By Will Greenway
Late afternoon in New Mexico, the blazing sun seemed to filter through me. A breeze murmured in my ear as I scanned the arroyo’s rusty shades of orange and brown. As I finished climbing the ridge, I took in Chaco’s red rock grandeur. Then I noticed. I didn’t have a shadow.
I studied the pitted sandstone underfoot. I felt the sun at my back, but the shade that should mark my presence was conspicuously gone; vanished like the love in my life.
A queasy sensation crept over me. That nip of scotch hadn’t been enough to have me dreaming. Maybe lack of sleep and long exertion had me flying so high I’d touched Glenna’s lost spirit and stepped into the over-world. Hope surged, could I be nearing Chuk’taekar and the end of my quest?
I blinked and stared at the fair lit ground at my feet. I felt solid. I looked at my hands, the callouses covered with reddish silt, the fingers thick and cracked from my climbs up the buttes of Chaco canyon. Archaeologist’s hands, the dust never seemed to wash away. I was still Temmes McKeeler. Still wracked with guilt over the hemorrhaging death my seed had sown in my wife and unborn child. Still out in the desert searching for my soul. When Glenna died, she’d clung to me. She didn’t want to go, she dragged my soul with her into the hereafter.
I wanted it back. She’d bound me to her. Now, I never saw red without thinking of her crimson hair flowing in the wind. I saw her eyes in every green tree and bush. Bit by bit, it tore at me. The lass wouldn’t let me be.
I wiped the sweat from my brow. The moisture beaded on the back of my hand. The light made rainbows in the drops.
I headed along the ridge top. The scents of desert sage, dry vegetation and dust filled the air. Licking my chapped lips, I sensed something else; something queer.
Glenna had kept my soul long enough. The great kiva of the anasazi, Chuk’taekar, would join me with the spirits of my past. I learned about the great kiva a shortly before Glenna died. Later, when I lost myself in my work to fight off the loss, I found it again. Something in me clung to the idea. Perhaps it was survival instinct. In purpose there was life.
Climbing through a tumble of rocks, I tripped. Pain shot through my side. I lay in the dust my muscles aching. I felt my heart kicking. On reaching hands and knees, I stared at the brightly lit ground.
Heaving myself up, I trudged on. Touch of the willies wouldn’t stop me. My search for the great kiva had been like this march; much stumbling and little progress. I’d spent years studying the Indians. The society of the Chaco anasazi spanned hundreds of years. Theory ran that they descended from the Mayans.
Whatever their origins, they fabricated seven cities in Chaco. Using mud mortar and chips of stone, they built tenements with hundreds of rooms.
In each city were kivas, circular pits with benches, drum hollows, fire circles and water troughs built into it. This was where they worshipped and communed.
In my studies, I’d found mention of a master Kiva gifted with spiritual powers where not only the Chaco tribes met, but the nomadic clans as well. Chuk’taekar, the spirit bringer, the holy gathering circle. There I could summon Glenna and ask her to free my soul.
My neck prickled. I checked, but saw nothing but scrub and rocks. Someone watching me?
Keeping sharp, I kept moving. There weren’t many places to hide on the cliff tops.
Having scoured Chaco’s 21,000 acres, I’d searched other Indian ruins too; the Pueblos, Mesa Verde and others. No leads. I returned to Chaco to poke in the unlikely spots. Originally, I thought if Chuk’taekar existed, it would be concealed, probably between cliffs. New evidence said it might be in a high place.
The queasiness hit me again. I clenched my hands. Bright daylight in the middle of the New Mexico desert, and I was lurching around like a dapper in a dark Belfast alley.
I noticed that I still cut no silhouette. The phenomenon was both fascinating and frightening. I kicked a pebble, watching the dust as it skittered along the ground. What did it mean?
Following the rock spur to where it widened onto a butte, I continued probing every crevice and bush for signs of someone watching.
I climbed on a rock to get a higher vantage. The chunky dirt was heavy with sediment and devoid of rocks, indications that the Indians cultivated here at one time. I pulled the canteen off my side and took a sip. I tasted something viscous and coppery and spit it out.
My stomach knotted. The spray had made crimson puddles in the sand. I upended the canteen. Blood gurgled out and splattered on the rock. Arterial red glistened on my boots and hands just like the day Glenna had been taken from me.
