‘Jennifer and The Maya’ Short Story by Guest Author Alex Knight

Guest Author Alex Knight

Guest Author Alex Knight

Racing from the square, Jennifer knew something had gone inexplicably wrong. The dense foliage impeded her progress through the jungle. Her face and arms scratched and bloody, she pushed on. Exposed roots threatened to trip her more than once, and it was all she could do to keep her balance. Tempted to look over her shoulder, she knew her attention could not be diverted from watching for pitfalls ahead. With two sets of pursuers on her heels she couldn’t afford to stop for a second. Her chest about to explode, she saw her only chance of escape ahead. If she could just make it to the river, she knew she would be safe.

Finally looking over her shoulder, she saw them both gaining on her. The Mayas were on one side and the conquistadors were on the other. It was 1518 and the Spaniards weren’t supposed to be here yet. Then Jennifer recognized the second set of pursuers, they weren’t conquistadors. It would take a miracle for her to make it to the river alive now. A shot rang out just as a brown arm snaked around her waist, pulling her down. Everything went black.

Waking some time later, Dr. Jennifer Wallace Whittaker was surprised to find that her limbs, though stiff, were not bound. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she realized she was in some sort of cave. Chilled, she was glad to see there was a small fire a few feet away. The large figure of her attacker huddled over it. He appeared to be the only other occupant of the cave. She knew she would have to outwit or outrun this man when she regained her strength and senses.

Trying to sit up she was overcome with pain and dizziness that gave way once again to the welcoming void. When she finally awoke she was cold and her shoulder hurt like hell. Her head swam as she tried to recall what had happened. It was a routine mission, go back in time and locate the artifact. After moving it to a safe location so that it could not be destroyed or stolen by the invading culture, she would have time jumped home again. If successful, the item would then be discovered in her time and preserved for eternity.

Twice before, as she was preparing for her jump back to her own time, she had encountered a presence from her own era. An unscrupulous collector, the American’s only thought was of the riches he could acquire from the past. He left an unnecessary trail of death and destruction in his wake. Despicable as he was, he took great pains not to alter recorded history. He would go back in time and steal treasures, but none of the truly famous ones that had already been discovered and publicly acknowledged.

The American, Austin Davis, had been Jennifer’s fiancé, with the emphasis on had. They had met when she had given a lecture at a university in Texas. He accompanied Jennifer to London when she returned, to meet her father. Austin was an archaeologist as well and it seemed natural that he should work with both of them.

When he discovered what Alfred had developed, greed overtook him. Rather than see the wonderful artifacts that could be saved from destruction or loss, to the benefit of all mankind, he only saw the treasures he could rob from antiquity. He doubled his already enormous fortune before Jennifer and her father realized what he was doing yet they were powerless to stop him. He thought Jennifer a fool for not wanting to acquire personal wealth and Jennifer merely thought him a fool.

Her timing had been impeccable, so what went wrong? The village was supposed to be already abandoned in advance of the marauding conquistadors. Yet the tribe was still here in the holy city. Was it because of the invasion by the Americans? Seeing her golden hair the natives seemed to believe she was a goddess. She had barely escaped them in time and not before the leader of invaders had also seen and recognized Jennifer.

Searching inside her shirt for the waterproof pouch, her hand came up empty. She knew she had the parchments before she was attacked, where were they now? She believed the script on them would enable her generation to decipher the Mayan records that had already been recovered. The hope was that the records would tell how The Mayas had accomplished their engineering feats with such precision; and how they knew the secrets of the heavens hundreds of years before it should have been possible. It might tell the world just who The Mayas really were, where they had come from and, hopefully, where they had gone.

Why was there only one person inside the cave with her? Surely they had more than one guard in place. Just who were her captors? Was it Austin Davis and his thieving band of followers? Had a native runner of the devious American grabbed her? Or, were The Mayas protecting a god?

An excruciating pain stopped Jennifer before she could get to her feet. Touching her left shoulder gingerly she was surprised to feel a sticky wetness there. Tasting her fingertips, her suspicion was confirmed – blood. With more strength than she thought she could muster, she crawled to the fire for a better look. Tearing open her shirt, the wound became visible. It was from a bullet and there was no exit wound.

Patting her pockets, Jennifer realized she had nothing left of her survival gear. She had lost everything during her horrific flight through the jungle. She slowly reached for the knife in her captor’s waistband. His immediate reaction left Jennifer terrified as he straddled her, knife pressed to her throat. Eyes swimming with unshed tears and experiencing more pain than she could bear, she knew she had but one chance. With her free hand she made a digging, twisting motion over the wound in her left shoulder. Did he understand what needed to be done? What could he know of such things as bullets, was her last conscious thought.

Waking, she wondered how long she had been unconscious. Touching her shoulder, it felt strangely thick, but painless. Making her way to the fire again she saw the Maya was asleep. On the floor, beside his bloody knife was the 32-caliber bullet he had dug from her body. Removing the leaves he had secured to her shoulder, she saw reddish clay covering her wound. Whatever it was had an anesthetizing effect. She hoped she could bring enough of it back to her lab to analyze it. Her lab… she wondered if she could even get back to her lab or if she had missed her jump home.

