My flashlight had brightly illuminated the growing terrors of the hidden Indonesian temple that I stumbled upon in the middle of a lush forest. I had immediately wanted to pop out of the large room at the center of the ancient structure and hide in Uncle Harry's den with a nice toasty fire to keep me company. Hell, I'd even let that damned nasty werewolf Riley keep me company. What I was seeing centered in the temple was obviously recently and well- used given the scent of death that floated like a miasma in the middle of the labyrinth-like maze. I resisted the otherly pull of my nature and went closer to the oversized altar.
There were lighter etched markings that went along with the deep, rough grooves carved sharply into the surface of the top of the altar stone. It took me a moment before I figured out what I was seeing, as everything jumbled through my mind and clicked into place. In the world there are certain icons that are universally recognized if you have even a passing acquaintance with the real world inhabited by the real supernatural creatures. A bat with fangs, trite but universally used, despite the fact that I'd never seen a vampire turn into a bat much less a bat turn into a vampire, was depicting vamps. The oversized muzzle with ripping teeth and a mane of fur surrounding all too human eyes was used in depicting weres. Werewolves obviously were easier to chip into stone. Another area was devoted to witches and warlocks while ogres and trolls were represented as hideously as possible. My stomach tumbled again at the images and the field of evil-laced synergy in the vaulted ceiling room. A scorch mark measuring nearly four feet in diameter out from the altar had been hidden from my initial view until I rounded the backside of the altar still half-mesmerized by the engravings. The lines of grooves all funneled to a spot directly above the darkest burnt part of the thick blackened dirt under the altar. My natural sense of direction put that spot at the southern point of the ring. My skin crawled with the wrongness of the over-sized altar.
In my darker imaginings, I could half-see the past usage of the tainted altar. I easily pictured a tall vampire fully spread and stretched out while it was manacled with silver chains, with a wooden stake shoved deliberately into the middle of its chest -- female or male -- no matter because both creatures would have been killed -- maybe not easily. Maybe not so casually, either, I thought, recalling what had looked like bite marks at the base of some of the temple blocks on my way inside. The tacky dark liquid lining the irregular channels that ran to the base of the altar had no signs of insect activity. There were no flies dipping in and out of the ooze or maggots crawling along the top of the altar like there'd be at a human's murder. Because I knew what had happened to the creatures was just that -- murder. Supernatural creatures or human, they all bled to some degree and there should've been some signs of insects dipping in and out of the blood. The scent of death was cloying as I regarded the swath of destruction at the base. Not all creatures died from simply having their blood drained. Vampires could operate with very little blood through their veins, it just made some hungrier and more determined to survive by any means necessary.
The charred fire ring spelled absolute and final true death for nearly all the creatures depicted on the sacrificial stone. The horror of being burnt alive was ingrained in all creatures -- human or supernatural -- primitive man's first use of fire was wrought with awe and terror in equal measure. Fire was both a gift and a curse from the gods. But what had happened in the temple hadn't been using a gift from the gods for the gods but an evil offering to the dark forces of the unknown universe.
The more I looked the more frightened I was by the implications that the site wasn't as abandoned as I'd initially thought. I slowly walked out of the building examining each of the chambers of the nautilus-shaped structure as I worked my way back to the entrance. There were patterns of horror that I'd missed on the way to the center. In the deeper corners of rooms, piles of bones with clothing decaying in the moist atmosphere served as reminders that humans and supers had been held against their will. Chains and rusted bits of metal that had kept the bodies in place long past the need reminded me that not all creatures went to dust when dead. From the bones of one room I knew the keepers of the temple had imprisoned a number of dwarves. Not human but supers from the glow of death that coated the walls. I swallowed bile as I continued out of the temple. The snail-like winding counter clockwise in motion as I left further illustrated to me the bad nature of the site. I felt suddenly vulnerable and wary. In my mind I knew that I was not easily slain but it didn't stop my pulse from racing in primal fear. The heart knows, even as logic dictates other. I couldn't simply reason away my fears. The horror of all the deaths that had taken place inside coated my spirit.
Once outside I saw that the rains that had been pouring relentlessly were still plummeting to the dirt between the layers in the canopy of the forest above, but I didn't care. I was numbed by what I'd seen. I continued out of the rainforest. I didn't slow my pace but instead sped back down the path towards the village I'd recently departed. I'd been changed by the journey.
I felt Uncle Harry tapping at my thoughts but at first I gently pushed away his softly spoken, "Emma?? You okay?"
I wasn't okay but I was trying to make sense of everything I'd seen. Deciding if I didn't give Uncle Harry something he'd show up or send someone to find me so I pushed back softly, "I'm trying to be good!"
