The Mysterious Amulet of Palukahn

Doctor Francis Markham's research team had been at it for months now. Long, hot twelve-hour days in the scorching Guatemalavian summer sun slowly unearthing the remnants of an entire city block from the ancient city of Palukahn. The city's existence was unknown until thirteen months ago when one of Dr. Markham's PhD students stumbled upon some telemetry from a commercial Global-mapping satellite service. The image, taken by a Guatemalavian Environmental Agency, was actually posted on its website, for all to see. Windstorms and soil erosion in that isolated pocket of the interior had revealed a topography that seemed just a little too unnatural to have been natural - but only to the well-trained eye of an Archaeologist who majored in geology.

Within less than a week's time, the time it took to tie up odds and ends of all sorts, Dr. Markham and his research associate, 23-year old Tanner Broadbent were en route to Guatemala's interior region, hoping their educated hypothesis proved confirmable -- that this was a previously unknown city, perhaps constructed by a previously unknown, ancient civilization.

It was three days later when Dr. Markham made the discovery of a lifetime, so big in fact, that he and Tanner left the site to Guatemala City to acquire the necessary licenses to begin what they suspected would be the most significant archaeological unearthing since the discovery of Tuttenkamun's tomb in the early part of the Twentieth Century.

In February, less than two months after Tanner had first laid eyes on the initial satellite image, relevant licenses acquired, (finagled actually through friendships with both the Guatemalavian Minister of Interior and Environment) Dr. Markham's relatively small research team of twelve were hard at work, at times making discoveries by the hour!

Dr. Markham kept his team small (11 members plus himself) for several reasons, not the least of which was security. He also made sure to not involve any of the other "oafs" from his department or any other leading authorities in the field. He'd keep his discoveries logged and chronicled, but wouldn't release them to the greater public until he was good and ready. This is also why he hand-picked eleven of his top, most promising Graduate and Post Graduate students to join him, making each sign legal document after document to assure their complete cooperation and silence - all except Tanner of course. Being Professor Markham's prized student, his academic prodigy even, (Doctor Markham had no children of his own) he had come to see Tanner as the son he never had. He wanted the young PhD to benefit from these discoveries, almost as much as he looked forward to the global adulation and international recognition he had secretly craved since getting into the field of Archaeology in the 70's.

At 58 years, Dr. Markham was a man who did not look his age and that was probably due to the vigorous pace of his life combined with his need to still get his hands dirty on every single dig. On this particular research expedition, Doctor Markham worked as hard, if not harder than his students and it showed. The man was in near-perfect shape, physical acumen at par with many of his students.

-"Tanner! Come here! I think I found something!" Dr. Markham beckoned without even looking up to see where Tanner was. It was six o'clock in the morning and the team was already fed and hard at work, hoping to make as many hours before the scorching summer sun hit.

Tanner was of course, at the professor's side less than a minute later.

-"Doc?" he asked inquisitively, subserviently, wiping his sweaty brow with his soiled glove as he looked on curiously.

-"Take a look at this!" The professor pointed at a spot several feet down in the dirt. There, embedded in the earth was the skeleton of an intact human foot! Up until then, the expedition had uncovered no human remains at the site, leading Professor Markham and his students to conclude that the city had been abandoned, though amazingly, there were no discernible signs of geological or even man-made destruction. The professor reasoned that like many other ancient cities throughout central and south America, perhaps Palukahn was abandoned due to insufficient or depleted natural resources? All these thoughts appeared in his research notes, but if there were bodies buried here, that would have to alter his original hypothesis, at least some.

-"So, the mystery deepens!" Tanner smiled boyishly at the professor. "I've actually been waiting for something like this!" he chirped all-knowingly.

The professor smiled and turned briefly to give Tanner an approving nod. The young man even looked a little like he did in his day -- tall, bronze-skinned, auburn hair with natural blonde highlights, pale blue eyes, chiseled features, but none too sharp... the two could have easily passed for a father and son.

Tanner came in closer and taking his trusted "toothbrush" to the heel of the skeleton-foot, he began gingerly dusting until the basic perimeter, all its bones, seemingly intact, quickly came into sight.

-"Professor, this has got to be a man's foot, it's easily a size thirteen or fourteen by our standards!" Tanner took off his own sneaker and held it within a fraction of an inch of the skeleton's -- it was a perfect match. "Yup, size thirteen, like I thought!" He discarded his shoe off to the side, not even bothering to put it back on.

-"Woulda been my guess exactly!" The professor nodded, still gently brushing away more layers of dried up ancient earth.

Tanner continued his near-obsessive brush strokes up and down the heel-bone, slowly working his way up the soil toward the ankle area, which was, amazingly, still attached!

He wondered if the professor had stumbled upon a complete skeleton -- such a find would be huge, as the carbon dating would be next to certain with human bone remains. After fifty or so sweeps he was able to make out something else attached to the ankle bone -- something that caught the early morning sunlight and reflected some into his pale blue eyes, causing him to squint briefly before adjusting his focus to compensate.

-"Professor look!" He pointed toward the gold appendage in the soil, immense excitement in his quivering tone.

The two began to feverishly sweep away the dirt in that region and within very soon they had uncovered a necklace, with some kind of elaborate amulet attached to its base.

-"I don't get it professor? Why would someone have a necklace around their ankle? Some kind of burial ritual, maybe?!" Tanner reached down and gently maneuvered the necklace off the skeleton's ankle. He blew some of the excess dirt of it and held it at his eye-level to examine it more closely. Professor Markham looked on as well, equally fascinated by the simplicity of the design and yet the metallurgical know-how implied through its advanced construction. It was, by all accounts, a magnificent piece of jewelry, even by early 21st Century standards.

-"Tanner, I think that's Platinum. Not gold!" Dr. Markham remarked ever-so casually, his eyes not once coming off the pendant now dangling in front of Tanner's eyes. Tanner too for that matter, was equally rapt in his own scientific observation.

-"If this is Platinum, then that would have to mean..." Tanner handed the amulet to professor Markham so that he might examine it more closely.

-"Platinum!" He said after a three second pause during which time he had placed the dirty piece of jewel in this mouth to bite down on it like some Gold Rush prospector.

-"B...but how do we reconcile that with all the carbon dating we've done? It doesn't make sense." Tanner was almost objecting to what such a find seemed to imply.

-"I don't know!" Answered the professor honestly and with a heavy sigh. "This was obviously a much more advanced society than we previously thought..." The professor began to lose himself in the thought of the moment, trying ever so desperately to channel the ancient energies connected to the amulet now clenched in his left hand.

The two continued to gaze at it. It was a marvelous piece of craftsmanship, particularly given its estimated forty-six thousand year age. If the body upon which the amulet was draped could be dated to the same time-frame as the rest of the village, then that would have to mean that in the year 46,000 BC, there were societies in Guatemala (of which modern man previously knew nothing about), that had the technological ability and know-how, to melt Platinum. Platinum melts at some 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Melting platinum was a feat that 20th Century man was believed to have mastered first. The discovery of this amulet, with its inherent ability to shake the very foundations of many an academic discipline, to say nothing of the world-at-large, made Professor Markham even more certain that he had to keep finds like these out of his official records, for now anyway. But, maybe a note or two in his personal log was in order he decided. He then came out of his deep thought rather suddenly.

-"Tanner! We keep this find to you and me, ya got that? This is too big to let the others know... for now!" And with that and a familiar wink-wink, Tanner knew exactly what was expected of him. He was to maintain radio silence on this find, not even discussing it with his best friend, tent-mate and research partner on the expedition, Rory Banks.

That night, as the group slept in their army-issue canvas tents, Tanner tossed and turned in his sleeping-bag-clad cot. Finally, after tossing and turning dozens of times, his curiosity getting the better of him, he tiptoed out to the professor's tent, hoping to get a glimpse of that amulet again. To his surprise though, the professor was not in his tent. In fact, Professor Markham was nowhere to be seen!

-"Maybe he's just takin' a piss!" Tanner thought outloud to himself, plopping himself down on the professor's unmade bed and deciding to wait for his any-minute return.

Tanner sat and waited for nearly ten minutes before starting to worry. Where could the professor have gone off to in the middle of the night? Unless, he had made some other discovery -- something so big that he didn't even want Tanner to be aware of! "That's it!" Tanner reasoned. The professor was entitled to his privacy and he could always take another look at the medallion in the morning. So, he went back to his and Rory's tent, found his tent-mate snoring loudly, half out of his covers, and decided to hit the hay himself. Tomorrow was another day.


The next morning when Tanner awoke and went to the mess-tent, he was once again surprised not to find the professor there. The professor was always the first person in the mess tent in the mornings having his cereal, coffee and fruit, but obviously not today.

-"Hey Drake!' Tanner amicably addressed one of the Graduate students before taking a seat beside him.

-"Where's Professor Markham?" Drake asked, assuming Tanner, his closest confidante would know.

-"I don't have a clue! But after breakfast, we should go look for him. He wasn't in his tent last night either..." Tanner relayed as he scoffed the remnants of an over-ripened mango down, getting some pulpy juice on his lucky Budweiser T-shirt.

Drake Dempsey was already finished his breakfast when two of the other junior researchers walked in, looking still half-asleep, looking as though they hadn't slept a wink all night.

Wally and Jarred shared a tent. Both were graduate students like Drake, only they were in their first year and were the youngest on the expedition. Professor Markham wanted two younger, fresher students with him to give them a taste of the excitement that was possible in the field.

Both Wally and Jarred were blond haired and fair skinned, but that's where their physical resemblances ended: Whereas Wally was smaller and more mouse-like, standing at only five feet eight inches tall, Jarred was larger, standing at six feet one inch, iron-muscled and much more vain than his sloppier, less kempt tent mate. Not surprisingly, the two had grown quite close since the expedition began, as was prone to happen when two people share close quarters. What's that they say too? Opposites attract?

