It was just a phone call, as unassuming as the butterfly whose flight stirs the 
air into hurricanes half a world away. But Tom thought later that perhaps, 
if he hadn't lost his Hopi vision, he might have seen the air quivering with 
change as he pulled the receiver to his ear.  Perhaps, if he had been able 
to hear the shudder of a fault splitting open three hundred years deep, he 
might have stepped back from the precipice.  But blind and deaf from years 
of living among the Anglos, he danced on the edge, unaware of how far he 
might fall...
 

When Tom, a modern Hopi boy, falls back in time to 1680, he is thrust into
a dangerous conflict between the Franciscan priest who befriends him, and 
the Hopi family who gives him a home.

Excerpt from

Priest Killer

 

by Susan J. Kroupa

©2000 Susan J. Kroupa All rights reserved   
 

Only those who forget why they came into this world will lose their way.
They will disappear in the wilderness and be forgotten.

 

--From the Hopi migration myths  

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Tucson, Arizona, 2005  

It was just a phone call, as unassuming as the butterfly whose flight
stirs the air into hurricanes half a world away. But Tom thought later that 
perhaps, if he hadn't lost his Hopi vision, he might have seen the air quivering 
with change as he pulled the receiver to his ear.  Perhaps, if he had been able 
to hear the shudder of a fault splitting open three hundred years deep, he might
have stepped back from the precipice.  But blind and deaf from years of living
among the Anglos, he danced on the edge, unaware of how far he might fall.  

"Hello," he said.

When he heard the voice on the other line, his heart sank.  Lucille. He
thought of the dream he'd had the night before.  He remembered nothing about
it except that it concerned his father and Honshoki, the brother of Tom's long-
dead great- grandmother.  Their presence had lingered with him throughout the
morning and now Lucille was calling.  Honshoki must have died.  He had been 
frail enough when Tom had last seen him three years before.  By now he had to
be in his mid-nineties. 

But it was hard to decipher what Lucille was trying to tell him. His great-
aunt jumped back and forth between Hopi and English in a rambling narrative 
that Tom could hardly follow.

"I don't have much time," he said finally, when there was a pause between
words. "I'm just leaving for school."

         That silenced her for a moment, and in the pause Tom tried to think of an
excuse to avoid the long drive to Oraibi for the funeral.

Lucille said, "You talk like an Anglo."

She meant that he was acting too rudely to be a Hopi.  He almost slammed
the receiver down then, but he couldn't quite do it, and he thought bitterly that
he was more Hopi than she realized.  

          She launched into another explanation. Tom finally realized that Honshoki
was neither dead nor gravely ill, but in some other sort of trouble.

"You've got to stop him.  Everyone is saying he has gone crazy," Lucille 
said, switching back to English, which she spoke with the chopped accent of 
one whose first language is full of glottal stops. "This is the last thing that the 
village needs on top of everything else."

Tom shifted the phone to the other ear.  "Everything else?"

"Arlen Kalectaca is telling everyone that Honshoki has betrayed the villagers
 and that the only reason he is still alive is that he is a powaka," she continued.

A witch.  Tom felt the familiar twinge of shame at the superstitiousness of
his people.  "Does he say who was hurt by Honshoki?" Tom asked.

There was a long silence.  "Your father and Jimmy," Lucille said finally.
"Kalectaca is saying that Honshoki has only lived to be so old by stealing the 
time they would have lived if they hadn't been in the accident." 

Tom searched for something civil to say.  It was alcohol that killed his
father and brother. Alcohol and snowy roads. "And does he say Honshoki caused
my mother to drink herself to death, too?" he asked, realizing too late how bitter 
he sounded.   

Another silence.  Then Lucille said, "Kalectaca says that Honshoki sent you
away so you wouldn't tell anyone what he had done."   She added, "Maybe if you hadn't left Oraibi..."

If you hadn't left Oraibi.  It always came back to that.  

