Flesh: Sacrifice Ch. 01byWonderstorm©
A primal scream echoed through the jungle.
Dani D'Annunzio was weak in the knees. Even with everything she'd been put through over the previous twenty-four hours, this was too much. Her stomach was churning, and had it not been for the support of Gabriel Benitez Serrano, she might have collapsed there, in the dirt. Only now, as the yips and whines dissipated into the Bolivian night, did Dani truly understand what was being asked of her, what these people expected her to do.
It made her sick.
She turned, disgusted by the scene that had unfolded before her, disgusted in herself, and pushed her way through the crowd of gathered Huaca. Benitez was behind her, calling to her, telling her to slow down. But Dani simply needed to get away. She found open space beyond the far edge of the clustered little huts, but stumbled over her own feet and fell to her knees. Tears streaming down her face, she threw up the rice, the fish, the fresh fruit, and the fermented carambola juice she'd feasted on earlier in the night.
Naked, save for a lacy pair of red panties and a ridiculous set of ankle-laced espadrilles, Dani held herself up on all fours, her breasts exposed and dangling beneath her torso. Benitez came up from behind her, crouched down, and without thinking, touched her naked back to see if she was okay. "Do you want some water?" he asked.
Dani shook her head. She didn't want anything from him. She didn't want anything from any of them. She just wanted to be far, far away from here.
A necklace of alternating jaguar teeth and silver beads hung around her neck. Her hair had been done up to perfection by one of the girls in town, laced with strands of sapumpa fern from the jungle. Even in her present state, wiping that night's dinner from her lips and weeping all the while, Dani was a sight to behold. Dark, Mediterranean skin, deep brown eyes, full lips, and an even fuller chest, the girl was accustomed to being the center of attention, the object of desire for men in Bolivia, Honduras, or back in rural Vermont. She was twenty-four years old and blessed with the sort of figure that might've landed her on pages of a lingerie catalog -- thin, five-foot-ten, and completely toned. She was a vision.
No one but Benitez was paying her any attention, however. Not Tutakuru. Not Taksa Kuchu. Not Uturunku or Qaray Puka. They were fixated on the river here in the little village of Aya Pampa, the entire population gathered to watch the flesh sacrifice to the goddess Sipusiki.
In the distance, Dani could still hear Summer Monroe screaming out in sexual pleasure over the chanting crowd. Her cries were increasing in intensity, and it was clear to everyone present that she was about to crest.
"I can't," Dani cried to Benitez, staring blankly ahead. "I can't. I can't do this."
"Ssshhh," Benitez soothed her. "That's okay. I understand. She'll understand, too."
Dani sobbed loudly. "I just can't..."
Summer screamed behind her one last time, and the crowd erupted in cheers and jubilation. She had reached her climax. She had cum. And the village of Aya Pampa had pleased Sipusiki once more.
Dani had been on the big yellow school bus from Rurrenabaque for the better part of the past two days. A trip that might have taken about eight hours during the dry season had cost Dani thirty-nine to that point. They'd back-tracked more times than she could remember after repeatedly finding parts of the so-called highway washed out. She'd slept on the bus the night before as they waited for the sunrise in order to clear away fallen branches blocking their way. And they'd enlisted the help of a local campesino and his tractor after getting trapped in a mud puddle four-feet-deep earlier that afternoon.
The bus was half-empty already, and Dani felt real heartache for her fellow passengers who were continuing on to Riberalta or Guayaramerin. Travel in the yungas this time of a year was not for the impatient, and riding on a badly aged American school bus with most of the padding stripped from the seats was not exactly an easy ride in even the best of times. The shocks were gone, the engine was less than reliable, and glass was missing from half of the windows, making the not-infrequent rainstorms an absolute pleasure.
But Dani was here, at last. San Eduardo. Capital of the Valle de los Reyes. Jumping-off point for destinations further down the Rio San Clemente and the Rio de los Reyes both. Trading post for Benianos, rural campesinos, and Huaca Indians alike. San Eduardo was no sprawling metropolis, but it was the biggest little town that Dani had seen since leaving Rurrenabaque the previous morning. There looked to be a handful of small storefronts, a run-down old Catholic church, and a handful other non-descript buildings erected out of cinderblocks and corrugated tin. And, at the far end of "town," recessed into the jungle, was the Oveja Negra.
Dani gathered her backpack, and began bidding goodbye to the people she'd gotten to know over the past two days. The brothers Koque and Juan. Señora Orteguilla and her two little girls. The bus driver, Arturo, who still had a long, long journey ahead of him. None of them were getting off with her in San Eduardo. And none of them had expressed anything more than a passing disinterest in the work she had come to do with the Indians living here in the Oriente.
From how Dani understood it, this wasn't an uncommon reaction when it came to the Huaca. Even at the height of their power, the Inca had been more or less content to call the Andes home and leave the lowland tribes to the East to themselves. The Spanish and Portuguese had carved South America into colonies and countries, but the Huaca continued to cross back and forth between Bolivia and Brazil for generations with little heed to the borders imposed upon them. They sat out the War for Independence, the War of the Pacific, and the numerous little cocaine wars that enveloped the rest of the country. Overlooked and undisturbed, the Huaca continued to carry on in the very same fashion as their ancestors had, slipping through the cracks of history.
And yet, these were a people who'd almost been wiped out -- not by any sort of external factor, but because of they had suffered from a low birthrate for almost a full decade. The cause was still a bit of a mystery to Dani, but from how she understood it, the work shouldered by the Huaca Public Health and Fertility Initiative -- "La Iniciativa" - had helped turned things around. After two years of leading a frustratingly ineffectual public health campaign of her own in Eastern Honduras, Dani was looking to finally make an impact, and it seemed as if Summer Monroe's non-profit might just allow her to have that opportunity.
For twenty-six months, Daniella D'Annunzio had given talks and speeches throughout the Gracias a Dios department as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, doing her best to help improve the lives of the Kwirku people living in the pine savannahs. Filter your water. Wear shoes. Don't dump waste upstream from where you get your drinking water. Twenty-six months later, Dani was not really sure about what, exactly, she had accomplished. The Kwirku humored her while she was among them, but went back to their same ways the moment she turned her back. Disappointed, and more than a little jaded about wasting two years of her life, Dani wasn't ready to return to Vermont just yet; not without doing something, anything, to help those people less fortunate than she.
A friend of a friend of a friend had heard about an opportunity opening up in Eastern Bolivia with the Huaca Public Health and Fertility Initiative. The head of La Iniciativa was a research professor at the Universidad de La Paz, an American biologist by the name of Summer Monroe. A Rhode Island native who'd moved down to Bolivia years earlier, Summer spent her autumns and winters on campus at the university, and her springs and summers in the Oriente traveling from one little Huaca village to the next. Summer and Dani wrote each other back and forth as Dani's Peace Corps service was coming to a close. And Summer offered the girl the chance to come down to South America, see the sort of fertility work she was doing with the Huaca, and maybe, possibly, help La Iniciativa cover more ground that coming spring.
Arturo and the yellow school bus sputtered out of town, leaving black plumes of smoke in their wake. It was getting close to ten o'clock, and Dani wasn't sure how much further the driver intended to go, but he had apparently decided to keep on going while the roads were clear. Dani followed the smell of fumes down the street to the Oveja.
Dani worried about being disheveled and underdressed as she walked into the little bar. She was wearing a heather-gray tank top, flip-flops, and a tight-fitting pair of jeans she'd first put on the previous morning. As she stepped in out of the night, she discovered that she shouldn't have worried -- the Oveja Negra wasn't exactly like one of clubs she'd attended while going to school in Manhattan. It was almost all men -- men drinking cervezas, men knocking back shots of liquor, men laughing and joking with one another. Most of them were dressed similarly to Dani herself -- jeans, open shirts, and even the occasional straw cowboy hat. There were a handful of girls scattered about, but none of them looked anything like Daniella, for whom heads turned as she entered the bar.
The fact that conversation quieted unnerved the girl a little.
Confirming that none of the women currently present in the bar looked like a blonde American expatriate, she pushed ahead and saddled up to the bar. She made eye contact with one of the two bartenders -- a tall, overweight young man holding court in front of a handful of other men. "Estoy buscando a Summer Monroe," Dani explained. "I'm looking for Summer Monroe."
The bartender nodded. But instead of replying to Dani, he glanced towards one of the men who were seated at the bar. And, if Summer stood out in San Eduardo like a sore thumb, so too did Gabriel Benitez Serrano. Cleaner than the rest of the Oveja Negra's patrons, Benitez also had a distinctly Western look that set him apart from the Indians, mestizos, and Afro-Bolivians that Dani had surrounded herself with since setting down in La Paz. Strong cheekbones, Caucasian features, and a thick head of curly hair that was somewhere between dirty-blonde and light brown. Perfect teeth, perfect smile, and a presence about him that suggested he wasn't just another campesino, Benitez looked to be in his late thirties, maybe even early forties. He stood and offered his hand to the girl.
