Xenolith, Page 17A. Sparrow
Chapter 11: The Abduction
The roads surrounding San Ignacio were a far cry from those that had dented oil pans and ensnared tires when Frank and Liz had tooled around them. The town limits had expanded. There were more houses and orchards and even resorts devoted to ecotourism, a concept that would have seemed laughable back in the day.
The unbroken forest he used to marvel at had eroded and receded, leaving patches of scrub and secondary jungle. Here and there among them, a sprawling mahogany glowered over the landscape, most with trunks chewed by bulldozers, some pristine. These had been emergents, the tallest trees in the former rain forest. Logging crews had somehow spared them, out of respect he could only surmise.
Frank drove right past the new road leading to Rio Frio. Just as he hadn’t wanted to ride upriver in a launch, he had no desire to visit the little town and what was left of the former mission. He kept to the river road as it followed the Macal’s curves, its builders keeping a respectful distance away to avoid its angry floods
From the turnoff to Rio Frio, Frank counted off eight kilometers on the odometer, and there it was: the partly toppled limestone cairn he had built to mark the trail to the quarry. He parked on an overgrown shoulder, glimpses of the green-brown Macal visible through the trees.
Exiting the SUV, he went straight for the cairn, peeling off vines, re-stacking stones. The engine block popped and pinged as it cooled. Frank changed out of sandals into hiking boots and zipped the leggings onto his convertible trousers. He fetched the sweet peas from a wrap of damp newsprint and soon, he was gliding under a canopy of second growth, down a surprisingly well-worn path. His first time through, in the panicked search for Liz after she had gone missing, it had been barely more than a game trail. He could only imagine Liz’s displeasure. Liz had preferred her nature groomed.
As he went deeper, Frank puzzled over how clear and free of obstructions the trail was in this fast-growing jungle. Perhaps tour guides had discovered his cairn and took advantage of the trail for bird-watching or wildlife tracking. The quarry itself had never made a splash as a destination, being archaeologically insignificant and just plain uninspiring.
He crossed a stream with a bed of pure white pebbles and skirted the edge of a sump, its fringes guarded by a vanguard of dead, moss-eaten trees. Outcrops of pale stone began to poke through the forest floor. A slight rustling in the shrubs made him pause. Something large was nosing about, probably a tapir.
He took a swig of water from his Nalgene bottle. Coming here had always pained him, and this time was no different. The years had blunted the sting, though his stomach still clenched over how preventable the whole incident was. Liz hadn’t wanted to come here without him. Why had he let Father Leo take her?
Further on, ledges began to assert their dominance over the forest. Trees grew smaller, roots scrambling over exposed stone seeking soil. He came upon the so-called quarry, a crater of karst, overhung with vines. Walls of greyish-white stone, scalloped at their base formed overhangs and caves. He had searched every one of them under the supposition that Liz might have fallen or become trapped in the rubble.
It was hard for him to imagine Liz climbing down into the pit voluntarily. While the uppermost ledges swarmed with vegetation, its center was as dead and uninviting as a slag heap. The stones here bore no evidence of human hands. It was obvious to Frank that the place had never been a quarry.
Frank moved gingerly along the rim of the cliff. Lianas disguised the edge, giving the appearance of solid footing where there was nothing but leaves and air. He followed it to an open ledge that held the second cairn, the one he built in Liz’s memory about a year after she went missing, when it became clear to all that she was gone forever.
This cairn was toppled as well. Seeing it vandalized felt like a kick in the stomach. He hunted around and spotted the brass plaque face down in the leaf litter, but otherwise intact. Setting the sweet peas down, he picked up the plaque and scraped off the mud that had infiltrated its engraving: “E.B.B. – 1991.” It looked ancient now, all stained with mildew and verdigris. He re-stacked the stones, wondering what kind of fiend would deface an obvious memorial of someone’s passing, especially all the way out here.
Frank retrieved the sweet peas, mostly wilted now, but retaining their glorious purple hue. He set them carefully at the base of the monument, awash in their resilient and redoubtable fragrance. He packed the stems in wet newsprint, and sprinkled it with water from a canteen so at least the blooms would stay one more day.
A red-headed lizard carrying a grasshopper in its mouth scampered across the rocks. Frank sat back and unzipped his pack. He had brought along a tortilla wrap with chicken and chili peppers for lunch. He planned to eat it and hang out as long as he could tolerate the mosquitoes, before heading back to the car. Why come all this way only to rush off?
A green leaf fluttered onto Frank’s knee. He looked up to see where it came from and noticed an odd growth clinging to the trunk of a tree, some type of arboreal ant or termite nest. The only problem? It had feet and toes. Human.
“Hello there,” said Frank. “Hola! Como tu estas?”
“Yo? Que hubo? En que andas?”
A staccato chorus of clicks erupted from the jungle all around him. He backed away from the tree, alarmed.
Figures dropped from trees and sprung from the undergrowth. A rawhide bolo wrapped around Frank’s torso and pinned his arms to their sides, end weights clattering against his rib cage. Frank’s legs jerked out from under. He dropped to the ledge.