Bodies. Everywhere. Crouching, standing, lying twined in each other’s arms. Bodies engaging in every imaginable sexual act. Fellatio, cunnilingus—oh, what the hell. Why not call it what it was? Guys getting blowjobs all around her, heads nestled between spread legs, licking pussy. And everywhere, females bent over tables, beds, chairs… being thoroughly fucked, judging from the expressions on their faces. Too bad they were all dead.
Savannah smiled. Then she pushed a stray lock of hair off her sweaty forehead and got to work.
Being surrounded by the remains of people who died long ago didn’t frighten her. They were just people. People who had laughed and cried, lived and loved. People with a story to tell. And she was here to find out their story, bring them back to life—using both her knowledge and her imagination.
It wouldn’t require much in the way of imagination. Even in death, these people were having more fun than she’d had in a long time. She’d never seen, never heard of anything like this found in an archaeological site anywhere in the world. Bones, yes. Other remains were often found accompanying the burial of a ruler. Usually there was evidence of human sacrifice. But never an orgy. Savannah wanted to scream, jump up and down from sheer excitement. Instead, she forced herself to dig in her duffel bag for the battery-operated lights she’d been toting around for weeks, arranging them all around the area.
Then she got out her cameras and began snapping photos. The anteroom of the tomb was packed with skeletons. Bones glistened in her spotlights. The hollow eye sockets and gaping jaws didn’t repel her. In the silence of the tomb, Savannah swore she could hear the faint echoes of the cries of passion from these couples frozen together for all eternity in the throes of orgasm.
What made the tableaus even more salacious was the artwork that accompanied them. On the wall near each couple, a full-color mural depicted them as they had looked in life, engaging in the same sex act their bones played out.
She stepped carefully over the nearest skeletons to examine the illustration behind them. In the drawing, she could see the woman’s bones had once been covered with lush curves. Nearly nude, she wore only a short skirt around her waist, barely long enough to reach the tops of her thighs. Her large breasts were bare, the erect nipples tinted a deep red. She was on her knees, bending over with the short skirt flipped up to uncover her ample bottom, head turned slightly to flash a seductive smile at the well-endowed naked man behind her gripping her hips. She had an ass that rivaled Kim Kardashian’s—and it was getting fucked.
Savannah took a deep breath and tamped down a jolt of lust. It had been a while since she’d gotten treated half as well as this long-dead damsel.
She sighed and got back to work. She’d traveled across a continent to get here. Her rusty Ford Explorer died somewhere south of Merida in the Yucatan and she’d been hauling her battered duffel bag on and off a series of rattletrap local buses ever since. For an entry-level professor with huge student loans, money was tight.
She’d been a fool to pursue a PhD and then take a job teaching Mesoamerican archaeology. Unless one had backing from some foundation set up by a shady corporation trying to repair its tarnished image, there was hardly any money available anymore to do what she loved best. Fieldwork. Recreating the lives of people who lived thousands of years before was her passion.
When she was an undergrad, she’d volunteered in a couple of small digs. Nothing sexy. Just helping map out Native Indian settlements in the Southwest abandoned over a millennium ago. Digging in the dirt to uncover bits of pottery. Finding hard brown lumps that were sometimes bits of someone’s dinner, sometimes more disgusting substances. That’s what excited her.
Later, back in the lab, when those dried brown lumps turned out to be exactly what they looked like, that’s when she’d remind herself that she could learn more from prehistoric poop than she could from a piece of gold jewelry. At least that’s what one of her professors claimed. He loved to remind his classes that ancient feces were a rich source of information about the daily diet of past civilizations.
Then that voice inside her head would start its insidious whispering. Yeah, but finding a piece of gold jewelry would be a lot more fun. You weren’t meant to be teaching in a classroom or stuck in a lab studying old turds. You need some excitement in your life, girl!
Her friends thought she was stupid to teach bored undergrads about dead people for a living. They all had sensible majors. Bioengineering, software design. They made tons of money. And Savannah had begun to think they were right. If she stayed at the university, she wouldn’t be going on another dig any time in the foreseeable future. And she was tired of holding office hours to serve four hundred students, half of whom were foisted off on her by a lazy tenured professor.