My God. I dropped the canteen and stared at it. I’d filled it with water this morning. Jumping off the rock, I retreated along the edge of the once tilled field. The presence felt closer.
On the far side, I caught my breath against a boulder. My body felt electrified. I breathed in gasps. I noticed petroglyphs had been etched in the rock’s surface; moon circles, water and life symbols. Stick images of a man and woman stood near the base, their arms upraised to the glyphs above. I’d never seen anything similar.
The rock moved.
I snatched my hands away as the sandstone bulged as if to envelop my arms. Stepping back, I watched as the stone tendrils clawed the air blindly for a moment before retreating into the rock.
Sweat trickled down my cheeks. My legs felt weak. Devil me, this is touched.
Instinct told me to run. I saw a path leading into a shallow ravine and followed it at a run.
The walls of the gully twisted and I quickly lost sight of the hilltop. The presence stayed with me. The walls seemed to vibrate with my nearness. A few times I thought I saw the stone shifting. I ran faster.
The cleft opened into a stepped circular basin. The walls were steep, rutted deeply by runoff and overgrown. Another gap exited from the far side. The air smelled heavy and rock blocked direct sunlight. I felt the presence all around me now.
I headed toward the far side, avoiding the vegetation that grew in every crack and crevice.
“Tem.” The word, uttered in a familiar feminine voice, echoed off the rocks. My insides vibrated. I spun but couldn’t find the source.
My voice shook. “Glenna?” The word died almost before it left my mouth as a movement caught my eye. A dark object hovered high on the adjacent wall. It looked like a shadow and it danced about like a reflexion from a mirror.
“Tem.” The sound resonated from the stone.
My heart hammered. I moved toward the center, hopping down the low terraces. “Glenna!”
The shadow darted a few meters to one side then back. Its outline continually fluctuated, the edges blurred like an out of focus picture.
“Tem, the baby– I killed us.”
She sounded so confused and afraid. “Glenna, no! You couldn’t help getting sick!”
Staring at the figure I tripped on one of the terrace steps. My weak legs gave and I tumbled. I managed to right myself, but my vision stayed blurry. I tried to focus on the figure and failed. Where did it go?
The hair at the base of my neck grew stiff and my skin crawled. The air had grown icy.
I turned slowly. A patch of liquid darkness hovered centimeters away. I saw rocks and bushes through the pulsing mist.
Frozen, I only stared. My heart seemed to stop. An uncomfortable warmth spread from my groin and down one leg. The shape wavered. It leaped back, then flashed at me.
I yelped as something slid through me. The alieness of it made me shudder violently. I heard some sounds and I tried to track it but the form had vanished.
A panic gripped me and I jumped up and whirled around. Everything felt hostile now– violated– angry.
I dove for the cleft on the far side, plunging down the ravine where it ran off the butte and down into the valley. I kept running until I was exhausted.
Collapsing in the cliff’s shade, I lay in the sand and stared at the sky. Images and emotions whirled in my mind.
I didn’t recall losing consciousness. I must have though, because the next thing I was staring up into the blue-black heavens sparkling with a billion stars. A gibbous moon gleamed low on the horizon.
My shoulder ached, and my body felt sore and mistreated. The events in the gully came back in a haze. What had I seen? No amount of drink and exertion could have made me feel like that.
Had I found Chuk’taekar? I lay marveling at a beauty I hadn’t looked at for ages. An electric thrill shot through me as I studied the stars twinkling in the heavens, the lens of the milky way cutting a swath across the sky. Distant mountains and mesas glowed, cast in hues of violet and indigo. Taking a breath I saw the majesty of the firmament as a primitive tribesman might have seen it.
I had found Chuk’taekar. Here in the high desert where you could almost hear the stars sparkling. The great kiva– the creator’s kiva. What greater place of magic was there? What man could lie beneath these blazing stars and not reflect on his place in the universe?
I sat up. What of my soul and shadow? What of Glenna?
In the moonlight I could see my shadow. My soul. I shuddered again reliving that alien touch. Something had happened on that hill. I might never be able to say exactly what. The sounds I had heard before the image vanished were clear in my mind now. They were words.