© 2002 Rogue

Tegu and artwork are © 2002 his creator, and are used with permission.

Work. Sweat. Scorching.

"It's not possible, Señor," the doctor said firmly. "He has been sedated. Maybe if you come back in a few days he will be in a condition to speak to you."

The visitor continued his pacing. "Can't I just try? Maybe he can whisper to me what happened."

Dr. Sanchez folded his arms. "Again, I am sorry. His sedation is very heavy, and it is for his own good. He has suffered a terrible shock. We must treat him very gently until he is ready to face whatever it is that happened to him and his friends in the jungle. Give him a few days. Maybe next week."

Silence. Stillness. Uneasy.

"I don't have a few days!" the visitor cried, and then cringed, embarrassed by his own outburst. Lowering his head, he paused a moment before fumbling in his pocket and withdrawing a crumpled handful of bills. "Listen," he whispered. "It's really important to me to know what happened, and to know soon. Maybe you can see your way clear to stepping down the hall for a cup of coffee, hm?"

Dr. Sanchez eyed the money coldly. "I am sure that on American television, anyone in this country can be counted on to sell his own mother for money." He snatched the bills from the hand that offered them and tucked them into the visitor's shirt pocket. "That is why I do not watch television anymore. Keep your money. I am a doctor, Mr. Carston, and the man in that room is my patient. And you are going to leave. Now."

Thunder. Temblor. Shadow.

"But I..."


Exasperated, Carston spun on his heel and marched down the hall toward the lobby. Just before reaching the corner, he turned back and called, "Dr. Sanchez!"

The doctor did not look up from the chart he was studying. "Now, Mr. Carston."

Carston winced at the chill in the doctor's voice, but persisted "Can you at least tell me what he said when he came in?"

"Nothing coherent, Mr. Carston. I told you, he was in shock and was raving. Goodbye."

Gunfire. Screaming. Stumbling.

"But what did he say? Did he give you any hint at all of what happened?"

Sighing, Dr. Sanchez took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Aren't you listening? He was raving. He was babbling and crying. The stress would have killed him if we had not sedated him immediately."

"I understand. Dr. Sanchez, please, I apologize deeply if I offended you. It's just very, very important that I know what he said, no matter how ludicrous it might sound. Please..!"

There was a long pause. Dr. Sanchez looked up at the visitor with resignation. "If I tell you what he said, will you go away and let the patient -- and his doctor -- rest quietly?"

"Yes, of course. I swear it!"

Horns. Teeth. Trapped...


Dr. Sanchez turned away. "He only said that it was the Devil."


Carston had little luck explaining to the waiter what he wanted to drink at his breakfast the following day. "Orange ... juice," he said slowly. "No coffee. Non espresso. I want orange juice. Juice?" He made a motion of squeezing something into his cup, a gesture which the waiter acknowledged with a broad smile before bringing back a stronger pot of coffee. "Black battery acid," Carston had heard it called. "No! Juice! El juico...de...orange-o. Um..."

"Jugo de naranja, por favor," a voice behind him said.

Carston's mouth fell open when he turned to thank his benefactor. "Dr. Sanchez!"

The doctor smiled and settled himself into the chair beside Carston. "If you want to visit another country, Señor, it is a good idea to learn something of the language." He leaned forward and looked Carston in the eye. "It is also more helpful to tell the truth. You will find that it gets you farther."

"I don't know what you mean."

Sanchez smiled and shook his head. "You are not a reporter, Mr. Carston. Your performance in the hospital was something right off of American TV -- which, I must now confess, I do sometimes watch."

Carston bit his lip and tried to think of a witty comeback, but the doctor had cornered him. He had no idea how a real reporter was supposed to act. "I suppose it was," he said sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I suppose I should at least come clean with you."

"It would be nice." He leaned away from the table as the waiter finally brought Carston's long-awaited glass of juice. "It's Professor Carston, if I am not mistaken. Jones College, Missouri. Biology." He grinned at the other man's expression. "Don't look so surprised. Maybe you can't bribe the doctors in this country, but hotel managers, that's another matter. And in case you did not notice, we don't live in grass huts. We have access to the Internet just like you do. The picture on the web site made you look like you were nineteen."

"I was," Carston mumbled. "So...um...why'd you come looking for me?"

"The same thing that brought you here: curiosity. I couldn't help wondering why a biology professor from America would be so interested in a logging accident half a world away."

"Is that what they're calling it?"

Sanchez fell silent. After a moment he motioned to the waiter to bring him some espresso. "The patient died early this morning."

"Really? Shit."

"I agree," Sanchez said. "It is depressing for me when my patients die, Señor Carston. It is even more depressing when I do not know why." He took a sip of his espresso. "This man was barely alive when he was found. I cannot honestly say that I expected him to survive. The jungle is not a hospitable environment, and when one is wounded and weak from dehydration -- you understand.

