The Lair of King Crow
(Part four of a seven part series)
By Hunter Liguore
I woke to a cold rag being wiped across my face. Leaning over me was a young Mexican man of maybe twenty. His hair was dark and smooth, and tied loosely in braids away from his face. His clothes were tattered, but somewhat modern. Around his neck he wore a bone necklace.
“You didn’t heed the old man’s warning,” said the young man. “It’s not too late for you to return. You must go at once and leave this place.”
I sat up and glanced around the room. We were in a different chamber, no longer the room with the wheel. A small fire, with meat roasting on a wood spit, warmed the room. He offered me food, which I took hungrily, though I suspected I was eating rat or some other rodent.
“Amelia.” I shook my head. “Where’s the woman I came here with? Did you see her?”
“She’s too far into the labyrinth. She’s trapped here, like me, until we unlock the secrets to return. But you can save us both, if only you’ll return. Go back the way you came.”
“Who are you?” I finally asked. “And why are you here?”
“Don’t you recognize me, Dr. Wainwright? Have I changed so much?”
I looked the young man over from head to foot, and though his eyes looked familiar to me, I couldn’t say for sure I had ever met him.
“It was our first night of camp when I heard the sweet voice of a woman calling me. I was but a boy then, one without a mother. When I saw her gentle face illuminated in gold, like a goddess at the entrance of the lair, I wept and ran to her, my beautiful mother. She is here somewhere in these walls. I search endlessly to be reunited with her. We only spent a short time together, before we were separated.”
“Ferdinand?” My voice cracked when I said his name.
“Are you surprised?” he smiled, as if he successfully pulled a prank on me. “All is not as it seems in the lair of King Black Crow. All that my grandmother told me was true.”
“But it can’t be. You were a small boy, a child, and now, now you’re a man.”
“I have been here a long time, Dr. Wainwright. But then time isn’t what you think it is. It’s all around us like a living, breathing being.”
The walls around us quaked and rumbled.
“I must go now,” he said. “The walls will change soon, and I can’t be caught on this side.”
Ferdinand stood and extinguished the fire. He helped me to my feet. “You would be wise to go no further, and return the way you came.” He looked me in the eye. “For all our sakes.”
Before I could say another word, still astounded and unsure of what I was seeing, questioning if I was truly awake, Ferdinand had stepped away from me. A doorway opened, one I suspect he knew would appear, and he rushed into it, disappearing for good. I tried to follow. I banged on the wall, every side of it, seeking an exit. Suddenly, a doorway appeared behind me. I had no choice but to take it.
I walked for what felt like hours. My water was low, my torchlight dim. All the walls looked the same to me, an expert in Mayan hieroglyphs. The pictures were mostly of people farming or fishing near the sea for crab. One scene repeated over and over. So much so, that I assumed I was going in circles. It depicted a group of warriors trying to capture a crab from the sea. The scene was rather comical, and reminded me of a Sunday comic strip, the way some people fled toward the ocean, rather than catch the crab. The picture was out of proportion. The sea seemed endless, and bigger than the landmass; the crab was bigger than the warriors, and the weapons were bigger than both man and crab. It was altogether an odd little scene. I started to mark the wall by carving a large X with a stone, though I hesitated, knowing I was defacing an artifact, something I was willing to overlook, considering my circumstances.
As I walked, wearily, the sea hunt picture was not the same one I had last viewed. I counted twenty new pictures and never once saw the marks I’d carved. Despite traversing new ground, I felt increasingly trapped and utterly lost. I was near to losing my wits, no longer thinking clearly and logically, when I heard gunfire and screams.
The screams were that of a woman. I could only hope it was Amelia. More gunfire ignited somewhere around me. I felt certain it came from behind the wall. I combed it with my hands hoping to find a switch, or trigger, but I found none. I waited. It was quiet. I ran down the tunnel, weaving around the jagged rocks, and rounding a corner, running straight into two soldiers dragging a tied up and gagged woman.
The first soldier raised his gun at me and fired. I dove to the left, and rolled into a spacious chamber, the Crow’s Lair. I knew because of the 100-foot tall stone crow at the center of the room. Circling the crow were large stone feathers, smooth enough to be used as a bed, and presumed to be a place of preparation prior to going to the Forty-Fifth Step, a place close by, if my deductions were correct.
