December 23, 2010
“Good grief, Maddie, didn’t you go to bed last night?” Ben stood in the doorway to the library. “I was on my way to breakfast and couldn’t find you. Did you spend the night in here?”
She shook her head. “If you’ll notice, I brushed my hair and changed clothes. I just couldn’t sleep so I got up early and came in here.” A new furrow creased her forehead.
“What is all this?” Ben looked over the swath of papers and books Maddie had spread across the library table.
“Remember that stuff I was reading on the plane? Websites about the end of the Maya calendar.”
“Sure. But none of that is anywhere near the scientific mainstream.”
“Well, what I didn’t tell you is that I found one source that makes a lot of sense.”
Ben looked sideways at her. “Who wrote it?”
“The Maya themselves.”
His eyebrows shot up.
“Ben, I’m not kidding. It’s called the Books of Chilam Balam. That translates as the Spokesman for the Jaguar or something like that.”
“It’s a Maya document?”
“Documents, plural. From a bunch of different ancient Maya cities.”
“What do these documents say?”
“They’re sort of the Maya version of Nostradamus.”
He flipped through a stack of papers on the table. “Be serious.”
“I am. These books tell the history of the Maya people from the seventh century onward and they end with predictions of the future. Unpleasant predictions.”
“So why haven’t all the end-of-time people gotten hold of these books and trumpeted them everywhere as proof of their theories?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “The books are pretty hard to understand. They’re written in the Latin alphabet but in the Mayan language and they’re full of idioms and obscure figures of speech.”
“Do they talk about the end of the Long Count in 2012?”
“Yes, but you might have a hard time understanding their ideas. The Maya have a pretty unique way of looking at time. Dr. Davies explained some of it to me, and so did Kin.”
“OK. Essentially, they think that history repeats itself.”
“I’ll buy that,” he said.
“On a regular, predictable schedule. It’s not a straight line, it’s more like a circle or a…a…spiral. Yes, a spiral.” She smiled in satisfaction.
“Hmmmm.” He folded his arms across his chest.
“I really think that’s why they kept such accurate calendars – so they could record what happened in the past and then they would know what was going to happen in the future.”
“Do you understand their system? Does it make sense?”
“I think so. Hang on a sec.” She rummaged through the papers on the table until she found a blank sheet, then fished a pen out from under a pile of books.
“You’re really obsessed with this, aren’t you?”
She set her jaw. “It’s important. OK, you know that the Maya had units of time kind of like our days, months and years, right?”
“One of their units of time was the k’atun. A k’atun is twenty 360-day years.” She scribbled numbers on the sheet of paper.
“Twenty times 360 days,” he said. “That’s 7,200 days. Easy enough.”
“And they had names for their k’atuns, the same way that we have names for the days and months.”
“They had thirteen of these names.” She scribbled on the paper again. “So that was the cycle – thirteen k’atuns.”
Ben peered at the paper. “I don’t get it. What’s the point?” He counted on his fingers. “Thirteen times 7,200 days is...um...93,600 days. That’s something like 250 years. What’s so special about that? I mean, it’s fantastic that such a primitive society could keep such accurate records, but . . .”
Maddie stood up and narrowed her eyes at Ben. He reached over and touched her arm.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to offend you. Can you please explain it to me? I really want to know.”
“The thirteen-k’atun cycle. History.”
Ben pressed his lips together. “Let me get this straight. The Maya had this weird set of time units…”
“They only seem weird because they’re not what we’re used to.”
“Granted. So they developed this set of time units and they used these particular numbers because this is the length of the historical cycle that repeats itself?”
“Yes!” Maddie beamed, proud of her student.
“But . . .”
“The Chilam Balam books tell us what happened before so we know what will happen again. In general, anyway.”
“But what does that have to do with the end-of-time theories?”
“That’s the weird part. The Maya have always been into cycles, right?”
“I’ll take your word for that.”
“What I mean is, they have all these interlocking units of time that repeat in cycles – from the kin which is one day to the k’atuns that are 7,200 days to the b’aktun which is twenty k’atuns or 144,000 days.”
“I’m still with you.”
“All these cycles keep repeating themselves and can be used to predict the future as long as the past has been recorded.”
“Until the winter solstice in the year 2012. That’s the end of this section of the Long Count calendar and nothing can be predicted beyond that date.”
“But time can’t just end.”
“No, I don’t think that’s what it means.”
“Then what the heck does it mean?” He scanned the collection of books and papers on the table.
“Well, it’s like with the Maya prophecies in the books of Chilam Balam. They can’t see beyond that date, beyond winter solstice 2012. Something happens on that date that makes it so they can’t tell what’s going to happen afterward. It’s a cusp.”
“A cusp. It’s from Stranger in a Strange Land.”
“Robert Heinlein.” He nodded. “I read it a long time ago.”
“The main character, Valentine Michael Smith, talks about a cusp being a turning point, a time when someone has to make a decision.”
“And that decision determines the course of history after that point?”
He fingered the spine of a book. “So it’s like death.”
“My Aunt Ruby taught me about it. You’ve never met her. She’s kind of a character. She reads Tarot cards for a living. Tells people’s fortunes.”
Maddie giggled. “You’re kidding. You mean, with a crystal ball and a turban and everything?”
“Not exactly. She looks pretty normal, really. She has an office where she does readings.”
“I never knew your family was so colorful.”
“Well, Aunt Ruby’s sort of a black sheep because of what she does for a living, but I like her. She just wants to help people and she always managed to make time for me.”
