice.
As he emerged from the shadows, Indiana recognized him immediately. It was the Aymará chief, from the village they had left a few days ago.
“You?” Indiana murmured with surprise. He could think of nothing else to say.
The old man smiled with a slight nod, then stepped nearer. Strange – maybe it was the lighting, maybe just his imagination- but the man seemed to move with more purpose and authority than before. There was an energetic gleam in his expressions that was not there before. He carried with him the aura of a ruler more than before, a man who was old but not frail, who was meek but not soft.
“You?” he asked again. “But why-“
The Aymará chief made a concise but commanding gesture. “I will explain everything to you, Dr. Jones,” he said. “But let us first gather your friends. I’d rather not tell everything twice.”
Indiana was sure he heard ridicule in the man’s voice as he spoke. And he noticed something else: the Aymará chief spoke perfect English, as if it were his mother tongue. But Indiana kept this to himself, making a mental note to add it to a very long list of questions he wanted to ask the old man when they got out of here.
The old man looked at each of them after they had gathered closely, wordless and with an expression on his face that could not be interpreted. He stared in each person’s face, as if he could see the man beneath and make judgement on them. He stared at the feverish Henley the longest. He finally bent down and touched the man’s sweat-covered forehead with his hand. The chief closed his eyes for a moment, and something unusual happened: Henley stopped stammering in his fever dreams, and a sudden look of comfort relaxed his face.
Indiana turned his stunned gaze from Henley and the chief back to Reuben. Both of them were trying to comprehend if it was magic they had just witnessed. Was it some kind of supernatural healing power?
The FBI agent held his gaze for a moment, then turned back to the Aymará chief. “What is it you want?” he asked, his feet shuffling restlessly where he was standing. There was a slight hint of trembling in his voice as he asked the question, and he could not bring himself to look directly into the old man’s face. “Why do you keep us imprisoned here? We are not your enemies. We had nothing to do with what Ramos did to your village.”
“I believe that,” replied the Aymará chief calmly. “But you have come for the same reason. And that is why I judge you as I have I judged him.”
Reuben stiffened, defiantly stretching out his chin as if ready to fight the old man. But the chief just turned to him with a gentle smile, and Reuben suddenly dropped his gaze again. Even as he spoke, the defiance had left his voice. “You are mad,” Reuben said. “You have no idea why we are really here. We are here for the man who did those terrible things to your people. He’s a dangerous criminal. And I am here to bring him to justice.”
“I understand that,” the chief nodded. “But I also know that this is only part of the truth.”
Reuben started to continue, but Indiana stopped him. “Drop it, Reuben,” he said. It is pointless to lie to him.”
Reuben turned and stared defiantly at Indiana, but he remained silent, and the old chief smiled again. “You’re right, Dr. Jones,” the chief said. “You cannot lie to me in this sacred place. I also know why you really came. You seek the same thing that so many who have come before you sought. And you will find the same thing that they did if you do not abandon your search. Death.”
“So there were others before us?” asked Indiana.
“You were not the first to find the way.” The old man acknowledged. “There have been many who came. But none have ever returned.”
‘Then…it is true?” asked Reuben excitedly. “El Dorado…exists? It’s not just a legend?”
“El Dorado…” the old man repeated the word with peculiar emphasis. Then he nodded. “Oh. Yes, some have called it that. Others had different names, but it was always the same thing they truly searched for: gold and wealth.”
“El Dorado exists!” Reuben announced again. His fear had left him. There was a new glimmer in his eyes, and Indiana realized with fright that the other men had moved closer, and their gazes rested upon the lips of the old man as he told his story. He could see a familiar glimmer in their eyes, one that made him afraid. Maybe it was better of the old man did not keep talking.
The Aymará chief looked at him for a moment, almost as if he were reading his thoughts. He smiled thinly, his eyes filled with a deep sadness. “This is indeed the place for which the white man dreams,” he said. “My people have never understood why the yellow metal is so valuable to you. But yes, it exists. But we have been chosen by the gods to watch over it. We have not always been successful in keeping its secret. We have been outnumbered. Some have made their way without violence. What no one sees is that the gold of El Dorado only holds death.”
“The gold of El Dorado?” Reuben laughed hysterically. “You mean…you and your…” he bit his lip as he looked around at the monsters behind the old man, then continued, “your men have killed those who sought it!”
“Not us,” contradicted the old man. “We are the guardians, and we bring the warning. We do not kill anyone who does no harm to us.” He raised his hand when he could sense Reuben was about to interrupt him again.
“I will tell you the story of my people, white man! We, too, were once like you. The greed for the yellow metal was not foreign to our ancestors. It was they who found the entrance to the Valley of the Gods. They took the yellow metal and carried it out into the world, and they became rich and powerful.”
“The gold of the Incas,” murmured Indiana, recalling his South American studies. Reuben looked at him questioningly, and the old Aymará nodded.
“Yes,” he said. “This came from the country that the Spaniards came to call El Dorado. It made our ancestors rich. But it also brought them death. Many voices cried out to them, warning them that they were stealing the possession of the gods, but the warnings were lost with the wind. It is said that once, an infinitely long time ago when there were no people, the gods created the land of gold. But as people were created, they knew the greed that would overtake them. So they spoke a curse. Anyone who touched the gold should die. And those who sought it would die a terrible death. My people did not heed this warning. They sought this land, and when they found it they languished there where it was rich. But they paid a terrible price for its wealth. The men died, and the women bore children on which the curse of the gods lay.”
Indiana shuddered His gaze fell upon the deformed figures of the two who had accompanied the old man.
The old man continued. “Since that time it has been the duty of the Aymará to guard the way to El Dorado.”
“But the men and women in the village…” murmured Reuben, confused.
“They bring the children here,” said Indiana. He turned to the old man. “Your wives still give birth to the children on whom the curse of the gods lies, right?”
The old man nodded. “They are brought here. To this secret hiding place in the mountains where no one sees,” he said. “Perhaps one day the gods will pity us and take the curse from us. But until that time we will fulfill our task and guard the way.”
“That won’t do much good if Ramos shows up here with his thugs and murderers,” said Reuben. “You have seen what he has done to your village. They will kill you with no remorse.”
“We are many,” said the Aymará chief. But Reuben discarded his words with a single gesture. “Don’t underestimate this man, chief. I don’t deny that your ancestors might have fought and taken care of the Spanish conquistadors, or the adventurers and grave robbers that followed. But Ramos and his men have modern weapons, and you’ve seen how ruthless they are. Yu have one choice to avoid that terrible bloodshed again: let us go and show us the way. We’ll wait for Ramos and stop him there.”
“We are the guardians here,” repeated the chief stubbornly. “The gods have given us the task of guarding the way into the land of yellow metal. And if we die in this, so this too is the will of the gods.”
“The will of the gods!” spat Reuben. “You won’t even get close to them. Ramos’s flamethrowers will oppose you and your gods. You won’t stand a chance. This man is crazy, don’t you understand? He is crazy and completely ruthless. He does not care how many people he has to kill to get what he wants.”
“And you?” asked the old man.
Reuben blinked. “What do you mean?”
“What would you do to learn the secret of El Dorado?” The chief hinted at the men who set themselves up in a semicircle behind Reuben. “Have you not risked the lives of all these men who follow you, just to reach your goal?”
“This is not the same,” protested Reuben, but the old man stopped him immediately.
“I know you believe that,” he said. “You really believe you have come for noble reasons. But that is not true. It may not be the gold you seek, but it is power. And what is gold besides a tool to gain power?”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Reuben, but his voice contained a hint of uncertainty. “Even if this fabulous valley of gods really exists, what kind of power would I truly find there?’
“It drowns the pain of what you have lost in your quest,” returned the old man.
“What…ludicrous nonsense,” murmured Reuben, distraught. His gaze flickered. He looked at Indiana, almost pleading for help in his argument. “He has no idea what he is talking about,” he said finally.
“But I…” stammered Indiana quietly.
The Aymará turned to him. “You are easy to see through,” he said. “You have so much knowledge yet again you know so very little. At least about yourselves. Really, Dr. Jones, do you still believe you came here to save your friend? Are you sure it wasn’t the lure of the adventure? And the love of a woman you can’t even admit? Or do you really not know how much you love her?”
Indiana stood in silence, confused.
