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Village of the Fifth Lion
"They say Methuselah lived 1000 years," yelled Gunny, as Brendan pulled himself across the ravine, clinging to the vine with his hands and feet.
"No one lives forever," Brendan huffed to catch his breath.
"But we want to," Gunny answered. When Brendan got close, Gunny grabbed his bare shoulders and steadied him until he balanced on the rocks. Gunny could feel Brendan's heart thumping in his chest as he brushed the dirt and mist from Brendan's back. Both wore native kit, only a leather string holding their tender bits up against their stomachs, keeping it safe and vines around their forearms and calves to grip the ropes. Otherwise, they were naked.
"Where do we go from here?" Brendan asked Capac their native guide, a physically small man. He stood tall at four foot eight and was twenty-five years older than either Brendan or Gunny. Twice as fit, too, surprising them by traversing the ravine without a safety harness in one-third the time. The three men stood atop the waterfall and watched the water roar over the edge. It was twice the height of the cataract at Niagara. Capac motioned to a series of vines hanging in the falling water a dozen feet away from them.
"You mean we have to rappel down through the waterfall," Brendan said. Gunny pointed a finger at Capac, accusing.
"You told us to leave our climbing harnesses back at camp," he said. Capac laughed at his accusations.
"You want young. You want to life forever? You must walk through the river as it falls down the mountain. Capac's done it many times before. Capac wait for you in cave of life." He picked up the vines, positioned them in the cataract and stepped into the rushing waters. They watched as the water surrounded Capac and he slipped over the precipice. The vines shook with his weight for a few minutes and then got still.
"If one of us don't survive, it's been a good life brother," Gunny said, embracing Brendan. They shared the same father and different mothers. As kids and adults the brothers Brendan and GunWoo, Gunny for short, were inseparable. They insisted on breaking the barriers of racial prejudice. In the excitement of the 1920's, they thrived but in the poverty of the 1930's only the military's secret services required their skills. Soldiers of fortune from a time already gone and never to be restored.
Brendan steadied the vines so that Gunny could follow the guide over the edge of the waterfall. He watched as Gunny's feet slid on the slick rocks and he tumbled. The vines jerked for a few minutes and then went slack. Brendan's heart beat hard in his chest, hoping for the best. Gunny always accused him of expecting the worst. This time he hoped his thoughts of doom were wrong. He steadied his nerves and gathered his strength.
"Now it's my turn to be the superhuman and survive the raging waters at the end of the world," Brendan said to bolster his courage. He crossed himself, tested the vines and stepped into the water flowing toward the edge. In the world there is no force as powerful as water driven by gravity when it cascades over a rocky ledge down into the abyss. Sight, sound and air disappeared in a wall of white water that wanted to smash him on the rocks below. He rappelled through the maelstrom, the muscles of his arms and legs burning with the exertions. Unexpectedly, hands grabbed his feet and legs and pulled him out of the main stream. The force of the falling water lessened and he found his footing on ledge mere inches away from the rushing water. Capac and Gunny braced him against the rock wall.
Success. They lived. What seemed impossible was not. They were at the entrance to the waters of longevity. We call it the Fountain of Youth. Almost.
They stood on a ledge behind the waterfall wide enough for their bodies and not much else. A wall of water rushed past them less than a hand's length away. Brendan coughed up half the river as they edged towards a cave hidden under the lip of rock that formed the waterfall. They were, once again, three on the path to a new life. That was the native concept of immortality, renewed life or restored life. The end of their quest.
It all started because the National Socialists of Germany were up to something. Naval Intelligence discovered them traveling in inordinate numbers between Europe and Argentina with stopovers in French Guyana. They flew long-haul trimotors, Iron Aunties as Navy Intelligence nicknamed them from Guyana in the north overland to southern Argentina. One of our spies tagged along on one trip and photographed the route ostensibly for tourist shots. Brendan found this obscure village in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest while examining the photographs. In a non-descript clearing with a few huts were stone relief sculptures of rampant lions made from flagstones. He counted five lions, the five lions of Juan Ponce De Leon. Objects hidden in the Amazonian jungle for all to see. An invitation to the cognoscenti of the world from Juan the Lion, himself.
