Chapter 1

                                                                  Cloud People

I was leveling up on Call of Duty when the doorbell rang and a parcel was handed over. ‘Open with your sister
only.’ It was weird how those five words, written on the cover, had brought my day to a halt. I almost opened it, to
make sure it was safe, but knew she’d get mad.
While I waited for sis, I’d held the package out in front of the light, shook it, squeezed my fingertips around the
edges, then the center. I listened to hear if it was ticking, but finally concluded that it was a standard size, run of
the mill manila envelope that contained three separate items…not a bomb.
Hand delivered and opened covertly, it had to be important. I set it on the coffee table. Not the Netflix delivery that
was for sure. Maybe Keenan had sent us something…nah, he was worthless. Never was much of a guardian. I
took care of sis.
I looked from the grandfather clock to my watch. Ugh! Only five minutes had passed. Maya was taking FOREVER
to get home. I looked out the window for sis but only saw our neighbor Mr. Redacre finish up his yard work. He
kept his hedges ridiculously flat, in a box cut.
I plopped back on the couch and grabbed the package. Curiosity got the best of me, I had to do it. For security
reasons…I rationalized with a grin. I shook the contents to the bottom and ripped off the top. A smaller envelope,
a sealed DVD, and a flat wide box slid onto the table. I picked at the security tape on the DVD.
The kitchen door opened and was kicked shut. I heard the familiar tink of keys hit the ceramic bowl on the
counter. Plastic bags rustled and thudded on the hard wood. One sack ripped open, the contents spread across
the table.
“Finally!” I leaned back on the couch to see Maya flip her long chestnut hair back and drop her purse onto the
kitchen table among the groceries. I craned half way around in the squeaky leather seat and yelled, “Come on.
Hurry up.”
“I was checking out when you called.” Another heavy bag dropped on the table. “If you’d help, it’d go faster. What’
s the rush anyways?”
“I’ll get the video ready.” Sis repeated a video in a low curious tone. I popped open the case and inserted the
disk. There was no paper inside or anything written on it. It could’ve easily been a new blank DVD.
I plopped back onto the couch and tossed the remote again. Ahh yeah. With all the practice I had that morning, I
was able to get two full rotations in the air before I caught it one handed. I heard a thud and glanced back. A can
had fallen off the kitchen table and rolled across the floor. Maya picked it up and set it onto the cabinet shelf.
Stay, she said and pointed at it.
“Leave it. We’ll put it away later. Come on,” I urged.
“Had to put the cold stuff away. What’s up?” Maya walked into the room. “Congrats, bro! How’s it feel to be a high
school graduate?” A smile widened across her heart-shaped face and her blue eyes twinkled.
“Great, but we have…” I started to answer.
“I know you hate surprises, but... Here-” she tossed a small blue wrapped box to me as she folded one leg under
her petite form and sank onto the couch beside me.
“You shouldn’t have, sis.”  I ripped into it and found another box. I swiveled to face her, narrowed my eyes and
teased, “Really…you shouldn’t have.”
“Open it already,” She giggled anxiously and twirled some of her hair around a finger. Of course she’d double
wrapped. Good thing it wasn’t duct taped like the last one. I shook it by my ear. Nothing.  
“Bro, it’s a box, there’s a lid, lift it.” Maya bounced in her seat and nodded at me.  
I grinned and cracked open the black velvet case and glanced at sis who was wide eyed. It was a gleaming gold
pocket watch. I examined the worn sculpted leonine head and flicked it open. Cool, no numbers, I loved
timepieces like this. “Not bad sis. Thanks.”
“I know you like old stuff, so Mr. Redacre helped me pick it out,” sis beamed, and then glanced out the front
window.  Mr. Redacre rolled up the last of his tarps and loaded the electric shears into a wheel barrel.
I put the watch back in the box and grabbed the remote. “Ready?”  
Maya bit her bottom lip and stared silently at the envelope, “So, you said a courier just showed up this morning?
He didn’t say who paid him or how long they’d had it?” She ignored my question and started her own inquisition.
“Is it a graduation present?”
“Yes, no, no and I don’t think so.” I answered all of her questions.  
“Must’ve known you just graduated. It’s not like it’s a federal secret. Hmm…” Maya’s voice trailed off.
I snapped my fingers in front of her face. “Look sis, why don’t we just watch it?” I pushed the play button.
“I want to see the letter first.” She picked it up.