-"K, I'm done. Let's go check things out!" Tanner directed Drake who was already one pace ahead. As they left the mess-tent the two ran into Noah and Glen, two PhD's studying with Dr. Markham.

-"Hey guys. You still diggin' away at site B?" Tanner asked just to make conversation. He had assigned them to that site, so they wouldn't be working anywhere else.

Noah, the normally more relaxed of the two, didn't speak. Instead, he continued, sleepwalking almost, into the mess tent, making a beeline straight for the coffee percolator.

Glen chirped his answer, fakely, albeit convincingly enough:

-"You know it bro! You still hauled up with the Professor on site F?" Again, an obvious early morning question that merited an obvious early morning answer.

-"Yup!" Tanner replied flippantly. Glen and Tanner were rivals in the academic sense. Both young men were equally talented in their respective sub-fields of Archaeology, however it was Tanner who had become Doctor Markham's "pet project" at least, that's how Glen had come to see it. To his credit, Tanner had always sensed this jealousy coming from Glen but figured early on, the best way to counter was with sincere kindness. Except early in the mornings. Then all was fair game!

Glen walked into the mess tent while Tanner took a few extra large strides to catch up with Drake, who was already halfway to "site F", the most logical place to start looking for the missing professor.

-"Drake man, hold up! Listen, if the professor isn't in the hole then we gotta call for some kind of back-up, agreed?" Tanner was trying not to think of worse-case scenarios, but something told him that the professor wouldn't be at the dig site.

-"I totally agree Tan!" Drake slowed his pace, turned to his friend and tried to give a look of reassurance. "He'll be there. He'll be there!"

At the southern ridge, the boundary of which marked site F, Professor Markham was nowhere to be found.

-"Shit!" Tanner exclaimed, his eyes meandering to the far left side of the dug out soil. "Drake, look!" He pointed at what appeared to be a pair of shoes and socks, casually strewn on the ground maybe a 100 yards to their left.

Drake began to circle the perimeter of the site. He grabbed the shoes and grey sweat socks and brought them back to where Tanner was still standing, somewhat lost in thought.

-"They sure do look like the professors' shoes and socks!" Drake said, handing the professor's footwear over to Tanner for deeper inspection.

Tanner held the shoes up, looking for signs of blood or struggle. Relieved to see none of that, he walked back to where Drake had retrieved the shoes and socks, Drake following closely behind. He said nothing. Neither did Drake. The professor was such a pivotal figure to all the men on this research expedition that if something happened to him, their research would ultimately come to an end. To say nothing of the personal sense of loss Tanner was already beginning to feel -- it felt just like he remembered it feeling when his father walked out on him and his mother when he was seven -- like he'd been abandoned, for no good reason and with no warning.

-"Tanner, man, snap out of it! What's...?" Drake looked down to the ground to where Tanner seemed to be staring, lost in thought. "Bare footprints! Tanner? Those must be the professor's footprints! We should follow them!" Drake insisted enthusiastically.

Tanner awoke from his trance-like state, memories of his childhood now flooding into and out of his peripheral consciousness like a series of home movies playing on a projector on high speed. Distracting him... taking him away....

-"Yeah, good idea Drake!" Tanner mumbled.

-"Tan, are you ok? Listen, we'll find the Doc!" Again, Drake was trying to sound as reassuring as possible. He knew Tanner and the Doc were close.

-"I know we will Drake. I know we will!" Tanner slowly regained his sense of time-space.

The two students began following the professor's footprints left behind in the mud. Thankfully, the professor had kept to the same trail the group had used when they came into camp -- a muddy dirt road that kept record of all who crossed it. Right now, the professor's footprints were the only ones visible in this section of soil they were following.

The dirt path ended at the crest of a hill -- the only thing there was a hut, a hut the team had been told belonged to an aging artisan who came to the region to die alone. That was ten years ago.

-"Man, he must have gone in there!" Drake pointed.

-"Good guess. The only question is why?" Tanner began walking toward the meager dwelling, growing increasingly unsure of himself with each footfall. Drake was to his left and less than one pace behind, equally nervous, but determined to find the professor, whatever it took.

They marched on.

The door, if you can call it that, was ajar, so Tanner squeaked it open a little more to reveal an empty, sparse room, a room with an almost subterranean feel, despite the fact that the dwelling was entirely above-ground.

-"Nobody's here!" Tanner said defeated, peering into what appeared to be an empty single room.

-"Let's snoop around!" Drake suggested hopefully. "Maybe if the professor was here, he left some kinda clue!" Drake bolted slightly past Tanner into the room's mid-section.

It certainly looked like the home of a person who expected to die any minute -- things were everywhere and there was a smell, an unclean smell all about the entire place.

-"It's like something died in here!" Drake recoiled in disgust as he inched forward into the darkness, ever so cautiously.

Tanner was taking it all in. Whoever did live here, if someone did in fact live there, was not a happy camper - that much was clear. There were no windows in this hut and the walls were covered in what appeared to be old cloth, woven, shredded and mounted to the wooden frame's structural supports.

Doing a full 360 scan of the place now, from the corner of his eye, Tanner spotted it -- the one shiny thing in the room, how could he have missed it? The medallion, the professor's find from yesterday -- strewn on a mattress of hay in the far corner!

-"Holy shit! The professor was here!" Tanner exclaimed jumping to retrieve the amulet from the makeshift bed.

-"Whatya mean?" Drake approached Tanner to see what he was holding.

-"The professor -- this is his -- I mean, we found it, yesterday...." He held up the medallion so that Drake could see it.

Drake looked at the medallion, with no apparent interest other than that it was the professor's. "So that means he was here. Now the only question is why?"

-"And where is he now! I'd say that was more important!" Tanner slipped the medallion into his front jean pocket and motioned to Drake toward the exit. The two left the hut without incident, still no closer to finding the missing Professor.

-"The plot thickens!" Drake said lightly as they left the old shack. Tanner didn't answer. He simply touched his front jean pocket and said a silent prayer.

As the two young researchers traced their way back to camp, somewhat defeated, discouraged, the two barely spoke. Tanner was once again wrapped up in thoughts surrounding his own father's absence in his life. He hadn't thought of these things for years and yet here they were, flooding to the surface. Perhaps because he had come to see Professor Markham as the father he didn't have.

-"Tanner? Tanner?! Yo' -- Earth to the Tin-Tan-Man!" Drake shook his friend's shoulder, again stirring him out of his depressing reverie.

-"I...I hear you..." Tanner responded almost distantly.

-"Well whatya think?"

-"About what?" Tanner asked, becoming less lucid with each passing second.

-"I said why don't I run ahead to camp, see if the professor is back there, you go north on the path a little and I'll rendez-vous up with you in like... fifteen!" Drake was about to dash, waiting ultimately for Tanner's "ok", which he got, in the form of a non-committal nod.

Drake took off, leaving Tanner alone, dangerously alone with a cascading flow and ebb of childhood memories, rushing to the front of his brain, taking over his mind almost. As he walked a few more steps northward, he stumbled, his thoughts now dizzying, clouding his mind. He was in a fog of ancient memories, not all his own, -- bad memories. The mist surrounding his brain thickened, growing denser and enveloping by the second. Collapsing to his knees, the six foot tall Tanner seemed so reduced, so weakened as he continued to stare intently at a random spot of dirt. Lost in thought, forever lost in thoughts, vague superimpositions -- things in his life... things in his ancient life... ancient life... swirling around in a vortex of time and space -- time, slowly ceasing to exist, Tanner's entire being, enslaved to these mind-blowing thoughts and revelations.


Twenty minutes later, Drake, Noah and Rory were back at the same point on the path where he had left Tanner before.

-"He went this way!" Drake pointed northward for the other two to follow him. "Hopefully, he's found the professor by now!"

-"Dude, what's that?!" Noah noticed them first. On the side of the path not 80 yards from where Tanner and Drake had separated, lay a pair of white Adidas, size 13 and a pair of white tube socks at their side.

-"Holy shit, just like the professor! These must be Tanner's!" Drake exclaimed, almost frenzied, but still, with the wherewithal to check out the "scene", wanting to confirm that the shoes and socks were indeed, Tanner's.

-"I don't get the whole shoe and sock thing. What's up with that?" Rory asked the others as he approached the shoes and nodded silently to Drake, indicating that the shoes on the ground were indeed Tanner's footwear.

-"How the hell should I know -- look for Tanner's footprints in the earth!" Drake directed the others. This time however, there were no traceable tracks to follow.

-"Fuck! What do we do now?" Drake's stress levels were rising. "Ok, I know, we'll go back to that weird hut, maybe Tan and the Professor are there now!'

The three tracked back to the abandoned hut, Noah and Rory following Drake's lead.


As Drake inched the broken door open, he was simultaneously relieved to not find anyone there, and at the same time, upset that Dr. Markham and Tanner weren't there.

The three young men entered the decaying building, Noah and Rory obviously taken aback by the complete lack of hygiene that seemed to be the cause of the room's smell.

-"Don't worry, you get used to it sorta..." Drake began, but cut himself off as he noticed something shiny on the bed -- it was the same medallion that Tanner had put into his pocket to give back to the professor. At least it looked like it was the same medallion. Drake approached the bed and retrieved the necklace. "Shit it IS the same one!" He exclaimed to the others, who obviously had no idea what on Earth he was talking about. "Tanner found this in here, earlier, and he put it in his pocket when we left. He said it was one of the professor's finds from yesterday. Now it's back here? That's gotta mean..."

-"That Tanner was here recently!" Noah exclaimed excitedly.

The three exited the hut, this time doing a complete 360 peripheral scan of the landscape. Had Tanner been there in the last fifteen minutes, he couldn't have gone far. And yet, there was no apparent trace of him. Nada. Like the professor, Tanner seemed to have vanished with barely a trace, leaving only his shoes and socks behind from their point of capture.

-"I think we should go back to camp and hold a meeting pronto. I mean if both Professor Markham and Tanner are missing, then who's in charge?" Rory asked the other two uncertainly.

Noah and Drake looked at each other knowingly and in virtual unison,


The trio made their way back to camp, each man lost in his own thoughts. Drake however was feeling a little uneasy but couldn't quite put his finger on what it was, beyond the Professor's and Tanner's disappearances, that was making him feel that way.


Back at camp, Glen was already holding a meeting when Drake, Noah and Rory returned.

-"Nothing?" Glen asked the trio.

"Tanner's missing too!" Rory reported. There was no need for further verbal response. The group's lack of response was response enough. Their team leader and his lead assistant were missing; emergency protocols had to be put into place and Glen was only too happy to step up to the plate and assume the leadership role. As senior fellow, it was his right -- he was next in line in the academic pecking order.

-"First things first gentlemen!" He started off somewhat pompously. "I need to look through Professor Markham's notes... see if there are any clues that might help us figure out where he is!"

There was a chorus of protests from various backbenches, but eventually Glen's insistence won them over. Adjourning the impromptu meeting as quickly as he had started it, Glen began to make his way to the professor's tent, when Drake intercepted him.

-"Glen, we didn't want to tell the other guys here, but we found this medallion back at the hut -- a second time. Tanner took it after he and I left there. Then we separated. When I came back with Rory and Noah, all we found were Tanner's sneakers and socks, just like the professor!" Drake handed Tanner's sneakers over to Glen, who seemed far less interested in hearing what Drake had to say than getting to the professor's notes.

-"What do you want me to do with these? Uch!" Glen pushed the shoes back onto Drake before entering the professor's tent.

-"Well, we tried!" Noah chirped.

-"Guys! We can't just give up! We have to continue looking for them!" Rory re-asserted.

Drake and Noah instantly agreed. The trio headed back up the ridge, back to the path, Drake secretly hoping, "third time's the charm'.


This time the trio turned north and walked past where they had found Tanner's shoes and socks. As they walked, the morning sun was beginning to heat up and Drake found his thoughts dancing all over the map. First, he was thinking about Louise and how she broke his heart last summer when she ditched him for that jock Steven Webb! Then, as if that weren't bad enough, his mind kept trying to take him back to one of the most unfortunate moments of his life -- the day his best friend of 17 years was killed in a car wreck. Why his thoughts kept dancing around those two memories he didn't know, but the more he tried to analyze it, the more clouded this thoughts got -- something was happening to him, though he couldn't figure out what it was. As the three continued to walk, Drake now lagging several paces behind, Noah's and Rory's voices became equally foggy and distant, as if they were there but not. In his clouded mind's eye, he was now seeing Steven Webb as one of his fellow brethren, a servant of Palanke and the Eternal Brotherhood of Man. Steven and he were recruiters in the ancient times, they worked together, as brothers. He felt all the pent up hatred and anger he had for Steven Webb vanish as a deep, penetrating buzzing, a cerebral hum began to puncture first his right, then his left eardrum. His mind now utterly numbing, the young researcher collapsed to his knees, his eyes now unilaterally focused on the dirt beneath him, on the stories unfolding in his mind... his story. His whole story.

-"Holy fuck! Drake!" Noah shouted as he leaned over his friend, trying to lift him from his kneeling position. Rory approached from the other side and helped, though it was no use. Drake wasn't going anywhere... he seemed stationary, frozen in this kneeling stance, unable to respond to his friends' multiple calls. No matter how hard Rory and Noah tried to stir Drake out of his apparent trance, nothing was having any effect.

Then, Drake suddenly straightened up, sitting down on the ground like he had just come out of some kind of spell, except he hadn't come out of it. Not at all.

-"Drake, are you ok buddy, we thought you were..." Noah began but cut himself off as he noticed what Drake was doing. Drake was removing his sneakers and was pulling off one of his socks when Rory began to flutter, a wave of panic washing over him.

-"Shit, what the fuck is up with him? It's like he's a fuckin' zombie or something!" Rory was inching slowly backward as if he had just seen a ghost.

-"He's in some kind of trance!" Noah realized, passing his right hand directly in front of Drake's line of sight and getting a none reaction. Drake was out of it.

-"B...but how?!" Rory asked.

-"How the hell should I know! Something is fucked here!" Noah watched as Drake pulled off his left sock. Now barefoot, the hypnotized researcher stood and began walking in the direction of the increasingly frequented hut, southward along the path.

-"Follow him!" Noah ordered the half-retreated Rory, who seemed to be cowering, if not, altogether neurotic with what he was seeing.

-"M...maybe we should get Glen in on this, I mean... he's in charge now, right?" Rory asked, not sure what to think anymore, just knowing he didn't want to be on "this leg' of the expedition, not for the find of the millennium!

-"Shut up! We're not gonna lose Drake! C'mon!" Noah began tagging after the entranced and barefoot Drake as he walked, virtually like a sleepwalker down the path toward the now heavily frequented hut.


Drake entered the hut and began walking toward the pile of hay that seemed to be functioning as a makeshift bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed and for the briefest of seconds, he seemed to revive, his face suddenly reanimated, as if awake. But before he could move his mouth to ask what was going on, his body dematerialized -- right there before Noah's and Rory's eyes.

-"Holy shit!" Rory exclaimed at a pitch that was comparable to a frightened hyena. He began dancing on spot as well, clutching his face with both hands as if he were a mere participant in this apparent dreamscape. "Where the hell did he go?" Rory asked, rubbing his eyes, hysterical, twitching, even biting his lip, anything to make sure he wasn't "dreaming".

Noah dashed over to the disheveled pile of hay where Drake had been sitting only seconds before. He waved his hand through the air to make sure that Drake was no longer there. What was there however was that same medallion that Drake had picked up and put in his pocket less than an hour ago. Noah was about to pick it up when he realized the apparent pattern of events. The professor had the medallion and then he went missing. Tanner had it when he went missing and now Drake was in possession of it when he literally vanished into thin air.

-"Rory, don't ask me how, but I think that thing has something to do with the guys' disappearance."

-"W...why aren't you picking it up?" Rory asked nervously.

Noah explained his on-spot hypothesis to Rory, who to his credit, remained calm throughout most of it. Until he remembered,

-"Man that still doesn't explain how Drake just vanished -- nothing explains that!" Rory's freak-out voice now emerged.

-"Unless we're the ones who are in some kind of trance!" Noah answered, half-jokingly.

"C'mon, let's get outta here!"

Rory didn't need a second invite. He was out the door so fast, he left Noah standing there for a few seconds, in his dust. Noah contemplated picking up the mysterious medallion, but then thought otherwise. His plan was to return to camp and bring all the guys back to the hut -- no one else was going to go missing as far as Noah was concerned.


Convincing Glen to hold another group meeting wasn't as difficult as Noah thought it might be. When Noah told Glen about what happened to Drake, Glen seemed to be putting the pieces of a puzzle together in his mind. He seemed to know something that Noah didn't.

Ten minutes later, at base camp the remaining 9 field team members met in semi-circle to receive Noah and Rory's update on what had happened first to Tanner, then to Drake. When they had finished telling their story, there was only one mouth in the group that was not agape -- Glen's. He quickly stepped into the forefront of the conversation, assuming the leadership role.

-"Guys, I've been reading the professor's personal notes from last night and his final entry... well, it... let me read it to you..." Glen opened the professor's leather bound notebook and began reading the final entry.

Tanner and I have found the most exquisite artifact at site-F... a platinum medallion that as I hold it up to the light and stare at it I see all kinds of shapes and designs... moving, refracting, changing, evolving, growing, learning... it makes me sleepy...drains my will...what's coming over me...? I need to get some air...need to obey..."

Glen looked up at the group.

-"That was his last personal log entry last night. It was the part about draining his will that stuck out to me... I kept picturing the professor holding up the medallion to the light... he said it was making him sleepy... I bet that amulet he found was much more than just a piece of costume jewelry. It sounds as though whatever the professor stumbled upon cast some sort of spell on him!" Glen's last words caused a stir in camp.

-"A spell? Gimme a break Glen! HA! A spell!" Amar's intermittent laughing was drained out by Pietrov and Timothy's banter and adolescent antics as Pietrov pretended to cast a spell on Timothy. Timothy, forever the ham, outstretched his hands in a classic sleepwalkers pose, stood up robotically and joked,

-"Command me master! I will obey!"

As more laughs proceeded among the group, Noah stood up, in protest mode. What he saw was nothing to laugh at and he resented the fact that his colleagues were making light of any of it. This was no time for jokes or games.

-"Guys! Rory and I saw Drake!" Noah interjected. "He was in a trance, there's no question about it. I mean, he was a fuckin' zombie!"

-"Ok, enough of this! All of you! I say we check out the hut now! All of us! Let's go!" Glen barked out his marching orders and began walking toward the ridge, expecting the others to follow. The rest of the men rose and followed, in rough single file, up the hill towards and past the overlooked site F.

At the entryway of the hut, Glen waited for the others to be by his side before opening the door full way, nearly snapping it off its hemp-stringed hinges. His eyes were the first to witness the scene and he nearly fell backward onto Noah as he did.

Laying in the center of the hut, totally naked and side-by-side were Drake, the Professor and Tanner, in that order. Their bodies seemed to be stiff as planks -- their arms and hands plastered to their thighs, their left and right toes and heels glued to each other -- the men were statues, frozen - immobile. They looked liked artifacts themselves, more statuesque than Glen had recalled either of them being.

-"Holy fuck!" Timothy cried out, peering over Glen's semi-collapsed shoulder. "They ARE under some kind of freakin' spell! What the hell do we do?!"

Glen, the former basketball player, the otherwise only tough jock-guy in the group was the first to turn into his group of young men, indicating that he had seen enough and wanted to leave... fast. There were few protests, only one that really mattered though... the one that spoke directly into the depths of his subconscious.

-"You, Glen, will not be going anywhere!" It was a foreign voice, a sort of whisper, from the shadows. Instinctively and ever so gradually, his body on auto-pilot, Glen turned, his focus now back on the three naked men, lying frozen on the floor. The scene that was causing him discomfort only seconds before now seemed to be eliciting no response from the African American researcher as he now stared hopelessly at his fallen comrades.

-"That's right! Come to me Glen! Come to me! Come!' The voice beckoned his mind -- made his feet move against his will. Noah and Rory noticed it first, calling after their colleagues,

-"Guys, it's got Glen!" and "Shit! Glen!"

Noah turned to Glen who was already walking toward the far end of the hut. "Glen, snap out of it! Come on man! Wake up! WAKE UP!!"

Glen continued to follow the voice, barely able to make out the chorus of other voices, echoing in jibberish almost, in the distance. He was standing right in front of the pile of hay now. Robotically, he sat down on it. And just like Drake before him, he unlaced his size 16 sneakers, removed his socks then instinctively reached over to his right, grabbed the amulet from the bed, held it up to his eyes and swung it ever so gently.

In Glen's head, a hypnotic mantra was chanting and replaying over and over...

-"Sleep and abandon the need to think... your will slips away as you sleep deeper, fall deeper and deeper into my power, give yourself to me and sleep!"

Glen's head fell to his chest and the amulet in his hand fell back onto the pile of hay, almost to exactly where it had been left last. A moment later, before all of his colleagues' eyes, Glen vanished, right then and there, leaving only his discarded shoes and socks behind as evidence of his former presence.

There was a few-second moment of stunned group silence before Timothy snapped himself out of what felt like his own trance.

-"Geez!! It's true! What the heck is this place?" Timothy looked around getting more and more spooked by the second. He noticed the little pieces of rice paper hanging from the muddied walls, the wire mesh that seemed to track along the entire inner-roof of the structure... there were things hanging from it, things he could barely make out in the dim light. By now, Timothy had all but forgotten his three naked colleagues sprawled out on the floor.

Noah took one step closer to examine the pile of hay, once again passing his hand through the empty space of air that had previously occupied Glen's upper torso. Nothing. Once again, the mysterious amulet seemed to be in the exact place and position Noah had seen it earlier.

-"That's it guys! That's the medallion thing!" Noah pointed to it.

Pietrov, near the back of the group commented, "It's like Glen was trying to hypnotize himself with it!"

Rory interceded with his own thoughts, "Dude, Glen was already in a trance we saw him walk over to that bed right? He was totally out of it! So why would he be trying to hypnotize himself if he were hypnotized already? It doesn't make sense"

-"Yeah, but how did he get into the trance in the first place, huh? We were all standing right here -- do any of you guys see a hypnotist around here?"

-"We should grab that thing and bolt!" Timothy suggested, pointing to the amulet with an ever-shaking index finger, trying not to look upon Tanner, Drake or Doctor Markham in their exposed and vulnerable states.

-"Let's get out of here already, we can radio for help!" Reuben Stockton finally spoke. Reuben was a young man of few words, hopelessly shy, never socialized with anyone outside of the work environment. He compensated for his social inadequacies with work, as so many often do. But the group knew that when Reuben spoke, it was important and worth listening to.

-"Yeah, I'm with Ruby -- let's blow this Popsicle stand!" Rory blurted out, sounding more like Shaggy on Scooby Doo than he did himself.

Noah now stepped into the fray. "Guys, what about Tan, Drake and Dr. Markham, we can't just leave them here like this! C'mon! Lookit, everyone take off a piece of clothing you don't totally need -- we'll dress them up as best we can and take them with us!"

The group looked at Noah as though he were now in a trance.

-"Are you nuts?" Came a chorus of disgruntled men, along with a couple very distinctive, "I ain't touching them!"

Most of the remaining men had not even been able to look over at their fallen comrades -- for one, they were naked and so vulnerable looking, and for another, all three had permanent erections. It was one thing seeing a buddy or colleague naked, but quite another seeing them "excited".

-"Oh, I'll do it! Rory, help me out here... Guys, those of you with boxers, take "em off and toss "em over here, we need three pair!" Noah asserted a leadership role.

The three candidates, actually the only three present who actually had boxers on were Wally, Tim and Amar. Grudgingly and yet ever so hastily, the three got out of their pants and handed their underwear to Noah, who had only just started to realize that he'd have to come dangerously close to touching his friend's erect penises just to get them "respectably" dressed.

-"Here! Take this!" Timothy threw his Puma sweatshirt at Rory who was now struggling to get Amar's boxers up Tanner's paralyzed legs. The sweatshirt hit Rory in the back of the head, causing him to jerk forward, again, coming dangerously close to touching Tanner's manhood.

-"Hey, guy watch it!" He turned to see Timothy now standing bare-chested, tapping his left foot impatiently.

-"Just hurry up guys, this whole scene is making me very nervous!" Tim encouraged.

-"K we need some socks guys or shoes guys..." Noah directed, having just fit Jarred's underwear onto Professor Markham's frozen body.

-"Why?" Rory asked. "They got here barefoot..." The statement resonated with Noah, who, only moments before, was holding Drake's and the Professor Markham's bare feet in his cupped arms, struggling to get the boxers on them.

-"Guys! Look at their feet!" Noah pointed to Drake's soles.

-"Yeah so what? They're barefoot, big deal! Come on!" Timothy seemed clueless and unilaterally focused on the singular objective of leaving.

-"Nah, I mean, they walked here through dirt and mud... Professor Markham even left muddy footprints in the soil --- and now look at his feet! They're clean, like they've been recently washed or something!" Noah picked up Drake's feet (they moved as a single entity) and held them up for all those to see.

Once again, this caused a stir in the group, the men trying to figure out what it all meant. Within a few seconds though, Jarred spoke above everyone else,

-"K, look I'm getting out of here, we can discuss their bare feet later, agreed? Let's move!'

Lifting the three frozen men proved difficult, like trying to move a dead-weight, there was zero co-operation, zero muscle movement, zero reaction to being forced upright onto their feet.

Amar helped Noah with Drake. Timothy helped Rory with Tanner and Jarred and Wally helped maneuver the professor out the door, following the others slowly back toward camp. Reuben took up the rear, helping all three groups as each appeared to need it.


Back at camp, the group of men exhausted from their trek, collapsed alongside the ramrod rigid bodies of their colleagues. Reuben brought out two of his canteens and passed them along after taking a large swig from each himself.

Everyone drank. The hot summer sun was hot enough so that even in the shade, they were sweltering. As each man gradually felt the flow of life come back into him, each became increasingly aware of how spooked they really were. If this wasn't real life, it would have made for quite the big screen epic, or dream... whichever.

Just looking at the professor, a once animated, intelligent and sly fox of a man, now lying frozen like that -- petrified, made all the men's hearts skip a beat or two. His face displayed no self-awareness, his eyes, while open, remained frozen, fixated straight ahead; his mouth was slightly open giving his whole face a blankness none of the students had ever seen before.

-"Alright! Now let's focus on trying to wake them up. Anyone here know anything about hypnotism or trance states?" Noah asked the group.

-"My grandfather was a magician in Kashmir!' Amar volunteered meekly, looking over his shoulder hoping that someone else had more of a background than he. Not one of the researchers had any previous experience with altered or hypnotic states. Neither did Amar for that matter, but his statement made him seem like the best candidate.

-"Oh come on guys! The only thing I know about hypnotism is what I've seen on TV and crap. I don't know how you wake them up! Why don't we try splashing water on their faces?" Amar suggested, thinking on the cuff.

-"Good idea!" Noah took a swig of water from the canteen and then poured the rest of its contents directly onto Drake's frozen face. To his credit, Drake's eyes didn't even flinch when the water hit them and ran down them. His stare remained as fixated as the professor's and Tanner's.

-"Slap him hard, on the face man!" Jarred suggested.

Noah slapped Drake's dripping face several times. Aside from the momentum caused by Noah's hand, Drake showed absolutely no sign of awareness of what was being done to him. The failures to get even the slightest reaction from Drake made the others go into conference mode.

-"Maybe they'll respond to a pain stimulus?" Wally volunteered as he snapped open his pen-knife.

-"What are you going to do?" Rory asked defensively, not sure what Wally had in mind.

-"I'm not gonna cut them or anything... just..." Wally stuck the tip of his knife into the sole of Professor Markham's dirty foot. Not deep enough to draw blood, but deep enough to leave an imprint -- zero reaction from the Professor. Getting so close to the professor's feet though Wally was struck,

-"Guys, remember what Noah said in the cabin...? How their feet were so clean, like they'd just been washed...? They had to have been washed -- look at their feet now, and we carried and pushed them back here mostly!"

-"There is probably some connection to that and the fact that the guys that go under take off their shoes and socks..." Noah thought aloud.

-"Well if their behavior is somehow tied to that amulet, then maybe the ancient people who made it imbued it with some kind of hypnotic power? And maybe this same culture had some kind of weird, tribal foot washing thing... it's not that uncommon among the ancient cultures and civilizations, even in Europe and Mesopotamia." Jarred reasoned and then added, "The foot-washing thing, not the hypnotizing thing!"

Again, the group erupted into a fifteen minute long debate, theories, speculations, arguments -- all the while the three hypnotized men remained ever motionless, propped up between two benches, their bodies forever unflinching.

