When a recently awakened Inca god strands a group of tourists in the Amazon, a reluctant former adventurer must lead a group of tourists to safety or face the ultimate consequences.
||Albuquerque, New Mexico
||7 publishers interested
When a recently awakened Inca god strands a group of tourists in the Amazon, a reluctant former adventurer, Leslie Kicklighter, must lead the group of tourists to safety, or face the ultimate consequences. They’ll have to get past armed bandits hired to kill them, angry villagers who think they are out to exploit the land, a banana plantation owner who has a secret that he’ll do anything to keep, and even drunken monkeys—all while hoping the god doesn’t want any more from them.
It’s the story of one woman’s heroism and how a group of strangers band together and attempt to survive an impossible journey with plenty of action, sex, thrills, and fun.
Why did I write this book?
I love technology and thought, what if there was a high-tech boat that could travel the uncharted areas of the Amazon river and allow modern day travelers access? What might ensue? And that’s where the Toy came from.
I wrote the first draft a few years ago, worked on it with a great writing review group, then had a fantastic opportunity. I came into some money from the sale of a house. Not much, but it was enough to inspire me to do something fun. I had already spent years paying off debt, and I had no more bills.
So, I quit my job at the University of New Mexico, sold most of my belongings, and went to see places I’ve always wanted to see. I took a seven-week backpacking trip and spent time in the Amazon basin. I got to see first-hand the diversity and danger that exists in the hot, sweltering jungle.
That trip allowed me to re-write the novel and bring in the authentic nature of the Amazon.
When a recently awakened Inca god strands a group of tourists in the Amazon, a reluctant former adventurer must lead the group of tourists to safety, or face the ultimate consequences.
Chapter One – Present Day. Amazon basin, Peru
Two guides, who are also brothers, reestablish their ties to long abandoned ruins deep in the Amazon in preparation to bring tourists to the site. The Inca God Viracocha awakens and choses one to be his new vessel.
Chapter Two – Present Day, Amazon basin, Peru
Leslie Kicklighter, a well-known adventurer, has agreed to be onboard the inaugural trip of a new ship, and arrives in the Amazon to a beautiful, remote, eco-resort. She soon finds that not everything is as it seems.
Chapter Three – Leslie chases after a would be robber and meets Simon Leverance, a financier and banana plantation owner.
Chapter Four – Leslie explores a near by town, gets to know Simon, has to stop a fight and is introduced to the ship Toy of the Gods.
Chapter Five – We get to know John Holbrook, captain and inventor of the Toy of the Gods.
Chapter Six – A mysterious package is delivered to Leslie, and she meets the other passengers for the trip.
Chapter Seven – The Toy of the Gods arrives at its first destination. This is the last Eco Resort along the Amazon before entering the uncharted areas. The god begins to pass around his powers to see what happens.
Chapter Eight – The last person that Leslie ever expected to see is added to the trip at the resort.
Chapter Nine – During a hike to a remote waterfall, we get to know the other tourists better.
Chapter Ten – We see a bit of the god, Viracocha’s life.
Chapter Eleven – Haunted by the guilt of a friend in the past, Leslie must deal with her feelings.
Chapter Twelve – Viracocha decides that his plan isn’t working out as well as he would like, so he ups the anti.
Chapter Thirteen – Leslie and the tourists make their way to the long abandoned ruins and find something surprising.
Chapter Fourteen – An terrible storm and Viracocha leave the ship dead in the water.
Chapter Fifteen – The band of tourists head out on foot for their harrowing trip back to civilization.
Chapter Sixteen – The banana plantation owner seems to have his own plans for the tourists and Leslie.
Chapter Seventeen – A rescue, if possible, is in order.
Chapter Nineteen – Chase.
Twenty – Fight.
Twenty-one & Twenty-Two – The denouement
(My review group loves Viracocha, so I'll be adding a few more chapters from his point of view.)
“Toy of the Gods” is an action/adventure fiction. Readers who enjoyed Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park”, F. Paul Wilson’s “Repairman Jack” series, and Preston and Child’s “Relic” would likely respond to this work.