"What does Kalectaca want?" he asked, suddenly tired.  "Is he trying to take
over Honshoki's position?" Honshoki had been the village chief in Oraibi for over
half a century.

"Assh," Lucille said with a loud sigh.  "This is what I've been telling you.  It's
the dance.  Honshoki has called a dance and everyone is saying he has no right."

"I don't understand what I can do--" Tom began, but his aunt interrupted him.

 "Wait.  I'm going to put him on now," she said.  "You talk to him yourself."
She clunked down the phone before he could say anything else and shrilly called
Honshoki's name, as bossy as any Anglo.  Tom bit his lip in frustration.  The fact
that his uncle hadn't rid himself of Lucille long ago ought to be ample proof to the
villagers that he wasn't any witch.  She was Honshoki's niece, but she acted as if 
she were his wife, aunt, grandmother and mother-in-law.  

             And then Honshoki came on the line.  "Tom?"  The old man's voice 
quavered as if exhausted by the distance it had to travel on the phone line from
Oraibi to Tucson.  

"It's me, grandfather," said Tom, giving him the traditional title of respect.
"What's happening?"

"I need you to come home, just for a couple of days."  Honshoki's voice
cracked and he coughed for a minute.

Home, thought Tom.  Where was that? A few days ago he would have said
here with David and Toni Wellman in Tucson, but after last night he wasn't sure. 

"It's a bad time of year, grandfather.  Finals are in two and a half weeks." He didn't add that Toni had helped him get a summer job doing Spanish translation, 
or that he was in line for a scholarship if he could keep his grades up his senior
year.  Or that he'd rather walk barefoot across the Sonoran desert than go back 
to the reservation.

"I need you," Honshoki said, the words barely audible.  "Just a short visit, 
this weekend.  Please, my nephew."

The old man's voice, so frail, weakened Tom's resolve.  David Wellman's 
words from the night before echoed again in his head, bringing fresh waves of dismay.  "It's your heritage," his foster father had said.  "That's all. I just don't 
want you to lose it." And now Honshoki was asking for the very thing Tom had sworn--in words too loud and angry to have come from a Hopi—for the very thing
he'd shouted he'd never do: return to Oraibi.  He cleared his throat to find his voice.  

"Why don't you tell me what's going on and maybe we can work it out over 
the phone."

Silence.  Tom waited patiently for his uncle's reply, not realizing until Lucille's
voice startled him that Honshoki had put down the phone.

"Did you tell him?" she demanded harshly.

"Tell him what?" asked Tom.  "I still don't know what's going on."

"That he can't call this dance.  Badger Clan owns it. A Bear Clan man has 
no right to sponsor it.  It will offend the Cloud People."

"If it did, I don't think we'd notice," Tom said.  The current drought was
breaking all records.  "Anyway, I can't tell him what to do."

There was a pause, and then Lucille said the inevitable words in an low,
angry voice, "If you were still here, maybe the people wouldn't talk."

There was no answer to this. There never was.  He was tempted again to
hang up on her.  But his uncle's quavering plea stuck in his mind.  "Please, my
nephew," he'd said. Honshoki, whose voice had never shaken with such need, 
who had never before asked him for anything.  And David, who had stalked out 
of the room after Tom's outburst, not bothering to shut the door quietly, who 
had said, "It's your heritage.  That's all."  

"Tell him I'll come up this weekend," Tom said with a sigh. And then,
before she could say another word, he slipped the phone back on the receiver.

*

Dinner that night was almost unbearably awkward. David greeted Tom
with an unusual heartiness when he sat down to the table. It was clear he was
trying to made amends, and Tom was grateful that he hadn't, after all, packed 
his bags after the argument the night before, though he'd lain awake till morning
considering it.  But cheerful conversation was beyond him.  He kept his eyes on 
his plate of beans and tacos and said nothing for most of the meal, distressed that
he was unable to respond to Toni and David's efforts to include him in their small
talk.  Only Nina, eleven and not yet burdened by adolescence, chattered happily,
evidently unaware of the tension that lay between her parents and foster brother.
Tom half-listened to her, his attention on David, until she suddenly stopped
speaking, looked him in the eyes, and asked, "What did Lucille want?"