-"Guys I know how to break their spell!" A voice from outside their immediate circle, spoke. The guys turned and were shocked to see Glen, standing there before them, shoes and socks on -- in fact, Glen was fully clothed!

-"Glen!" Came a chorus of nervous, leaderless academics, who were literally beginning to come unglued. Jarred and Pietrov approached Glen to pat him on the back, welcoming him back into the fold. Noah was eyeing Glen's sudden reappearance skeptically. They had seen Glen vanish into thin air, they saw him go into a spontaneous trance, take off his shoes and socks... And now, just like that, here he was? Something smelled fishy!

-"Glen!" Noah stood up from where he was sitting alongside the paralyzed Drake. "What the hell happened to you back there?"

Glen looked at the others before looking back at Noah with his response.

-"I... I was hypnotized or something... that thing had me under its power... but I broke free... I... I... fought it. I fought it. And the next thing I knew, I woke up on a pile of hay in that shack, you all had gone and I just vamoosed as fast as I could!"

Though bizarre and not at all provable, Glen's story seemed to ring true with everyone, in fact, several of the guys, most notably, Jarred and Pietrov were in the process of congratulating Glen's strong will, patting him on the back and giving him their 100% support. Like him or hate him, Glen did possess leadership qualities the others did not, however, much to his own surprise, Noah was seemingly capable of taking over as project leader if pushed into the role. Noah was still somewhat skeptical of Glen's reappearance -- his demeanor seemed... slightly different. Noah couldn't properly place it. Had he thought about it long and hard enough though, he would have realized that Glen didn't seem the least bit disturbed seeing Drake, Tanner and Professor Markham as frozen, tipped statues -- whereas before his experience, he was admittedly freaked out.

A few more volleys, attempts at waking up the sleeping trio failed of course, but a few of the more determined guys stuck with it. Rory and Noah even tried to "un-hypnotize" the trio verbally... no matter what they tried though, neither man-zombie gave even the slightest reaction. Eventually, even Rory and Noah grew tired of trying and trying and gave up, if for only a few hours. Afternoon siestas were not slack-breaks, they were needed. Between 1:30 and 4:30 pm, the sun was so hot it made working virtually impossible, without risking heat stroke. Even in the shade temperatures were known to reach up to 100 degrees sometimes more.

Noah left Rory with the three hypnotized men and retired to his tent for an hour of shut-eye. As he walked into his tent, he was immediately struck by what he saw. Glen was lying on his bed, naked and uncovered. But more shocking than that (around Glen's left ankle was the same amulet that Noah had consciously decided to leave at the hut. Noah quickly reasoned that Glen must have brought it back to camp with him, but if so, why was he sleeping with it around his foot?

Noah leaned in closer, hoping to examine the amulet at a safe enough distance. It was after all, wrapped around Glen's enormous foot.

Getting down on his knee he was within one foot of the medallion on Glen's left foot as Glen began to stir. But not in the traditional sense -- his left leg began to stir, ever so softly, as if Glen was masturbating or something. Noah quickly checked, and was relieved to see he wasn't. Still, the movement of Glen's bare foot back and forth, back and forth caused the amulet to glisten and gleam and Noah was for the first time, aware of it's awesome power. Unfortunately as he continued to gaze into it, he could feel his free will slip away -- slowly slip away, until nothing else in the universe existed but it and the foot that it was attached to...


Noah was back outside with Rory and the zombies fifteen minutes later.

-"I thought you were gonna take a nap?" Rory asked Noah, not even lifting the visor on his Yankees cap to look Noah straight in the face. Had he, he might have seen that something was not right.

-"I'll watch the guys, Glen wants to speak with you now!" Noah's voice was bland, a complete monotone, as if he were actually talking in his sleep.

-"Yes sir!" Rory jumped to his feet and saluted. When he got no reaction from the normally jovial Noah, he continued on to Glen and Noah's tent.


-"I don't understand, where did they all go?" Amar was scratching his head while wiping away the cobwebs from his mid-afternoon nap.

Pietrov and Jarred had run off in different directions, doing a complete perimeter check of the camp -- nothing!

Wally and Reuben were searching the tents. When Wally got to Glen's tent he stopped at the entryway and called for the others. There was something there they all needed to see.

The others arrived one at a time, confronted with three pairs of shoes, three pairs of socks, lying in an organized fashion at the foot of Noah's bed. Noah was nowhere to be seen and neither was Glen. Rory too for that matter, was also missing from the fray.

-"I guess these are Glen's, Noah's and Rory's..." Wally asserted, entering the tent slowly to check on the three pairs of sneakers and socks.

-"Fuck, what is going on?!" Timothy felt a sudden shiver run up his spine.

-"Ten bucks says I know where they all are!" Pietrov announced.

-"The hut!" Jarred and Wally said almost in unison. Without another word, the remaining men filed out of Glen's tent heading back up the ridge, past site F, towards the makeshift southerly path.

-"Guys? I think we have to stick together from now on... I mean, if whatever got to Glen, Rory and Noah..." Amar was now the one sounding like he was coming out of his own skin with worry.

-"Agreed." Jarred concurred, "We stick together!"


Meanwhile, back in Miami, Professor Thomas Walden was preparing a dissertation for a conference the University was hosting. He was just about ready to step out of his office and into his car to drive to the destination point when his text messaging chimed. Of course, being the ever-curious academic that he was, he stopped what he was doing to read it.

To say that Professor Walden's reaction was that of total stunned capitulation would have been an understatement. The note read:

Professor Walden:

Professor Markham and a team of research students (myself included) are in Guatemala on an archaeological dig and we need your help... Professor Markham and several researchers have gone missing and we've uncovered something of earth-shaking significance that must be seen to be believed. We require your assistance immediately!

Whatever you're doing -- drop it. You want to be here. And bring one member of the press -- preferably someone from the CNN team, perhaps Anderson Cooper or Bill Hemmer. They will be very grateful to you for providing them with this exclusive.

We have found the lost city of Palukhan! Coordinates __-__-__.

It was signed, Glen Davison, Research associate to Professor Markham.

-"That bastard!" Thomas Walden began to curse under his breath. "I knew he wasn't taking a second sabbatical! Bloody liar! The city of Palukhan?! If they found Palukhan, then they've opened up a Pandora's Box the likes of which..." The professor's thoughts were bouncing all over the place. Finally deciding on his only course of action he picked up the phone and dialed his assistant's extension.

-"Maria, extend my deepest apologies to the Geological Society, I won't be able to make this afternoon's conference. Book me on the first flight to Guatemala! Oh, and get me Bill Hemmer on the phone... yes, of CNN. Tell him we met at Senator Landry's Christmas party in Washington, last year. Yes. I need to speak with him immediately!"


Six days had passed since Glen had sent that text message to Professor Walden in Miami, and, news crew and reporter in tow, they were now moments away from the coordinates that Markham's assistant had sent.

-"So professor, exactly what sort of stuff can we expect to see here... in the middle of nowhere?" A curious Bill Hemmer asked, still somewhat in disbelief that his producer allowed for this sort of trip. It was one thing if they knew exactly what type of finds they were going to be seeing, but in this case, no one on Professor Walden's end could have prepared them for what they were about to find.

The camp, upon first glimpse seemed abandoned. It was one o'clock in the afternoon, so Professor Walden tossed his bag on the first available bench and proceeded to scout, Bill, a few paces away.

-"Looks deserted!' Bill commented, popping a cherry lifesaver while scanning the vicinity.

-"Looks can be deceiving sometimes!' Walden chirped back, walking up to what was Professor Markham's tent. Opening the side flap and peering in, Professor Walden could not believe his eyes. Lying there, on the floor of Professor Markham's tent, were twelve men, professor Markham and his research team -- all the men were naked, all were lying in the identical positions -- at attention, frozen almost.

-"What the hell is this?' Dr. Walden took a few steps out of the tent, knocking into Bill Hemmer as he did so.

-"You look like you've seen a ghost!" Bill eyed Walden suspiciously before opening the tent's flap and taking a look-see of his own.

Like Dr. Walden, Bill's eyes had widened to twice their original size, his backward steps indicative of his level of upset.

-"Are they....d....dead?" He asked, gulping hard, swallowing his pride as he did so. If he had to pee he might have even wet himself. What the hell was that?

Just then an alarm of sorts seemed to emanate from inside the tent and within seconds, a trail of naked men began to exit the tent, each in his own world.

Glen walked out first followed by Rory and Jarred. The men remained naked and equally oblivious to Dr. Walden's and the others presence. Dr. Markham came out next almost immediately after Jarred. Walden grabbed his colleague by the shoulders and shook him hard.

-"Francis! What in blazes is wrong with you!" He screamed into Markham's face.

-"I must obey." Dr. Markham sleepily replied before continuing on after Jarred. Tanner and Reuben followed, then Noah and Wally, then Amar and Pietrov, finally Timothy and Drake brought up the rear. Each man sported an ever-present erection, each man seemed to be on some kind of mission, each heading toward what the Professor had previously called site "F".

-"Follow them!" Bill Hemmer ordered his assistant. "And make sure you get this on tape! This is unbelievable! Professor, what's wrong with them?" Bill Hemmer asked as he trekked up the hill alongside Walden, adrenaline pumping.

-"Darned if I know!" He answered in between huffs and puffs. Years of cigarette smoking had weakened Professor Walden some, particularly when it came to cardiovascular exertion.

The assembly of naked men began taking their places along the perimeter of the now expanded site F. One by one the men fell to their knees, staring into the excavated pit as if watching the most engrossing movie known to mankind.

-"Franics?! What is wrong with you?!" Professor Walden called out to his colleague, once again getting no reaction.

-"They seem to be in some kind of trance Professor. How do you explain this?" Bill Hemmer's voice had changed, he was now "reporting', the camera was on, panning up and down the line of naked kneeling men.

-"Bill, turn that off, unless you plan on blurring their faces!'

Suddenly the men changed positions, sitting with their rumps on the soil, their legs extended ramrod into the open pit.

-"Now what are they doing?" Bill Hemmer asked.

-"I don't know!' Professor Walden was processing the scene before him, trying to go through all the files in his mind -- anything that seemed even remotely similar to this. He knew of several cultures in which mind-altering substances and techniques were used. Perhaps the lost city of Palukhan revealed some of this ancient magic onto the unsuspecting researchers? But how was it delivered? Were the men injected, did they eat or drink something that affected them? There were still too many questions to offer a cogent analysis.

-"Bill, help me take one of them back to camp -- I can examine him there!" There was a subtle hue of defeat in Professor Walden's tone.

-"Which one?" Bill scanned the group, looking for the smallest guy present. "How "bout him? He seems to be the smallest!" Bill pointed at the blonde-haired Wally.

-"Fine! Let's get him up!" Professor Walden walked to the other side of the hole, taking hold of Wally's left underarm while Bill grabbed his right. Together, and with all their combined strength, they were barely able to get Wally to his feet. It was a struggle but they made it back to camp where they positioned Wally's petrified body onto the Professor's cot. Stepping back, somewhat exhausted, they once again tried to process what was going on.

-"Young man!" Professor Walden touched Wally on his shoulder as he spoke to him more sternly. "Can you hear me? What is your name?"

Wally displayed no signs of animation.

-"Could it be some kind of post-traumatic stress thing Doctor?" Bill asked curiously. "Maybe they were scared into this state?!"

-"I'd wager not. Let me try something! Young man! I command you to tell me your name!" The professor now grabbed Wally by both shoulders forcing his body out of its elongated position.

-"Wally Hastings, master."

-"Master?!" Bill and his assistant repeated practically in unison. "What the?" Kip echoed after.

The professor let go of Wally allowing his body to resume its elongated position.

-"Bill, Kip, what you're seeing here is some kind of ancient magic, mind-control magic that has taken over this young man's mind and all the others out there. I suspected as much when Francis said "he must obey'. I know this sounds nuts Bill, but you'd be surprised to find out how many things academics like me uncover only to have the government swoop down, classify it as an unknown, potentially dangerous anomaly, upon which time, the artifact winds up disappearing, never to been seen of again! It's damned frustrating!"

-"What sorts of finds are we talking about here professor? Surely not magical mind-control devices as you suggest? I mean, that kinda stuff is all sci-fi, not part of Earth's past! C'mon Doc!" Bill protested, unsure of himself or his argument, but determined to get some more information out of the professor. He even signaled Kip to begin filming casually as Professor Walden made his way to the foot of the army-issue cot.

The professor stared at the CNN News Anchorman, seemingly deciding how much or how little to tell him. He finally cleared his throat and began to speak, albeit tactically.

-"Bill, suffice it to say, I can tell you stories from several colleagues of mine that would have your head spinning, but I've had my own encounter with government bureaucracies on a dig ten years ago that I can tell you about first hand." Professor Walden spoke as he lifted one of Wally's rigid legs into the air, examining the young man's bare sole.

-"Doctor? What are you doing?" Bill asked, curiously weirded out by the professor's odd behavior.

-"I'm checking the young man's feet! If you want to know why, you have to prepare yourself for a brief history lesson!"

-"I'm listening! Kip, make sure you get this!" Bill directed his rust-haired intern-assistant.

-"No! No cameras! We can't! In fact, Kip, wait outside!" Professor Walden barked. Kip, ever so loyal to his boss, looked for confirmation from Bill, which he got in the form of a defeated nod and a noticeable tilt in his head motion toward the tent's entrance.

Kip turned off his camera and exited the tent, solemnly, without a word.

-"Ok professor Mysterio... out with it! What's up with this mind control stuff and what's the whole foot angle?" Bill was in hammer mode now.

-"Many ancient civilizations, from around the globe practiced the art of foot-worship Bill, often taking the form of foot-washing rituals. The reasons for this are varied but there is one very ancient textual source of a foot worshipping cult going back over 50,000 years -- the cult, in its original form, was all male, and its primary purpose was to recruit other males to join its ranks. What we consider the rituals of the ancients, Biblical figures for instance, washing the feet of strangers, were in fact, historical carry-overs from an even more ancient history we previously knew nothing about."

-"This is nuts! You mean in this ancient history, some 50,000 years ago, mankind possessed greater technological advancement than we do now? Is that what you're saying?"

-"Portions of mankind did. Remember, I said this was like a cult -- a cult that spread in all directions of the Earth -- seeding several civilizations that rose and fell in it's own wake. But several did survive and went on to become us. Back in the mid 90's, Elizabeth Shank, a PhD in archaeology and expert in primitive societies, unearthed an incredible bracelet which her field notes indicated had the power to control men's minds. She apparently discovered this quite by chance when upon wearing it, all the men in her research expedition would drop to their knees, enthralled, enchanted by her, pledging their loyal obedience and slavery to her. You understand Bill, Elizabeth Shank is a woman in her late sixties. Her team consisted of ten researchers, all male, along with ten local men -- all twenty were under her power according to her own field notes. In fact, the men were so under her power that they would have given up their lives for her." Professor Walden cleared his throat, before concluding, "Her words, not mine!"

-"Sounds like a fairy tale if you ask me! Whatever happened to her?!" Bill challenged.

-"She mailed those notes to another colleague of mine before her entire research team went missing! Her final log entry said something about enjoying the power she now wielded over those twenty men. She decided it was time for an early retirement and wanted to take her life into a new direction. And no one has ever seen or heard from her or her team since! Oh, only a bunch of us know the whole story as far as I know. But the man who Elizabeth sent her notes to... was visited by several security agencies, both national and International. The log was retrieved. End of story."

-"So, let me get this straight -- this weird ancient society, had a cult of men that worshipped other men's feet? And in order to recruit these otherwise straight men, they had to devise of a way to get these men pliable... under their influence? And so that's where the mind-control stuff comes in?"

-"Yes. There are actual devices that have been unearthed all over the world which are now held as classified by various governments. These devices have the ability to control men's minds."

-"Amazing. What about the women?" Bill was processing all the information the Professor had given him. Instinctively he wanted to call out to his assistant to re-enter, but he was too busy with his thoughts. Even had he called for Kip, he'd have gotten no answer though. Kip had decided to return to Site F, to check on those guys again. Weirdest thing he'd ever seen he thought as he made his way up the ridge to the dig site.

-"Interestingly, there have been four of these devices found globally and after what we saw here today, I'd say Professor Markham has somehow unearthed a fifth piece of the puzzle... Hmmm. Where was I? Oh yes, the women. In all cases women have proven immune to the devices' effects. Don't ask me why, but my guess is because the origin of that cult was all male, these devices were designed to specifically trigger something in the male humanoid brain."

Bill looked on at the professor in awe. He couldn't believe what he had been hearing, it was all so... shocking, and yet, several times during the professors ministrations he found himself unwittingly adjusting his crotch, after several inadvertent twitches expanded his package some.

-"I have to admit professor, I'm not gay, but if I was, I'd find this all very erotic, in a weird S & M sorta way." Bill smiled at Professor Walden who was now looking through the professor's office space for any sign of field notes, personal logs, anything that might give him a lead... a clue as to what started this. The professor lifted his head, seemingly amused by Bill's comments.

-"Oh c'mon Bill! Everyone knows you're gay! You don't have to hide it. What's the big deal in this day and age?" The professor went back to his snooping, not wanting to make prolonged eye contact with the now floored anchorman.

-"Ok, how did you know? I play it both ways by the way' He admitted meekly, shyly.

-"Remember that party we met at?"

-"Yeah, Christmas right? A couple of years ago?"

-"You left the party with my one of my colleagues, Dean Sagan? Department Chair of Psychology, you remember?" Professor Walden egged on.

-"Yeah." Bill was forced to concede remembering back to that night with the blonde-haired Dean -- it was near perfect but for the fact that Professor Sagan had told him that he was much older than the guys he normally dates.

-"It was weird too, "cause Sagan often goes for the college crowd if you get my drift, not someone in his thirties. But a lot of the women there kept reminding me, "Bill's a real dream', so I figured, great, what do I know?! So, it never worked out with you guys?" Professor Walden's tone changed to one of more sympathy.

-"'Fraid not. No, like you said, Sagan likes his guys younger!" Bill couldn't believe he had been outed all this time and had not even realized it. Sure there were internet rumors and speculation but he had been so careful to control how his personal life filtered into his professional one, he was literally floored by how flip and casual the professor was about it. Walden caught on too.

-"What, you think it's some big deal? Who cares?"

-"My producer cares, that's who cares. My biggest demographic draw is women. 19 thru 40 particularly strong. They find out I'm gay or bi or whatever and we lose that entire market. This is Wall Street big business not corner-store politics Doc!"

-"Whatever you say Bill. Look, I can't find any notes pertaining to this dig, not one word!" The professor threw some scraps of paper to the floor and made for the tent's entryway, Bill a few paces behind him.

-"Where are we going?" He asked the professor.

The professor opened the tent flap, took a few steps out, peering off in all directions.

-"We're going to find your assistant first, then we're going to bring Professor Markham back here. Maybe we can command some answers out of him!"

-"Kip?" Bill stepped out in front of the professor and began calling for his cameraman. "KIP! KIP!!"

-"Let's get up that ridge again. Lungs... do your thing!" Professor Walden coughed once before determinedly setting out toward the hill.

At the top, it was Bill to speak first.

-"Uh, Doc? Where are they?" Bill looked off in all directions.

-"Bill, look!" Professor Walden pointed to a spot on the ground ten feet from where Bill was standing. "Recognize those?"

