Friday, December 7, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Eleven

Below is the eleventh installment of Jaguar Sky, in which Maddie takes an unauthorized field trip. I hope you enjoy it.

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Monday
December 27, 2010

     Maddie stepped from the pale dawn light into the darkness and flicked the flashlight on. They’ll kick me out of the department if they catch me, she silently berated herself. Dr. Davies already thinks I’m crazy. This ought to convince him.
     She stumbled on a rock and bumped against the cool stone wall. Her flashlight illuminated a tiny patch of gray wall in the darkness as she inched along the narrow corridor. She had to stoop to avoid hitting her head on the vaulted stone ceiling. At five foot three she was nearly a foot taller than the Maya who laid those stones.
     She slunk through the cool darkness as best she could. Though she tried to be quiet, she kept tripping on rocks along the dark corridor.
     I must be halfway into the temple, almost under the big front steps. The jaguar has to be in here somewhere. This is the last place we used it.
     Voices echoed from deeper within the structure and she froze. She clicked the flashlight off and leaned back against the wall. She began to get a little dizzy. The inky blackness was so complete she couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face. Her heart pounded, threatening to shake her off her feet.
     A pale light shone from around a corner just a few yards ahead of her.
     Oh shit, it must be another archaeological team.
     She flattened herself against the wall in panic. Her breathing was so rough she was sure they would hear her. The flashlight slipped from her sweaty hand and she fumbled to catch it before it hit the ground and made a noise. She peered in the direction of the light. The voices were getting louder.
     Turn the other way, she prayed. Turn the other way.
     Shadows shifted in the flickering light. They grew larger and the voices grew louder until people appeared around the corner.
     Maddie caught her breath. There stood the Maya from her first dream – the woman in the embroidered orange cotton skirt, the man in the jaguar-skin kilt and the two women painted with lime, spotted like jaguars, with acacia thorn claws tied to their fingers. The woman in the skirt held a torch. The others were spattered with dried blood.
     They were arguing in whispers, gesturing at each other. Maddie recognized that they were speaking a Maya dialect, a language she did not know, yet she understood them. The argument ceased and the woman in the embroidered skirt spoke. She pointed at one of the spotted women.
     “Take the jaguar to safety. It must never fall into selfish hands again or the knowledge will be lost forever.”
     She held out a small object, wrapped in orange fabric. The jaguar priestess took the package with a nod.
     “Teach others who can be trusted,” the orange-skirted priestess instructed her. “The jaguar must remain hidden and safe until time returns.”
     The jaguar priestess clutched her prize and hurried off into the darkness. The woman in the orange skirt turned to the other jaguar priestess.
     “You will take the stones and hide them under the temple’s corn. Then you will make the fire offering.”
     The jaguar woman took a step back. “I am afraid.”
     The man in the jaguar-skin kilt thrust a large cloth bag, heavy with stones, into her hand.
     The skirted woman spoke again. “Hide the calendar-stones in the corn. Make the fire offering. You will remember where the stones are. When you have come down the White-Bone Snake Road and been reborn from the sacred tree, you will remember. You will come here again. Time will return. You will return.”
     The jaguar woman clutched the heavy bag. Her gaze darted around in the darkness. Maddie pressed her back against the wall and held her breath.
     The jaguar woman nodded. “I will do as you command. The knowledge will be safe.”
     The skirted woman patted her on the shoulder. “You are strong, Ch’ul Ix Kukul. You will succeed. You will remember.”
     Maddie’s heart pounded in her ears. Her knees shook.
     The jaguar woman hefted the bag of stones and ran silently past Maddie in the dark corridor. She shivered with an otherworldly cold. The other Maya turned and began walking straight toward her.
     “No!” Maddie screamed.
     She fumbled for the switch and dropped the flashlight. It hit the stony floor with a scraping thud. In terror Maddie turned and fled back down the corridor in the pitch black. She tripped on rocks, skidded on sand, and collided over and over again with the cold stone wall.
     Sprintly blindly, she barreled out of the entrance and straight into Tom Davies. He caught her and wrapped his arms around her. He opened his mouth to scold her for her foolishness but found himself, instead, soothing her as she cried hysterically. She pushed away from him and pointed to the entrance with a shaking hand.
     “There...were...people...Maya...in...there,” she choked out between sobs.
     Tom sat her down on a fallen stone and brushed the hair out of her face.
     “Deep breath, Maddie, deep breath.”
     She calmed down a bit and wiped her face with her sleeve. Tom produced a handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to her.
     “Thanks,” she squeaked.
     He waited for her to blow her nose before he spoke again.
     “Now,” he said, “what possessed you to skip breakfast and come trespassing in the ruins?”
     She gave him a quizzical look.
     “Ben tipped me off,” he said. “He told me you weren’t hungry and wanted to get some fresh air.”
     “Damn him!” she cursed. Then, “How did you know where I was?”
     He shrugged. “Just a hunch. N10-43 is where I found you last time, though I don’t think you were looking for it then. This morning you were.”
     She offered the soggy handkerchief to him. He shook his head.
     “So,” he said, “are you going to tell me what this is all about? It must be pretty serious if you’re willing to risk this whole trip to come out here. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
     She nodded. “My own.”
     “Come again?”
     “Look, you’ll think it’s crazy. Nobody believes me but this is serious. It’s real.”
     Tom took her hands. “Maddie, please let me in. I want to help.”