But then, she’d been stupid about a lot of things. Including her trust in Michael, who’d sworn his divorce was almost final. According to him, he only stayed in the same house with his soon-to-be ex so he could save enough for a down payment. He claimed he wanted to start their life together in a really nice place even if that big Tudor monstrosity didn’t sell right away. When she happened to run into him in public at the university’s New Year’s Eve party, he was chatting with another professor, one arm draped possessively around the shapely waist of his wife. The combination of guilt and annoyance on his face when he saw her had told her all she needed to know.
Ruthlessly, Savannah pushed all thoughts of the past out of her head and turned her focus back to the job at hand. This time she’d be smart. She could make big bucks selling these erotic photos of ancient sex acts to one of the tabloids. They’d eat it up. She could imagine the headlines shouting out to shoppers in line at the grocery store. Forget Bones. Sexy Archaeologist Finds Boners.
She snapped on, her thoughts running a mile a minute as she documented the images nearby, each one more explicitly pornographic than the last. Maybe she shouldn’t sell all the pictures. Just enough to kick off a huge media outburst. She’d pretend to be indignant at the leak in press interviews, swearing she had no idea who had done it, then drop the bombshell that those photos were nothing compared to the others she had. There was enough material in this room for a whole book. With the right marketing campaign, it would be an overnight bestseller.
People loved stories of forgotten kingdoms, lost civilizations discovered deep in the jungles. Throw in the fact that prehistoric art depicting all kinds of erotic sexual acts had never been found before in the Americas and she’d hook the pervs too.
Savannah tried to banish the images of TV interviews and national book tours with fancy hotel rooms paid for by her publisher and forced herself to focus on her work. The important thing was that she’d have enough cash to fund this dig herself, run it the way she pleased. No pressure, no deadlines, and no threats of having funding cut off. She could take her time, study each artifact she uncovered to see what it would reveal about its maker. She hungered for adventure and excitement, aching to spend her days on an active dig in an exotic setting. Savannah was finished with being a low-level college professor.
She was finished with men too. Liars, cheats, users. Every one of them. From now on, she’d make herself Number One. She vowed that from now on she was through accepting less than what she deserved, whether it was money or those stolen nights with a cad who was apparently still very much married.
The only man she could ever count on was her dad. He’d have been so proud of her the day she got her doctorate. And he’d be proud of her now too. Carpe diem. That’s what he’d always told her. Seize the day. Go for that peak experience, that moment you’ll always remember. Follow your dreams.
Savannah bent down to get a better shot of two skeletons arranged in a particularly naughty pose and then focused her next shot on the very detailed depiction of that same act on the wall above them. Although she’d barely begun, she liked these people already. What better way to end this life and dwell in the spirit world than to spend it eternally fucking? And surely they’d save what they considered to be the best for last. She couldn’t wait to open the next room of the tomb and see what they’d arranged for the queen to be doing throughout eternity in her final resting place.
Sweat dripped in his eyes as Cam ran through the jungle. Or maybe it was blood. The last branch that whipped across his face sure felt like it cut right through the skin. It didn’t matter. Either way, he had no hand free to wipe across his brow.
Jackson’s unconscious body threatened to slip off his shoulder if he didn’t keep a tight grip on it. Cam would have sworn the damn fool was getting heavier with every mile. He took a moment to send a silent message to his old squad leader. I never thought I’d say this. Thanks for all those treks you sent us on with hundred-pound packs on our backs. But don’t get a swelled head. I still think you’re an asshole.
Carlos trotted ahead, swinging his machete to clear a rough path for them through the undergrowth. It felt like days had passed, but he knew they’d only been running for a couple of hours when they finally caught sight of their camp. He knelt down and eased Jackson off his shoulder and onto a sleeping bag in the tent, skipping the usual check for scorpions and venomous spiders.
Jackson groaned. Somewhere on the trail he’d slipped into unconsciousness. Cam was grateful for that. He’d stopped every half hour or so to loosen the tourniquet around Jackson’s upper thigh, just like he’d been trained to do. Each time the amount of blood he lost was staggering. Cam knew if his friend didn’t get medical help soon, he was finished.