“Why are you telling me about Aunt Ruby?”
“She taught me about death. At least, about the Death card in the Tarot deck. It’s the one with the skeleton on it.”
“Ick. I wouldn’t want to see that come up in a reading she did for me.”
“Oh, it has come up a number of times for me.”
She looked at him in horror. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not. The Death card doesn’t always mean literal death, and that’s my point.”
“So you think Tarot cards are related to the Maya calendar?”
“Well, I think the concepts may be related, if I understand what you’re telling me,” he said. “Let me see if I can explain this. All right, tell me why people are so afraid of death.”
“Um, because no one really knows what it’s like. I mean, in spite of religions and books about near-death experiences, nobody has ever totally died and then come back to tell us what it’s like. At least, as far as we know.”
Ben nodded. “Exactly. We can’t see to the other side. It’s unknown. That’s what the Death card is about. It’s not about death. It’s about change.”
“Change so great that no one can tell you what it will be like on the other side,” she said. “That must be what the Maya saw – or didn’t see – in their calendar. And it scared them.”
“Because they were used to being able to make pat predictions?”
“Right. And after December 21, 2012 they can’t tell what’s going to happen.”
“Well, I know what’s going to happen right now,” he said.
Maddie glanced at her watch. “We’re going to miss breakfast and be very hungry all morning!” She raked up her papers and stuffed them into her backpack. “I’m just going to leave the books out. Maybe someone else will be interested in them.”
They hurried down the corridor to the dining room. Everyone else was already eating.
Tom scowled at Ben and gave Maddie a searching look. “Just what have you been up to?”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Davies,” said Ben. “I found Maddie in the library and kept her in conversation or we wouldn’t have been late.”
“Well, eat your breakfast while you can. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.” He motioned to the waitress to bring food for Maddie and Ben. “At least I know you’ve been studying.”
“Yes,” said Maddie. “The library here is very helpful.” She sat down and began eating. After a few bites she looked over at Tom. “Dr. Davies, I’ve been reading about the Maya calendar.”
“You’re not still confused, are you?” he asked.
“I think I understand the basics but I do still have a question.”
“I’ve been reading about the Books of Chilam Balam and they talk about time repeating itself. Do they mean that literally?”
Tom leaned back in his chair. “There’s something most people don’t understand about the Maya. They believed that time is circular. Literally circular. They insisted that you can return to a point in time simply by repeating the actions that occurred at that time.”
“But what good would that do?”
“It’s how they ensured their prosperity and success. Each ruler had the duty to reenact the same rituals that his ancestors did. They believed that if one ruler performed a certain ritual and was, for instance, successful in war, then any other ruler who recreated exactly the same ritual would somehow tap into the earlier ruler’s time and, therefore, his success.”
Maddie took a breath. “But if you reenact something that caused someone to lose a war a long time ago, then you’ll lose the war.”
Tom nodded. “That’s exactly how they believed time works.”
“So that’s why they kept such detailed records. They wanted to be sure they didn’t accidentally trigger something negative. But...but no one believes that any more, right?”
“Certainly no modern culture holds those kinds of beliefs, Maddie. We know better now.”
“But if someone did still believe that sort of thing, they might be worried about someone else – someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing – accidentally triggering a really bad time in the past.” The hairs stood up on the back of Maddie’s neck. She turned around to see Father Angelico sitting at his corner table, staring at her. She shuddered.
Tom waved his hand at Maddie. “I suppose that’s possible. But we’re here to excavate a site feature, not dissect Maya philosophy. Let’s get to it.”
The team members filed out of the dining room. As they stepped out into the lobby Tom touched Maddie’s shoulder.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“You’re not going to yell at me again, are you?”
He scuffed his shoe on the floor. “Look, Maddie, we need to get along. We’re both on the same team, remember?”
“It’s kind of hard to tell, sometimes.” She folded her arms across her chest.
“Maddie, are you feeling all right? I know you’ve never traveled before --“
“I’m not sick or anything, Dr. Davies. No Montezuma’s Revenge.”
He fidgeted with the reading glasses that hung on a cord around his neck. “That’s not what I mean. I’m concerned about, um, your state of mind.”
She took a step back from him. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
He held his hands out to her. “Please don’t run away again, Maddie. I’m just trying to help. Father Angelico talked to me this morning when you didn’t show up on time for breakfast. He’s really worried about you. I am, too.”
Maddie’s heart pounded in her ears. She took a deep breath and clenched her fists. “Dr. Davies, I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine. Father Angelico -- I don’t trust him. You should ask him to stay away from the team.”
“Don’t be paranoid, Maddie. He’s a priest on sabbatical. He’s just trying to help.”
“The way they tried to help by burning all the Maya writings and killing the people who wouldn’t convert to Christianity?”
“Maddie, it’s not like that any more.”
“You should ask Kin about that.”
“You should stick to learning about archaeology, Maddie. That’s what you’re here for.”
“Dr. Davies, I’m not sure why I’m here.”
* * *
Maddie spent the morning working in the lab tent. It was the first day of her rotation with Pete Galloway. She sat by herself and used a Sharpie to label the baggies of dirt that Pete brought in from the area of the hearth.
“I’ll examine them all later today,” he said when he brought her the first batch. “I’ll check them for pollen grains, charred wood, plant remains, that sort of thing. But right now I want to pick up the samples as they’re uncovered, before they get contaminated by the wind.”