Just then her captor stirred and sat bolt upright, staring at her. She held out the bullet, touched her wound and smiled. He smiled back. Then he offered her water from a pottery bottle. As the refreshing coolness washed down her throat Jennifer suddenly realized she was both thirsty and hungry. She put her hand to her mouth and made chewing motions. He nodded and thrust a pouch of berries toward her. Though more bitter than anything she had ever tasted Jennifer was careful not to grimace. Until she knew whether or not she could still get home she couldn’t afford to insult or antagonize him.

Their inability to verbally communicate was going to be a problem that might prove to be dangerous. Jennifer was confident in her ability to recreate hieroglyphics but she knew there wouldn’t always be time or opportunity to scratch out what could be conveyed in a word or two. Thinking of Tarzan movies she had seen as a child, she pointed to her chest.

“Jennifer.”

He nodded but said nothing. She tried again, Jennifer; a third time, Jennifer. Finally, a sound came from his lips, probably as close to Jennifer as his vocabulary would allow. She touched his chest and looked at him inquiringly, touched her chest, said, Jennifer, and touched his chest again. When he didn’t answer, she muttered more to herself than him.

“I need to call you something.”

Thinking of Tarzan again and in particular Johnny Weismeuller, she tapped his chest again.

“Johnny.”

There was no time for him to answer her. Someone was outside the cave’s entrance. Making a timeless gesture for ssh, he quickly pulled her to another opening at the back of the cave. She heard the all too familiar voice.

“She’s been here, find her.”

Thanks to a quick shove on her back, Jennifer found herself propelled through the air; arms and legs wind milling as she saw the lake several feet below. She forced herself into a diving position before she hit the water. As her head broke the surface she saw her captor/savior at the same time she saw the first bullets strike the water. Austin and the others were firing from above. She pointed upward and dove beneath the surface again. Johnny quickly followed suit.

Lungs about to burst, Jennifer came up for air and saw Johnny’s hand pointing to the far shore she nodded. Swimming should have put a serious strain on her wounded shoulder, but amazingly Jennifer felt no pain. This man must be the royal healer, she told herself. Struggling to her feet, Jennifer waded ashore. Feeling exhausted, she wondered how much longer she could go on.

More importantly, she wondered what the date was. She hoped the old Mayan star calendars were as accurate as she believed them to be. Jennifer also hoped she was as expert at reading them as others believed her to be. In the dense rain forest, the night sky was invisible. Jennifer had to see the position of the stars. Drawing star shapes in the earth and pointing skyward, she hoped her meaning was clear. Johnny nodded, and pulled her to her feet, leading her deeper into the jungle. Didn’t he understand? She had to see the sky, why was he leading her to thicker cover?

Eventually they reached a clearing and Jennifer gasped in awe. Before her stood a step pyramid unlike any she had seen in her travels or reference books. While not unlike the typical Mayan ruins, there was a difference; this wasn’t a ruin. It had been newly built. This was probably the last structure the Mayas had erected before they…? Before they what… fled the Spaniards or returned from whence they came? Looking up, Jennifer could see that the treetops blocked the top of the pyramid from her view. Since this was outside the immediate group of structures at Tikal, she had no idea how tall this particular pyramid was. The rain forest had so completely swallowed it up that it had yet to be discovered in her time.

Johnny pressed against a stone and a counterbalance weight opened a secret doorway. How had he known just where and how to do that? Lighting two torches and handing one to her, he led the way through a complex series of mazes. Jennifer could tell they were climbing steadily upward, other than that there seemed to be no logic to the twists and turns they made. Soon they were in the top chamber. Looking up at the night sky she was instantly humbled. The clarity of the view, the alignment of room to the heavens, everything was as she had imagined it would be.

Taking a moment to look across the treetops, she could see the top of the pyramid at Mundo Perdido (the Lost World), Temple IV and the Great Plaza in the distance. No one in her time had ever stood in such a wondrous place. If she ever made it back to her own time, she could tell no one save her partner, Dr. Alfred Whittaker, her father and inventor of the time machine. A respected archaeologist in his own right, Alfred was also an inveterate inventor and held several patents. He had developed the time machine which allowed his daughter, also an archaeologist, to go back in time to preserve precious artifacts.

So far, the only flaw was trying to judge enough time to complete the altruist mission and return to the present time. The return time and date had to be entered into the calculations before her mission even started. If she was ever in danger of missing her ticket home, Jennifer was to abort the mission; or risk staying in that time period forever. In her two previous jumps, Jennifer had always had enough time to remove the artifact from imminent danger and hide it where it could be unearthed in her own time, in a respectable, government sanctioned dig.

Temptation aside, she was always careful to let someone else make the historically significant discovery, although she had often been called upon to authenticate the item. At twenty-nine years of age, Jennifer was an expert whose opinion was always being sought; although the younger Dr. Whittaker had not intended to follow in her father’s footsteps.

