I made all of this up. I do not claim to know anything at all about any of this. I made up the whole Xtabalz'n culture, the name of which I also invented out of nothing, intending no offence to anyone. I have no knowledge of anthropology, pre-Columbian cultures, South American islands, prehistoric religions, hieroglyphs, survival skills, predators, florae, fauna, fungi, WWII, the IRS, or the function of a consulate. This is ALL FAKE. Furthermore, all publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story is told in alternating points of view.

Chapter One

Sacrificing virgins.

What the hell? It's the twenty-first century, for fuck's sake. Who sacrifices fucking virgins anymore?

No one. So it took me a while to figure it out. The American Consulate in Rio got the alert about the kidnapping. The kid's parents did the heartfelt plea on television while the jungle grime and anguish was still fresh on their faces. Scrubbed and thin-looking, they did talk show interviews via satellite the next morning. Newspapers ate it up, printing full-page photo collages of the heroic scientists and their poor lost kid. It was precious, but not the stuff an average citizen pays much attention to. We expect the authorities to handle this shit, or a body just turns up.

I never would have given it more than cursory glance in if it weren't for the alarming location of the abduction. The victim was taken from the heart of the jungle on Isle Esme, deep within unexploited lands. There was no local government to appeal to for help because the island had been privately owned since 1956, and it wasn't covered by any recognized authority.

For centuries, the pre-Columbian civilization on Isle Esme had remained untouched by Old World explorers and traders. The Xtabalz'n people were a gloriously preserved sample of a five thousand year old tribe living in pure isolation like a microbe sealed in a Petrie dish. Their matriarchal hunter-gatherer society thrived in their small ecosystem.

Inexplicably, in 1813 the British Naval Survey of islands in the area listed Esme as uninhabited. From there on out, the island stopped being mentioned in historical texts, accounts from wayward sailors, and even navigational charts. All of this concerted ignorance had the fortunate side effect of keeping missionaries away, keeping the traditional religion unaltered, and leaving the inhabitants of the island unaffected by emerging technologies for centuries.

When anthropologists picked up signs of human life on satellite photos in the 1990s, Isle Esme became the A-List destination for every student of pre-Columbian civilizations. I caught the Esme Bug myself, as we called it, and pulled every string in the book to get in on a three month expedition there to gather facts for my graduate thesis on early New World recreational drug use.

I remember my first flight to Esme, which I spent engrossed in a collection historical reports about the island. I pored over accounts from seventeenth and eighteenth century sailors who were blown off course during the early days of the cocoa trade. Many had come away from Isle Esme describing a civilization of beautiful women who mutilated their men. Legend spread that the natives there lived to be hundreds of years old by eating 'The Meat of God'.

The disappearance of this legendary people corresponded to the proliferation of piracy in the area. Since then, it had been known as just another 'deserted' isle in the Atlantic- except for a brief stint as a radio outpost in WWII. Oddly, the poor corporal stationed on Esme never came in contact with the Xtabalz'n. To this day, the cement-block army hut erected in 1940 is the only permanent structure on the island. Even the kooky businessman who bought Isle Esme from Brazil in 1956 never built a dwelling there.

So the question was: why the hell would the Xtabalz'n have kidnapped some poor American kid?

The parents, medical research botanists, and their kid had just fallen off the map at the beginning of June. Lost all radio contact.

Eventually, the survivors of the attack made it to the old outpost. They beckoned a cruise ship in the area with a Morse signal from the leftover wireless, pulling power from a hand-cranked generator. They were dropped in Rio the next day, and someone in the American Consulate immediately squashed the real story.

Before an account could be made public, the truth was buried under a generic kidnap drama. The attack, the earthquakes, and the mutilated tribesmen were all whitewashed away- Those were the last two fucking red flags I needed. I started packing immediately. When the government starts lying, I perk up. When they happen to be lying about a civilization I wrote my thesis on, nothing would stop me from getting to the truth.

I hacked some footage of the parents' interviews through a third-rate Brazilian server. Interesting shit. Their team was there to collect and catalogue florae and fungi for a well-funded new multinational research project. After weeks of low-magnitude quakes disrupting the wildlife and agitating the guide, they decided to cut out early with their samples.

As they were packing up for a hike to higher ground, where they hoped to re-establish radio contact with their base on a nearby modernized island, they were taken by surprise.

According to the mother's account of the incident, the jungle was completely still and silent when a sudden howling rose up from all directions. In seconds, the camp was inundated with naked men, their hairless bodies panted with deep rich colors, and their genitalia propped erect from their torsos- Thin braided ropes were laced through their pierced foreskins and tied around their necks.

They grabbed the kid without hesitation and disappeared like apparitions in the night. The silent jungle swallowed them up instantly. The rest of the crew got to the outpost by dawn and made contact with a passing ship. A dinghy picked them up just as another tremor shivered the trees.

Three days later I was on a commercial flight to Rio with my briefcase loaded full of fuzzy photos and color-coded maps. From there, I chartered an airlift to get me to Isle Esme. I spent the flights in research mode, and kept coming back to my three red flags:

1) Isle Esme was inhabited by a very unique pre-Columbian civilization.

2) Isle Esme was experiencing unusual seismic activity.

3) Someone at the Consulate was covering up something to do with Isle Esme.

All signs led to one damn thing.

Human virginal sacrifice. Poor kid.