Maddie watched as Joan showed Ben how to excavate the quadrants to exactly six inches below official ground level. She watched Tom and Colin, Kin and Johnny scoop dirt out of the east-west test trench across the mound. And she watched as Pete sat motionless on the ground, holding a trowel and a box of sandwich bags. She labeled another baggie with its quadrant coordinates and tossed it on the table.
“How’s it going?”
She looked up, startled. Ben grinned at her.
“You looked so sad, all by yourself here in the tent,” he said. “I thought I’d come over for a drink of water and check on you.” He took a long drink from a water bottle. “So, are you all right?”
She looked at the pile of baggies. “Yeah, I guess so. Dr. Galloway has me labeling his soil samples.” She waved her hand at the baggies. “I guess he thinks I’m too stupid to do anything else.”
“No, Madeleine, I don’t think you’re stupid.” Pete Galloway leaned over her, his fingers wrapping over the back of her chair and pressing into her back.
“Dr. Galloway! I didn’t hear you coming!” She leaned forward, away from his hands.
“Apparently not. You see, Madeleine, I want you to understand that archaeology is largely tedious work, not glamour and hijinks. I daresay you’ll have a hard time coming up with a mind-boggling dream about labeling soil specimens.”
He chuckled and tossed a handful of baggies into her lap. “These are from G-4. Make sure they’re labeled correctly.” He turned and slunk back to the mound.
“I’d like to . . .” Ben balled up his fists.
“Chill out, Ben.” Maddie picked up the Sharpie and began labeling bags again. “I’ve only got two more days with him and I don’t have to take any more of his classes. Besides, Dr. Davies says he’s one of the best in his field. He’s a big name.”
“He’s coming on to you, Maddie.”
“He’s a harmless jerk. Anyway, he can’t do anything out here in the open where everyone can see.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Thanks for protecting me, Ben, but you don’t have to be so Neanderthal about it.” She socked him in the shoulder.
“Hey, Kin, how’s it going?” Ben helped the groundskeeper slide a box of tools under the lab table.
“Fine, fine,” Kin grinned.
Ben touched Maddie’s arm. “Can we talk some more at lunch?”
“All right, Mr. Knight-in-shining-armor,” Maddie said. Ben traipsed back to the mound and picked up his trowel.
Kin pointed at the baggie of dirt. “Phoenix, what are you doing?”
“Labeling Dr. Galloway’s pollen samples. He’s a jerk.” She neatly wrote “G-4, 12/23” on a baggie.
Kin gave her a worried look.
“I’m sorry, Kin. He just has me in a bad mood, that’s all. I only have to work with him for three days, thank God.”
Kin squinted across the site at Pete, who was leaning up against Joan and scraping dirt from the excavated area into a baggie. As Kin watched, Joan shoved Pete away and stepped squarely on the spot he was trying to sample.
Kin turned to look at Maddie. “Dr. Galloway has too much interest in girls.”
Maddie scowled. “Everyone has too much interest in other people’s interest in me.” She crossed her arms over her chest and bit her lower lip.
“I do not mean to offend, Phoenix.” He turned to go.
“Wait, Kin, please. I’m just in a bad mood. I guess I’m upset that everyone thinks my dreams are crazy or – or fake. They all think I’m stupid because I’m inexperienced.”
“I do not think that.”
“I know, Kin, and I appreciate it. Hey, I read a book about the Maya concept of time and ritual. It’s called Breath on the Mirror. So now I understand what you were talking about, with the calendar and everything.”
“Good, Phoenix. You need to know these things. But you cannot learn everything from a book.”
“I know.” She tossed another baggie on the pile. “The book didn’t really explain the calendar in enough detail. I want to know how it works. And I want to know more about time repeating itself.”
“These things you must learn from a daykeeper.”
“I don’t think so, Kin. It’s all so strange and I really don’t know what I’m doing.” She scanned the site and saw Colin far across the clearing, working by the mound. “Kin, can you tell me about the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna?”
“This is the jaguar from your dream?”
She nodded. “I haven’t been able to find anything about it anywhere – no books or articles or anything. But I’m pretty sure it exists. Colin thinks so, too.” She screwed up her face in a look of disgust.
“Phoenix, you see this jaguar in your dream?”
“No, just heard about it. The same Maya people who called me that strange name kept saying that I had the golden jaguar and I should give it to them. But I don’t have it, Kin. I don’t even know what it looks like.” She gave him a pleading look.
Just then Johnny whistled for Kin and motioned him back to the mound.
“Back to work,” said Kin. He ambled over to the mound and listened intently to Johnny’s instructions. He didn’t look back at Maddie even once.
Maddie swore under her breath. “Damn it, why can’t I ever finish a conversation with him? Well, if he won’t tell me what I want to know, I’ll find someone who will.”
Lunchtime rolled around all too slowly. Maddie couldn’t find her denim jacket so she stuffed her hands in her shorts pockets and shuffled back to the lodge behind the others.
Shonna finished her lunch, alone at a corner table, and got up to leave just as the team was coming into the dining room. She beamed smiles at them all and turned to Maddie as they passed.
“Honey, let’s have a little talk tonight, shall we? I have a few interesting things to share with you about you-know-who.” She winked and sashayed on out of the room.
At lunch the conversation was limited, as usual, until they had all finished the first round of food.
Ben turned to Dr. Davies. “Is this site really as big as it looks on the maps?”