On the way back to camp, Carlos had told him there was a doctor, an American woman, poking around some Mayan ruins nearby. Cam wanted to stay and take care of Jackson, but there was no way he could trust Carlos to carry a message to her. What if she didn’t speak Spanish? Besides, he didn’t think any American woman in her right mind would be stupid enough to go off alone in the jungle with a foreign stranger, no matter what he said to her.
He issued terse instructions to Carlos in rapid-fire Spanish, gulped down a few swigs of tepid water from his canteen and then forced his aching body back to a standing position. While he was slogging through the jungle with his best friend lying half-dead across his back, Cam had already realized that, exhausted as he was, he’d have to be the one to go get the doctor and persuade her to come back with him.
Savannah was lost. Hours passed and she’d only paused long enough to stretch her back now and then after crouching in some dusty corner to get the perfect angle for a shot. Thank goodness for digital cameras. Savannah marveled at the tenacity of early archaeologists, who had to lug darkroom equipment with them wherever they went. She had her dad’s old Nikon with her along with some black-and-white film, but she planned to reserve that for a handful of dramatic photos where she wanted the stark contrast.
She’d be able to review these pictures tonight, back in the room she’d rented in a run-down San Carlos hotel that would pass for home over the next few months. It wasn’t much but at least she had a real bed to sleep in and hot water… provided she got back in time. The morning after she arrived in town, she discovered the hard way that the hotel’s aging water heater was only turned on for two hours a day, late in the afternoon.
She glanced at her watch. It was later than she thought. Tohil would be here to drive her back to town in his rusty four-wheel-drive pickup truck in less than an hour. She’d hired him to tote her back and forth every day, even though it took a huge bite out of her limited budget.
Savannah felt safe knowing that someone would be checking up on her at the end of every day. After all, she was deep in the jungle, where venomous snakes and wild animals were far more numerous than human beings. She wasn’t foolish enough to camp out alone here at the dig. And if she tried to hike to and from town, she’d waste precious daylight hours and this project would take twice as long. She’d end up spending just as much money in the end.
It was the small inheritance she’d gotten from her dad that made it possible for her to be here at all. When she gave notice at the University of Chicago right after seeing that jerk Michael at the party, Savannah only planned to head south and visit all the places she’d dreamed about seeing ever since she was a little girl. She had some vague idea of earning a few bucks along the way selling articles and photos to Internet travel sites.
Her plan worked—until the Ford died. When she got an estimate on the repairs, Savannah made the sensible but scary decision to sell it for scrap and continue on her journey the way the locals did. She rode buses so ancient they deserved to be in some museum. Over the last four months, she’d had adventures enough to last her for years.
She’d traveled with a squealing piglet nestled in her lap. She shared a lunch of steaming mystery meat wrapped in banana leaves with a wrinkled old lady who offered it with a nearly toothless smile. She braved the threat of crocodiles with a group of giggling little girls splashing in a muddy river to pass the time when their bus broke down and left them all stranded for hours. The pictures she’d sold with that article added enough to her bankroll to easily extend her trip another month.
She even hitched rides now and then. The first time was with the expat lesbian couple she met in a market. They spent two days together exploring the ruins of Tikal. The second night, she graciously declined their offer to participate in a threesome. They parted as friends, promising to stay in touch. She wrote the piece on Tikal, complete with a photo of the smiling couple, but left out the risqué details.
After that, she got bolder. But she only accepted rides from a man if he was with at least one or two women, preferably older women with children in tow. She owed her presence here to one of those forays. She’d curled up on a sack of yams in the back of a pickup so rusty and dirty that she couldn’t even tell what color it had once been. Over the months, Savannah had picked up enough phrases in the obscure dialect spoken here to carry on a conversation with the stout wife and five noisy children who shared the back of the truck with her. The front seat was taken up by a crate of chickens the farmer was hauling home from the market, considered too valuable to be out in the hot sun like his family was.