I sighed loudly, paused the DVD and sank back into the sofa. Curiously, she inspected it, just as I’d done earlier,
and found nothing new. I smirked and folded my arms over my chest.
Maya opened and closed the DVD case. Her hand glided over the words written on the cover. “Watch me first.”
She set it aside and picked up the envelope, “Read second.” She put it down and turned over the box, “Open
last.” She placed it next to the letter. Good, now she was up to speed. I unfolded my arms and sat up.
“We need to watch, read, open.” I used the remote as a pointer and motioned to the television, letter and box.
“Ready now?”
Maya separated each piece and aligned them. Always so flippin’ organized. Normally, I’d have had a little fun
there and ‘accidentally’ mess them up, but I was ready to see the DVD.
“Roll it,” Maya motioned to the television as if she was directing a film.
I pressed the play button… again.
The black screen flickered and before the entire picture came into view we heard voices…our voices, and mom
and dad’s. Maya gasped, but never looked away from the screen. There was no mistaking mom’s laugh, it was
contagious. We moved to the edge of our seats. I set the remote down in front of me and missed the table the
first time.  
I glanced quickly at Maya, her eyes pooled with tears. We could never bring ourselves to watch any of the old
tapes. Our parents died years ago. Unbelievable. It was like watching new footage of them. Even though we were
there, we’d never seen this. My heart stopped then raced.
“Peru, our last trip.” I swallowed, hard. I was ten and sis was almost nine then. Usually their digs were all work and
no play. This one was more fun, or at least it started off that way.
“Mom looks the same as I remembered. Long, curly hair and big blue eyes,” Maya sniffed. She turned to the last
family picture we’d taken together. It was from the same year as this video. I wrapped my arm around her and
kept my eyes on the screen.
“And happy. You look just like her with your big blue eyes.” I rubbed my thumb on her arm.
“You look just like dad.” Maya cocked her head as she slowly studied my face. “Tall, green eyes, dark hair and
you even have the same dimple in your chin.” She squeezed my hand tight and laid her head on my shoulder.  “I
really miss them.”
“I do too,” I told her in a quiet voice and wiped her tears. I turned my head away and clenched my jaw. I had to be
strong for her. Come on man, suck it up.
Our focus turned back to the television as Dad’s tone commanded our attention. Besides our parents, a big man
talked to a shaman and several locals. Dad introduced mom to the Peruvian natives. They were speaking in
Quechua, something about cloud people? That was when the conversation turned grim. The guide and dad
exchanged an item, and then mom glanced around before she secretly slid it into her bag. Pacheco. Pacheco
was the name of the guide. Dad repeated the name slowly while he looked directly into the camera.
“That’s weird. I don’t remember him doing that.” Maya leaned forward. She stared hard at the television. I didn’t
remember it either. Was he talking to us?
The exchange on the video continued. Mom and dad spoke in a weird mix of Quechua, Spanish and English. As
the conversation went on, each side spoke in shorter sentences, the tension heightened. It ended when both
sides sadly repeated the same few words. In silence, the entire group turned to sis and me.
The camera panned toward mom’s face for a close up. “For your safety,” she whispered.
“Did you get all that?” I looked over at Maya, who shook her head.
The big man spoke intentionally, slow and loud. “There it is again!” I bellowed. Maya jumped and glared at me as
my voice echoed. “He said Chantress.” I pointed at the TV accusingly. They never mentioned her before.
Maya squinted to watch them talk. “You’re right. They looked straight at the camera. I’m writing this down.” Maya
searched in a panic and then grabbed a pen triumphantly. She repeated Pacheco and Chantress, and
pronounced them slowly as she wrote each name on the back of the big envelope. Before she finished, the video
ended and the screen went blank. She held the pen in midair, “That’s it?” she looked up, disappointed.
“I’ll start it again.” We played it several times. After we were past the initial shock, we started to pick out their
mannerisms. Each time we noticed something different. The funny way dad pushed his glasses high up on his
forehead and never actually wore them. Mom always had the clipboard full of her notes and when she was in
deep thought, tugged at her bottom lip.
“Amazing, we never noticed these things before,” Maya said softly.
“I did,” I whispered and wished she could remember too. I tried to be both parents for her, which was hard,
especially since I was only two years older. Some days, like today, it felt more like twenty. Our parents were a
good team. Dad’s out of the box thinking was well complimented by mom’s scholarly nature. Funny…I hadn’t
noticed before, but me and sis work the same way.