Like these other novels, “Toy of the Gods” is meant to transport readers to interesting locations with a bit of technology, a touch of the supernatural, and a race to find answers.
Readers will follow the characters’ journeys through the traitorous jungles of the Amazon. There are chase scenes, real life dangers of the jungle, occasional sex scenes, and the inevitable deaths that must happen in such a precarious adventure.
Sonja is an award-winning creative writer in flash fiction, and her articles have been published in various magazines, including Aviation History Magazine, Host, and the Weekly Alibi.
She runs a writing review group and is the founder of a writing event business, Plot Duckies. She's also an avid backpacker, traveler, and plays as "Author of Pain" in Albuquerque Roller Derby.
· I plan to host an adventure themed book party with a reading at a local hotel.
· My adventure blog, currently being moved, has an average of about 4,500 views per month that I can tap into.
· My professional website www.sonjadewing.com receives up to 3,000 views per month.
· I have an email subscription of 700 people that I can personally send information about my book.
· Between my social media, and my company, Plot Duckies, I have a combined audience of 8,000 on all of my platforms.
· Obtain a website dedicated to the book.
· Press Release to local media on local writer getting picked by Publishizer, and about the Publishizer process, and about the book.
· Writing Groups – I run a writing group – they call themselves Sonja’s Angry Writers. They will help me make this book even better and be my friendly army in spreading the word about the book.
· I’m a member of WriterGals – a network of women writers across New Mexico and they would be happy to help me get the word out about my book.
· I’m an organizer of One Million Cups Albuquerque – an event that has about 100 attendees each week and is followed by a few hundred on-line. Through this and other networking events, I can talk with potential readers.
Comments from readers of my novel (review group):
"I was bitten by this story as surely as the Peruvian guide, Sun, was bitten by the ants, mosquitoes, and, once, by a snake amidst the pyramids…" - Dominique Jones
"Sonja presents an enjoyable adventure, tangled with mystery and thrills worthy of Indiana Jones. Toy of the Gods is a novel rich in sensory details which bring her captivating jungle setting to life alongside a fun set of characters. This novel is cast with adventurous explorers alongside those with more questionable motives, including a supernatural twist that makes embarking on The Toy of the Gods an exciting quest for both the heroine, Leslie Kicklighter, and readers alike." - Kendall Lovely
“Toy of the Gods” is set in the dark and dangerous world of the deep Amazon. The following is a brief review of several popular books that would compliment or compete with “Toy of the Gods”.
By Michael Crichton
Set in the islands of Costa Rica at a high-tech theme park with cloned dinosaurs. Everything appears to be running normally until the electricity gets cut. Then a group of scientists must battle and evade cloned dinosaurs in order to escape and survive.
By F. Paul Wilson
Repairman Jack is series of books and novellas about a mercenary that often finds he has to deal with supernatural elements. Without any special powers he combats trouble with real-life strategies and his wit and wisdom. In “The tomb” he fights demons while solving the mystery of a missing necklace.
Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston
Set in the dark hallways of the New York Museum of Natural History, museum researcher Margo Green must determine who is murdering visitors. Her search will take her through amazing twists and turns while she tries to solve the mystery before anyone else dies.
The sun was setting in the Peruvian jungle. Trees stood over two hundred feet tall and forty feet wide, their limbs crowded with orchids and other opportunistic plants fighting for sun and resources. On the ground, young trees struggled to reach the sun; vines and dense ferns vied for space among the fallen leaves and branches.
A flock of green macaws passed overhead as Sun Castel stepped out of the jungle into a clearing. His brother, Miguel, emerged from behind him and wiped the sweat from his forehead on his long sleeved shirt.
“It looks like the Awa tribe has kept the area open,” said Sun, lowering his machete.
Miguel nodded, pointing at the clearing with bright green grass, a towering pyramid, partly covered in the growth of the jungle, remnit wouldants of smaller buildings. Behind the larger pyramid were smaller pyramids choked with dirt and jungle.
“They haven’t touched the main pyramid, though,” Miguel noted.
“They only use this open space for their camps when they move through. They don’t need to bother with the pyramid. It works out for us.”
