Xenolith, Page 23A. Sparrow
Chapter 16: Ubabaor
Frank walked hand-in-hand with Liz along a beach. This was no lazy, weekend stroll. They hurried, as if late for an appointment, or to get away from something following them.
Wind and sun conspired to paint a garish seascape. Waves heaved like shards of a broken mirror. Charcoal clouds hovered close to the horizon, edges glinting.
The beach grew crowded. A patchwork of blankets and towels arrayed was arrayed with people he knew: cousins and grade school teachers and patients who had died, all sunbathing together. Everyone called out greetings as he passed with Liz. No one on the beach was a stranger.
The sun became a moon. A tsunami of night consumed everything. Liz’s grip tightened. They kept walking, rushing through the grounds of a decrepit resort, where every deck chair and lounger was filled with moldy corpses. Vultures circled the smoking ruins of a shattered city beyond.
Something splashed Frank’s chin. His hand went up reflexively and his fingers came away damp and sticky and red. Jets of blood sprayed from his chest, like water through pinpricks in a garden hose. Liz swung around to face him, futilely employing her handkerchief to plug the leaks. Frank recoiled from her face. Her cheeks had peeled away, exposing her teeth. Frank recoiled. Liz looked hurt. Tears of dust beaded in the corners of her dull, filmy eyes.
The nightmare dissolved. Frank awoke to faint chatter; odd-metered music played on something that sounded like a baritone harmonica. A stiff breeze, scented with wood smoke, buffeted sheer grey curtains. He sprawled on a mat in the corner of what seemed to be a repair shop. Light spilled from large windows into a room filled with heavy wooden tables. Devices of every sort – computers, smoke alarms, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers – in various states of disassembly, covered every surface. On the nearest and clearest table sat a broken guitar.
Cords no longer bound Frank, but he could stir no desire to move. His mouth was dry. Nausea writhed like a snake in his stomach, poising to strike. His cranium threatened to crack from the pressure mounting within. At least his heart beat strong, tracking a calm and steady rhythm.
The man from the chicken bus walked briskly into the room, the image of a dreadlocked Ziggy Marley still gracing his chest. He gave a double take when he saw Frank alert. He went to a cistern along the wall and returned with a ladleful of water.
“You like drink?”
“Thank you,” Frank said, accepting the ladle eagerly. The water was cool, flavored with something faintly piney and resinous. It quickly became apparent that his drink contained something more powerful than flavoring, when the webs clouding his vision retracted and the pressure in his head eased.
The man sat down on a three-legged stool and watched him. “We have good medicine, yes?”
“Don’t care much for the side effects, but yes.” Frank pushed himself up on a round mattress made of twisted bundles of cloth, like a braided cotton rug, but thicker.
“So you speak this English more, not Español. Yes?” The man spoke with an odd, clipped accent that truncated some vowels and lingered on others.
“I speak Spanish, too,” said Frank. “But English is better.”
“Is for me, opposite,” said the man. “Oh well.” He held out his hand. “My name … Tezhayaploplec. You can say Tezhay.”
Frank hesitated and stared at the coppery fingers being offered, calculating little benefit in being impolite. He extended his hand slowly to have it grabbed and shaken a little too strong and a little too long for comfort.
The man, Tezhay, held Frank’s passport. “You are Frank Bowen, yes?”
“Should be obvious, no? Who else looks like that picture?”
“MD means …?”
“Minor deity,” said Frank.
Tezhay narrowed his eyes. “I think is doctor. Medical doctor. But if you are doctor, why you have so much trouble with your heart?”
“I wouldn’t have if you had just let me take my damn pills.” He took note of his currently rock steady pulse. “Gotta admit, that stuff you drugged me with did the trick. What was that?”
Tezhay shrugged. “Simple potion for making sleep. Just little bit snake venom, mix with rat bile to weaken. Without bile, it might kill you.”
“Charming. I’d prefer to have my pills back, thank you.”
“Not possible,” said Tezhay. “Is gone to Philosophers. For study.”
Frank’s heart gave a quick, little flutter. “I need those. They keep my heart safe from bad things that can happen to it.”
“Not possible.” Tezhay sidled over to a wall honeycombed with scores of hexagonal cubbies. Intricate wedge marks marked each cavity. He searched till he found one packed with long straws the size of pencils. He slid one out and tossed it to Frank. “Have this, instead.”
