The following is chapter 32 of Missionary Max and the Lost City, entitled Gun Control. It features brand-new original art by artist-extraordinaire Zilson Costa.

Tanawehe, Max, Ilana, and Mary Sue stood at a curve in the canyon. Before them was a rock wall that rose several hundred feet into the air. The rock wall on either side was just as steep. The canyon curved to the left, and in that direction, according to Tanawehe, the rock walls opened into a large wooded inlet, where they would be able to fashion a floating vessel of some kind and make for Cabrito.

Their trek through the canyon had been punctuated by the occasional sighting of a snake. Either Tanawehe or Ilana would dispatch the offending reptile with their spears, and the little party would move on. As they had penetrated further into the canyon, the snake incidents had increased in frequency, and Max was certain he noticed a general increase in the size and ferocity of the snakes themselves.

Now, here where the narrow path turned to the left – and freedom – was an outcropping of small rocks. and in the gathering twilight the rocks appeared to move. The hissing sound emanating from the area made it clear that their way was blocked by hundreds – if not thousands – of vipers.

And, to his alarm, Max realized that the hissing was not just coming from in front of them, but also from behind them. Turning, he saw the path they had just walked covered with the evil-looking reptiles. They were coming out of openings in the canyon walls and slithering to the ground. Tanawehe and Ilana unlimbered their spears, and two vipers immediately met their maker.

But they were just two out of many, and there was no way that the two spears were going to be able to get them through the tangled mess of serpents.

Max remembered the firearm at his side. Unholstering it, he filled the chambers. It felt awkward in his left hand. Shooting left-handed had been part of his training, but it was never something he excelled at. Still, he took aim and fired. The bullet thudded harmlessly into the canyon wall.

With great effort he tried to get his right arm out of his sling, but found that it was too weak even to hold the weapon. Reluctantly he handed the gun to Ilana.

“You try,” he said. But though she was very adept with any number of jungle weapons, the revolver was unfamiliar in her hands. Awkwardly she gripped it and let off two rounds. Neither of them had any effect. The hissing only seemed to grow louder, and the circle where the four companions stood continued to get smaller.

Shakily, Ilana raised the weapon to take another shot, then she felt hand on her shoulder.

“Give me the pistol.” She was shocked to hear Mary Sue’s voice, and she hesitated.

“Please…give it to me.” The American girl’s voice was low and insistent. Still, Ilana clutched the weapon, not certain she wanted to entrust it to someone who had proven so inept at every stage of their journey. Mary Sue spoke again, a sense of urgency in her voice.

“You have to trust me,” Mary Sue pleaded.

At that Iana’s head snapped back. “Why should I trust you?” she hissed, angrily. “When I tried to help you escape back in the jungle, you turned me over to the enemy. How do I know you won’t take that gun and shoot us all?”

Mary Sue bowed her head, and took a deep breath. “If it helps you believe me, I’ll tell the truth right now.” She looked from Ilana to Max and back to Ilana again. “You two are in love.” Ilana looked at Max and found his expression to be just as shocked as her own. Mary Sue continued. “Don’t try to deny it, you both know it’s true. I knew it from the first time I saw you at the airport.” Ilana was about to speak, but Mary Sue pressed her finger to the Yamani girl’s lips. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so horrid these two weeks. I realized that you two are made for each other.”

“But…” Iana was searching for words, without success.

“It’s okay. Back at the lagoon, while you two were patching up Max’s wounds, I did a lot of soul-searching, and I came to the conclusion that I’ve been living a lie up to this point, and that…

“Hala nagana wahanaki!!!” Everyone looked at Tanawehe, who was gesticulating wildly at the advancing snakes. There was no doubt that her words meant “The snakes are getting closer”.

Mary Sue turned back to Ilana and held out her hand. “So to summarize: I’ve been a jerk, you an Max are in love and will have a beautiful future together…but only if you give me that pistol.”

Ilana looked at Max still uncertain. Max nodded. Somewhat reluctantly, she handed the weapon to Mary Sue, who balanced it briefly in her hands, then popped the magazine out of the hand grip. She reached over and took the ammo belt from around Max’s shoulder, then thumbed bullets into the the magazine and clicked it back into place. Ilana was surprised at the cool precision with which her fingers worked.

“I’m next to useless in the jungle,” Mary Sue admitted as she sighted down the barrel. “I realize that, and I’m very sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused. But there’s one thing I can do. Ever since I was a little girl my daddy has been taking me to shooting ranges. Max even went with me a couple times, and though Mr. Special Forces here hates to admit it, I schooled him. A lot.”

Under normal circumstances Max would have argued, but as these were far from normal circumstances, he decided to let it slide.

Mary Sue squeezed off three quick shots. Three serpents wriggled, headless, in the rocks. Another snake raised itself up on a rock close by, a shot rang out, and it’s head disintegrated into nothing.

Max, Ilana, and Tanawehe stood in awe as Mary Sue casually dispatched eight more snakes before pausing to reload. Then she lifted the pistol again with both hands, her legs apart in a shooters stance. In quick succession twelve more snakes ceased to exist. She raised the barrel to her lips, blew on it, then winked at her companions before reloading.

Now she’s just showing off, thought Max. She had pulled the same trick on numerous occasions after out-shooting him at the range.

Once again the revolver belched flame, and Max, Ilana and Tanawehe noticed that Mary Sue’s shots were beginning to form a path through the squirming vipers. As she fired her next round she began to edge forward.

As impressive as Mary Sue’s shooting was, Max saw that it would still be a challenge for them to get through the snake-infested area to freedom.

“Ilana, you and Tanawehe stand on either side of Mary Sue, and as she walks forward shooting the snakes in front of us, you spear any that try to get at us from the sides.”

“What about you?” asked Iana, after translating for Tanawehe.

Max picked up a large rock with his left hand. “Me, I’ll get any that come up from behind,” he grinned.

Ilana nodded and motioned to Tanawehe and the two took up positions on both sides of the American girl. And so in this way, shooting, stabbing, and crushing, the foursome moved slowly through the sea of serpents towards freedom.

To find out what happens next, pick up your own copy Missionary Max and the Lost City