“It’s freezing! Where even are we? How much longer?”
Chanté regarded the lanky Hawaiian for a second before returning her attention to the GPS. They had been trekking through the Manitoban wilderness for nearly two days and she was starting to wonder how much more she could take of her partner’s apparent attention deficit disorder.
“Listen Kale, I know that your idea of archeology usually involves explosions, but in reality, it is ninety percent research and exploration.”
Kale glared at the slight Haitian woman. When she had asked him to accompany her on this little treasure hunt he had pictured camp fires, wine and a sleeping bag built for two. In reality it had been two solid days of hiking through wilderness; something Kale would have actually enjoyed if it wasn’t mid-January and freezing damn-cold out.
“Yeah yeah, but seriously, how long are we committing to this?”
Chanté stopped walking and looked up; her face was quickly dusted with brittle snowflakes which wafted down between the branches of the surrounding trees. The sky was bright grey as the midday sun tried to break through the blanket of cloud. Finally she said, “Kale, I told you, this could be an amazing find. The Chippewa people were not known for building temples, in fact, none of the first nations did; so it makes the possibility of such a unique native structure all the more exciting.”
“So…a bit longer then?”
Chanté laughed. One thing was for sure, Kale Akana could always make her laugh.
The various descriptions, legends and accounts of the Chippewa temple had led the duo some hundred kilometers north of the nearest city, Thompson. Most of the gear had been purchased there before setting out. Narrow dirt roads had taken them so far, but before long, they had to park the truck they had rented and continue on foot.
“Fine, so we’re stuck out here in the middle of the tundra-“
“Oh for the love of God, Kale, we are hardly in the tundra,” Chanté interrupted.
“Listen sister, cold’s cold no matter where you go. So let’s say we find this temple sometime in the next ten years, why did you need me along? I’m hardly the guy you call when you are looking for some old totem poles.”
Chanté stopped again and locked eyes with Kale, she decided how best to lie to him.
“I thought that it would be nice to get away for a bit. We’ve not worked together since that nasty business on Necrosis Island-“
Having heard enough, Kale interrupted her. “C’mon Chanté, we both know that’s not why I am here.”
“Fine. It seems that there may be some resistance when we find the temple.”
Rubbing his hands together, Kale beamed. “Now we’re talking. So, what is it? What are we dealing with? Booby-traps? A stone guardian which come to life when the treasure is taken? Oh, I know, it’s a death cult tasked with preserving the sanctity of the temple.”
“Oh my God Kale, you are being ridiculous. The only obstacle in our way may—and I cannot stress the word ‘may’ enough—is a man-eating spider-god.”
“A spider-god?! That sounds…fantastic!”
“Well, I’m happy you are excited Kale. But I highly doubt that there is going to be a spider-god waiting for us.”
Suddenly much more enthusiastic about the frigid temperature, Kale grinned as he said, “I knew you needed me for something, you almost never call me for the boring jobs.”
“You are such a child.”
“Yeah yeah, so tell me more about this ‘spider-god’.”
Chanté pulled her backpack off and began rummaging through one of its many pouches. After a few moments she pulled out a leather bound note book. Kale knew that Chanté used these books for all her notes whenever out in the field.
“Well, first of all, you have to understand that the Chippewa regarded the spider very highly—it is the creator of the dream catcher after all—and believed that it was a very spiritual creature.
“There are many legends surrounding spider deities but this particular one goes something like this.
“A Chippewa tribe was stuck in the wilderness when a freak snow storm blew in. The tribe found a cave which was big enough for them to wait out the nasty weather in; the only problem being that the cave was already occupied.
“On the first night the spider-god made its presence known. The tribe was no match for the beast and soon found themselves at its mercy.
“Realizing that his tribe was in horrible danger, the chief met with the spider-god. He offered the spider-god many different things, from valuables to the tribe’s most beautiful daughter.
“The spider-god was not interested in such ‘human’ fancies however and quickly brushed aside the chief’s offer. But there was something the spider-god did want.
“For as long as the spider-god had been roaming the land there had been a prize which had always eluded its grasp: there was a majestic white-tailed deer, not just any white-tailed deer though; this magnificent animal had antlers made of pure gold.
“The chief, sensing the tribe’s freedom, tasked his greatest warrior to set out and find this deer.
“The warrior searched for many days until-”
“I don’t read books for a reason. Can we cut to the chase?” Kale cut in.
