Into the Jungle of Ghosts
The column made its way through the jungle along one of the well-worn trails that lead to the first village. It was getting hotter as the sun rose during the morning but the trail was well shaded by the large palm trees that covered the path.
Tera had gone ahead taking a short path through the jungle that she knew about to scout ahead. Jack smiled and watched as she moved through the underbrush with ease. She was in her element now and even the Captain had a good word for her.
“She is quite adept at reconnaissance isn’t she.” He said to Lieutenant Bisby.
“Yes quite.” He replied.
Soon she had disappeared into the underbrush and it seemed as though the jungle had swallowed her up completely.
The column advanced a few more miles without incident along the trail. Suddenly Tera stumbled out of the forest and made her way over too Vanessa. She mumbled something to her in Quazistani and collapsed nearly fainting.
“What is it…what did she say?” the Captain asked hurrying to Vanessa’s side.
“She said they were all dead. She said everything is gone.” Vanessa responded. She wasn’t really sure what Tera had meant by that statement.
“Lieutenant, send four men ahead double time and have them report back to me if they find anything.” Harris ordered.
Bisby issued the order and the four men ran down the trail ahead of the main column.
They followed at a normal walking pace rifles in hand and bayonets fixed. After about another half a mile one of the four soldiers came running back. He stopped in front of the Captain and saluted.
“Sir, we found the village. It’s been burned to the ground. There doesn’t seem to be anyone alive.” The soldier reported.
“Column advance double time.” The Captain ordered. The men began to run forward with their rifles at the ready followed by Vanessa, Tera, and Jack bringing up the rear.
At the top of the hill that looked down into the village the Captain ordered his men to fan out and form a perimeter around the village.
Harris and Lieutenant Bisby surveyed the ruins with their binoculars.
They stood silent as they took in the scene of carnage below. Not only had every building in the village been burned to the ground there were many bodies littering the ground all over the village. Atrocities had been committed here by the likes none of them had ever witnessed until now.
“I Gods name what kind of savages would do a thing like this?” Bisby asked.
“White ones.” Jack said stepping up behind the two British officers.
“What are you talking about?” Harris asked.
“Slavers Captain…man known as Sheetz. He’s a monster. Rumor has it he was a guerilla fighter during our civil war. They say he was so ruthless and violent that the confederate army revoked his commission…real piece of work this fellow.” Jack said looking out over the village ruins.
“Well it seems we’ve discovered the reason why no one has heard from these people.” Lieutenant Bisby said.
“Indeed Bisby indeed.” The Captain replied.
“This will not go unanswered. The British Crown will not allow her subjects to be treated in such a manner.” Harris stated.
“Yeah well the Crown will today Captain. If Sheetz is still in the area we’d better high tail it out of here as soon as possible.” Jack said turning to leave.
“I’ll decide when we leave Mr. Cooper not you.” Harris snapped.
“Captain I’m not trying to take over this mission I’m just saying we’re out matched and out gunned here. Smart thing to do is make a run for it and report this.” Jack replied.
“Mr. Cooper I will not be challenged in front of my men. If you wish to leave then kindly do so but the rest of us are staying right here!” the Captain shouted.
Jack stepped towards the Captain only to be blocked by Lieutenant Bisby.
“Step back Mr. Cooper, there’s a good gentleman. If you’re going to stay maybe you could help us find a nice defensible position seeing how you are familiar with the area sir.” Bisby said defusing the situation.
Jack stepped back and walked away. Bisby was right. They needed to find a safe position if they were to plan on continuing this mission.
Jack went to where Vanessa was standing. Tera was still with her and they were conversing quietly in Quazistani.
“Looks like we’ll be staying ladies. The Captain wants to complete the mission it seems.” Jack said.
“Good, I won’t be intimidated by these villains. The Captain is right to continue the mission.” Vanessa replied.
Jack was surprised by Vanessa’s misplaced act of bravery.
“No, not good Vanessa. If this guy Sheetz is still nearby and finds us we’ll wind up just like those poor souls in the village. Do you understand what they’ll do to you and Tera if they capture us?” Jack asked Vanessa.
“Never the less Mr. Cooper. If you haven’t the backbone for this expedition then perhaps you shouldn’t have come.” Vanessa’s words bit deep into Jack. She thought him a coward for wanting to leave.
“Okay fine! I’m staying. I’m staying if for no other reason than to see your face when his men grab you and slap a set of irons on those wrists of yours.” Jack said angrily.
Jack was furious that Vanessa thought he was a coward. His only concern had been for her safety.
“Jack, she doesn’t understand.” Tera said turning towards Jack.
“Jack’s right Vanessa. This man Sheetz is very dangerous just look at the village he left nothing alive even the ones to old to work were murdered. He left nothing alive at all.” Tera said defending Jack.
