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Chapter XXXIV: The People
Chapter XXXV: World After World
Chapter XXXVI: Take This Medicine

 
 
 




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Darlene went about her new routine as if in a dream—as surely she was dreaming.

For three mornings now she had awoken amid the furs and thickly woven blankets that made up her sleeping space. She crawled out of the stone dwelling and greeted the sun as it rose on the red horizon. Today, as she did the first morning, she blinked at the brilliant light framed between two sheer mesas as it climbed between them. And also today, just like those other mornings, she was met by smiling faces offering earthen bowls of corn meal and gay song.

They were Indians, that much she knew—well, Native Americans—but they were nothing like the movies she’d seen. Sure: they had skin browned by the rays of the sun, they wore the pelts of animals, and adorned themselves with feathers and turquoise. Yes. But they didn’t speak in funny half-words or hoot.

They sang.

The people had a song for everything.

Today Darlene joined their voices to sing the sun into the sky. She barely knew the words, but she knew music. To her it was the universal language.

When they finished she embraced Clear Water, her corn mother, an ageless woman who had taken it upon herself to care for Darlene when she first arrived. She had eagle feathers woven into her luxurious black hair and gentle eyes the color of smoky quartz. Fine crow’s feet wrinkled around her eyes when she smiled, which was often. From day one she treated Darlene with a tranquil patience seemingly reserved for lost children and displaced college students.

The first day that patience must have been sorely tested. Even now Darlene felt embarrassed by how badly she behaved. Confused, out of place, and demanding. Practical Darlene had flown out the window to be replaced by a raging terror who had to be corralled in a round, stone house by a group of young men and then spoken to softly until she calmed down. She had gone from an evening entertaining at the Coffee Plantation to—to whatever this was. Horizon to horizon blue skies and sun baked red earth panoramas stretched as far as she could see. Empty. Dreamlike. Different.

She didn’t know where she was. She just knew that she wasn’t at ASU anymore. Any of the people she asked couldn’t tell her exactly where this was either. “It is the land,” they said, but it was not their land. And it was not the land they were meant to remain upon either. Though they had spent time building stone houses against cliff side, underneath protective overhangs, they fully expected they would have to move on.

“The chief would see you today,” said Clear Water after embracing Darlene. “The storm’s daughter comes. He has prepared a medicine bundle for your journey.”

Ever since her first day among them, the people spoke of an upcoming journey. For themselves and for her—except that these were separate journeys and the same. She really had a hard time making it out exactly. They didn’t quite distinguish between her journey and theirs, except that she was leaving before them.

“Do you think he’ll tell me why I’m here?” Darlene asked.

“I think he will explain many things,” said Clear Water. “First, we should eat. You will need your heath for your journey.”

The hunters of the village had recently tracked and killed a javelina—an event which Clear Water said meant good things to come for the tribe, and for Darlene. The women prepared the meal while the men took the flayed bits of the boar’s hide to a craftsman who forwent eating to tan and prepare the hide for the bundle. Today, she enjoyed the company of four of the other women and one of the hunters.

Stern Mountain, the hunter credited with taking the javelina, personally offered Darlene a bit of the cooked flank at the fire. The cooking fire had been set up inside of one of the smaller round buildings with a pet in the center for the fire and a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. Normally she’d eaten her meals with only the women, and never near the fire. Everything seemed different today.

She thanked him and took the meat.

“When you go, I will miss your company, white corn daughter,” said another younger woman whom Darlene had learned was called Blue Ear. Her ears were not blue, but perhaps it was an inside joke of some sort. “We do not get many visitors from the other world. Fewer still who do not already know us. Thank you for your stories and your song. It has enriched me.”

Murmurs of agreement went through the crowd.

Darlene reflected again that she not once had seen a child in the village. All of the tribe members were agelessly young or wrinkled, grey elders. Even the young seeming like Blue Ear and Clear Water had an inscrutable ancient quality.

It didn’t take her long to finish her meal, and when she did the stone bowl was spirited away by another woman.

“It is time,” said Clear Water. “Chief Tall Trees awaits your audience in the kiva. Come.”

Clear Water took the lead and Blue Ear fell in behind Darlene. She could hear their bare feet clumping softly against the reddish dirt; their shadows cast dancing figures on the far wall of the nook in the cliff. The scent of burning sage and other less defined smells caught her attention as they approached the circular stone dais near the front of the village. Or, what she thought was a dais when she first saw it.

