Bannock had dropped them off in the rented, dented van, as far up the rutted trail as he could navigate. And would wait for them there as long as it took. He sat on the ground, leaning back on a tire and just listening to the rain forest breathe and twitter. Funny how you didn’t hear the world making its little sounds until you decided to listen. He inhaled the scent of pine and primordial rot and decided he was better off here than back in that motel with Tuan and Ganzo. That had to be a fairly one-way conversation.
But it had still been a long hike and some of the girls offered to spell Curtsy, carrying the duffle of gear Tuan had hastily rented from that shady tour operator in Placencia. But now, as they trod carefully in the shadows of what seemed like a totally different world, that seemed meaningless. They were here in this egg-shaped cavern with a floor of blue water and tiny ceiling of sunlit leaves.
Curtsy, with the pack slung across her back, was the last one down the rope and even though she was no stranger to cenotes she was subdued by the cathedral air of this one. She moved quietly up beside the other girls and looked down into water as clean and clear as the air up above.
There hadn’t been any discussion when Loris told them about it. Aphra was hot to get back to the States, but Copper was dying to come with them and each of the six girls who had been in the hot tub that night had deeply felt that they should be here. MeiMei had realized, though not mentioned, that having everybody present meant six people who would know about the place, could come back and seek out the power or just money. But she had a feeling nobody would do that. Just a feeling.
Curtsy was sizing up the cave and the water at the bottom, definitely impressed. She asked Loris, “How did you know this was here?”
Loris laughed and said, “How do you think?”
Then she reached into her backpack, pulled out the bundle of soft cotton, and unveiled oXo. The skull seemed almost matte in the cavern’s filtered light, a primal green dancing with a sphere of gold light from the sinkhole overhead.
Aphra stepped over to stroke the gleaming occipital. “Way I hear it, those two dorks paid you a good chunk of change for that thing. Now you playing Indian giver?” Just to fuck with Miss Bettysue PerfectCenter. She nodded towards Xchab and mimed embarrassment, “Scuse me, there honey.”
Xchab regarded her impassively as Loris buffed oXo with the shroud cloths then looked at Aphra and said, “You heard wrong then. They paid Bannock. Who took him from me, and now I just stole him from those guys. But that’s meaningless, really. There’s no ownership where something like this is concerned. We’ve all done our part to bring oXo home. Including those film guys financing it.”
“Fine with me. Information wants to be free, and all that,” Aphra shrugged. “Long as it don’t get too free and there’s no market for it.”
Curtsy opened the bag duffle and started passing around masks. No snorkles needed, she’d pointed out, since they weren’t going to be cruising the surface. She pulled her mask on and started pulling off her work shirt.
“Okay, everybody gotta get totally nekkid for this one,” Aphra said in the same tone of finality they associated with Loris.
MeiMei, unbuttoning her blouse, looked at her suspiciously and asked, “Why?”
“Because we look so much hotter that way, of course!” Aphra whooped and was almost instantly nude. Copper stripped down just as quick, and pulled the mask over her unruly red mop. The other girls all laughed and started following suit. Except Xchab, who merely undressed and stood naked and flatfooted, waiting for the next move. Aphra looked around and gave a whistle, but something in the way the high pitch echoed in the cave silenced them again. Curtsy knelt at the edge of the pool, closely examining the bottom in the green/gold twilight, then smiled at the others and pitched forward into the water. She was at the bottom, peering further back into the subterranean lake, as five other splashes sounded around her.
She surfaced and looked around at the other girls. “I see some light back there,” she said, “But it’s a long damn ways.”
“I think I heard about that light at the end of the tunnel shit before,” Aphra sneered.
“If there’s light, there’s air,” Curtsy returned flatly, and once again Aphra had that awareness of being in a new element where she wasn’t the prime player. Loris glided over to Curtsy and held oXo out, half of his dome above the water. “You take him. You’re the one who can make it all the way.”
Curtsy nodded and told them all about how to relax and rebreathe to get a maximum lungful of air. Then she dropped out of sight and kicked off powerfully into the long tunnel that ran through the bedrock. She held oXo in both hands, stretched out in front of her, zooming through the water with a crystal figurehead out front.
The other girls were behind her, each of them moving as well as they could. And each of them reached a point that they knew was as far as they could push it. They would each stop, hover in the water, look down the tunnel to the faintly lit chamber at the end, then turn back. The last one to rein up was Loris, who stared ahead at what she knew she would see, a hemispherical dome in the rock, illuminated in yellow glow from above. And in the center of it, a broken off stalagmite created a low plinth. She turned back, pulling her way along the roof of the grotto, but looked back to see Curtsy flash into the chamber, her gold/white body fluorescing in the filtered sunlight, and place oXo gently on the little pedestal before kicking the bottom once to rise up and breathe.
Five girls paddled in place in the deep end of the pool by the entrance to the tunnel, not looking at each other, just waiting for Curtsy to break the surface. Then she was there, bounding out of the water like an orca, whipping water out of her hair, laughing like a little girl at recess.
All six of them were quiet then, a circle of heads in the water. Without conscious thought, they extended their arms and found their hands on each other’s napes.
Copper broke the calm, almost reverential silence. “Think we could get oXo to spring for one more metagasm?”
“If he won’t, it’s on me,” Aphra purred and the other girls laughed.
They broke the circle and climbed out of the water. MeiMei looked around, wondering when was the last time people were here. Had the Mayans placed oXo there? Or had he been there for millennia awaiting them? And somebody must have come to take him out and put him into circulation. She’d buy about anything at that point.
They dressed without much chatter, Curtsy quietly collecting the masks and fins and tossing them back in the bag. On the way out, Loris stopped at the bottom of the rope and looked back. She called out, “See you, oXo. I love you,” and nobody even thought it was silly. In fact each one of them had a sudden thought in the same moment. One of those little mental jingles that makes no sense at all. “The Love loves to love you all.”