Calliope Njo: The Treasure Hunter


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The Treasure Hunter

Calliope Njo

There it spread before me, Dead Man’s Crossing. Sure it was miles of sand without any lurking predators. Rumor had it, a lot of people tried crossing the desert landscape, leaving a lot of people missing. According to the instructions given, it was an obstacle to get to the other side without a way around it.

I turned around and went back to my jeep to find Juan Carlos. He was the expert in this desert landscape, and if I wanted to stay alive, the man to see before I dared to cross. Miles of cacti and sand later, Tur Foraminis came into view. The name meant watering hole, and it was small enough to have that name. Three stools at the bar and no tables. I couldn’t worry about that because my only goal was to get proof the Precious Treasure Tunnels existed.

Straw hat with the top missing, messy hair and beard, loud enough to be heard across the road, and drunk. It had to be him. Either that or the description my backer gave me turned out to be a practical joke.

“Juan Carlos.” I walked to him, and although I didn’t want to touch him, I poked his shoulder. “Are you Juan Carlos?”

He turned around toward me, stood from the stool, and dropped to the floor. When he didn’t sit up, I got the bartender’s attention to get a pitcher of water. I glanced at the pitcher before I poured it, glad I had no plans to drink anything.

Pitcher of water later and no movement. He could’ve dropped dead, but he picked up his head and shook it, which got me wet. Nothing I could do about that. He sat up and looked up at me. “You… you’re ear… early.”

Uh-huh. This would be a long hunt. Why couldn’t he be a clean man who didn’t drink endless barrels of whatever? Because they wouldn’t be my contacts, that’s why.

Afraid to take in a deep breath, I smiled instead. “You must be Juan Carlos who’s supposed to lead me across the desert.”

“To… Tomorrow. First thing.” He smiled and dropped to the floor again.

First appearances were everything, which made me question his validity, but there was always tomorrow. I hoped.

The rest of the day I spent in a dollar-a-day hotel room and studied the story. It seems a civilization hid their treasure in a secret location to hide from invaders seeking to expand not only their income but their land. Hence the existence of the Precious Treasure Tunnels. Nobody has ever come back with proof of its existence. Several theories existed as to its whereabouts, but none has returned with said proof.

I’ve been to every theorized location, and then some, to search for it but have come up with nothing. This was my last shot.

Out of money, out of motivation, and out of sponsors, I had to make this work or be forever labeled as the wannabe treasure hunter. I refused to be snickered at as the little lady who couldn’t.

The next morning somebody knocked on my door. I opened it a crack and Juan Carlos stood smiling at my door. “Morning.”

No hat, beard, or drunken speech, and his clothes were clean. “Yes, it is. First, call me JC. Nobody calls me Juan Carlos. Second, nothing on you except what you’re wearing and a light pair of shoes. Third, you will do as I say when I say it. Fourth, the legend is true. Those that attempted to cross never made it. All of them got eaten alive. If you follow my directions, we will make it. Deal?”

I wasn’t into taking orders, but under the circumstances, I didn’t have a choice but to nod.

“Good. I took care of your room, so don’t worry about it. We need to get going.”

He didn’t have the Mexican accent that I expected. Whatever made him drink like that yesterday made me curious. Not enough to ask about it.

We rode in his jeep until we arrived at the same location that I stood in front of yesterday. He jumped out. “This is it. Dead Man’s Crossing. Now you’re thinking why the name. What’s the big deal? It’s just a bunch of drunken rumors. Let me show you something.”

He reached into the jeep and pulled out a dead rat. He threw said dead rat into the sand and it went from a desert to a landscape filled with something that made the carcass disappear in a matter of seconds. “Holy hell.”

“Yup. When I say go, you run as fast as you can. When you fall, get up as fast as you can and keep running to the top of that dune. Nobody knows what’s inside. Nobody wants to know what’s inside. On and off as fast as you can. Got it?”

“Yeah. Keep running and don’t look back. Got it. Just so that I know we are not running endlessly?”

“You see that trail up ahead?” He handed me a pair of binoculars.

I looked through them. “Yeah.”

He took them from me and threw them in the jeep. “That is our destination. We will talk about part two after we make it over there.”

Something flew over our heads. When I looked up, four drones in the sky carried two large carcasses. Dead cattle maybe, but I didn’t look at them too long, ready to run the mile in ten seconds flat.

The bodies fell, and the landscape changed again. I followed the path to the top. That bright sun over me didn’t make it so easy, but I made it. About ready to run again, he held me back.

Two more dropped, and we crossed the distance. About three more steps and I tripped over my own two feet. I got up and kept running. We got halfway when he held my arm.

Panting and wishing for anything wet, I bent over in pain. My sides hurt and my legs refused to move. I didn’t know if I could make it to our destination.

He took in a deep breath. “We did good. We follow this trail to Paradise City. You’ll find out why they call it that. When we get there, let me do the talking.”

When and if, he meant, but I gathered whatever energy I could and moved my feet. We got to the end of the trail and entered a tented city with animals of every species around including trees and water holes. Clinking and clanking of something was all around us.

He put his hands on my shoulders. “Stay. I’ll be back.”

“Ruff.”

He shook his head and walked away. No idea how long I stood there and waited. When he came back, he pulled me behind him and we walked over to a small tent.

“For the telling of a story or two, and the promise of cooking something for them, I could negotiate a three-day and two-night stay. Complete with bath and enough supplies to last for seven days. They will go with us until the edge of their land, and then we are on our own. One of their elders will explain the story of the Precious Treasure Tunnels.”

“Anything. Does it come with an enormous glass of something wet?”

“Of course.” He smiled. A piece of cloth hung on the wall. He pulled it as far as it would go. “This is the only tent they had available. This cloth is meant as a divider.”

“Right. OK.” I looked around and noticed two piles of pillows. Somebody threw in pieces of cloth to my side. I held it up and discovered they were clothes.

“Done?”

“Why? What now?”

“I sleep. You bathe. Wake me when you get back. You reek.”

I laughed. “You weren’t exactly, shall I say, smelling like Old Spice yesterday.”

“Eh.”

I put the clothes on and left the tent. A woman bowed in front of me and motioned me to walk ahead. No way to know where to go, I followed the yellow brick road so to speak.

We stopped in an area that smelled like sulfur. I took a few more steps and noticed the natural hot water springs. I took steps toward it but the lady shook her head and pointed me to the left. She stood behind me and nudged me over to an empty bench. She took off my clothes and gave them to another woman.

The woman brought my head back and got it wet before putting something on it. I had no idea what it was but it had an herbal and floral scent to die for. After that, she scrubbed my back while I scrubbed the front.

It didn’t feel awkward because all I did was take a bath before having a soak.

Assuming that we finished, I stood up from the bench. She wrapped a cloth around me from behind and nudged me again to go ahead. This time I could lounge in the hot springs. She came to get me a little while after that.

The clothes came back with a brighter look to them. I dressed and returned to the tent. JC stood and left.

That was when I had a chance to look at my surroundings. It reminded me of the fabled tents of the nomads I heard so much about growing up. Tents large enough to fit a semi, made from a durable material that kept the harsh sun away, and supplied with rich colored silks and soft cushions. A pitcher and two goblets sat on a table in the corner.

I didn’t care what it was. I poured the contents of the pitcher into my mouth before I put it down. Maybe I should’ve left some for JC. Too late to think about that.

I pulled the divider to one side because it wasn’t necessary anymore. They needed me to get dressed before I returned so they had to make him do the same thing. The comfy looking fluffy pillows in the back looked perfect to catch a nap. A brief inspection told me they were clean.

Someone shook my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw a little girl standing next to me with a note in her hand. I took it and they were ready for the night’s feast. To be honest, I forgot about it.

I was led to what I assumed was the cooking area with pots and fires and food all around. After coming up with a plan, I fulfilled my end of the bargain. Complete with a funny adventure story.

They told me their part of the story. The Precious Treasure Tunnels was nothing but a myth that was created to help with the tourism business. The more people came, the more business they had. I had a problem with that story, because of the constant exchange of glances and that story took so many turns it was easy to get lost.

I remembered returning to the tent and crashing on my pillows. My arms screamed at me when I tried to roll over. That same little girl stood over me with a smile on her face. She had trouble waking up JC, so that would be my duty.