"Gabriel Benitez Serrano," he introduced. He continued in Spanish, "I'm a friend of Summer's. I work with her on La Iniciativa. We've been expecting you."
Dani smiled and shook the man's hand. After two years in Honduras, she was fluent in Spanish. She had some proficiency with Kwirku, as well, but she was skeptical that anyone in the Oveja that night happened to be a Honduran national. "Daniella D'Annunzio."
"We were starting to get a little worried," Benitez continued. Reaching for her backpack, he instructed her, "Here, let's give this to Chuy." After she'd slid it off her shoulders and over the bar, Benitez gestured towards the closer of the two bartenders. "Daniella D'Annunzio, Jesus Zerbino. Jesus Zerbino, Daniella D'Annunzio."
"Dani," the girl instructed them both as she shook the bartender's sweaty hand.
"Chuy," the bartender offered in return.
"His brother, Alberto," Benitez said, and then shouted, "Beto!" The other bartender waved at Dani, and she dutifully waved back.
"So you touched down in La Paz, what, three days ago?" Benitez asked.
Dani shook her head. "Four. I had to fly from Tegucigalpa to Costa Rica, and then from Costa Rica to La Paz. So I did Saturday night in La Paz, and then it was Route 3 to Yacuma and Route 2 up Rurrenabaque that next day. I did Sunday night there, and then Monday night on the bus out somewhere around El Triunfo."
Benitez winced, and looked at his watch. "And it's only another two hours until Wednesday." Shaking his head, he glanced up at Chuy. "A drink for our world traveler here."
A part of Dani just wanted to meet Summer, and then collapse into bed. But after the two-day bus ride from Rurrenabaque, the thought of a drink actually sounded pretty good.
"A Paceña, please," Dani told the bartender, asking for the same local beer she'd had upon arrival in La Paz.
"No, no, no," Benitez cried. He thought better of his objections, though, and shrugged. "Fine, fine. Get the girl a Paceña," he instructed the bartender. But, turning to Dani herself, Benitez told her, "This is Bolivia. And the Oriente. You need to start with chicha qullisara."
"Alright, alright," Dani relented. Having no idea exactly what it was she was ordering, she nonetheless called out to Chuy, "Chicha qullisara, please."
"And the Paceña," Benitez added, "to wash it down."
As Chuy pulled a bottle from beneath the bar, Benitez apologized for the long journey to San Eduardo. "We're not exactly a well-funded organization. And even if we were, there aren't a lot of non-stops to the Valle de los Reyes." He ran his hand through his thick head of hair. "The closest real airstrip from here is probably down in La Santisima Trinidad. You're on the frontier now."
Dani laughed politely. It had certainly taken her long enough to get here to confirm that fact. "And we still have a ways to go, right?"
"We still have a ways to go," Benitez confirmed. "San Eduardo's more or less a stop-over point. There aren't a lot of roads that lead in and out of Huaca country. Let's get a little booze in you and send you to bed -- I think Summer's plan is get out of here crack of dawn tomorrow for Aya Pampa."
"Sounds good," Dani replied, not even really sure of what she was supposed to be doing for La Iniciativa. Summer had been pretty vague on the day-to-day.
Chuy placed a small tumbler of sour-smelling purple liquor down on the bar in front of Dani, and alongside it Dani's more recognizable Paceña. Dani reached for the liquor first, but Benitez grabbed it out from under her. "Nuh-uh," he scolded her. Tilting the glass just slightly, so that a drop fell to the floor, he toasted, "To Sipusiki. The Huaca earth goddess."
"To Sipusiki," Dani repeated, and took the tumbler from the man. Without waiting a second longer, she knocked back the shot of liquor. Her throat burned, but it was a good burn. She couldn't place the taste -- not vodka, exactly, but similar. A different consistency. And a more powerful punch.
As Dani washed back the chicha with her beer, Benitez talked. "I'm a doctor down in Trinidad. General practice. A real doctor, none of Dr. Monroe's frogs and lizards and such. People."
The girl understood. Summer had been an amphibian biologist in the States, and had continued down that path at the Universidad de La Paz. Falls and winters, she was all frogs. Springs and summers, it was on to people.
"How'd you end up here?" Dani asked.
