Sunday, June 13, 2010

Buried Alive and Left for Dead : from the book Roadtrip Ramatuelle.

When I was on my first trip to Rumania, I had gone to a town called Piatra Neamt, up in Transylvanian mountains, to load knitwear for London. The stuff wasn’t ready, so I drove to this lake outside of town, where I parked the truck beside the water. When I woke up in the morning, this old Volkswagen camper was parked beside me. It had German registration plates that began with the letter ‘B’ so I knew it came from Berlin. During the morning, I got talking with the owner, who said his name was Ziggy. The guy was in his fifties and a real old hippie: long hair, goatee beard, the lot. We drank coffee and talked all day. He had excellent English and told stories of his travels.
In the evening, Ziggy said he would let me in on a secret, because he thought he could trust me. He told me a story about his parents. He said his father had been an officer in the German army during the second world war. Ziggy’s old man had died some years ago, but his mother had only recently passed away. Before she died, she gave her son a map that her husband had given to her, years before. It was a treasure map. It contained details of treasure looted by the German army during their occupation of Rumania in the war. The map showed part of the Transylvanian Alps and Ziggy pointed out the lake where we were parked.
He said that if I helped him find the treasure and get it out of the country in the lorry, he would go halves. We shook hands on it. In the morning, we went off in his VW to find the spot marked with an ‘X’. The map showed four churches and when a line was drawn to the opposite church, the crossing point was the site we were looking for. It was rugged terrain which was impassable to vehicles, so we had to explore on foot. But on the second day of our search, we found a cave, close to the summit of a mountain, from which we could see all four church towers. The cave was not particularly well hidden and showed signs of recent occupation, probably by local children, out camping. With our torches, Ziggy and I explored every inch, but found nothing, in a place that would have been visited many times in the last 40 odd years.
Ziggy was sure his father would not have chosen such an obvious hiding place, so we combed the surrounding area for more clues. But we had to return to the cave when a thunder storm caught us in the open. While we sat on the dusty floor, waiting for the rain to stop, Ziggy kicked at the ground with his heel and unearthed a large metal ring, the size of a dinner plate. The ring was linked to another, which was set in the rock floor. As we scraped away at the loose dust, it became apparent that a block was set into the cave floor and it could be pulled out, using the ring. The combined strength of Ziggy and me could not budge the block, so we went back to the nearest village to borrow a six foot long scaffold pole from a building site. Using a convenient rock as a fulcrum and the pole as a lever, Ziggy and I then managed to lift out the block.
It revealed the entrance to an underground chamber, ten foot square and ten foot high. Leading down to the bottom, through the two foot square hole, was a wooden ladder. From the top, we shone in our torches and could see stacks of old ammunition boxed, overflowing with jewel encrusted alter plates and gold chalices. We both climbed down the rickety ladder to inspect our new found wealth. It was beyond our wildest dreams, with jewels, gold and silver, plus a huge pile of old rolled-up paintings laying in one corner. Ziggy went back up the ladder and I built up a pile of boxes so that I could have something to stand on, as I passed up the treasure. It was heavy work, but I didn’t mind sweating when the rewards were so great. Soon, all that was left was the pile of stuff that I was standing on and the paintings, which we decided to leave. By balancing each box on my head and climbing the decaying ladder, I managed to get all the boxes up to Ziggy.
I had just gone back down to pick up my torch and was climbing the ladder for the last time, when Ziggy somehow managed to drop the block back into its tight fitting hole. It missed my head by less than an inch, but it made me drop my torch and my right foot broke the step that it was on. The torch bulb broke as it hit the stone floor. In the pitch darkness, I tried to regain my footing, only to find that one side of the bottom half of the ladder had fallen away. All my weight was on my left foot, as I clung on desperately, while I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
They never did, as there was no light source to help them. Shouting for help didn’t help either, as the only person who might have heard was Ziggy and he knew of my predicament anyway. I tried thought transfer, by thinking things such as “Come on Ziggy, there’s enough here for both of us” and “OK, but let me out of here and you can have it all.” It seemed like hours, as I clung on, anxious not to fall down, in case the hole opened up again so that I could climb to freedom. I said nothing in the darkness, as my thoughts ricocheted from past, to present, to future. It was then I noticed that the trouser of my hanging right limb had gone taut. In the inky blackness, something had attached itself to the material and there was definitely a weight of some sort clinging to me. When I had my torch, and now in the darkness, I had not seen nor heard anything, but I was in no doubt that there was something pulling my leg like I’m pulling yours.

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