Flesh: Sacrifice Ch. 02byWonderstorm©
There was no path. Or, at least, there was no path they followed that Daniella D'Annunzio recognized as such. Growing up in the southern reaches of the Green Mountains, Dani had done her share of hiking before. Well-worn trails, blazes painted on trees to mark the way, bootprints in the dirt -- there was none of that here. In fact, Dani could find no evidence that any human being had ever been along their path before. But, whether they were following the occasional broken twig, or a constellation of specific trees, or other subtle cues that Dani was unable to pick out, the Huaca moved with purpose through the Bolivian swampland.
Two of the younger men -- one of them "Achaku," Dani recalled, though she hadn't been introduced to the other -- led the way, silently scanning the jungle for their path. Taksa Kuchu was next, followed by Dani herself, with Benitez walking just behind her. There were two more young Indians, Qarachupa and Rukuku, and then a stark-naked Summer Monroe walking and talking alongside the elderly Qaray Puka. Asna Charapa and another man followed behind.
What had she been thinking? Dani felt the bounce of her bare breasts as she walked through the jungle. How could she have made such a rash decision? Here she was, in the back country of South America, with people she'd met only the night before, walking topless into an Indian village. Her clothes were behind her, locked away in Benitez's abandoned Land Rover. Who was she, exactly? Because this was not the Dani D'Annunzio she'd come to know. This wasn't the Dani D'Annunzio who'd refused to go skinny dipping with her friends down at the Harriman Reservoir in high school. This wasn't the Dani D'Annunzio who'd held onto her virginity late into Freshman year of college. This wasn't the Dani D'Annunzio who'd spent the past two years covering her body with long, ankle-length skirts in tropical heat. This was someone else.
But, as time passed, Dani stopped thinking about her naked breasts. She stopped processing Taksa Kuchu's bare chest the more she saw it, the Indian girl fitting right in with the other half-naked (mostly naked?) Huaca that were accompanying them to Aya Pampa. Benitez paid little attention to her bare skin, almost to the point that Dani wished he would -- she wanted him to make a joke about her being topless, or maybe say something about bringing along a spare sports bra, or something. But any tension about the Italian girl's toplessness was entirely Dani's own, and after a while, it began to lift.
There were mosquitoes, dragonflies, and other assorted insects circling around them in the air, but the sapumpa fern necklace dutifully performed as promised, keeping Dani bug-free on the hike. She watched the ground beneath her feet, careful to avoid snarled roots and mud puddles. She did occasionally scan the trees around her, fearing that they'd stumble across a band of camera-wielding tourists waiting to capture her in all her glory. Or for a rival tribe of Indians who'd fall upon them with arrows and spears, have their way with the women, and feast on human flesh that night. Or wild animals, waiting to pounce upon them and tear them apart.
They picked their way through the swamps, avoiding the mud and bogs as much as possible. The Huaca seemed to know exactly which direction to take, but Dani's feet and ankles were soon caked in dark, oily mud in any event. They moved steadily through the jungle, the heat and humidity taxing Dani more than she would have liked to admit. Benitez, behind her, was wearing more clothes than anyone else present, and was clearly sweating through them.
They kept well hydrated, Benitez regularly sharing the water from his canteen with the three women. "Suya!" Summer called at one point. "Hold on!" Dani glanced back, and watched the naked blonde step just slightly off the path into a small patch of undergrowth. With the entire party watching, the woman squatted and relieved herself. Dani was aghast. Benitez awkwardly scratched the back of his neck and looked away. The Indians themselves chuckled. And Summer, though clearly unembarrassed by going to the bathroom in front of an audience, made a show of offering a sheepish grin, almost as if she was play-acting some sense of shame for Dani's benefit.
But it was Dani's turn soon enough. They'd been in the car for three hours, and hiking for another two, and it was only a matter of time before Dani started to feel the pressure begin to build in her bladder. Still, she held off as long as she could, hoping that they'd make it to Aya Pampa before she absolutely had to use to the bathroom. What she was expecting there, Dani didn't quite know; it wasn't as if the Huaca would have running water this far out, but maybe there would be some sort of clearly delineated "ladies' room" somewhere away from the village. But another quick water break provided Dani with some sort of emotional cover -- three of the Indian men turned their back to the rest of the group and began pissing into the swamp, and Taksa Kuchu stepped away to do the same. Dani followed the priestess's lead, carefully choosing her footing off of the trail. She was hoping to at least duck behind some sort of tree, but was quickly admonished by Benitez.