The Aymará turned back to Reuben. And this time his words were serious. He no longer spoke meekly, like a teacher to a child. “And you, Mr. Reuben – you believe that you must prevent your enemies from finding El Dorado. You are afraid they may find something that would endanger the empire of your people. But they will fail. You are mistaken. The man you persecute is not a traitor to his people. He came here for the same reason as the others before him: greed for gold and riches. And you, too, will succumb to the lure of that yellow metal when you see it. And if it’s not you, it will be the men who follow you. So now do you understand why I cannot let you go?”
Reuben stared at the Aymará chief, his mouth slightly agape. “You cannot know that,” he stammered. “It’s impossible to know.”
“Yet he has done it,” Indiana said quietly.
The old man turned to Indiana in a strange way. Indiana moved closer and whispered in his ear. “You have read our thoughts, haven’t you?”
They had been talking to the chief for a long time. The realization that the old Aymará chief could read their thoughts as easily as reading a book had shaken Indiana to the core. He knew the old man had been telling the truth. The chief had known from the first moment when he met them what they had been seeking, just as he had known what Corda and Ramos’s intentions had been. Indiana did not even attempt to find an explanation as to why the old man had this eerie power. He knew the old man had it, and that was enough. He did not consider questioning him further about this ability.
Reuben was also visibly shaken – but unlike Indiana, continued to try to get the old man to allow them to leave. For almost an hour he had continued in his attempt to persuade the old one in releasing them. He had begged, pleaded, and finally threatened him quite bluntly. But none of it worked. The old man remained persistent in his refusal to let them go, and continued with his assertion that the gold of El Dorado could protect itself. When he finally left, he told them goodbye and that he would meet with them again the next morning. It was then he would give his decision on their fate.
When Indiana awoke the next day, strange feeling tormented him. There was a dull pressure between his temples, giving him a slight headache and making the ability to think difficult. In hindsight, their experience talking with the chieftain had been almost like a dream – and the memory of the conversation was like trying to recall a dream; the details were there but they did not quite feel real.
Dazed, he straightened himself up. He was not the only one who seemed to find it difficult waking up properly. All of the men were confused and groggy, except for Marcus, who was snoring like a sawmill, and Henley, who was in a deep restful sleep of one recovering from sickness. The rest looked just as dazed and confused as Indiana had been when he sat up. The men moved with grogginess and uncertainty. When he turned and looked into Reuben’s face, he saw the same confusion and uncertainty, and a look as if Reuben was having trouble remembering where he was and why he was there.
And it didn’t subside. The deformed Indians who they now knew as the guardians brought them food and fresh water, and shortly after eating the Aymará chief appeared again. The weird sensation they had been feeling subsided only a little, and Indiana began to wonder if he were dreaming.
Then, just after sunrise, they heard the gunshots.
At first, Indiana thought he was imagining the noise. But the volley of gunfire quickly sounded closer, and not only increased in volume but in severity.
The opening salvo was a sporadic cracking gunfire, but it was soon joined by the hammering staccato of automatic weapons and screams, and then a terrible hissing and pattering, of which Indiana knew only too well: flamethrowers.
The men were in agitated panic and they all stormed to the exit of the cave, but the guard posted at the mouth still denied them exit; dumb, but persevering. In the thick forest ahead they could make out the red light reflections of flames over the rocks and vegetation, and the gunshots and cries revealed the battle to be occurring just a few yards from the cave entrance.
“Damn, what’s going on?” asked Reuben excitedly. “Ramos! It must be Ramos and his people!” He took a step further towards the guardian at the entrance, and the Aymará raised his club menacingly. Reuben stopped. But Indiana could see the thoughts going through Reuben’s mind. Although they were unarmed, it was eight against one.
Indiana hastily moved in front of Reuben and confronted the guard, gesturing with his hands. “You must let us through,” he said. “We are not your enemy! Call your chief! We…can help you!”
The guardian looked at him and grinned stupidly. He had apparently had not understood a word. Or he didn’t want to understand.
Indiana’s gaze wandered desperately to the exit. The MP fire had stopped for a moment, but the fight was not over yet – quite the opposite. The cries, and sounds of bustling steps, inched closer and closer, and suddenly the machine gun pounded so close to the cave entrance that even the Aymará became visibly shaken – but he did not budge from his position just inside the cave’s mouth.
The firefight raged for a full quarter of an hour before the shots and cries slowly died down. It seemed like an eternity before the guard at the cavern entrance stepped aside to allow the chief passage through.
“What happened?” asked Indiana immediately upon seeing the old man. “That was Ramos, wasn’t it?”
The Aymará looked at him sternly, making Indiana regret asking such a superfluous question. But it quickly dissolved to a deep resignation, like a disembodied pain. Without answering he turned his back to them and motioned them all to follow him with a quick hand movement.
It had become bright, but the day hadn’t fully pushed the nighttime sky away. There was a persistent gray fog clouding the north, minimizing visibility to a meager twenty or thirty paces.
But Indiana saw much more than he wanted to see within those twenty or thirty steps. Scattered between the rocks and vegetation were the dead and wounded bodies of many of the guardians. Flames still licked at the air here and there, and the smell of gasoline, hot stone, burnt vegetation, and charred meat lingered in the air. Sometimes a faint groan penetrated the fog. The Aymará had paid a heavy price for trying to stop Ramos’s mercenary army. And Indiana didn’t have to ask the old man if the Aymará had succeeded.
Reuben, too, had become pale. Although Reuben’s career had made him witness to many terrible things, nothing could quite prepare a person for the sight before them. Expressions of helplessness and anger were written across his face.
“I hope you’re happy now, old man!” Reuben spat in a trembling voice. He furiously pointed at the dead around them. “This is all your fault! You didn’t want to believe me, did you? I told you what would happen if you tried to stop Ramos alone, by force!”
“That’s enough, Reuben,” Indiana said wearily. “Please.”
Reuben glared at him, and for a moment Indiana thought the man might turn his wrath against him. But then the rage shrank from his face as quickly as it had appeared. Indiana realized that he probably had not truly been angry. His emotions had spiked and this was just his way of coping with the horror.
“Madness,” he muttered, more to himself and Indiana. “Bows and arrows against flamethrowers and machine guns.”
“Where are they now?” asked Indiana, referring to the mercenaries.
The Aymará made a slight gesture, pointing in the fog. “There. On the way tot the summit. My men are following.”
“But don’t worry,” he added quickly, sensing Indiana was about to protest. “They will no longer attack you.”
“This should not have happened,” Reuben said softly. “We would have helped you, you old fool. Together we could have stopped them.”
The chief shook his head sadly. “To shed more blood? No. What has happened was meant to happen. It is the will of the gods, not the plans of people that will stop them. The murderers will not escape their punishment.”
Indiana’s gaze drifted in the direction the old man had indicated. But there was nothing but grey and an impenetrable fog. A gentle, stony-covered downward slope ran in the opposite direction, sparsely covered in vegetation. When the guardians had first brought them here, Indiana and the others were far too exhausted to take in their surroundings. Now he understood and respected them. The cave entrance rested in the heart of the mountain, camouflaged by the rocks and vegetation, and clouded in a perpetual fog that Indiana surmised never lifted. The same everlasting fog that covered the summit. Indiana simply knew that the fog seldom, if ever lifted, and had probably been around since the mountain existed.
This was also part of that lingering, dream-like surreal-ness he had felt since awakening. It defied nature as he knew it. Nothing like this had ever been recorded. And he accepted it.
With a mixture of fear and resignation, he turned to the Aymará chief. “What about us? What is going to happen to us now?” he asked.
“I have discussed this at length with my brethren,” the Aymará chief explained. “We believe we can trust you. Your hearts are different from those others that have come, seeking only gold and power. You can leave. My warriors will lead you to the river. From there you can make your way back alone. It is not easy, but you can make it.”
“And Henley?” asked Reuben.
“Your comrade can stay until he has healed enough to follow,” answered the old man. “He will not be harmed and will be taken care of until that time.”
“You will let us go. Just like that?” asked Indiana dubiously.
The Aymará chief nodded. “As I said, you are not like the others who came before you,” he repeated. “I trust you.”
Indiana sensed the old man was not giving them the whole truth. When he looked into the eyes of the old chief, he knew they would be let go. There was no reason to kill them now. If the Aymará had wanted them dead he could have left them in the forest days ago. Or they would have never been rescued from the boat back at the river. But Indiana sensed that letting them go would not come without cost.
But before he could ask another question, something sinister happened.