Vanessa looked at Tera and then at Jack.
“Perhaps you’re right Tera, please forgive me Mr. Cooper I spoke in haste. You must understand that I’ve waited my whole life to explore this country. I just don’t want to loose this opportunity.” Vanessa said begging forgiveness.
“Okay lets just drop it. If we’re staying I think we need to set up a safe place up in those old ruins on the hill. At least they’re made of stone and have walls that can be defended.” Jack said pointing at the ancient ruins on a nearby hill.
“No not there. Taboo. It is not so good to go to such places.” Tera said anxiously.
“It’s the only place Tera and besides I’d rather take my chances with a bunch of ghosts than Sheetz and his cutthroats.” Jack said.
“I’m afraid he’s right Tera. Although we should pay our respects to the ancients before we enter.” Vanessa said.
“I’ll tell the Captain I found a spot while you two do whatever you need to do.” Jack said. He smiled at the two women and made his way over to the British officers.
Tera and Vanessa picked up their belongings and started for the old ruins. Tera hung back due to fear of the old legends the elders of this area had told around the village fire late at night.
They told of ghost walking around in the ruins that would take people into the spirit world and feed on their souls for all eternity.
“We should make an offering to the dead Vanessa. We should gather some food and burn it as an offering.” Tera said.
“I think a simple prayer should suffice Tera. The British would just see us as foolish heathens chattering away they’re superstitious nonsense.” Vanessa replied.
Tera stopped in her tracks.
“Is that what you think now Vanessa? I remember you when we were very young. You believed in those superstitions back then.” Tera asked.
“Tera there is no time to go wandering off gathering the things we need or to pursue this conversation any further. We’ll go in the ruins and offer the ancestors a prayer and that will be that.” Vanessa said firmly.
“As you wish Vanessa but I think you are afraid of what the British Captain will think of you if you make an offering.” Tera said.
Vanessa didn’t reply. Tera was right. She had chosen to be British and forget her Quazistan roots. It was a British world and she had to fit in it as best she could.
They finally reached the ruins and looked back down the hill. The soldiers had gathered up their belongings and had begun to head up the hill.
Vanessa pulled Tera close and closed her eyes and folded her hands. She quickly recited a protection prayer accompanied by Tera.
“We should do it once more just in case.” Tera said.
Vanessa looked around at the ancient ruins with their faded carvings and dark corridors that were shrouded in darkness. Vanessa nodded in agreement and they prayed one last time.
“Set up the camp at the center of the courtyard Sergeant and detail four men to clear away some of this undergrowth. I don’t want anyone tripping in the dark.” Lieutenant Bisby said calmly.
The men went about their work securing the area as best they could in short order. Vanessa cringed as they lifted stones and put them into gaps in the walls. They were destroying the archeological integrity of the site with every over turned stone and stomping shuffling boot.
Vanessa couldn’t stand it any longer and walked to the far side of the ruin away from the direction of the village from where they came. She noticed several crypts and tombs as well as other monuments pushing their way through the jungle growth. It was a Necropolis, a city of the dead. There must be hundreds of tombs and graves just a few yards below where she stood. Vanessa reached into her pocket and pulled out her field journal and with a shaking hand began to take notes. This Necropolis would be a fantastic resource of information of her ancestors akin to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. She began to walk down the hill stopping to take notes as she got closer to the site.
“Vanessa what are you doing?” Tera shouted from the top of the hill.
Vanessa hadn’t even realized she was halfway to the tombs until Tera called her. It was as if some unknown force was pulling her closer to the resting places of her ancestors.
Vanessa looked up the hill towards Tera. She was pointing back at Vanessa and motioning to Jack to go and get her. Jack hurried down the hill in her direction.
“Miss Downe where are you going?” Jack asked trying not to trip on anything in the underbrush.
“I’m fine…I was just a little overcome by these crypts I’ve discovered.” She said in a daze.
Jack took her gently by the arm and led her back up the hill. The closer she got to the fortified ruins the more her head cleared.
“Thank you Jack I don’t know what came over me. I feel better now.” Vanessa said slightly embarrassed.
“You’re okay now Miss Downe…must have been the heat that took you for a spell.” Jack fanned her with his hat as he led her back into the safety of the ruins.
Captain Harris turned and saw Jack leading Vanessa into the ruins.
“Good heavens! Are you injured Vanessa?” the Captain asked as he made his way to her side.
“No…it must have been the heat. I was just a little confused for a moment.” She replied.
Captain Harris poured Vanessa some water from his canteen into a small collapsible silver cup and let her have a drink.
“Thank you all but really it was nothing. You all must go back to what you were doing at once before I die of embarrassment.” She remarked laughing and more than a little self-conscious.
