Three hundred feet deep, Alex could hear the rush of air entering his helmet. It startled him at first. He heard his counterpart cursing through the mic. Too much walking in this darkness and silence had lulled the two men into a false sense of security. The oxygen had kicked on because the air had become toxic. He checked the U-GPS device on the inside of his wrist for their position.
“Hang in there, just our air,” whispered Alex.
“How much further?” asked Thomas.
The lights on the tops of their helmets only shone twenty feet ahead. They were told that this was for their safety. They were probably getting close, but because of the air quality it seemed that they would be dragging the film crew out, instead of leading them back to safety. They both had suspected this was more than routine rescue. Why would the Bolivians need former special forces with Colt M4A1 assault rifles to rescue a film crew that had gone missing in a cave?
Alex got a ping. Just ahead to the left. He raised his rifle and motioned for Thomas to follow. Around damp walls they advanced until they reached an opening the size of a cathedral. Their head lamps pierced the darkness like small white lines on a giant black canvas. There were symbols etched into the walls around them, high and low, but none of them meant anything to Alex. Some equipment lay tattered on the ground to their right. One red light still blinking like a beacon.
“This can’t be good.”
Alex turned to look at what Thomas was talking about. There was something by his boot. As he got nearer, Alex could see that it was a forearm connected to a hand that was only bone. Well, maybe they wouldn’t be dragging these guys out. They might be rolling their parts out in a wheelbarrow. Thomas tapped the side of his helmet and got a read out of the cavern. There was an opening straight ahead, by the equipment. They both moved forward slowly, rifles raised.
The Bolivian ground crew called in to check on them. Alex reported back what they had seen in a hushed voice, knowing it was the last thing the officials wanted to hear.
“Why don’t you guys come back up? We will send in more equipment,” a Spanish accent said with an impatient anxiety that they both could pick up on.
“Let’s make sure there isn’t a warm body first,” Alex replied. Trying to give them all some hope.
From the opening ahead came a roar so completely foreign to their ears that it couldn’t be pictured in the mind. It was a barbaric moan, on the verge of a battle cry, that could have been heard in battles before men roamed the earth. They both stopped in their tracks. The echo made its way past them, back from where they came. Then came the sound of a distant thunder, two booms. A male voice speaking in Spanish could faintly be heard on their earpieces – “Demonios hibridos…correr!”
At this point, Alex and Thomas were on either side of the opening, ready to flank whatever seemed to be coming their way. They could hear heavy panting, deeper breaths than their own. Thomas threw a flare into the opening, and then stole a quick look around the ridge. Nothing. He signaled the all-clear to Alex and they both moved with quickness into the wide corridor, past the flare and back into the murk. The ceilings were high and the walls were wide apart. Their lights bounced with every step.
They were on a decline, moving deeper into the earth. Before they knew it, they were sloshing through a foot of water. Here they found body parts that floated to the side as they passed. They reached another spacious cavern that was even bigger than the previous one. This area contained an immense lake of what was most likely fresh water. The air stopped moving through their helmets. Another loud moan. More rumbling.
They both paused for a moment to look around. The only movement was, astonishingly, in the shape of a man, far away on the other side of the lake. Just as Alex was about to call out to the man, Thomas grabbed his arm and jerked him downward.
From the prone position, he could see why Thomas had done this. This was no ordinary man walking. This man was about fifteen feet in height and at least six foot wide. He could tell that its hair was long, but from this distance he could make out no other details. There was a walkway around the water, but the giant had stopped and seemed to be facing them. They both knew it was probably because of their headlamps. It remained completely motionless for what seemed an eternity. Alex felt as if the being wasn’t just looking at them, but reading their minds and perceiving their dismay. Alex reached up to turn off his light when he heard a faraway splash as it jumped into the water.
Just as the waves started to reach them, the giant poked his large head out of the water for a breath. It raised both arms above the water before diving back under. The giant was close enough now for them to make out that it had six fingers on each hand.
“When it comes back up for air, I’m taking a shot.”
Alex nodded in agreement. The likelihood that this beast was responsible for the body parts was evident. They both had their rifles aimed for where they thought giant would come up next when they swiftly left the ground. Alex’s heart dropped like he was on a roller coaster. It took a second for him to realize that another giant had lifted them by their packs as if they were small pups.
Thomas fired off rounds into the rock just before the giant twisted his head and helmet completely backwards. His limp body was being tossed to the side as Alex looked up into the behemoth’s face. The giant had a broad nose, glassy light eyes, long red muddy hair, and double rows of smallish sharp teeth. With what little mobility Alex had, he lifted his rifle and fired slug after slug into the giant’s chin. It finally dropped him and fell into the shallow water with a loud crack.
As he slowly got back to his feet, Alex noticed the smell. It was that of a zoo Alex remembered visiting as a child. Without the helmet, he could imagine that this smell would be overpowering. He turned to face the giant in the water and observed that it had stopped its progress across the lake. It was only about thirty yards away. He couldn’t tell if it was treading water or standing on the bottom. Alex took aim and fired at the large head. The giant went under without a sound – like it was waiting for Alex to finish what he’d come to do. The water went red with blood under his dimming headlamp.
When Alex reached the surface, the sun shone too bright through his helmet’s visor. He yanked it off and could feel the cool wind caress the sweat on his forehead. The Bolivians rushed to his aid and brought him to a medic tent that had been set up earlier. He could see his reflection in the door glass of a Jeep that was parked nearby, but he didn’t recognize the old man with the white hair.