“Bigger,” said Tom, mumbling through a mouthful of rice and beans. He swallowed and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Lamanai sprawled like crazy. Thousands of Maya lived in the heart of the city with thousands more spread out in the outlying areas for miles. There’s an aerial map in the library that’ll really give you an idea of the expanse.”
“Wow.” Ben put his fork down and sat back in his chair. “So there are almost no Maya here today in comparison to a thousand or more years ago.”
“Only a fraction as many, certainly.”
“And nobody knows what happened to them all.”
Tom cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t go that far. There are lots of theories and most of them are probably right, at least in part. We have written records for some of it.”
“That’s right,” said Joan. “What happened to the Maya is an object lesson to us all.” She wagged her finger at the others. “They overpopulated the area and wore out the soil. Their crops failed due to drought, many of them starved to death and the remainder fell victim to epidemic disease and warfare over the dwindling food supply.”
“Gee, Dr. Lancaster, don’t sugar-coat it,” said Colin.
“Colin, you of all people should understand these things. After all, you did join the AFA.”
Ben chucked Colin on the shoulder. “You never told me you were a feminist.” Colin glared at him.
Tom waved his hand at all of them. “Joan is right. The Maya had a complex, wealthy society like ours. They squandered resources, most definitely, but they also acted like Murphy’s Law embodied – you name it and it went wrong. Drought just wouldn’t stop. Crops failed. Floods that should have saved them spread disease instead. Groups of starving peasants revolted. Neighboring tribes invaded. We still debate the details but everyone pretty much agrees on the big picture. There wasn’t much Maya culture to speak of by the time the Spanish landed here.”
Joan nodded. “And since the European conquest, the native peoples have fought tooth and nail to regain their original independence.” She surveyed the students. “I assume you’re all familiar with Ribogerta Menchu?” They all stared blankly at her. Joan scowled. “She is a Maya woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work toward political independence for the native peoples of Central America, especially the Maya. I suggest you all look her up.”
Maddie shook her head. “I thought that the Maya had a high culture at one point, right? They were really powerful, even though it all collapsed later on.”
Tom nodded agreement. “Without a doubt.”
“I know archaeologists have found a lot of incredible things, like that jade head of the sun god they found at Altun Ha. That’s not too far from here.” She looked down at her plate. “The thing is, there are legends of other great treasures, right? That’s why the Europeans were so eager to explore this area. And we don’t know what happened to it all when classical Maya civilization collapsed.”
Tom shook his head. “The Spaniards who conquered the area dreamed of El Dorado but we all know it doesn’t exist, Maddie. Those lost treasures are just the product of greedy European imaginations.”
“Oh.” She examined a bean on her plate.
“Was there some particular legend you were interested in? Sometimes it’s fun to do a little research and find out where the wild stories came from.”
She looked over to the corner table. Father Angelico’s usual spot was occupied by an older couple in shorts and t-shirts, looking at a stack of brochures while they ate. Maddie screwed up her courage. “Have you ever heard of the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna?”
He caught his breath. “Now, that’s one I haven’t heard in a long time.”
“So you know about it? It’s real?”
He waved his hand at her. “No, no, just legend. And don’t go expecting to dig it up here, either. The real treasure of the Maya is in the records they left of their history, their rulers and wars and so forth.”
“There’s a legend?” she persisted.
He nodded. “The jaguar was supposedly the product of a great Maya craftsman, meticulously made of solid gold and used in a bizarre ritual to enable a Maya king to live forever. According to the legend, this king’s civilization was collapsing and he used the jaguar to enable him to escape the destruction so he could return to his kingdom at the end of time.” Tom narrowed his eyes at Maddie. “This story is supposed to have come from the Maya themselves but I think it must have been the fabrication of some of the early missionaries, a ploy to get the treasure-hunters off their backs and out of town.”
Maddie scowled. “I think some of the missionaries were treasure-hunters.”
“But how,” said Ben, “how can anyone know whether it’s made up or not? Maybe someone really will find it one day.”
He offered a sympathetic smile. “It’s every archaeologist’s dream to dig up a legendary object and prove it’s real, like Heinrich Schliemann did with the city of Troy. The thing is, a precious Maya artifact isn’t likely to be made of gold. Remember, the Maya didn’t like the stuff. Thought it was worthless. They made fish hooks out of it, believe it or not. No, what they truly prized was jade, like that sun-god head you were talking about. Sorry to burst your bubble, Maddie.”
“Oh.” She poked at her rice and beans. “Thanks for clearing that up, Dr. Davies.”
As they left the table Maddie stepped back and turned sideways to let Ben through. Her change in vantage point gave her a clear view of the door to the kitchen. Right next to it, at a small table, sat Father Angelico, facing the group, easily within earshot in that small dining room. Colin stood next to the table, talking to him. The priest caught Maddie’s eye and tapped his temple with a finger. Maddie wheeled around and ran out to the lobby.
* * *
They all meandered back to the site with full stomachs. Maddie lagged behind the others and Ben dropped back to walk with her.
“You still upset about Dr. Galloway?” His look of concern grated on her nerves.
“No, I’m just...upset in general.”
“Anything I can do?”
She turned to look at him. “Believe me.”
“Um, OK. You’ve never lied to me before, as far as I know.”
“But you didn’t used to think I was a flake.” She kicked a cohune nut off the path with the toe of her boot.
“I don’t think you’re a flake.”
“Dr. Davies and Dr. Galloway think I am, too. And that damn priest.”
“They have their own agendas, Maddie.”
“Maybe. But I haven’t told you everything.”