In college Jennifer had it all. At five feet, ten inches tall, she weighed one hundred thirty-five pounds. She was proportionate yet muscular and in excellent health. With her natural good looks, long golden hair and bright green eyes, she turned many heads and was often mistaken for one of the leading super models instead of an Olympic class athlete. Jennifer had been a track and field star and the diving champion. She was also an excellent marksman, being equally at ease with firearms, a long bow or cross-bow. She had been a sure bet to win several medals for England during the upcoming Olympics. Then her father suffered a major heart attack and everything changed.

Working on the time machine in a sole desire to preserve ancient artifacts for the future, it had been his intention to be the time jumper. He made one such trip, the attack had occurred during the journey back. He barely made it out of the portal alive. Wanting to fulfill her father’s dream, Jennifer stepped into his shoes.

Jennifer looked toward the heavens; if reading her stars right, she had less than 5 hours to return to the place of her entry into this era. Not knowing how far she was from the portal, could it be achieved? And what of the parchments, the reason for her jump in the first place? Without first securing them, her jump and her injury would have been for nothing.

When she started to reach for his knife, Jennifer remembered Johnny’s prior reaction. Pointing to his knife and making carving motions in the stone, he realized what she wanted. Handing the knife to her hilt first, he stood back. On the stone table she carved a rudimentary Mayan alphabet, drew the parchments and a likeness to her waterproof pouch. He looked at it and nodded. God, she thought, this is so frustrating. It would be so simple if I could just tell him what I wanted, what I hoped to do. If I could explain that I came from the future so that the story of his culture could be shared with people for all eternity would he help or hinder me?  Had The Mayas wanted to remain a mystery when they disappeared?

Pointing to her carvings again, she looked around as if puzzled and searching for something. Would he understand that she was looking for them? He merely smiled at her and nodded again. Jennifer’s eyes were locked on his mouth and she realized how handsome he was; especially when he smiled at her that way.

“What I wouldn’t give, if the circumstances were different, to kiss that mouth,” she sighed.

In the torchlight, she could see him moving around the sacred chamber, touching the walls here and there. Once again, after pressing on a stone, a door opened. Johnny stepped into the darkness and the door closed again. Well that’s just great, Jennifer thought. What do I do now? Can I find my way back to the portal without his help?

Just when she was about to succumb to despair, the door opened again. Johnny appeared carrying a small golden chest. Placing it on the table, he turned an intricately carved sundial back and forth several times. Then he pressed on both sides of the chest and the lid sprang open. Again she wondered how he knew to do that, how he knew of the doorways that were all but invisible to the naked eye.

Inside the chest was another parchment. It was written on tree bark paper and laminated with white lime. Gently holding it up to the torchlight, it appeared to be identical to the ones she had hoped to preserve, and quite similar to the Dresden Codex. It was the damage done to the Dresden codex that had prompted this mission. During the bombings of World War II, twelve of its beautifully ‘written’ seventy-four pages were damaged and the glyphs on the upper left hand corner of those pages were completely destroyed.

Jennifer started carving once again. When Johnny read what she had written another smile broke across his face.

“God, I’m going to miss that smile, if I get home safely, that is.”

Taking the parchment from her, he secured it in the chest once again. Showing her how to open it, he repeated the process several times until satisfied she understood the sequence of movements. Putting the torches out in the sand, he carried the chest in one hand and led her along with the other. Shivering, Jennifer realized it wasn’t from the cold.

Crashing through the rough foliage, Jennifer hoped with all her heart that Johnny understood the critical time factor involved. The sun was on the rise and she had only minutes left. Then she saw the portal ahead. Could she make it across the square? Austin and his mercenary army were nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t mean they weren’t watching for her.

There were several Maya between her and the doorway home. Try as she might, she couldn’t figure out a way to reach the portal safely in the little time that was left. Without warning Johnny let out an ear-piercing cry followed by unintelligible words in a voice that thundered across the clearing and seemed to come from everywhere at once. One by one The Maya looked skyward and then each one bowed his head and left the square. Walking noiselessly into the Petén jungle, they had all disappeared from view. Within seconds the jungle swallowed them up.

With less than five minutes to spare, Johnny pulled her to him in a fast embrace. After kissing her with a passion that stirred a fire far below, he thrust the chest at her and shoved her into the portal. The vision before her faded into a swirling mist and Jennifer thought she saw Johnny turn into a bird and soar upward, to the heavens. She was worried. Time jumping had never affected her senses or her vision this way before; neither had a kiss.

Drinking the tea her father set before her, Jennifer began to recount her misadventures filling him in on Austin’s presence and her escape. She was just reaching the part in her story about Johnny when they were interrupted by a knock on the study door. It opened and a tall, darkly handsome man entered the room. He looked hauntingly familiar. Her eyes were drawn to his mouth, in particular his lips.

 

Her unsteady hand put the teacup back in its saucer before she dropped it. She felt like the air had been sucked out of her lungs. There was something in the way he smiled at her. She barely heard her father’s voice as Alfred introduced them.

 

“Jennifer, I would like you to meet our new assistant, Dr. Joachim Toriello.”

 

Taking her hand, he said, “A pleasure to finally meet you Jennifer. I have been awaiting your safe return. Please, call me Johnny.”