I have had a grueling night, my friends.
I first looked for "A Field Guide to Desecrating Ancient Mayan Ruins: 101 Rules, Guidelines, and Best Practices" on Amazon. Unfortunately, the earliest it could be shipped to me was Saturday afternoon; too late for me to receive it in time before my flight at 9am. Distraught, I dug deeply into the dark recesses of the web and discovered a forum frequented by some of the more eclectic amateur archaeologists. A few members had certainly heard of this book. One user, a fellow who goes by MayanProphecy1979, even knew of a collector who would likely own a copy of that very manual, a recluse who, fortunately for me, happened to live less than an hour's drive from my own home.
I emailed the man, letting him know of my situation and how I had been directed to him for assistance. I stressed the urgency of my need for this book and how every part of my quest hinged upon a very short timeframe. Waiting for a response was quite vexing, as I had no other recourse. My attempts at locating an electronic copy via darknet were in vain; I heard only stories of mysterious fires and uncontrollable viruses whenever an attempt was made to scan it.
After a couple of grueling hours, I received a very terse email reply with rough directions to a house in the mountains. Encouraged, I wasted no time in heading out.
The drive was quite long and, I must admit, a bit hairier than I was expecting. I had to drive slowly through the narrow and winding paths. The recent rains had made large potholes in the old and cracked mountain roads. Eventually, even the pavement ended and the closer I got to my destination, the more I feared getting my poor car lodged in some deep, muddy pit.
Breathtaking is the word that describes the vista which greeted me at my journey's end. This recluse, whoever he may be, lives at the very top of a high ridge, with an excellent view of a darkly forested valley. It was late enough at that time for the moon to be up, casting its silvery glow upon the ranks of trees before me, reflected from the waters of a freshly engorged river. The air smelled of damp earth and pine trees.
And his house! A large and sturdy affair, made of great planks of wood expertly crafted and fitted. Redwood shingles adorned the roof. Split level, 3 stories, a stable, barn, and a large detached garage, all clearly illuminated in moonlight. Candlelight flickered through gauzy curtains from several windows.
I don't mind telling you that I stood in awe of it all for several minutes. Who is this man?, I wondered. I still wonder.
When I fixed my step toward the door, I noticed a quick flash of movement behind one of the curtains, poorly illuminated from the side. A cat, perhaps, chasing his flickering shadow? No matter, I thought.
I climbed the wooden steps up to the porch, hearing the loud creaking of old wood as I did so. I approached the door with uncertainty, hoping that my haste had not led me into danger this far from home. The air had chilled more than I expected and I could see my breath cloud before the faint light bleeding through the small windows to each side of the door. My nerves had begun to get the better of me, for when what I had taken to be a small piece of furniture inside one of those windows begin to turn, I gasped audibly. A curtain was flung aside and a face, certainly no more than 4' from the floor, looked up at me. I could see no features, only the rough outline of a head.
I hesitated, not sure if I should knock, since the occupants obviously knew of my arrival, but also seriously entertaining the idea of turning around, getting back in my nice familiar car, and driving away. But, no, I knew that I must see this through if I was ever to have peace at home again.
My courage thus steeled, I raised my fist and knocked upon the door. The face disappeared from the window. Seconds creeped by. Just as I began to wonder at the cold (my hands and nose were already turning numb) I heard a slow shuffling from inside and the door opened with barely a whisper.
The diminutive woman who stood before me must have been more than 100 years old. Her body was framed in a shapeless black dress, her ancient hands held onto a gnarled cane fashioned of driftwood, and her craggy face peered at mine. Her gray hair had been pulled back into a tight bun. I could see that her left eye was missing with the lid sunken over the empty socket. She looked me up and down. I could tell nothing from the severe line of her mouth as I suspected from the creases in her face that that expression was as permanent as could be.
"You are here for the book?" she asked me through an accent that sounded vaguely German.
"The book on the Mayans? Yes. By the way, I am-"
She cut me off with a curt wave of her cane. "It does not matter," she said. "Come in. I get Franz."
She led me down a short hallway to a small sitting room, pointed at a chair upholstered in red velvet, and left. I sat, poised on the edge, back straight. I must say that I was far from comfortable and the urge to flee had never quite left.
Franz appeared in short order. He had dark, disheveled hair, pale, blue eyes, and lips embarrassingly red for a man. He shook my hand absentmindedly and then took a seat of his own.
He told me that he did, in fact, have the book I so desperately needed. He questioned me in detail about my situation and what I proposed to do about it. When the subject turned to the Mayans, he eyes glowed in great delight.
"I have often wished to add the bones of the great Xbalanque to my collection," he said. "But I have had no opportunity to travel so far south." A strange wistfulness crossed his face briefly before he continued. "You say that you only need his skull to fashion this spade? And that you will have no need of it afterward?"
I confirmed this to him.
"Most excellent, indeed," he said. "I will gladly loan you this book if I can in turn ask for a favor. Bring me back as many of the bones of Xbalanque as you are able. In turn, I will not only give you use of this book, but I will introduce you to one of my agents in the area. She will be able to find you guides, equipment, anything you need."
"You are quite generous," I said, astounded at this offer.
He shrugged. "It is simple for me and I would very much like to see these bones."
We talked briefly about some of the local happenings. He seemed oddly informed for someone who lived in so remote a location and who obviously rarely ventured out into the sunlight.
"I should be getting back home," I said after a while.
"Certainly," he said. "I easily forget the time. But, first you must have some tea and meet my daughter, Irena."
I turned in the direction of his gaze and nearly jumped out of my skin. His daughter stood but mere inches from me. So still and quiet did she stand that I would have thought her a statue had I not known better. She must have been no more than 8 or 9 and had the same dark hair and pale skin of her father. Her long hair had fallen across the left side of her face and she wore a simple white nightgown. In her hands were 2 cups of tea, one for her father and one for me.
I tried to recover as well as I could under the circumstances. The warm tea felt good on my cold hands and warmed my belly.
The rest of my evening in that house is... hazy. The warmth of the tea spread quickly, finally thawing out the cold I had felt since coming to the door. But the warmth began to feel wrong and my limbs became quite heavy. I think I tried to stammer out an apology and get up but ended up falling onto the hardwood floor. I have vague memories of his daughter leaping upon my outstretched arm and biting it. I know that I felt only the slightest of tugs.
There are more memories, but they are all quite jumbled and fading and I would rather not delve into them. When the fog cleared, I found myself driving, only a couple of miles from home and with a copy of "A Field Guide to Desecrating Ancient Mayan Ruins: 101 Rules, Guidelines, and Best Practices" in the passenger seat next to me. Later on when I had the strength of will to open it, did I notice a slip of paper with the name Luisa Gonzalez and a phone number written upon it in smudged ink.
I have not slept at all this night.