The Cartographers Vault

The piece below is my attempt at the flash fiction challenge Chuck Wendig presented in his terribleminds blog.  He had two columns with twenty words each. Participants needed to either roll a d20 die (or in my case, use a random number generator) to create a two-part title for their story. And since it’s a flash fiction, it needs to be a 1,000 words or less. I got a 9 and 4, resulting in:

Flash Fiction by AJ Bauers

The tour guide is less than pleased with our group. Probably because we’re all hammered.

Very hammered.

“This is lame,” I whisper. Judging by the dirty looks the elderly couple gives in front of me, my volume levels are little out of whack. When the brochure said ancient burial ground, I expected shrunken heads, ominous fog, and hot chicks clinging to me for protection. But instead I get a bald guide who hates happiness, signs pointing to weird rocks indicating their ritualistic significance, and the local chapter of the AARP as my guide buddies.

Definitely lame.

“I think it’s cool,” my buddy Jimmy says, turning his head over his shoulder to make sure Liz and Jeanine heard him. “To think it was built over a thousand years ago…”

Jeanine, who said those exact words only ten minutes ago, reacts as if it is a new thought, tripping as she catches his arm, “I know, right?”

“It’s amazing,” Liz adds, nuzzling the words in Jimmy’s neck.

When Jimmy told me that his parents had a time share down in Costa Rica we could use for Spring Break, I had been ecstatic. When he told me that Liz and Jeanine, the hot Sigma Phi girls, were coming with, I hailed him as a God among men.  But what he failed to mention was the time-share was in the middle of San Jose with no beach in sight. And to make things worse, both Liz and Jeannie seemed to find Jimmy’s quarterback physique more appealing than my great personality.

Whatever.

“Careful not to cross the velvet ropes,” British Mr. Clean says. He’s looking pointedly at Liz, who tripped three times as we climbed up the steep stairs to get here.

“Why not?” she asks, pouting her lip into perfect form.

“Will she be put into time out?” Jeanine says, casually draping her arm around Liz’s waist. The girls giggle and Jimmy keeps darting me this crazy grin like he just won the lottery. I respond by placing my own arm around Liz and taking another long swallow, drowning out whatever explanation baldy is stating.  Knowing my role, I finish off my drink with a rather loud belch, making the girls squeal and jump closer to Jimmy to get away from me. He’s winking at me as I stumble backwards, having been pushed away by Liz’s bony hip. Just as I’m about to right myself, I trip on the velvet ropes. And then the ground disappears beneath me.

For a moment, I can’t breathe, which may be for the best since dust and debris keep falling on my face. There are shouts and I can hear the guide saying something about a ladder. I groan and roll on my side, hoping that this at least gets me some sympathy points from the girls. “I need to lose weight,” I groan, hopefully in an actual whisper this time, as I struggle to my feet. The hole that I fell through is about eight feet above my head and I can’t believe I didn’t break anything. That or I’m just so wasted right now I’ve lost my ability to feel any fractures.

There’s a harsh clanking sound, and I see a flashlight rolling in a semicircle on the stone floor. I quickly grab it and click it on, immediately bathing the wall in light.

At first, I don’t see much of anything except more strange rock formations that could or could not be a symbol of death as everything in here seems to be. I’m slowly looking around, thinking how cramped it is, and how it reminds me of my time spent in the bank vault back home where I’m a teller.

And then I turn to the last wall and I see them.

Maps.

Now a cartographer may look and see the historical significance of the different papers and leathers hanging in front of me. Me? I don’t understand a word, nor do I recognize any shape to be that of a specific country. But I do notice the Xs. More specifically, the giant red X in the most elaborate map with gold foil lining. And then I see dollar signs.

“We got a ladder!” Jimmy’s voice echoes above.

“Ahhh… okay,” I shout, thinking quickly. I’ve seen Goonies. I’ve played Uncharted. How hard could treasure hunting be? My trust fund opens up next year; I could hire some ridiculously smart historian and a parkour expert.  There’s probably an e-how for a treasure expedition.

“You ready?” Jimmy calls.

I quickly grab the map off the wall, carefully rolling up the fragile document. I stick it under my shirt, hoping the thin paper doesn’t soak up my sweat that smells like last night’s tequila. The ladder has just hit the bottom as I stand beneath the hole.

The climb up is brutal. I wasn’t joking when I said I needed to loose weight.  I’m gasping when I reach the top, leaning over my knees from the exertion. Mr. Clean keeps asking if I saw anything down below and Jeanine is cooing over me like I’m some hurt puppy.  And I’m just about to raise my head to lie to Mr. Clean and to lean into Jeanine’s chest when that inevitable clenching of my stomach occurs and I vomit all over the velvet ropes and a rock that probably means resurrection or rebirth or something with a ‘re’ in it.

The girls are screaming at me and Mr. Clean is dry heaving in a corner. The AARP group has all turned toward one another to exclaim profanities about spring breakers. So it’s only Jimmy who sees me look down at my shirt in horror, realizing that I’ve gotten sick all over it, effectively turning the map into a pile of mush.

“What did you eat bro?” Jimmy says in a disgusted fascination, staring at the sodden lump I’ve pulled out of my shirt.

I throw it on his chest and walk away.

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