ED 8-4-2020: This challenge is closed. Originally it was posted on 5-19-2014 on Wedschild’s Wanderings. I have captured all of the responses — with links to the author’s blog when I can.
In the spirit of the comment fic contest that my friend did last month, I’m hosing a challenge here on this blog.
This is your challenge, if you choose to accept it:
1. Write a story based on the picture below. (Let’s make it a 1K limit.)
2. Post that fic in the comments section here.
3. I will read the fiction and present to the winner… hmm…. what do I have to offer… Ah, yes, this adorable little bear in overalls. She can sit on your desk and give you positive snuggles on your bad days. (We all have those right?) (Picture to follow. My camera has just died. Damn it.)
4. Deadline is June 17th. So get writing, cousins!
The Secrets of Eldeango
Edith was playing tag in the fields with her friends, Monica, Beth, and Bella. As much as she liked tag, she had been trying in desperation to get them to play hide and seek.
“But we are in an open field! There’s nowhere to hide!” said Monica, in her nasally winey voice.
“We could go in the woods,” said Edith.
“But we’re not allowed to go that far!” Monica folded her arms and began to pout.
“Monica is right,” said Bella.
“We’d get in trouble,” said Beth, who nodded towards her twin sister.
So tag it was. Edith could only take so much of running around, chasing people, tagging, running away again. She longed to go into the woods, if only she could get away from her friends without them noticing.
“I’m tired of playing tag,” said Edith. She had to change the game. She had to draw herself away from them. She sat down in the grass and folded her arms.
“Me too,” said Beth, as she plopped down next to her best friend.
As Monica and Bella were making their way to Edith and Beth, Edith suddenly had the perfect idea. How could she not have thought of this before?
“Ok, I got the perfect game we can play next,” she said, as she and Beth got to their feet.
“It better not be anything stupid,” said Monica.
“Have you ever played sardines?” asked Edith.
“What’s that?” asked Bella.
“I know it would be stupid,” said Monica rolling her eyes.
“It’s like hide and seek, but the opposite. One person hides, and then everyone has to find her. The last person to find her is the sardine, and they will be the next person to hide.”
“We already went through this! There’s nowhere to hide!” The mole by Monica’s lip jiggled as her face contorted into a scowl. It made her face look like a rotting grapefruit.
“We can hide in the grass,” said Edith. “There are plenty of places where the grass and flowers are so tall, you can lie down and stay hidden.”
“Yeah, that’s a good point!” said Beth.
“Let’s at least try,” said Bella.
“Fine,” sighed Monica. “But that means Edith is the sardine first!”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Edith, with a huge smile on her face. “Just count to 50, and then come looking for me.”
As soon as the girls started counting, she took off like a gazelle trying to get away from its predator. She knew her friends would do everything they could to stop her from going, but her curiosity was stronger than them, stronger than her parents pleading, demanding, that she avoid the old stone building that sat there, isolated in the woods.
It wasn’t hard to find as it was only a few hundred feet from the field. It was just deep enough where the trees blocked the field completely from view. Edith gazed up at the building. The word “Eldeango” was carved to the right of the arched doorway. Edith went up to the front door. She remembered when she and her friends first found this place. They dared each other on who would try to open the door first. In the end, Edith’s father had found them, and furiously told her friends to go home. Edith rubbed her bottom, it was still sore from that day.
She put her hand on the handle, pushed down the latch, and the door swung open. The room had a musty odor, and it was dark, with exception to the light that was shining through the new open door. Gray columns decorated the sides of the room. The tiles on the floor were all torn up and scatted about. There were many areas where the dirt underneath was exposed. Finally, A lone stone table sat towards the back. That was all in the room.
Edith stepped into the middle of the room, taking in a deep breath. There was certainly history in this building, a story. She walked up to the table. It was a plain table, boring, completely cemented in the floor. She wiped off some of the dust. She saw an inscription that read, in messy handwriting,
“Eldeango no more.” What did it mean? Suddenly, the door closed and Edith was engulfed in darkness. Perhaps she should try to visit another day. She tried to walk with her arms stretched out, making her way towards the door. Or at least where she through the door was located. However, it didn’t matter how slow or how careful she was walking. She still managed to trip on one of the loose tiles. She felt her body slam onto the floor. Different edges of loose tiles stabbed her. She could feel scratched everywhere, and was pretty sure she had an open cut.
“Eldeango,” whispered a raspy voice.
“Is someone there?” squeaked Edith.
“Eldeango,” said the voice again.
“Is someone there?” Edith asked again. “If so, can you please help me?”
“Eldeango,” the voice said for a third time. “Forever more.” The floor began to shake.
Edith pushed herself up and started to crawl as fast as she could. The whispering grew louder.
“Eldango forever more,” it repeated.
“Stop it! Stop it please!” It felt like she had crawled hundreds and hundreds of feet, but she still did not reach the door. Or even a wall. Then she felt something that she could not describe. A shadow fell over her, and an unknown force pushed her down. It didn’t feel like hands or legs, but whatever this force was, it was keeping her down. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t breath.
Monica, Beth, and Bella never found Edith that day. In fact, they never saw her again.
The day was miserable. The sweltering heat and humidity were almost unbearable, but the job needed to be completed. Lives depended on it. Master Ignacio Elian Felipe Bolivar hacked his way through a well known path in the dense foliage of the rainforest, the pack on his back weighing heavily on his shoulders. His apprentice and son, Mateo Andres followed along in his wake as the small group of American tourists tried desperately to keep up with the two of them. They complained and moaned about the heat, about the vines, about the humidity, about how fast they were being forced to travel to see the isolated pyramid of the ancient Aztecs. There were times when Master Bolivar wanted to turn around and run them through with his machete. One, in particular, was trying his patience, the boy they called “Colin”. There were eight of them, all students at some college in America. Three females and five males. It was the perfect amount.
“Excuse me, por favor,” came a voice from behind. Bolivar stopped and to turn to see who addressed him. It was the annoying one. He was very tall. His dark hair tucked under a black bandana. Bolivar made note of his clothing. Jean shorts, dark t-shirt, and sneakers, not what one should wear in the rainforest where there were things crawling in the underbrush that would love a meal. They were all dressed in a similar manner and had the gall to laugh when they saw the Bolivars wearing long pants, sleeves, and tall boots.
“Senor Bolivar, podemos tener que parar para tener tiempo de descanso largo.”
Bolivar looked to his son and shook his head. Not only was this one annoying, he could not speak Spanish to save his life. Bolivar rolled his eyes and nodded. He knew better than to sit on the ground and was just about to warn the Americans about leeches, when he noticed he was too late. They were already sitting.
“Cinco dólares todos ellos tienen al menos una sanguijuela,” he said to his son, who tried not to laugh. If the Americans were lucky, they would only have to deal with one leech.
“Master, must we really go through with this?”
Bolivar looked to the Americans to make sure they were not paying attention, then spoke very low and in the ancient language.
“Yes, my son. You know the law that binds us. We cannot fail in our task. You have been taught all your life what is at stake for our people. It is a scared duty, one that will pass to you when I am gone. This is burden we must bear. We bear the curse of our ancestors and we must make amends.”
“But surely people will know these people are missing. Somebody is bound to notice. Their school, their families…”
Bolivar silenced him with a quick hand gesture.
“No, my son. That is the beauty of the people of our village. We all know what will happen if we fail. We are adept at covering out tracks. We have been doing this for centuries. You will learn this in time. But for now, silence, patience, and prayer. Do not speak to them and do as I say. It will be over soon.”
The boy bowed his head in supplication. “Yes, Master. As you say.”
Bolivar called to the Americans, telling them it was time to go. Five minutes later, a blood curdling scream filled the air, sending birds from the trees. His prediction was correct. Leeches.
Another two hours passed before they reached the pyramid. It was early in the afternoon. They had plenty of time. Bolivar had been here several times in his life, but it was still a breathtaking sight to behold. The massive pyramidal base took up most of the clearing. The double stair case rising up the western side lead to twin temples that had long been turned to dust. Every few steps were carved with glyphs and symbols of the ancients. The pyramid base was surrounded by large stone serpents that once were brightly painted. There were smaller piles of rock in the clearing. These were once smaller buildings that surrounded to temple. They housed offerings and tools for the sacrifices that took place here. This was once a temple to honor the gods of the sun and war, but now, it was used for a darker purpose.
Bolivar heard the gasps of surprise from the Americans. He knew the wonder they were experiencing. He led them further into the clearing before he turned to them. The hair on the back of his neck rose and the feeling of dread filled his stomach. There was no noise here. The animals did not venture here and the birds did not sing. It was unnerving, but the Americans did not notice.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as promised, the temple. This temple was built to honor the god Tlaloc, whose temple once stood at top of the pyramid to the north, and the god Huitzilopochtli, whose temple was to the south. The worship of the sun and war were very important to the Aztec. If you look around, you can see the remains of small buildings that were here as well.”
At least they were impressed.
“If you follow me, I will take you to the inside temple we recently found. It predates the pyramid itself.”
