Meet the Devil With a Smile
Sweat slicked my hand as I pulled Stuart into a narrow hallway. Turning a corner, darkness covered us so immediately and so completely that I jerked to a stop. Stuart plowed right into me, knocking us both into a wall.
“Ow!” he stage whispered in my ear, cursing.“Shh, shh, shh!” I hushed him, ears trained on the passage we just escaped. Distant footfalls echoed to us. Closing my eyes, I gauged their distance. Which was an extremely difficult task after just running through labrynthine tunnels. An image of people made of mud with the heads of jaguars jerked my eyes open.
I barely breathed the words, “Keep moving,” as I turned to trace my hands on the wall. Stuart grabbed the hem of my shirt with one hand, the other joined mine on the wall, searching.
We made our way slowly, taking another turn, growing ever-more dark. What I wouldn’t give for one of those sun lamps right now. All the mud-figures had them, toting them on staffs, holding their mini-suns aloft to light the way in the ancient tunnels. A gift from the Sun God for his creatures.
“I wonder if the others got out,” Stuart whispered behind me, so close, his breath froze the sweat beading on the back of my neck. I shivered. The others. There were—had been—five of us. I pictured Angie laughing, daring us to go inside the nearly-hidden doorway at the back of the Pyramid of the Sun. Who would have thought anything dangerous could be protected behind a weak plastic chain? If there had been some barbed wire or something I would have thought it through a little more. But I never could resist a dare. Especially after Stuart jumped the chain, challenging me to follow. Then so did Angie, Paul and Katy. All of us laughing. Meeting the devil with a smile. No, not a devil; A God.
“I mean, you think they’re okay?” He swore again, his whispers gaining volume. I was going to tell him to be quiet but he spoke over me, “I can’t believe this. You know, I didn’t even know Mexico had pyramids before this trip. Why would they? The only ones you ever hear about are in Egypt. And they’ve got all their own Gods and crap, I can’t hardly wrap my head around it.” He was babbling, his voice more talking than whispering and gaining momentum. I could feel his panic rising. And mine with it.
“Hey,” I said, placing my hand over his on the wall. Both our hands cold and clammy, despite being the middle of summer. We stood still, my hand staying his tongue. I wished I could see his face, reassure him with the look in my eyes. Actually, no, I don’t wish that; I probably looked wild and scared-stupid at the moment. Better that it was nearly pitch-black and we couldn’t see each other at all.
“Hey,” I said again, giving his figures a squeeze. “We’ll be okay. The others will be okay. We’ll get out of here and we’ll go home.” I waited. Hoped. His breathing slowed, the the distant thump thump of mud-figure footsteps growing closer. “Let’s just keep moving, okay?”
There was a silent moment where he may have nodded. “Okay,” he agreed.
I tried to pull my hand away to search the walls but Stuart twisted his fingers to intertwine with mine, holding tight. I felt the fear in his grip. We moved quickly, quietly. One palm grazed the surface of the wall, the other held Stuart’s sanity together. We turned another corner. I thought we might be going in a square, leading us out to the main hallway again but the dark grew denser, heavier. And then the hall ended.
I stopped, ran my hand around the wall. The sides were smooth. In front of us, where the path should have continued, was rough. And the only way out was back the way we came. I felt Stuart drop my hand, frantically search the walls. The space was so small, I could feel him and a wall at any given time.
“There’s—“ he whispered, shocked. “There’s no way out.” I felt him spin, heard his hand skimming the sides. “We can’t get out!” His voice rose in panic. I stood, rooted to ground. No idea what to do. “It’s like—It’s like they never finished this tunnel. They got it started but didn’t finish it! Where’s the tunnel, Carla?” His mouth spewed a steady stream of curses, growing louder. “Carla!” He reached out, grabbing hold of my forearm, following that up to my shoulder. Spinning me to face him, he put both hands on my shoulders. I could just barely make out his silhouette in the gloom. “Carla, what do we do? We can’t go back out, they’re almost here,” I could feel his breath on my nose. “We have no where to go, we’re stuck, we…” he kept babbling, building himself into a frenzy. He was right. There was nothing we could do. We were stuck. But we weren’t necessarily found. If we just kept quiet maybe no one would come down this dead-end hallway. Maybe they didn’t even notice this hall since it was so useless. But we had to be quiet to hide. And Stuart was building up to the opposite.