It was suddenly impossible for Indiana to take his gaze from the old man’s eyes. Those brown orbs seemed to pierce directly into his soul, and touched something inside. Any doubts he had of what the old man had said suddenly disappeared, and every reason for Indiana’s journey to this very moment fell away – from Corda, to Ramos, to Marian – it all drifted and became unimportant. It was still there, but it was suddenly as if it played no role at all, as if it had all been a realistic dream with no influence in the reason for them being there.
It seemed as if the Aymará chief stared and looked at him for a long, infinitely long, time before the chief turned and leveled his eerie gaze at Reuben. Indiana could see Reuben’s experience with the old man’s sinister gaze was similar to what he had felt. For a moment horrors were reflected on Reuben’s face, then they passed quickly and were replaced by a deep serenity that could not be shaken.
One after the other, the Aymará went form man to man. Each man registered a similar eerie, but not frightening, incident. At a deeper level of his consciousness, Indiana understood very well that the uncanny power of this man was not limited to reading his thoughts, but also to influence them. It was a power he despised – the ability to control others free will, and he felt he should be angry about it. But it was a vain effort. There was no malice in the old man’s intentions.
They were separated into small groups, and each group was visited by two of the Aymará guardians and the old chief, one at a time. No one spoke, resisted, or questioned the old man’s instructions for them. Even Reuben nodded and when it was time followed the two Aymará companions wordlessly as they led them down the mountainside.
To Indiana’s dismay, the fog did not dissipate as they marched. Instead it seemed to grow thicker, denser. It was a good hour that they had marched through the damp grey before the sun peeked through the dense canopy. And surprisingly every single step taken during this hour seemed to bring them more and more into their surreal, dream-like state. The real world and its events were being pushed further and further back into their subconscious. This thought filled Indiana with anger.
No, not anger. But rather a mixture of bitterness and grief. He found it unfair that the last couple of dream-like days were filled with fuzzy memories. It was like a part of his life was being erased. Or more like the pages of a book that had secrets scribbled on them that were torn away and burned. Pieces occasionally slipped back to him, but they were incomplete.
Indiana found the sound of their steps were monotonous, like that of a machine set to stamp away at specific intervals. He moved between the others as they continued deeper into the jungle, leaving behind them the sky-billowing flanks that hid one of the last great mysteries of this world.
They arrived into a narrow clearing in the forest, when a sudden gust the fog above them churned and floated away. For a moment Indiana turned and looked back the way they had come. He glimpsed the summit of a mountain behind them. Even though it was still mostly hidden by the grey veil and would probably remain so forever, Indiana realized he was much higher than he had anticipated. He was looking at the rocky shape of a blunt cone with steep walls, probably the crater of an extinct volcano.
And halfway up the rocky wall, a chain of tiny human shapes was moving.
Indiana stopped and stared at the tiny procession, lined up like ants, until the gap in the fog closed again and obscured the view. He continued to stare into the mist for the next several seconds, trying to force another glimpse.
Marcus had also stopped, and after a few moments Reuben, who had continued, doubled back to him and stared in the direction of Indiana’s Gaze. “What is it?” he asked. “His voice sounded thin and flat, as if he weren’t really interested in his question anyway.”
“Ramos,” said Indiana. He pointed. “I think Ramos and his men are back there.”
Mentioning Ramos’s name seemed to awaken something in Reuben for a moment, but then it subsided quickly. The flickering had extinguished before it could light the flame, and disinterest once again took over Reuben’s gaze.
“Come, Dr. Jones,” said the Aymará chief, who had also stopped. “The path that lies before us is still far.”
“But Indiana did not respond immediately. Instead he looked deeper into the nothingness in the fog where he had seen the progression of men. “That was Ramos and his mercenaries.”
A shadow flitted over the chief’s face. “I know.”
“And you just going to let them continue? To El Dorado?”
“We could not stop them,” replied the Aymará.
“You have seen it yourself. We were no match for them. Perhaps we could have stopped them, but it would have cost the lives of so many more of my brothers. The price would have been too high. They came because they were looking for gold. They will find gold. But the path to the Valley of the Gods leads only to one destination.
“I understand,” murmured Indiana, realizing what the old man was saying. “You let them in. But not out again.”
He read the affirmation in the old man’s eyes. He said nothing more, and a feeling of grief overcame him. In spite of it all, Ramos and his men were still people. Yes, criminals and murderers. But still people. The thought of allowing a dozen men go to their deaths without intervening weighed heavily on him, no matter what they had done.
And suddenly he realized that it was not only Ramos and his men climbing the summit to their deaths.
Marian was also with them.
The thought battered his conscience. Indiana was not able to say what hurt worse: the fear that she was following Ramos to her death at the mountaintop, or the pain of betrayal she had committed. They both stung him with pain, deep in his heart.
An expression of deep, honest compassion appeared in the old Aymará’s eyes. “You are mistaken, Dr. Jones,” the chief said. “She has not betrayed you. She is the only one who goes there that is not seeking gold. She had to do what she did, but she did not betray you. Not for a second.”
Indiana stared at the old man, and suddenly the veil that had lain over his mind for the last several days was gone in an instant. It was like lightning, almost a physical awakening. For the first time he felt like he was again the master of his own thoughts and willpower.
“I must stop them! I must bring them back!” He said resolutely.
The Aymará shook his head. “No I cannot allow it,” he said.
“Then you must kill me,” retorted Indiana defiantly. He made a head movement toward the summit of the volcanic crater. “There is certain death waiting up there. I am not going to watch her to run blindly into it.”
“It’s too late,” the old man said. “Their lead is too great. Even if I were to allow you pursuit, you would never catch them before they reach the summit.”
“But I’ve got to try!” protested Indiana.
The old man looked at him sadly. “I will let you go, Dr. Jones. Neither I nor any of my warriors will try to stop you. But you also will find death at the summit. The curse of El Dorado does not choose who is good or evil. No one has ever returned.”
“Nonsense!” contradicted Indiana fiercely. “Corda found his way back at least once. And one of the conquistadors must have survived hundreds of years ago. If not the Spanish would have never known of the legend of El Dorado.”
The old man did not answer. But he also made no attempt to stop Indiana, when, after a few minutes he defiantly positioned his fedora squarely on his brow and turned around with a jerk, then marched off to return in the direction from which they had come.
As Indiana trekked higher up the terrain, he patted himself to make sure he had all of his belongings: his trusty whip and revolver were at his side, along with the old gas mask pouch he used to hold small items. He pulled the worn leather jacket tightly, then continued. The fog never parted, so dense he could only see two or three steps at a time. Without a compass and visibility of his surroundings, it was difficult to navigate. He kept to the slope of the mountain, using it as a guide he was still heading upwards.
Indiana had no idea how long it would take him to reach the rim of the crater. The absence of sunlight made it impossible to tell what time of day it was – but he estimated it must have been mid-afternoon or evening. He probably had two to three hours of daylight left. He prayed it would be enough.
He found Ramos’s track, merely by coincidence, as he passed a tangle of rocks and roots, and abruptly gaping crevices and ravines. There was very little deviation from the winding path steeply leading up the flank of the volcano. It seemed to be the only way up the edge of the crater at all. Although it was partly a natural path, Indiana noted some of it had been cleared and widened by man: many large rocks had been split or moved from the path to traverse more easily, and several times he had stumbled upon rough man-made steps in the steep climb. He guessed the ancestors of the Aymará had created the path to transport the gold from above; the gold that almost ruined their people.
And he could not forget that other people had gone along here before him. Ramos’s men most recently. They were not very vigilante and were poor caretakers: Indiana had noticed cigarette butts, rags, empty supply canisters, and broken pieces of equipment scattered along the way. As far as they were concerned there were no repercussions to their actions: after all they presumed Indiana was dead, and had an obvious superiority complex regarding the Indians, who were no match with their spears and arrows to the military arsenal they carried. An arsenal they had demonstrated with the carnage in the village along the river and the encampment just below.
Just before he reached the rim of the crater, Indiana dropped down on a large stone to rest. As he recovered his strength and air, he saw something: a shadow approaching from behind.
He wasn’t sure if the movement had actually occurred or if it was just a trick of the imagination in the swirling fog. Had he actually seen something moving? Regardless, his heart skipped a beat, and he dropped to a crouch and froze, holding his breath so as not to give away his presence. His gaze was drilling into the grey wall of unshaped mist in front of him. It was like trying to see through a grey wool blanket. He looked and listened attentively, but his eyes only perceived drifting, damp swaths of fog, and the only sound he heard was the hammering of his own heart.
He was almost certain he had not imagined the movement behind him. There was something there, and he was fairly sure it was not Ramos’s men who might have been left behind to cover the back of the primary group.
