“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 breathe.
“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.
Chanté anchored the rope around the trunk of a nearby Black spruce. She triple checked the rig latched around her waist; finally, with her backpack tightly secured she began to carefully descend through the hole in the ground.
Kale opened his eyes to find a dizzying haze of bone-dust swirling before him. His whole body ached badly but no one spot hurt worse than any other so he figured he had once again avoided serious injury.
Slowly getting to his feet, Kale saw that he was coated head to toe in the same stuff which he had discovered layered across the surface of the bridge. Whereas on the bridge there had been a thin layer of the stuff, down here it was thick enough for Kale to identify it almost immediate: spider webs, lots and lots of spider webs.
Something skittered across the surface of the bridge above.
Kale looked around for the flashlight, it had fallen a dozen or so meters away. He began moving towards it when the skittering noise above abruptly stopped.
It landed with a fleshy thump between Kale and the flashlight, a cloud of dust whooshed up around it, the flashlight created an eerie backlight to the scene. Kale coughed as he breathed in the thick cloud of death but he never let his eyes leave the sight before him. He had seen many things during his lifetime; things most would not believe; but he had never seen anything like what was standing in front of him. It was a spider the size of a Saint Bernard.
Instantly—his body running on instinct—Kale reached for the only weapon he had: a hunting knife. The blade was secured in a sheath latched to his belt. The beast jerked slightly as Kale unsnapped the clasp holding the blade in place; as he pulled the knife free, the spider seemed to shudder in anticipation. The spider began to emit a bizarre chattering noise which caused the hair on the back of Kale’s neck to stand straight up.
The monstrosity slowly raised its front leg and moved a half step closer. Kale moved a step back and found himself bumping against something. The Hawaiian glanced over his shoulder to find the totem pole with the golden antlers behind him. Kale turned back in time to see the giant spider launch itself at him.
The space between them was short and with the creature moving at a blistering pace, Kale knew that he would only get one chance with the knife, he clutched the blade tight and tried to crouch into the best defensive position possible.
The flare exploded near the ceiling with a pop, instantly the entirety of the massive room was bathed in an eerie red light. Kale’s eyes snapped up towards the origin point of the flare, there, standing on the edge of the bridge was Chanté; the expression on her face was one in which Kale was, unfortunately, far too used to seeing, it said, ‘Kale, what the hell have you done now?’
The sudden illumination had a severe effect on the spider. The monster reared up and let out an ungodly screech. Kale watched as the giant spider angled away from him at tremendous speed. Kale had it in his mind to chase the beast and stab his knife into the back of its head; obviously this thought was not just his alone because no sooner had the spider turned its back on Kale, then it shot a thick blast of web from its abdomen. The sticky spray ensnared Kale, his legs tangled over themselves which caused him to tumbled backwards and land against the totem pole. The webbing kept coming and soon everything but Kale’s head and left arm were completely trapped in the sticky substance. Having secured Kale for later, the giant spider continued towards Chanté, it raced to the top of a mound of bone fragments which jutted up from the floor. From there it leapt through the dusty air and attached itself firmly to the rough-hewn wall, it ascended rapidly.
“Run Chanté! It’s coming!” Kale shouted as he wrestled with the webbing.
Already realizing the trouble she was in, Chanté replied in a panicked voice, “Get your ass up here and help me then!”
No matter how much muscle he put into it, Kale could not free himself from the spider’s web. “I, uh…I think you’re on your own.”
“What a surprise,” Chanté muttered under her breath as she ran.
Looking over her shoulder in fear—the overwhelming sensation of the spider nipping at her heels was becoming too strong—Chanté began calculating the odds of surviving this encounter: they weren’t good. The flare she had fired earlier had already fallen to the floor, the flickering red flame caused the rock bridge to appear as a large black line stretching out under her feet. She had truly hated firing the flare gun while inside such a valuable find like this but she hated the thought of Kale—or herself!—becoming spider food even more, so with a shaking hand she reloaded the gun. Taking a deep breath, Chanté cocked the flare gun, spun around, extended her arm directly in front of her and fired.
Kale’s view of Chanté became obscured from his angle. One minute the woman was running towards the entrance with the spider right behind her, the next they were gone. Kale held his breath as he willed Chanté to reappear. A flash of brilliant red light blossomed over the sides of the bridge above him, moments later Chanté and the massive spider came tumbling over the edge.