Neither David nor Toni had asked about the phone call, though they must
have been wondering--calls from the reservation were rare.  Nina had grabbed
 the phone on the first ring, as usual, and had shouted for Tom, informing him 
and the household at large that the call was from Lucille.  They must have
speculated, as had Tom at first, that Honshoki had died or was critically ill.  

"It's about Honshoki," he said, and when David and Toni looked predictably
alarmed, he added hastily, "He's okay.  I mean he's not sick or anything."  He
recounted his conversation with Lucille in a flat tone.  "I told her I'd go.  For the
weekend," he ended, carefully avoiding David's eyes.

Toni sighed and nodded sympathetically—she knew how he hated trips to
the reservation, but David laughed out loud.

"So, the rez is brimming with rumors and intrigue.  What else is new?" He
grinned, obviously delighted with Tom's decision, and Tom wondered again, as 
he had all through the night, how much of David's affection for him came from 
the fact that Tom was Hopi.  Would David Wellman, with his doctorate in
anthropology specializing in Hopi studies, would he have been so willing to
informally adopt an eight-year old Anglo or Chinese kid?  It was convenient for 
a Hopi scholar to have the only nephew of a village chief living with him.  And
understandable that he'd get frustrated when Tom lost interest in pursuing his
"heritage."

  Tom picked up a napkin, wiped the grease off his hands from his last 
taco, and said, to fill the silence,  "How could this Kalectaca say grandfather is 
a witch?   He couldn't hurt anyone if he wanted to.  He's too--"

"Feeble?" Nina asked, between mouthfuls of refried beans. 

"Feeble!" David smiled at his daughter.  "He's what?  Ninety-five?  And 
probably stronger than I am now."  

He rose and carried a stack of dishes to load into the dishwasher.  Toni 
began clearing the table.

"I guess you're not aware of Honshoki's reputation," David said.

"As village leader?" Tom asked.

"As..."  David turned from the dishwasher looking genuinely surprised.  
"You never heard what happened at the New-Fire Ceremony?  Let's see, it was
before you were born, I guess, but I thought you would have heard about it."

Tom shook his head.

"Another story!" Nina said, rolling her eyes in mock exasperation. But she
quickly rinsed off her plate and then settled beside Tom, ready to listen.

David was famous or infamous, depending on how much time one had, 
for loving stories. In this, Tom felt, he had a spiritual if not physical kinship with 
the Hopis. He left the dishes and took a seat across the table from Tom, and 
then waited until Toni joined him before he began.

"I don't know if you remember, but the New-Fire Ceremony takes place
 in November as part of the initiation and Wuwuchim rites."

Tom shook his head again.  He'd left the reservation shortly after his own
initiation when he was eight.  Since then, his visits had been too short to allow
participation in any of the ceremonies.  He'd planned it that way.  

"Well," David scratched at his beard, now more white than blond.  "On a
certain night, members of the One Horn and Two Horn Societies roam the streets,
checking to make sure no one is outside.  All the roads and trails into the village 
are marked off with cornmeal and closed, with the exception of one which is left
open to allow the spirit people to enter the village."

He paused for dramatic effect, and Tom waited patiently, as if David were 
a tribal elder reciting an old legend.

"It was on such a night that Honshoki disappeared. A strange man was 
seen by some of the One Horns out in the streets of the village.  They chased 
him, ready to kill him with their spears as they are required to do, but the man
eluded them, running down the single open trail and then vanishing.  The next
morning, Honshoki was missing.  Four days later, he returned to the village on 
the same trail, wearing only a breechclout and carrying an ancient mask."

"Did the One Horns know they were chasing Honshoki?" Tom asked.

"What's a breechclout?" Nina said almost simultaneously.

"A breechclout is a strip of cloth that's used as underwear,"  David said to 
his daughter, and then turned to Tom. "It was too dark to see the man's face. 
But when he was gone the next day..."