"Don't go too far," he warned her. "Greensnakes."
Dani shuddered, and opted for the lesser of two evils. She was still in plain sight of the rest of the group, and she was sure that she was being watched by the Huaca men. But she kept her back to them, slid her thong and loincloth down her thighs in one motion, and squatted in the jungle a few feet from where Taksa Kuchu was doing the same. When she stood, she needed to re-tie and tighten the loincloth, doing so red-faced as she rejoined the rest of the party.
Dani slowly lost track of time, the jungle becoming repetitive green background on her hike. Two, maybe three hours into the walk, the heavens opened and a cloudburst sent wave after wave of warm, tropical rain down upon them. The Huaca seemed to pay the rain no mind, their pace slowing but not altogether stopping. For them, a torrential downpour was a way of life, something they'd simply grown accustomed to. It felt good on Dani's bare skin, washing away the mud and sweat and grime she'd built up over the course of the trip. But her hair was soaked, and she dreaded the inevitable frizzy bird's nest it would become in the humid aftermath. And even more of a concern was the fact that while her animal-skin loincloth resisted the precipitation quite well, the same couldn't be said of the thong that Dani was wearing beneath it.
The rain passed, the clouds cleared, and the sun returned in minutes, the only evidence of the rainfall the rivulets of water that now trickled down Taksa Kuchu's back in front of Dani. Benitez was drenched, and Dani now suffered from wet pair of panties beneath her loincloth, but the rest of the party was no worse for wear, and they plugged on without much comment.
Dani smiled as she listened to Achaku laugh and joke with the other man at the front of the line -- his name was Kusillu, Dani had learned. The two men were happy and giddy as they picked their way through swampland, no doubt buoyed by the guests that they were leading back to Aya Pampa. To hear Taksa Kuchu explain it, the t'ojsiy ritual was part of a larger "phancha" festival, a celebration of blossoming and summer that was already underway. There would be food and drinks and partying throughout the night, all centered around the sacrifice that Summer was making of herself. And though Dani was still squeamish and uncomfortable with what she'd be witnessing, she couldn't help but derive some sense of vicarious happiness and excitement from the tones and facial expressions of Indians around her.
Summer chatted with Qaray Puka, Taksa Kuchu joked and flirted with the other Huaca men. Benitez was occasionally pulled into conversations taking place in the Indian tongue around him, but for the most part, he was Dani's only link to the rest of group. Going back-and-forth in Spanish, Benitez offered the girl a quick tutorial on Huaca culture and etiquette, and started instilling in her a few quick phrases.
"Imataq sutiyaki?" he asked.
"Daniella sutiymi," Dani practiced. "My name is Daniella."
By the time that Dani noticed a more well-worn path, they had arrived at Aya Pampa. She guessed it was maybe two or three o'clock in the afternoon, but after a four-plus hour hike through the hot and humid Bolivian swamps, she was ready to curl up and go to sleep for the night. She had sensed they were getting closer to the village by the way their pace had quickened, by the tone of conversations taking place around her. Soon enough, she noticed a man-made clearing around her. They ascended a small hill, and then picked their way down a steep decline into a narrow little ravine packed tight with native huts.
There were cliff walls on either side of the village, each perfectly vertical and covered completely by a blanket of green moss, sapumpa ferns, and strong, fragrant flowers. The walls themselves were maybe twenty-five feet apart at their widest point, and rose a good three stories above the village; Dani was reminded of some of the narrower streets and alleys of Greenwich Village. There was a little brook that ran haphazardly between the wood-and-bark houses, nothing more than a gentle trickle of water. It was dark, and damp, and cool -- but also so well-hidden and tucked away that Dani could easily see how the Huaca had avoided much attention over the prior centuries.
As Dani met the eyes of the villagers, she suddenly became self-conscious once more about her naked breasts. It was true -- there were certainly more than a dozen women and girls similarly attired, their surprisingly firm breasts displayed out in the open as nonchalantly as on any European beach. But there were others wearing Western-looking tank-tops, animal skin-bras, and native-looking wraps that Dani thought resembled prehistoric tube tops. She kicked herself again for leaving her bra back in the Land Rover, allowing Summer and Taksa Kuchu to dictate to her the social norms of the Huaca people. Once they'd gotten settled, she planned on asking Benitez for the one stuffed deep in his backpack.