“As you will.” The Captain said smiling.
Soon everyone was back doing their chores and preparing for the evening to come. Vanessa looked back down the hill at the Necropolis and knew she had to return. This might be the only chance to bring back evidence of an ancient race that once reined over the whole area, Evidence of a great and powerful race of people that she was descended from.
Eventually darkness engulfed the jungle and its surroundings. All was quiet in the camp with only the sound of light conversation between the soldiers. There was a fire burning brightly in the courtyard of the ruins illuminating the soldiers on watch. Captain Harris walked over to the building where Vanessa was sleeping and found Tera curled up sleeping at the doorway.
“Ahem!” Harris said clearing his throat.
Tera sat up looking at the Captain with one eye and rubbing the other.
“I’ve come to check on Miss Downe.” He said holding his hands behind him and rocking back and forth on his heels.
“I’ll go get her” Tera said sleepily. “Oh and I’m fine too.” She said sarcastically knowing the Captain would have never wasted his time checking on one of the “Quazzies” like herself.
Tera went in the building and burst back out almost immediately.
“She’s gone!” Tera said eyes wide from dread. She instinctively looked in the direction of the Necropolis.
“The dead…they call to her.” She said.
“Lieutenant Bisby! Gather a squad and follow me down the hill in quick fashion! Miss Downe has gone missing and I believe her to be in those damnable crypts blast it all!” Harris said drawing his pistol and sword. He quickly made his way around the building and started off down toward the city of the dead.
“What’s going on?” Jack asked Tera. He had heard the commotion and gone directly to Vanessa’s building.
“Vanessa has gone back down the hill…they call to her.” Tera said.
“Who calls to her Tera? Who?” Jack shouted grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her.
“The ghosts Jack! It’s the Jungle of Ghosts!” Tera said twisting free of Jack’s grip. Jack climbed out of the window and ran down the hill in the direction of graves.
The moon was full and there weren’t any tall trees anywhere in the whole area of the Necropolis. Captain Harris had entered the site sword and pistol at the ready.
“Miss Downe! Vanessa can you hear me?” He called into the still night with no reply. Almost at once he saw faint bluish lights appearing as if from nowhere ahead of him. A chill ran down his spine as he recognized them to be like the ones he had seen before from the boat.
Fear gripped him for the first time and he couldn’t help feel he was stepping through a veil from this world to another as he entered the Necropolis. Harris was emboldened when he heard Bisby and his men coming down the hill to aid in the search.
Jack ran down the hill holding his Winchester rifle with both hands. He vaulted over the low outer wall of the Necropolis and began his own search in earnest. Like Harris he called out to Vanessa in the darkness. He was falling in love with this girl and he was bound and determined to bring her back to safety.
“Alright men I want us all to stick together. No running off or getting lost understand?” Lieutenant Bisby ordered. He had seen the Captain run off unprepared without thought and was determined to keep his men in line and not have them panic.
“Shoulder width apart gentlemen and begin a sweep from this wall to the far wall. Walk slowly and keep together.” He said calmly. He began the sweep in silence with only the Captain and Jack’s voice calling out occasionally to break it.
Vanessa stood in front of the doorway to one of the larger crypts. The door itself was gone and most of the vines that covered this area seemed to have been cleared away. A dim bluish light seemed to be coming from the bottom of the long stairway that extended deep down under the crypt. She was confused and wasn’t sure how she had wound up here. Suddenly she saw a dark cloaked figure appear on the stairs below her. She became terrified and tried to get away but she felt as though she was moving through water that slowed her down and made every movement an act of sheer strength. Vanessa heard her voice being called in the distance. She made out the voices of two men, Jack and Captain Harris. The figure was getting closer now and reached out too her.
Vanessa screamed loudly as the icy fingers of the phantom touched her arm.
Captain Harris heard Vanessa’s scream and ran in that direction. Almost at once he noticed to his horror a black-cloaked figure running just a few yards parallel to his left trying to keep up with him. It had appeared from nowhere and was trying to intercept him. Fear began to grip him as he realized he was now the one being attacked. His soldier training kicked in and he yelled charging the mysterious figure slashing wildly at it with his sword. They struck each other full force knocking each other to the ground. There was a second of relief as Harris realized the figure was flesh and blood and not a specter come to take his soul. The two wrestled for control of the sword and the pistol. Harris rolled on top of the attacker pinning him to the ground causing its hood to fall away from its face.
Harris screamed and fell backwards at the sight he beheld. The face as well as the hair was dead white. Huge black dilated eyes stared back at him with a look of hideous rage. The being snapped and snarled at him like a wild animal frightening Harris beyond his ability to comprehend what he was seeing before him. He rolled away screaming in terror at the creature and ran off into the jungle.