"Where did he say he'd been?" Tom asked.  

David raised his eyebrows and smiled.  "He wouldn't say.  He never told
anyone where he was for those four days.  But rumor was that he visited the
Underground.  The land of the dead."

Tom was surprised he hadn't heard this story before, but then he'd lost 
his friends--his sources of gossip--when he'd left the reservation. "He probably
hid out in one of the caves beneath Oraibi.  Though, I don't know why he'd want
to do that."

"Could be." David never discounted a story, and he kept such things as
whether he did or didn't believe it private.  "Don't forget that he had an ancient
mask--one that no villager had ever seen before.  Wherever he went, his return
caused quite a furor."

David smiled again.  "So you understand why there might be some in the
village who think he's capable of being a witch."

*

Driving alone from Tucson to Oraibi in the Wellmans' old Toyota pick-up,
Tom noticed that the drought, which had stolen the last of the green from the
Tucson  desert, worsened the further north he traveled.  By the time he reached
Holbrook, the little vegetation that hadn't shriveled to dust and blown away was
a uniform, defeated brown.  In better times, this stretch of land had always
looked barren; now it was desolate, a piece of moon scenery.  

It matched his mood, which had been soured by David's eager helpfulness
as Tom prepared to leave.  Would he be eager to welcome Tom back if it became
clear this was his last trip to the reservation?  This gloomy question preoccupied
for the entire four hundred plus miles of the trip, so it was a relief when he finally
arrived in Oraibi.  He got out of the truck and with a single breath was surprised
by a surge of nostalgia.  Tucson was already hot and hazy, but at 7000 feet,
Oraibi had the deep blue skies and the cool, crisp air typical of northern
Arizona's high plateau country.

He locked the truck, but didn't feel ready to see his uncle yet.  Instead, he
walked behind the village to the southwestern edge of the mesa where he had
sometimes ventured as a child.  Beyond him stretched a vast desert punctuated
by mesas and odd-shaped lava outcroppings.  On his right, to the southwest,
lay Flagstaff and the San Francisco peaks, a white-capped pyramid against the
horizon.

Honshoki saw this as sacred land, and had stories to tell about each
landmark and every type of animal that lived there. Tom stared at the vista before
him. Just desert, he thought.  

A sudden cry startled him.  He whirled around, but saw nothing near
him.  Then it came again, eerie and lonely as Maasaw's call, and an early
childhood fear shocked through him, memories of racing home in the dark in
terror.  He shivered, half expecting to see the god of the underworld himself, 
with his mask of rotting, burned flesh.  But Maasaw never appeared in daylight. And then Tom winced at his own sudden lapse of rationality.  Maasaw was
nothing more than a superstition, a childhood boogeyman.  He looked again
until he finally found the source of the sound.  A burrowing owl stood
half-submerged in a prairie dog hole a few feet away, its rust and white mottled
feathers blending into the desert floor so that it was almost invisible.  The owl
stared at him with unblinking, yellow eyes.  Then, with a cry and a fluttering of
feathers, it disappeared into the sand.  Only an owl, thought Tom, as his heart
slowed back to normal.  He should have known that instantly, and in Tucson 
he would have. But it was different here.  Almost as if the sand and rocks and
animal life colluded to engender superstition.

He returned to the village and found little changed since his last visit.
There were more tourists, and new signs to contain them--"Absolutely no
photographs" one sign commanded, and "Visitors may not walk past the last
street." A tour group, making their way across the plaza, strolled into earshot.
 "...the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States," the guide, who
looked Hopi, was saying, and Tom, taking in the crumbling stone houses sitting
among occasional piles of rock and rubble, thought that Oraibi looked its age.

 

*  

Lucille closed the window facing the street, shutting out the sound
of the guide's voice.

"Some are saying he's a witch," she said with a nod toward the
window. "He is only eighteen and already he has a new truck." 

Superstition hangs in the air here, like a virus waiting for a host, 
Tom thought.

