Friday, October 26, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Five

Part Five of Jaguar Sky, for your reading pleasure. Find all the installments via the link in the navbar on the right side of the page.


December 21, 2010

     Maddie woke in the wee hours of the morning, her bladder urging her out of bed. She got up and padded barefoot toward the bathroom, moving slowly in sleepy semi-darkness. She walked a very long time.
     This is silly, she thought. I ought to be at the bathroom by now.
     She put out her hand to feel for the bathroom door but instead she touched cool plaster. She drew her hand back and peered around in confusion. The bugs sang loud nightnoise that echoed through the room. The clouds broke in the sky outside and a shaft of pale moonlight slid in through the open window. Maddie drew in a breath as brightly colored figures appeared on the smooth plaster wall. Her eyes roved across a long blue-green serpent and clusters of human and animal figures in shades of red, orange, yellow and black. A small golden jaguar crouched in flickering candlelight, its fangs bared. A chill ran down her spine as she looked along the painted wall and up to the thatch ceiling, so low her outstretched fingertips brushed the dried palm fronds.
     Her heart began to pound and goosebumps rose on her skin as she realized that the room was empty – no furniture, no glass in the window, no Joan. Panic rose and gripped her. Terrified, she turned around and bolted in the direction she had come from, praying fervently for her bed to reappear.
     Maddie jerked upright in bed, her heart pounding and sweat beading on her face. She took several gulping breaths and looked around at the moonlit lodge room with its bamboo furniture. Joan breathed heavily in her sleep in the next bed. The insects droned on outside, oblivious to Maddie’s problems. Her bladder was painfully full.
     Her heart still pounding, Maddie slid her feet to the floor. She crept to the bathroom, holding her hands out to keep in contact with the furnishings of the room. She relieved herself and felt her way back to bed quickly and without incident. In spite of her pounding heart she fell back asleep right away.
     Maddie awoke to the buzz of Joan’s alarm clock, the memory of the night’s experiences fresh in her mind. At breakfast she couldn’t keep it to herself.
     “I had the weirdest dream last night,” she said.
     “Really?” said Colin. “Being this far away from home gives you nightmares, does it?”
     She glared at him then admitted, “Well, it was kind of disconcerting.”
     “And?” Ben smiled, nodding for her to continue.
     “And it was really weird. I got up to go to the bathroom – at least I thought I did, but it was a dream.”
     “You dreamed you went to the bathroom?” Colin snickered into his coffee.
     Maddie’s face turned bright red. “That wasn’t the scary part. When I got out of bed I wasn’t in the room any more. I was in – another room.”
     “Sleepwalking?” asked Ben.
     “No, not sleepwalking. I wasn’t in the lodge. I was in a Maya house. Thatch roof, stucco walls with brightly colored paintings on them. But it wasn’t a normal dream. I could actually feel the walls and the roof.”
     Tom looked over at her. “What kind of paintings?”
     “A snake, bright blue and green, with people coming out its mouth. And other people – warriors and kings, I guess – in red, yellow and orange. And Maya writing. But I couldn’t read it.” She gulped. “And a golden jaguar.”
     The old Maya woman who had been clearing the next table dropped a plate. It clattered to the floor but did not break.
     Colin stared at Maddie. “A golden jaguar?” he said, his mouth hanging open.
     Tom nodded. “I guess you’re getting into the spirit of the expedition,” he said casually.
     “She’s been drinking balché for sure,” said Pete with a wink.
     “What’s balché?” asked Ben.
     “It’s a honey wine,” Joan explained. “The Maya make it with the bark of the balché tree. It’s hallucinogenic.”
     “I haven’t been drinking anything!” Maddie insisted.
     “Well, maybe the heat is getting to her,” laughed Colin.
     The Maya woman turned to face them. Though she was short she towered over Colin as he slouched in his chair.
     “There could have been a house here,” she said. “A noble house, with paintings on the walls. This city was huge.” She indicated the whole site with a sweeping gesture of her arm. “We told them be careful where they build things but sometimes white men don’t know how to see, how to look.” She hefted her tray of used breakfast dishes and disappeared into the kitchen.
     Joan shook her head. “Poor oppressed, underpaid peasant woman harboring silly superstitions. You see what the repressive Maya patriarchy has done to her? The only power she can wield is that of ghost stories at the breakfast table.”
     “All right,” said Tom, pushing back from the table, “let’s get a move on before this turns into a free-for-all.”