She left and I threw everything at him that would wake most people. I even borrowed the goat. Well, I did what I used to do with Gramps and that was wave a cup of coffee under his nose.

He opened his eyes. “What?”

“It’s about damn time. They came to wake us which means it’s time for us to get moving.”

He stood from his spot. “You’re going. I’m staying.”

He what? “Uhm. OK. Why?”

“I was paid to bring you here and I’ve got another client.”

“JC—”

“I gotta go.” He gathered up a backpack and slung it on his shoulder. “Nice knowing you.” He left.

Great. That left me to figure out how to get out of here and what did he mean he was paid. He wasn’t supposed to have been paid until all of this was done and over with. So what did he mean he was paid?

Before I had a chance to think about all of this, a woman showed up and motioned for me to follow her. So I did.

She brought me over to their animals. A camel had packs on its back with a tether line around its neck. Another one had a saddle on its back with camel fitted reins on it. That was transportation. Somewhere in the story they told me were instructions on how to get there. Gramps always told me to bring along a paper and a pencil. I thought he was kidding until that point.

After talking to the lady, it seems the camels knew where to go. I didn’t but they did. So I hopped on and enjoyed the ride. Such as it was. It gave me an opportunity to figure out what to do.

I couldn’t take pictures because they were too easy to be doctored. That didn’t leave much else other than samples of the environment. That wouldn’t be easy because of beliefs and culture.

That was when the problem came up. If I couldn’t take anything, how was I supposed to prove its existence? After all, that was the reason for this entire adventure.

I continued my trek through passageways and caverns. I came upon an underground lake with a single stalagmite pillar in the middle that looked like it held up the ceiling. About as perfect in shape as anything man-made.

I stopped before another cave. Water dripped and wind blew in from somewhere as if it didn’t encourage me to go. I saw the lost civilization.

I had no idea where the light came from but it illuminated the area. Jars and jugs on different sized pillars. The carvings told they were grain. The area ahead had drawings of everyday life. The area next to that held baskets of something. The carvings told they were supposed to be fruits. There was no big treasure chest worth an extraordinary amount of money. That was it.

Of course, the paint was faded and the carvings weren’t as clear as they should be but it didn’t take much to put the dots together. That wasn’t it though.

It couldn’t be. If there was one rule that Gramps taught me, never take things at face value. There is always a story. There will always be something more. It’s our job to find it.

There was nothing else though. Pictures and carvings and jugs and bones so nothing else. The more I looked at the pictures, the more I realized it wouldn’t take much to create these. Without sophisticated equipment, I had to take things at face value.

So something had to be out of place. If something were that precious wouldn’t they tag along to be sure everything would be all right? Nothing made sense anymore.

I picked up every jug, bone, rock, and sand that I could see. I even tap-danced my way around the room. What if there was another room that nobody had seen yet?

I poked my head outside and looked around. Nobody there, I left that room and sidestepped my way down the path a bit. I found a crack and went inside. No light inside and no way to create a light. I felt my way around the room and my hand hit something.

I always loved the Indiana Jones movies. It gave me a picture of what Gramps did. He always laughed at those movies and called them comedies. I only mentioned that because it felt like an Indiana Jones movie. Misled adventures and all.

I landed on my butt. Thank God it wasn’t a rock. I stood up and felt my way around. Something on the ground made me trip; without something to hold onto, I tried to grip the wall and that was when the lights turned on.

“Holy Mother of All Creation.” Clear blue crystals covered the walls. A light above gave them a holistic feel. A narrow path by a pond led past them. I followed it to another room. Rugs, pictures, material, and bound parchment filled the room.

I took the time to examine the find. If my guess was right, this was an entire civilization of women. Maybe I should’ve studied history like Gramps suggested because I couldn’t think of any civilizations that were made of women. The existence of the Amazons was always a hot debate so they didn’t count.

This was the Precious Treasure Tunnels. Not the crystals but this room. This find had the power to turn everybody’s head with the possibility that history was wrong. I had to grab something unique to verify my findings. I grabbed a parchment and held it close to me. This would be an adventure I would never forget. Proof existed and I had it.

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Please check out Calliope’s blog for more great stories: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/

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