Doris sobbed in pain as she stumbled down the dark tunnel looking for a way out of the maze.
The day before.
Eric and Doris were on vacation celebrating their fifth anniversary. They were in a rented motor home at an RV Park just outside of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho.
They were sitting outside at a picnic table eating their breakfast when they saw an old man going from one parked RV to another, stopping and talking with the owners and handing them a piece of paper. What caught their eyes was his clothing. He wore a long-sleeved red shirt covered in beads hanging from his scrawny neck. His wide-brimmed hat was topped with two large peacock feathers sticking out from the headband. His jeans were worn thin with age and he wore moccasins.
They watched him with curiosity as he slowly walked over to them with the aid of a twisted walking-stick taller than he was.
“Right back at ya,” Eric said cheerfully.
“Having a good time exploring?”
“Well, we haven’t done anything yet. We just got here,” Doris explained.
“Pleased to meet you both. My names Charlie Sweetwater. I live a short ways from here. Not too far from the Snake River, and just a mile from the Maze of Xipe Totec.”
“What maze?” Doris asked, “I don’t recall reading about one in our tourists guide.”
The old man smiled and said, “There’s many things to see in this world that aren’t in tourist guides for one reason or another,” he suggested.
“Isn’t Xipe Totec an Aztec god?” Eric asked, changing the subject.
“He is, my friend. When the Spanish drove the Aztecs out of Mexico they fled to many places in this country. I am a descendent of those Aztecs. I know this area well, and have been sharing the location of the Maze of Xipe Totec with visitors who come to this place to camp for many years.”
“Where is this maze,” Doris asked.
“Here, I have a simple map for those who wish to explore the maze. You should also know there’s a legend about Aztec golden idols and other artifacts made from pure gold hidden in its depths.”
“Thank you for sharing that Mr. Sweetwater,” Doris said.
“If you wouldn’t mind, there’s little work in this area for a man of my age. People’s donations help me get by...”
“Certainly,” Eric said, and stood up and fished around the back pocket of his cargo shorts, pulling out a wallet. He peeled off two twenties and handed it to him.
“Thank you. Enjoy your stay,” Charlie said, as he set off down the road towards the next RV.
“Was that you feel-good donation of the day?” Doris mocked Eric.
“Hey, it was an interesting story, and just look at this authentic map that directs us to a maze in a cave somewhere that’s supposed to be full of Aztec treasures,” he teased.
“Okay,” Doris moved on, “What is our agenda for the day?”
They sipped coffee for another hour before deciding there was no place they wanted to see nearby.
“Wanna leave early and head for California?” Doris asked.
“What about the maze?” Eric said while holding up the map Charlie gave him.
“Really Eric? You believe that old man’s maze story? It’s just a way for him to make money from warm-hearted and well-to-do tourists.”
“I know you’re probably right, but what else is there to do? We wanted to spend at least a day, or two, in each state. The maze isn’t that far from here. If we don’t find it, we’ll still enjoy the hike. It’s a beautiful day.”
Between driving and hiking, it took them three hours to find the cave. Both were amazed one was really there. They took off their backpacks and pulled out flashlights.
Eric pulled a rope out of his backpack and tied one end to a pine tree near the cave’s entrance. “You have your rope too, right?” he asked her. She nodded.
“Are you sure you want to explore that cave?”
“Yeah, I have to admit I’m curious. I’m glad I brought my camera along.”
They weren’t walking that long before they came to the end of Eric’s rope. “Now what? Do you want to keep going?” he asked while shinning his flashlight ahead. In reply, Doris took out her rope and tied it onto his. “Let’s go.”
They followed the twists and turns and got stuck in a dead-end several times. Using the rope they were able to retrace their steps and go in a different direction. After an hour they stopped to rest and drink some water from the bottles in their backpacks.
Doris heard the sound first.
“Do you hear that?” she cried out.
“Hear what…what the hell is that?”
“Sounds like chanting...” Doris guessed with a growing dread in her voice.
“But who? What? Are there other people in here?” he wondered out loud.
Then they saw them.
They were short, maybe three-feet tall, and dressed up in ceremonial Aztec trappings. Some appeared to be priests with red robes. Others were bare-chested warriors who held obsidian swords and knives at the ready. The priests continued chanting as the warriors slowly moved forward in fighting stances.
“Run!” Eric shouted.
Doris didn’t need to be told. She was running, when a small spear hit her left shoulder from behind. She stopped and pulled it out with her other hand while Eric fought with the spear-thrower. When she bent down to retrieve the rope he screamed “Go!” as two more warriors attacked with their swords!
Doris accidently dropped her flashlight but kept stumbling forward into the darkness using her good arm to hold onto the rope. She heard Eric’s scream of pain and then there was silence. She would have to find her way out if she didn’t want to die. She could hear the sound of bare feet as the warriors stealthy followed her in silence. She held onto the rope and kept moving. Hoping to escape the maze.
The next day.
Charlie Sweetwater watched as the state patrolmen looked around, and inside, Doris and Eric’s RV. He sighed in pleasure that his offering was taken by Xipe Totec. It had been a long time since he’d found willing victims.
As It Stands, park rangers at Craters of the Moon National Monument will neither confirm, or deny, that Charlie Sweetwater is a local legend.