Bill walked up to the mound of earth where the sneakers and socks were lying. He picked up one shoe, held at his eye level and then dropped it, somewhat freaked. "It's Kip's!" He barely muttered aloud.

-"We'll find him Bill! Look! There's a trail of footprints going off in that direction! Let's follow them!"

-"What about the hypnotized kid in the tent?" Bill asked, suddenly unsure if he wanted to follow the professor on his mission of discovery. After everything the professor told him about what might be going on, Bill was a jumble of nerves. Now with Kip walking around barefoot and probably under the same hypnotic influence as the others, a mild panic attack swept over the seasoned news reporter.

-"Professor, I think maybe I better stay with Wally! I mean what if he wakes up or something?"

-"If you like. I'd like to have you with me though. There's only two of us left at this point, if we split up...'

Bill quickly reconsidered.

-"Agreed. Lead on!"

The two trekked down the same path the others had been on many times now, down to the dirt road, toward the shack in the distance.

-"They must have gone in there!" Professor Walden pointed as the two continued to walk in its general direction.

-"All of them? That's a pretty small place for all of those guys to be in at the same time, don't you think?" Bill took out his glasses and put them on for the first time, confirming his suspicions. "That little hut couldn't hold twelve people?!"

-"It's our only lead Bill. We have to check it out.'

Walking at a steady pace the two reached the hut moments later. Professor Walden swung the rickety door open and like Glen and the others before him, was immediately struck by the scene he was witnessing. Bill saw it next.

-"Kip! What the hell are you doing? Kip!" Bill near-yelled at his young assistant who appeared none the wiser.

Kip was on the floor. Naked. Kneeling. In one hand, he had one guy's foot another guy's bare foot in the other. Swaying back and forth rhythmically, Kip was licking the sole of one foot once then licking the other, then going back to the first in repeated sequence.

-"He's in a trance Bill, just like the others!"

-"How do we wake him up?" Bill twitched nervously.

From behind Bill, the door squeaked open again. Expecting trouble, both Bill and the professor turned aggressively, readying to fight if necessary. It wasn't. Standing at the makeshift threshold of the hut, was Wally, hypnotized as ever, he walked right past Bill and Professor Walden, taking his place on the floor alongside the paralyzed Professor Markham.

-"This is nuts! How can we help them?!" Bill whined nervously, his eyes dancing around the room, unable to stay focused on any particular spot.

-"There's no way to help them. They are lost." Came a voice from the doorway.

Again, turning in confrontation mode, Bill and Professor Walden were surprised to see another young man, of Asian decent, standing there. The professor looked him over quickly deciding he did not recognize him from the university.

-"Don't be alarmed. My name is Hoshi. I'm a graduate student from the University of Kyoto, Japan. My team, I fear, has met the same fate as yours!"

-"You speak English rather well...?" Bill Hemmer extended his hand. "Bill... Bill Hemmer!"

Professor Walden followed suit. "Professor Thomas Walden, nice to meet you."

Hoshi took in the site before him and it was deja-vu all over again.

-"Professor, Bill, what I'm seeing here is exactly the same thing I saw with my group several months ago. They were all hypnotized like that and I couldn't wake them up!" Hoshi explained.

-"Months?!" Professor Walden enquired. "You've been surviving out here alone for months?! Why haven't you gone for help? What have you been doing here for all this time?" A raised eyebrow and folded arms followed the skeptical sounding question.

Hoshi looked at Bill briefly, looked down at the Earth beneath his feet, and then spoke, ever so softly.

-"Ok. I was... I..." The young Japanese man's voice quivered with stress as he seemed to recall something of import. "I... I was his slave too!" He finally blurted it out.

-"Who's slave Hoshi?! Whose slave were you?" Professor Walden pushed further.

Hoshi swallowed hard before continuing. "He's not human... he's... an entity... he drains the will of men to feed and grow. I... he rejected me. Kicked me out because... because..." Hoshi turned a bright shade of pink as he stumbled on his words.

-"Because why? Why do you suppose it rejected you?!" Professor Walden asked.

-"...Because I'm gay! There I said it! The entity can only feed off the will of straight, heterosexual males. Once it realized that I was gay, it... it... repelled me. Made me watch as it did things to all my colleagues..." Hoshi dropped to his knees, whimpering and recoiling, hiding his eyes from the line of naked men and Kip, still feasting away on feet.

-"Professor? I vote that we leave here now!" Bill pushed.

Professor Walden did not answer. In his mind, a voice was speaking, as clear as if it were Bill's voice.

"Surrender your will and sleep...Obey my voice and sleep... Just sleep... Follow my voice...Come to me...Obey..."

Professor Walden began walking in the direction of the hay bed, entranced, one singular mission in his mind, to obey the voice now resonating through his very being. There was no choice, it was, as if both his mind and body were in fact being controlled by a non-present source, a puppet-master.

-"What the hell is going on here? Professor?! PROFESSOR?!" Bill tried grabbing the professor by the shoulders but he was stopped by another pair of hands. Turning, he saw Hoshi holding him back. "Hoshi, I gotta help him!"

-"Your friend is lost. They have him now!" The Japanese student said as blandly as if it were a recitation of yesterday's weather. He pulled Bill back, towards the door just as Professor Walden was taking off his shoes.

-"Ok. Let's bolt!" Bill agreed with Hoshi. "Lead the way!"

-"My camp is about three miles south!" Hoshi pointed off in a southerly direction.

-"Three miles?! Hoshi, our camp is less than half a mile from here. It'd be a lot quicker if we retraced my steps back to my group's camp. Besides, I want to snoop around there some... find out whatever I can about what the hell is going on here. Professor Walden was onto something I know he was... ancient mind control rituals, ancient foot worshipping cults... I need more to go on!" Bill was trying to think what he could possibly do. "My satellite phone! When we get back to camp, I'll call my producer, they'll send backup, or help or whatever!"

Hoshi looked curiously at Bill as the two made their way down to the dirt pathway. "You don't think I'm here because I want to be here, do you?" He asked Bill, suddenly stopping in his tracks and folding his arms.

-"What do you mean?"

-"It wants me here. As long as I'm here, others will come to look for me, and then it can enslave those others. If you call in your television people, it'll just enslave them just like it did to that Guatemalavian journalist and his news-crew. They were here a while ago, and I watched each one fall, one-by-one!"

Now it was Bill's turn to look at Hoshi questioningly. "Just how many men does this entity or thing need, ya know, before he gets indigestion or whatever...?"

-"You think this is funny Mr. Hemmer? Can I take it, you're gay?" Hoshi asked the now stunned news reporter.

-"What is it written on my forehead or what?!" Bill responded angrily.

-"No, but I can sense it in you. You see... Mr. Hemmer... I was a part of that thing for a few days -- it owned me. It owned my mind. It owned my soul. It owned every fiber of my physical being from the tip of my scalp to my two small toes. While it owned me, it learned... about my experiences, my fears mostly, my negative side... it changed me quite frankly... I don't know if it's for the good or for the bad, but one way I am changed is that I can sense things now that I couldn't before. From the moment you introduced yourself to me something told me I'd be having some company tonight!" Hoshi winked playfully at Bill, who seemed to be in no mood for games.

-"Hoshi, let's just get back to camp and figure out what we're gonna do, ok?"

-"Sure thing Mr. Hemmer. Whatever you say. Your wish is my command!" Again Hoshi winked and this time Bill did send out a nanosecond's worth of smiley-brights.

The two said nothing to each other on the walk back to camp. Hoshi, taking up the rear kept thinking how he'd "planted" enough suggestions in Bill's mind that a liaison between the two was not at all ruled out. While Bill took up the lead position on the half hour walk back to camp, he kept thinking about things he and Hoshi were going to look for when back at base-camp.


-"Success! Hoshi! Hoshi! Get your ass in here!" Bill yelled from Rory and Tanner's tent. Bill kept reading from a pile of Tanner's field notes.

Hoshi appeared moments later. "What did you find?!"

Bill shoved the notes in Hoshi's face.

-"These notes belong to Professor Markham's chief assistant -- look at what he writes at the bottom of the page -- "the amulet we unearthed today was so incredibly crafted it looked like it came from another world!" Are you reading that part yet?" Bill was beside himself with excitement, he knew not why. For even if Professor Walden's suspicions could be confirmed and it was some weird amulet controlling the men, what then? How would knowing this help Bill and Hoshi devise a plan to help their friends?

-"Bill, I'm afraid there's nothing in these notes that's either new or helpful. My team uncovered a ring... I saw it. It was amazing. It was as if it originated on another world... I even held it. In fact, I'm pretty sure, as soon as I tried the ring on, it, he, whatever, was able to take over my mind. It happened like that with all of us on the expedition. I suspect something similar happened to your team."

-"They aren't my team exactly. I was brought here to report on some new archaeological finds, not rescue a bunch of mind-controlled men!" Bill shivered at the thought of what he was still doing there. "Look, Hoshi, maybe we should both just leave? You know? Either forget this place altogether or send the army back here. Between you and me, I'm not a hero!" He conceded with a sigh.

Hoshi eyed Bill up and down. The newsreporter was certainly a sight to be had and Hoshi wanted him, but he suppressed those feelings for now.

-"Bill, we cannot leave here.... It... it won't let you leave!" Hoshi eyes dropped to floor.

-"Nonsense! We have several jeeps and trucks here, we can leave anytime we want. In fact, let's get outta this place, right now, ok?!" Bill took three steps toward the flap of Tanner's tent and opened it, only to be confronted by three naked men standing like a complete blockade.

-"Whoa! Where did they come from?" Bill stumbled back.

-"They are his slaves. They go wherever he needs them." Hoshi replied knowingly. "And right now, he wants us here!"