Perhaps, he thought, the Aymará chief was as sure of the curse of El Dorado as he wanted them all to believe. Perhaps he had sent someone to make sure that Indiana never made it to the top. After another moment of trying to discern any more movement, he shrugged then progressed onward along the path anyway, moving as quickly as he could.
He glimpsed the shadow at least two more times before cresting the summit. Once he had heard the clatter of a stone breaking loose under someone’s – or something’s – foot and pattering down the trail. Then he heard a dull sound, which he could not properly identify but which almost clearly came from a human throat.
But at last the ground beneath his feet had ceased to angle upwards. The fog seemed even more dense if that were possible. The ground beneath had turned to black sharp-edged stones, large chunks of lava and scree, which Indiana could tell was layered pretty deeply beneath.
Again he stopped to gather his bearings. He was on a blackened plain. His heart began to hammer, and his hands became moist with excitement as realization set in. El Dorado. He knew it was close. Whatever had been concealed from the modern world was about to be opened up to him. In a few moments he was certain he would see it. A jitteriness overcame him, an agitation he felt when he was close to a great discovery. It was that adrenaline that had made him what he was: that insatiable thirst for knowledge, the obsession of a real researcher. It had little to do with purely scientific curiosity, but it was rooted deeper in his soul. He had never truly understood it in his deeper consciousness. He craved the unknown, and the courage and daring of discovery. All of this had made him the man he was. When he stumbled upon something that peeked his interest, his curiosity, there was usually a point where it overtook him and he could not let it go even if he wanted. He had crossed this point long ago: not only was he here to save Marian, he simply had to know what was hiding behind this wall of lava and fog.
As he continued, Indiana suddenly heard a sound behind him again. This time he was certain it was someone following him. He turned and crept into the fog at a faint outline of a man he could see shimmering behind the veil.
A distorted shadow moved through the fog towards him. The shadow was huge and almost silent. He imagined a monstrous thing, crossing the boundaries of worlds, stepping from the land of gods to the land of men, through that shimmering, supernatural mist. Perhaps the old chief had deceived him. Maybe he was being punished for not taking the old man’s warning seriously. Maybe the old man had sent a guardian to finish him off since he had ignored the chief and his stories of gods and curses. If it was one of the malformed guardians, he would soon find out if they were as strong as they looked!
The shadow approached quickly, arms reaching forward with grotesque, twitchy movements. Indiana dodged half a step, then twisted – and threw himself at the shambling figure with his arms spread out.
The figure registered his attack and tried to react to it, but the reaction came too late. It clumsily tried to dodge to the side and grab Indiana at the same time. It missed, and dropped to a crouch under a misshapen branch of one of the sparsely scattered bushes along the path. Indiana leapt again, and the sheer force of his impact tore the unknown being right off his feet.
A tormented scream parted the lips of the shadow as they tumbled in a heap to the ground, rolling across the sharp-edged lava rocks and debris. Indiana realized the creature was much frailer than he had anticipated, the fog must have exaggerated its size and ferocity. Indiana found himself on top of the being, braced himself with his left hand on the ground and raised his right high into the air to form a fist.
“Indiana! For God’s sake—no!”
Indiana’s raised fist froze in motion as he suddenly recognized Marcus Brody’s pale, frightened face. Marcus’s eyes seemed swollen with fatigue, and his face was as white as that of a dead man.
“Marcus?” murmured Indiana in confusion. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“I’ll tell you that…when you get off me,” gasped Marcus.
Indiana had nailed him to the ground with all his force, knocking all of the air out of his lungs and making it difficult to breathe, let alone talk.
Indiana jumped hastily to his feet, taking another look at his friend who lay disheveled on the ground gasping for air. Then he hastened to stretch his arms out and help him back to his feet. Marcus took his help, but as soon as he was back on his feet he let go and managed a quick step away out of arm’s reach. With clenched teeth and face distorted in pain, Marcus quickly scanned over his body as if to convince himself that everything was still in the right spot and undamaged. His reproachful look shot to Indiana more than once during this process.
“What are you doing here?” repeated Indiana. “Why were you following me?”
“It wasn’t to let you beat me up,” answered Marcus. The accusation in his gaze deepened. “You sometimes treat your friends in a very strange way, Indiana.”
Indiana wiped the words aside with an annoying hand movement. “Are you mad?” he asked. “Didn’t you hear what the old chief said? They will not allow us to leave once we get there.”
Brody grimaced. “I didn’t want to run into the jungle alone with these uncivilized savages,” he answered. “Besides, you’ll need my help.”
“Help?!” groaned Indiana. He made a helpless gesture with his arms. “Damn, I don’t even know what’s waiting down there. Leave, Marcus. Get as far away from here as you can. Maybe they will let you go.”
“And you think I am going to let you walk right to your death with your eyes wide open?” returned Marcus. He shook his head fiercely. “I can’t do that, my friend.” Suddenly he grinned and tried to lighten the mood. “Besides, you think I’d let you get all the glory for finding El Dorado?”
“That’s not funny,” said Indiana earnestly. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Marcus—but we are not alone. Some of those Indians are behind us somewhere –“
“I have counted three,” said Marcus casually. “But there’s probably more. Ramos and his cronies are in for a nasty surprise when they try to leave.”
“Not just Ramos,” said Indiana. “I’m begging you, Marcus!”
Marcus Brody looked at Indiana, smiled, then shook his head again. “It won’t work. We are in this together now,” he said. “I’ll accompany you. You know, Indiana – I’ve had a lot of time to think while we were with the guardians. I am sure I can be of help to you.”
“You know why I’m here, then?”
Marcus nodded. “It is for Marian Corda,” he answered. He sighed. “You could have saved yourself – and me – a lot of trouble if you’d just have listened to me. I noticed in New York she was working with Ramos.”
“And what do you suggest? Put my hands behind my back and just wait as they die, in peace and quiet?”
“Do you love her, Indiana?” asked Marcus suddenly.
Indiana did not answer immediately. “I really don’t know,” he finally answered. “In any case, I care for her enough that I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. And I think I can help her.”
“Then we shouldn’t be wasting time here. We should be catching up to them,” said Marcus. “And besides, I have a feeling no good will come of us staying in this place for much longer. So come on,” he added with much more seriousness.
Indiana knew it was futile to try and convince Marcus to turn back. Marcus spun around and quickly disappeared into the shroud of the fog, and Indiana had to hurriedly follow.
Among them lay a world of gold. El Dorado existed. It was not a legend. It existed, and it lay among them, close at hand.
For the second time that day, Indiana had the feeling he was trapped in a crazy, surreal dream world. But this time it was not because some strange old man was influencing his thoughts. It was the image which stretched before him; a sight that was at the same time bizarrely frightening and fascinating; a sight that the logical part of Indiana’s brain was simply refusing to accept.
They had walked for a good half an hour next to each other through the eerie fog, which had become so dense that he could not register Marcus’s face despite the fact that he was less than a step away from him. And what they found at the end of that fog-laden path had been enough to cause Indiana to doubt his own mind. He should have been prepared. And yet when he and Marcus caught sight of the basin it was as if they had been struck by a heavy blow.
The valley itself was nothing other than the crater of an extinct volcano with a diameter of perhaps three or four miles. All of it consisted completely out of gold. And it was not just a collection of rocks and chunks of gold; there was a mighty rampant jungle, a tiny but perfectly reconstructed section of the world that had been lost thousands or even millions of years ago, meticulous to the last detail formed from the yellow precious metal. There were bushes and shrubs, rocks and trees, grasses and ferns, all worked with sheer incredible precision. Even the ground on which they stood was made of gold.
While they had been stumbling through the fog, they had stopped a couple of times and fumbled around for one object or another, a sign that they were still in this world and hadn’t crossed over into some fog-filled afterlife. Indiana had picked up a plant, a tiny animal, or just a stone that wasn’t a stone. Every single golden object he or Marcus had gathered was meticulously represented in the same, inconceivably accurate way as the two pieces from Stanley Corda’s possessions in New York.
No – he should not have been surprised by what they saw now. But he was, and it did not matter because what lay before them was impossible. No people of this world, no matter how sophisticated their culture was or the technology they possessed, could accomplish something like this. He suddenly thought of what the Aymará chieftain had told them, and now the old man’s assertion that the gods themselves created this part of the world did not seem so far-fetched. Suddenly he was just scared of those implications. They had found El Dorado. And even though this was one of the greatest discoveries of mankind, he felt no triumph, no joy, no satisfaction. What he saw filled him with panic and fear. They should not be here. No man of this world should be here. No matter who created this fantastic landscape of gold, and no matter why they created it – there were no people here. And if he believed the stories of the Aymará chief, no man could live here.
