GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Inches from Dr. Bowen’s eyes, ants scrambled from their mound,
spoiling for war. Thin cords bit deeply into his wrists and ankles. A
sandaled foot crushed against his ear. Somewhere above a thicket of
legs, voices bickered in a tongue full of clicks, pops and swooping
vowels. His usual knack for identifying languages failed him.
He felt his pulse flutter against the cords in skips and starts,
like a frantic message in Morse Code. He struggled to remain calm. Any
outward signs of agitation might amuse his captors and inspire
torment, the way a cruel child might poke at an injured frog to make
it hop. His heart defied him, but obsessing about its queer rhythm
only made it beat harder and more erratically. Rivulets of sweat ran
into his eyes, blurring his vision. What a day to forget to take his
The foot eased off his head. He squirmed away and shifted off a
root that had been pressing into his ribs. Hands reached down from
behind, helped him sit and brushed ants and bits of leaf from his
face. That token of kindness should have calmed him, but his heart
continued to stutter.
He turned to find himself eye to eye with a young woman. Under
calmer circumstances he might have found her pretty if he ignored the
swath of scabs marring half her face. Her gaze rigid, she inspected
his damaged ear, more benumbed than painful. A warm trickle ran down
Close to ten men and women surrounded him. Petite and nimble,
they moved with child-like grace. They resembled local Amerindians,
but their faces seemed flatter, their complexions more olive than
They bristled with machetes and spears and even a crossbow. None
of them carried a gun, that he could see. A few wore armor: gauntlets
and cuirasses made of leather and braided twine, vests with
overlapping scales resembling the elytra of beetles. Several disguised
themselves with bits of jungle.
One man, the eldest among them, stood apart in manner and dress.
He wore black sneakers, jeans and a Ziggy Marley t-shirt. Something
about him seemed familiar. The wrecked guitar leaning against a tree,
with popped strings and splintered ribs, cinched it.
“You followed me! You were on the bus to San Ignacio!” Dr. Bowen
accused, racking his mind for a notion as to why this motley gang
might be interested in him.
The man’s head turned lazily to face him “Follow you? I am think
I am one who is follow.”
“Listen, I didn’t see anything. I won’t say anything about… this.”
“This?” said the man, eyes quizzical, smile warped. “What you mean… this?”
“I don’t know,” he said, his voice whiny and pleading. “Whatever.
I didn’t see... anything.”
The man shrugged. “No matter. You live for now. Don’t give reason
to change mind.”
The man understood English, never a certainty this far west in
Belize, but a good sign. Clear communications had once helped him
wriggle free of a similar predicament in the Congo. It would help if
he knew his captors’ proclivities and sensitivities, but that depended
on who they were, which was far from clear at this point. These were
not mere drunken soldiers at a roadblock.
When he worked in Colombia in the 1980s, FARC narcoterrorists
near Buenaventura sometimes held tourists for ransom. Somehow, he
didn’t get the sense that this bunch ran drugs. Could they be leftist
rebels, too poor to possess a single AK-47 among them? The Guatemalan
border lay less than fifty kilometers away.
He began to feel woozy. Syncope was not his friend. From the
looks of it, no one in this crowd could perform CPR on him the way
that bystander did when he had collapsed outside a Starbucks in
Georgetown earlier that year. He had come to in a puddle of coffee,
siren keening just for him. His pulse had evened out before the ER
nurse could stick the electrodes on, so no one could tell him if his
fibrillation had been atrial or ventricular, a critical distinction. A
baby aspirin would keep him safe from atrial fib. For ventricular fib,
he needed beta blockers to prevent a death spiral that only a
defibrillator could reverse.
The woman who had helped him up now pored through the contents of
his pack. She pulled aside his prescriptions, medical kit and granola
bars, repacked the rest and tossed it to one of her comrades. She had
already relieved him of the pocket knife that had hung in a sheath on
his belt, but let him keep his keys, wallet, passport and pocket
“Excuse me. Those pills. Can you bring them here? You see, I’ve
got a heart problem,” he said, his voice hoarse.
The man who spoke English interrupted a discussion and turned to
Dr. Bowen. “Oh, your heart has a problem, does it?”
“Yes,” Dr. Bowen coughed.
“Mine too.” He held up his broken guitar. “My beauty. Smash up.
It break my heart, as you say.”
“No, really. I need those pills. My heart’s beating too fast, and
it’s irregular. Those pills will help me. Just one. I only need one.”
The man strode up, bent over him, and pulled his eyelid up with a
forefinger. He then placed two fingers against Dr. Bowen’s neck.
“You’re fine,” he said. “Just excite. And too red in the face,
maybe. But how I can know? People like you, if you’re not pale, you’re
Dr. Bowen felt a strip of cloth slide over his eyes and pull
tight. He jerked his head free. “Please! I’m no threat to you.” He
motioned towards a pile of stones set with a bronze plaque and cross
coated in verdigris. “That cairn over there, it’s my wife’s memorial.
This is where I lost her. I just came to remember Liz. I brought her
sweet peas.” A wilting bundle of scarlet blossoms lay atop the stone
“Stay still!” said the man from the bus, securing the blindfold.