Benitez smiled now. "What? I don't look like a Bolivian?"
Dani glanced around the room, and shook her head.
"Argentina," he answered. "I'm from Argentina. I came up here about ten years ago. Same sort of do-gooder, help others type bullshit that you're here for."
Dani frowned a little, but it was clear that Benitez was just teasing her. He'd stayed, after all, on that same crusade.
"I met Summer a few years back, learned about the work she was doing, and saw it as my opportunity to get in and visit the Huaca. She goes in on the fertility thing, and I get to go with her and ply my trade."
Dani nodded. "So, the 'fertility thing'...?"
"Nuh-uh," Benitez answered. "That's for Summer to talk to you about. You're not the first girl who's been out here for La Iniciativa."
The brunette was a bit concerned by that particular comment, but said nothing. Instead, she took another sip of the beer.
"In fact," Benitez grimaced, as if all the fun had come to a crashing halt, "why I don't I bring you up. We've got an early start tomorrow, so she's probably going to need to run through with you why she brought you all the way out here. You can bring the beer."
Dani lay in the dark, unable to fall asleep. She was on a twin mattress, on the floor, and facing a cement wall. Her back turned to the two other women with whom she was sharing the room, Summer Monroe and Taksa Kuchu Carrera apparently sleeping peacefully together in the room's one queen-sized bed. Though Dani hadn't wanted to even be in the same room as the older woman, given what she'd just told her, her options had been limited. The Oveja Negra really only had the two rooms for rent, and Benitez was in the other; Dani had no more interest in making eye contact with the Argentine doctor than she did with the American biologist.
Dani was not, as Benitez had told her, the first girl to be recruited by La Iniciativa. She was not even the first who had come as far as San Eduardo to learn Summer Monroe's dark secret; there had been a German girl that Benitez and Summer had lured out to the Oveja just a year earlier. But it had been Summer's hope that if she could get Dani to come with her on just one trip to a Huaca village, she might be able to convince her to stay.
"We're doing good things here," Summer had insisted. "You don't even need to commit to anything. Just come to Aya Pampa with me tomorrow."
But Dani had refused. Tomorrow morning, at first light, she'd be on the first mini-bus heading back to La Paz. Benitez had already lined it up for her with one of the drivers downstairs in the bar. She wanted no part of what Summer was doing, and she certainly wasn't going to play the role that Summer had envisioned.
Dani wasn't sure what she'd been expecting of Summer Monroe, but her jaw nearly dropped when she first caught sight of the woman. Dani was capable of turning heads in a bar, but Summer was on a whole other level. She was like a movie star, transplanted to the far ends of the Earth. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and an ageless beauty that any woman would have aspired to. Dani couldn't even place how old she was. Thirties? Forties? Gun to her head, she might have guessed forty, but Dani knew for a fact that this would have been impossible; Summer had been in Bolivia for almost two decades now. The woman was just gorgeous.
She'd been reading in bed when Benitez had knocked on the door, and perhaps Dani's first sign that something was wrong with all this should have been the fact that Summer had answered the door wearing nothing more than a soft pink camisole and a matching pair of boyshort-cut panties. Even more bizarre, however, was the fact that Benitez didn't bat an eye, or that Summer herself made no attempt to cover up or apologize for her state of undress as Dani and Benitez stepped into the room.
Summer wasn't alone, either -- Dani was politely introduced to a Huaca girl about her own age named Taksa Kuchu. The girl was no more dressed than the older woman, wearing a simple, but low-cut, cotton slip. As with Summer, Benitez didn't react as if any of this was at all odd, that it wasn't a bit weird that the two of them had just walked in on some sort of lingerie party. Taksa Kuchu, Summer explained, was a votary of the Huaca earth goddess, known throughout the valley as "Sipusiki." She was a priestess in the Temple of Sipusiki, in the city of Yapamantataq, but had been accompanying Summer on her mission for the past few years.
They made pleasant small talk, and Summer asked about Dani's trip. Once Dani had downed her first beer uncomfortably, Summer sent Benitez downstairs to fetch her another. She showed the girl where she'd be sleeping that night; with only two rooms for rent in the Oveja, it was girls here, boys across the hall. There was no running water on the second floor; if Dani wanted to take a shower the following morning -- and she did -- she'd have to use the outdoor shower behind the bar. Once Benitez had returned, and Dani had taken a few more sips of her beer, Summer gathered her courage and dropped the bombshell.