Five, perhaps even ten minutes, he and Marcus simply stood motionless and stared at the image of a long-gone world, shimmering in all imaginable shades of gold. Finally, Indiana overcame his awe-induced paralysis and made a hesitant move. A warm breeze struck him, and he stopped again and raised his head. The sky itself was hardly less sinister than that of the volcanic crater. The fog remained behind them, and above, but was no thinner than it had been before. It simply hung in the sky extending almost to the bottom of the valley. That, too, was impossible, Indiana knew as well. But apparently they had entered a part of the world in which the laws of physics and logic had been overridden. At this point it would have been no surprise to Indiana to find they had to cross a river that was pouting uphill.
“Fifty to sixty million,” said Marcus suddenly. His voice was thin and trembling, he breathed fiercely and hard, as if they had taken the last mile in full stride. At first Indiana did not understand what he meant. Questioningly he looked at him.
“That down there is at least fifty or sixty million years old,” Marcus continued with an explanatory gesture to the golden jungle. “Some of these plants have been extinct for that long. Do you remember the dinosaur?”
Of course Indiana remembered. A few miles back down the trail, the life-sized replica of the carnivorous giant lizard had so abruptly emerged from the fog in front of them that Indiana had almost cried out in terror.
Paleontology was not necessarily his specialty - but he knew Marcus was quite right in his estimation – plus or minus a few million years. But what did it matter? Nevertheless he shook his head.
“Impossible,” he said, the uncertainty in his voice betraying his own confidence in the statement. “There were no people fifty million years ago.”
“What makes you think it was human beings who made this?” returned Marcus quietly.
Indiana looked at him, the panic in his eyes betraying his thoughts, but he renounced further discussion on the matter and turned around again to move on. He had to reinforce why they were here. And the closer they approached the bizarre prehistoric jungle, the warmer it became. The ground was cracked and uneven under his feet, and Indiana had received two painful cuts on his hands before the realization sunk in that these were not ordinary plants to be used to assist their decent. They only looked like plants, grasses, and ferns. Some of them had razor sharp edges that sliced like a knife.
Every step they took led them deeper into a fantastic world that had been devoured by time. Although everything in his scientific thoughts balked at the evidence, Indiana understood very well how correct Marcus had been with his assertion. They came across plants and animals that no human eye had ever seen, and creatures no one even knew had existed. Once Marcus stumbled into a spider’s web, which stretched in diameter 20 to 30 feet, whose threads cut into his skin like razor-sharp wire. Another time Indiana almost impaled himself on a branch that hung out in his way which he tried to bat away. He had to remind himself that none of this was alive.
They had penetrated a good hundred yards into the golden jungle when they found the dead.
The figure crouched on his knees on the trunk of an almost man-thick fern tree. At first it had startled Indiana, and he bounced back in fear when he recognized it was one of Ramos’s men who had remained behind, probably to keep guard. But he quickly realized that the figure was not moving. Not breathing, in fact. It stared past Indiana and Marcus with its wide, extinct eyes into the void, it’s rifle haphazardly pointed at the ground. His face and the skin on his arms exposed out of the clothing showed terrible burns, and the skull under the partially fallen hat was almost bare with only a patch or two left of hair.
Marcus did not attempt an answer, but did something that completely surprised Indiana – while he himself had stopped a safe distance from the dead man in horror, Marcus went over to the corpse and dropped to his knees in front of the man, examining him more closely. He looked attentively at the dead man’s devastated face, and finally even brushed his fingertips across its skull, cheek bones and neck.
“This is not one of Ramos’s men,” he said with finality after returning to Indiana’s side. “I was with him and his cronies long enough. My guess is he was with Stanley. I’d say he’s been dead for two or three days at least.”
Indiana finally overcame his reluctance and approached the corpse. At this distance the sight was even more unpleasant, but he forced himself to look over the body just as closely as Marcus had done before. What he had at first guessed were terrible burns were now revealed to be…something else. It was like a burn, but in a way Indiana had never seen before in his life.
Nevertheless he suddenly had the feeling he knew what had happened here. The explanation was already somewhere present in his memory, but it still was not ready to reveal itself. He was still confused and uncertain, and couldn’t piece together his thoughts clearly.
With a jerk he spun around and faced Marcus, looking at him in earnest. “Would you mind not playing the mysterious one any longer and tell me what the devil’s name is going on here?”
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he answered. But a grim expression crossed his face, as if he were unsure of that assertion himself. “But perhaps I have a theory. You know I was stuck with the Aymará longer than you and your friends. And I’ve been thinking abut what the chief told me for a while. It’s just a theory…but if I’m right, then we should leave this place as fast a s we can. And you’d better not touch anything else here.” In the same instance, Marcus bent down and did exactly what he had just told Indiana NOT to do: he broke off one of the golden twigs of a bush and snapped it in two pieces before Indiana’s eyes without any apparent effort, staring at it intently the entire time. For a few seconds he stared with a gloomy face at the pieces of vegetation in his hands, then looked back at Indiana. “That fits my theory.”
Indiana looked curiously at the branch in Marcus’s hands. It was not entirely made of gold. It was only covered in ta thin layer of the yellow metal. Inside was a fibrous powdery material. It struck Indiana – fifty or sixty million years ago this may have actually been wood from a real bush.
“I think I know what happened here,” Marcus continued. “A meteor.”
Marcus nodded and dropped the pieces of gold-covered wood to the ground, then vigorously wiped his hands on his pants with hectic movements. “A meteor struck this place fifty or sixty million years ago,” he explained. “It must have been large, and made of gold or something similar. It evaporated very close to the ground and covered this entire area in liquid from the immense heat of entering the earth’s atmosphere. And it left behind this petrified jungle, preserved for millions of years.”
“That…that’s…ridiculous,” murmured Indiana insecurely. “I could give you a dozen reasons why that is impossible.”
“Rather two dozen,” remarked Marcus calmly. “And yet here we are. It is the only explanation that makes sense.” He was suddenly very excited. “All these plants and animals have been extinct for fifty million years or more, Indy. And you said it yourself, this would have been impossible for man to create.”
Indiana was visibly upset. The scientist in him protested every hysterical sentence of Marcus’s hair-raising theory. But he had learned more than once in the course of his life that not everything has an easy explanation. There was a scientific basis for Marcus’s theory – much more scientific than the ‘valley created by the gods’ story spouted by the old Aymará chief. Besides, whatever had created it, it was here in front of him – he could see and touch this gold. They stood in the midst of a primeval world that existed forty-nine million years before the birth of mankind.
Still shaken and unsure by Marcus’s far-fetched theory, he pointed at the dead man. “And what about this guy? What killed him?”
“The same thing that will kill us if we stay here too long,” answered Marcus earnestly. “The Curse of El Dorado. Remember what he old man told you. Everyone who touches this gold becomes sick and dies. Think of the things Corda brought back to New York. And what happened to those men he sold them to. Maybe it’s not gold. Maybe it’s just something that looks like gold, but is deadly.” He paused for a second. “And if it came from space – who knows. It might be radioactively contaminated.”
“Radio…” Indiana faltered in the middle of the word. An icy shiver ran down his spine, and suddenly it all became clear. The Curse of El Dorado. Stanley Corda’s mysterious disease. The hysteria from the top at the FBI that erupted when they examined Corda’s first souvenirs and found that they were highly irradiated. Indiana almost laughed when he realized how much Reuben and his superiors had been wrong. And how much more horrific the truth actually was.
With a mixture of fear and confusion, he looked down at the dead mercenary. He agreed with Marcus’s estimation that the man had been dead about two days. But Corda himself only had a two day head start on them; maybe three with the unknown amount of time that passed while held by the Aymará guardians and Ramos’s captivity. An extra day or two in this environment had caused this man to die in such a horrible fashion. Indiana tried to quickly estimate how long he and Marcus could safely stay in this valley. Certainly not more than another hour. Maybe even that was too long.
“We must find Marian,” he said suddenly. “Fast…before it really is too late!”
Marcus wanted to disagree, but Indiana didn’t give him the chance. Indiana turned and stormed onward. His over-excited imagination conjured visions of radioactive death and decay, a silent and invisible menace that permeated the very air everywhere in this valley. Had it become noticeably warmer? Or was his body already being affected by the radiation, burning and gnawing its way deep inside himself, the first sign of the deadly fire that would devour his body from the inside out?