They set up their campsite near the ruins of the largest pyramid. It brought back memories to the first time he and his brother had found the location, long since abandoned and only visited once before by outsiders. An impressive sight for the tourists who would get to see it, Sun thought, if he and his brother agreed to bring them this deep into the rainforest.
Miguel started the campfire and Sun skinned the fish he had caught in the river. They didn’t need to talk. Something that Sun appreciated about traveling in the Amazon with his brother.
Although it was hot today, the light from the fire would be welcome and the heat would help dry their clothes, wet from the extreme humidity. While the fire licked at the kindling, he looked around.
The place felt different. He knew there were millions of animals and bugs in the jungle, he could hear them pinging and chirping at every moment and could always spot something moving around him. But this was not the same. He could swear someone was watching them. His back tingled.
Sun looked over at the largest pyramid, a good six stories high. There was no opening, no door or window. The jungle around him was dark, as always, and getting darker.
“Yes?” Miguel looked up from the fire.
“Never mind,” Sun replied. Maybe he had spent too much time in the jungle, he thought. He handed over the fish to Miguel and started on the tents.
It cost them more weight to carry, but he preferred their separated tents with fully lined floors and zip tight doors. More than once, in their early days of exploring the Amazon, Sun had been bitten in the night by ants, the incessant mosquitoes, once by a snake, and many times by a dizzying variety of unknowns that had left welts. The bugs still got in somehow, but it was a lot less than before.
They watched the sunshine disappear as they shoveled down the fish. Sun wasn’t looking forward to the trip back to the eco-resort. It would take a day to get back to the river, then several days spending time in the canoe but having to get out and carry it when the river grew too shallow. However, they were about to be paid handsomely to bring tourists here in the high tech Toy of the Gods, and they had had to come out and ensure they could find it again.
Sun set out the GPS and ensured that it was working and connected. They hadn’t used it to get here, but having a back-up wouldn’t hurt.
In the distance, the flash of lightening accentuated that they were in the rainy season. It promised rain for the evening. Sun pointed his fork at Miguel. “Now that we know we can definitely find this place again, we’ll need to leave first thing in the morning. It’s going to take us days to get back with all the rain.”
Miguel nodded and raised a hand in the air. “Ok. I know you are trying to tell me not to sleep in tomorrow. I get it.”
“I’m glad you understand.” Sun smiled. A clicking sound from the jungle made him jump. He scanned the darkness and the black outline of the pyramid.
“What’s wrong?” Miguel asked, his face flashing in the light from the fire.
Sun laughed. “Nothing. Just spooked.”
Miguel shrugged and disappeared into his tent. Minutes later Sun heard Miguel’s soft snoring. He went through his normal routine of cleaning up from dinner and getting things ready for the morning.
Sun was down on his knees, moving his shirt closer to the fire to dry it out when he realized that the sounds around him had stopped.
Sun stood up from his campfire and surveyed the silent darkness. His brow furrowed and he reached for the machete now strapped to his leg. His wife always told him he worried too much. But he knew the jungle teemed with life at all hours. At a minimum, the cicadas should be filling the valley with staccato crooning. It was as if every wild animal and insect had disappeared from the area or been scared away.
I must be crazy to even think of bringing tourist here, he thought. Too many things could go wrong in the jungle. Not the least of which was this eerie, unnatural silence. Even the breeze that stirred the trees had stopped. He moved to call out to Miguel but realized he didn’t want to call attention to himself if this was a tribe of unfriendly natives approaching. Although he had never known the jungle to go silent for that.
He pulled the machete out of his scabbard and stepped out of the firelight. As soon as his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he could make out the pyramid temple against the cloudless and moonless night sky.
The fire crackled and the smell of burning cloth reached him. He must have set his shirt too close, but he couldn't bare the thought of turning his back on the darkness.
Had he just seen a flash of red light? It had appeared near the largest pyramid if he wasn’t seeing things. It was just a pinpoint, perhaps the glint of the eye reflection of a jaguar approaching?
He stepped toward the ruins of the temple. The red light was weaving its way toward him on the ground. He could see it between the blades of thick grass.
It coalesced into a glowing, red boa constrictor. All thirteen feet of it.
It was coming at him fast. Sun slammed down his machete. He felt it hit the ground but didn’t hear the sound of it cutting through skin and bone. He leapt back, giving himself more space. He swung at it again, but the blade passed through it. He watched, open-mouthed, as the snake crawled through the solid machete as if nothing were in its way.
Too late he tried to move back again. The creeping, ghostly image of the boa was already wrapped around his feet. He was surprised to feel the substantial weight of it encircling his legs. He fell to his knees and grabbed at it with his hands. As quickly as it had come, the boa disappeared.
Sun looked around him warily, took deep breaths to calm his heart, and shook his head. There were no lights, red or otherwise.
He felt around his body for bite marks or any other injuries. Other than his heart pounding, and the copious amount of sweat that was dripping off him, he seemed to be fine.
The sounds around him were reinserting themselves into the world. Close by a grasshopper was beginning its violin act for a mate.
He had seen a shaman levitate, a small lizard that could spit poisonous tar five feet, and a giant, overly hairy caterpillar that could have doubled as a toupee, but this had to have been the strangest. Would his brother tell him he was crazy when he told him of the disappearing boa? He must be dreaming. If so, it seemed pretty damn real.
He pushed himself up from the ground and reached for his machete, but instead brought his hand up to his face. His hands were glowing a soft red. Then his bones glowed red heat through his skin.
Intense pain followed the burn spreading through his limbs. He screamed and fell back to his knees.He could see the details of his bones, so bright through his skin.
As the pain and heat crept towards his face he hoped that if this was death, it would come soon. Then a strange thought filtered through his head, “Como lo quiere.”
He chokingly whispered the words back in his own language, “as you wish.”
Viracocha opened his eyes. The first time in over 500 years that he had seen out of the eyes of a mortal body. The other mortal was bending over him.
“Sun! Are you okay? What happened?” He was asking him.
Viracocha took a moment to absorb the memories from the man he inhabited. He considered killing the other, but if he was going to complete his new objective, he might need him.
Leslie awoke to a din of animal noise coming from the jungle, a smell of wet, warm earth, and the sheet clinging to her with humidity. She didn’t want to get up, but even at this early hour, it was too warm to stay in bed. She brushed aside the mosquito net.
The room had looked more menacing when she arrived in the dark with nothing but candlelight and lamps to show her the way. Now bathed in early-morning sunlight, it appeared a bit cheerier. She was surprised by the beautiful cherry-colored wood of the floors and walls. In the corner hung a bright orange hammock and above her, the roof was a thick layer of palm fronds.
She had heard and read that the eco-resort was beautiful. That the rooms had been built with an open veranda facing the thick jungle for privacy and to give visitors a real sense of being in the tropical rainforest. Obviously, the locals had put a lot of thought and funding into this place. It catered to adventurers and science enthusiasts who wanted to experience the jungle as close as possible.
She was not, however, a fan of there only being three walls. The opening looked out to the jungle and allowed all that noise to wash into the room. It had also given the room a cave-like appearance at night.
Leslie stretched her jet-lagged muscles and swooped into a downward dog on the smooth floor. A gold-skinned grasshopper was ambling along near her. When she picked it up it didn’t try to escape, but let her set it outside her door. She didn’t want to accidentally step on it.
If she were home, she’d be going about her happiness-inducing morning trifecta. Basset hounds, checking social media, and setting off her coffee pot. The basset hounds, Donald and Daisy, were staying at her friend’s place in Albuquerque, probably sneaking onto her friend’s couch when she wasn’t looking. Leslie missed the troublemakers already. The internet wasn’t available here in the Amazon basin, far removed from normal civilization. But at least she could do something about the coffee.
And she really needed the coffee. Between the creatures chirping and whirring and moving in the trees outside, there had been a lot of strange noises during the night. When she slept, her nightmares had haunted her. The memory of Carol’s stricken face as the flashlight flickered and faded. Then, in the suffocating darkness, her friend’s voice slowly dwindling as her life left her. The sounds of the jungle and the unfortunate cave-like look of the room must have brought back the memories she had been avoiding. Leslie wasn’t sure she was ready to face those memories yet, and certainly not right now.