     The group gathered on the porch in what was becoming a daily routine. They walked to the site in silence, enjoying the sounds and scents of the morning. Maddie was enchanted to watch a flock of long-tailed red macaws fly over their heads along the trail.
At the site Tom and Pete rolled up the canvas walls of the lab tent for more air. They all looked over the graphs from the previous day’s magnetometer survey. Tom leaned over the table, pointing to the numbers Maddie had plotted on the graph paper.     “Maddie, you did a great job on these charts. Good detail, very neat and accurate.”
     “Thanks,” she grinned. “Dr. Lancaster wanted to make sure I did it the right way.”
     Joan pointed out a spot on the chart. “Here, just along the north side of the mound. You see how the figures suddenly rise?”
     Tom nodded. “Let’s see, it’s about eighteen inches square...or round. I’ll bet it’s a small hearth.” He rubbed his chin. “Tell you what, this runs right up into the edge of the mound. I’d like you and Maddie to mark off the area and do a shallow excavation of the two quadrants that show the unusual readings. Let’s go six inches down from our standard surface level. Joan, can you show Maddie how to read the levels?”
     “Of course.”
     “Good. Pete and I will work toward the adjoining area on the mound, just in case your feature extends beyond the edge of your quadrants and into the mound itself.” He clapped Maddie on the shoulder. “What do you know – your first day out and you found something.”
     “I’ll want to take samples for possible pollen grains, carbonized plant matter, that sort of thing in case it really is a hearth,” said Pete.
     “Of course,” Tom agreed. “Let’s get to it.”
     Maddie and Joan went to the suspect spot. Joan showed her a pole that Tom had set in the ground at the intersection of two gridlines. It had a red stripe marked around it just above the dirt, then black permanent marker every six inches up to the six-foot level, just above the height of the top of the mound.
     “This is official ground level.” Joan squatted and pointed to the red mark on the post. “You covered this at St. Augustine, didn’t you?”
     Maddie nodded.
     “All right,” Joan approved. “We’ll run red strings out from here to the next corner posts.”
     “We’ll need a bubble level, won’t we?”
     “Yes. Keep your string level and you’ll have accurate measurements. The surface of the ground isn’t perfectly level but our excavations need to be. We’ll go down six inches from this arbitrary ground level. Keep a ruler and a level with you at all times and check your depth every few inches.”
     Once they had their ground-level strings in place Joan searched through a box and produced two trowels. She handed one to Maddie. Joan knelt down and leaned forward on all fours. She motioned to Maddie to join her.
     “Now, Maddie, you’ll ruin your back if you stoop. This way you save your back and you can keep a closer eye on what you’re digging up.”
     Maddie looked at her dubiously.
     Tom grinned at her. “It’s what we call the archaeological position. You’ll get used to it. We all do.”
     “Yeah,” chimed Colin, “assume the position, Maddie.”
     Joan’s head snapped up. “Watch your tongue, young man,” she hissed.
     Embarrassed, Maddie knelt down and crouched next to Joan. They began trowelling up small bits of grass and dirt.
     Pete sauntered around the mound and stood behind the two women. “Ah, yes, the famed archaeological position.” He smacked his lips. He opened his mouth to speak again but Tom glared at him. Pete trotted back to his work at the other side of the mound.
     Maddie leaned over and whispered to Joan. “Dr. Galloway is a real jerk. I don’t know how you stand him.”
     “I avoid him when I can, Maddie. He’s a well-known name so he gives the department prestige, otherwise Tom would have been rid of him a long time ago.” She scowled and sliced a chunk of sod with her trowel. “The Maya women here would put up with him, though. They’re trained to be obedient, practically slaves. They have no concept of freedom or equality.”
     “That’s too bad. Maybe they’ll learn, someday.”
     Joan narrowed her eyes. “They need the right person to lead the way.”
     Joan and Maddie set to work clearing the two quadrants Tom had indicated. It was slow work. Every trowelful they dug up went into a giant sieve – a wooden box about two feet square with fine wire mesh for its bottom. When it began to get full they held opposite sides of the box and shook the contents through the sieve into a wheelbarrow. They sorted through the retained matter, finding only rocks and sticks.
     “So, Maddie, do you have a boyfriend?” Joan’s voice was casual as she glanced over at Ben, who was busy helping Tom cut a trench across the top of the mound.
     “No, I don’t really date much. I’m here for an education, not the M-R-S degree. I don’t want to waste my time, you know. I worked hard to get into college.”
     Joan let out a breath. “I’m glad you have such good judgment. It’s refreshing to see a young woman with a healthy grasp of reality.”
