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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2319965-Wherever-I-Go
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2319965
Some people pray to their God for some magic... Others are quietly going insane.
"Wait up, Gina!" Ryan called to his wife.

"You're going too fast," his friend Pete added, wiping away the sweat slipping out from under his safari hat. "This Mesopotamian heat is overpowering."

"When she's on the trail of a crucial discovery, nothing else matters."

They watched as Gina strode ahead, climbing the crumbling steps of an enormous columned structure. It had presumably once led into an ancient temple, but now the entranceway stood alone, looming silently, the heat-hazed sky showing through as if beckoning into an alternate universe. Her figure, silhouetted against the blinding light, faded gradually into a blurry mirage.

Pete stopped to rest in the deep shadow of a ruined wall, sitting on a pile of sandy rubble.

"You go on ahead, I'll catch up."

Unwilling to leave his tired friend, Ryan pulled out his walkie-talkie to inform Gina and sat down beside him.

"It would help if smartphones worked out here," Pete grumbled, taking a swig of water from his canteen. "I haven't checked my emails in three days."

"They make good flashlights," Ryan joked. "Lettie always told you not to waste time on Facebook anyway."

"Hey." Pete's eyes narrowed. "You're lucky. You still have Gina."

"I'm sorry. You're hurting. I shouldn't have said that."

"It's ok. I wish I knew what happened to her."

"That's why we're here."

"Vanished." Pete shook his head.

"We made a good team." Ryan said. "This dig was our most productive… until Lettie went off early one morning before the rest of us."

"We woke up to her frantic call over the radio. That was the last I ever heard from her…" Pete's voice broke. Ryan put an arm around his shoulders. "Wherever I go, she's the ghost in the room."

After a moment of silence, Gina's voice crackled their radios to life,

"Ryan, Pete! Hurry up. I found a temple! This is incredible!"

"Roger! We're coming—send directions! Over."

They jumped to their feet, rushing to climb the crumbled steps through the giant doorway.

"Maybe she's found clues about Lettie," Pete gasped.

"Gina, we need to know how far ahead you are."

"I'm inside the giant face—Oh no! Help!"

A tremendous splash of static burst from the radio. Then silence.

"My God, she's out!"

"It's happening again," Pete moaned. "I knew you should've caught up with her. It's all my fault."

"No it isn't. We have to find her."

"How? There are so many ruins surrounding us. We don't know where Gina could be."

"We'll track her footprints. Come on."

They trudged ahead, past towering, ruinous structures built of massive stone blocks. Several openings yawned into blackness. Ryan wondered if Gina had gone inside any of them. The "giant face" she mentioned would hopefully be a landmark.

"Ryan, I… I have a confession to make."

Ryan glanced at his friend with a raised eyebrow.

"Now? Like what?"

Pete kept his head down, eyes fixed on the sand, tracing Gina's footprints.

"I caused Lettie's disappearance."

Ryan blinked, rubbed his eyes, and stared at Pete, who wrung his hands and continued,

"Didn't you wonder how we found this dig site? It was a Ouija board… I played around, asking it to give us directions to the biggest archaeological discovery we've ever made. And it said "you really want to know?" And I was like "yes!" But... l had to pay for that information…"

"Well?"

"I signed over my wife! That was the deal. I thought it was a joke—the directions couldn't possibly lead anywhere. But I was desperate to hit it big, and here we were, and then it happened…"

"But… but that's nonsense! There's no such thing. You can't possibly believe that's what happened."

"I'm telling you the honest to God truth."

Ryan shook his head, frowning.

"The grief and shock is making you crazy, Pete. It wasn't your doing."

"Indeed, it was."

"So where's Gina? Did you sign her away too?"

"No, I swear not. The gods are angry with us. Maybe we disturbed them."

Ryan didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified.

"You're crazy," he mumbled.

They passed an embedded sculpture of a four-armed creature with a goat's head, a fish body, enormous bulging eyes that seemed to follow them, and a mocking, hanging tongue. Pete paused and stared at it.

"Just because you never give a thought to what lies beyond this life…" he mused.

"You're saying these wrecked temples and creepy ugly idols have spiritual significance? What are you, a pagan?"

"Maybe the ancient heathens knew more about the spirit world than we do."

"There is no spirit world!" Ryan snapped, stepping up his pace to get away from Pete. "You've lost your mind in the hot sun. Follow me—we'll find Gina and leave."

Ryan glanced back to see if Pete was coming. He swore the four-armed, fish-bodied creature winked at him. In shock, he tripped over a boulder half-sunk below the surface. He went plowing through the sand, dragging to a stop in front of a peculiarly curved wall.

"It's a face!" Pete yelled.

Ryan looked up. A gigantic three-dimensional stone face protruded from the solid wall, with a grim, Sphinx-like stare and eyes at least twenty feet off the ground.

"Gina said she was inside here?" He stood, brushing himself off. "Should we try "Open Sesame?""

"This is serious," Pete said, wrinkling his nose.

"I know it is, man! I must rescue Gina!" Ryan bent down, grabbed a rock and hurled it up at the impassive face.

It smashed into the sculpture's blank left eye, cratering a cloud of dust and a hole where the pupil should have been.

"Don't do that!" Pete grabbed his arm.

"You idiot!" Ryan growled. "I'll take a pickaxe to this thing if I have to!"

Their momentary scuffle was cut short by a loud cracking sound. The face split straight down the middle, and the two halves began to slide slowly apart with a creaking groan, revealing an opening.

Ryan darted inside as soon as the space was wide enough, followed by Pete.

