A dry, hollow sky stretched overhead as Vex tucked the taxi into
what little shade remained in the visitor’s parking lot near the Campus Health
building. The faded blue through her windshield appeared taut and thin, giving
the white lines of cirrus clouds the appearance of runs in worn, azure silk.
She could hardly remember the last time she looked through the window and saw real
clouds. Last year, maybe during monsoon season. It felt like it should be
monsoon season now, but the gush of dry air that greeted her when she opened
her door spoke volumes otherwise.
The intense sunlight threatened to suck the strength out
of her, but little remained to sap. Patrick managed to keep her up all
night—but not exactly in the way she wanted him to. After her little display of
floating above the ventilation shaft, the last bit of ice between his curiosity
and his country-boy skepticism about magick broke. And through that breach
spilled every novice question imaginable and several she herself hadn’t
considered. Of course, in the morning he chalked most of that talk up to being
slightly drunk on whiskey and romance. There, in the play of waking sunlight
and gentle fingers, Vex had smiled over that fading, sleepless moment when she
could tell a boy anything, everything—well, almost everything, the solemn
whispers of her mother and the other voices remained a fast held secret yet.
The boy in question, who was currently pulling himself out
of the passenger’s side door of the cab, didn’t look any worse for wear
himself. He sprang lightly from his seat and thrust the door closed with a
smooth motion, barely noticing her jealous attention. The next time she had him
alone, she decided, lips were going to be locked before questions could be
He shaded his eyes from the sun and noticed her staring at
him across the hood of the cab.
“Yes,” she said, shaking her keys at him before closing
the door. “I want to know how you do it. I get up at noon and I still feel sleepy until mid-afternoon, and that’s with coffee.”
“I have a seven-forty class. Calculus. Extreme math early
in the morning; wakes you up real quick.” He shrugged. “After a while it
He took the lead. Vex shrugged and fell into step behind
him until they wound out of the parking lot and onto the glittering crushed
rock and cement pathways of ASU, when she settled in at his side. The long
shadows of the various tan and glass buildings that rose on either side of the
walkways retreated slowly as the sun rose higher. Students on bikes swished
past, backpacks bobbing and gears ticking. Here and there, sometimes in pairs,
often alone, more students walked slowly between buildings, sat on benches in
the shade, and sipped from long-strawed containers of water.
Visiting the campus often made her feel a little bit out
of place. Her black outfit of long black pants, silver buckles, metal studded
black collar, and silk swathed shirt would have made her stand out against the
colorful shorts, t-shirts, and bikini tops that students sported. Patrick, at
least, looked the part of a student, wearing a maroon shirt, with gold
lettering proclaiming ASU across his chest, and blue jeans. In spite of her
self awareness, few eyes lingered on her or Patrick long. Most of the student
body was too busy getting to or from someplace, or poring over the still pages
of textbooks and notes on lined paper.
“A bit busy for a Sunday, isn’t it?” Vex discreetly slid
out of the way as an oblivious trio of book-bound students, all wearing glasses
and enchanted expressions, nearly ran over her as they heatedly discussed some
matter of critical importance. As they passed she caught snippets of snippets
of phrases like “network topology,” “routing protocols,” and “I’m doing the
Power Point Presentation, give the figures to me.”
Patrick chuckled. “That would have been a sad end,” he
said. “Trampled by geeks.”
“Shut up,” she said.
“It is a bit busier than it should be,” he said. “Maybe
there’s an event or something.”
Their trek had taken them down a wide corridor of palm
trees, bordered on either side with the flat, bricked faces of various
buildings. In spite of their tropical origins, palm trees enjoyed an
inexplicable popularity in desert hemmed Tempe. So much popularity that an
entire section of campus, Palm Walk, had been dedicated to them. Tall brown
trunks surmounted each by a green splash of fronds bracketing either side of a
narrow appearing cement walk; together they receded into the distance like a
portrait study in perspective and vanishing points. That particular view found
its way onto many university brochures. After visiting the campus so many
times, Vex would no longer connect palm trees to tropical getaways like Hawaii
and Tahiti, but instead to the unforgiving urbane landscape of Arizona State University.
“You’d think they’d plant something that actually gave
shade,” Patrick said, reading her mind.
The Social Sciences Building emerged after a little more
walking and few turns. An extremely square structure made of tan bricks and
light mortar, with an equally square entranceway cut nearly center of the
facing side. Green vines crawled across the bricks and stone lattices, dangling
fragrant, white flowers. Their fallen petals swished under foot as Vex traced
the edge of the wall towards the entrance. All the promise of shelter beckoned
from the square passage that recessed into the building.
She welcomed the cool embrace of the shade. The architects
had their game on when they designed it for that; the temperature dropped by at
least ten degrees the moment she passed over into shadow. The entire building
had been built as one big square, with a courtyard-cum-fountain in the middle.
An awning of canvas stretched across the very top of the building, sealing it
away from the sun, with the exception of a small square poked through the center.
Right now a wide slat of sunlight sliced through the opening and illuminated
the repeating, peach colored frieze on the far wall. The covered enclosure was
empty of human presence, aside from a hesitant figure hovering on the landing
of one of the stairwells.
Upon noticing Patrick and Vex entering the courtyard, the
person—a student by his dress: a Window Rock T-shirt and dusty kneed
jeans—headed purposefully down the steps and walked directly up to them. The
skin of his arms appeared weathered and tanned, like a painting of parched
desert soil, and she could see dirt caked under his fingernails. His dark eyes
roved over her and Patrick with a ready expertise until, finally, his wide
mouth pursed, and his bold Native American brow creased. He nodded as if
confirming something and spoke.