He chased away the thought. If that were actually the case, it was already too late anyway.
They traveled another half-mile into the eerie jungle valley, their footsteps and breathing echoing, as if they were running though a metal corridor. Then they heard the first voices. Indiana stopped, hastily raising his hand just as Marcus was about to ask a question. Both fell silent and listened attentively. It was hard to tell in this bizarre environment which direction the sound was coming from. But after a few seconds he saw a shadow flicker and block the golden shimmer ahead of them. They crouched behind the golden cover of the bushes and crept onward.
The jungle continued a few dozen paces farther, then ceased. They found themselves at the edge of a circular clearance two or three hundred yards across, and in its midst a stone of pure gold rose into the air, easily the size of a small house. A scarce dozen figures moved in the clearing; most in the immediate vicinity of the giant pile of golden nuggets. Some were running haphazardly around, screaming and moaning. Others were moving in a very odd manner, almost shambling. One crouched down next to a large lump of gold on the ground, then doubled over as if he were ill.
“I think you’re right,” Indiana whispered. “This may be your meteor!”
Marcus nodded. Although what lay before them was exactly what he had theorized to Indiana just a short time before, he stared in awe at the huge chunk of gold, stunned. “Unimaginable,” he whispered. “That…thing must weigh a hundred tons. It would be worth billions, Indy. Billions!”
Indiana’s thoughts immediately went back to the burnt face of the dead man on the trail behind them, and the generations of crippled Aymará who guarded this golden valley since the beginning of man. But he did not get a chance to be the voice of reason. The sound of shattered glass erupted behind them, and when he and Marcus spun around they found themselves looking into the barrels of two machine guns pointed at them, directly at their faces.
The weapons were in the hands of two mercenaries. Between the two was a third, smaller half-crippled figure.
“You are mistaken, Mr. Brody,” said Ramos. “It might be worth a trillion. There is probably more gold right in this valley than the rest of the world combined.” He smiled lightly. “But do not worry – I won’t take so much of it that the price of gold falls through the floor. After all, I don’t want to be the man who ruins the gold business.”
“You won’t take anything from it, you fool,” said Indiana quietly. “Have you still not grasped the fact that this gold brings death?”
Ramos laughed and stepped back, giving his men a wink. The two men abruptly grabbed Indiana and Marcus, yanking them up to their feet gruffly and dragged them over to Ramos. Indiana had not resisted. Marcus, on the other hand, tried to fight back which resulted in a cruel jab to the ribs with the butt of the gun. The blow doubled Marcus over in pain.
“I’m actually glad you found your way here, Dr. Jones,” said Ramos. “It was not very wise of you to flee. Although I was at a disadvantage and could not visibly admire your ingenuity, my men told me what you did. It was very brave. But also very stupid. You could have been harmed or killed with that stunt.”
“We’ll all be killed,” said Indiana, “and quite horribly, Ramos, if we don’t get out of here immediately. This gold is contaminated. It kills anyone who touches it.”
“Well, I still live,” returned Ramos almost cheerfully. “And my men, too. And we have touched it.”
“You damn fool!” said Indiana upset. “I know you are blind, but I didn’t think you were stupid, Ramos. Have you forgotten what happened to people who bought Corda’s gold?” He pointed angrily into the forest. “There’s a dead man right up there who also believed the curse of El Dorado was only a legend. It’s a pity you can’t see him. But you should ask your men what happened to him. And if that’s not enough for you, then go to the Aymará Indians and let them tell you what fate holds in store for you and your men.”
“The curse of El Dorado?” repeated Ramos. He laughed, but suddenly sounded bitter. It was almost an outburst. “You’re mistaken, Dr. Jones. I know it exists. And if I know, who else knew?”
“What are you talking about?” Indiana asked, confused.
Suddenly Ramos became angry. With a violent gesture, he motioned to his own face and came with a hair of Indiana’s face. “Look at me!” he demanded, agitated. “I’m a cripple. Oh, I know what people say about me behind my back. Even though I don’t see them, I know what they are thinking. Have you never wondered why I am this way?”
“Is that so?” returned Ramos with a renewed, bitter laugh. “I will tell you, Dr. Jones. I know this gold is cursed, and I know what it has done to the Aymará, for it has done the same to me and my ancestors. And that’s why it belongs to me. It was my ancestor who first found the way to El Dorado, the first conquistador who found this valley, and he retuned alive. But ever since, the curse of El Dorado has been on my family. I am not the first cripple in my family’s lineage. My father and his father both knew about El Dorado and what it really was.”
“If that’s true then you are even crazier than I believed,” answered Indiana. “You knew, and you came here anyway.”
“It belongs to me!” answered Ramos shrilly. “Ten generations of my family have paid the price for this gold. The knowledge that El Dorado is more than a legend has been passed on from father to son in my family, and I am the one who inherits it. You call me crazy? Because I demand the reward owed to my family for four hundred years?”
“It will kill you, you fool!” cried Indiana. “Don’t you understand? Do you really think you’re immune? It will kill us all here. We may already be dead!”
“Shut up, Jones!” demanded Ramos.
“Why?” inquired Indiana quietly. “Are you afraid that your men might hear? Are you afraid they’ll find out that this isn’t wealth, it’s certain death?” He turned to the man holding the rifle at him. “Has he not told you?”
The man was silent, but the uncertain flicker in his eyes revealed the truth. His comrade also began to jitter nervously, his glare alternating back and forth from Ramos to Indiana.
“Tell them, Ramos,” demanded Indiana. “Tell them this gold is worth nothing. Tell them what Corda’s men died of? Have they seen them? Tell them all the others who have come here have died.”
“Keep your mouth shut!” cried Ramos, but Indiana continued, turning directly to the man next to him.
“This gold will kill you,” he continued. “It kills everyone who touches it. You will not live long enough to enjoy your wealth.”
“That’s not true!” yelled Ramos. “Keep your mouth shut or I’ll have you shot on the spot!”
“We are probably already dead anyway,” retorted Indiana. “And you know that. You’ve known that all along, haven’t you?”
Ramos stared hatefully at him, but said nothing more. With this the two mercenaries became more and more restless, and finally the one guarding Marcus dropped his aim with a jerk and turned to Ramos. “Is this true?” he asked. “Is he telling the truth?”
“It’s true,” said Indiana in Ramos ‘s place. “He didn’t come here for the gold. I think he knew all along it was impossible to remove it. He never intended for it to leave this valley.”
“You’re lying,” claimed the mercenary. His lips trembled, and fear had shadowed his eyes. “That’s all rubbish. What…could possibly be dangerous about this gold? It’s gold! Gold is not poisonous.”
“This,” said Indiana with a gesture, pointing at the giant rock. He looked at the man attentively, into his face. Then looked at the man’s hands, then that of his comrades. “You touched it, didn’t you?”
“The big chunk,” Indiana motioned with his head in the direction he was pointing. “You touched it. Look at your hands.”
The mercenary slowly lifted his arms to get a closer look at his hands – and became chalk white. His skin was reddened, like they had been burnt slightly.
“That’s not possible,” he stammered. “It’s just gold. And…” he stared at Ramos. “He touched it to. We all did! We will all die!”
“No,” said Indiana quietly. “He’s already dead. He just doesn’t care.”
“It belongs to me, “ whispered Ramos. He didn’t seem to understand what Indiana was saying. “it belongs to me. I paid for it. And now I am not giving I back.”
“You…you bastard!” stammered the mercenary. “You have killed us all!” he cried, yanking the rifle up and pointing it directly at Ramos.
Indiana pushed the man from the side, staggering him and throwing the aim off. The shot dissolved into the air next to Ramos and buried itself harmlessly into the ground some distance away.
The second mercenary immediately brought his rifle up to point at Indiana, but before even coming fully to bear he dropped his aim again. The expression on his face was a mixture of horror and disbelief.
“It…it’s mine! It belongs to me,” stammered Ramos, repeating it over and over again. “I have a right to it! I – “ and suddenly he cried out, rushed over the mercenary who had questioned him, and with lightning-like movements yanked the rifle from his hands.
It was all too fast for Indiana to believe, much less react in a way other than throwing his arms around Marcus and diving to the ground. Ramos whirled the gun around, yelling like a madman, his finger holding the trigger back. A salvo of uncontrolled gunfire spat from the rifle, causing tiny gold geysers to explode from the ground, shattering the shimmering gold plants and terrain all around them. The two mercenaries were astonished as growing dark spots of blood erupted from all over them – and they were dead before they hit the ground.
