Professor Hensley dabbed sweat beads from his forehead and checked his watch. The boy was a full day overdue. Food and supplies running low, and the labourers were getting restless and distracted. He thought it best to distract himself with some good old manual labour, and set aside his last waterproof notebook, almost filled with notes and inscrutable diagrams, and emerged from a grimy canvas tent into the humid air and buzz of insects.
Surveying the scene, the day’s work had yeilded impressive results. At least three thousand years of accumulated vegetation and soil had been removed from another section of the ruin, an ever-more impressive pile of stone that was responsible for keeping Hensley awake in near-delerious speculation for much of the last few years. Yet there was so much left to do! Only a tiny fraction had been excavated.
Of late, seeing it was also giving him deep pangs of unease. Finances were stretched thin, and with all the mayhem going on in the world, this venture of his was becoming a rather tenuous one. Until recently, he’d barely concerned himself with the trials and tribulations back home, preffering to believe, as most in his generation did, that people would come to their senses and business would get on more or less as normal. Surely this chaos was temporary. The weather settle down and so would the people, some of whom would eventually take notice and approach him with the financial backing he deserved.
Hensley’s head was firmly in the sand, or as it were, the buried in the jungle.
Howerver, lately it was getting harder to ignore the realities. The vast Amazon forest; the “lungs of the world”, was in its fourth straight year of drought. Some local tributaries had dried up completely. There was scarce little rain in the rainforest these days. Gradually, one or two at a time, the men were leaving with their families. There was a real possibility that work would have to be halted, and sooner rather than later.
Rolling up his sleeves, Hensley strode up the side of the grand stone building. Still strong and spry at 63, he took up a spare shovel and started hacking vigorously at a stubborn root.
The workers, all of them locals, looked up and smiled. Some shook their heads. They enjoyed the hard work, and Hensley was an affable man. Yet they knew that sooner or later they would be unemployed and bound for their old villages. The professor and his son would be unable to stay, and the jungle would once again swallow this old ruin. It was obvious the stubborn American refused to believe this, obsessed as he was with his find. They’d noticed a crazy look had crept into the man’s eyes, and his hair had greyed noticeably in the last year and he looked more and more dishevelled. This seemed to coincide with something that happened in the bowels of the ruin. Several chambers and passages had been unearthed and a few of them cleared of debris, and the most impressive of these Hensley had forbidden anyone but himself to enter, saying that there were artifacts too delicate to be disturbed without further equipment or expertise being brought in. The men knew that this was an increasingly unlikely prospect.
The archeologist and a small team of guides had come to this very remote corner of the Amazon six years prior, at great effort and expense. It was a difficult and foolhardy venture, spurred on by dubious but intriguing satellite photos which seemed to indicate a regular arrangement of squarish hills. His hunch was that they were pyramids or temples buried beneath a dense layer of jungle. No university or archaeological organization was willing to to risk funding him. Most authourities scoffed with derision. And so, tapping his own personal fortune, Hensley made for Brazil. The gamble payed off and he managed to locate the collection of jungle mounds and indeed that had concealed some impressive and mysterious structures. However, by the time he announced his discovery, a preoccupied world barely noticed.
As ruins went, this one was not unlike many others in South or Central America, in many superficial ways, except that it was located hundreds of miles from the location of any of the known ancient civilizations. Hensley had quicly ruled out the Incan and any of the various pre-Incan civilizations, most of which were located in the Andes mountains to the west. No known civilizations had existed out here in the jungle. The large monolithic block construction suggested a possible relationship to the ruins of Teohuanaco in Bolivia, but there was currently no way to be sure.
The most unique feature was the statues.
Upon finding the site, Hensley and his guides had come face to face with one of the towering carvings… a frightful visage glaring at them through a tangle of vines. Some of the guides were immediately given to flight at the sight of it. Roughly the size of the larger statues on Easter Island, these were carved from single hulking blocks of stone, the primary mystery being that there were no quarries for hundreds of miles where such blocks could have come from. They were also the only visible trace, other than the satellite photos, of the immense ruins which lay hidden all around, disguised as unassuming jungle hills.
Eventually several more statues of various sizes were found, some toppled over and completely concealed by jungle. Many more likely remained undiscovered. All of them shared the same expression of their worn, crusted faces… a look of almost crazed terror… as if they’d all been witness to some horrifying atrocity or cataclysm. Wide eyes rolled in deep sockets, and lips curled back to reveal rows of large, finely carved teeth. The faces had found some brief notoriety. A writer for an obscure online archaeology magazine had once taken the trouble to visit the site, and snapped hundreds of digital photos of them, a few of which appeared in the next issue. Some South American and European newspapers featured a small story on them, usually tucked into the back pages, and there were short segments on local television stations, but then another season of extra-violent weather wiped away any memory that might have lingered in the public consciousness.
One such statue loomed twenty five feet over Hensley’s tent. Everyone present had eventually grown used to distubed gaze of these grim sentinels, but newcomers were invariably uneasy for some time when first encountering them. Hensley found them mesmerizing, and had cramed his notes with obsessive, detailed sketches.
His son, Kip, was thoroughly creeped out by them, and by the effect that had on his father.
Hensley finally managed to cut through the stubborn root, sweat pouring down his dusted face. He paused to rest again, and searched the sky. He sighed, finding it empty.
“Where is that boy?” he said aloud. Nearby workers followed his gaze. Some wondered if some revolution had swept Brazil without their knowing. Maybe Hensley’s son had been imprisoned or killed in Manaus. Or perhaps fuel for the plane had just become too scarce or expensive. Out here, there was no way to tell.