That day, Brendan collected Gunny and both flew to Georgetown. They trekked upriver, first south on the Essequibo River, then west on the Potaro River and then south again through the Amazonian rainforest another fifty or sixty miles on foot. When they reached the longitude and latitude of the photograph, they set up camp and searched for over a month before finding the clearing. By that time, they had nothing left but the clothes on their backs, a sextant now useless, their climbing harnesses that let them reach the tops of the forest canopy and some sweat. They had no bargaining chips or weapons other than their minds and bodies.
The natives had blowguns with curare tipped darts. They were a short people, knotted, rough faces who still lived a Stone Age existence, sans clothes, sans electronics, sans moving vehicles. Brendan and Gunny knelt facing the flagstones that formed De Leon's crest and waited two days for the natives to accept them.
An elder of the village, Capac took them into his hut and taught them the native language. The natives actively eschewed the modern ways of doing things. The interlopers tried not to teach the natives modern ways and they made a keen effort not to use methods that didn't fit into the native way. The natives had no math or concept of numbers greater than one, two and many. Only tomorrow existed -- a week hence meant nothing to these people. They counted the years not by the movement of the sun on the horizon, which didn't exist in the jungle; rather the natives used the rising of the river with the melting of snow on the mountains because it created new rapids and waterfalls.
Brendan and Gunny adapted to the villager's ways and customs, hunting, eating bugs and roots and animals, dressing in the native thongs. The natives carefully avoided adopting anything modern. What the village needed, it took and made its own. Vines replaced the climbing harnesses. Plant dyes and stains turned Gunny's yellow body and Brendan's pink body deep brown and indistinct from any other adult. They pierced their ears and lips and tattooed their calves and arms. Brendan and Gunny became men with the wings of heaven painted on their backs. The women even took them to their beds. In time, they became tribesmen in acts and deeds.
And they did so eagerly and earnestly. Brendan and Gunny wanted the secret that Juan Ponce De Leon so coveted. They wished to be young again. They wished to return to society and become the next captains of industry. John Jacob, J. D., Stanford and Vanderbilt would bow and scrape to them. With their knowledge of the past and the upcoming war, nothing could stop them from being the new robber barons. To be young again was the unsaid motto of the elites that denied the '29 Crash and the changing of the world. To that end the brothers committed their lives. They had no fortune left. Their Father was bankrupt thanks to the crash of '29. He was arrested jailed and convicted. With food kitchens, hunger and poverty, all honor left the family behind. In the last desperate few years, they only had each other.
When the snows of the mountains melted and the rivers rose a second time, Capac announced it was his time to go to the waters of new life, the baby-making waters. It took him two months to visit his family and friends. Only Gunny and Brendan who still counted the days and weeks and full moons in secret, cared about the passage of days. One morning with no fanfare, Capac told them to prepare to go to the mountain. Now, illuminated by the afternoon sun through the falling water, the three men stood on a rock ledge hidden looking at the cave of life.
Brendan could see the opening with a light shining through. They edged their way into a chamber. The cave wasn't much more than two layers of granite held apart by large stones, an anticline forming the roof and floor of the chamber. At the entrance, a single stream of water poured into a stone basin.
"Is this it?" Brendan asked. Capac smiled, cupped his hands and drank from the stream of water. Brendan and Gunny gave each other sideways looks, at first trembling with anticipation and then riddled with doubts. They drank from the stream.
Brendan wanted to say something like -- The water tasted clean and pure, a touch of effervescence, a hint of dissolved minerals. It delighted his mouth and throat as he drank. -- But he would have been lying. It tasted of water. A sparkling water to be sure but nothing more than effervescent water from the waterfall outside the cave. After the exertions of climbing down through the waterfall, the two men drank a second time to replenish the water lost in the day's exertions.
"It is done. We will be young once again," Capac said in refined Spanish. Brendan stopped and stared, mouth open. He never heard Capac speak in anything but the guttural native language.
"Who are you?" Gunny asked. A nagging voice in his and Brendan's mind raised fears and doubts over their search for everlasting life. Capac unwrapped the vines from his forearms and calves, removed the ear piercings and undid the leather string holding his privates. Then he stepped into the spray near the edge and washed his body.
"Please, wash your previous life away and come into the new life all clean and sparkling."
Respectfully, the two men stripped the vines and leather thongs from their bodies. They washed each other more out of physical habit than anything else but this time, it wasn't brotherly or sexual or anything else they ever felt in their life. Immortality was here in this cave and that fact changed everything.
Capac led them through a narrow opening into a larger cave deep in the mountain. A wood fire burned heartily on one side for warmth. Torches lit the chamber and a passage beyond. Three sets of animal skins and soft bedding lay arranged around the fire. Brendan immediately realized that the campfire and bedding meant that someone prepared this cave and whoever did, did not enter through the falling water. Capac spoke first.
"We have a few hours to talk. It's been two lifetimes since new blood came to the tribe and I have questions about the outside world," he said.
"There's another entrance to this cave, isn't there?" Brendan asked. Capac laughed heartily.
"Of course, the Mommy entrance," Capac answered.
"Then that climb up the cliffs, the rope crossing of the ravine and the waterfall were what?" Gunny asked.
"A test young man, a test. Just as the time you spent with the tribe showed your determination and spirit to learn the way of the tribe and not impose your own, so the ravine and cliff and waterfall test your courage. You proved that you are physically fit and mindfully worthy of living more than one life." Capac sat down on the animal skins and relaxed. Brendan stared at him, puzzled, unsure and at this point, filled with doubts and questions. He sat on the animal skins, feeling his hands and feet tingle. He hid his nervousness and waited for Capac to speak.
"The last I knew of the outside world, a civil war had divided the United States in half. Has that war been settled? What are the politics of Europe? Are my beloved Spain and despised Britain still monarchies? Or has your new American revolution spread across the world?" Capac asked. Brendan's mind raced at the implications of the questions.
"Who are you?" he asked, feeling tired and sleepy but not muscle-sore. Usually after this much climbing and jumping around he felt aches and pains but not today. He felt invigorated.
"I am the one you seek. I am Juan, the fifth Lion of all explorers, originally of Spain, once governor of Puerto Rico and now resident of the village." He used the native name for the village and the region of the Amazonian jungle they occupied. "We have just drunk of the fountain of youth. This is what you wanted, isn't it? The Fabled Fountain of Youth. That was your endeavor in coming to the village and living with us?"
"Yes, of course. Have you known all along?" Gunny asked. He kept opening and closing his hands and flexing his arms. His muscles wanted to move and not stay still. Brendan shook my head in agreement.
"How do I know? You are not the first. There were more in the past and fewer in the present. Some died of old age, unworthy. Most, like you, are still in the surrounding villages." Capac yawned and rubbed his face. Brendan also felt the urge to sleep. He blamed it on the fire and the warmth of the cave. They talked of all matters important and unimportant.
They spoke of the history of the world for the past hundred years, the industrial revolution, the invention of telephone, telegraph and radio. Daylight left the waterfall and the fire provided the only light. The cave swirled in surreal images like those avant-garde artists of the civilized world. Surrealism gone cave dweller, making Gunny look shorter to Brendan while he felt thinner, lighter. Capac's face lost his wrinkles and when he laughed, his voice sounded oddly high pitched.
"It is time for the three of us to sleep, Captain Brendan Hargreaves, GunWoo Yoon. It is easier when you sleep. In the morning your new Mother will wake you, give you a new name and carry you from the cave. Your new life will begin. You will remember the old life you left but the new life before you will fill your mind and be most important. That is fitting and proper and as it should be. You will live full lives in one of the villages. You will grow, marry and beget strong children. Tomorrow, your great adventure of life begins anew." With those words, Capac put his head in his arms and fell asleep.
Brendan looked at Gunny and realized that he was smaller, younger, almost childlike. Gunny put words to their thoughts.
"Do I look like a child to you? You look like a child to me," he asked. That was when Brendan realized what was happening in the dim firelight and he understood Capac's words. They had drunk of the fountain of youth and under its power, their bodies reverted to childhood. It all made sense. In the morning the mothers would find new babes and raise them as their own.
"We wanted to live forever but to live forever, we must be reborn and grow up. This village is as good a life as any other and decidedly better than many of the cities we left behind," Brendan said, wondering if the sentiments were his or the effect of the Fountain of Youth.
"But this is barely above Stone Age. We're living like Neanderthals," Gunny said.
"We shouldn't have played it so coy. What's so bad about growing to manhood in the Stone Age? I suspect we won't care about the life outside the village. We won't care about being Captains of Industry. I'll bet the Fountain blocks past memory or makes us forget. We'll have our place in the village and only village life will matter."
"Strange gift this eternal life. Not what I expected," Gunny said.
"Not at all," Brendan agreed. He watched Gunny fall asleep and then curled up on his animal skin and slept like a baby.
1500 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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