Dani couldn't get over how many people were packed so tightly into the little ravine. The houses stood maybe a foot or so from one another, interspersed with jungle trees. And the path that followed the brook was, at most, maybe twice the shoulder-width of a full-grown man. Somehow crammed into this maze were maybe fifty to sixty people -- men, women, and children -- seated out in front of their houses, poking their heads from open doorways, gathered around gentle fires. Their faces lit up as the naked blonde entered their midst -- it would be another fruitful year, it would be another year blessed by Sipusiki, it would be another year marked by Summer's pornographic sex show.
"Rap-hi! Rap-hi!" Summer giggled as she strutted through the center of town dressed in nothing more than her body jewelry. She seemed to know where she was going, and so she led the way, greeting the Indians along the path with a smile and a wave as if on parade. Taksa Kuchu and Qaray Puka followed close behind, a nervous Dani trailing with Benitez.
At some point along the trail, Dani had become divorced from what would transpire tonight. She'd never fully forgotten her own toplessness, but she'd grown somewhat accustomed to it. Here and now, however, it all struck home. These people, these Huaca, were going to violate Doctor Monroe in an elaborate sex ritual to please some native fertility goddess. Summer was here to fuck their sacred silver dildo. And Dani was here because Summer wanted to convince her to do the same. The girl grew cold, and hugged herself around the chest.
Towards the head of the little brook, there was a cave carved out of the rock wall, sitting a few feet above ground level and accessible by a dirt ramp that the Huaca had built decades earlier. Summer stepped up inside, and the rest of the group followed, Dani taken by surprise by just how elaborately the interior had been furnished. They had to push their way through a beaded curtain, and stepped not onto a hard, stony surface, but rather animals furs laid over some sort of reed mat. There were pots and pans and jugs and plants hanging from the ceiling, and a warm fire glowing in a pit at the center of the room. Paintings adorned the rock walls, with gold and silver dangling here and there throughout the cave.
Four aging men sat around the fire, contemporaries of Qaray Puka. Summer found the chief immediately, a wizened, graying old man that made Dani think of Mr. Miyagi. "Uturunku," Summer addressed him, smiling all the while. She reminded the man of Taksa Kuchu's name, and Dr. Benitez's, and introduced the brunette standing topless with her.
"Daniella sutiymi," Dani offered nervously, much to the delight of the old, Huaca men present.
"Dah-nel-a," Uturunku sounded out. "Dah-nel-a."
"Ma-na! Ma-na!" Qaray Puka laughed, and took a step closer to the topless girl. He gently took her by the shoulders, and turned her so that her back was facing the chief. Dani had no idea what he was doing, and looked to Benitez for guidance. The priest offered, "Qapila."
"Qapila!" the chief replied. He laughed, and repeated, "Qapila!"
"'Butterfly,'" Summer translated. "He likes your tattoo."
"Qapila!" one of the other men repeated. Apparently, Dani had earned herself a nickname already.
Uturunku may have been a little old man, but he had a presence about him that was undeniable. When he spoke, everyone else in the room fell silent. They looked to him for approval, looked to him for guidance. This was a chief who'd earned the respect of his people. He made eye contact with Dani, and gestured towards an open spot around the fire.
"Sit and have a drink with him," Summer explained. "Chicha qullisara."
Dani grimaced, thinking back to the high-proof corn liquor she'd downed at the Oveja Negra last night. Summer, sensing the hesitation, explained, "One ceremonial drink. As a show of his hospitality."
Dani nodded, and took a seat around the fire. One by one, the other men got up to leave, allowing Uturunku to have Dani all to himself. Taksa Kuchu, thankfully, settled in next to the brunette, the bare skin of her arm touching Dani's own.
"Qaray Puka is going to take me to get ready for the t'ojsiy," Summer announced, the medicine man already turning from the cave and beckoning the blonde. "I'll see you tonight. Afterwards."
"Already?" Dani asked, shocked that they weren't going to be allowed a little more time to settle in.
"It's tonight," Summer explained. "And we'll be leaving tomorrow morning. We're not here in Aya Pampa for very long."
"And I'm going to make my rounds while we still have some sunlight," Benitez added.