Lucille took the leftover stew to the kitchen, a make-shift counter with
a sink in the other room, then returned for the emptied bowls.

"I hope you talk him out of this crazy idea," she said to Tom.  "A Bear
Clan man has no right to sponsor this dance." She turned to Honshoki.
"Which you know."

Honshoki, who had said nothing throughout the entire meal, ignored
this remark as well.  Tom was relieved when Lucille left after dinner and he
and Honshoki were finally alone.  They moved to the old brown couch and
chair on the opposite end of the room. Small, shrunken, his head barely
extending over the back of the chair, Honshoki looked old and tired.  

Then Honshoki straightened a little and with a flash in his eye that was
anything but tired he asked,  "Do you know why the Yowe kachina wears
only one earring?"  

"Yowe?" Tom asked, not familiar with the term.

"The Yowe--the Priest Killer kachina.  Do you know why he wears only
 one earring?"  

Tom shook his head.  He'd never seen that type of kachina.  He waited
for Honshoki to tell him, but his uncle surprised him again.

"There is going to be a Ram's Head dance in early June here.  I'd like
you to dance in it."

Tom stared at him.  Dance in it!  It was the last thing he expected. 
Flustered, he said, "You heard Lucille. She says most of the people here
think it's a bad idea."

Honshoki gave a slight smile.  "There are some who are running on
about it.  But it is my decision."  He forestalled Tom's next question by
saying, "Men from all the different villages have agreed to dance, including
your uncle Stanley.  I only need one more."  Honshoki touched Tom's arm
lightly with his hand.  "You."

Tom looked at him in dismay. By now, if he had lived on the reservation, he would have become a member of kachina society or one of
the three others available to men.   But he hadn't joined any of them, nor had
he wanted to.  "I don't belong to any of the societies.  I'm not qualified."

Honshoki waved his argument away.  "Some things matter more than
 others."

And in the things that really mattered, he was the least qualified of
all.  "I can't," Tom said in a low voice, the words sticking in his throat.  "I've
been gone too long...I just can't."  He turned his face to the floor and
whispered,  "I don't believe in the dances, in any of it, anymore."

He thought Honshoki would react with shock or with anger--with
some show of emotion.  When Curtis, a Zuni friend he knew at school, had
told his parents, there had been fireworks.  Of course, Curtis had put it more
crudely-- "I don't see how a bunch of fat men jumping around in colorful
costumes can influence the weather," he'd said.

But Honshoki gave no indication that he'd heard.  "I'd like to see my
nephew dance before I die."  After a pause he added softly, "So forgotten
things can be remembered."

So that was it, thought Tom.  Honshoki hoped the dance would 
somehow bring back childhood memories and beliefs, and infuse Tom with 
a desire to return to Oraibi.  It wouldn't work--his memories made him want 
to stay away--but how could he tell Honshoki that?  Without his influence,
Tom's mother probably would have bowed to Lucille's wishes and kept him
on the reservation.  Honshoki took a lot of criticism from the villagers and
from the tribal council, not to mention continual nagging from Lucille,
because of his decision to let Tom leave.  And now he wanted him to come
back?  Surely he of all people should understand that some paths led in only
one direction.  

But he looked at his uncle, now eleven years older, frail, and in need
of help—his uncle who had defied the Tribal Council to let Tom live with the
Wellmans--and he thought of how thrilled David would be to see him in a
dance.  Maybe he could do this one thing for both of them.  One last thing,
and then he'd make it clear to David he was done with Hopi ceremonies. 
And if David loved him only because he was Hopi—well, what did it matter?
He only had one year of school left and then he'd be on his own.  It didn't
really matter. 

He cleared his throat and tried to speak, but it took a moment for him
to find his voice. "I can't come for practices until after graduation."

Honshoki's face split into a grin.  "There'll be time.  Stanley can help
you with what you've missed."

"I just hope I don't ruin it."  He said it expecting Honshoki to protest,
but the old man's face suddenly grew solemn.