The flare fired from the gun had embedded itself directly into the massive arachnid’s abdomen. The beast let out a hellish shriek as a spike of bright red flame jutted from its body. Had the distance between Chanté and the spider been a bit further, she would have been able to dodge the nightmare-creature but the monster was moving too fast and was too close so even with the flare burning brightly at the centre of its body, the thing’s momentum kept it barreling down on Chanté.
Kale watched in horror as Chanté thudded to the floor in a heap. Nearby, the spider slammed through a pile of what appeared to be deer skulls; a wild fury of bright red flames swarmed around the creature’s abdomen. If not for the concern dominating Kale’s thoughts, he would have actually smiled at the sight before him; of course Chanté would manage to shoot the damn thing with a flare, she was not an easy woman to beat.
Chanté groaned as she climbed back to her feet; before her, in a mess of aged bones, lying on its back was the massive spider. Chanté kept her eyes on the creature as the red flare sticking out of its body began to sputter out of existence. Having been in too many similar situations in her short life, Chanté knew that it was probably too much to hope that the monster had been killed during their altercation. As if reading her mind the huge arachnid began to stir.
The beast rose back to its legs, a yellow viscous dribbled out past the dead flare in its body. Chanté looked around wildly but there was nowhere to go.
Kale knew that Chanté was in big trouble; he had to get free of the binding web. He could see his knife glinting from underneath a beaver skeleton; if he could reach out with his foot he might be able to drag the blade closer to him; of course from there he wasn’t sure what he would do then as only one arm was free and it was sticking up and away from the floor.
Stretching as much as he could, Kale managed to nudge the handle of the knife with the toe of his hiking boots. He felt that if he could just extend his foot out a couple more inches he could pull the knife back towards himself. As he continued to stretch, Kale could feel the totem pole which he was secured to begin to pull free from the ground. Just as he began to slide the knife closer to his body the totem pole toppled over; the golden antlers tumbled into Kale’s lap.
Instantly the spider twisted its grotesque body around so that several sets of eyes were pointed directly at the Hawaiian.
Sudden realization shot through his head, “Oh, you don’t like it when somebody touches your toy, eh?” Clearly the massive spider did not like it and immediately charged Kale.
Chanté watched as the monster scrambled towards her partner; the spider’s immense bulk quickly blocking her view of Kale. The last she could see of the Hawaiian was the vague outline of his body before he and the spider disappeared into a stack of bones.
Scrambling to her feet, Chanté ran towards the centre of the room; she couldn’t hear anything over the sound of her own heart thundering in her chest. As she approached, she could see the massive shape of the spider lying on the bone covered floor. As much as she was happy to see the beast lying prone, Chanté’s eyes searched frantically for any sign of Kale. Her gaze returned to the spider though when the creature began to move.
With a slow—almost lazy—move, the giant spider toppled over onto a stack of brittle deer bones. Kale had used every ounce of strength he possessed to push the massive corpse off of himself. His first action was to take a huge gulp of air; he was pretty sure that he would have suffocated under the thing if he had stayed there any longer.
“Kale!” Chanté yelled as she rushed to his side,
In the dark, Chanté could see the barest glint from the golden antlers which were buried up to the hilt in the spider’s body.
“Oh, gross…” Kale said as he tried to wipe the excessive amount of spider blood which coated nearly his entire body—an act made almost impossible given the fact that he was still almost completely trapped in web.
Chanté—with the help of Kale’s knife—freed the Hawaiian.
“So…spider-god, eh?” Kale said.
Chanté thought for a moment before replying. When she did finally speak it was to say, “Maybe. Whatever it was, it was living here for a long time. I bet those holes,” she stopped to point at the circular spots of blackness decorating the walls, “were how it got around. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are tunnels running underneath this entire area. It must have been catching wildlife through openings and then bringing them back here to feed.”
“And to be close to those,” Kale said as he pointed to the golden antlers.
Hesitantly, Kale said, “Should I dig them out?”
Chanté could hear the shudder in her partner’s voice as he spoke, she could hardly blame him; the whole experience was nightmarish at best. “No, I think it is best to leave them here. Clearly the spider was attached to them-”
Unable to help himself, Kale piped in with, “Oh, they’re attached all right.”
Despite herself Chanté couldn’t help but chuckle.