"That, of course, brings me to why I came to find you. You were very interested in the things he was babbling when he came in. May I ask why?"

Carston shrugged. "Just thought that maybe it might shed some light on what happened to him out there."

"I see." Sanchez leaned forward and tugged thoughtfully at his beard. "And you are so interested in the fate of a peasant woodsman, why?"

Carston looked down at the table and then reached for his orange juice with a sigh. "It's difficult to explain," he said, raising the glass to his lips. "I thought that knowing what happened might have an impact on my research."

"Ah, yes. Paleobiology, specifically post-Cenozoic reptilian evolution. The excerpts from your papers on the Web were quite intriguing. I imagine it would interest you to know, then, that the patient said only one other word besides 'Diablo'. That was 'Tegu.'"

Carston spat out his orange juice and coughed violently. "Good Lord..."

"I thought so." Sanchez offered Carston a napkin. "Catch your breath, Señor, and then tell me about your theory. It is possible that we can help each other, but only if we are frank."

It took a few moments for Carston to clear the orange juice from his nostrils. He coughed a few more times into his napkin and then sat forward. "I have long suspected," he whispered conspiratorially, "that there may be unknown descendents of Mesozoic fauna still living in remote areas of the planet. I don't buy the K-T Boundary theory. I think that somewhere they're still around."

"Dinosaurs, you mean?"

Carston shook his head. "Not dinosaurs per se, Doctor. Their grandchildren. If they survived the extinction - and I believe some of them did - they would have continued to evolve, and what they've become is what I'm after. Listen. African tribesmen have an oral history of a creature they call mokele mbembe, which from the description may be a descendent of the Brachiosaurus or the Apatosaurus. The Jivaro Indians here tell their own stories of a creature as tall as the trees, a deity figure that they identify with the tegu lizard. Now imagine, just for a second or two, that these aren't just stories. What if they are based in reality, and there really is something out there, hidden in the rainforest, unknown and even unimagined by Science."

He expected Sanchez to scoff, but instead the doctor was staring thoughtfully into the distance. "And you believe that this creature of the Jivaros could be what killed the men in the logging camp?"

Carston nodded vigorously. "I know it sounds farfetched, but it makes sense. I heard that the remains had been crushed almost totally flat. You know as well as I do that it would take an enormous weight to do that to the human body. Whatever did it had to be big. I'd guess at least twenty feet long, maybe twenty five. The man they found, the one who died - something terrified him. Literally frightened him to death. And what he said: Tegu! Do you see what I'm getting at, Doctor?"

Sanchez nodded thoughtfully. "It is an intriguing theory, Señor. Let me offer another, though. Suppose these men were attacked by zealous eco- terrorists, a group something like to 'Earth First' but more violent, who want to stop the destruction of the rainforest. They ambushed the loggers and committed terrible atrocities upon them, ran them over with their own bulldozers, perhaps even forced the survivor to drive over his friends and crush them to death. That would certainly account for his mental state."

"But what about what he said? Why 'Tegu'?"

"Ah. For that, I fear I can offer no explanation," Sanchez said, and then he smiled and looked into Carston's eyes. "It seems that we have two theories, only one of which is likely to be correct. The only way to find out the truth is to visit the site ourselves and see what the evidence suggests."

Carston shook his head. "I tried that. The police have the only road into the region blocked. I tried everything I could but they wouldn't let me in. My research permit expires in five days. By the time I cut through the red tape I'd be booted out of the country."

Sanchez chuckled and stood up. "Perhaps you just do not know the right people," he said. "Go and do some sightseeing, Señor Carston. Then go to your hotel and pack your boots, your tent and a case of mosquito repellant. I will see you in the morning." He winked. "With luck, we will have our answer well before your permit runs out."

The doctor was waiting outside the hotel at daybreak the following morning. Accompanying him were two cold-eyed locals. Carston tried to be cordial but was met with silence from one and a gruff "No Inglés" from the other. It sounded more like a demand than an apology. The two snatched up Carston's gear and threw it into the back of a dented pickup truck and then climbed in themselves, lounging on the packs and lighting up cigarettes.

It took more than eight hours to negotiate the tangle of pitted roads, sometimes little more than bare swaths cut through the forest. To Carston the ride seemed to last for eight years. Some of the bumps were nearly strong enough to break bones, but Sanchez and his two guides seemed to take them all in stride. "We don't need no steenking highway engineering," Sanchez laughed, deliberately exaggerating his accent while Carston's head rapped painfully against the roof of the cab. There was only a brief respite when the vehicle was halted by a shotgun-toting official who looked and smelled like a week-old slab of bacon. After a brief exchange with Sanchez and a furtive hand- off, the man vanished into the trees and the truck lurched its way onward.