“Ah, Zedikiel,” he said, now shaking his head. “I
apologize if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but, you must
be the person from the e-mail. He does have a very singular taste. Please tell
me I didn’t just embarrass myself.”
Patrick laughed into his hand and Vex let herself grin
like a bandit.
With a snap she flipped the Tarot card vertical between
thumb and forefingers.
“That would be me,” she said. “I’m Vex and this is
The student started to reach for the card, but stopped
short. “Ah, may I?”
Vex placed the card in his waiting hand and took a polite
He licked his lips, ran a dirt stained finger over the
letters; as he did his lips moved slowly, and he kept shaking his head. He
rolled his eyes a few times at whatever he read and at the end of it took a
deep breath before looking up again.
“I’m sorry, but I…” Vex began.
“Ah… Jim.” He shook hands with Patrick first, then Vex,
giving each a nod in turn. “Jimmy Tsosie. I work here.” He thumbed at a door
set in the wall on the other side of the courtyard. “Native American
Archaeology and Social Studies. And I’m sorry. I should have introduced
“No problem,” she said. “We’ve had quite an interesting
time with this little card. Had to get it translated. E-mailed you… It’s been
“That’s Richard,” Jim said. “He has a taste in…well.” He
gestured to her. “Goth chicks, and one might say that the Tarot card matches
your likeness rather well. Don’t you say? This is an old game we used to play,
ciphers and languages, it’s what I’m good at. Nowadays, I read the histories
out of the beads, pottery, and clothing.
“If you don’t mind, we can retire to my office where it’s
air conditioned and try to decipher what this card is all about.”
When Jim turned around to lead them to his office Vex
noticed that his braided hair fell to just below his wide belt.
Patrick nudged her in the ribs with another chuckle. “His
hair is a lot longer than yours.”
“I like my hair the length it is,” she said. At the moment
it fell to a few inches below her shoulders, if she hunched funny. Remembering
that she reminded herself not to slouch; something that came from driving the
taxi long hours, other drivers, she’d seen, seemed to collapse around the
steering wheels. Not her. Her father had taught her young how to stand straight
and tall, shoulders back, chin up. Patrick grinned in her peripheral vision;
she shot him a narrow look and he avoided her gaze.
Jim Tsosie’s office was a simple affair of four white
walls, a desk, one wall completely covered with filing cabinets, and another
wall taken up by staggered shelves. Several high windows showed a wide swath of
open sky through some latticed stonework, shaded by an overhang. The shelves,
and the tops of the cabinets, held various Native American relics. The
artifacts took two forms: bits of pottery, broken and whole, set on thickly
woven cloth and pictures of similar items. Most of the artifacts and
photographs came along with sheets of imprinted paper with foil seals marking
Vex took a look over the pictures while Jim went out into
the hall to rustle up a pair of chairs for her and Patrick to sit in. A few of
the photographs had been taken of rock faces, often petroglyphs of musicians, gathering
figures, and other various social depictions. Many of the bits of pottery
seemed to show similar things, although, most of them were just repeating
designs of varying complexity. Some photographs showed the easily recognizable
Kokopelli figure with flute and feather headdress, but others had more angular,
Kachina-like figures made from lines and dots.
One image in particular that caught her attention, another
conflation of dots and lines, depicted an angular bird with great wings spread
side to side, haloed by jagged bolts of lightning. The Thunderbird. The truly
intriguing part of the photo was that the thunderbird had been etched into the
rock right next to a petroglyph of Kokopelli. In Vex’s experience, the two
didn’t go together. Gentle voices mumbled when her fingers touched the glass
over the photo-paper; incautiously, she strained to listen to their words…
The windows rattled as a loud plane passed overhead. The
noise stuttered against the walls and rattled the pictures and pottery. The
sudden noise caught Vex by surprise. Embarrassed that she was molesting one of
Jim’s photos, she removed her hand as if bitten, but he wasn’t in the room to
notice. Patrick, who stood near the window, lifted his head to study the
fleeting shadow as the noise faded.
“Thanks for waiting,” Jim said as he slid back into the
room. One chair glided on rickety wheels as he pushed it and another rattled as
he pulled it. “We’ve been hurting for funding,” he explained. “First thing we
started losing was furniture. My boss, doesn’t believe in firing people if she
doesn’t have to. So, we share chairs. Please, sit.”
After Patrick and Vex sat, Jim eased himself into his
chair with a practiced motion that would probably serve him well if he ever
became a professor and had to entertain students. He slid the card onto the
center of the bare desk and regarded it as if it were an interesting specimen
for him to dissect.
“As you know, I had it translated,” she said, “but I am
wondering if you can tell me what it’s about.”
“Richard,” Jim said. “First, I have to warn you, he was
probably hitting on you when he gave you this. So, chances are he was feeling
you out to see if you were someone worth his while. He’s a real mystic, my
friend Ritchie, always going on about the Great Spirits and ley lines and
Tarot, but it’s hard to tell how seriously he’s taking it. Some days more than
“He didn’t give this to me directly,” Vex said. “He gave
it to a friend, who brought it to me. He told her to deliver the card to the
person it reminded her of. I don’t think I even know your friend.”
“That’s out of character for him.” He lifted the card from
the table again and squinted his eyes at its text. “That is very much out of
character. It’s poetry on the card, like we used to write to each other, except
that it’s written to very much sound like a quatrain.
“Also, some of these phrases are particular to our poetry.
I’ll translate, and you tell me if it means anything to you.”
With a voice as clear and powerful mountain air, he read:
Four chalices poured into one;
Phoenix builds a new Babel: a
tower of bones.
Falling stars counting three and four.
The seal upon A Mountain shatters;
The old formulas are undone.