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
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.
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
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
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
“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
“Can you—can you tell me where I am and why I’m here?” she
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“Vex here,” she said. “We met last weekend. Do you have a
“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
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
“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.”