At long last Sanchez turned the vehicle into a cleared area. There was no longer any road to speak of, and had not been for several miles. Carston stared restlessly into the gathering twilight while the guides pitched the tents and cooked the evening meal. In his mind he replayed his many interviews with the native people he had visited. Different tribes, different regions, and different names all given to the same shared legend. Tegu. Big as a tree. Some said he walked like a man; others said he slithered through the canopy overhead like a fish swimming in a stream; some called him a god, others a monster; all of them agreed on one thing: that he was real. "You're out there," Carston whispered aloud. "I can feel you."

Tomorrow he would know for sure.

Carston slept fitfully, his dreams haunted by hulking shapes hidden in the trees, of inhuman eyes blazing in the darkness. He let out a small cry and nearly bolted from his sleeping bag when Sanchez shook him awake. The doctor seemed almost equally startled by the reaction. "Easy, now. Bad dreams?"

"Sort of." Carston quickly sat up and tugged on his shirt. "Are the others ready to go?"

"They will be. You should eat first. It is a four-hour walk to the site. You'll need your energy."

"I'll grab something quick. Ask the men if they can hurry it up."

Sanchez looked at him askance. "You're in a great hurry, Señor. I guess you are anxious to see if this tegu lizard of yours exists, eh?"

"You're right. I am."

"And maybe you are forgetting that if it exists, it has already killed twenty men. Are you that eager to meet up with it?"

Carston paused with his pants half-buttoned. Images from his dream flooded back and sent a shiver through him. Sanchez noticed it and patted his shoulder. "Whether your theory or mine is correct, we cannot run in there shouting and cheering. Twenty men are dead. If what killed them is still in the area, we do not want them - or it - to know we are here."

Chastened, Carston could only nod.

Within the hour the group had broken camp and set out into the woods. Armed with rifles and machetes the guides went first, hacking out a rough path. Carston followed, with Sanchez in the rear. Carston craned his neck constantly, peering in awe at the enormity of the trees that rose over him. The canopy stretched unbelievable high overhead, the pillars of the trees giving it the look of a vast cathedral ceiling. "It's incredible," he breathed. "They're huge."

"It's why we take them," Sanchez said. "The finest wood comes from the old growth. Once the trees are cleared, the land beneath is some of the most fertile on the continent. Economically it makes sense to cut them down. Unfortunately, some people disagree, which I still believe is what led to the massacre. It seems that trees are more important to some people than human life."

A sudden noise, a low booming like a cannon shot, echoed from afar. Carston felt a quivering in the earth beneath his feet and stopped short. "Listen!" he said urgently. "Did you hear that?"

The other men halted, the guides raising their rifles nervously. There was silence, and then another boom, muffled and distant. The ground shivered. "There!"

"Relax, Señor," Sanchez said, stepping forward and putting a hand on Carston's shoulder. "That is dynamite. It is how they remove the stumps to clear the land for trucks to get in."

Carston stared at him. "You mean there are still men working this area? I thought it was off-limits."

"It is," Sanchez said with a shrug, "to those who pay attention to the law. This land, these trees, they are big business. It would take a lot to get between these men and their livelihood." His face became grim. "Even the killings. You can be sure that they are going to be very well armed and very sensitive about running into anyone out here in the forest after what happened. It's best we keep moving."

The march resumed, the guides grumbling to themselves and casting sour glances back at Carston. He tried to look apologetic but they turned away from him.

The jungle seemed to stretch into infinity, the canopy overhead unbroken, the towering trees crowding into the distance. Now and then they would hear the thud of dynamite charges, sometimes distant, sometimes uncomfortably near. Carston's legs were aching but he refused to slow down. He would have walked ten times the distance if it would lead him to the proof that had so long eluded him. Tegu was waiting for him just beyond the trees, just another few steps. He knew it.

His heart felt like it would explode when at last he saw a break in the trees ahead. Ignoring the shouts of the guides he raced past them, crashing blindly through the underbrush and bursting out into the open. He took three steps before he stopped short, mouth open. The others caught up to him, panting and swearing under their breaths. They halted just as suddenly, momentarily overwhelmed by the sight, and then they set their jaws grimly and strode onward.

Carston stared over the scarred landscape. Trees and vehicles alike lay scattered about, as if a powerful tornado had torn a gaping wound in the jungle. The earth had been gouged open in countless places, although as careless as the locals tended to be when logging it was impossible to tell how much of the damage was man-made. To his utter disappointment, Carston was unable to spot anything that looked even vaguely like the footprint of a twenty-foot lizard.