-"How the hell do you know that?!"

-"Don't you think if I was able to leave I would have left here by now? It's been several months since my team was taken. They're gone. I'm here. I'm the lure. Just like I'm pretty sure, you're also a lure!"

-"A lure?! For what?!" Bill Hemmer was getting increasingly exasperated with Hoshi's two-bit explanations.

-"To bring other men here! You know, in search of you!"

-"That's just plain stupid, I have a satellite phone and text messaging service, I can get a copter here for us in an hour!"

Bill reached for the phone in his shirt pocket, opened it and began texting a message to his colleagues back in New York.

We're stuck here in the jungle... if you could send us a chopper from Guatemala city to pick us up at the following coordinates... -------- thank you!

-"That's just what it wanted you to do! Now there will likely be two more men arriving here who will not leave!"

-"Hoshi, as soon as the chopper arrives here, I intend to be on it, if I have to plow through those naked hypno-zombies out there. Whatever it takes!"

Hoshi looked over Bill skeptically. He was confident enough, but confidence had nothing to do with the battle ahead... strategy, that's what was required and Hoshi was formulating his one of his own.


For over an hour the three men stood outside the tent like sentinels, guarding the entrance to some important fortress. Inside the tent, the air was growing thick with the smell of musky perspiration and deep thought.

-"We could try reasoning our way out?!" Bill volunteered meekly, knowing his suggestion was stupid. Then it dawned on him... they could cut through the back of the tent and exit that way.

-"Hoshi! I have an idea!" He grabbed his pocket pen-knife and made a beeline to the far end of Tanner's tent. Crouching, he began to cut at the lightweight canvas material, instantly getting through. He cut a hole big enough for him to crawl through and without even waiting on Hoshi, he crawled out the newly created back-entrance, right into three pairs of hairy legs, one of which, the least hairiest, was his cameraman and assistant's Kip's.

-"Kip! Come on snap outta it! Come on buddy, it's me, Billy Hemmer, the Hemmster! You remember me don't you guy?!" Bill pleaded with the blank-faced young man, whose stance, like his two counterparts, was unyielding. He would not be allowed to crawl past them and he knew it. Defeated, he crawled backwards into the tent, which at least now was aerated better thanks to it's new back-flap.

-"Mr. Hemmer, this isn't a game! We will not be able to defeat this power by thinking conventionally -- we have to somehow take ourselves back to that time!"

Just as Bill was about to question the young Japanese researcher further, his phone beeped. It was a text message coming through -- a CNN Chopper was on it's way ETA -- three and a half hours.

-"Great, just great! Three and a half more hours of this!"

-"Mr. Hemmer, you have to call the chopper off! If they come here, the men in the chopper will be enslaved just like the rest of them!"

-"Hoshi, we have to try! I for one am not gonna haul up here in the jungle for the rest of my life, ok? I came here for a story, now I am the story! I can see it now: CNN's morning anchorman kidnapped and held by a group of hypnotized naked men! Can you hear that?" Bill asked Hoshi, defeatedly.

-"No... Hear what?!"

-"The sound of that toilet flushing -- you know, the one that was my career!"

-"Mr. Hemmer, if I may, our first order of business should be to try and figure out a way out of this tent, if that's even possible! You're talking about a way out of this place, and you must realize, it owns this place, in fact, to put it more accurately, it is this place!"

-"K, now you're freakin' me out Hoshi, ok, I don't need more things to trip up my mind at the...." Bill voice trailed off into oblivion as the front tent flap opened and a Japanese man Bill did not recognize summoned him out of the tent.

Bill stood and walked toward the man, who was now walking toward the mess-tent. Hoshi stood and followed. He recognized the young Japanese man that had beckoned Bill out of the tent -- it was his former tent-mate Miramitsu Okisha.

-"Mira!!" Hoshi yelled after his naked friend who, not surprisingly showed no signs of having heard him.

-"Bill!" Hoshi tried, but like Miramitsu, Bill was enchanted, walking like a sleepwalker into the mess tent and an uncertain future.


-"Are you sure these are the coordinates?" Alex Torkinson asked his co-pilot.

-"These were the corrected coordinates we got just as we took off!" Rico Sanchez confirmed, checking his screen and pad for possible error.

-"There's nothing here but trees!" Alex protested. "They can't be here!"

-"Do you want to try the original coordinates we had? See what's there?" Rico asked his partner.

-"Why not! I'm not busy at the moment. Besides, it was weird how we got the course correction right after we took off! Yeah... let's check that first set of coordinates!" Alex decided, before programming them into the on-board GPS.


Hoshi watched from outside the mess-tent as Bill Hemmer, like all the other hypnotized men, took off his clothes and began to worship at the feet of two researchers Hoshi did not recognize.

What Hoshi did recognize was Bill's satellite phone, now sitting on the bare floor, having come out of his shirt pocket when it was discarded.

Hoshi grabbed the phone and looked at the call/text log. He re-read Bill's text message request and confirmation of the helicopter and thought quickly.

If I can't get them to not come, maybe I can get them to go to the wrong place!

He quickly re-typed a new set of coordinates along with a quick note "from Bill" and hit the send button. It was his only hope of saving whoever was being dispatched from a fate that he and all the others seemed destined to not escape from -- eternity in Palukhan, a male sex-slave, or in his case, an observer and lure. Hoshi wondered how long it would be before Bill Hemmer was ultimately dejected from the being's inner harem. Once it realized for certain that was Bill was gay, it would certainly expel Bill much as it had him.

All around him now, the men of both research expeditions and several were engaged in acts of lust and body worship. There was no sex going on, at least none that Hoshi was able to see, but all the men present seemed to have erections that wouldn't go away, and there was no question, all of them were excited and enjoying themselves.

To his immediate right, on the outside benches and tables were four men; two were sprawled out on the tables themselves while the other two proceeded to orally service them, from head to toe. Hoshi had seen this scene play out several times before, but each time, despite all his efforts, he would get hard. With no one around to scorn him, he whipped out his uncut penis and began stroking it, his eyes completely taking in the saliva baths the two naked men were in the process of getting.

It wasn't long before Hoshi exploded all over himself, panting, in lust for the four men he was so focused on, but once again, maintaining enough self-control so as not to take advantage of their vulnerable states. He wanted to, but ultimately couldn't.

As he wiped the semen off his stomach with his soiled t-shirt, he decided, to finally discard it. He had been wearing it for quite a while now and the thing looked like it had come from Nagasaki circa 1945. With all the clothing probably available at this camp, he'd have a new pair clothes, right after his shower.


-"There's a small clearing over there!" Alex pointed to a brief break in the tree-line.

-"Roger! We can set "er down there!" Rico pointed as well.

-"I don't see anyone yet! You?" Alex asked his partner on the left.

-"Nada amigo!" Rico confirmed as they set the chopper down in the small jungle clearing, turning off its engine as soon as it was safely down.

Rico jumped out of the chopper first, scanning the area for any sign of human activity.

Alex was right behind him, also looking off in all directions now, coming up short.

Then from the far end of the clearing a few men seemed to appear, walking toward them in even, coordinated footfalls. Then a few more men, appeared behind that initial group, and a few more, and then even more. It was now, a small crowd of men approaching the two pilots, but being several hundred yards away it was impossible to tell that none of these men were wearing any clothing.

-"Shit! There's a whole buncha them here! Bill's message didn't say anything about there being this many people here in need of evac!" Alex noted to Rico, worried that they'd be doing back-and-forth trips for days with their present chopper, if they indeed had to taxi all these people back to civilization.

Rico noticed it first.

-"Hey Alex, take a look, those guys look naked!"

-"Nah they're not...holy shit, they are naked!" Alex took a few more steps closer to the group of men, who were still approaching them.

-"Shit, what are they queers or something?" Rico asked Alex.

Alex had heard rumors about Bill Hemmer being gay, but this was not his style and he couldn't make out Bill in the group of naked bodies quickly approaching.

-"Hey, we're here for Bill Hemmer, of CNN!" Alex shouted to the oncoming group. There was no answer. Instead the men continued walking toward the two pilots, determined to make contact, determined to make sure they didn't leave this place, ever again.

-"Uh, Alex... I think something is wrong here." Rico began backing up as the faces of some of the men in the front gradually came into focus. As they did, Rico could see the men were not themselves.

-"Possessed! They're possessed!" Rico announced before running back to the chopper.

-"Don't be ridiculous, they're not possessed. They're probably just... holy shit, look at their eyes! They are possessed or mesmerized or something!" Alex spouted out nervously before noticing a somewhat familiar face in the crowd of men, Kip, Bill Hemmer's red-haired assistant-intern. Alex had met Kip and Bill once before and he could tell that this was not the Kip with whom he had previously interacted.

-"Rico, let's get outta here man!" Alex bolted back toward the helicopter only to notice that Rico was standing just outside it, his hand holding the door open, his body frozen, unmoving.

-"Rico! Let's go man!' Alex ordered. Still his co-pilot was not moving a muscle.

-"Rico!!" Alex shouted now as a large warm hand grabbed his shoulder from behind and turned him "round.

-"Bill? Bill, what's going on here?!" Alex asked his CNN colleague who seemed completely oblivious.

-"Come with me Alex. Come!" Was all Bill said and he turned to walk back in the direction the group had just come from. The rest of the men followed suit, turning and walking back, this time however, followed by an entranced Rico and a scared-shitless helicopter pilot.

-"This better be some kind of joke or something Hemmer!" Hemmer!? Damn TV personality-types!" Alex relented, reluctantly following Rico and the group of naked men back into the bush, toward Professor Markham's former research camp, now, an all-male harem. The only fully conscious man in the group, Alex could in no way prepare himself for the orgy of ancient sexual and psychic energy that awaited him just a few hundred yards away...

To be continued?