His warm chuckle filled my head and he slipped out staying, "Okay, I'll let you call me when you need me." I doubted that but smiled and kept walking down the trail I'd used to find the temple. After a while I found myself back where I'd started.
To my utter shock there was a small dented gray car parked outside the shack where Johnny had left me. The name of the tour group was painted boldly on the side of the doors, and a young man stood in the rain next to the doorway of the shop, dressed identically to Johnny, looking extremely like Johnny in his features. He saw me and said, "Johnny sent me you ready now?"
Nodding, I watched him blow out a mouthful of smoke then toss a cigarette butt into the dirt and shout out something to the unseen girl inside the store. I didn't bother to figure out if it was a courtesy farewell or a bitch about how long I'd taken to show up. Either way he was ready for me.
With a flourish he opened the passenger door saying, "I'm Charlie, Johnny is my older brother. We don't want our father displeased." The formality of his words indicated to me he wasn't as comfortable with English as Johnny had been. I nodded.
Then I noticed that his eyes never quite met mine. Instead I saw him glance towards the pathway I'd just left. I swore his eyes were looking to where the invisible temple stood. Knowing the temple was given to destroying supernatural creatures, and the worshippers would probably love giving a try at killing me and collecting the millions being offered in reward -- a pagan death for a lottery not advertised would appeal to the temple's devotees. Part of me wondered if the medicine woman had spread the word already.
"But I can make my way back down the mountain fine," I said. As if mocking me, another boom of thunder rattled the panes of bad windows poorly placed in the structure of the shop I'd long left. It was followed too closely by another crack of lightning. I saw Charlie quickly wipe a smirk off his face still without meeting my eyes.
"No, my father and my brother would both have my head," Charlie spoke quickly with lilting cadences I'd noticed common among the locals that spoke English and he'd seemingly spoken quite obviously without thinking. The stunned realization to me of what had probably happened in the temple over the centuries, which pretty much guaranteed that there had been a few heads lopped off inside the main chamber with the altar that I'd just seen, ran over Charlie's face effortlessly. He was younger than his brother and obviously not as skilled at hiding his feelings. I also doubted that Charlie was anymore his given name than Johnny's was his real name.
Shaking his head vigorously, he pulled the back seat passenger seat door open and sketched a slight bow.
"If you please." The rain was again pounding down making visibility nearly impossible. Sighing, I finally gave in saying, "Sure, whatever."
I tossed my backpack into the well-used vehicle while sliding wetly into the car's back seat; I wasn't going to change outfits just to be comfortable. It didn't please me in the least, but I gave in rather than continuing the argument in the torrential downpour. The black skies promised hours more of rain and I really was trying not to phase in and out of places. Uncle Harry'd be proud of me once I got back stateside and showed him official passport stamps instead of lame excuses. At least that was what I hoped as the temptation to pop out of Indonesia grew with each new 'adventure.'
Good old Charlie drove like his long-gone brother and pretty much every other Indonesian I'd ever seen, flying down the roads as if the highways and back roads were utterly empty. One soaking wet bicycle rider got a mud and water bath as Charlie careened past the hunched-over rider; a plume of water quickly arced over the rider flying behind the tour company car without Charlie seeming to even notice. Another brave or stupid -- depended on one's perspective -- driver was trying to avoid the muddy ruts and small rivers that sprung up with the heavy rains that lined the rocky, washboard road. Unfortunately Charlie was also driving smack dab in the middle of the narrow lane on a direct collision course with the decrepit truck.
I could've sworn that the driver's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he saw Charlie heading right for his grille. His expression of both terror and horror at the impending accident was nearly cartoonish from my viewpoint glued in the backseat of the company car. I wasn't overly worried about an accident since I wouldn't hesitate to phase out of the car despite my promise to Uncle Harry to behave like any normal human. I waited to see who'd win the spontaneous game of chicken transpiring in a rainstorm on the backside of an Indonesian mountain.
The other driver must not have been insured, or perhaps just a bit more realistic about physics, because he frantically began to crank his steering wheel as it dawned on him that Charlie wasn't giving an inch of road. Charlie seemed to push the accelerator pedal down slightly while looking into his rearview mirror, and for the first time his eyes met mine. I avoided sucking in a gasp of air because I knew that was reaction he was seeking. His eyes weren't nasty, mean or even remotely menacing. They were instead empty -- quite soulless at that. I'd seen zombies with more personality. Whoever had sucked the soul out of Charlie had to be connected directly with Hell. There wasn't a shadow of humanity left in his flat gaze. But what was worse was that he was trying to provoke me into revealing my talents.