She dressed in lightweight khaki pants, a green tank top, and tennis shoes. While she deftly braided her long, brown hair and pinned it up and out of the way, she checked over everything she had crammed into her luggage. Her well-worn hiking boots, protective hiking pants and shirts, and wicking T-shirts next to fancy shoes, dresses, and her skimpy silk pjs. At least material-wise, she was prepared for the trip. She pulled out her journal and packet of pens and set them on the bed, partly to remind herself that she was here to write and investigate, not just take in the scenery.
But now to go take care of the reason she existed: Coffee. She headed to the hotel’s main building, connected to the bungalows by a series of wooden walkways. The walkways were suspended a few feet above the muddy ground, and the wood was beaded with water from last night’s rain.
The walk to the main house made her think of a botanical center. Here the jungle had been partially held back. Where trees had been cut down, now grew dense grass, flowering bushes, and in her short walk, she had already spied numerous and very different-looking mushrooms. All of which was surrounded by the dark, dense, and looming jungle of tall trees and small plants clinging to every available space of dirt and branch.
Entering the resort’s restaurant, Leslie passed into the only place with a generator to run the cool curtain of air conditioning. Instead of the steady sound of jungle, here were groups and couples hovering and talking around tables. Latin music was playing softly through a tiny speaker in the corner.
Not quite what one would think of as a restaurant, she thought. More like a high school cafeteria constructed of dark wood, big and open, with lines of long wooden tables, and a small beverage bar in the center. A sign in English stated, “Alcohol served at any time”. Although that would have been a pretty awesome high school cafeteria, thought Leslie.
She grabbed a coffee cup and helped herself to the coffee at the main table, then perused the handwritten menu. The place prided itself on fresh food and fresh ingredients. She could go for the American plate with steak and eggs, or for the Healthy plate with yogurt, cereal, and fruit. It was an easy choice.
“The American, please,” she said when the worker approached her. The woman then moved off to take the orders of a few others who had wandered in.
Leslie didn’t recognize anyone in the room, so she took a seat at an empty table. The coffee smelled so good, she quickly gulped it down, dashed up and got some more. Now she could take some time to savor it.
She had an urge to pull out a cell phone and check her social media. How she could use some Internet right now. Instead, she scanned the room for entertainment. Two men were seated at the only small table; two Bloody Marys sitting in front of them. They appeared to be getting into a heated argument.
The one facing Leslie, strangely but impeccably dressed in a dark gray suit, moved his arms in wide sweeps, and his handsome face was marred by an angry expression. Snippets of the conversation wafted to her like the occasional tantalizing scents of the restaurant’s food.
“It’s a simple enough request, Alejandro.” “I don’t see why you…”
The man with his back to her had a wide neck and short, graying hair. The light shade of gray formed a wave in his hair. He shook his head now and stood up, shoving his chair back. He turned and stalked past Leslie.
The man still seated ran his hand through his short, blond hair then leaned back and lifted a Bloody Mary to his lips. Even from across the room Leslie could see he had icy blue eyes that were now lasered in on her.
A small shock passed through her, but she made a point to smile. He smiled back.
She was relieved to hear a familiar, raspy voice coming from behind her.
“Jessup!” She jumped up and gave the older man a hug. She couldn’t help looking over his clothes, especially his garishly blue and orange shirt. “What’s up with the jeans and Hawaiian shirt? What happened to your leather pants and jacket?”
He cleared his throat, his voice a product of his many years of smoking. “It’s too damn hot for leather. For this vacation, I’m not the radio personality Jessup. I’m the mild-mannered version.”
She laughed. Mild-mannered my ass, she thought. Shaking her head she responded, “I’ve seen that video where you wrestle that guy half your age and you were already in your seventies then.”
He smiled wide, the lines on his face drawn deep and long. “Well, I’m not getting any younger.”
“Why don’t you join me for breakfast?” Leslie offered, taking note that the blond man was now standing at the bar just behind Jessup, his back to them. Getting another Bloody Mary, she thought. Not a bad idea.
Jessup sat down next to her but shook his head. “Thank you for the invite, but I only have a few minutes. I already ate breakfast and I have to find out who else is here.”
