This is a flash-fiction entry based on the word, “Flower,” for Rachael Ritchey’s BlogBattle. Every month, she picks a word as the theme for which a number of us write some kind of short story. For many months now, my entries have been the serialized mishaps of a bumbling macho man explorer in the 1930s and the knowledgeable “sidekick” who actually gets things done.
The Adventures of Grant McSwain
Daring Explorer of Dangerous Environs and Fearless Discoverer of Fang-Filled Dungeons
…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway
Grant threw his massive form from the cliffside and ran across the mossy bricks of the ziggurat with no loss of momentum. “I’m telling you, Teag,” he called over his shoulder, “the treasure is within reach.”
Crouched under the leafy branches near the ledge, Teagan hissed at her companion and listened to the nocturnal song of the Peruvian jungle. Were those voices in the distance? Could the Kaiser’s thugs be closer than before? Or had she imagined those lantern lights among the trees after sundown?
Grant paused, peering in the darkness. At least the oaf whispered this time. “Are you coming?”
Even though Grant made the leap without injury, Teagan still checked the distance before springing across the gap. Her boots clung to the stone well, despite the overgrowth, and she jogged along the structure’s heights toward Grant. “I’m coming, but I think I’m not the only one.”
Grant surveyed the jungle, though he had no chance of spotting anything through the thick foliage. “Those Germans after us again?”
“Not us so much as the treasure.”
“Coming through the river valley, unless I miss my guess.” He chuckled and gave a dismissive shrug. “They might find the entrance to the ziggurat, but they won’t be able to move all the rubble we left.”
Teagan’s eyes narrowed despite the dim moonlight. “About that… was dynamiting the entry hall really necessary?”
“I wasn’t sure a trap would stop them, so I figured an obstacle might.”
Teagan laid a hand on Grant’s shoulder. “Laugh all you want. But if they learn to exploit Ixthacan relics or, God forbid, unlock the secret of these portal chambers, their militaristic ambitions in Europe could stretch across the globe in an instant.”
He flashed a devilish grin. “Let ‘em come. Maybe FDR will finally get our boys in the mix.” He hustled to the other side of the Ixthacan temple, where some previous explorer or tribesman had stretched a flimsy rope ladder like a bridge to the opposite cliff. Grant tested the thick ropes with his weight, shaking the cords to see how much they might withstand before trusting it fully.
Teagan eyed the ropes with suspicion and mounting fear. “Are you certain no one has found this ritual site before? Maybe someone already claimed whatever this ruin has to offer.”
“I doubt it,” Grant said as he took a step. The rope bridge swayed and dipped under his bulk but held him aloft. “This feels flimsy, Teag,” he added, his knuckles white as he gripped the cords. “We should go one at a time.”
Teagan crossed her arms and shuffled her feet as Grant inched his way across the gap. “What next,” she wondered, recalling the winding path that led them to the temple. A rickety flight skimming the treetops from Caracas, then a showdown in a seedy cantina with guerrilla rebels, followed by rafting through crocodile-infested waters, and finally trudging through treacherous jungles full of pythons, all with enemies nipping at their heels.
“Some anniversary,” she muttered. They had set out three years to the day since their first excursion, and only a month since Grant had professed his love. Seeing him suspended over the chasm between the cliff and the ziggurat, Teagan felt an all-too familiar mix of adoration and frustration.
Grant strained as he worked his way across. “Talk to me, Teag,” he said through gritted teeth. “Tell me something useless about the Ixthacans and the ceremonies.”
Teagan bristled, then recognized the touch of panic in Grant’s voice. He wasn’t mocking her studious nature or detailed note-taking. He needed a distraction.
The thought of pythons sparked a memory, a legend surrounding the ritual site. “Locals claimed spirits would come from the heavens at night to bless the Ixthacan chieftains. Beings of snake-like appearance, much like the Naga of Buddhist and Hindu mythology.”
Grant grunted an acknowledgment.
“Prior to our discoveries with the portals,” Teagan added, “I found the similarities fascinating, given that the Ixthacans and Buddhists lived on opposite sides of the world. Scholars assume Chinese seafarers spread the stories across the Pacific. After all, certain rare flora from the Orient also flourish here, and—”
“Made it,” Grant said, tossing her a rope. He acted unfazed by the brush with danger. “Tie this around your waist, and I’ll hang onto it just in case you slip.”
In short order, Teagan joined Grant on the far side. Had it seemed easier for her because of her comparatively light weight? Was Grant hiding some injury, as he often did?
“Which way?” he asked, checking the stars. Unexpected urgency filled his voice. Had he suddenly believed her concerns?
“It’s supposed to be northwest. We’re very close.”
He crouched and tromped through the brush in the direction she indicated. Teagan watched in confusion, then followed, inspecting plants as she passed. Someone had been this way recently.
Before she could warn Grant, they burst into a wide clearing, surrounded by thick trees with forked limbs reaching into the sky. Large reddish bulbs grew in the joints where branches of tree trunk met. A weathered stone with faded runes marked the Ixthacan site, though much of the jungle’s growth had been cleared away.
“You’ve already been here,” Teagan gasped.
Grant nodded and hushed her. “Last night. Just watch.”
As one, the bulbs spread with lazy movements under the stars, thin red leaves stretching into a sunburst around two rings of ivory petals circling the pistils clustered in the center. While Teagan stood in awe, a dozen blooms of silver-white opened in the moonlight.
Grant slipped his arms around her. “Your treasure, my dear. One of the rarest flowers in the world. Queens of the night for my queen.” He gave her a peck and whispered, “Happy anniversary.”
“What about the Germans following us?”
“Oh, them?” He laughed. “Just some guys I paid off in the market. I knew you wouldn’t have half as much fun if you weren’t being chased.”