When we last left Sean, he was hiding in the backseat of a car in Guatemala, waiting to be killed.
* * *
His name was Bill, and he was from Chicago.
And Bill was insane.
“People say I’m a genius,” Bill said. “I am. I’m also a photographer. I take pictures of all the queens from the villages. They’re in love with me, ya know. The queens. They text me all the time.”
“I have a friend who’s a queen from the village,” I shouted back. “The West Village.”
I waited for recognition, and it came slowly.
“You mean New York City?”
“I never liked New York City. Too much violence and traffic…and Jews. But I guess you get used to it.”
“No, the traffic.”
I could barely hear him over the wind and chop of the water as we bounced across the ink-black lake. Danny and Moses hadn’t killed me, and instead had gotten me to a remote dock just in time to catch the last boat to my hotel. These small, powder-blue vessels were like taxis on Lake Atitlan, except they were filled with a dozen Guatemalans and you can’t drown in a taxi.
Bill was overweight, and the boat sank lower on his side. He had thin white hair and a thick white mustache. He wore a large floral shirt tucked into impossibly short shorts and was picking his toes, flicking bits of nail which were blown into the crowd seated behind us.
“I had a professor once,” Bill said, screaming into the wind at no one in particular. “And he told me that I wasn’t very smart, but that most geniuses weren’t. So I told him that Hitler was a vegetarian. And that was the end of that.”
“But then some girl chimed in,” he continued. “Shelly was her name. From the South Side. That slut. And I had to remind her that even Martha Stewart had a gynecologist. Ya know?”
I’m in a tiny boat, in a lake, in Guatemala, sitting next to an escaped lunatic lamenting over Shelly, the South Side slut.
“What’s your name?”
It’s too loud. Sean is too close to Shelly. Make something up.
“Doug. My name is Doug.”
“I had an uncle named Doug. I liked him.”
“Shame what had to happen.”
The boat suddenly lost power and we began drifting towards a dock, the sounds of clinking drinks and laughter guiding us through the darkness.
“Ahoy there! Welcome to paradise!”
* * *
Bill wouldn’t let me leave the boat until I promised to meet him later that week for some beers. I agreed, though he never named a specific location for our reunion. I assumed he’d just be tracking me until he got thirsty.
(I’ve decided that I’m not going to name the hotel I stayed at while in Guatemala. If anyone is interested, I’m happy to tell them, but I have too much love and respect for the owners of the hotel to have their livelihood compromised by my idiotic ramblings.)
The hotel was cut into the side of a mountain, and was accessible only by boat, or by hiking through the jungle. Gray stone paths zigzagged upwards from the water’s edge through lush, flower-filled foliage, eventually leading to a Mediterranean-style villa that housed the restaurant, office and a few suites. The rest of the rooms were private residences dotting the steep hillside, and almost all of them afforded 180-degree views of the lake and volcanoes surrounding it.
It was incredible.
But it was dark when I arrived, and I didn’t see any of that until the morning. What I did see when I arrived was an Australian man with a huge welt on his forehead.
“Jesus, what happened to you?”
“Scorpion. Little bugger stung me in my face when I slept. Nothing a few pints won’t cure though, mate.”
* * *
I have contact lenses, and I remove them each night when I go to sleep. Therefore, when I wake up in the morning, I’m essentially blind. I had been traveling for sixteen hours, and when I opened my eyes that next day in Guatemala, I was disoriented. When I blinked a few times, I still felt out of it. I didn’t remember there being wallpaper the night before.
I hopped out of bed and stretched, making my way to the bathroom where I put in my contacts. And if the other residents hadn’t woken up yet, they were certainly roused by my scream.
The wall was covered with spiders.
Large spiders. Dozens of them. And on the floor? Three scorpions.
I had woken up in ‘Fear Factor.’
Screaming turned to squealing, which turned to praying, which turned to cursing, which turned to wailing, which turned to moaning, which finally turned into something between a menstruating cat, and Fred Flintstone passing a kidney stone.
All I had at my disposal in terms of weaponry was a flimsy flyswatter, a towel, and a crucifix that hung on the wall. I grabbed the crucifix and flung it towards the spiders.
“The power of Christ compels you! Leave this place!”
One of the spiders fell off the wall and into my backpack.
Well, I’ll just have to burn that.
I grabbed my passport and hopped barefoot out of the villa, conceding the room (and the country) to the insects. When I got to the front desk they reminded me that I was in a jungle and handed me another flyswatter. By the time I got back to my room though, the spiders and scorpions had disappeared.
To where, I had no idea.
* * *
After the previous 24 hours, I decided that rather than explore the surrounding villages I would just spend the rest of my vacation hanging out on the various sundecks reading. If it got hot, I hopped in the lake. If it got cold, I hopped out. Life was simple, easy – a sunny office of mixed-drink meetings and sweet-dream deadlines. I eventually forgot about the indigenous wildlife, and the snakes, spiders and scorpions all blended into a blissful benign background.
But paradise wasn’t enough for me. After a few days into my stay I decided to spice things up and hop a boat into San Pedro, one of the neighboring villages frequented by hippie backpackers who assured me it was “mellow.”
I had only been in town for about five minutes before someone pulled a machete on me.
In fairness, he was trying to sell it to me, but all I had heard was random Spanish, and all I had seen was a large blade. The man, a lean, tattooed fellow, soon found my wallet and backpack at his feet, and a puddle of yellow forming under mine. The mistake was quickly explained by a passing bilingual teacher, and I gathered my belongings and ran away.
After wandering around the village for awhile, darting away from anyone who approached, I came upon a bar and decided to pop in for a beer or six to calm the nerves. I had just launched into a conversation with the two British owners when I heard a voice booming from the far end of the room.
“And that’s all well and good, but I once got attacked by a whole pack of dogs.”
I’d managed to keep my date with Bill.
* * *
“There were five, no, ten of them,” Bill said, still not necessarily speaking to us. “Like sharks. But, ya know, dogs. So I find the main one, the alpha, and I just punch him in the neck. And that was that.”
Bill then raised a toast of whatever he was drinking, downed the glass and left. I never saw him again.
* * *
The next morning I got up early and went for a swim, the water cold and deep. The lake had risen 5 meters over the past year alone, and flooded much of the low-lying real estate. A woman in town had told me that priests and other spiritual elders were praying for an earthquake, to shake free the debris that had clogged the lake’s outlet so that the water level could lower.
Only in Guatemala do people pray for a natural disaster.
Submerged stone homes and moss-covered docks loomed beneath me, and I floated flat on the surface for awhile staring down at them, imagining mermaids enjoying tea in the kitchen or vacuuming shells from the living room. After awhile, the water got rough and I swam around to the other side of the hotel, where the lake jutted into the mountain and formed a private lagoon. I climbed out on some rocks and there, about ten feet from me, was a woman lying on a blanket.
She had short brown hair and long toned legs, and I could just barely make out the tattoo of a dolphin on her right shoulder.
It wasn’t until she turned towards me that I noticed she was topless.
To be concluded next Wednesday in Part Four, when Sean is stranded in the jungle and forced to find his way back to Guatemala City.