Ben stopped. “Please tell me no one has laid a hand on you.”
Maddie tossed her head and kept on walking.
“For God’s sake, Ben, can’t you pry your brain loose from Prince Charming’s helmet?”
Ben trotted up to her. “That’s not fair, Maddie.”
“Well, neither is what I’m up against on this trip.”
Ben touched her arm. “Tell me.”
Maddie hesitated. “You know I’ve been talking to Kin about Maya mythology and stuff. And I’ve talked to Shonna a little. And you know about my dreams.” She paused. “But there’s more than just the dreams. Now I’m starting to...to know things.”
“To know things?”
“Yeah, kind of like seeing things in dreams, only I’m awake.”
“With my eyes open.”
Ben blew out a breath. “OK, I’ll admit that’s a little odd. But it doesn’t necessarily make you crazy.”
“Ben, I need you to listen to me. I need someone on this team to support me. Please. I knew things today at lunch when we were talking about the collapse of Maya civilization.”
“What did you know? Give me a for instance.”
“Well, I knew that the Maya priests and priestesses foresaw a huge epidemic that was going to wipe out most of the people in this area, including the priests.”
“You mean, predicted, like in the books of Chilam Balam?”
“No, I mean they had mirrors made from polished...fool’s gold...what’s it called...pyrite, and from shiny black obsidian, and they looked into them and saw things.”
“Like an epidemic?”
“Like an epidemic.”
They reached the edge of the clearing and stopped.
“Ben, they put their knowledge in the temples, to save it.” She peered at him through the shadows and whispered. “And they also put the information into people so that when they reincarnated they would remember and be drawn here and bring the knowledge back. It’s all circular. Cyclical.”
Ben moved toward the work area. “This is starting to sound a little crazy, Maddie.”
She grasped his arm. “Ben, remember how I told you the Maya couldn’t see past the end of their calendar in 2012?”
“Well, they did see right up to that date. There’s going to be another epidemic, Ben. Disease carried by water – floodwater. The information has to be retrieved and safeguarded so the Maya can continue past the end date. Their sacred knowledge defines them as a people. If the knowledge dies, the Maya die.” She swallowed. “That’s why that king needed the golden jaguar, so he could come back now – don’t you see?”
“All right, this is too much for me.” He loosened her fingers from his arm. “Let’s get to work, get some fresh air and talk about this later.”
He trotted to the mound and began working. Maddie pressed her palms against her eyes until she saw stars.
“Damn it, why won’t anyone believe me? I’m not crazy!” she said to herself as she walked to the lab tent.
“Crazy means close to the gods,” grinned Kin as he ambled past her.
“Crazy is what I’ll be if I have to label one more damn baggie,” she replied.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to drive you crazy,” said Pete. “You’ll be happy to know that this afternoon we’re checking these samples under the microscope so you have nothing to whine about. You do know how to use a microscope?”
“Of course.” She shrank back as he moved closer to her.
“Good. I’ll prepare the slides. You look at them for anything – and I mean anything – other than just plain dirt. Sort them into two piles – plain dirt and anything else. Once they’re sorted I’ll look at the second group and identify anything that might be useful.”
He pointed to a box at the end of the table. “Set up the microscope while I prepare these slides.”
Maddie opened the box and pulled the microscope out of its padded travel compartment. She set it on the table and fiddled with it until she found the switch for the battery-operated light. She took several minutes getting the double eyepieces focused so she could see anything at all.
Pete brought over a stack of slides and set them next to the microscope. He leaned up against Maddie to examine the microscope and she edged away.
“Are you sure you know how to use one of these things?” He adjusted several knobs, redirected the light and slipped a slide onto the tray. “Come here and have a look.”
She peered into the microscope. “Are those spiky things pollen?”
Pete wrapped his arm around her to adjust a knob. “Yes, that’s pollen all right. Looks like corn, a primitive variety.” He stood up. “Be a good girl and get to work.”
Her face reddened and she felt her ears grow hot.
“Two more days,” she whispered to the microscope. “Two more days.”
Maddie examined slide after slide. Most of them contained something beyond just plain dirt but not all of it looked like pollen. She dutifully divided the slides into two stacks.
“Still busy?” Kin grinned at her.
“Yeah. I blew my Christmas and birthday for this trip and I’m stuck in this tent, staring at slides, instead of digging out there with the others.” She jerked her head in the direction of the mound.
“Today is your birthday?”
“No, no. My parents gave me the money for this trip instead of birthday and Christmas presents. My birthday is December 13. I’m a Sagittarius.”
“Sagit...” He scowled, then his eyebrows shot up and he pointed to the sky. “I know Sag...Sagit...it is Bent Cross, Corn-Ready-to-Harvest.” He looked at her. “You are born with this sign?”
“Yes, but I always thought the constellation looked kind of like a teapot.”
He puzzled. “You do not grow corn?”
“No. We never had a garden.”
“When corn is ripe it is soft. Sweet to eat.”
She nodded and clicked another slide in place under the microscope.
“But soft corn does not make tortilla,” he continued. “We wait for it to dry hard to harvest for tortilla. Corn bends down a little when it dries. We go to field of soft ripe corn and bend down the ears even more.” He made a gesture as if taking hold of an ear of corn on the stalk and bending it almost completely upside-down. “Bent corn stays dry. Rain runs off it. It dries and is ready for tortilla. You know, there are four colors of corn.”
“Four colors? I thought corn was yellow.”