Indiana rolled and tried to get up on his hands and knees – and froze suddenly when the barrel of Ramos’s gun pointed much closer to him. A terrible grimace had overtaken the face of the blind man. Saliva drooled from the corner of his mouth and down his chin, and a consuming fire burned in his eyes.
“It belongs to me!” he stammered. “No one will take it from me! The gold is mine.”
“Be reasonable, Ramos!” Indiana pleaded. He licked his lips nervously as he shifted his position slightly, and froze again as Ramos’s aim narrowed menacingly closer to his position. The blind man seemed to have heard his movements; or did he have a more sinister method of singling out Indiana’s position? Indiana evaluated the chances he had of jumping forward and wrestling the gun from Ramos’s hands without being cut in two. He didn’t like the conclusion his mind had settled on.
“No one wants to take it from you, Ramos,” Indiana said again. “But this gold will kill you. Don’t you understand that?”
“You lie!” exclaimed Ramos. “And even if you are right, it won’t be the gold that kills you. You will die right here. Right now.”
Indiana leapt forward with all of his strength, just as Ramos’s finger was tightening on the trigger again. And orange-red lance of fire spewed forth, rapidly getting closer to Indiana as he leapt, showering a swath of golden sparks inches behind Indiana’s current trajectory; exactly where he had just been crouching. Indiana suddenly realized he would not be able to get to Ramos fast enough.
But the deadly pain did not come. Unexpectedly the burst from Ramos’s gun cut off as the magazine emptied. And in the next instant Indiana was upon him, tearing the gun from his hands and throwing it off to the die. At the same time he hammered Ramos with all his strength; a mighty blow with his fist across the blind man’s chin.
Ramos didn’t even react to the pain. But he also did not try to fight back. He could not. He was dead. His eyes were wide open and rigid, and between his brows a tiny bloody hole had appeared.
Indiana was completely shocked. What had just happened? He spun around, completely confused, and was stunned at what he saw.
Marian stepped out of the golden jungle and stopped. She trembled. Her face was sweaty and pale, and her hands clenched the rifle she held so tightly that the skin stretched over her knuckled were white. Her gaze was empty with shock as well.
“It’s you!” whispered Indiana once more. He stepped forward and stretched out his hand in Marian’s direction – and froze again when she suddenly snapped out of her shock and snapped the weapon up toward him.
“Stand still, Indy,” she said. “Please stay where you are. Don’t come…too close to me.”
“What…what are you saying?” murmured Indiana, distraught. He tried to laugh but it misfired. “It’s me, Marian – Indiana!”
“Stand still,” said Marian once more. “Don’t come near me, Indiana!” The barrel of her rifle straightened at his face, and her finger touched the trigger again.
Indiana obeyed, but more out of confusion than fear. He did not understand what was happening. “Marian,” he murmured. “What…what are you doing?”
Marian’s lips began to tremble. The rifle swayed in her hand for a second, lowered, then straightened up again at Indiana. Then it finally fell away.
Guided by Marian, Indiana, Marcus, and Marian circled the clearing, keeping the deadly golden meteor – or whatever it was – respectfully at some distance away.
They passed even more of the dead – two, three, and finally five of Stanley’s companions, who appeared to have died in the same horrific manner as the man they found on the trail some distance back. These five were only a few steps away from the edge of the golden crater, as if they had crawled their with the last of their strength. Perhaps they had finally realized it was the huge chunk of gold at the center of the clearing that had brought them death, and had tried to flee as far away as possible. Finally they found a man who was still alive. But he was unconscious and was feverish, suffering from the same burns all over his exposed body as everyone else. Indiana knew that any attempt to help him would be pointless. They positioned him carefully on a level place in the golden edge of the crater, trying to make him as comfortable as possible. And Marcus shared a little water from his field bottle. Then they continued on.
And finally they found Stanley Corda.
It was Marcus who discovered him – in a small naturally-formed alcove of golden bushes on the edge of the clearing, exactly on the opposite side of the large golden lump in the center that had drawn Ramos and his men to their deaths. Upon seeing him, Marcus touched Indiana on the arm and pointed to the small clearing with the other hand. At first Indiana wasn’t sure what Marcus was pointing at, but when he finally saw the disheveled man lying on the side of the gold-encrusted grass, Indiana rushed over to him without a word.
It was incredible – Corda was still alive. His eyes were open, and his chest lifted and lowered in fast, irregular strokes. He, too, was overtaken by the forces of death that were ready to claim him. His face was bloated and red, festering wounds covered his lips, and his hands were burned so terrible Indiana had trouble looking at them.
For several seconds, Indiana stood a short distance away, torn with horror and fear, motionless. He finally resolved himself and stepped next to the man and dropped down alongside him.
Corda groaned. He tried to move, but obviously did not have the power to, so Indiana changed his position so Corda could see him without having to lift his head.
“Can you understand me?” Indiana asked.
Corda’s lips moved. He wanted to speak, but only an unarticulated groan escaped his mouth.
“Don’t say anything,” said Indiana. “I know.” He faltered. Why was it so difficult to find the right words when speaking to someone on the verge of death? “It…it will be all right,” he continued. “We’ll get Marian out of here. I promise you.”
Corda winced, using all of his power to speak. “Flee…Indiana. You must leave…quickly…it is…contaminated!”
“I know,” said Indiana, unsure if Corda understood what he was saying.
Corda’s body shivered as he reared up. “Don’t touch anything…” he groaned. “Especially the big piece…” With an almost unbelievable effort he raised his hand and pointed to an object in the grass next to him that Indiana had not noticed.
Indiana examined the object, and after a few seconds realized what it was: a Geiger counter. The model resembled the one Reuben had brought aboard the ship, but was considerably smaller and more compact.
“Switch…it on,” groaned Corda.
Indiana obeyed. On the front of the small box, a pointer began to bounce over a scale, and a penetrating chatter filled the air.
“You…” groaned Corda. “And Mar…cus.”
Indiana directed the device, first at him then at Marcus Brody. The needle struck out, but not very far.
“Where…is the needle?” whispered Stan.
“Three,” answered Indiana. “A little higher.”
“Then you have…a chance,” groaned Corda. “You must go…quickly. Two…hours…”
“He’s right, Indy,” said Marcus nervously. “Let’s get out of here. We’ve been here far too long already.”
Indiana nodded, but still did not move yet. He raised his head and looked up at Marcus, then over at Marian.
And when he looked into her face, he finally understood everything.
Marian’s eyes were veiled. She looked at him, but her gaze seemed to burn right though him, and her features were overcome with a surging pain, which Indiana would remember for the rest of his life. Tears boiled and ran down her face; she was crying without even realizing it. Her fingers stroked the gun incessantly, fondly caressing the barrel of the rifle in her hands. “I can’t do it,” she whispered.
Indiana wanted to say something, but his throat had suddenly closed off the words. He realized now what the Aymará chief had meant when he said Marian had not betrayed him, not for a second.
“I cannot do it,” said Marian once more, with a thin broken voice. “I…I came here to kill him, Indy. But I can’t.”
Indiana was still wordless, not able to say anything. Without answering, he stood up, stepped next to Marian, and gently grabbed the rifle and took it from her hands. Her gaze followed the gun, and suddenly she smiled sadly and said for the third time, “I can’t do it Indy. I…I came here to kill him, and now I don’t have the strength to do it. Isn’t that ridiculous?”
Indiana gently played the rifle on the ground, glancing at the dying figure as he did so, then turned back and stretched his hand out to Marian. She shook her head. Indiana continued toward her, simply wanting to pull her to him, but she pushed his arm aside. “Leave me,” she said. “Go, Indiana. Maybe it’s not too late for you. Leave me here with him.”
“He’s not worth it, Marian,” said Indiana gently. “It’s not worth it for you to commit a murder, and certainly not worth it to die with him.” He understood why Marian was here, the feelings and emotions she must be feeling, tearing her up inside. He even understood her rationale to join up with Ramos to fin Stanley. But he had not understood she now insisted on staying.
“Come,” he said once more, this time a little more forceful. “We have to get out of here. This place is killing us.” He pointed to the large chunk of gold in the distance.
Marian’s gaze followed his finger, resting for a moment on the shimmering chunk of yellow metal, then returned to the figure of her dying husband. “I wanted to kill him, Indiana,” she whispered again, as if he hadn’t heard her before. “He stole my life. He beat me and humiliated me and forced me into a life I never wanted. And in the end, he killed me. I was going to kill him. I thought I’d come here and finish it. And now I can’t. And do you know why? Because, in spite of everything I still love him. Isn’t that crazy?”
