Pahuac rested his head on the sacrificial stone. He would have to go through this if he wanted to find his way back home. Why couldn’t he remember?
“You have a choice,” the Inca priest bellowed. “You are a holder of the Mysteries who can read the kernel patterns like no other. All you have to say is ‘I want to live’ and you shall live. Why are you doing this? You are young and Supay doesn’t require a sacrifice at this time of the year. Just guide us to Ukhu Pacha.”
Pahuac cringed, his resolve failing already. The God of Death might not require a human sacrifice right now, but he, Pahuac, would not cower from such petty abuse of power. No, he would grind his teeth, ball his fists, and get over with it. For too long he had carried the baggage of his past—ghostly images of fear and desperation.
“Take out your knife, old man, and finish your job,” Pahuac snapped with a determination he didn’t feel.
“Just lead us to the underworld,” the priest shouted back.
His mother’s image, as she had looked when he was five, fogged Pahuac’s eyes. “I will show you the way to Ukhu Pacha,” she had chanted. “But you shouldn’t tell anyone.” For what had seemed like days, they had sauntered down the mountain. Even when the river barred their way they didn’t pause, but crawled deep into the earth.
“Choose the cup of life,” the priest’s voice broke from somewhere far away. Under Pahuac’s cheek, the sacrificial stone felt warm, almost alive.
“Don’t be afraid of walking among the dead,” his mother had said. “The dead will always be here for you, ready to help you collect the pieces of truth. They will show you the solution to any mystery.”
“Where is my mother?” Pahuac demanded, though he couldn’t tell in what time he uttered the words. Had he asked this in the past? Distant voices shrieked at him without meaning.
“Down to Ukhu Pacha,” his mother sang.
“Down to Ukhu Pacha, tra-la-la,” he joined her with childish inflections.
“He lost his minds,” someone whispered, although Pahuac couldn’t see anyone around.
He was back in the cave, a child of five, digging in the dirt with blood-soaked hands. Shouldn’t he feel some pain from his broken nails? He felt elated. The dust in the air made him sneeze, so he stopped to chant a prayer for Kon to send rain.
Where did his mother disappear? For a moment he seemed to recall a gory figment of her, as strangers in outlandish metal costumes circled her. Why couldn’t he remember? Did his mother tell him to run? Supay would know where she was, so he had to keep tunneling down to the entrance of the god’s underground home. Ukhu Pacha had to be somewhere around here.
Pahuac paused only when his fingers grazed something cold and sharp. The smell of rust comforted him. Doubling his efforts, he scooped handful after handful of earth, halting only when he pulled out a metal arm. Why would Supay have an iron guardian at his gates? The God of Death needed no one to protect him. Frightened and ecstatic, Pahuac gouged the dirt, not sure of what he hoped to find. More and more cuts marred his tiny hands, reminding him of… He had seen cuts like this before!
At last he unearthed the guardian, a metal giant with a huge knife. He would never be able to gut a lama with that, the five-year-old thought.
“We can’t sacrifice him,” someone whispered far away. “Supay would be furious if we send him a madman.”
“Cut him loose,” another answered.
In the cave, the boy stared at the gigantic knife. Couldn’t gut a lama, gut, gut, gut… The word rolled strange on his tongue. Gut…
The memory pummeled him with almost physical impact—the smell of blood, the sound of wind. Calm, he stared at the Spanish invader already putrid.
His own tiny fingers had gut the soldier, after the man had murdered his mother. He had lured the metal monster with promises of gold, hoarded in a magnificent place called Ukhu Pacha.
“I’ll guide you to Ukhu Pacha,” he whispered with a childish lilt, snickering. “Lots of gold.”
He woke up on the sacrificial stone, knowing that Pahuac wasn’t his real name. Alone and unbound. He sighed, then straighten himself. Time to find the priest and lead down to his home—Ukhu Pacha.
Banner Image: By Anonymous (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons