“Alright, let’s stop here,” I paused and signaled to the party behind me. I surveyed the clearing as people began to put up tents. It was the seven month of our exploration looking for Reino Dorado. I had searched for nine long years, dedicating my life to the discovery of the ancient Aztec kingdom.

I pulled my leatherbound journal out of my backpack, and sat down on the ground to report today’s findings. My intern and younger cousin, Tasha, approached me cautiously. She knew I was getting a bit restless.

“Sabrina?” she asked. “What would you like me to do?”

I sighed and pulled out two maps, one yellowed with age and written in spanish, and the other covered with a bunch of jumbled markings and notes scribbled in dark purple sharpie.

“Try and find a water source,” I replied, studying the maps for the thousandth time today. “And try to find some more food, we’re starting to run a tad low on rations. Remember-”

“Berries of peach and pine are deliciously divine, while berries of indigo and umber leave you clutching to a lifeline . You taught me the rhyme when I was little.” she smiled.

“Take Dustin with you,” I waved my hand at a tall, strong-built man putting up a tent on the other side of the clearing. Tasha nodded and skipped off towards Dustin, tapping him on the shoulder and heading off towards the jungle.

I looked at the maps, the notes and drawings blurring together until my mind couldn’t comprehend them anymore. My vision bounced back and forth between the two maps, but it was no use. There was nothing new to study, nothing new to notice or take note of. It was like playing ‘Spot the Difference’ with all of the answers circled in red.

It was no use. I’d never find it. The vibrant images of published books, lectures, and a professorship all faded in my mind. They were replaced with doubt, debt, self-criticism, and misery. Those images burned in my brain, only the tiniest shred of hope still left.

“Sabrina?” another voice asked. My best friend, Charlene, Charlie, Swanson and her boyfriend, Emilio Robinson, were standing next to me, staring down at the maps in my hands. Charlie and I had bonded in college, both of us fascinated with ancient architecture. When I had gotten the grant for the trip, I had instantly invited her along. Emilio was one of our spanish guides, who specialized in helping american tourists.

“Yea, Charlie?” I sighed and lowered the maps for a moment, rubbing my temples. Charlie, noticing my stress, sat down on the ground next to my and rubbed my shoulders.

“Hey,” she comforted assuringly. “It’s going to be okay. You’ll find it.”

I glanced up at her and smiled.

“Let me see these,” Charlie picked up the maps, handling the aged one with skilled care. She studied them for a moment, scanning the pages carefully and taking in my marks. She brushed her fingers against the words at the top of the yellowed map, which belonged to 15th century conquistador, Barros Agustín Diego Pérez. It was one of the only remaining documentations of the ancient city.

“El hombre sólo puede soñar con los tesoros que se encuentran en el reino dorado.”

“Man can only dream of the treasures that lie in the golden kingdom.”

A scream echoed from the jungle, and Dustin came running out.

“Sabrina! Come quick!” he yelled.

My and Charlie’s eyes connected for a split second. I jumped to my feet and dashed into the jungle, trailing behind Dustin. Tasha was sprawled on the ground, blood pouring from a large gash spanning the length of her shin.

“I tripped on that rock,” Tasha grimaced, pointing at the lump stick up out of the ground.

“You’ll be okay,” I told her soothingly. I looked at the rock. Something seemed off. I crouched down next to it and rapped it with my knuckles. It was hollow. I tore the earth out from around it, digging with my hands. 

Charlie and Emilio came rushing up along with a medic. They paused and watched as the entity was freed. Dirt clung to my fingernails as I pulled the object out the ground. Holes and grooves were engraved into it. I turned it around and dropped it immediately.

It was a mangled, rotting, skull.

Charlie gasped and knelt down next to me to study it.

“Amazing,” she stuttered, and used her pinky finger to flip the skull over. I wasn’t listening. My eyes were trained on the chain of similar discolored bumps leading into an area of high density foliage.