"Wait, what?" Dani asked. The only reason she'd come to Aya Pampa, the only reason she'd subjected herself to all this, was the possibility that Benitez might have a need for her -- taking water samples, leading health demonstrations, delivering babies or whatever. But more pressingly, she didn't want to be left here with Uturunku. "No, let me help."
Benitez looked to Summer, and then over at the chief. He shook his head, and told the brunette, "No, stay here. Taksa Kuchu will stay here with you for now. Visit with the chief. You're a newcomer, a new guest. I won't be far."
Dani frowned. Beside her, Taksa Kuchu had already engaged the chief, and was jabbering back and forth with him. Dani didn't like being left here in the cave, even if she did have Taksa Kuchu to translate for her. Not that she was worried about being overpowered or threatened by Uturunku in any way, but the whole thing was awkward and weird. She was topless, and seated alongside another topless girl, casually engaged in conversation by an old Indian man in a cave.
Across the fire, Uturunku met Dani's eyes. He reached for a large, glass bottle, and began to empty the entirety of its contents into a bowl carved from a sizable green gourd. Chicha. More chicha than Dani cared to drink, truth be told. Everything she learned in the Peace Corps, however, told her to be open to new cultures, and Dani knew it would be unforgivable to not take a few sips, at least.
Uturunku took a swig from the gourd, smiled, and passed the chicha to Dani. Nervously, the brunette tipped her head and knocked back a mouthful for the liquor. Not unlike the previous night, when a cold Paceña had been just the thing after a tortuously long bus trip, the chicha seemed to hit the spot, to warm her up from the inside out, to buoy her spirits after the hike through the swamps. Dani, though, was a bit worried about the alcohol's effects with an empty stomach.
As Uturunku asked a question of Taksa Kuchu, Dani found herself listening to the sounds from outside the cave. There was an excited murmur that had overtaken the village of Aya Pampa, and though Dani was unfamiliar with what the village was like on a day-to-day basis, there was electricity in the air, not unlike one of the cold, Green Mountain Christmas Eves of her childhood. No matter how vulgar or amoral what Summer planned to do was, it was clear that the Huaca did not share Dani's sense of disapproval.
"He wants to know about snow," Taksa Kuchu translated for the chief, pulling Dani's attention back inside the cave.
She quickly warmed to the gentle Uturunku. She had wanted to villainize him, villainize his entire tribe, for what they were planning to do to Summer, what Summer hoped that they'd do to Dani herself. But this was not a lecherous old man, or some sort of sexual predator residing in the jungle. Uturunku was warm, welcoming, and seemed to try his best to put Dani at ease. A few more rounds of chicha certainly didn't hurt, but Dani found herself drawn to the old man in a way that she might have to a goofy old uncle at a family picnic. There was an occasional, casual glance at Dani's chest, but Dani quickly rationalized that she might be more uncomfortable if he didn't, that a relaxed and cursory once-over of her breasts was better than avoiding them and risking over-sexualizing them. He did the same to Taksa Kuchu, and following the votary's lead, Dani paid no notice to the chief's attention.
He laughed and joked with them, asking Dani questions of the outside world, and drawing parallels to the things he knew about in his own. He told stories about his wives - Dani gathered that he had four, and when she gently teased him about keeping so many women happy, Uturunku mimed wiping flop sweat from his brow and admitted to the two girls that having one wife, the way the Americans did, would be much, much easier. He talked to them about the history of his village, and the flowers and plants that grew along the little ravine's walls. He asked Dani about Vermont, and about school, and about the food and wine she had back in the States. And, once he'd discovered that she'd spent the past two years living among a native tribe in Honduras, Uturunku was enraptured.
Soon enough, the outside world faded away. Dani had probably drunk too much chicha already, but the gourd continued to be passed around the little circle, Taksa Kuchu and Uturunku each taking their sip before passing it back to the brunette. Whatever Benitez was doing, whatever the Huaca were doing to Summer, seemed less important than the bonding that Dani was doing in the cave. She laughed along with the aging chief, engaged by his stories and his presence. She realized that, in two years, she'd never spent this much quality time with any of the Kwirku -- their relationship, perhaps tainted by an earlier Peace Corps volunteer, had started out as almost adversarial and contemptuous in both directions. A sliver of doubt began to appear in Dani's thinking -- she could, finally, understand what Summer was doing here among the Huaca, even just a little bit.