It’s not on any maps, not even Google Earth. No GPS unit will take you there, but if you ask the native people, they might show you. Of course, the locals don’t give out the location freely—everything has a price.
The Pool of Never Death lurks beneath the ruins of an Aztec temple deep in the jungles of modern-day Guatemala. It’s a murky and unassuming hole, more puddle than pond. Looking at its brackish waters reveals nothing of its true nature or helps explain its mysterious power. Even the locals don’t know how it works, except to claim that some ancient god made it so.
They just know that it does.
It’s said that when the Aztecs conquered their land, the indigenous people prayed to their gods to save them from destruction but none listened. So the Aztecs enslaved the population and took some of the captives to the top of their great temple. After they cut the hearts out of their victims, they left the corpse son the altar. At night, family members of the deceased crept out to take their bodies and wash them in the pool.
And the dead rose again.
How do I know all this, you ask? Well, I visited the Pool of Never Death long ago…and also paid the local’s price.
I first heard of the pool more than thirty years ago while at the University of Pennsylvania. The professor in my introductory archaeology class claimed to have seen it during his travels, though most of the students took it as a story from a kook. The man had been a well-known activist and hippie in the 1960s, and most joked that the LSD had cooked his brain.
Still, I jotted down a note about the pool and vowed to inquire about it if someday my work took me to Central America. Of course, it never did. After college, I spent the next fifteen years digging up Han pottery in China.
And that’s where I met Anne—lovely, worldly, knowledgeable Anne. She was a paleontologist, and when we met at a dig site near the Himalayans, she mocked me for preferring to dig up pottery to dinosaur bones. I endured her verbal jabs for a month before she agreed to let me take her out.
I knew happiness then, and I loved that woman more than the pottery fragments I pulled from the dirt, even the rarest. But Anne proved just as fragile as those artifacts, perhaps even more delicate. When I first asked her about her constant cough, she blamed the years of inhaling dust and sand. The next time, she joked that it must have been the Bubonic plague. She could never be serious—even years later when she lay dying in a Shanghai hospital bed. I loved that most about her.
The day the lymphoma claimed her last breath, I lost a piece of myself—and my mind. I stole into the morgue and spirited her body away. She deserved more than to be buried beneath the dirt and clay like the dinosaurs. I remembered then what my college professor had said about a place in Central America where the dead could rise again.
Smuggling a body on ice out of China and into Central America isn’t as difficult as you would think, especially for a man willing to spend all his savings. Keeping a body cold during transport through the Guatemalan jungle, however, proved more difficult. My Anne—my sweet, lovely Anne—smelled anything but sweet after a week.
My local guide claimed to know of the Pool of Never Death and for a fee took me to meet the natives who called it home. He led me into the heart of the jungle, aplace where the air felt sticky, almost viscous. There we met the natives, who emerged from the trees with jangling necklaces that looked made of bone, with spears in their hands.
I thought they meant to kill us and laughed aloud at the absurdity of dragging abody into the jungle in search of resurrection, only to be lured to my own death. But instead of stabbing us, one of the natives said (which my guide translated), “We’ll take you to the pool, but only if you understand the price.”
I didn’t understand the price or care to ask about it. Not when I was that close to having my Anne back. So I eagerly nodded and trekked through the dense foliage with a weeping corpse over one shoulder. Soon she would be alive again—full of health and color.
I noticed the Aztec temple first, a dark, ominous structure that still looked stained with blood even after all the centuries. And then I saw the inhabitantsof the valley floor, hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. They shuffled along, barely animated. Some were soggy, white blobs of melting flesh, and others black and flaky. And some had gaping holes in their chest where their hearts had been.
I cried out that I had changed my mind, but the natives laughed as they tore Anne from me and dunked her into that murky pool.
It’s then that the natives told me that the pool’s name had been mis-translated all these years. It wasn’t the Pool of Never Death, but rather, the Pool of Forever Death. Their ancestors had raised the dead to overthrow the Aztecs and continued to do so to protect their valley. Anne would belong to them now, a stumbling, mindless corpse.
And then I saw her, standing before me and weeping tears of yellow pus.
The natives told me to kiss her goodbye, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wish I had buried Anne in China with the dinosaurs or laid her bones to rest near her childhood home in Massachusetts. Instead, she continues to guard a pool that’s not on any maps, not even Google Earth. No GPS unit will you take you there, but if you ask the locals, you might find it…
…but only if you want to pay their price.
©2012 Shane Rhinewald