Maya picked up the smaller envelope. “Open it.” I nudged her.
“Okay, but you read it.”  She slid one finger under the flap and opened it.
I took a deep breath, straightened the paper, and peered over it at Maya. She squeezed a pillow against her
chest and sunk into the cushions.
I exhaled and read. “Dear Kids, if you have this it means we passed on.” Maya grabbed the Kleenex box. I cleared
my throat and continued. “Our attorney was advised to hold onto this until Jack graduated. If you followed our
instructions, you’ll have seen the video of our Peru trip. That’s when we came into possession of our most
treasured archeological find. An artifact so steeped in power and tradition that it’s highly coveted. We always
thought things like this were legend, never something that was truly possible. We brought you home before we
put your lives at any deeper risk. Since you're reading this, it means that we were not successful in completing
our greatest adventure yet. We've sent you what you'll need to finish what we started…what has to be done.”
I glanced down at sis who stared straight ahead, glossy-eyed. She pulled a tissue from the box and held it tight.
“We're sorry we couldn't be there to watch you grow into successful adults. Jack, we're sure you are an honest,
noble man. Watch over Maya… you always have. Just remember, now that she’s older, to treat her as an equal.
Maya, we know you'll have grown into a capable, intelligent young woman. Please use that incredible brain of
yours to save…" I turned the paper over, but nothing was written on the back. It was ripped at the bottom. Save
what? I set the letter aside and shook the envelope.
“Save what?” Maya grabbed the note, and flipped it from side to side.
“That's it.” I shrugged.
“There’s nothing else?” Maya rummaged through it. “Open the box.”
The small package was light, so not much was in there. I carefully lifted the lid. It was a wide antiqued gold band
with a large empty jewel setting. It must’ve had a big stone.
“Couldn’t be a bracelet- it’s too big.” Maya pulled the band easily over her flattened hand, held her arm up and
the piece dropped past her elbow to her bicep. When she put her arm back down, it slid right off her hand. I
caught it before it hit the floor. It wasn’t jewelry, unless they were amazons.
“Wait a minute.” Maya grabbed the envelope off the table. “Pacheco and Chantress,” she tapped a finger on
each name. “That’sacluethey’reaclue!” she said excitedly. “They were telling us who to talk to. This must be really
important. We’ve got to figure this out and help mom and dad one last time.”
“I gotcha! Makes sense. Mom and dad repeated their names, looking straight into the camera. We can do this.” I
spun the artifact on my finger like an ancient six shooter and then shoved it in my pocket. “Sweet! Pack your bags
we’re going to Peru!”
Mom and dad’s words, our greatest adventure yet, repeated over and over in my mind. They trusted us to finish
what they started. I couldn’t let them down. I started a mental check list, reservations, tickets, money, passports,
clothes, luggage…
“You go pack. I'll call Keenan then get my things.” Maya reached for her cell phone. “Isn’t he still working in Peru?”
“Maybe. Haven’t heard much from him since my last birthday.” When he sent me the unsigned, generic card, two
months late. “Come to think of it, that’s when he left for the fellowship.” I couldn’t tell her not to call him, but I didn’t
want to bump into him down there. Any time he offered to “help” us, it had only benefitted him. At the
Smithsonian, he volunteered Maya to inventory a new shipment that had arrived from overseas. After he showed
up to “help” a small artifact went missing. Sis was blamed and fired for it. I couldn’t prove it then, but knew he was
the one who took it. Enough time wasted on him. I burst into the study, pulled a painting aside, and removed our
passports and papers from our hidden fireproof safe.
Maya turned the receiver away from her mouth, “He’s not there. I’ll leave a message.” Typical. He never
answered. We only communicated by voice mail, mine to his.
“I’ll call the airport and book a flight.” I grabbed the kitchen phone to make reservations.
Maya poked her head around the door and whispered, “I’m going to pack.” I nodded. She bounded up the stairs
two at a time.
We didn’t have a lot of choices for flight times, or cost, since it was the last minute. I’m sure mom and dad would’
ve considered this trip necessary, after all it was their idea. I laughed. It was time to give the trust fund a workout.
I lined up our flights from Washington, D.C. to Chiclayo, Peru via Miami and Lima. Maya was packed and banged
her bag down the steps with both hands, one stair at a time.