Frank snatched it out of the air. “Is this—”
“Bolovo. From special kind snake, special kind rat. Take only when you need, and not too much, one drop maybe on your tongue, or else you dream for days.”
Frank rolled the object in his hand. It was a hollow reed, with nodes like bamboo, one end sealed with reddish-brown wax. “Thanks. I guess,” he said half-heartedly.
“Now I ask you some things,” said Tezhay, his sharp eyes darting. “Why you follow me?
How you know about us?”
“You follow me. Why? How you know who I am?”
“I didn’t follow nobody.”
“But you see me in forest and you know who I am.”
“Well, yeah. Because I was on the same bus as you. I saw what happened to your guitar. But I was just as surprised as you. I mean, I thought you followed me.”
“Who am I?”
“Your name’s Tezhay. But … you just told me that.”
“I mean where am I and what am I and what you think I do?”
Frank gawked at him. “I don’t have a friggin’ clue,” he said. “You want me to guess?”
“Yes. Guess me.”
“Cocaine,” said Frank.
“You run drugs,” said Frank. “But that’s no big deal. It’s you and a thousand other jamokes running coke and pot up and down Central America and I couldn’t give a shit. I’m just there to bring flowers to my dead wife. Let me go and I won’t even ever come back to Belize. Promise.”
Tezhay’s eyes lingered on him intensely. Frank glanced away and back to find him still staring.
“I think, maybe I can believe you not know,” said Tezhay. “Your eyes look like … stupid enough.”
“Yeah. I’m dumb alright. Dumb enough to go traipsing around those woods by myself.”
“I use wrong word,” said Tezhay. “I mean you are like … ignore … ignorant. Your eyes don’t show … knowing … knowledge. You don’t lie to me. I can feel that you know nothing. About us.”
“Okay. Now that we’ve established that I’m ignorant. Can I go?”
“Er, no,” said Tezhay.
Frank didn’t expect it would be that easy. “Okay. Can you tell me where we are at least?”
Frank wrinkled his brow. “Ooba what? Sorry. I’m not familiar with that. Is that in Guatemala?”
“So I’m like a hostage, then? You asking a ransom?”
“Er, no,” said Tezhay. “You will be free. But I have make sure you not make us risk for security, and teach you enough for you be safe. Then you can go. We send you to safer place in interior.”
“Interior? That doesn’t sound like free,” said Frank. “Free means I can go home.”
“No. Not possible.” Tezhay’s face tightened. “This will be your home now. Is bad luck you find us. We are sorry to make you come here, but is necessary for security purpose. It is our protocol.”
“How is that free?” Frank began to get a little agitated, normally a red flag given his condition. But his heart purred along like a 12-cylinder Mercedes. Something in that potion had lingered to make it
stable to perturbation, a luxury he hadn’t enjoyed in ages.
“You will see,” said Tezhay. “Ubabaor is too close to war. Not safe. But interior is good. You can make good life. Have farm or … you are doctor. You learn our medicine, you can be doctor here.”
“So I’m a prisoner,” said Frank. “Not a hostage. A prisoner. How long you gonna keep me here?”
Tezhay gave him a look like he had never seen anyone so dim. “For always,” he said. “You will always be here. For life.”
“No prison,” sputtered Tezhay. “Does this look like prison?” He swept his hand across the expansive workshop. “You lucky. Some on sortie want kill you, to make easy for them, but because I am there, they don’t. Protocol say people like you should disappear, not die. Dead person leave behind body and crime and eh … investigation. Missing people make only mystery. You be okay. Tonight we give you better room. Quiet. Clean. You stay there. We keep you here for small time. I have many works in this busy time, but I will help you for some days. I tell you about this place and maybe you tell me something about yours.”
“Interrogation,” mumbled Frank, his spirits falling.
Tezhay leaned forward. “I don’t know this word.”
“Asking questions of prisoners. Often combined with torture.”
Tezhay sputtered. “No torture! You have wrong idea about us, mister doctor. We Sesep’o no do torture.”
“What am I supposed to think?” snapped Frank. “You snatch me away when I’m visiting my wife’s … grave. And you make it sound like I checked myself into a halfway house. It would help me wrap my mind around all of this if you could just tell me, where the hell are we?”
Tezhay gave Frank a weary look and muttered quietly to himself in his native tongue. “Listen. I will try make simple. This is different place … than your place.”
“This is not your Ur … I mean … Earth.”