One of the guides called out and pointed to the ground. Sanchez ran over to where the man stood, and then motioned for Carston to join them. The three stood in a depression in the earth and stared at the spot where one of the victims had died. "See here," Sanchez said grimly. "There's still blood on the surrounding vegetation. The body was pressed down into the earth, almost completely flattened. They had to dig him out in pieces." He pointed to a bulldozer that lay on its side, battered and twisted, almost a hundred yards away. "They used that, I would guess. Chased him into this pit and then drove the tractor down into it and over him. Probably while he was still alive, the poor bastard. When they were finished with him they drove the tractor over to where the earth is torn up there, then lit dynamite under it and blew it up so that nobody could use it again."

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Señor Carston. I don't think you'll find any evidence that your tegu lizard was here. There are no tracks, and don't you think something like that would have eaten the men it killed? No, I'm afraid that what we are dealing with is something much, much worse."

Carston sighed. "Yeah," he said simply.

There was another distant boom, and another quiver in the earth. Sanchez looked at the two guides and nodded. "We had better return to our camp. The men working this area are understandably nervous. If they see us, they will probably shoot before thinking to ask for your passport." He and the guides shouldered their packs and began to pick their way across the clearing. Carston followed.

They walked in silence for nearly an hour, during which Carston tried hard to swallow his disappointment. It did not help that the guides kept glancing back at him and then at each other, no doubt sharing a private joke about the idiot Gringo and his imaginary monster. He was used to such things, as controversial as his research tended to be, but this time he had been so certain. Everything had seemed to fit his theory. He had felt so sure, so close...

"This is far enough."

Carston jumped a little and looked up. Sanchez had stopped ahead of him. With a whispered command in Spanish the two guides unslung their rifles and aimed them toward the startled American. "What's going on?"

"I have not been perfectly frank with you, Señor Carston," Sanchez said with a pained expression. "I apologize for that. I hope you'll forgive me for what I need to do now. As a doctor it is difficult for me, but there are times when healthy tissue must be removed along with the diseased in order to save the patient."

Carston was stunned. "What are you talking about?" he sputtered. He started to retreat, but the muzzles of the rifles followed him, the guides' expressions cold and hard.

"I confess, I never believed your theory about a living dinosaur, Señor Carston. I wish in all of my heart that it were true, but the reality of the situation has forced me to take a rather drastic step. We brought you out here for a different reason, I'm afraid."

Somewhere in the distance a dynamite charge went off. The ground quivered under Carston's feet.

Sanchez stepped forward and stood between the gunmen. "Don't make this any more difficult than it is, Señor. My government does not have the resources to fight against the sort of people who would commit such an atrocity and then vanish without a trace. We cannot count on any help from outside, especially your government. Half the people in your country would rather see my people starve to death rather than lose one more precious tree out of this forest. They never care if a few ignorant peasants got killed in some far-off land." He shrugged helplessly. "But what if it was an American that was killed? Suddenly it becomes important. They will send money. They will send soldiers. They will take care of the problem for us, thanks to you."

There was another muffled boom and the ground shook again, harder. Carston stumbled and his back slammed up against a tree, making him grunt. Sanchez smiled sadly and peered off into the foliage. "Do you hear that sound, Señor? That is the sound of a growing economy. We do not need trees here. We need jobs. How is our country to prosper if we are not permitted to develop the very land that belongs to us?"

Carston stared at him, dumbfounded. "You...you can't be serious! You aren't really going to kill me!"

Sanchez shook his head. "Environmental zealots shot you when you wandered away from our party. We found you and carried you back, and your outraged countrymen demanded that their government punish the killers."

Another boom, louder, the shaking in the earth more pronounced. One of the guards whispered nervously to Sanchez, who nodded and sighed. "We're out of time, Señor. Again, forgive me, but we have no choice. We cannot afford to be seen." He raised his hand, and one of the guides brought his rifle to his shoulder.

"Oh, god..." Carston whimpered. He stared pleadingly at Sanchez, who only looked down at his feet. A third charge went off, close enough to make the tree shudder against Carston's back. The gunman wavered and then drew his aim again.

Carston heard Sanchez utter a single word, "Fuego." He closed his eyes tightly.

A thunderous explosion roared in his ears. Carston's body slammed back against the tree, his heart throbbing wildly, and then he fell forward onto his knees. His hands flew to his chest, groping instinctively for the gaping wound in a final, desperate attempt to staunch the flow of blood. Strangely, there was no pain. He thought he must be in shock.

There was no blood either. Nor could he feel any wound, neither high nor low. Perplexed, he opened his eyes and stared down incredulously at his body, and then slowly lifted his gaze.

Sanchez and the two guides had vanished. In their place stood what was unquestionably the thing that had destroyed the logging camp and killed the men who operated it. It was as big as Carston had predicted - bigger, in fact.

And that was just its foot.

Continue to Chapter 2...

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