     After a few more minutes of digging Joan stood up and brushed the dirt off her knees.
     “I have some other work to do on site, something I’m looking for. Finish out this quadrant and that one,” she pointed to the next square, “and I’ll be back.”
     The professor sauntered off into the jungle. Maddie punched the dirt with the tip of her trowel.
     Damn it, she thought, she makes me do all the work and I don’t even have Kin to talk to.
     As if on cue the squat figure appeared at the edge of the clearing and marched toward her.
     “Hello, Phoenix.”
     “Hi, Kin. I’m glad to see you.”
     He looked around. “Where is Dr. Lady?”
     Maddie giggled at Kin’s name for Joan. “I don’t know. She went off like this yesterday, too. Said she had other work to do on site. I think she said she was looking for something.”
     Kin scowled. “Which way she go?”
     Maddie pointed to a path that entered the jungle a short distance down the treeline.
     “Yesterday, too?” said Kin.
     Kin turned and trotted over to the lab tent where Johnny was helping Pete arrange some equipment on the table. Kin spoke with Johnny briefly. Maddie could see Kin gesture first at her and then at the path Joan had taken into the jungle. Maddie saw Johnny talking on his walkie-talkie as Kin crossed the clearing toward her.
     “Kin, do you know a lot about Lamanai?”
     He grinned. “Oh, yes, I know all about it. It is my job.”
     “I’ve heard rumors that the temples are...they’re still used.”
     “They are not dead, I tell you.”
     “What is it they say, they’re not dead, only sleeping.”
     “They are not sleeping either, Phoenix. They know to keep quiet when white men come around.”
     Goosebumps raised on Maddie’s arms. She fingered the paper in her pocket, the paper on which Kin had drawn the square-within-a-circle.
     “Phoenix, you want to know my people’s story?” He knelt next to her and began digging up bits of dirt with a beat-up trowel.
     “You mean your mythology? I know that some of it is written in the Popol Vuh. I think I saw a copy of it in the lodge library.”
     She threw a trowelful of dirt into the screen. She grimaced to see Colin standing near the screen, watching her. He turned away and carried a handful of baggies to Pete.
     Kin chucked his trowel into the soil. “It is better to hear living words that stay in your heart once your ears hear them.”
     “You don’t like books?”
     “Books are fine, Phoenix, but they give excuse not to remember things. I know all the stories by heart. Better that way. Do you know how everything came to be?”
     “Well, I know about the Big Bang theory and I’ve read the Genesis story in the Bible. I read some other creation stories in a mythology class I took, too.”
     They trowelled up bits of topsoil as they talked.
     Kin grinned. “Well, Phoenix, let me tell you how it really happened.” He winked at her.
     “OK,” said Maddie, laughing.
     “You know about Xibalba?”
     “Shee-bal-BA,” she pronounced, accenting the final syllable.
     “It is the Otherworld. Everything that is not created.”
     Maddie nodded. “The Void. Emptiness.”
     “The only thing in Xibalba was Lying-Down-Sky, the deep black ocean. But then Divine Being had a dream. When Divine Being had this dream, Divine Being made the dream vision into words. As the words issued forth, three came into being.”
     Oh my God, thought Maddie, if that sort of thing happens to these people, I wonder what I have created by talking about my dreams.
     “Those three were Jaguar, the two Stingray Paddlers and Black-House-Red-God.”
     Maddie counted on her fingers. “But that’s four, not three.”
     “No, three. The Stingray Paddlers are two but one. How you say, two sides of one coin.”
     “OK, I think I understand. They were like twins, right?”
     He nodded. “These three laid the three hearthstones in the center of Lying-Down-Sky at First-Three-Stone-Place and that was the beginning of creation.”
     “Is that why your people always use three hearthstones to put their griddles on for cooking?”
     “Yes, now you understand. We create creation all over again every day. Creation did not happen once. It is always happening. Now these gods, they painted the hearthstones with their own blood. It was the first sacrifice.”
     Maddie grimaced and reached for the spot on her arm that had been injured by the acacia thorn two days earlier.
     “Phoenix, blood is life. That is why we sacrifice. Only blood speaks to the ancestors because our blood comes from them.”
     Maddie’s face flushed and her ears began to buzz. She forced her eyes to focus on the soil and willed her hand to move the trowel.
     “Now let me tell you the rest of the story, Phoenix. Do you know where the three hearthstones went?”
     “They’re not still in the Otherworld?”
     “Only one of them is. But you know, there are three worlds. Three hearthstones, three worlds.”
