Photo via Visualhunt
Colette grabbed her mother’s hand. The thick straps of her camera slapped against her chest. She pulled them back away from the orange blouse her grandmother insisted she wear that morning. It matched the peculiar pattern of the skirt her mother forced her into before they left the hotel, in spite of what their plans were.
Colette pulled and tried to hurry the older woman. “Mom, we’re going to miss the best view,” she said.
“My knees don’t work as well these days, Lettie. You know that,” her mother said. “And your poor Gran can barely walk at all.” Unspoken was the, what kind of selfish child are you that always followed anything Colette wanted for herself.
“Can I go on ahead then? I want to see the valley,” Colette said. “You know our guide said this was the best time to see it, with everything green and in bloom.”
Her mother sighed. “I’ll wait here with your Gran. Do not stay up any longer than the rest of the group, or we’ll leave you here for the serpents.”
“Just like we did to your brother,” her grandmother added.
Colette shivered. Two years earlier, her mother and grandmother had brought Colette’s twin brother Colin to this same spot in Belize. He’d disappeared, and both women claimed he’d been kidnapped. The locals did their best to investigate, but no one could find anything and to this day Colin remained a missing person.
“I’ll be down with everyone else,” Colette promised. She joined the rest of the tourists and climbed up to the top of the pyramid using a carefully constructed ramp and railing. She stood with the crowd as their guide, an olive skinned woman named Itzel, told them a fantastic story about how Q’uq’umatz joined the god Tepeu and created the world.
As the woman spoke, Colette remembered that she claimed from the beginning to be Mayan. “My people never died, as the Aztecs did,” Itzel said. “We endured when others fell.”
“Itzel, do people really believe all this pantheon horse shit you chuck at them?” The man who spoke had an exaggerated drawl. Colette glowered at him. He was everything people who lived in other countries despised about Americans, and he didn’t seem to care.
Itzel smiled at him, her eyes full of mystery. “Mr. Carpenter, no one is expected to believe anything. I simply tell the tales of my people. It is up to the listener to make that decision themselves.”
Mr. Carpenter snorted and opened his mouth. Three sets of hands clamped over it. His wife, son, and daughter were tired of his bullshit and, apparently by the quiet laughs and cheers, so were the other members of the tour group.
“That ought to keep the asshole quiet for a few,” someone else said, a strong Irish accent making him difficult to understand at first.
Colette giggled softly. Itzel shooed them all towards the ramp. She approached the teen. “You came up alone?” she asked, her accented voice placing peculiar intonations on those few syllables.
“My mom and grandmother couldn’t make it up the ramp,” Colette said. She glanced at the group moving past them. “I need to go down now.”
“You are a strange girl, Colette. So obedient, so willing to please, and yet so angry and defiant at the same time,” Itzel said, that mysterious smile back on her face.
Colette froze. Everything they’d signed, all the times she’d written her name, she’d been ordered to use the despised Lettie. There was no way a woman from a small town where there wasn’t any cell service or internet could know her name.
“Where did you hear that?” Colette asked, starting down the ramp.
Itzel fell in step beside her. “In your thoughts, and in your brother’s. The Feathered Serpent is very unhappy with your mother and grandmother. That is why he took Colin, and why he seeks to take you next, if you will allow it.”
“Who is this Feathered Serpent?” Colette asked, her voice shaking. She’d stopped moving and was now frozen on the ramp.
“The Aztecs called him Quetzalcoatl. You heard me say what we call him a moment ago. He is Q’uq’umatz, one of the creators of our world,” Itzel said. The strange Mayan woman reached out and placed her fingertips on Colette’s chest. “How much longer do you have, dear child?”
Colette quivered but couldn’t pull away. “A year,” she whispered, tears slipping down her cheeks. “Maybe eighteen months.”
“How long did Colin have when they brought him here?” Itzel asked. Her voice was softer, more musical. “How long before the broken piece of his heart stopped working and killed him?”
“Six months. This was something the both of us wanted to see before we died,” Colette said. The heart defect that had killed her father on his twenty third birthday was set to claim her on her eighteenth, and would have taken Colin’s life before their sixteenth birthday. ”
“This was your wish? A final trip before the long pain begins?” Itzel asked.
Colette could hear her mother shouting, but somehow her words weren’t nearly as important as those of the woman in front of her. Itzel’s thin fingers still rested on Colette’s blouse covered chest.
“I had to beg,” Colette said. “Mom didn’t want to come here again. Gran swore she’d have a stroke the moment we checked in. But I pushed and pushed and pushed. I wanted to see where Colin disappeared, and to see the pyramids he told me about so excitedly the night before I went to stay with Aunt Regina for those horrible weeks.”
Itzel nodded. “Would you like to see your brother?” Her voice was now little more than a whisper, yet it sounded like a flute in Colette’s ears. “He’s alive, well, and safe. Safe from those insane harpies that murdered your father, tried to murder him, and are now set to end your life as well.”
“What do you mean?” Colette asked.
“Your heart defect is genetic, but those who have it do not usually die young. Your father’s death was brought on with a massive dose of digitalis, something no one in your tiny excuse for a hometown’s hospital bothered looking for,” Itzel said. “Your brother was getting weaker, but the doctors caught on that he was being poisoned. That’s why he was brought to Belize. They needed to remove him from the US where his condition was easily treatable. In the end, that is why they brought you here as well. You won’t return to your home in the US, Colette. You can live your life with Colin, or die by their hand.”
“I want to see Colin,” Colette said, her voice nearly inaudible.
Itzel laughed, the musical sound turning into a snarl. “I will take you to him.” Screams erupted from below, though Colette only heard them faintly. She watched in wonder as the petite guide became a stocky middle aged woman who shared some aspects with a jaguar.
“Who are you?” Colette asked.
The being grinned. “I am Ixchel, one of the ancient goddesses of the Mayans. My domain is the realm of medicine. It’s how I saved Colin’s life, and how I will preserve yours.” She held out one clawed hand. “Come, or return to the two who seek to slay you.” Colette didn’t look back. She took the ancient goddess’ hand. The world blurred around them.
The strap holding her camera around her neck broke, sending the delicate mechanical creation crashing to the top of the pyramid. It shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces.