Temple of Beasts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two amateur temple explorers are pursued by violent, unpredictable beasts.

Submitted: May 06, 2017

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Submitted: May 06, 2017

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Temple of Beasts

 

Had Tristan read the map accurately, they would have never found the temple. Tristan was perfectly willing to let her believe that he had some sort of explorer’s sixth sense for finding things like this – stumbling across the temple was, of course, a total accident. They had been wandering through the jungle since the early morning hours, observing the colours, avoiding the huge creepy crawlies, and keeping a close eye on the map. And although a close eye did Tristan keep on the map, either he or the map wasn’t totally focused, and Tristan knew they were off-course, no need to tell Sophia though.

The temple they faced was huge and crumbling, golden brown, with vines creeping up its surface like clutching veins. It was a huge, grand structure, enshrouded with bushes and trees that huddled around it as if wanting to grow closer. Two statues stood outside the entrance – a laughing chimpanzee and a snarling crocodile. Both statues’ eyes were hollow, and both statues had their teeth bared. Stairs leading past them lead to a doorway, gaping like a great mouth.

‘A temple,’ Sophia marveled. ‘Oh, Tristan, you took me to a temple?’ She clasped her hands together.

‘Well,’ said Tristan. ‘Yes.’

‘Wow, it’s like a proper temple. Crumbling and covered in vines and in the middle of the jungle and painted gold. And there’s no queue!’

Tristan laughed. ‘That alone makes it my favourite one.’

‘What’s it called?’ Sophia asked.

Tristan consulted the temple guide and ran his finger down the list. ‘It’s the Mah… no wait… it’s the…’

‘I thought you’ve been to a lot of temples.’

‘I have, but I’m not an expert. ‘

‘So you haven’t been to this one?’ asked Sophia.

‘No, I’ve never been to this part of Dreah May before.’ He looked at its decaying structure, being eaten alive by grabby vines. ‘I don’t think anyone’s ben here for a long time.’ Somewhere far away, an unknown beast hollered.

Sophia looked at him. ‘Have we just discovered a lost temple?’

Tristan’s brain immediately zoomed in on the dumb concept of lost treasure and fame. ‘Well, I don’t know about that.’

‘Jesus, Tristan, let’s take a look inside!’

‘Nah,’ said Tristan, ‘looks boring, right?’

Sophia smiled. ‘I’ll go in alone then. You can sit out here and read your maps.’

‘It actually might be quite dangerous. Structurally, I mean.’

‘Sit out here and read your maps then.’

‘No, I’ll come with you. You’ll obviously be in desperate need of me.’

Sophia took hold of the fat brick-like camera hanging around her neck and held it out in front of her. ‘Come on then,’ she said. ‘I’m ready to take some snappy snaps.’ She took a quick one of Tristan, immortalising his dumb expression forever and jogged closer to the temple, skipping over rocks, roots, and patches of mud. 

Tristan watched her go, admiring those tanned legs and bouncing black hair. He looked for a little longer than he had intended (she had bent forward to take another photo) so he began his advance, incredulous of the ruined temple. He secretly began thinking of names for it, having been its discoverer and all, but he pushed these absurd thoughts to the back of his mind, yet still they chattered.

When Tristan caught up to Sophia, she was standing outside the temple’s yawn, looking inwards.

‘It’s gonna be pitch black in there,’ Sophia told him.

‘We have flashlights,’ he said. ‘And matches. I’m prepared for every eventuality.’ He had meant it to sound authoritative and competent but knew his smug tone made it sound dorky. He heaved the massive rucksack off his back, dropped it to the floor like a weight-lifter and burrowed through. He extracted two flashlights and passed one to Sophia. She flicked the switch and he swung his rucksack back on. Sophia waved light through the hall and it cut through the dark like a great shining knife. Vines crept and crawled along the walls, and dust motes floated through the air like microscopic spirits. Tristan turned on his own torch and shone it, and the two of them crudely dissected the dark with their endless knives.

‘Looks haunted,’ said Sophia, and her words rushed down the hallway like wind. ‘Wonder if it’s got booby traps?’

Tristan consciously dismissed the thought immediately, but his eyes scanned the walls nonetheless. The bricks sat inside the receded mortar like brittle teeth in old gums, and the shriveled vines hung off like bits of spinach. Sophia and Tristan walked for a long time together through the mouth, and when they reached its throat they gasped simultaneously. The room was like a cathedral, with a dozen doorways and many ancient statues and effigies dotted about. There were carvings of demon faces with eroded beaks and broken horns, and the floor was littered with sticks and chunks of rock and stone. Sophia turned the flash on her camera and the room illuminated many times as she clicked. Rats scattered. Tristan poured his flashlight across the room like water and studied the snarling sculptures. They explored separately, allowing their mesmerization to guide them. Sophia called Tristan over whenever she found a particularly gnarly effigy, and he would put his arm around them while she took infinite photos.

‘I could spend all day here,’ said Sophia.

‘Let’s,’ said Tristan. ‘There’s loads of rooms to explore.’

Their words dashed and rebounded across the room like pinballs, and they zoomed through the other dozen doorways to continue their undying journey.

‘So, which room do you want to go through next?’ asked Tristan.

Sophia pointed one out at random, and the two of them headed through. Another room, more statues, yet more doorways to choose from.

‘We’d better make sure we don’t get lost here,’ said Tristan.  ‘The place probably isn’t that big, but just in case…’ He took a pair of bright red socks out of his bag and placed one in the doorway.

‘Have those socks got ducks on them?’ Sophia asked, peering at the other sock in Tristan’s hand.

‘Geese, actually.’

‘Nice. Always knew you were cool.’

The two of them wandered deeper through the temple, Tristan leaving socks and knick knacks in doorways. He had assumed that there were so many doorways because each room had multiple doorways, but this was not so. Every doorway lead to a different room. Tristan was wrong in his assumption of the temple’s size - it was so huge it would be impossible to see all of it in one day, even if one simply ran through each room. There were stairs that went further up, stairs that climbed down, and it seemed to expand outwards further and further. There was no way to ever run out of rooms to explore. They pushed further and further through the temple, taking photos, pulling faces, touching objects that may have never been touched for hundreds of years. In the back of Tristan’s mind, chatters of ancient, lost valuables still yammered on, although it got quieter with each room they went through. The voice that wondered whether the temple had traps got louder, however. There was no basis for the assumption, but there it was. He shook it away. They kept moving forward, forward, wanting to see right to the very end of the temple. They zigzagged and went around twisted corridors to continue moving forward, and Tristan’s backpack got lighter and lighter as he relieved himself of more objects to mark where they had come from. They passed many staircases, leading both up and down, and there weren’t just statues in rooms, but dried up fountains, rooms with walls that had caved in so hard that two rooms had become one, and at one point Sophia even found a bone, although whether it was from a human or an animal, neither could say.

After ascending a set of stairs they came across a room of stone that had what looked like a dried up well without any other doors. The well was deep and went down to the ground floor. There was a crude set of stairs carved into the rock so one could climb down if one wished. The top of the well had an elaborate carving of a wrinkled face complete with beard, blank eyes, and pursed lips, and the two of them concluded that there must have been a system in place eons before in which water spurted through those pursed lips like a fountain.

‘Wanna go down?’ asked Tristan.

‘I’ll stay up here,’ she said. ‘You go down and tell me what’s down there.’

Alright,’ he said. He took off his backpack, gave it to Sophia and ascended down into the pit. He didn’t reach the bottom because water wrapped around his ankles before he could complete the journey. It was cold and it seemed to grab hold of him like desperate, drowning hands. He pointed his flashlight forward from where he hung onto the embedded steps and peered into the darkness. There was a speck of light in the distance. Natural light. His flashlight rippled across the damp walls and sat on the still water like a painting.

‘I think the exit’s over here,’ he said. ‘This well was probably used to draw water from a river outside.’

‘I don’t wanna leave just yet,’ Sophia called down. ‘We haven’t even been upstairs yet.’

‘That’s good,’ he said, ‘because it’s drenched down here. I know how you don’t like to get your feetsies wet.’

‘You make fun, but who’s the one with ruined socks now?’

‘Me,’ he admitted.

A growl.

Sophia didn’t notice, and she asked, ‘what dopey cartoon animal have you got on those ones, then?’

‘Shh!’ said Tristan.

There was silence for a few seconds, not even the gentle lapping of water, then there was another growl, this time closer, and Tristan shone the light directly below him, revealing the frame of a crocodile directly below him. He scurried up a few steps just as the crocodile leapt out of the water, only able to snap at the air, brandishing its scaled snout like a sword. Tristan kept moving up, and although the stairs were slippery and awkward and he lost his footing a couple of times, he managed to get to the top without incident. He shone his light back down and saw the crocodile submerge like a submarine, and he knew he had a lucky escape and that he would never go back down there ever again, little knowing that he would be forced back down in a matter of hours.  

‘Man, Jesus, a crocodile! What the fuck! It wanted to eat me, the bastard. Ok, so that exit’s definitely closed off… Sophia?’

Sophia wasn’t there.

He ran out the room and called out for her. She didn’t respond, so he threw himself up a set of stairs and continue shouting. He reached the top and still there was no sign of her. There were six doorways to choose from. Tristan chose one and then another. He called and shouted and dashed from room to room. He felt like a ghost as he flew and wailed.

‘I’m here!’ she shouted. It came from above, so he found another set of stairs and ascended again. He called out over and over and she replied back, but she was moving away from him as he called her name.

‘Sophia! Just stop, stop moving! Where are you?’

‘Over here! Keep coming!’

‘Just stay where you are!’

‘I can’t! Just follow the sound of my voice,’ she said.

‘Stop running! Just stay where you are!’

Sophia continued running away from Tristan despite his commands, and a strange dread settled over him, a feeling of being lead into a trap. Even as he ran and stumbled he flicked his flashlight from one place to another, watching out for trip wires. He even deliberately hopped over a stone that rose up out of the ground, as if waiting for a foot to depress it. He pictured flying arrows or blinding dust ready to spring out at him. The idea was absurd, but his body didn’t trust the brain, with its insistent, know-it-all smarm. He skipped and ducked his way through room after room, and his brain, resentful of being defied by the body, smirked at him: You’re lost in here now. He knew his spiteful brain was right. ‘Sophia!’ he yelled. ‘Sophia, stop! I can’t get us out of here!’

‘I’m here, I’m here!’ she shouted. 'You’re almost there!’

He rushed through like a bull, wild and crazed, and thought if any human deserved to fall into a trap like a mindless beast, he did. When he saw Sophia he almost expected to crash right through her as if she was nothing but a mirage. He stopped before smashing into her.

‘Why the hell did you do that?’ he shouted. ‘Why the fuck are you – ’

In front of Sophia was a chimpanzee. It was in the corner of the room, looking at them both. On the floor in front of it was every knick and knack and article of clothing Tristan had used to mark their passage through. There was also Sophia’s wallet, both of their passports the map, and other random assortments. It held Sophia’s flashlight in its rough hands and held the light underneath its face, looking like some ancient laughing crypt-keeper. Its fangs were bared in a toxic smile and its eyes shimmered like dark stars.

‘Tristan, it’s stolen everything.’ She spoke very softly, and the chimp watched the both of them talk through hard, intelligent eyes. ‘It picked up everything we put down, and when you went into the well, it got into the backpack and took my wallet and our passports - they were pretty much the only things we had left after putting everything else down. When I finally noticed, it… it ran off. I had to chase it. I’m so sorry, if we lose track of this chimp…’

Tristan nodded. The chimp had already ruined things enough by picking up everything they put down, and it would surely take them hours to figure a way out of this temple, but the blasted thing had their passports, too. That would turn into a huge problem later, but nothing the chimp stole mattered compared to the fact that it had the map. They were already lost, but without the map, escaping the jungle would be utterly impossible. They had gone well off the beaten track, and their jeep would only take them so far before coughing out and dying. This one grinning, clueless chimp could well be the difference between life and death. They had the thing cornered now though, there was only one exit to the room.

‘We can get this all back,’ said Tristan.

‘How?’ said Sophia. She edged towards the chimp. It scrutinized her every move, and its eyes widened and darted from Tristan to Sophia.

‘Don’t make any sudden moves,’ said Tristan. He began moving forward too. The chimp backed into the corner and shone the flashlight at them. Tristan cringed when the light invaded his eyes, and the chimp snickered. It put the flashlight into its mouth and clapped its hands.

‘Yes, it’s all funny,’ said Tristan. ‘It’s all very funny.’ He crept forward.

 The chimp looked hard into Tristan’s eyes, and a warning went off somewhere in his mind. Don’t look into its eyes, said his brain, as if he was about to fall under some spell. It’ll go apeshit.

Sophia said in a high pitched voice, ‘Come on, fella.’

The chimp looked at her now instead, its bottom lip hanging open and he pawed at his stolen goods, bringing them closer to himself. He looked back at Tristan and hissed. Sophia and Tristan backed off, and the chimp stood on its hind legs and puffed its chest out.

‘How are we gonna do this?’ said Tristan. ‘That thing could rip our skin off if it wanted.’

The chimpanzee casually turned its back and then bolted towards them. Both Sophia and Tristan yelped and the chimp rushed past them and flew through the doorway, still holding the flashlight, passports, and map. It left the rest of the stolen belongings on the floor. Sophia went to go after it but Tristan grabbed her arm.

‘That stuff was lost as soon as the chimp got hold of them,’ he told her. ‘We’re lucky it didn’t attack us. It probably would if we went to take our stuff back.’

Sophia sat on the floor and Tristan picked up what was left of their belongings. The socks and other articles of clothing were ripped and Sophia’s wallet had bite marks.

‘At least he left your wallet,’ said Tristan. ‘That prick monkey. We’ll have to go to the embassy to sort out the passport situation.’

‘Let’s just go,’ said Sophia. ‘That monkey’s ruined this day.’

‘I know. Hopefully, it won’t take us too long to find the way out.’ Tristan thought of the map, clutched in that chimp’s grabbing, ripping fingers. He always knew something like this would happen one day, but his own arrogance always won the internal argument that he could get out of any situation. He had been defeated by a bored chimp. They left the room in a slump.

‘Any idea which way to go?’ Tristan asked.

‘The exit’s down a couple floors,’ said Sophia.

‘I guess we’ll go down first then see if we recognize any of the rooms,’ said Tristan. ‘We won’t be able to find the way out easily.’

‘Do you not have another flashlight?’ Sophia asked. ‘I already hate not having one of my own.’

‘No. Maybe we could make a torch.’

Tristan picked a stick up off the floor, took one of the soiled, shredded t-shirts the chimp had left for them and bound it around a stick.

‘Use this one,’ said Sophia, picking up a different stick ‘It’s greener, it’ll burn better.’

Tristan took her superior stick and bound it.

‘You don’t even have any lighter fluid,’ said Sophia. ‘How do you plan on burning that thing?’

‘Well, I kind’ve do,’ said Tristan. He reached into his backpack and withdrew a 3l bottle of vodka.

‘How long were you hiding that in there?’ asked Sophia. She unscrewed the cap and took a swig.

Tristan snatched it back. ‘Careful, I only have the one bottle, we need it for the torch.’ He took a large swig himself and grimaced at its throat-peeling sting. He poured a generous amount over the shirt and the two of them waited for it to soak.

Animals,’ said Tristan. ‘First the crocodile and now a chimp. I used to like animals.’

‘Crocodile?’ said Sophia. ‘What?’

‘Down that well,’ said Tristan. ‘I was nearly snapped up by one. You didn’t see?’

‘Really? Wow, it actually lunged at you?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I was too busy chasing chimps,’ said Sophia.

 ‘For the record, despite that crocodile trying to eat me, I’d still say that chimp’s the bigger asshole.’

‘Yeah, I need that map and passport more than I need you right now.’ She laughed and pushed his face.

Tristan laughed too, but her words stung more than the vodka. Those items genuinely were more important to her than he was. Tristan offered her some vodka and she knocked it back. He did the same. He had brought the vodka for them to both get drunk on later tonight. Maybe then she would make the mistake of sleeping with him. Her view of him as an Indiana Jones type was obviously diminishing every minute. He didn’t really know what he was doing out here despite what he had led her to believe - he was not the expert he acted. He overestimated himself, even, in his own jungle knowledge - it was not quite as strong as he believed, and he was never really too convinced of it to begin with.

‘Let’s burn that,’ said Sophia, gesturing to the torch.

‘Right,’ said Tristan. He picked the torch up and drops of vodka dribbled to the floor and ran down the branch.

‘Stick’s gotten a bit sticky,’ said Tristan.

Sophia’s smile was curt.

Tristan struck a match and, holding the torch as far from his face as he could, put a match to it. It went ablaze and the fire washed across the cloth in an auburn vortex and the room shimmered as if bathed in the glare of dusk.

‘Wow, it worked,’ said Sophia. ‘I kind of didn’t expect it to. I’ve never lit a torch before.’

Tristan’s smile was small but proud. I am kind of like Indiana Jones.

‘I’m an explorer in an abandoned temple, making torches and chasing chimps,’ said Sophia. ‘Whatever bore and pain is ahead, it’ll make for a good story for my grandkids.’

There was a short pause. Tristan said, ‘And mine. Except my story had me being chased by a crocodile, too.’

‘Looks like I’ll need to find a way to one-up your croc.’

‘You could always try wrestling it,’ said Tristan. ‘That would certainly be a one-up.’

‘Yeah? And how would you one-up that?’ asked Sophia.

‘Well I’d have to wrestle you,’ said the vodka.

Sophia laughed. ‘Maybe. Dunno how successful you’d be. Come on.’ She stood up. ‘Let’s get the hell out of this jungle and go get drunk at The Crossing.’

Tristan got on his feet, liking her idea very much.

They walked together, her gliding the torch from left to right simply to hear its lethal purr. The room rocked like a creaking ship as light and dark cascaded and crashed against one another. Tristan’s own flashlight was quite a bit less fun, so he turned it off. The two of them turned to go downstairs and as they revolved their way down a claustrophobic shaft, Sophia, who had the lead, stopped. Two chimps barred their descent. The humans and the chimps were standing on the staircase together, humans above, chimps below, walls on either side. No creature moved. The chimps looked at them, and they looked at the chimps. The walls looked down on them all like bullies.

‘Hello chimpies,’ Sophia whispered.

The chimps’ wrinkles deepened.

Tristan began backing up, and he tapped Sophia on the shoulder. She began backing up too. The chimps watched them both, then they began to follow. The four of them backed up the stairs in silence, humans moving backward, chimps moving forwards. The process was slow, but the chimps were beginning to outpace their speed, so Sophia and Tristan sped up their backward walk. This made the chimps speed up, and so a cycle was created. Sophia and Tristan were beginning to trip and stumble in their haste, so they turned their backs on the chimps and then they were running. The chimps galloped.

‘Back!’ shouted Sophia. She waved the torch in front of them and the chimps recoiled. One hissed at her and reached out to grab at it, so she thrust it in its face. The chimp shrieked and the two beasts fled down the stairs. Sophia and Tristan ran up and out of the staircase.

‘Shit,’ said Tristan once they escaped into a different room.

‘Fuck,’ said Sophia.

‘Was one of those chimps the same one from earlier?’ Tristan asked.

‘I dunno, they all look the same. Maybe.’

‘God, how many are there in here?’

‘I think we should go back downstairs,’ said Sophia. ‘We need to get out of here Maybe the chimps have made a home here and we’re invading their territory.’

‘We’re the invaders,’ said Tristan grimly. ‘Let’s take another set of stairs though, get as far away from those chimps as possible.’

‘Right.’

They found another set of stairs and clambered down, not encountering any chimps this time, then they climbed down another set of stairs.

‘Ok, we’re on the ground floor now,’ said Sophia.

‘Hopefully, the chimps didn’t make this entire temple their home – maybe they’re all relegated to one or two floors.’

‘Well, that chimp followed us from the ground floor onwards, so probably not.’

Tristan glared at Sophia’s logic.

As they walked onwards, Sophia grabbed his hand, and he squeezed hers. There was no romantic notion behind the gesture, it was a we’re suffering this together hand squeeze, but Tristan would take that over nothing. No words or eye contact was exchanged between them, they just walked, kicking away sticks and sending plumes of dusty mud up with every footfall. The torch burned hard, and darkness regressed like falling water. After a while, the chimps were forgotten. They might as well have been a dream for all they mattered now. Walking for a long time without talking or remembering having walked through any of the rooms became the new beast. Nowhere was familiar, every room was a broken shamble of effigies and a series of shrugging dead ends. The effigies laughed at them with shattered smiles and mocking eyes. Branches and black roots snuck and scaled across the walls like spidery tendons and the walls were hunched and wrinkled. Tristan and Sophia were no longer holding hands, and Tristan settled into his new habit of scanning the room for traps, the feeling the temple was full of them had a strangle on him.

Howling. From behind them. The chimpanzees smashed through their dream-like state and became their cold, snarling reality.

‘Put out the torch,’ said Tristan.

‘No, this is the only weapon we’ve got.’

‘But what if it’s attracting them?’

‘They’ll find us if they want to, and if they want to, I want to be ready for them,’ said Rachel.

‘Then let’s move quicker,’ said Tristan, and he grabbed her by the arm and together they began power walking.

The torch mumbled and the hallways behind them screeched.

‘They’re closer,’ said Tristan.

‘And there’s more than two of them,’ said Sophia. ‘Those two others snitched on us.’

They began jogging, and they twisted from one room into another. The temple became a labyrinth. A large room with a broken roof opened up to them. The broken bones of the temple’s skeletal structure poked out from the ceiling and the floor was dotted with chasms.

‘Look.’ Tristan pointed up to the ceiling, and hanging upside down on top of one of the temple’s support beams was a chimp. Its frown was elastic and four large teeth jutted out from underneath its lips. On clocking them, the chimp’s breathing became very heavy and came out in burp-like gasps.

Tristan and Sophia hopped over the room’s chasms and neither of them took their eyes off the hyperventilating beast. On passing the chimp, it turned to keep the two of them in its line of sight, and before they escaped the room, the chimp let out a series of loud chatters and as they went into a full blown run, it screeched like a hateful banshee, its cacophony of screams turning the temple into something like a haunted catacomb. They fled through endless corridors and rooms, and swore whenever they met a dead end. The shrieking and screaming chimpanzees bounded and rushed closer, and the two of them could hear the pattering of feet on walls and the crashing of bodies, the congress of chimpanzees barely able to keep pace with one another in their haste to get to the intruders.

‘Tristan, they’re gonna catch up!’ said Sophia.

They turned into another room and Tristan pointed to a hole in the wall, big enough for both of them to slip through. The two of them dived through and then the two of them picked up some of the rocks and stones that littered the floor and blocked the hole up. The chimp’s chorus screamed down on them. They packed the hole tight, and Tristan looked through one of the crevices between the rocks. The room they fled through was the first dead end that actually did them any sort of favour. Nearly twelve chimpanzees roared into the room they abandoned and they jumped and retched their frustrations at having lost their quarry. The confusion came out in rage and they squabbled and beat at each other, unable to understand where the intruders had gone. One of the chimp’s looked towards the hole though, and Sophia immediately retreated to the back of the room with her torch, but the light had already revealed its location to them. The chimp shuffled over to the barricaded hole and began running its hands over the stones and sticks. Another chimp joined in the investigation. Tristan and Sophia fled.

The squawking of chimps died out as they ran, but moving from room to room felt like running into a new set of jaws every time they entered one, never sure where or when a grisly face would reveal itself like the Cheshire cat. Sometimes they heard the chimps running through the bones of the temple, and Tristan and Sophia noticed all the holes and crevices in the ceiling and walls that the monkeys could suddenly appear from, and they no longer looked just through the doorways in fear, but all the crevices, waiting for a chimp to roar back into their reality.

The torch died. Darkness sat on them like overweight smog.

‘We’ve still got more vodka,’ whispered Tristan. ‘We can probably make one more torch.

‘Let’s do it right now,’ Sophia whispered back.

Tristan turned on his flashlight and went rummaging through his bag.

‘I think maybe you should put that out, we’ll make it in the dark.’

‘No,’ he hissed. ‘It’ll be much quicker with light.’ He dug in further, unable to find a long enough cloth. He had a long sleeved T-shirt in here somewhere…

They heard chimps in one of the other rooms, their chatters sounded like strategizing.

‘Hurry it up, we can’t defend ourselves with a flashlight,’ said Sophia. ‘We need the torch.’

‘I get it, Sophia! Go find a stick, quickly.’

Sophia got on her feet and began studying the floor, she squinted hard – their only source of light was trained inside the rucksack. Splinters of light made brief illuminations. She picked up some sticks and after finding one with decent length, she brought it to Tristan, not caring how green it was. Tristan extracted the T-shirt he was looking for and wrapped it around the stick without comment.

Ooh.’

The noise was deep and in the room with them, it was as if the dark itself made the sound.

Sophia and Tristan’s heads snapped up. Neither said a word. Tristan shone the light towards the sound and there was a chimp in the room with them, it had wandered in from the doorway and was looking at them with its head tilted. It slapped its hands against the ground.

Ooh.’

Sophia picked up the flashlight and held it firmly on the chimp. Tristan finished wrapping the stick and then began pouring vodka over the cloth. The chimp watched, mesmerised by the act and wandered closer. Neither Sophia or Tristan backed off, they watched it walk up to the torch, which was now soaked in spirit, and sniff. He recoiled and moved back a few steps, looking at the vodka as if it had just jabbed him. Tristan took out the box of matches and didn’t yet strike, but simply held a matchstick in one hand, matchbox in the other. They needed to let the vodka soak in, so they both sat and watched the chimp as it sniffed and wandered about the room. It would focus on them at points but make not a sound - it just studied, then lost interest and moved onto the next thing. It picked up a stick and waved it about. Agonising minutes passed and then it was time to light the torch. Tristan tried to do it as casually as possible, and when the torch did light up, the chimpanzee wasn’t shocked but mesmerized again. It didn’t come too close. Tristan and Sophia backed up, rucksack on back and torch in hand, and when they turned around, eight chimps were in front of them.  

They both inhaled sharply. There was a moment of stillness, then all the chimps dashed at them. Sophia waved the torch and all of them scattered backwards as if blown by a strong wind. She thrust it in all their directions, and the chimps howled and bayed. Many of them snatched at the air and feinted at them. All eight chimps would alternately dash forward then retreat, and Sophia would try to jab the torch at them whenever they did, and when chimp number nine came up behind them, Sophia only just managed to knock it back with a clumsy back-handed thrust. The fire lit up the chimp’s chest and it screamed. It flew out into the hallway and all the other chimps scurried to the back of the room. The fire was the alpha now and the chimps snapped and gurgled at it. Two of them began climbing the walls and one rushed up the ceiling and began advancing towards them using the roof beams. The five others crept towards them. Sophia waved the torch around, trying to demonstrate to each chimp that she saw each one of them. The snapping and shouting of chimps brought others. Two more chimps appeared from a crevice behind them in the wall and it was only when Tristan pointed them out that Sophia jabbed the torch at them and they scampered back a few feet, but they were surrounded in the middle of the room now. Five in front. One on the left wall. One on the right. One hung above. Two behind. The chimps were getting excited, and their grins were hard and large. Tristan could have sworn most of them were laughing.  

Sophia was whimpering now and the torch was already getting smaller from all the waving. Tristan reached into his bag, knowing what he had to find to save them both. The chimps were closing in from the front and behind. The chimps watched from the walls. The chimp above landed on top of Sophia. It jumped up and down on her back and all chimps zoomed in on them. A crack of terrible thunder boomed in the middle of the chaos. The exploding sound sent all the chimps scattering out of the room except for the one on Sophia’s back. That one fell over dead, a bullet wound in its back. Blood trickled onto Sophia and stuttering, she moved out from underneath the chimp. Her clothing was stained with blood.

‘God, Sophia, are you OK?’

She threw her arms around him. She was shaking and he was too.

‘I’ve changed my mind about guns,’ she said. ‘And hunting. Why didn’t you tell me you had that before?’

‘I didn’t want to use it unless I absolutely had to.’

‘You should have told me you had it!’

‘I -, ’

‘Just shut up,’ she said. ‘How many bullets are in that thing?’

‘None. I only brought it on the off-chance we might have to scare some animal away. I didn’t even bother reloading before we came out.’

‘We can use the threat of the gun to scare ’em away. They don’t know you don’t have any bullets left.’ She threw her head back, as if to make sure no chimps were eavesdropping.

So the two of them resumed their journey, knowing that around any corner could be more chimps. Tristan held the gun, Sophia held the torch. The two of them felt slightly more powerful now, even if it was an illusion, but they knew the chimps would never leave them alone. They treated this temple as a home, and they couldn’t allow intruders-turned-murderers to roam the halls. As they moved, the chimps were no longer hiding, attacking or searching. They were stalking. The torch revealed the chimps from the blackness, and they were perfectly still, almost like one of the many effigies, except for the shining, searching eyes. Chimps loitered behind them, and followed, at a sizeable distance. They passed by more chimps, and when they passed those chimps, those chimps began to follow, too. By the time thirty minutes had passed, at least thirteen chimps were following them from room to room. Tristan and Sophia stumbled into the old well from earlier. The chimps didn’t even enter the room, and the two of them knew that this was nothing to do with the humans or their terrible gun, but because they never went into this room, knowing what resided below.

‘Our torch is dying,’ said Tristan.

‘I know.’

‘We’ve got no bullets left.’

‘I know.’

Tristan leaned over the side of the well and looked down. ‘We –,’

‘Have to go down,’ said Sophia.

Tristan said, ‘it’s our only option.’

The two of them climbed down the well, and one or two chimps actually hovered over the top and watched them both, mouths dropped open and crooning.

The water met them with ill glee, and they were up to their waists in the stuff by the time their feet reached the ground. Tristan shone his flashlight along the water’s surface, and it was silent, unwavering. It was so still that Tristan’s mind absurdly went to the idea of trap again. He tried to force a relaxed state of mind, but was unable to confidently answer whether crocodiles were capable of plotting traps. The pair of them moved slowly through the water, casting light over the waters, and Tristan remembered how only yesterday he was at the beach, watching the horizon casting its own amber glow on the sea’s surface. Their amber light was young, weak and dying, an aborted foetus in comparison to the ancient and eternal temple dark, which watched the dying light with morbid interest. Tristan had his flashlight on, but it was blinking. The two of them simply advanced forwards, and the light seemed to get bigger. The flooded hallway went on and on though.

‘Hope that light actually is an exit,’ Sophia whispered.

Tristan didn’t reply, he kept his flashlight on the water, tracing every inch.

Sophia’s torch burnt out, but she still held onto the stick. The flashlight, as if disheartened by the torch’s defeat, died. The drowned hallway was black, save for the light ahead, as inviting as a beckoning finger.  Tristan stopped and held onto Sophia’s arm. He raised his arm forward and pointed to a particular position in the water ahead of them.

‘Crocodile,’ he whispered.

‘How can you tell?’

‘Can’t you see its eyes above the water?’

‘No,’ said Sophia.

He took her head in his hands and angled it in the right position. ‘There, right in front of you,’ he said.

She saw the eyes and the snout, which was elevated above the water, and how still it was, blending in with the dark. She saw it sink beneath the surface and she also saw its jagged back cut lines above the water as it made a beeline for their position.

‘It’s coming towards us,’ said Tristan.

They both held their breath and for a moment, neither of them had any idea what to do. They were too far ahead of the steps they came down from, the crocodile was zooming in on them from the front, they had no gun, no melee weapon, no dry land and nothing to climb. So they stood still, their brains screaming and trying to figure out something and their bodies, having received no message from the brain, didn’t move. Tristan saw the crocodile’s distorted body underneath the water pass by him and look at Sophia. She saw it too. Dream-like, she picked up the camera from around her neck and the crocodile leapt out of the water at the same moment light leapt out of the camera. It shocked the crocodile back into the water and Sophia and Tristan rushed past it, almost swimming now to get to the exit, which seemed close – it was a hole in this dark world which seemed to punch through into another dimension, one full of light and space. On one side of the hole, the unending brilliance of the world, on the other, a hellish snapping dungeon. Circumstances would immediately change if they could only reach the other side. As they got closer, the hole seemed to widen, inviting them to push, push, push, through into the great wide world. The birds and wind sang and cheered, and the temple tried to stamp it out, but its power waned with every step they took. There was green and yellow and blue in that hole and the colours pulsed through like a heartbeat, and the chuckling water that bubbled over the exit into a river invited them in on the good times. But the temple’s final devil didn’t want them to leave. It wanted them very much to stay, and as Tristan climbed through the hole and gasped in air, his foot snagged on a lever, and a gate crashed down behind him, dividing Tristan and Sophia from one another – Tristan was outside the temple and on a dry rock, Sophia was stuck in the dark, watery temple hallway. Tristan screamed and as Sophia threw herself against the gate, Tristan saw the crocodile sneak up behind her.

*

Sophia fell back onto the bed naked and drenched in sweat, her laboured breathing coming out in vodka-drenched exhales. Tristan crashed down next to her, his own naked form sweating and shaking. Neither spoke for a few minutes, they only breathed and drank endlessly from water bottles.

Tristan turned to face Sophia. ‘Now you have to find a way to one-up me.’

‘I’ll think of something,’ said Sophia.

‘That poor croc never stood a chance once you started wrestling it,’ said Tristan. ‘I now know that through personal experience.’

‘Don’t ever forget it,’ she said.

‘I can’t believe there actually was a booby trap in that temple,’ said Tristan. ‘Right at the very end.’

‘It was just a gate lever, not a booby trap. You were just clumsy and desperate to get out… still, you lifted it up like a proper strong man.’ She kissed him. ‘You were so desperate to get to me. You must have really wanted to shag me.’

‘Literally the only reason I did it,’ he said. ‘Wanna go back there tomorrow?’

‘You go,’ she said. ‘I’ll stay behind and read my maps.’

 

END

 


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