With wolf spider threesomes, you’ll see a crafty male spider, waiting for a rival to begin fucking a female before he sneaks in, to climb aboard, an uninvited third party, to quickly consummate the act and dump off some sperm while she’s distracted, then flees and leaves his rival to be cannibalized by the female in a post-coital feeding frenzy. So it is with Belloq’s career in the field of antiquities. Others do the spadework, risking their life and limb, before he swoops in to pluck the treasure out of the hands of his rival.
In Peru, Belloq drinks ayahuasca with the Hovitos the day before they go to get the golden Chachapoyan fertility idol from Dr. Jones. The Hovitos cook all day and night, he drinks a ladleful, then an old man in a loincloth blows a stream of tobacco smoke through a pipe stuck up Belloq’s nostril until he’s weeping.
He crouches in his dark hut, the Hovitos shaman telling him he shouldn’t be left alone, Belloq shooing him away like a tsetse fly. Not long until he pukes into his pith helmet, and sprays unending jets of diarrhea into a bucket.
A shadow darkens the hut’s interior as the shaman comes inside. Belloq looks up from the upturned pith helmet he’s holding up in front of him. “Leave me alone,” Belloq says in Hovitos.
“What you are getting rid of is your evil energy. Cast it away from you.” The shaman has a shrunken, pointy head, like an anteater.
Resisting ayahuasca intoxication, the Frenchman fights off ego-death, inspecting the walls of the inner compartment of Eurocentric deceitfulness he hides from the shaman, the same compartment hidden from dusky people in colonial milieux: Egypt, India, Indochina. All errand boys on an archaeological site. White man’s burden. He supposes Hitler will enslave these people, or wipe them off the face of the planet. Their artifacts will be collected in a museum, their trinkets and trash carving their own long gutters in time.
He doesn’t care. The Third Reich is just another wolf spider fucking its lady, and letting Belloq dart in and out to get his pecker wet.
“A great evil spirit is attached to you,” the shaman-anteater says. “Lay down here.” Belloq begins seeing, in the darkness, dazzling lines intersecting, cubes multiplying and hinging infinitely, each cube foreshortened and suggesting further patterns, an unfolding stained-glass window. Belloq’s limbs become concrete, then his torso, his body proceeds to die in segments until he feels his heart is the last part of him that is free, that will die too, and he tries to say to the shaman, “Antidote,” but can’t move his lips.
Belloq doesn’t want to die. But he can’t speak the words. Further patterns in the dark above his mind’s eye: truth-mosaics vs death-mosaics, the pointillism of disparate insight-squares sifted next to each other and suggesting a third, piercing insight about death hidden to all eyes, selected in 1936 gringo language Belloq understands. He’s from a technological race, and though the ayahuasca headgear is the ultimate technology, the lesson must be given with concepts close to where the Frenchman lives.
If life’s a movie starring Belloq, then his death scene can be edited out and spliced over by Chachapoyan angels. Omitting not only his death scene as a Nazi collaborator—his head exploding at the tabernacle—but all his other potential death scenes at the end of all other potential life-movies, this is how you gain immortality, as you skip from movie to movie all your dying scenes will be edited out…
Belloq wakes much later, his head feeling empty and light: an apartment cleared of furniture. He props himself up on one elbow, peers out the hut to see three Hovitos youths playing with some marbles on the ground. Somehow this game’s a flag indicating to Belloq that he did not die, this is no afterlife, he’s still there.
He gets up, stretches. He sees his pith helmet on the ground. Somebody’s cleaned it out while he was sleeping. The same with the bucket. He stands by the door, looking out at the rich, vibrant green of the jungle. He looks back at the bucket. The English have an expression: “to kick the bucket,” to die.
Belloq walks out into the camp. It’s already mind-meltingly hot. He finds a chieftain and gets a canteen of warm manioc beer, drinks half of it down. The warriors start assembling their spears and blowguns, smearing darts with curare. The Chachapoyan temple is nearby. The Hovitos have been following their quarry for three days. They have waited for Belloq. They don’t know what’s heroic and what’s villainous. After having him among them, partaking in their most sacred rituals and secret connections, they don’t know who Belloq is.
Jesse Hilson is a freelance reporter living in the Catskills in New York State. His work has appeared or will appear in AZURE, Maudlin House, two Daily Drunk anthologies, ExPat Press, Misery Tourism, and elsewhere. His novel WET UP is slated for publication at Close to the Bone in 2022. His Twitter handle is @platelet60.