“Stuart,” I tried to interrupt but he continued on with his monolog, unfazed. “Stuart,” I placed my hand on his chest. He was breathing like he’d just run a marathon, his fingers digging into my shoulders. But he didn’t stop talking. He really needed to stop talking.
“Stuart,” I slid my hand up to his face, feeling the slightest hint of stubble. Tilting my head, I placed my lips on his. He froze. We stood there, two statues, lips touching. It was so dark I didn’t even think to close my eyes.
After a long moment I pulled away. Stuart resumed breathing. I felt his forehead lean into mine. Standing nose to nose, we listened as muddy feet shuffled nearby. Stuart’s hands slid down my back, settling around my waist. I was too afraid to move. The sound of mud-figures walking was steady but no longer growing louder. I could hardly breathe. Which was why I flinched when Stuart whispered into my ear, barely audible, “I know you just did that to shut me up.”
He shouldn’t have been talking with the mud-figures so nearby. I shook my head to tell him so.
“No?” His arms tightened around me, misunderstanding. “Good,” he breathed. “”Cause I’ve kinda had this thing for you since Texas when you gunned that orange soda at the airport,” I shook my head again. He really shouldn’t be talking. “Yeah, yeah,” he continued. “First of all, I don’t know why the vending machine had orange soda at all, like five people drink it. Me included. I love that stuff.“ I nodded yes, hoping to shut him up. He chuckled softly, at which I shook my head. Vigorously. “For real, my favorite flavor. But you guzzled it like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
I really had nothing to say to that comment. Why my being able to drink an entire can of orange soda in one long slurp would be attractive was a mystery to me. Most people thought it was kind of gross. Especially my mom who told me how disgusting and unattractive my beverage habits were at every available opportunity.
“I know this a bad time,” I stopped moving completely at that statement. If only he could have seen the understatement-of-the-year look I was giving him. “But you started it,” he moved so there was no space between us. “And if I’m about to die—“ I shook my head again, not ready to examine that possibility. Not ready to allow that word into my thoughts. And then his mouth was on mine. But this time it was more than just lips touching. This was kissing.
Stuart pulled me closer, breathed me in. My hands hovered somewhere near his chest too petrified to participate. I vaguely heard footsteps growing fainter. Or maybe the blood pulsing through my ears made everything else faint. Mud-figures could find us at any moment. Their dead stares and animal heads sent to drag us back to the sacrifice room. There was nothing we could do. This was possibly the last few minutes of my life.
Then why not enjoy the moment?
My arms wound around his neck, my body bowing into his. I threw everything I had into that kiss. Stuart gasped in response. The sound should have startled me but I figured it was better than talking. I gave in to all my fear, all my hope, all my anxiety, adrenaline and longing. If I hadn’t been making out I would have been crying.
Stuart pulled back, gulping breaths. “Whoa,” he panted. “About-to-die kissing is so much better than regular kissing.”
Smiling into the darkness, I guided him back down to me. I almost didn’t even care that he said “about-to-die kissing” instead of “kissing you”.
I don’t know how long we stayed in that dead-ended tunnel in almost complete darkness. But I do know that when we finally made our way out of there my face was glowing so brightly it could have been its’ own sun lamp.
One hand trailed the wall, guiding us back to the main passageway, my other hand linked with Stuart’s. The mud-figures were long gone, crumbling footprints left in their wake. The faint glow of a sun lamp high up on a wall lit the corridor as I turned my head around the corner. Nothing there. I turned back to Stuart, grinning. He smiled. We stepped silently into the hall together.
A sun lamp flared, casting giant shadows around us. Spots hovered in my vision, eyes squinting against the onslaught of brightness.
“Here they are,” said a voice behind the light.