Inside the long narrow hallway, the air was cool and damp, a sharp contrast to the blazing sun outside. Ryan lit his headlamp, but as his eyes adjusted he realized with a cold shock that the hall was lined with torches burning blue flames, casting flickering distorted shadows.

"Pete," he whispered, "how long have these been lit? There's not enough air!"

Pete shrugged silently, his lips pressed tight as if to hold back any fearful exclamation. The walls were covered in etched hieroglyphs and carvings of unearthly hybrid demigods. Ryan glanced back at the outside opening, a sliver of sunlight.

"This feels like a video game," he said, trying to find some connection to known reality. "Gina! Are you here?"

His call reverberated off the stones. Ryan stood frozen, straining for a response. The echoes of his voice died out, replaced by a high, thin, wailing chanting which sent shivers down his spine.

He and Pete advanced down the endless hallway, tracing the sounds.

Finally the walls opened out into a rounded chamber with a soaring roof. The chants grew louder, the blue torches burned brighter. A statue of the goat-headed, fish-bodied, four-armed creature, as tall as them, stood guard over a circular pool of water. Loathsome sulfuric fumes rose up from it.

Ryan's hair stood up. His stomach quivered warningly, though he hardly remembered what he'd eaten. He glanced over at Pete, who stared blankly at the statue as if he'd become one himself.

"Gina!" Ryan shouted, his pent-up horror exploding. "Where are you?"

The stone creature opened its mouth and gave out a long, hollow laugh.

"You seek your wives?" it said in a gruff, raspy voice. One arm waved at the pool in front of them.

Ryan felt as if he might collapse. He stepped forward and gazed into the pool. Vague faces drifted along. He almost thought he recognized someone. Then he saw her, floating just below the surface.

"Gina!" He dropped to his knees, reaching towards the murky, fuming water.

"No! Get back!" Pete dragged him away. "You'll be lost!"

"Is she… gone?"

Pete leaned over, peering into it.

"Lettie!"

While Pete was transfixed by his wife's spirit in the water, Ryan turned to face the statue. His headlamp shone directly into its eyes, making them glow red.

"Explain yourself, you monster!"

"I am Z'algath, the keeper of lost souls."

"Why Gina?!"

"She rushed to discover this temple ahead of you. It should have been Pete's to find. In her haste she plunged directly into the water. She is mine now."

"What about us?"

"Since you've been presumptuous enough to disturb my millennia of peace, I should add you to my collection as well. Pete can go free, as per his agreement." Z'algath pointed at Pete, who was still staring into the pool, and laughed again.

Pete jumped at the sound. He straightened up, facing Z'algath.

"No. Take me."

"What?" Ryan held him by the arm.

"I mean it." Pete brushed the sweaty hair out of his eyes and fixed them on Z'algath. "This is my fault. Take me. Give Gina back to Ryan."

"You can't do that!" Ryan cried.

"You forfeit your contract?" Z'algath rumbled.

"I'm not living with the burden of causing my three best friends to die!" Pete clenched his fists. "If I'd known it was for real, I would never have signed the contract. Let me undo this."

"You think you can swap yourself for Lettie?" Z'algath demanded. "It's too late. She'll not live again."

"All the more reason for me to stay," Pete answered, his voice trembling. "There's still time to free Gina. I'll take the consequences of my actions, apologize to Lettie. At least we'll be together. Wherever I go, I'm looking for her."

He drew closer to the water's edge.

"No!" Ryan yelled. "Giving yourself over might not free us. Don't!"

"What else can I do?"

Ryan answered by lunging towards Z'algath, grabbing the monstrous living statue around the waist. It let out a wild screech. They wrestled.

"Help me throw it into the water!"

Ryan quickly found that having four arms was an unfair advantage. Z'algath dragged him to the edge of the pool. Sulfur pierced his nostrils. He expected to be plunged into it within seconds. Desperately he clung to the creature, trying to get a grip.

Suddenly a blaze of blue flames stunned him. Pete shoved a torch in Z'algath's face. The monster screeched again, its hold on Ryan slipping. Pete grabbed one of its arms and twisted it, still holding the torch.

Together he and Ryan managed to overpower Z'algath, rolling it into the water with a mighty splash and volcanic clouds of steam.

Amid an ominous rumbling, Gina and Lettie appeared, weak and ghostly.

"Run!" Ryan grabbed her hand.

"It's collapsing!" Pete swung Lettie into his arms.

They plunged into the hall towards the entrance. Bits of rubble rained down. The walls began closing in on them.

Ryan and Gina burst into the sunlight as the opening narrowed. Pete slipped Lettie through and tried to force himself sideways.

"Hold on!" Ryan took his friend's hand in a fireman's grip and hauled hard. Pete's boot got stuck.

With a final creaking groan, the giant face seemed to spit Pete out as it slammed shut. He fell hard in the sand.

"We made it, man! We're alive!" Ryan helped him to his feet.

Pete gawked at his sock foot. He clung to Lettie. With a thunderous roar, the ancient temple collapsed into a pile of stones, leaving nothing but the face, staring impassively into the distance.

The four friends linked arms and trudged away. They passed the image of Z'algath on the wall. Ryan stuck his tongue out at it. He swore it winked at him.

They assisted each other down the steps of the entranceway in silence.

"I'm sorry," Pete whispered, as they stopped to rest at the point where it all began.


Author's Notes
Lyrics to Wherever I Go
© Copyright 2024 Amethyst Angel🌸📝🪽 (greenwillow at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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