The group chattered away with excitement as they blindly followed Bolivar and his son. The temple was behind a hidden door beside the staircase. There was a minute glyph of a star on the door, barely visible. They each stopped to ponder what it could have meant. They each held a flashlight as they followed a narrow path inside the temple. A few minutes later, the steep slope opened into a small chamber. Bolivar grabbed a torch from the sconce on the wall and lit it with a lighter from his pocket. He turned to Mateo, who had one as well, and shared the flame. They moved around the room lighting the torches on the wall.
The Americans moved further into the room, taking it in. The room was encircled with columns, each attached to each other by ornate arches. They looked like they belonged in a Greek temple, not an Aztec one. The floor was littered with square and rectangle stones. At first glance, the floor looked to be broken, but, unbeknownst to them, it was actually in an intricate pattern. A large stone table stood a few feet from the columns on the right side of the room.
Bolivar and his son had finished lighting the room and watched the American from the door. This was the only exit. It was time. Mateo removed his pack and quietly emptied it. There were cups, plates, bowls, and knives. He stood and removed the last item from his pack, and ancient book. He replaced his pack on his back and nodded to his father, cleared his throat. They turned to look at him as he spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the chamber of Citlalli. Citlalli was a very powerful and very rare Aztec priestess who was captured, tortured, raped and killed by the Spaniards. Before she died, it is said that she called upon the gods of the dead to curse the Spaniards for 500 generations in exchange for her body to be possessed by a demon. The demon who possessed her was very ugly and desired beauty and youth. It is said that she desired young men to fulfill her sexual needs. When she possessed Citlalli, who was very beautiful, she would be able to grant every sexual fantasy men had and would never be tired.”
The American men giggled, cheered, and made rude comments. Typical.
“They say that you can summon her once every 25 years in this place. The knowledge was passed to me by my forefathers. No one has been able to summon her though. It is just a silly legend.”
They bought it, hook, line, and sinker. Of course the males wanted to summon her. The two females protested, but went along with it. It was a silly tale, right? They did not know that they were sacrifices to the demon. The females were the beauty and youth and the males were for carnal needs. The demon must be appeased or she will let the dead rise and destroy the earth. Bolivar placed them in the proper spaces between the stones on the floor, returned to Mateo who had the book open to the summoning chant. He took one last look at the unsuspecting Americans. They were so young. He began the chant. Bright flames burst from the table at the end of the chant. He grabbed Mateo and ran before it was too late. They burst through the door to the clearing. The sky had turned dark and the wind tore at them and they struggled to seal the door. The last thing the Master and his Apprentice heard as the door closed were the screams of the poor souls inside and the roar of a demon.
“It is done,” he said as he took his son’s hand and lead him home.
Annabeth liked to imagine she was a real archaeologist.
Dr Fiedler rolled his eyes at her, but there was no risk in what they did any more. Two-hundred years ago archaeology took skill. Not just in identification, and care with tools. One of the early to mid-twentieth century greats would have walked into a room like this without buckets of high-res sonar imaging. Without full scale data analysis showing the exact placement of the supports, and the distance to the large stone spikes under the floor down to the millimeter.
Annabeth liked to stand inside the door and pretend she was on the edge of the unknown.
She wasn’t stupid enough to go in. Her fondness for the past aside, they weren’t entirely sure any of the floor supports were still in good enough shape to hold a full-grown human. It was 12.57 meters to the spikes—assuming you managed to hit one of those and not the floor another four meters down—and it wasn’t 1950. The amount of paperwork involved with a work-place injury more or less encompassed her understanding of purgatory.
“Doctor Wilson, do contain yourself,” Dr Fiedler called, peering myopically at the three-dimensional sonar read-out contained on the no-longer state of the art telemetry bank.
“I’m contained.” Annabeth frowned. “You told me to stay outside the room, and I’m outside the room.”
“It is the twenty-third century. Whatever secrets this room may hold, they may wait a little longer for us to discover them.”
“And I may die of old age before you clear it,” she muttered darkly.
“Your impatience is unbecoming of a future professor, Doctor Wilson,” Fiedler sing-songed.
Annabeth leaned against the side wall, sighing. “If I had any intention of becoming a professor I would take that into account.”
Fiedler laughed softly. “One must teach, it is a reality of the profession.”
“That is scientifically unproven.”
“Your stomach will tell you otherwise.” Fiedler stepped back, shaking his head. “Toby, I don’t believe this marvelous machine can tell us anything more. Shall we draw straws, to decide who chances the floor?”
“I weigh the least,” Annabeth insisted, standing at the door.
Toby walked over with a small tablet screen, the supported floor stones marked in green.
“I don’t think anyone else actually wants to volunteer.” He looked up at her. “I know you aren’t fond of my equipment, but stick to the green anyway.”
She checked the camera feed on the tablet, and nodded, zipping her old-style fisherman’s vest and double checking everything was secure in the pockets.