I went to the laundry room and pulled most of my clothes out of the dryer. My backpack and carry on were in my
bedroom closet. I stuffed everything in and quickly zipped them shut before they exploded.
In the kitchen, I jammed snacks in any open space I could find. I set my bags by Maya’s perfectly aligned
matching set at the door. Sis put everything back inside the envelope, slipped it inside her carryon bag and
patted it to show me which pocket she’d placed them in. We were ready to hit the road.
“Total flight time is nearly twenty-three hours, with three plane changes,” I told sis, who groaned. She shoved a
few more breakfast bars into her bag.
“I called a taxi service for us then Mr. Redacre to pick up our mail while we’re gone.” Maya held the curtain back
and peered out the front window.
“Good thinking sis.” We could always count on him to take care of things.                  
After a quick house check, I took a walk through the study. It was mom and dad’s room. I picked up their picture
from the desk and blew the thick dust off it. We rarely went in there. If the door was closed, I imagined they were
still on the other side. They always kept it shut when they worked. I set their picture back down directly in the
narrow, short line of visible mahogany.
“Good luck kids! Let me know if you need anything.” Mr. Redacre yelled from his porch.
“Thanks!” yelled back and sis waved to him as we sat in our deck chairs. It wasn’t too long before our ride came.
“Game on. Y!” Maya blurted, “Yellow,” and pointed at the cab.
Figures a ‘y’ would just roll up for her. We’ve had an ongoing game of A,B,C since we were little. Outside anything
counted. We upped the stakes lately, or should I say I upped the stakes. Winner can make loser do something
embarrassing. Recently when I lost, sis had me do ten pushups in the middle of the mall food court… at lunch
time. Another time, I had to wear one of her jean miniskirts to check our mailbox on the street curb for a week. But
she's had to wear an empty popcorn bucket on her head at the movies once, use binoculars strapped on her
head to see while checking the mailbox for a week, and wear one of dad’s oversized suit coats backwards to pick
up our pizza inside the busy restaurant. Good times.
“Let’s go.” I held the door for sis, hopped in and set our stuff by our feet.
The ride to the airport was quick. This had happened so fast, I couldn’t believe I was on my way to Peru. “PERU!”
I grinned at sis and slugged her in the shoulder. She smirked at me and rubbed her arm.
“Thanks,” Maya said to the driver and paid him.
“Smile! S,” I said and nodded to a cute girl that was glancing at me, outside the airport ready to cross the street.
“Pshh,” Maya rolled her eyes. “Cheater.”
“ Still counts,” I argued. Not my fault if girls like me.
Maya stared me straight in the eyes. “Every girl smiles at you. And why do you get away with using anything for
your letters and I have to find actual words?” Maya shook her head disgusted.
“Hey sis- I didn’t make the rules-” I started to argue, but she cut me off.
“Yes… you did! You made that one up. Among several others,” she raged and jabbed a finger in the air at me.
“If you must know, it’s called a handicap. You’re too good at this game. “Come on, we need United Airlines.” I
searched for the right terminal and a “T” for me. Sis responded with her usual, pshh and eye roll. I knew just how
to push her buttons.
“Wait!” she grabbed my arm and nodded at the sign painted on the wall in front of us. It read parking zone. “Z for
Zone, I win,” Maya crowed.
“Crap!” I smacked my palm on my forehead. “You got lucky. Alright, I can take it, what’s it gonna be?” I dreaded
her answer. Not sure how she could top the skirt I’d had to wear, but with enough time on her hands she was sure
to think of something. “Stumped? We need a set time limit to decide. How’s two minutes?”
Maya twirled a long piece of hair around her finger. “Don’t need two minutes.” Her grin was sly. Never a good
sign. “You need to wear your backpack on your head- like a hat, until we board the plane.”
“That’s stupid…but I’ll do it.” I threw my pack up and settled it turban style on my head. “Let’s go! Gotta flight to
catch.” I stood tall and saluted her then moved out. I loved the grimace she gave me as I passed her.
“Dang,” I heard Maya whisper when she caught up with me. “Next time’s gonna be sooo much better, bro!” She
had a diabolical mind, but I take credit for that. I grinned, threw an arm around her and pulled her close. People
were staring at her too. Awesome!
“Try to keep up!” Maya taunted and sped up toward the terminal to put as much distance between us as she
I adjusted my bag so it would sit steady, pulled my carry on behind me and tried to walk faster. Crap, had to walk
slow to stay balanced. I knew everyone was looking at me, but I didn’t care. I made eye contact, smiled, and
waved at my new admirers.