"That's a chance we'll have to take."

Only much later, as he was driving back to Tucson, did Tom realize
that Honshoki had never told him why the Yowe kachina wore only a single
earring."

 

 

When we reach the Upper World, that will only be a beginning.  
Things there are not like things here...In the Upper World you must 
learn to be true humans. 

 

--Hopi Emergence Myth

 

Chapter 2

 

They danced the first dance without masks at dawn, while the cool 
of night still lingered. Honshoki directed the dance dressed in jeans, boots,
and a western shirt, topped off with an enormous turquoise necklace that
seemed oversized for the small, wiry man. This maskless dance was for the
dead, and so the villagers locked their doors and covered their windows,
and early-rising children played warily in the middle of the room with their
backs to the plaza.  Weary from a night spent in the kiva singing and
assembling his mask and clothing, Tom was grateful for the bracing air and
the chance to do the dance once before the Wellmans arrived to watch.  

He had spent most of the previous two weeks in the kiva with the other
dancers, practicing the songs and the dance steps, repainting his mask and
rattle, refreshing his Hopi, and renewing old acquaintances.  He'd learned
there were to be two Yowe kachinas in the dance along with eighteen Ram's
Head kachinas. Over three-fourths of the dancers had come from other
villages. 

After the dance for the dead, they all returned to the kiva, climbing
own the ladder into the long, dark room. A fire burned in the pit behind 
the ladder--something Tom thought they'd all regret as the day got warmer.

 

Tom made his way to the narrow bench in the back where he had
stored the bundle of clothing he'd worn to the kiva the night before.  Next 
to his bundle lay the kachina mask and the spruce bough ruff that would 
go around his neck for the rest of the day. He sat down beside the mask,
self-conscious in just his kilt and breechclout. The kilt, a front and back
panel woven from black wool, was similar to a skirt with no sides.  It allowed
a clear view of the only underwear he was wearing, his breechclout, a long,
old, yellowed strip of cotton about a foot and a half wide that fit between his
legs and tied front and back to a thong around his waist.  Some of the other
dancers wore boxer shorts under their kilts.  Tom would have preferred that,
but Honshoki had insisted on the breechclout, although he'd given no
reason for doing so.  "Wear it, my nephew," was all he'd said.

Memory was a funny thing.  Before the practices began for the
dance, Tom had been inside a kiva only twice, once for his initiation over 
in Shongopavi, and once here with Honshoki on the day of the accident 
that had killed his father and brother.  He hadn't thought about either time 
in years, but now, with the hard stone of the bench beneath him, the air thick
with dust and sweat, the chatter and laughter of half a dozen conversations,
the memories crept back.  Was this why Honshoki had been so insistent that
he dance?  So that he could sit in the kiva and remember these things long
forgotten?  It was in a kiva that he'd received his secret initiation name,
Tawayamtewa, or Sun Has Risen, that he'd felt the whip on his back during
the ritual flogging, and gasped from the pain, trying not to cry out. The priest
was supposed to strike him four times but after the second, Honshoki had
taken his place.

"This is a good boy" he'd said.  "I'll stand in his place."  And so, as was
the right of any uncle or ritual father, Honshoki had bared his back and
absorbed the lashes meant for Tom.


And on the day of the accident, Tom had pressed his face against
Honshoki's bony frame, the old man's voice low and comforting as Tom
wept.  Memory was a funny thing.  He had cried inconsolably that day, and
yet now he remembered little of his father and brother, remembered much
more vividly the feel of Honshoki's arms around him.  And he was glad, after
all, that he'd agreed to dance.

In spite of the early hour, it was hot.  Tom opened his bundle and
wiped his face on his T-shirt.

"One dance and you're hot?"

Tom looked up in surprise. Stanley, his uncle, grinned down at him.
Stanley had more or less watched over Tom through all the practices.  He
was bare from the waist up, as was Tom, their skin rubbed green with a dye.
Stanley was about a hundred pounds heavier than Tom, and his belly hung
in folds over his kilt. Tom suspected he'd come to see that Tom got his
mask on correctly and on time.  Part of his duties as an uncle. But he made
them seem like those of a friend.