Closer, she could see that it was actually a roof to an underground chamber. Red stones had been set and mortared together with mud to form the walls; a slowly turning incline lead from one side and curved towards a square hole cut in the middle where a ladder of dried palo verde descended into the chamber. The thick, heady sage smoke billowed out of the opening and obscured the interior.

“Enter,” said Clear Water, guiding her hand to the top of the ladder. Then she stepped back, waiting and smiling.

A sudden sense of trepidation cut through Darlene and she reached out to touch Clear Water’s hand. “Aren’t you coming with me?”

The woman shook her head slowly. “This is your journey. Enter. Do not fear. I will not be far from you.”

Swallowing, Darlene reminded herself that she was probably dreaming. In spite of that she still looked to Blue Ear for courage—the other woman nodded and gestured for her to take the ladder down into the smoke and dark.

“Thanks, guys,” Darlene said.

The thickest of the smoke swirled near the ceiling and, once she passed the middle of the ladder, her eyes cleared and she could see within. Half naked young men knelt around the far round wall of the kiva, each holding burning sticks of sage in one hand and beat out a rhythmic tattoo on drums in their laps. All eyes smiled when they saw her climbing down. Darlene felt small, but comforted by their welcoming expressions.

Chief Tall Trees sat on a giant Sequoia stump covered with numerous furs and wore an outfit decorated in dangling eagle feathers. His broad, weathered face harbored many wrinkles and crevasses like the open side of a mountain; his eyes glittered like pools of grey water between folds of earth-toned flesh. When he smiled, beckoning Darlene to approach, his teeth creaked like granite. Hands larger than her head waved her to him.

She approached him slowly and noticed something resting on the old man’s lap. It looked much like a bundle of sticks bound with woven leather. Various stains of yellow overlapped a multitude of crimson hues in the wrappings and brilliant eagle and macaw feathers were woven into the hide. It rattled like a maraca when he placed his hands on his lap, squaring his shoulders and stretching his chest into a vast slab of ancient earthen man.

When he spoke his voice was heavy as a mountain and deep as the evening sky. “Is there something you want to ask me, white corn daughter?”

“Can you—can you tell me where I am and why I’m here?” she asked.

Chief Tall Trees gestured broadly with his calloused hands and said, “We are the Kachina Clan and this is the Spirit Land.”

 

Vex was out of the cab before the dust settled; Nathan, Patrick, and Megan piled out behind her, waving and coughing in the plume of fine powder. “Go to the stones, she said,” Vex muttered.

Well, here they were.

Once the dust drifted away, a broad vista of dry desert revealed itself. A grey horizon of low jagged mountains scraped a pastel blue sky as the sun hovered over their very tips in a white-yellow brilliance. Here, upside a smaller mountaintop, the dirt and rocks were redder where they clustered around the ruins of an old Hohokam settlement. It couldn’t have been a village, exactly, for its size. Too small. But the remnants of at least one large stone building that cut into the ground remained. Its low, crumbled walls cast hugging shadows in the crisp morning light.

Overnight had been a stuffy, upsetting affair where Vex had secreted everyone into her apartment and demanded that they stay put while she figured out what was going down. Patrick and she had decided to forgo checking out the corpse of the flying monstrosity that tried to kill them and instead ditched back to Mill Ave, where an equal amount of mayhem had broken loose.

Nathan brought Megan with him after an apparent attack involving her examination of a symbol very similar to the one that Vex had found in the upper story of the library. Vex reflected on how readily Megan’s visions were leading her to the strange events—she would have to learn to control them better. Even after her experience the night before, the girl still seemed frazzled. Shaken. She spent almost the entire time making hesitating conversation with someone on the phone.

“I want everyone to stick with me,” Vex said. “Nobody has seen these things during daylight, but we don’t know if there are any more of these symbols around these ruins… Who knows if one might show up.”

Patrick wore his gun openly now. Nathan did his best not to comment on its appearance and Vex’s lack of reaction. Everyone knew about their midnight encounter now.

“I think it was a piece of something much larger,” Megan said. She lagged behind the group as they wound along the trail, boots crunching in the gravel. Her eyes idly fixed on the screen of her phone for a moment. “And the symbols are either feeding them or tiny openings to push them through.”