     “Three worlds?”
     He let out a sigh. “They do not teach you much at your school, do they?”
     “Maybe not,” she conceded.
     “You see that tree by your lab tent? The big one with roots that stand up on top of the ground?”
     “Yes. It’s huge.”
     “White men call it ceiba tree.” He pronounced SAY-bah. “We call it Yaxche.”
     “Yah...Yash-chay,” said Maddie with great difficulty.
     “Means ‘first tree.’ But we also call it Pom. You can say that. It is easier.”
     “OK. I do have trouble pronouncing some of your words.”
     “Pom is first tree because first there was the tree then the animals. If trees perish then animals perish. People, too.”
     “Wow, you’re a real environmentalist.”
     “All life is one life, Phoenix.” He gave her a friendly smile. “Pom tree is the center of the universe. Its roots reach down into the Underworld, its trunk is here with us on Earth and its branches reach up into the Upperworld.”
     “Oh, yes,” Maddie said with sudden recognition. “I understand. It’s just like the ash tree in Norse mythology.”
     “If you say so,” said Kin. “The Pom is the center of the universe. Every Maya village has a Pom tree at its center.”
     “So what about the three hearthstones?”
     “You see, only one of the hearthstones stayed in Lying-Down-Sky in the Underworld. When First Father raised the tree between the three worlds he took one of the Underworld hearthstones and put it here on earth with us. It is the center of all our great temples.”
     “Wait, let me get this straight. The one Pom tree is the center of every village and the one hearthstone is the center of every temple.”
     “Exactly right, Phoenix.”
     “This is making my head hurt.”
     “You hear my words with your head and your head aches. Hear my words with your heart,” he said, thumping his chest, “and you understand.”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Just listen, Phoenix, and you will learn.”
     “Okay, so the one hearthstone stays in the Underworld and the second one is here on earth. What about the third one?”
     “First Father lifted the third hearthstone into the night sky. It became three stars together. They are in the middle of what you call Orion.”
     “Orion’s belt?”
     “Yes. And the smoke around those three stars is the smoke from the gods’ first sacrifice, the one that bring life into being.”
     “Smoke? Oh my God, you mean the Orion nebula!”
     “I do not know about that, Phoenix. But when I go out in the mountains, away from the light of town, I can still see that smoke so I know that the gods are still sacrificing to make life here for us.”
     Kin made a sound like a dog snarling and Maddie jumped.
     “What’s the matter, Kin? Did I do something wrong?”
     “Not you,” Kin said through clenched teeth. “Him.” He stabbed his trowel toward the lab tent where Father Angelico stood talking to Colin.
     “Do not talk to him, Phoenix. He is…not good.”
     Kin set his trowel down, stood up and strode away.
     “Wait, Kin, don’t leave me alone!” Maddie pleaded.
     “You will never be truly alone, young lady.”
     Maddie flinched at the sound of the priest’s voice. She sprang up and took two steps back from him.
     “Your name is Maddie, if I recall correctly.” He flashed her a friendly smile.
     “Maddie, I hope you are enjoying your time here. It is such a lovely part of God’s creation.” He took a step closer, towering over her, still smiling. She smelled incense on him, the kind they use in Catholic churches.
     “It’s all right,” she said. “It’s the first real traveling I’ve ever done.” He acted so nice, and his smile was so friendly, that Maddie couldn’t resolve the voice in the back of her head that told her to turn and run as fast as she could.
     “Your colleague over there,” he nodded toward the lab tent where Colin was working, “tells me you have been having interesting dreams.”
     “Colin just likes to pull my chain. It’s nothing, really. Just nerves because I’ve never been this far away from home before.” She hoped her voice sounded convincing.
     “I see. Please, if you need someone to talk to, do not hesitate to ask. That is part of my job.” He tapped the white collar on his black shirt.
     “OK, thanks.”
     “You are in a new world here, Maddie.” He looked over at Kin, who was now helping Tom shake a sieve full of dirt. “Do not allow the natives to confuse you about what is real and what is not. Fairy stories are for children, not for intelligent adults.” He tried to catch her gaze but she looked down at her hands. “I will let you get back to your work. I do not wish to upset Dr. Davies by detaining you.”
     “Thank you.” Maddie gripped her trowel and gazed down at the quadrants with their red and white strings.
     Father Angelico turned to go, then turned back again. “Oh, Maddie, I am especially curious about jaguars. They are a personal interest.” She looked up at him, her eyes large. “If you hear any tales about them, please do not hesitate to share with me. I would be delighted to log them in my journal.”