Shaking her head wondering why she even bothered, Chanté sighed.
“Yes, I forgot that I was dealing with a child. The cliff-notes version it is then.
“Not being able to find the deer, the warrior cleverly disguised a regular pair of antlers to fool the spider-god.
“The ploy worked and the tribe was released. The spider-god was so taken with its prize that it had lost all interest in its captives.
“Realizing the danger the spider-god posed for the nearby Chippewa, the tribe, under the pretense of honour, built a temple to house the spider-god and its prize. In reality the temple was more of a prison.”
Stepping over a fallen log, Kale said, “Wow…all of that, eh? Man, it’s easier to take the girl out of the library then to take the library out of the girl.”
Chanté grumbled a response under her breath.
Around them the forest began to open up into a small field. Mounds of snow lumped up from the ground.
Chanté stopped and once again regarded her GPS.
Kale watched the woman as she compared the coordinates of the GPS unit to those written in the leather bound book. It was this action, this marriage of history and technology that was why Kale knew that there was not a treasure hunter alive better than Chanté. Kale knew that even he was as much a relic of a forgotten time as the items they searched for. The days of “charging-in” were gone. It would be people like Chanté who made all the big discoveries in the future. The sad part—to Kale anyways—was that they were same age!
“I don’t get it, the temple should be right here.” A clear note of confusion could be heard in Chanté’s voice.
“Ha, I’m starting to think this was an elaborate ploy to get me cozied up in a small tent for a couple of nights.” Kale said.
“Pah-lease, we both know that if I wanted to ‘cozy up’ with you, I wouldn’t have to go through such extreme measures. “Chanté responded absentmindedly as she re-checked the coordinates.
“If I remember correctly,” Kale paused for effect, “it was you who broke the ‘let’s keep it professional’ rule last time and quite frankly I think you’ve been jonesing for more ever since.”
Chanté laughed and prepared a juicy retort which recalled a rainy night in Paris where a less than sober Kale proposed marriage before passing out in the bushes; however when she looked up from the GPS she was startled to see that Kale was gone.
“Kale?” She asked the suddenly quite wilderness which surrounded her. “Kale!”
The cold forest was as quiet as a mausoleum; the only sounds being that of the occasional thump of falling clumps of snow and Chanté’s own breath.
“Ah, hey…I found your temple.”
Chanté spun in a complete circle but only snow dusted trees greeted her. “Where the hell are you?”
A hole, standing out like a small void in the frosty ground, peeked out from under a smattering of sticks. Chanté could not see it at first from her angle but as she moved closer to the location of Kale’s voice, it became clear. She dropped to her knees and peered into the darkness.
Pulling a high-powered LED flashlight from her belt, Chanté directed its beam into the dark hole. Lying amidst a collection of branches and forest debris was Kale. “Are you okay?” She asked.
Looking up at the rough circle of white above him, Kale stretched out his arms and legs; they seemed to be intact. By the time Chanté centered her flashlight on him, Kale was already climbing to his feet.
”Yeah, I’m alright,” Kale said with a groan. “Hey Chanté, throw down that light.”
The light dropped down through the open hole. As it slid through the dark, Chanté could see momentary flashes of history.
Kale caught the tumbling light easily and quickly turned the beam towards his surroundings. The room was large and circular in shape. The hole Kale had fallen through was at least seven meters overhead; he realized he had been pretty lucky to not get injured. The ground was an uneven patchwork of forest detritus which had sprinkled down from above over the centuries. All around the room, standing sentry, were squat totem poles.
Kale inspected the nearest carved, wooden pole. It was made up of five sections. The bottom four resembled what one expected to find in most totem poles; a square figure with a thick tongue protruding from its wide mouth, above that a bear head, above that a sly looking wolf and above the three a bird with its wings spread. The carving was intricate and quite beautiful but Kale was much more interested in the figure adorning the top of the pole. Sitting above the others was a stylized cut-out of a spider. Kale quickly walked the circumference of the room and saw that each pole, although with different carvings underneath, all ended with the spider on top.
“What do you see?” Chanté called down from above, the excitement unmistakable in her voice.
“It looks like an antechamber; there are five totem poles around the circumference of the room.” Kale then described the totem poles to the eagerly listening woman.
“Totem poles! That is fascinating. The Chippewa were not known for carving totem poles. Really, this is a tremendous discovery! Tell me more.”
“Or, or, you can come on down,” Kale said.
“Yes, I should. Can you see any other way down there?”
Kale moved along the room until he came to a stairway. Debris completely clogged the steps to the point that not a single bit of light was creeping through.
“It looks like there might have been some stairs here but they are buried under a bunch of crap.”
“Damn. Come back to the hole and we can rig up a couple of ropes.”
Kale heard Chanté but instead moved across the chamber to the wall opposite the caved-in stairs.
“Hold on Chanté, I found a doorway.”
“No Kale, come back over here and we can do this the right way. I don’t want you wandering off down there alone.”
“Aww, I didn’t know you cared so much for my safety.”
“Pah-lease, I am much more concerned for whatever priceless artifact you are going to break moving around down there without me.”
“Wow! You wound me. Don’t worry; you start tying off some rope, I’ll be right back.”
Chanté started to protest but she had worked with Kale enough to know that her words would be falling on deaf ears. The best thing she could do was get down into the temple as fast as possible.
Kale moved towards the darkened archway. He took a moment to shine the light at the image depicted above the doorway: skulls. It didn’t take a masters degree is archeology (which Kale had) to decipher the meaning of the drawings: death. It was not the first time Kale had seen such signs warning others away and he doubted it would be the last; so with a small salute to the grim faces staring at him, he moved through the archway.
The walls quickly began to narrow as Kale made his way deeper into the buried temple. He kept the flashlight pointed in front of him; he had fallen into one hole already and was not too keen to repeat the process; besides, he might run into a spider-god or two along the way. Whereas the antechamber was rough hewn and angular, the tunnel Kale found himself navigating was smooth and rounded; he had seen such tunnels before but they usually had been shaped by flowing water over centuries; he doubted that it was water which had rubbed the walls to a smooth finish in this case.
The air was cold but dry; Kale could feel his throat itch with each breath.
As he walked, Kale noticed several openings in the tunnel ceiling. These shafts did not go straight up but rather curved away from his probing light. Each hole was roughly the size of a washing machine; Kale was starting to get a bad feeling.
The tunnel came to an abrupt end; Kale found himself standing over a massive chamber. A natural stone bridge extended outward from the tunnel mouth from which he had been traversing and disappeared into the darkness of the huge space.
Gingerly taking a step out onto the natural bridge, Kale leaned over the side to direct the flashlight towards the floor. The drop was significant but the light was strong and instantly the darkness below was chased away. It took a moment for Kale to make sense of what he was seeing; finally, he realized that he was looking at a vast collection of bones. He had never seen so many remains in one place. Bones on top of bones scattered across the floor in great heaps and spikes; their peaks coming up to—and in some cases, protruding past—the rocky bridge.
Moving further along, Kale traced the circle of light around the chamber. Unlike the distance to the floor, the room itself was so large that the powerful beam of the flashlight could not reach its borders.
As Kale moved deeper into the darkness of the subterranean Chippewa temple he noticed a fine layer of white draped over everything. He at first though it must be dust, but the way the light caused it to twinkle made him think otherwise. Several times as he moved along the bridge he noticed the stuff sticking to his boots, when he leaned over to investigate he found it was a silky substance which immediately adhered to his probing finger tips. The bridge had just a light layer of the stuff along its surface but he could tell that the bones below were covered in it.
He had moved a good ten meters from the tunnel he had walked through before his flashlight caught something resting below. Kale squinted as a bit of yellow peaked from around a large pile of bones.
In the blackness, along the domed ceiling, something watched Kale move. As the Hawaiian made his way closer to the centre of the chamber, it began to move, matching the man’s pace at first but then quickly surpassing it until Kale grew larger in its four sets of eyes.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing; the first thing he thought was, Chanté is going freak when she sees this. In the middle of the massive room, surrounded by a circle of stacked bones, sitting on top of an ancient looking totem pole was a stunning set of gold antlers.
The impact was solid; Kale had been completely unprepared for it. The air was instantly driven from his body as he felt his feet lift off the ground. The flashlight spun free from his grip; Kale could see a dizzying, spastic spotlight dance across the room as he, and it, tumbled to the floor. He barely had time to think what to do before he was crashing through a mountain of bone and being flung into unconsciousness.
Will Kale Make it out Alive?!
Is the Spider-God Real?!
Can Chanté Save the Day?!
Be Here Next Month for the Thrilling Conclusion!
*Characters Co-Created by Justin Cantelo*