One look at the group told her they were descended from the ancient Mayans whose vast empire once stretched throughout Mexico and Central America. Both the man and the woman had the same squat build and beak-nosed faces she’d seen carved into temple walls. Features meticulously detailed in vivid color in the drawings she’d studied from the Mayan Codices.
Sadly, there were just four known Codices in existence, the only written records left from a highly evolved civilization. When they arrived in the New World, Spanish missionaries gathered up and burned the entire contents of the Mayan royal libraries, branding their sacred texts as the work of the devil. Now all that remained for scholars to study were those four books and the carvings found on temples and stelae, the stone monuments unearthed in the jungles.
When she told them she’d studied the ancient Mayan civilization, they insisted on taking her home to show her an ancient, weathered stela in their back yard. She astonished them by reading it out loud, pointing out the individual glyphs and translating them. She was invited to stay that night for a local village celebration. One thing led to another and she stayed on, following villagers into the jungle and translating more huge stone monuments they took her to. Before long, the whole tribe had adopted her. They trusted her enough to show her their treasures, artifacts their families had discovered, then kept hidden and passed on secretly, generation after generation. No one in their village had been able to read the symbols on them for centuries.
One astonishing piece of pottery was decorated with an entire story told in glyphs, the combination of symbols and pictures that ancient Mayans created to chronicle their lives and their history. From what she could tell, the glyphs recorded a previously unknown dynasty of female rulers dating back nearly three millennia, powerful Mayan queens who ruled for nearly five hundred years over a kingdom that was once carved from the jungle nearby.
Savannah knew that lost cities were still being discovered here in the thick forests of Mirador, the vast river basin in the center of Guatemala, occasionally by scholars poring over satellite images. But more often, they were stumbled upon by farmers burning off the forest to expand their croplands.
Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists uncovered the base of the largest pyramid ever built anywhere in the world deep in this very jungle basin. The site was still being excavated and work would continue for decades. It was named El Mirador and it was the centerpiece of a sprawling city of 100,000 people that flourished a thousand years before any other known Mayan kingdom. She could easily believe that there were other magnificent cities still to be found, buried beneath thousands of years of jungle growth.
Bubbling with excitement, she took the vase with its amazing glyphs to the village elders. Instead of being surprised, they simply nodded and told her a tale passed down by word of mouth in their tribe of a Mayan queen who ruled the underworld from a hidden tomb in the jungle not far from their village.
Savannah was the first foreigner ever to learn their secret, the first one they’d ever trusted. The elders saw that she respected and honored their ancient culture. And even more important, she could translate the strange markings on their treasures and bring their rich heritage back to life for future generations.
They took her to the head of their village, an old medicine woman named Ixchel. Ixchel listened to her reading the glyphs and decided she could be trusted enough for them to show her the location of the tomb, known only to a selected few, even in the village.
The homes in their tiny village were already crammed to the rafters, often holding three generations of one family, so Savannah rented a room in the nearby town of San Carlos. She made the long trek each day on the muddy two-track that passed for a road in Tohil’s decrepit pickup. After seeing it for the first time, she swore the truck was held together by rust alone. But it had four-wheel drive and it was able to navigate the rough pathway the men cut into the jungle to get from their village to the site.
After several weeks of excavation, helped by every able-bodied male in the village, Savannah uncovered the entrance to the tomb. Today was the first time anyone had entered the antechamber in nearly three thousand years. Her workers took one look inside, spied the heaps of bones, and crossed themselves before retreating back to the village. The crew chief explained that the heavy work was done and now the men needed to get back to tending their crops in the fields. Besides, they couldn’t read the symbols the way she could. They’d be no help to her in that very small, very dark place crammed with the spirits of the dead.
She was so enthralled with the discovery that she hardly noticed when they left. The day had flown by and now she only had a short time left before she’d have to shut down for the night. Savannah was careful not to disturb any of the bones as she leaned forward to snap a close-up of one of the drawings.
Her shot was blocked by a long shadow falling across the wall. She’d been so careful setting up the spotlights. She was sure it hadn’t been there before. Puzzled, Savannah whirled around.
A very large, very much alive male figure blocked the doorway of the tomb, watching her silently.