     Her heart raced. She managed to mumble “OK” between clenched teeth.  Shaking, she dropped to her knees and began randomly trowelling up bits of dirt, tossing them into the sieve with a trembling hand. When she looked up again the priest was gone.
     I don’t have anything to feel guilty about. She stabbed the soil and flipped a chunk loose. I haven’t done anything wrong.
 A few minutes later she was relieved to hear Tom call everyone to lunch.

*                   *                   *

     Maddie sat quietly at lunch, picking at her food. She kept a careful watch for Father Angelico but he never appeared. Ben finished off his portion of fried plantain, dug into his chicken molé and turned to Tom.
     “Dr. Davies, what did the Maya eat? I mean, what foods are native here?”
     Tom speared a bite of plantain with his fork and examined it as he spoke. “Let’s see, the staple food was corn. That’s pretty much all the poor people ate. The better-off Maya also had beans and chilies. The modern Maya still eat pretty much the same diet in rural areas.”
     “Not exactly a thrilling menu,” Colin intoned.
     “Believe it or not, Colin,” said Tom, “those three foods provide pretty damn good nutrition. The Maya also grew manioc, sweet potatoes and several different kinds of squash. They had the local wild fruits and, of course, the cocoa bean for their sacred drink.”
     “Mmmm, chocolate,” Maddie hummed.
     “Chocolate is a growing export here, too. Green and Black’s now makes Maya Gold chocolate bars with organic cocoa beans entirely from Belize. They’ve really given the local farmers a boost.”
     Maddie nodded enthusiastically. “Maybe we could make some hot chocolate like the Maya did. Yum.”
     “I don’t think you would enjoy their recipe, Maddie. They used cocoa beans, chili peppers and water to make their sacred drink. It was bitter and spicy, not sweet and milky.”
     “That’s not the only problem with it,” said Joan. “Women and slaves were considered such low life forms they weren’t allowed to drink the sacred cocoa. Slaves were even paid for with cocoa beans. How very backward.”
     Tom rolled his eyes. “Joan, things aren’t like that any more.”
     “Maybe not,” she harrumphed, “but the situation still isn’t what it should be.”
     Back at the site that afternoon Maddie squatted in her quadrant, lifting trowelfuls of dirt into the sieve and daydreaming about the beginning of time. Colin walked around the mound and stood watching her.
     “Hey, Maddie.”
     She looked up at him, her train of thought interrupted. “Yes?”
     “Did I hear you correctly this morning when you said you weren’t dating anyone?”
     “Yes, Colin.”
     “So Ben’s not your boyfriend?”
     “No, he’s not,” she said, annoyed. “We’re just friends. We grew up in the same town.”
     Colin nodded. He took a swaggering step toward her and squared his shoulders.
     “Maddie, I have a proposition for you.”
     “A what?”
     “A proposition. Apparently you have some talent since you’ve already found a feature on the site. Of course, we don’t know yet whether it will amount to anything but you did the work.”
     “If you’re trying to compliment me you’re not doing a very good job.”
     “I’m just saying you have potential. But we both know you don’t have any money or connections and I do.”
     “Hooray for you.”
     “You’ll never get anywhere with that groundskeeper. You don’t know how to handle natives. You wouldn’t even know what to do with the jaguar if you lucked up and found it. What say we form a partnership?” He stuck out his hand for her to shake.
     “What jaguar?” She scowled at him. “Kin and I are getting along just fine. And why on earth should I be partners with you? You’ve been nothing but a creep and a jerk to me.”
     “I can’t be seen buddying up to someone of your background, you know. But now that it looks like you’re worth something – in terms of talent, anyway – all that can change and we can actually accomplish something on this trip.” He flashed her a smile, his thin lips creasing at the corners as if his face were not accustomed to the gesture. “You’re attractive enough to suit, though not stunning, certainly.”
     Maddie stood up and looked him in the eye.
     “Let me get this straight. You’ve been nasty to me all along to keep up your highbrow social image but now you’re offering to be nice to me because you think you can get something out of me?” She lifted her trowel and aimed its point at his chest.
     He put his hands up in mock surrender and laughed. “Hey, don’t take it so hard. You’re not likely to get a better offer.”
     “Colin, you amaze me. I never knew someone so conceited could also be so dense. I have work to do, if you don’t mind.”
     She squatted back down and poked the trowel into the dirt.
     “OK, Maddie, but the offer won’t be open forever.”
     “Oh, darn.”
     “Don’t be a fool and lose your golden opportunity.”