“Captain Harris!” Lieutenant Bisby called upon hearing the Captain’s screams of terror.
“Steady men. Courage now.” He said to himself as well as his men.
“We’re coming sir!” Bisby shouted leading his squad in the directions of the Captain’s voice.
Jack heard Vanessa’s screams and turned running in that direction. He zigzagged between the tombs trying to see a glimpse of her.
Jack saw movement to his left and headed in that direction. Two cloaked figures stood up in front of him brandishing long curved blades. Jack stopped and pointing his rifle at them. His heart was pounding so hard by now he thought he would pass out.
“Vanessa!” he shouted.
The ominous figures began moving closer towards him waving their blades menacingly at him. Jack fired twice dropping both of the cloaked figures in their tracks. He hurried past the bodies and proceeded in the direction of Vanessa’s scream.
Harris stumbled through the underbrush terrified. His mind was still trying to process what he had just seen. The vision of the dead white face and the large black eyes of the creatures face were too much for him to comprehend. He could hear Lieutenant Bisby calling to him but he couldn’t answer from the fear that the being might be trying to find him still.
Harris collapsed behind a large crypt and pulled himself up to it as close as he could. He was trembling and he needed to gather his wits before rejoining his men.
Whatever force had brought Vanessa to this crypt was broken by the touch of the black cloaked figure walking up the steps from the shadows below. Vanessa stepped backwards and stumbled over the broken stone door that once had sealed the tomb and now lay scattered on the ground.
The figure stood in the doorway and hesitated looking up. There was the sudden sound of two shots being fired and striking the figure knocking it backwards down the stairs of the crypt.
Vanessa looked in the direction of where the shots came from and saw Tera standing on top of the sarcophagus behind her. She was holding a double-barreled sawed off shotgun with smoke coming from both barrels.
Tera jumped down and helped Vanessa to her feet.
“We need to go.” Tera said.
Vanessa made it to her feet and looked at Tera confused. She nodded slowly understanding and followed Tera as she led the way and reloaded the shotgun. Vanessa tried desperately to keep up with Tera. Her head was still fuzzy and in the dark it was even harder to see her running in the thick underbrush.
Suddenly there were the sounds of a struggle in front of her. Tera was grunting and yelling. She had been attacked by one of the mysterious figures. Vanessa looked around and found a piece of stonework that had come off one of the crypts and picked it up. She hurried to Tera’s aid and struck the assailant in the head with the stone.
“Oww! It’s me Jack. Oww! I think you broke my skull!” he yelled. Jack yanked the shotgun away from Tera finally and looked angrily at Vanessa.
“Oh Jack I’m so sorry…” Vanessa began to say.
“Forget it…no time now for apologies. Keep moving you two up the hill I’ll tell the Captain you’re safe now git!” Jack shouted with urgency at the two women. Jack tossed the shotgun back to Tera. Tera grabbed Vanessa by the hand and pulled her along behind her.
Lieutenant Bisby continued towards the Captain’s last position. Several figures ran back and forth in the distance. A few of the soldiers fired at the figures.
“Hold your fire! We don’t know who’s out there!” Bisby yelled. He had to be strong right now. He knew his men were nervous.
They continued to advance across the Necropolis in orderly fashion. The years of training kept their bodies doing what they had been ordered to do even though their minds wanted to leave this nightmare land of the dead.
Bisby glimpsed the Captain cowering behind one of the tombs and ordered his men to stop as he went to the Captain’s aid.
The Captain was visually shaken and he knew it would serve no good purpose to have the men see him this way.
“You’re fine sir. Now there’s a good gentleman.” Bisby took his arm and helped the Captain to his feet.
“Took a bit of a tumble eh sir? Here we go can’t have the men seeing you like this now.” Bisby continued to speak calmly hoping it would bring the Captain to his senses.
Harris pulled himself up and looked into Bisby’s eyes.
“They’re not Human Bisby…they’re not Human.” He whispered still shaken.
“There now sir. No time for that now Captain the men are waiting.” Bisby said angrily. He knew the Captain’s belief in his own superiority would be enough to shock him back into reality.
The Captain’s demeanor changed almost at once. Bisby saw the Captain gather his wits and head out towards the men.
Just then Jack reached the soldiers as the Captain and Lieutenant returned.
“We found Vanessa and Tera is taking her back to the ruins as we speak.” Jack said.
The Captain had regained his demeanor by now and was ready to issue his orders.
“Alright men we’ll make our way back to the ruins and get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll come back in the daylight and search these graves properly. One way or another we’ll find out just what happened here tonight.”
If you have enjoyed these stories please check out my first all original book series at Amazon.com. The title is Beyond the Crystal Heaven.
Once again thank you for your support.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 10 September 2013 01:37)