I hid behind the foot of the crow, glancing back at the soldiers. They were Spanish, and if I was guessing—that is, dropping all reason from my mind—their uniforms were from the fourteenth century. These were Cortez’s lost soldiers, gone to look for gold in the King Crow’s Lair, and never returned, just as the legend told. But how was this possible?
The soldiers yelled at me in a Spanish dialect, one I couldn’t quite understand. I fired my pistol back, clipping the second soldier in the leg. They returned fire, but couldn’t reload their rifles fast enough. I overtook the injured one, clocking his head with a loose rock. The second soldier charged me. We rolled to the ground, throwing punches. I was weary already, and his strength nearly overtook me. His hands settled on my throat, and cut off my air. My hand slid to my pistol. I fired a shot in the air, not sure I could kill a man, despite his attempt to take my life. The shot scared him, and he backed away. I pointed it at him, yelling, “Get back,” in Spanish, unsure if he’d understand. The soldier fell back, and dragged his friend to cover.
I ran to the woman. I removed the gag and rope, keeping an eye on the soldiers. “Quickly, I said, pulling her to her feet, running, firing several rounds at the ceiling, which caused debris to fall for cover, before the soldiers could load their next round.
We ran blindly through tunnels and chamber. I couldn’t be sure if the soldiers followed, and only hoped we gave them the slip. Finally, the woman cried out for me to stop. We slid to the cold, stone floor to rest.
“They won’t come any further,” she said, out of breath.
“Are you hurt I asked?”
“Tired.” She was hunched over, so I couldn’t see her face. I offered her the last of my water, and when she took it, I noticed the good luck bracelet on her wrist, and the ambitious eyes of Amelia, though her face was different, aged in some way.
“Amelia, is it you?”
She nodded, tears brimming her eyes. Without another word she threw her arms around my neck and embraced me, crying, kissing the side of my face, and caressing my cheeks. “I can’t believe it’s you,” she said over and over. “I can’t believe it’s actually you.”
“Amelia, why do you look different to me, when it has only been hours since I last saw you?”
“Hours?” she laughed, and pulled out a small journal from her pouch. “By my calculations, and there’s no guarantee that I’ve been accurate, I’ve been here six years, three months and eleven days.”
“That is absurd, Amelia.” I stood up, perturbed. “I won’t give into this folly. Do you really expect me to believe you’ve been here, years?” I raised my arms in frustration. “We were but a few hours ago in the wheel room, when you spun it, and everything went haywire. I’ve been walking around here looking for you, and now that I’ve found you, we can go back and get the hell out of here, for good.”
She stood close to me. “Oh, Theodore, I wish it were that easy.” She touched my face again. “How have you managed to remain unchanged?” Her eyebrows bent inward, as if searching her mind for the answer. “Have you made it to the forty-fifth step?”
“No,” I said, bringing dried roots together into a pile to make a fire. The orange light filled the room, making it more inviting, despite the strange shadows it cast on the bare walls. We shared a ration of jerky and dried fruit together. “I assumed I was close when I saw the stone crow where the soldiers attacked.”
“The soldiers been wandering through this labyrinth for hundreds of years.” Amelia held her hands up to the fire, staring into it. “Is there no end?” Her body started to shake, as tears rolled down her eyes. I pulled her close to me and held her. She would not let me go, stricken with fear, and desperate for human touch. By the light of the fire we lay together, and made love, driving out the puzzle, the absurd, the uncanny for a short time.
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Hunter Liguore holds a BA in History and is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing. She enjoys writing in different genres, and even more so mixing genres, rather than limiting herself to one. Her work has appeared in diverse publications, including, "Katie Ireland," in Miranda Literary Magazine, "Piece," in Terra Incognito, and "The Wizard of Peillon," forthcoming in Mirror Dance. If you would like to follow Hunter Liguore on her journey around the world in thirty stories and thirty genres, visit: http://www.theworldinthirtystories.com
Labels: Hunter Liguore