Well, Chuck pulled a fast one on us, and made last week’s first half only the first third! So this will be the second third of a story, the first part of which was written by someone else. I think Rebecca is doing mine from last week.
I’m picking up from Paul J Willett aka Momdude (pauljwillett.com). Here is his first third – followed by mine.
Guide (Act One)
(c) P J Willett
We had been to Mazatlan a dozen times before on these cruises, so our interest in the various shore trips was just about at zero. You can only see so many beaches and wanna-be cathedrals before staying on the boat to drink sounded like a much better alternative.
This cruise, however, was my brother’s first to the Mexican west coast. He wanted to do it all and had picked a tour called “Underground Mazatlan.” My husband and I had grudgingly agreed to go, smiling a lot, agreeing it would be spectacular, and counting the minutes until we could get back to the boat and into the bar.
At the bottom of the gangplank we met our guide. In passable English, he told us we were the only ones signed up for this tour. He didn’t have a car, but assured us our destination was only a few blocks away, an easy walk. Yeah, right.
Thank God I was wearing flats instead of heels. The brick and cobblestones were supposed to be quaint but they were simply torture to walk on. My brother was snapping pictures like an idiot, asking one question after another. You would think he had never been outside of New Jersey before.
Our guide, Jorge or Jose or Juan or whatever, enthusiastically answered all of my brother’s questions. He was practically falling over himself to point out things considered to be fascinating and unique. In my mind there was no doubt he was merely fishing for a big tip when the tour was over, but my brother lapped it up.
It was hot, sticky, and there were mosquitos the size of hummingbirds. We occasionally would pass something which smelled offensive. It was beyond me how these people could live like this.
At last, after must have been at least fifteen minutes of walking, we arrived at an adobe church. Of course, where else?
As we went inside, our guide took off his hat and did the holy water thing at the door. I wasn’t sure if I should take my hat off or leave it on, and the other rituals were way beyond me, so I took off my sunglasses and called it even. The place was dim, lit only by the light coming in from thin windows.
We were led along the outside walls toward a small room at the front. As my eyes adjusted, I could see twenty or thirty people in the pews, holding some sort of ceremony. None of them looked at us as our guide led us to a small opening in the floor, filled with an inky blackness.
Our guide pulled flashlights out of a cabinet, handed them out, and then started slowly down the narrow, steep, stone steps. My idiot brother was right behind him. I looked at my husband, who shrugged silently and started down next. I thought about just finding a cab back to the boat, but instead started down into the pit.
(c) J M Pett
How many times do you thank your gods that you chose the right clothes on an impossible day? In my case, shoes.
The steps were uneven, sandy, and dark. After the first few, the dim light from the church faded into a black so thick you wondered if you had a hand, let alone try to see it in front of you. Besides, it was too busy groping the walls. My nails would need serious attention from the manicurist when I got back.
The flashlights held by Jorge (or whatever) and my brother seemed cowed by the darkness. I realised that was stupid; they were simply getting further ahead. I saw only reflected light in the tunnel.
“Wait for me,” I called, in a voice that croaked and rattled off the walls.
“You okay back there?” My husband sounded his usual self: disinterested.
“No! Wait up. What’s the rush, anyway?”
“We wait at end, senora.”
“Dammit, wait now!”
As the glow faded, I slowed even more, clutching at the hard, dry, sandstone walls and locating the next step tentatively with my foot. How many millions had we descended, anyway?
Sometimes the wall had little knobbles in it. I paused at one, running my fingers over the smooth surface, so different from the rough sandstone of the rest of the stonework. There was a curve here, at the top, the size of a peach, or maybe a small melon. Below the curve was a wavy ridge, which guided my fingers to some useful finger holes, like a bowling ball. If I had made them, I would have set them the other way up, so the finger holes would be at the top. Then the curved bit would fit the palm, but since the builders had done it wrong, I would have to make do.
Then there were no more stairs. No light, no steps. I sat down with stone blocks digging into my bottom and assaulting my seat bones. I stuck my leg out and felt with my foot. Down, down and down.
I sat, listening. Surely they would have stopped and waited for me somewhere? What exactly had the guide said? Wait at the end? Well, I was at the end, where were they? I allowed my outrage to grow. The longer I could be angry at my husband, brother and this so-called guide, the longer I could keep the feelings in my stomach at bay.
I threw a loose pebble into the gap. I listened; it would surely land a few feet below me. It didn’t. I peered into the darkness ahead, imagining there was a light. It was a trick of my eyes. I felt the side walls again, encountering more of the finger holds. Two seemed set close together so I put one hand into each and pulled. Silly. This was not a movie.
Then the fear took over and I pressed myself against the wall, tears flooding up and a ghastly bawl escaping from my throat.
Next week someone else will finish this one off – hopefully. I’ll add a link if they do.