     “Don’t worry, Colin. When I find my golden opportunity I’ll take it and I’m pretty sure it won’t have anything to do with you.”
     She turned her back to him. He shook his head and walked back to his work area.
     Maddie worked on. From time to time she wondered where Joan was but mostly she enjoyed the feeling of competence and purpose the dig gave her. After a while she stopped, pulled a bandana out of her shorts pocket and wiped the sweat off her face. She picked up her water bottle and took a long drink.
     “Too warm for you in December?”
     Maddie looked up to see Kin ambling toward her, a trowel in his hand. He grinned as she chugged more water.
     “I thought Florida was hot, Kin, but Belize has it beat.”
     He squatted down next to her and joined her work. “How we doing?”
     “Great.” She motioned to the edge of the area where she was digging. “See the dark spots in the dirt there? Dr. Lancaster says it’s carbon -- burnt wood. We found our hearth.” She beamed.
     Kin looked around. “Dr. Lady is gone again?”
     Maddie nodded. “Is she in trouble, Kin?”
     “I do not know. Are you in trouble, Phoenix?”
     Her eyes widened. “Did I do something wrong? I didn’t mean to!”
     “No, no, Phoenix. I mean the priest.”
     “Father Angelico.” She spat out the name. “I wish you hadn’t left me like that. I had to deal with him alone.”
     “Did he hurt you?”
     “Heavens, no. He was perfectly nice. Why would a priest hurt anyone?”
     Kin scanned the work area. The other team members were out of earshot. “Phoenix, priests are usually nice. The one in the village is a good man. Sometime he disagree with me but he always helps.”
     “That’s his job.”
     “Father Angelico is not like that.”
     Maddie shivered in spite of the heat. “He gives me the creeps. I don’t know why, Kin, he just does. He was asking about my dreams. He specifically mentioned jaguars.”
     Kin took a deep breath. “I hope this would not happen.” He looked Maddie in the eye. “I know this man. He was here long ago. Probably before you were born.”
     “That’s what he said at lunch yesterday.”
     “He talked to everyone, Phoenix. Threatened us. Wanted to know where all our sacred things were. He called them idols.”
     “What do you suppose he wanted with Maya things? He’s Catholic.”
     “What do you think, Phoenix?”
     The realization slowly dawned on her. “But the church hasn’t done that sort of thing since the Middle Ages, Kin. They don’t destroy native cultures any more. Do they?”
     Kin pressed his lips together. “They want all the power. That is what they want. We have our own power. They want to take it away. And now Father Angelico is back.”
     “But can’t your local priest stop him? This is crazy. The church has rules about this kind of thing now.”
     Kin shook his head. “Long time ago, when he was here before, he got very angry because we did not give him the things he wanted. The day after he left we found two of our men drowned in the river.”
     Maddie gulped. “I’m sorry, Kin.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper. Her eyes filled with tears. “No one should have that happen to them.”
     He patted her on the shoulder. “We protect our power. The sacred things are still here. He will not touch them.”
     Maddie pulled back and looked at him. “You mean there are Maya sacred objects at Lamanai? I guess you just need to know where to dig, and he doesn’t know that.”
     “No digging, Phoenix. The things are in our hands.” He patted himself on the chest, winked at her and ambled off.

*                   *                   *

     That evening Tom squirmed through dinner. The dining room held only a dozen tables, putting Shonna less than twenty feet away. She sat alone near a window, scribbling on a note pad as she ate. Once she waved at the team and offered them a cheery smile but she made no move to join them. Maddie wished she would. The team’s conversation focused on the work of the day and after just two days on site Maddie was getting tired of hashing over every trowelful of dirt they had dug up. After dinner she retreated to the library again.
     “Are you this studious all the time?”
     Maddie turned to see Tom standing in the doorway.
     “Oh, Dr. Davies, I’m not studious, just frustrated.”
     He strode into the room and looked over the books that lay open on the table in front of Maddie.
     “Anything I can do to help?” he asked.
     Maddie sank back in her chair. “I hope so. I just can’t manage to understand the Maya.”
     “Anything in particular about them? I don’t know that I’m up to explaining the whole civilization.” He pulled up a chair next to her.
     “This is all Kin’s fault,” she explained with a laugh.
     “The groundskeeper?”
     “Yes. We’ve been talking to kill time while we work and he’s been telling me stories about the Maya. You know, their mythology.”
     He leaned back and narrowed his eyes at her. “So you have a new teacher, eh?”