Something she had just revealed alarmed Indiana. “What do you mean, he killed you?” asked Indiana urgently.
Marian stared at him for a few seconds, then slowly lifted her hands and gently stroked her hair. When she withdrew her fingers he saw a clump of detached hair in them.
“I…I lied to you, Indy,” she said. “I have known all along what he had found. He told me after he came back. And he brought me something. A piece of jewelry.” She unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse.
“No,” Indiana groaned as he saw the skin underneath.
Between her breasts were the outlines of an oak leaf, burnt red and inflamed into her skin. The ornament was no longer there, but it had left its mark: raw , inflamed flesh had emerged.
“My god, Marian!” whispered Indiana “I didn’t know that…why didn’t you say anything? Maybe…maybe we could have done something…” His voice faltered. A bitter lump sat in his throat, and he felt more helpless than he had ever felt before in his life.
“It was such a beautiful gift,” murmured Marian. “I have never seen such a beautiful thing before. And he seemed so changed. He was a completely different person, Indiana. We had reconciled ourselves, really come together for the first time in our relationship. He wasn’t just saying things like before. I felt he really meant it. That he was honest about wanting to be a new person. And he said he just had one more journey before we could start our new life.” She smiled bitterly. “He promised me we’d live in a house of gold here.”
But now it would be their tomb, thought Indiana. He fought back the tears that were forming in his eyes as he looked again at the dreadful mark on Marian’s breast. He knew it was deadly. It was probably a miracle she had made it this long. But he pleaded again. “Come with us, Marian. We…will find a doctor. An expert in radiation poisoning. It’s not too late yet.”
Marian did not hear his words at all. Though tears were still running down her face, she suddenly smiled and turned around, bent over her unconscious husband and touched his shattered face gently with her fingertips, staring deeply into his hollow eyes.
After a moment, Indiana quietly stood, stepped two or three steps back from Marian and Stanley, then turned silently and headed back toward the edge of the forest without a single word. Marcus, who had been impatiently waiting for the three of them to leave, resolved that they would be one short and quickly followed Indiana. They continued through the crater’s golden forest in silence, finally making their way back to the fog-encased trail, plunging into its shadows and leaving it behind them. Finally, the golden terrain faded, slowly replaced by natural rocks and vegetation of the jungle trail. They stopped for a second and glanced back, seeing nothing but the devouring fog that had guarded the mystery of El Dorado for more than fifty million years like a faithful paladin of the gods. They prayed it would do so for another fifty million years. Maybe until the end of the humanity and the world.
Indiana and Marcus reached river at the last light of the sun, and were overjoyed at the sight of the rapids, whose monotonous roar had guided them during the last hours. The hull of the capsized boat still towered out of the water like the back of a giant silver fish, and on the shore nearby Indiana saw a number of tiny figures crowded about a blazing fire; seven or eight, most of them wrapped in ragged green-brown camouflaged suits, but two of them in khaki-colored tropical uniforms that now looked oddly inappropriate to Indiana. To his surprise, he also recognized Henley moving among the group. He had obviously recovered from his ailments much quicker than expected; or the Aymará had brought him here in a different manner than the rest to have gotten this far so quickly.
Indiana was exhausted. He barely remembered leaving the valley, and perhaps for the first time since they had known each other it had been Marcus who had to help him along, not the other way around. Two or three times the thick fog had revealed a shadow moving though it’s gray infinity, and once they heard a bloodcurdling scream but saw nothing. They had seen no one else, either on the mountain or later in the jungle, during their journey, but he knew they hadn’t been alone. One morning they had awoken and found a bowl of fresh water and fried fish next to them, and they had always had the uneasy feeling of being watched since they had left the crater.
It had been the worst three days of his life. The pain of Marian’s death had brought – to his astonishment – a deep, grieving regret, and caused him to explore his feelings for her which she would now never know or understand.
Stanley’s curse had overcome them, and they were exhausted and feverish on the first night. Both of them had been hit with bouts of chills and nausea, and they feared the curse had gotten the best of them; that they might not be able to shake it. The next morning they had both been do drained and exhausted they felt as if they had travelled twenty miles through the jungle even though it could not have been more than a few.
But they soon became better. They had bathed in a small river near the jungle trail, and Indiana now hoped they had not been exposed to the deadly radiation long enough to sustain permanent sickness or health problems, and the bath in the river he hoped had gotten rid of whatever lingering radiation material they might have picked up. All in all, they had spent two hours in the forbidden valley – and they had not touched the huge chunk that had been the source of the radiation, as Ramos and his people had done. He wondered if any of Ramos’s men were still alive. He presumed they were probably all dead by now.
Some of the figures at the fire looked up as they heard Indiana and Marcus’s footsteps. They were greeted with surprised shouts, and when they had reached the edge of the riverbank Reuben rushed over to greet them. A moment later, Henley followed, limping and grimacing, but apparently almost in full possession of his strength again. The healing magic of the Aymará seemed to have done wonders.
“Jones! Brody!” Reuben called out in joyous surprise as he reached Indiana and Marcus. “Thanks God both of you are alive!” A puzzled expression spread across his face, and Indiana could see how tired and exhausted the FBI agent was. “Where did you come from?” He mumbled. “What…what about Ramos and his men? How did you escape them?”
“Ramos is dead,” Marcus answered. “He and all of his men. And I would be too, if it hadn’t been for Indiana.”
“And Mrs. Corda?”
Indiana shook his head. “No. We are the only ones who made it,” he said softly.
“I…I’m sorry,” Reuben said softly. The regret in his voice seemed sincere. “But tell me, Jones – What the hell happened? How did you get away from Ramos and his gang.”
Indiana hesitated. For a moment he stared in uncertainty at Reuben and Henley, then looked at the over turned boat in the river for a while, without answering.
Reuben followed his gaze and his expression darkened. “We were damned lucky, Jones,” he said, answering a question Indiana had not asked. “The boat broke lose and got sucked in by the current. I tell you – it was one helluva hell ride. It’s a miracle that none of us were killed.” He sighed. “But I’m afraid we won’t get very far with this ship.”
Indiana registered Marcus’s warning gaze at the last moment and swallowed the startled response that lay on his tongue. “Well, it’s a setback, but we don’t need it,” he said instead. He forced a smile. “The return journey will be hard on foot, but it’s doable.”
“Don’t need it?” Rueben frowned. “What do you mean? Its…” he paused. “You found El Dorado?” He asked, stunned. “It’s there?”
Indiana hesitated again. It was obvious Reuben’s memory of the last few days was sketchy from the trials they had endured, or possibly the mysterious power of the Aymará chief had affected them. And not just him, he could see the veil of confusion in Henley’s eyes as well, and assumed the rest had the same malady. He was unsure as to why the old man had allowed him and Marcus to keep theirs.
“Yes,” Indiana said finally. “We were there. It’s actually not very far from here.”
“Where is it?” Henley asked excitedly. “And what is it? Does El Dorado actually exist, Jones?”
Indiana shook his head. “No, I’m afraid it’s just a legend, Henley. No gold. Nothing that would be of any interest.” He said, then added with finality. “To anyone in the world.”
While Henley and Reuben looked at him in disappointment, Indiana turned back to look at the edge of the jungle behind him. Again, he had the feeling of being watched, and this time it was too intense to dismiss it as imagination.
And for a second, he thought he saw a figure, maybe just the shadow of a figure, small and slim, and very old, who looked at him for a moment, then raised his hand in a parting gesture, acknowledging that they would probably never see each other again. Then the shadowy figure disappeared into the forest again.
“It’s just a legend,” he said, turning back to his companions. “Nothing more.”
Thanks everyone, and sorry it took this many YEARS to finish. But now it's done. And thanks to all those that helped out (JuniorJones). nrd1977 also offered to help this summer, but I managed to finish it. Maybe he'll take up the mantle and tackle another one of these hidden gems.
There are at least a dozen of the Hohlbein Indiana Jones novels floating around out there. As far as I know, none have been officially translated to English. (One has an unofficial translation, mentioned below.)
Doing the translation, I have found GOOGLE translate to be the best free tool to translate from German to English if anyone else decides to attempt one of the remaining novels. Good luck!
The only other English translation of a Hohlbein Indiana Jones novel can be found somewhere in these boards - Indiana Jones and the Labyrinth of Horus. If you haven't done so, seek it out.