The floor tiles didn’t spell anything. There were no distinguishing characteristics between them. No riddle, to see a potential visitor safely across the room.
“I think they must have memorized the way, there’s nothing special about the order or the placement,” she said, picking gently across.
“Perhaps,” Doctor Fiedler agreed. “It is a curious room. Younger than the others around it.” He stood at the doorway, gently brushing the edges. “I’ve never seen one so unmarked.”
“Unmarked?” Toby frowned.
Annabeth liked Toby alright. As tech support went, he was less annoying than the late masters engineers they usually wound up with, for summer programs. He knew scratch all about archaeology, but he was decently curious, and respectful.
“Yes yes,” Doctor Fiedler smiled broadly, turning. “Generally a room containing a primitive trap has some sort of warning, before one enters. The ancient equivalent of the ‘authorized personnel only’ sign.”
“So the fact there isn’t one means…” Toby looked around him, uneasy.
“Most likely nothing.” Doctor Fiedler sighed sadly. “The world does not always give us meaning where we would like it. I have spent many years studying these temples…”
Annabeth stopped, and oriented herself with the map of the floor, ignoring the black hole in the middle of the tile next to her. She looked up, gauging her distance from the entrance, and stopped cold. “Doctor Fiedler, don’t…”
But she was too late. He’d already stepped back, onto the wide tile at the doorway. His arms wind-milled, attempting to keep his balance, keep his weight from settling. Toby reached out to grab him, catching his arm as the stone gave a might crack.
She stood, still and transfixed as the floor melted away, the stones that marked her path disappearing one by one slightly slower than the rest.
“RUN!” Toby shouted.
Annabeth didn’t listen. She watched the cracks zip up the walls, the stones above the room falling away as well, dappled sunlight splintering through. The entire structure was coming down, Toby dragging a yelling Doctor Fiedler down the rapidly collapsing hallway.
As the support beneath her feet failed, and she started the 12.57 meter fall to the spikes below, she wondered if anyone would get out alive. If it might be someone who understood the difference between a booby trap and a lure.
More than anything, Annabeth had liked to pretend technology meant safety.
She used to like 1,000 feet the best. At a thousand feet, she could still pick out her car in the airport’s parking lot, could still follow the road’s familiar turns and curves to their apartment, to his car in the parking lot. She liked that connection to the world below, the life lived when she wasn’t in the air, moving from one town, one airport to the next. She liked the idea of those cars in those parking lots, waiting for her return.
She used to look out the window—having just buckled herself in—and sigh.
5,000 feet the cities look like a mother board and the subdivisions like hieroglyphics from another planet. At night, looking out the window as another flight attendant drones on about what they should do in the six hours they’re in Miami and the merits of the airport hotel’s swimming pool, she imagines the lights below a colony of fireflies, buzzing and fluttering in their noiseless and senseless dance.
She knows now that one of those dancing fireflies belongs to him, as he drives to the life he leads when she’s not there, the home he’s made for himself. The life she can’t begrudge him—does she expect him to rest in amber in her absence—but can’t get herself to condone.
She remembers one night when they were new to each other’s bodies, he ran his fingers lightly along the blue, red and pinks of the butterfly tattoo on her lower back. He told her that butterflies were one of the only insects that mated for life. Even now she tries to believe it’s true and refuses to look it up in case it turned out to be the beginning of the many lies he told over the years.
Her fellow flight attendants would laugh at her. They were all more like honey bees. Visiting many flowers across the field before they’d settle in the hive. They seemed perfectly content in the flighty meaningless path and she wondered if she should give it a go now that she had no butterfly waiting for her return.
Then they climb to ten thousand feet and the view out her window looks like what she imagines the parish cemetery looks like from above, full of mismatched, oddly shaped, three dimensional, concrete slabbed crypts spread out to the horizon and beyond. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. No, she doesn’t want to waste her life flittering and fluttering. She doesn’t want the job to become a career, let alone a lifestyle.
She wants to survive and live through the turbulence and air pressure shifts of these climbing and accelerating fifteen thousand feet so that she could make it to the peace and serenity of the twenty thousands. There the world was a large and wonderfully chaotic quilt that she could help create and contribute to as she continued the climb, continued ever upward to the ultimate cruising height where she was above it all. Where she couldn’t even see the world below with its mazes and quagmires, its deceits and pettiness.
She knows she can’t live at thirty thousand feet, she knows that eventually her wings will tire and she’ll need to come down, find a new butterfly, maybe one with different markings, different flight patterns. Or maybe, just maybe, she’ll work up the nerve to finally clip those wings, stay on the ground, give up her bird’s eye view for a more grounded, a more stable one. One that doesn’t change every few thousand feet.