     “Oh, Dr. Davies, don’t be jealous,” she joked, “Kin and I are just friends.”
     He picked up a book off the table, avoiding her gaze.
     “So,” he said, reading the book’s cover, “are you studying the Maya calendar?”
     “Yes. But I don’t understand the way they counted time. I mean, I can memorize the parts of the calendar – days and months and years and so on – but I still don’t get it.”
     “You have to realize that the Maya considered the whole universe to be very personal and very alive. That includes units of time. Their concept of time had more to do with religion than science.”
     “You’re going to give me a headache.”
     “It’s really not all that complicated. You can look at Maya glyphs and literally see what they mean.” He held the book out toward her.
     “How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs by John Montgomery. I’m not trying to read glyphs, just understand the calendar.”
     “I know. But this book has a great explanation of the calendar and you’ll understand it better if you see how the Maya depicted their divisions of time.” He flipped pages in the book until he found what he wanted. “All right, here are the glyphs for the numbers and dates. What do they look like to you?”
     She peered at the drawings. “People and animals, I guess, but they all look really weird. What does this have to do with time?”
     “You see, Maddie, each god is a number. Each number carries the day name of a date on its back. Here, look.”
     He pointed to an image of a human being carrying a load on its back by a tumpline.
     “OK, Dr. Davies, I see someone – a god? – carrying stuff on his back.”
     Tom nodded. “It would be like us saying that the number 1 carries January on his back until the end of the day on January 1st. Then he hands over his burden to the number 2 who carries it for the day of January 2nd.”
     “So each number god carries the name of the month, or what’s the word, winal for a day and then passes it on.”
     “Yes and they also carry the tun, k’atun and b’aktun. The gods carry time from zero to infinity. Or you could say that time is an endless chain of gods passing their burdens from one to the next.”
     “The gods are the movers of time.” She rubbed her forehead. “I bet the Maya got a lot of headaches.”
     He smiled. “Remember, only the priests knew about the calendar. It wasn’t like today when everyone knows what the date is. They calculated an accurate solar year so they could keep track of when to plant and harvest crops but they also kept this sacred calendar that we’re talking about here. They used it to determine the timing for rituals, sacrifices and warfare.” He patted the open page of the book. “The sacred calendar was far more important to them than the solar calendar was. The solar calendar connected them with the seasons of the earth but the sacred calendar connected them with the seasons of the cosmos.”
     “They used the sacred calendar to decide when to go to war?”
     “Everything they did had an astronomical basis.”
     “Star wars.” She laughed. “So the priests kept track of this whole complicated calendar system.” She looked over the page of intricate artwork that represented Maya time.
     “Yes and I’ll bet they went through years of training to do it, too. Maya math is all base twenty so you need twenty of each calendar unit to make up the next larger unit.”
     “Base twenty?”
     He nodded. “Just like the ancient Celts. We use base ten; they used base twenty. We can speculate that it has to do with the total number of fingers and toes but no one really knows for sure.”
     “At least that makes it easy to count.” She marked a pretend tally on her fingers.
     “Remember, they had the day, referred to by the Maya word k’in, plus the winal.”
     “That’s a twenty-day month,” she said.
     “Plus the tun.”
     “Which is eighteen winals . . .”
     “The correct plural is winalob.”
     She grimaced. “Sorry. The tun is eighteen winalob or 360 days. About a year.”
     “Twenty tunob makes a k’atun and twenty k’atunob makes a b’aktun, which brings you up to 144,000 days. It’s just like our time system, in a sense.”
     “I don’t understand.”
     “We have days, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia. We learn them all from an early age so it doesn’t seem so complicated to us. The Maya system is similar. We count our time from the approximate birth of Jesus Christ. They counted their time from the starting date of August 13, 3114 BCE.”
     “Why that date?”
     He waved her question away. “Then, of course, they also had the 260-day Tzolk’in calendar they used for divination and the Calendar Round as well.” He winked at her. “And a lunar cycle calendar, and a nine-day cycle based on the Lords of the Night, and an 819-day count based on the four directions. Oh yes, the Long Count date divisions actually go higher than b’aktun, all the way up to alautun, which is about 63 million years.”
     She gasped. “That’s a lot to keep track of.”
     He leaned toward her and gave her a mock conspiratorial look. “Well, I have a theory. The Maya had a term called lub.”
     “Loob.” She giggled as she pronounced the word.
     “Yep. It means the sacred woven mat which is the resting place of the god for the current day. A place for him to hang out while he carries that burden of his.”