“So, you’re the one organizing everything?” Leslie asked.
He nodded. “It was a favor to the Captain. I used my connections and people I knew from my work on the radio to find adventurous souls willing to take on the trip of a lifetime. And, here we are.”
“I’m glad you’re coming.”
“I would never miss out on a trip like this.” His eyes lit up as he continued, “We’ll be the first, besides the archeologists from years ago, to see the ruins”—he pushed his index finger onto the table with each item—“and we’ll be among the few people to move into the unexplored parts of the Amazon. Plus, we get to go back to the ship every night for a little rest and relaxation and sleep in a soft bed. Now that’s my kind of vacation.”
“You’re not worried about problems with the tribes along the Amazon, or that others have disappeared in some of those areas we’re visiting?”
“That’s old news.” He waved his hand at her. “The last time anyone disappeared out there was over twenty years ago. Besides, we have a guide who’s been to those areas and never had a problem.” He leaned back and narrowed his eyes. “Are you trying to stir up trouble?”
She laughed. “Of course not. You know I’m writing about this for some magazines. I needed some backstory.”
He looked serious for a moment, not something she saw him do often. “Look, I know you’ve been holed up in your apartment for over a year. Are you ready for this? Are you worried about the trip at all?”
She shook her head. “No. I’m fine. Really. It’s about time I got out of my funk. And I have work to do for the magazines. I promised them a good story. Does the captain know I’m writing about this?”
“He not only knows, he asked for you specifically.”
He shrugged and stood to go. “I don’t know. I’ve known John a long time and he doesn’t always share information.”
Leslie’s food was delivered. Steaming steak and eggs made her stomach growl.
Jessup stood to go. “And with that, I will leave you to your repast. I have to go see if I can find Samantha Sorenson.”
Leslie did a double-take. “Samantha Sorenson? Please tell me this is not the self-prescribed celebrity. Spoiled and famous for nothing?”
Jessup nodded. “Well, she’s not quite famous anymore. I’m guessing she agreed to come, hoping that some publicity might come from this trip. And John, he’s fine having some big celebrity on board.” He made a mock salute, then dashed away.
Leslie was taken aback. She might not be a movie or TV star, but she was well-known for her adventures, articles, and presentations. As well as my latest failure, she thought.
When Jessup had asked her to come along, she figured this would be the perfect opportunity to move on and find a new direction. She did not need some spoiled woman making this trip difficult. The best she could hope for was that what she had seen on TV of Samantha Sorensen was just an act. Besides, if this trip was as easy as promised, it would be worth it.
From her purse, she pulled a faded drawing, scanned from a book she had happened upon in her research, The Spafford Expeditions. The drawing was by Benedict Cecil Spafford, a swashbuckling British explorer of the early 1900s, who had persevered to discover the very same ruins she would be seeing soon.
The image was of a pyramid in a state of overgrowth. In the drawing men were depicted like tiny ants, going through the motions of clearing away trees. Spafford had sent back reports to the Royal Geographic Society about the uncomfortable living conditions, although he noted he was glad there was a man to play viola at night, and he had reported that he thought he had found something amazing. At the bottom of the picture, Leslie had written a quote from his letters: “The largest pyramid has no marked way to enter. Is it to protect something inside? We hope to find the entrance soon.” He and his men were never heard from again.
It was believed that they had been captured by hostile natives. The ruins, far into the jungles, had not been revisited until almost one hundred years later by one Sun Castel and his brother Miguel. A reluctant but interesting man, Sun told National Geographic that the site was extremely difficult to get to, but that the natives who moved through that area were no longer hostile. Now it was within reach because of John Holbrook’s genius ship, which was designed to traverse air and the shallow water. Unlike in Spafford’s time, they wouldn’t have to trek through miles of jungle to reach it.
She had written John Holbrook’s name on the back of the photo, and in parentheses, the additional research she had found. It appeared he was a descendant of Spafford’s. Why he was choosing this route was something he hadn’t shared with anyone, but she at least had an idea.
Were you hoping to find something out here? she thought at John’s name. Then she flipped the photo over and looked at the pyramid. And what secrets, she wondered, lie within your walls?