I rose slowly, and drew the machete out of Emilio’s belt. He didn’t protest. His eyes were fixed on the skull. I approached the vegetation cautiously, both frightened and thrilled to see what was on the other side.

I slashed the machete through the leaves, the remnants dropping in my wake. The wall of greenery was not as thick as I had expected, and the machete swung at air, nearly hitting me with the force I had applied. 

A bottle, cracked and crumbling with age, was pounded into the dirt. I couldn’t see the contents of the bottle, the glass long clouded from it’s time in the dirt. I grasped the neck and pulled. I fell backwards as the bottle was released from its earthy prison. I hurriedly sat up and uncorked the bottle. Charlie kneeled down behind me and watched over my shoulder.

I tenderly tipped the bottle, cupping my hand in front of the spout to catch whatever was inside. The glass clinked as something moved inside of it. 

I gave the bottle a gentle shake, and a small, round, golden, god slipped into my hands.

Nobody moved. Nobody made a sound.

The weighty golden nugget sat in my stunned hand.

“Oh my god,” Charlie and I uttered at the same time. The tiny details were so ornate, clearly depicting the face of Tonatiuh, God of the Sun. The piece shimmered in the sun, not a speck of dirt on its seraphic surface.

“Wait, there’s something else,” I said, peering down the neck of the bottle. I handed the gold to Charlie, and she held it as if she was handling a newborn baby. I gingerly stuck my finger into the bottle, feeling the edges of a leaf of paper. I put my finger inside the roll, and eased through the neck.

The paper was yellowed and ripped around the edges, just as the map was. I unfurled the leaf, holding the six hundred year old ends as softly as humanly possible. Writing, just a few sentences, were scratched into the paper, and I read it out loud.

“El reino dorado está más allá del alcance del hombre común. Una cultura tan violenta pero indulgente. Lo que hay dentro puede cambiar el mundo para siempre.”

“The golden kingdom is beyond the reach of common man,” I translated.

“A culture so violent yet forgiving.”

“What lies inside can forever change the world.”

“Barros Agustín Diego Pérez.” Charlie said, pointing at the familiar signature at the bottom of the page. “That means…”

“Reino Dorado is nearby!” I finished. I tore off, slicing leaves with the machete and jumping over obstacles on the jungle floor. Sticks scratched my face and logs tripped my feet, but I kept going, the dark images in my mind vanishing and the hopeful ones coming back.

I pushed a large elephant ear out of the way, and dropped the machete at my feet.

A lush, green, valley, ten times the size of our measly clearing, nestled into the reclining arm of a great, black, mountain. An unrefined, true aqua waterfall pounded into a small pristine lake on the opposite brink. Houses, dirty and in shambles, lay in perfect rows, aligning with the sun. A market, once bustling with activity, now lay dead, the splintering wooden mats displaying no wares. A temple, like the ones of legend and myth, perched at the base of the mountain, towering above the ancient village. 

A temple. 


Of pure. 


Charlie, Emilio, and Tasha, limping and aided by Dustin, approached for behind. They all stopped in awe. The mist from the waterfall floated through the air, dusting my face with cool, clean, water.

“Reino Dorado,” I whispered, in almost disbelief. Charlie’s gape morphed into a dumbfounded grin as she put a stunned hand on my shoulder.

“I found it,” I muttered, the corners of my mouth pulling up into a smile.

“I found it!”

November 02, 2020 19:34

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Morgan Dreiske
03:50 Nov 13, 2020

I enjoyed reading this story! It ended in a sweet way leading the imagination on, even though the story had ended. Overall I think you did a great job!


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21:13 Nov 11, 2020

My immediate reaction is that the author presents an aspheric story. Style wie I would question her use aDverbs which weaken the reader's concentration. ;Soothingly' 'gingerly' are extraneous. Also some of the adjectives are unnecessary. So storyline great but style of writing needs care.


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