     “And there are five gods for each date, right?” She counted on her fingers. “One god each for k’in, winal, tun, k’atun and b’aktun.”
     “That’s right. These five gods sit on this mat each day. My theory is that there were actual objects, some sort of number and date markers that the priests used to keep track of the calendar. They put the correct ones for each day out on a sacred mat of some sort.”
     “That makes sense. It’s way too much information to keep in your head.”
     He handed her the book. “Have a ball. It’s fascinating stuff.” He went out of the library.
     She flipped the book open to the index and looked for the word jaguar. She began searching the page numbers listed in the index but found nothing beyond a cursory mention of the animal. In frustration she stared at the book, willing it to give up the information she wanted.
     “If you look at it hard enough it might break,” Shonna laughed as she flounced into the room.
     Maddie leaned her head back and groaned. “It’s just so much information. Dr. Davies makes it all look easy.”
     Shonna slid into a chair next to her. “Believe me, he works hard at it. If he knows something it’s because he worked his butt off to learn it.”
     “Will he be mad if he knows you’re talking to me?”
     “Maybe.” She winked. “But he can’t stop me, now can he?”
     “Look, I don’t want to get in trouble.”
     Shonna patted Maddie’s hand. “I’m not going to get you in trouble, Honey. Tom is just having a little testosterone fit, that’s all. He’s prone to them. So tell me, what are you reading about?” Shonna peered at the book.
     “The Maya calendar. Dr. Davies thinks all that stuff about the Maya predicting the end of time is bogus but I think there’s something to it. There has to be some significance to the way they set up their calendar and the fact that it just plain ends in 2012. Or starts back over again at zero. However you want to put it.”
     Shonna nodded. “I’ve always thought the same thing myself. In fact, that’s part of what I’m researching for this book I’m writing. The Maya knew something we didn’t and I’m going to figure out what it is. In fact, I think the secret may be even more ancient than the Maya.”
     “Wow, really?”
     “Absolutely. Edgar Cayce connected the most ancient Central American cultures with Atlantis. First of all, the Maya received all the prominent landmarks of their culture from the Olmec, an ancient civilization on the southern gulf coast of Mexico just north of the Maya area.”
     “Landmarks?” Maddie leaned forward.
     Shonna counted off on her fingers. “The calendar, the symbols for the moon and sun, the bar-and-dot system for writing numbers, human sacrifice, the shaping of babies’ heads, a serpent with green feathers, and a jaguar god – or half-jaguar, half-human – high up in their pantheon.”
     Maddie gasped. “I’ve been looking up the jaguar.”
     “You won’t find what you’re looking for in this book. Probably not in any books in this library. They’re all too mainstream. These authors,” she gestured at the bookshelves, “already had their minds made up before they started their research.” She pursed her full lips. “Just like Tom.”
     “But he knows so much.”
     Shonna stood up. “I’ll be happy to point you to some useful resources but you’d better not let Tom know about it. He has some very narrow-minded attitudes and I don’t think he’s likely to change them, not even for someone as pretty as you.”
     She swished out of the room, leaving a faint aroma of lavender and patchouli to heighten Maddie’s growing headache.
     Maddie opened her book again and read about the Maya calendar until she came to the symbol for tun, the 360-day “year” made up of eighteen winalob, or twenty-day months. The caption in the book said that the word tun means both stone and time.
     Maddie wrinkled her brow and peered at the picture, all scrolls and dots and curlicues, until its image resolved and she saw what the Maya wanted her to see – the feathered serpent, the quetzal-god Kukulcan. Startled, she began flipping through the book, looking at all the glyphs. Her heart beat faster as she picked up another book and examined pictures of glyph carvings from stelae and tombs.
     The carvings and drawings made little sense to her. All the animals and people were highly stylized and nearly unrecognizable. Sometimes the figures curled up into balls; sometimes they stood on top of each other or hung in mid-air. Maddie couldn’t even tell which figures were supposed to be illustrations and which were supposed to be glyphs – Maya writing.
     She turned the book sideways to scrutinize a photograph of a very worn painting. The caption said it was from some Maya documents called the Books of Chilam B’alam.
     As Maddie stared at the curlicues and faded lines of the painting prickles crept up the back of her neck. The picture touched something deep in her mind and she recognized the jaguar-god, standing on his hind legs, wearing the sacred water lily on his head.
     “Water-Lily Jaguar,” she whispered to the painting. “Raining moon.”
     In her mind she saw a black shadow eat away a curving slice of the silvery full moon. Goosebumps rose on her arms. She slammed the book shut and hurried off to bed.