Tom tossed his shirt back into his bundle and Stanley's eyes filled with
amusement.

"That sun is only going to get hotter.  You'd better start thinking cool."
He pointed to the ruff and mask.  "I'll help you with this."

Tom nodded and tried not to squirm while Stanley fit the spruce bough
ruff around his neck and then pulled the mask down over his head, tying it
on each side to the ruff.

 

Though he had tried it on before, he had a moment of claustrophobia
as the mask covered his face.  His field of vision was reduced to two small
rectangles, and the spruce boughs scratched at his skin.  But he was
surprised, even after handling it in the kiva, at how light the mask was, and
how securely it rested on his shoulders.

Stanley stepped back and gave him an appraising look and then a
 pat on the arm, and turned to put on his own mask.  He wouldn't speak 
to Tom again until the mask was off, because once in the costume, the
dancer was not spoken about or thought of as himself, but as the persona
of the kachina.  Anyone referring to the dancer would call him "Tom's friend."

When Stanley had his own mask on, he motioned Tom to the end of
the line that was already forming in front of the kiva's opening. Stanley's
mask, like his own, was green, with an oblong, protruding mouth, and a pair
of horns painted black with green zigzags that curved back like those of a
mountain sheep.

Tom took his place at the end of the line, the tortoise shell strapped
to his knee rattling with every step. He watched the kachinas exit one by
one, impatient until his turn finally came, and then he climbed out into the
light, into a wall of heat.  He remembered Stanley's advice to think cool. 
Pure fantasy.

 

They marched single file into the plaza, rattling and ringing, lining up
facing the west, eighteen men dressed as curly-horned sheep, eighteen
supplicants asking for the rain that makes good grazing, asking that no
wanderers stray from the flock.  Honshoki sprinkled corn pollen into the air,
and the drums pulsed into life.  The dance had begun.

At first, Tom went through the motions in a fury of thought, worrying 
over each step, acutely conscious that Honshoki, standing to the side of the
line of dancers, would be watching, that the Wellmans had driven up from
Tucson just to see him dance.  Gradually, though, the music of it conquered
him--the heavily accented steps, the clack of the tortoise shell rattles and the
unbending bass of the drums.   His body relaxed into the rhythm, moved
with it, and the words and motion melded into a single force, pulsing,
swaying, suspending time and thought by the sheer power of being.  When
the dance stopped, Tom realized he had no memory of it, only a strange,
exultant feeling deep inside him.

The drummers changed directions and the dance began again.  The
rhythm captured his body, as before, but this time his mind stayed free,
removed from his motions, so that he was aware of the heat and dust, aware
of the old women with the brilliant, Spanish-style fringed shawls over their
heads sitting on fold-out chairs in front of the old stone houses, aware of the
countless observers lining the roof-top, legs overhanging and feet tapping in
air to the beat of the dance, aware of the tourists scattered among the crowd,
trendily dressed with determinedly open-minded expressions. He didn't see
the Wellmans--too many people and he couldn't really look--but Tom knew
they were somewhere in the crowd.  He didn't worry about it. The euphoria of
the first dance clung to him, draping him as if it were part of his costume. 
He kept his feet in the right rhythm and his voice on the right words, while he
watched the line of rams' heads in front of him, saw the Yowes doing their
own steps off to the side, saw Honshoki tossing the corn pollen and singing
out instructions to the dancers.

And then, an enormous Yowe drew alongside him and began dancing
just ahead of Tom on the outside of the line. He must have been over six and
a half feet tall.  Tom couldn't remember seeing anyone that size in the kiva
before the dance; he couldn't remember ever knowing a Hopi that tall.