“No, no, four colors. Yellow, white, red and black. Some kinds of corn have all four colors on one ear – very special. Each color is for one Chac.”
“Chac. Dr. Davies said something about Chac the other day. He’s a god, right?”
“The Chacs protect the directions. They bring rain.” Kin spread his arms wide. “One for each corner of the earth. One for each color of corn. Yellow. White. Red. Black.”
“Wow. But what does that have to do with Sagittarius?”
“The stars make a bent cross like a corn stalk with ears bent down, ready to harvest.” He drew the symbol in the sky with his finger.
“Oh, cool.” She pictured the constellation in her mind and superimposed the image of a cornstalk over it. “Yes, I can see that.”
He grinned. “Bent Cross passes Xibalba Be this time of year.”
“Shee-bal-BAH. You already told me that one. It’s the Underworld, right? But what is bay?”
“Be means road. Underworld road. You remember White-Bone-Snake-Road?”
“Yes. It’s the Milky Way. You told me that already. I can’t see it at home – too much light pollution – but here it’s really clear. Really beautiful.”
“There is a long, dark place in it,” he said.
She thought a moment. “Yes, there’s a strip of black where there aren’t any stars.”
“This is Xibalba Be, road to Underworld. Bent Cross, Corn-Ready-to-Harvest is in Xibalba Be in winter. Your birthday.”
“Oh God, you mean I was born under the sign of this road to the Underworld?”
“This time of year – solstice – the sun crosses Xibalba Be. This is path to other places, other times.”
She swallowed. “So what happens then?”
“The road is open, Phoenix. All year long there are ways to the Underworld. The Pom tree is always a way to the Underworld. But in winter when the sun goes over the place of Bent Cross in the sky, how you say, a door opens.”
“A door?” Her voice cracked as she spoke.
“A big door. White-Bone-Snake-Road is where souls go when they die. Snake takes them to Xibalba. Then they are ancestors.”
He nodded. “You know White-Bone-Snake-Road move across the sky.”
She drew an arc in the air with her finger. “Like that?”
“No, Phoenix, the whole thing move.” He arched his arm above his head then moved it slowly over to one side, toward the horizon. “Sometimes White-Bone-Snake-Road sit low in the sky, near the earth.”
“OK, I see what you mean. The Milky Way moves across the sky through the seasons the way the stars move across the sky during the night. Sooner or later the Milky Way reaches the horizon.”
“Yes. When it is near the earth there is just a little black sky below it. Then it is a mouth, the jaws of the White-Bone-Snake ready to eat the dead and take them back to the Underworld.” He held his arms out in front of him and clapped them against each other like a pair of jaws closing.
“Oh, my.” She shivered.
“When White-Bone-Snake opens its mouth we can see into the Underworld. We can see the bottom of the great Pom tree. We can see many things that are always hidden.”
She gazed at him, her eyes wide. “Kin, this is all kind of scary. I mean, the Underworld doesn’t sound like a very nice place. I don’t think I would want to see it.”
“Phoenix, when you look into the open door, you are the center of the universe.”
“Like the Pom tree? Wait, if people all over the world can see that dark spot below the Milky Way all at the same time, how can they all possibly be the center of the universe? That doesn’t make sense. You can’t mean it literally.”
“Hear with your heart, not your head, Phoenix. Hear with your heart.”
“I don’t think I can hear it right, Kin. I’m just a white girl from Ocala.”
He looked away from her. “No you not,” he said quietly.
He retrieved a bucket from under the table and carried it back to the mound. He busied himself with tasks near the mound and made no move to return to the lab tent.
Maddie pressed her face to the microscope eyepieces and resumed her work. The sound of angry voices caught her attention and she looked up. Joan and Tom stood a short distance away, arguing. Tom’s face was red and he was waving his arms in the air. Joan stood stock-still, her fists on her hips. It took several moments for Maddie to realize that they were standing at the spot where Joan had disappeared into the jungle the first three days of the dig, when Maddie was working with her.
Tom threw his hands up in the air in a gesture of defeat and trudged back over to the work area.
“Quitting time, folks,” he announced in a tired voice.
Everyone put their tools away in the lab tent. Tom checked the site over then gestured for the team to head back to the lodge. The students and their professors began the walk through the jungle. In addition to the usual bird calls from deep in the canopy, the team heard odd echoing grunts and low-pitched hoots nearby.
“Sounds like something up in the trees above us,” said Ben.
Tom looked around. “Howler monkeys.”
Joan and Pete increased their pace toward the lodge.
Tom scanned the canopy. “They usually stay farther away from people. I guess no one’s been down this path today except us and we’re pretty quiet.”
“But they’re not,” said Colin. He took a few steps off the path and stared up into the treetops. “Look, there’s a couple in this tree.”
The rest of the group squinted into the branches and saw two dog-sized black figures perched near the tree trunk.
“Get away from the tree, Colin,” said Tom.
Colin ignored him and began pounding on the tree trunk and shouting up into the canopy.
“Hey, monkeys, you have terrible manners! You’re loud and you stink!”
Ben walked over and tapped Colin on the shoulder. “Look, Colin, you probably ought to leave them alone. They’re wildlife.”
“I don’t take orders from monkeys or from you, Benjamin.”
Maddie stepped into the underbrush with them. “Look, guys, we’re on a university trip. How about we just head back to the lodge, OK?” She nodded her head toward the path. “We shouldn’t be off the path. There are snakes and stuff, remember?”
