“How many idols did we find yesterday?” asked Dr. Crowell.
“Two,” said the worse of the two guides, a man Dr. Crowell had taken to calling “Gibb.”
“Did they seem sacred?” asked Dr. Crowell.
“More or less,” said the better of the two guides, a man Dr. Crowell called “Jorge” because that was his actual name. “They were sitting right on the trail”
Dr. Crowell finished his tea and picked a soggy mosquito out of his teeth. “I hate idolatry,” he said. “But I love idols. Isn’t that something?”
The guides agreed that it was.
That afternoon, Dillard, the expedition’s marksman and a man afflicted by a whole host of parasites, discovered an idol next to a rotten log near the spot where he had been wetly defecating. The idol was a foot tall and carved from a gray rock. Its tongue extended from its beak in defiance. One of its eyes was crooked. Dr. Crowell cradled it in his arms as he examined it. “This one definitely looks cursed. Big time. Jorge, do you think this idol is cursed?”
“Yes,” said Jorge. “That one has a terrible curse upon it.”
Dr. Crowell looked down at the idol and frowned. “We have nineteen idols in our possession now. Fourteen of them are most likely cursed. What do you think the cumulative effect of all those curses will be?”
Jorge and Gibb exchanged a glance. Jorge said, “If I had to guess, I would say destruction, ruin, and suffering will come to us all. Probably sooner rather than later.”
Dr. Crowell’s frown deepened and he hugged the idol more tightly against his chest. Rain dripped off the brim of his pith helmet.
“Or,” said Gibb. “All the curses will just cancel each other out and everything will be fine.”
“Now that’s the kind of expertise I’m looking for,” said Dr. Crowell. “Jorge, you’re the new Gibb. Gibb, you’re the new Jorge. Great thinking.”
“Thank you,” said the new Jorge. “But I’d prefer it if you just called me by my real name.”
But Dr. Crowell was already packing the idol into one of the burlap sacks slung over the back of the expedition’s designated idol-bearing burro.
Two days later, Dr. Crowell got up in the middle of the night to vomit outside of his tent for a change, only to discover Tawpney, the expedition’s cook, kneeling in front of several of the most sinister looking idols. They were arranged in a semi-circle on top of a large, flat stone, their leering faces filled with malice. A dead salamander of the kind the men had been seeing everywhere had been placed in front of the idols on the stone, sprawled on its back and split down the middle, a sad, oozing sacrifice.
“Tawpney!” shouted Dr. Crowell. “Are you worshipping those idols? I think you are!”
“OK, fine,” said Tawpney. “I’m worshipping the idols, big deal. I just want to do everything I can to make sure my future wife, whoever she may be, is as fertile as she can be. What do I gain by not appealing to the pagan gods of the jungle? They’re right here. It’s so convenient.”
“No one on my expedition will worship idols,” said Dr. Crowell, stamping his soft, rotting foot in the mud. “I abhor idolatry.”
“In a way,” said Tawpney, rising to his feet and brushing deadly spiders off of his knees, “you’re the biggest idol-worshipper of all.”
“I know where you’re going with this,” said Dr. Crowell. “Something about how I don’t worship the idols individually, but I worship the pursuit and collection of idols as evidenced by my obsessive behavior and misplaced priorities. Well, I thought of that already, discussed it with the new Jorge, and he said that he considers that train of thought asinine.”
“He’s a yes-man,” said Tawpney. “He’s only telling you what you want to hear.”
“I know what a yes-man is,” said Dr. Crowell. “Your clarification of the term is insulting.” With that, he turned on his heel and went back to bed without vomiting, an oversight he came to regret.
The next day, Jarko, the expedition’s back-up marksman, discovered a cave with upwards of twenty idols in it. It was not a difficult discovery to make. The entrance to the cave was marked with lit torches. The walls of the cave were covered with drawings that depicted the exact nature of the curses attached to each of the idols. The drawings looked rushed and not very ancient.
“I’m trying to decide which ones I want the most,” said Dr. Crowell, standing with his hands on his hips, his disintegrating socks drooping down around his sickly ankles. “But you know how I am, right Jarko? The minute we leave, I’ll decide the one I want most is the one we left behind. We’d better take all of them.”
“I don’t think the burro can carry this many idols in addition to the ones we already have,” said Jarko.
“Then you men will have to carry them,” said Dr. Crowell. “I’d help, but I need both hands free for exaggerated pointing in case we come across any natives.”
The next morning, Dr. Crowell awoke to find himself alone in the jungle, abandoned by every other member of the expedition. They had taken the provisions, they had taken the weapons, the useless maps and the one good map, everything. All that was left for him were the idols, piled in a giant heap a few yards from his tent.
He knelt in front of the idols, not even bothering to set them upright. He extended his hands toward them and, with panic in his voice, said, “Please, gods of the jungle, ancient gods of depth and darkness, hear my plea, deliver me, spare me.”
A voice like many voices speaking in unison came back to him from the heap of idols, saying, “We would like to help you, Dr. Crowell, but alas, we are powerless.”
“Powerless!” cried Dr. Crowell. “How can that be?”
“Because,” said the idols. “We’re just the idols that were easy to find. We weren’t hidden well or protected by traps or guarded by gibbering cannibals. We’re very common gods.”“The curse,” said Dr. Crowell with a moan. Those were his last words. A jaguar, apart from any sort of supernatural influence, just happened to be passing by and tore his throat out.