Up ahead, Vex scanned for the area of the old wall she knew was covered with symbols. “You’re right,” she said. “The thing Patrick killed was a god-fragment. The fucking thing obliterated the sigil on the wall when it forced its way into our world. I wish I had one handy.”

“Actually,” Megan said, waving her cell phone. “I have a picture of it.” Her phone beeped and bleeped as she caught up with Vex and showed the screen.

The centipede glyph had been both scratched into the bricks of the wall and drawn over with a white powdery chalk. A zigzag for a body, with intersecting legs, triangular head, and a pair of antennae—very much like the symbol on the wall, but drawn with a cruder hand.

“I remember coming here in high school,” Nathan said, shading his eyes against the sun. “We had a field trip. There were lots of people then. Just us today… I hope the park rangers won’t mind. I think we’re trespassing.”

“If we get caught, I’ll deal with them,” Vex said, flashing Patrick a knowing look. He rolled his eyes. It wasn’t as if he was going to get caught wearing his gun by the cops.

Crumbling rock and the attentions of ill mannered tourists had done terrible damage to the petroglyphs on the backs of the rocks along the inside of the ruined building, but Vex found them easily enough.

Nathan dashed ahead with childlike enthusiasm and beat her to them.

“Here they are,” he said. “Mrs. Armbruster told us they were either Hopi or Hohokam. You can barely see them anymore, but they’re still there.”

“Whoa!” yelled Megan from a short distance away. A shout that brought everyone running—Patrick pulled his gun from its holster and Vex drew her athame with almost the same motion.

“What is it?” Vex asked.

Seeing the sudden bristle of assorted weaponry and serious faces, Megan waved them down. She shook her head. “I found one of those centipede designs,” she said, “but it’s not…it’s not active.”

Nathan knelt down and put us hand gently against the rock. “I don’t remember this.”

Vex sheathed her athame. “Nor do I.”

An entire section of the wall had been uncovered by the removal of dirt and rock sometime after her last visit—almost a decade before—revealing a whole new section of partially pristine petroglyphs. They displayed people and animals, swirls, rain clouds, and even a Kokopelli image in a mural along the stones. The centipede appeared to be the central symbol to the mess, with everything facing it.

“Patty, do you still have Jimmy’s phone number?” She asked. He fished around in his pockets and produced a piece of paper with a couple phone numbers on it. After taking the paper she gestured to Megan. “Can I borrow the phone?”

Megan reluctantly handed it over. “Uh, sure.”

Four rings and, “This is Jimmy Tsosie’s office. Can I help you?”

“Vex here,” she said. “We met last weekend. Do you have a moment?”

“Richard’s goth chick!” he said, chuckling jovially. “Yes. I have time for you.”

“I am up at an old Hohokam monument that overlooks the valley from a mountain, I don’t know its name,” she said. “Uh, but that’s not the important bit. There are some petroglyphs. If I described them to you, could you tell me what this place is about?”

“Actually,” Megan cut in, “we can do one better. Put him on speakerphone.”

To that, Vex shrugged and handed the phone back.

Megan pressed a button and said, “Jimmy, can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear.”

“Do you have picture mail?”

“Yes. It sends to my personal e-mail…but why? Oh. Oh! You mean to? That’s brilliant. Send away.”

Megan moved to near the stones, eyeing the screen as she did so. Kh-chink. Kh-chink. She took two pictures, tilting the phone in different directions, trying to pan the entire thing into view.

“I have them… Just a moment.”

Vex folded her arms across her chest and watched as the sun rose further into the sky, lightening the blue of the cloudless expanse. Heat already begun to follow. Within an hour it would be too hot to stand anywhere but the shade and soon after that—if the previous few days were any indication—they would all be crammed back into the taxi with the A/C on full blast.

“I think there’s more to the mural,” Nathan said from one side of the wall. “I’ll try to uncover it.”

“Be gentle,” Vex warned.

Jimmy made surprised noises from his side of the phone and asked them to wait before doing anything.

“Wow,” he said after a long moment. “That could be Hohokam, but I think it’s actually…Pueblo. Give me a few minutes. I need to get some books. This is a totally different find than I expected.”

“What does it say?” Vex asked.

His voice returned again from the cell phone, this time further away. “Petroglyphs don’t say things, actually,” he said. “Not exactly. But this one tells a story.

“It tells a very old story...about the end of the world.”

 
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