Ben took Maddie’s arm. “Come on, Maddie. You don’t need to be around Colin.”
Maddie pulled her arm away from Ben. “I’m not a damsel in distress, Ben.” She turned to Colin and pointed a finger at him. “And you, you’re being disrespectful of the environment. Archaeology is about knowledge and respect. Just because you have money, don’t think you can do anything you want.” She stepped in front of Colin, her back against the tree. “Stop banging on the tree and let’s go have dinner like grown-ups.”
Tom raised his voice. “You three, get back on the path!”
Colin glanced up into the tree then at Maddie. “Whatever you say, Madeleine.”
He took a couple quick steps back just in time to see a thick stream of clear liquid pour down from the heights of the tree, as if someone had emptied a dishpan out a high window. It splashed on Maddie’s head and shoulders, soaking her through. Ben couldn’t step back fast enough to avoid having the liquid splatter on his shirt, too.
Maddie stood there, dripping and sputtering, glaring at the others. Ben could not suppress a laugh.
“Oh, man,” he said, still laughing, “they peed on us!”
“What do you mean, us? I’m the one who’s soaked.” She wrung out the bottom of her shirt and slicked back her sodden hair. “Yick. It stinks.”
The three students stepped back onto the path to find Tom waiting for them, his expression dark.
“Listen carefully, you three,” he said through gritted teeth. “If you pull another stupid stunt like this I’ll put you in time out like the four-year-olds you are. I won’t have members of my team acting like this, not at a site, not anywhere. Now get back to your rooms and get that smell washed off you so you don’t upset the other lodge guests at dinner.”
He followed them back to the lodge, glaring at them the whole time.
Half an hour later the team members emerged from their lodge rooms clean and fresh, and gathered in the lobby before dinner as usual. As they were about to enter the dining room Shonna burst in through the front door.
“Oh, just in time!” she beamed, swooping down on the group with her arms held wide. She squeezed Maddie’s shoulders then held out her hands to Tom. “I was hoping to get back in time for dinner with you tonight. I’ve had a marvelous day in town and I wanted to share,” she bubbled.
Tom looked as if someone had punched him in the stomach.
Colin gestured toward the dining room. “We would be honored to have you join us, Ms. Rollins,” he said.
The ravenous students made for their table. Shonna followed close on their heels, along with Joan and Pete. Tom plodded after them, shaking his head.
Colin drew an extra chair from a nearby table and offered Shonna a seat. She took it with a smile and patted the empty chair on her other side. “Here, Tom, come sit so we can chat.”
He took a deep breath and accepted. The hungry group lent their attention to the meal, digging into the boil-up and fried jack bread.
“Oh Tom,” Shonna enthused, “I went to Indian Church today and had quite an adventure.”
“Really? It’s not a very big town. I can’t imagine what kind of adventure you could have in it.” He pinned a piece of fish with his fork then speared it with his knife, twisting the knife in the meat. “And the local Maya aren’t generally too thrilled with white people messing in their business.”
“You know I’m looking for modern informants to confirm my theory about the Olmec origins of Maya religion.”
Tom kept his eyes on his food and his mouth shut.
Maddie took the bait. “You never finished telling us about your theory, Shonna. You talked about cultural landmarks and a secret Olmec priesthood.”
Shonna squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Oh, yes. The Olmec painted their plazas and buildings in bright colors just like the Maya later did. The Olmec also used bloodletting to make their clergy hallucinate during rituals. They used stingray spines and specially carved jade points to skewer their priests. And speaking of jade,” she lowered her voice, “the Olmec prized jade above all other substances. Officially, no one knows who revered it first, but my instinct tells me the Olmec began jade worship and transferred it to the Maya.”
“Instinct,” Pete harrumphed. “Women’s intuition may have value in the care of infants but archaeology is a scientific field, Ms. Rollins.”
“Schliemann found Troy on a hunch,” Joan snapped. “Evans found Knossos the same way. The feminine trait of intuition is every bit as valuable in archaeology as my magnetometer and your microscope.”
Shonna reached across the table and patted Joan’s hand. “My thoughts exactly,” Shonna beamed.
Joan drew her hand away and turned back to her food.
The team finished dinner and one by one made their way out to the lobby in search of evening occupations. Pete went straight to his room, as usual.
“I think he’s got a bottle of something stowed in his luggage,” Ben had suggested when he and Maddie first recognized the pattern.
Joan and Colin disappeared into the library. Shonna draped herself across an armchair in the lobby and began scribbling on her notepad. Ben loitered by the front door, waiting for Maddie to decide whether to go out onto the porch or into the library.
Maddie stood in the lobby, looking through a rack of travel brochures. She leafed through glossy photos of the Caribbean coast town of Corozal in northern Belize, Belize’s coral reef islands and their resorts, and Guatemala’s Maya temple at Tikal.
“Maddie, is this yours?”
She turned to see Tom standing in the doorway to the dining room, holding her denim jacket.
“Yes, it’s mine.” She looked around, confused. “I didn’t think I took it in there.”
He crossed the lobby and handed the jacket to her.
“Thanks, Dr. Davies. I don’t need it now, though. I’ll put it back in my room.” She folded the jacket and slung it over her arm. She took a step toward the hallway and bits of dirt and rock spilled out of a pocket.
“Yick.” She brushed the trash off her shorts. “I guess I’ll wash it as soon as we get back to Florida.”
Tom laughed and nudged at the pile of trash on the floor with his toe. He scowled and stooped over the pile. He poked at the debris with his fingers and extracted three small pieces.