Maya turned back to notice the attention I was drawing not only because of the bag, but because of the response
I was giving back. She shook her head. I saw her mumble, unbelievable and I waggled my eye brows at her. She
sighed, turned on her heel and walked even faster. I trailed far behind her in line to check in. The worst was some
guy laughing out loud, and asking if I had lost a bet. Lucky guess. Him- I ignored.
We stopped for some fast food that sis insisted we eat in the seating area outside of the restaurant- basically
tables roped off in the terminal, where everybody could get a good look at me. After, we hit an ATM, and bought
more snacks at the over-priced store. I got a few more magazines and books on Peru for sis and then settled into
the uncomfortable lounge seats. I watched her crack open a book while we waited.  Too bad we couldn’t start a
new game until I was able to remove my bag. I’d already figured out what she’d have to do when I found ‘z’.
Once aboard, we found our seats right over the wing. After takeoff, Maya wanted to reread the letter and handed
me the box. I opened it and pulled out the gold band. There had to be great significance to it, but it seemed
so…normal. We hit turbulence and I grabbed the box before it slid sideways off the tray table.
Maya looked from me to the box startled. “What’d you do?” she accused.
I had no idea what she meant and raised my hands. She didn’t hesitate to snatch the box. Part of the inside lining
had separated from a corner. She spotted a hidden piece of paper and gently tugged it out and handed it to me. I
unfolded it and couldn’t believe my eyes. “It’s a map.” Maya’s mouth fell open.
It was a hand drawn map of Peru with the words Cloud People written in cursive across the top. That must’ve
taken a long time to draw.
“That’s mom’s work,” sis leaned close. “I’d know it anywhere.”
“The town of Chachapoya, Peru is marked as the starting point and just past the village Leimebamba is the ruins
of La Congona, marked as ‘COS’ the end temple.” I looked at sis. She shrugged. The map showed a path
through the jungle that led to some ruins.
“That’s different… look in between the start and finish, there’s a line in color, the only line in color, red, marked as
short cut. Let me see…wait, hang on a minute,” sis pushed her tray table up and dug through various pockets in
her bags before she located a specific book. I turned the overhead light on. She flipped through it to find a
certain map. I learned a long time ago never to doubt her photographic memory. Maya matched the locations and
distance on each map perfectly. “Nothing’s mentioned in the book about the short cut.”
“This just keeps getting better.” I smoothed my hand over the map to flatten it.  
Maya leaned over and looked closer. “Dad must’ve helped mom,” she said, her fingers traced over the letters of
Cloud People. “He always made his C’s with the extra loop.”
She held the paper up. I focused on the tiny letters. She was right…as usual. “He could’ve printed all the names,
but he must’ve wanted us to realize these directions were his. Go dad, and good catch Nancy Drew!”
I should’ve guessed it, especially after we realized dad wrote Cloud People. I had a sudden sense of urgency to
get there fast. Had mom and dad left us another clue at the short cut? Too bad we were strapped down to our
seats for the next twenty hours.  
“Bet they made this map when we were there. We’ll be walking in their footsteps.” Maya sat back in her seat and
twisted the end of her hair.
We waited for our next flight in Miami and went over everything we knew. We had more questions than answers.
Maya had also reached the letter ‘g’ in our game. I was stuck on ‘f’. We boarded the plane, our longest flight, and
pulled out the pillows and blankets, determined to catch a few Z’s.
“You should try and sleep we have a long way to go.” I told Maya. She turned the air on directly above her head
and dozed off.  
The next thing I heard was the stewardess announce our arrival gate and connecting flight information. I nudged
sis awake and prepared to land in Lima, Peru. We had a one hour layover before our final flight.
Almost there. I replayed the DVD in my head and wondered who or what we have to save. I WILL finish this for
them. Sis was staring eagerly out the window. A smile widened across her face as we listened to our arrival
information for Chiclayo, Peru.
“Our greatest adventure yet,” Maya nudged me.
I looked out the window past sis as the plane descended further into the clouds. Steep green peaks dotted the
landscape. The dense forest canopy was so tightly woven that from above it looked like one gigantic leaf waved
welcome to Peru. We looked at one another and grinned.
This was before our final edit.
Hopefully there are not too many
Copyright © 2007, Lori Lebda & Tami Bergeson, All rights reserved