The Yowe stayed beside him, mimicking him, dancing the same steps,
and singing, too, his voice a deep, resonate bass that cut through the noise
of the dance.  Was he dancing beside him deliberately? Tom wondered.  A
caution to the new dancer to do everything right? Tom threw himself into the
motions with renewed effort.


Like the other Yowes, this one wore a black, embroidered kilt, was
bare-chested except for a turquoise necklace, and had a fox skin cape over
his back; like the others, this one held a Franciscan staff and cross in one
hand, and in the other, a large bone knife.

He was like the others but different.  It wasn't only his size, but an
intensity he radiated, as if the colors in his costume and skin were of a
deeper hue than the others.

Too much skin, Tom noticed suddenly--the Yowe was wearing nothing
underneath the split kilt, not even a breechclout.  Tom wondered what the
tourists thought of that.

And then there was the knife, at least a foot long, and stained red with
what looked like blood.  Only it can't be blood, Tom thought, because in
this heat it would have dried and turned black. 

The dance stopped; the drummers made one last change of
direction. For a few moments, all Tom could think of were his aching legs
and the sun burning down on his back and arms. He wondered how Stanley
kept going with his extra weight. He stole a glance at the Yowe and was
surprised to find him gone.  Must be behind me, he thought.  Then
Honshoki's call came; the drum's pulse pounded once more, and once again
Tom was dancing.  And the Yowe was beside him.

 

He isn't wearing a mask.  Tom wondered why he hadn't noticed that
earlier. Perhaps because the Yowe's face was marked in the same way as the
mask--slashes of turquoise paint over his eyebrows and running in parallel
stripes down his cheeks.  And his ears were painted as red as those on the
other Yowes' masks.

Red paint.  That was what he had thought was blood earlier.  But when
he looked at the knife to confirm it, he felt sick. Red drops ran off the knife
and dripped into black puddles on the ground.  He could have sworn it was
blood.

A call from Honshoki and the dance ended.  The kachinas filed slowly
out of the plaza and back to the kiva, and Tom, at the end of the line, looked
for the tall Yowe, but the kachina had vanished again. 

Down the ladder, back into the dark, which was cool by contrast, but
not cool enough.  Tom struggled to take off his mask, bumping against one
man and then another, the press of bodies against him making him feel
faint.  Finally he got the strings on his mask untied, and lifted it from his
head, holding it carefully in front of him.

There seemed to be twice as many people as there had been before
the dance.  He squeezed his way toward the far end of the kiva where his
bundle lay, wanting to get out of the crowd and sit down.   He had about
forty-five minutes to rest until the next dance began.

And then he saw the Yowe.  He stood against the back wall of the
kiva near the bench beside an open doorway that came up only to his
chest.  Tom couldn't remember a door there, but now it was clearly visible. 
Had it been covered before and he hadn't noticed it?  The Yowe waved at him
in what was plainly a gesture to come.

But was the wave aimed at him?  He glanced around but found no one else looking in the right direction. The Yowe repeated the gesture. Tom
stared.  Why would the kachina want him?  He started walking toward him,
wondering if Stanley knew who the man was.  But as soon as Tom moved
nearer, the Yowe turned his back and ducked through the doorway.

This is crazy, Tom thought. He made his way to the back, set the mask
by his bundle, and then turned to the doorway. Even in the kiva's dim light
he could see that removing whatever had covered the opening had
generated a lot of dust. It hung in a haze around the doorway, which showed
ragged edges as if it had been chipped out of the kiva wall.  He stuck his
head through and peered in, but saw nothing. The room was dark.  No sign
of the Yowe.  But the room, this room he'd never known about, intrigued him.  

He stepped cautiously through the opening onto a stone floor and
paused, his eyes not yet adjusted to the dark. Then he saw something--a
glint about fifteen feet in front of him.  Metal, he thought.  The silver from the
Yowe's necklace reflecting the light from the kiva.

 

"Did you want me?" he asked and walked toward it.  Too late he realized that
where there should have been floor his feet met air.  And he fell headlong,
into the darkness.

 

 

© 2001 Susan J. Kroupa