     “I’ll tell you but you have to listen – really listen – and not judge.” She looked up at him. “Can you do that?”
     He pressed his lips together. “I’ll do my damnedest.”
     “All right.” She looked down at his large hands holding her small ones. “I hadn’t intended to come to Belize. I wanted to go to Venice.”
     A look of disappointment flashed across Tom’s face and then was gone.
     “Dr. Davies, I . . .”
     “I think at this point you might as well call me Tom,” he said, his voice quiet.
     She sniffled. “OK, Tom.” The name felt awkward to her. “I wasn’t going to apply for this trip but the night before the application deadline I had a dream.”
     He sucked air. “So the dreams started before you even applied to come here.”
     She nodded. “I dreamed that some Maya – men and women – were calling me a Maya name. They were all dressed for ritual and they said I had to come back quickly, that there wasn’t much time. They insisted that I had the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna and I should give it to them. They tried to drag me to a temple – this temple.”
     Tom leaned back and wiped his forehead with his hand. “All right, I’m going to try to work on the assumption that you’re fairly sane and this is some sort of mystical experience.”
     “Please just listen. When I got here I had dreams again – more than you know about, more than I told anyone, even Ben. I talked to Kin about them.”
     “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
     “Look,” she snarled, “I’m tired of you and Ben playing jealous boyfriends. Just shut up and listen, would you?”
     “Yes, ma’am.” His face was serious.
     “Kin knows about the Maya calendar and mythology and stuff. He pretty much convinced me that I’m not crazy. That, and I read a bunch about the end-of-time theories, and then that book you showed me in the library, and the books of Chilam Balam and the Popol Vuh.”
     “But why did you come sneaking in here?” He glanced at the shadowy entrance to the temple corridor.
     “I had to.” She looked down at her hands. “Tom, I was a Maya priestess at the time of the collapse. They stored the sacred knowledge in me so it could be retrieved now, when the Long Count is coming to a close. They used the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna in the ritual.” She looked up at him and spoke in a whisper. “I knew what was carved on those stones we found because I’m the one who put them there. And the jaguar is here somewhere, too. I’m one of the last people who saw it.”
     Tom shivered. “You realize you’re really pushing my ability to believe you.”
     “It’s the truth, that’s all.”
     He pulled a bandana out of a pocket and wiped his forehead with it. “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
     “Tom . . .”
     “I can’t deny that you knew what was on those stones before we uncovered them.”
     She nodded.
     Worry furrowed his brow. “What else do you know?”
     She held up her hand, counting on her fingers. “We only found twenty-nine stones. There should be thirty-three – twenty number markers and thirteen day glyphs. There are four missing. They’re probably scattered in the bottom of the structure.”
     He stared at her.
     “Tom, these stones...they were used to do calculations. Divination. To figure out when something would happen the next time.”
     Tom shook his head. “How can you possibly . . .”
     “Because I used them. Remember your theory about the sacred mat that all the calendar symbols sat on? Well, you’re right.”
     Tom held his head in his hands. “I’m getting a headache.”
     “Hear my words with your heart,” she said, “not with your head.”
     He met her gaze. His blue eyes sparkled with excitement and fear. “So I’m right about the mat.” He blew out a breath.
     “Yes. And our stones were kept near it. When something major happened, the Priestess and Priest of the Mat for that day would get out the stones. They used them to calculate the next time something similar would happen. Then they recorded their findings so future generations would know when to prepare.”
     Tom stood up and offered his hand to her. She reached for it then changed her mind. She stood up and brushed the dirt off her shorts and shirt.
     “I think we’d better get over to the site,” she said, looking at her watch. “The others are probably wondering what we’re doing.”
     “I’m sure they have their theories.”
     “You didn’t tell them where you were going, did you?”
     His face flushed. “I said I was coming to look for you, in case you had gotten lost again.”
     “Oh, geez,” she groaned.
     He jerked his head toward the path. “Let’s get moving.”
     The others stared as Tom and Maddie appeared at the work site but no one said a thing. The police guard, not Officer Gonzalez but another man, stood at the treeline. Maddie came around the corner of the stone structure and stopped in her tracks.
     “Good morning, Maddie.” Father Angelico tipped his hat to her.
     She backed away. He followed, his eyes boring into her.
     “Maddie, the jungle is a dangerous place for a young woman alone. Anything could happen. You had best stay on site, for your own safety. I wouldn’t want anything…untoward…to happen to you.”
     He strode across the clearing and back down the path to the lodge. Maddie forced herself to focus on work. Ben gave her a worried look as she picked up her trowel and slipped on her gloves but she ignored him. After a few moments he turned back to his work.
     Tom and Maddie continued their excavations inside the structure, in opposite corners, avoiding each other’s gaze. Sure enough, over the course of the morning Maddie found two more stones and Tom found one.
     Tom kept close enough to Maddie that she had no opportunity for private conversation with anyone. She was relieved to avoid Ben but frustrated because she wanted to talk to Kin.
     “Maddie,” said Tom as he shifted his position to a spot nearer to her, “I’ll need your testimony when we get back to Gainesville.”
     “Testimony? I thought I wasn’t in trouble any more?”
     “You’re not. But I’ve already notified the provost about your incident with Pete. We’ll have to bring charges. I’ve heard rumors about him for years but never anything definite, until now. My well-rounded team is developing some rough edges.” He sighed.
     “I don’t know if I can.”
     “Just tell the truth, Maddie. I know you can do that.”

*                   *                   *

     On the walk back to the site after lunch, Ben fell in step next to Maddie.
     “This day is wearing me out,” he said.
     “Uh-huh,” she said coldly.
     Ben yawned. “I hardly got any sleep last night. Dr. Davies and Dr. Galloway were having some kind of argument in their room. I could hear them right through the wall.” Maddie’s head snapped around toward him. “They were yelling really loudly. Probably kept other people awake, too. I don’t know what they were arguing about but I’m pretty sure I heard your name a couple times.”
     Maddie pressed her lips together and tears stung her eyes.
     “Are you OK?” Ben asked.
     Maddie walked on.
     As they began their afternoon’s work, Tom took the three new jade stones to the lab tent to clean, leaving Maddie alone within the stone walls. Kin came into the structure to collect her latest bucket of dirt. He smiled at her but it was not his usual wide grin.
     “Phoenix, where you go this morning?”
     Maddie looked down at her trowel and poked its tip into the dirt. “Um, I went exploring in the ruins.”
     “The jungle is dangerous alone, Phoenix. You wait for teacher.”
     “Father Angelico doesn’t want me going into the jungle, either. You’re all trying to stop me.”
     “Not for the same reason, Phoenix.”
     “Kin, I can’t wait. This is important.” She jabbed her trowel into the ground and left it sticking there. Then she turned and looked up at Kin. “I’m a priestess. I have things to do here. No one will take me seriously. If you won’t tell me about the golden jaguar then I’ll just have to find it myself.”
     “I take you serious, Phoenix.”
     “Then where’s my teacher?”
     “At the right time, Phoenix.”
     Maddie stood up and perched her hands on her hips.
     “Don’t tell me about time. I’ve been having nightmares about time for weeks! And the dreams are right. Time is running out. You just don’t understand that, Kin.” She tapped her watch.
     Kin nodded. “I do understand, Phoenix. But you must work here for one more day. You must finish your work for Tom.”
     “He’s as bad as all the others, Kin. He thinks I’m crazy. I don’t see why I should work with him for one more day or even one more hour.”
     “Because you promise to do it, Phoenix. You give your word.”
     “But this is more important.”
     “You give your word. A priestess keep her word.”
     Maddie kicked her trowel with the toe of her boot. “Everyone keeps trying to stop me. I want to get started now.”
     “I know, Phoenix, but you wait. Time will not run out in just one day.”
     “You don’t understand, Kin. You’re holding me back! I know what I’m doing!”
     “I do not think so, Phoenix.”
     “I’m a priestess, Kin. You’re not even a daykeeper so what do you know?”
     He shook his head and carried the bucket of dirt out of the structure. He declined to speak to Maddie for the rest of the afternoon, though he continued to collect her buckets of dirt and sift them through the screen.
     That evening after dinner Maddie stalked out onto the porch and sat on the steps, hoping for some quiet time away from the others. In a few minutes Ben came out the front door and sat down next to her. She made no move to begin conversation. Finally Ben spoke, his voice quiet and measured.
     “Maddie, I have to know. Are you having an affair with Dr. Davies?”
     Maddie leapt up, her hands balled into fists. “My God, Ben, is that all you can think about?” Her voice grew louder with every word. “I’m having the biggest mystical experience of my life and all you can think about is whether I’m screwing my professor?”
     Ben stood up and backed away. “I’m sorry, Maddie. I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought…”
     “You thought wrong! I’m not sleeping with anyone. No one. So quit being so damn possessive.”
     “I’m not...all right, maybe I am being possessive. Maddie, I care about you. I always have, even back in high school. Why do you think I spend so much time with you?”
     She let out a breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to blow up like that. You’re just a real bastard, Ben, that’s all.”
     “So can you tell me what you and Dr. Davies were doing this morning when you weren’t at the dig site?”
     She sat back down. “He came to rescue me.”
     “Rescue you?”
     “I went to N10-43, the temple that keeps showing up in my dreams, to see if I could find the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna. He followed me there after you tipped him off.” Maddie glared hard at Ben. “I guess he figured I was going to get lost or do something dangerous.”
     “Did you?”
     “You know, Ben, what I do or don’t do is really none of your business.”
     “I thought we were friends, Maddie. Would you rather I just didn’t speak to you?”
     “Join the club. Tom’s barely speaking to me and Kin’s not speaking to me at all.”
     “So you’re on a first-name basis with Dr. Davies. It figures. For a tropical jungle it’s sure cold out here.”
     He turned and went back inside. Maddie leaned on the porch railing and cried.