“Madeleine Phoenix.” His voice was icy cold.
She turned and looked at him. “What’s the matter?”
He held out his hand with three bits of stone on his palm. “This is the matter.”
Maddie shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
He stepped up to her and held his open hand inches from her nose. His voice was tight and measured. “Unless I am mistaken, these are some of the jade fragments we found yesterday.”
Maddie stared at the dirty stones. She looked up at Tom. “Are you sure?”
“I should be asking you that question.” He put out his other hand. “Give me the jacket.”
She hesitated before handing it to him. He dug his hand into the pocket and produced another handful of dirt and bits of stone. Several of the pieces had a faint green sheen. He placed them back in the jacket pocket.
“Maddie, I don’t think I have ever been this disappointed in anyone.”
“But Dr. Davies –“
“But nothing. You thought you’d take a little souvenir, eh?” His voice grew louder and his face grew redder. “Crazy dreams weren’t enough, were they, Maddie? You just had to step over the line!”
“But I didn’t –“
“Bullshit!” He towered over her, bellowing. “Did you think you’d get through customs with this? They would have thrown you in jail! You’d never make it back to Florida!” He drew in a rough breath. “But you’ll be going back to Florida now, Missy. On the first flight tomorrow. I’ll notify the university and you’ll be expelled.” He shook his head. “Get back to your room and get packed. I don’t want to see your face again until morning.”
Ben hovered in the lobby, watching. Tears streamed down Maddie’s face.
“Dr. Davies, I didn’t do it. I swear. I don’t know where those stones came from.” She looked over at Ben. “Ben, please tell him I’m not lying!”
Ben took a step back and said nothing.
“Dr. Davies,” Maddie pleaded, “you know I didn’t do it.”
“Don’t pull that on me, Maddie. Get your lying butt to your room.”
Shonna bobbed up from her seat and hurried over to them. “Now, Tom,” she placated, “let’s not be hasty here.”
“Hasty?!” He swung around. “Get your crackpot nose out of my business, Shonna.”
Maddie edged away from them as the volume of Tom’s voice rose again.
Shonna put up her hands, patting the air in front of Tom. “I know you, Tom. You wouldn’t choose anyone untrustworthy for your team. You’ve always been such an excellent judge of character.”
“Have I?” He glared at her, his pupils contracting to pinpoints.
She took a step back. “Tom, please don’t make a snap judgment about her. You’re behaving irrationally. This isn’t like you.”
Tom turned his back to Shonna and looked at Maddie. He pointed toward the guest rooms.
“To your room,” he snarled. “Now. March.”
Maddie walked toward the hallway, shaking. Tom followed her, standing guard to be sure she went straight into her room.
She put her hand on the doorknob. “Dr. Davies, I didn’t do it. I don’t know how that stuff got in my pocket.”
Tom’s voice was cold and measured. “You understand that you have simultaneously destroyed your college career and my chance of running a dig here.”
She blinked back tears. “You’re still worried about your stupid reputation when my life is ruined. Now we’re both disappointed.”
She swung the door open, went in and shut it in his face. She walked over to the bed, sat down and began to sob.
Outside, Tom turned to see Ben standing in the hallway.
“Ben, don’t you breathe a word of this to anyone.”
Ben nodded and went back out to the lobby.
Tom shook his head. He carried Maddie’s jacket into his room and sealed it in a plastic bag.
Maddie lay on her bed, her eyes red and swollen, her breathing rough. Every time she tried to get up to pack her suitcase the sobs started again. She lay there, fidgeting with one of the shoulder straps on her backpack. If she unzipped the outer pocket she would find the calling card she brought in case of emergency. But if she called her parents she would end up in even more trouble before she ever set foot back in Florida. Maddie’s mother was more likely to believe a professor than a student even if that student was her own daughter.
Some time later Joan came in to get ready for bed. Maddie still lay there, her face streaked with tears, bits of damp hair straggling around her face.
“Good heavens, Maddie, what’s the matter with you?”
“Dr. Davies accused me of stealing artifacts from the site.”
Joan shrank back. “Did you?”
Maddie sat up. “No, Dr. Lancaster, I didn’t. But he doesn’t believe me.”
Joan shook her head. “Another female career down the toilet thanks to a man’s ego.”
“Can you help me?”
“Possibly, though I’m not sure what I could do right now. I assume you have no record of previous behavior of this sort?”
“Of course not.”
Joan looked at her watch. “Tom has already turned in for the night. I’ll talk to him in the morning.”
“Thanks, Dr. Lancaster.”
“I have to work with him, too, you know. Even men can be made to see reason, on occasion.”
Joan changed into her pajamas, washed her face and got into bed. Maddie made no move to change clothes or even get up. Joan turned out the light and went to sleep.
Maddie lay on her bed, gazing up at the ceiling, unable to move and unable to sleep. Images tumbled across her mind – her parents sending her off to college, Dr. Davies imprisoning her in her room, the dream Maya dragging her toward a temple.
Eventually she fell into a fitful sleep, still fully dressed, lying on top of the covers. Toward dawn she awoke with a full bladder. She sat up, put her feet on the floor and squinted at the bathroom door.
Please let me get lost on the way to the bathroom. Anywhere but here. I don’t care if it has a thatch roof and a million bugs in it.
But the lodge room was still there, and Joan snoring, and the bathroom, just as it had been in the daylight. Maddie relieved herself, trudged back to bed and lay down still fully dressed.