Jonas watches the uniformed man return to his sleek, metallic buggy. Its odd, wing-like doors close with a hushed solidity and the conveyance moves away under its own queer, whirring power.
The dogs complete a couple exuberant revolutions around and shoulder up against him. He lowers the burden of his gear to the ground.
A city has sprung up overnight it seems like, spread out across the high desert in the distance and roundabout, even up into the folded skirts of the mountain and against its southward range. Distant somethings in the air, skimming among the structures, might be birds, but they don’t move like birds.
Short days ago, by his reckoning, he’d found himself in a bizarre little bugtussle perched on the tableland’s edge far to the north of here, called by its peculiar inhabitants, Woebegone. Now there’s a curious word that does not mean the departure of woe, like you’d think, but the opposite. A fitting epithet for that twisted place.
Before awakening to an unscheduled captivity there, he’d been given a vision, a powerful, harrowing foreknowledge, frightening in its depth and implications. In that dreamwalk, near its end, he saw coaches moving under their own power, both on roadways stretching into hazy distance and through the air as well. Wonders like them and more presented themselves, but he was detached from it all then, a phantom observer only. Not now. He’s certain this is not the same place he was shown, but if his vision of such oddities was accurate, then the other matters that accompanied them, vivid and terrible, are likely accurate as well. That he’s standing here now should be proof enough.
It is an inconvenient fact that often times his knowing is less a blessing than one might imagine. The incomprehensible workings of the Great Mystery have set his life adrift without benefit of map or compass. There is no wonder without terror, his grandfather had assured him long ago. Old Standing Elk sure knew what he was talking about.
“Tunkasila wakinyelo omakiyayo,” he says, and rests his hands on the great rumpled heads on either side of him, anchoring him to the world.
Close by, waiting at the edge of the paved street, is another coach, larger than the one that just drove away and not nearly as smart-looking. It’s big and square and, like the other, there appears no place to hitch a team to pull it, nor need for such. This one, too, has small metal wheels rimmed in thick India rubber or some such, and inside, enclosed behind a wide glass window that matches the thing’s contours, are what look to be cushioned seats. Behind that resides a fair-sized compartment which, through the wide-open side door, seems to have received the brunt of an avalanche of someone’s personal belongings.
A short woman of generous proportions stands nearby in a long, earthen-hued skirt that reaches nearly to the ground. Her feet are bare. An unconstrained cataract of reddish-brown hair whips in a momentary gust as she turns her face to acknowledge him with a nod. In her left hand is a sturdy branch of twisted willow, as tall as she, artfully carved and dressed out in winding ridges and deep, snaking channels. It is an eye-catching instrument and Jonas can’t decide which, the woman or the staff, is supporting the other. The hint of an impish smile brushes her lips and lifts her chubby cheeks. Whoever she is, she’s more than just a bystander, that much is sure. He touches a finger to the brim of his hat.
The stern-looking native man, youngish with darkened, angular features, has squared up to Narregan and Brin. In a clear ceremonial voice, he begins a solemn harangue in his own language. Fused oration and song, it progresses without apparent conclusion in sight.
In the intimate connection of the taproot, Brin’s “voice” is in Jonas’s mind.
‘Jo’nas, this one names himself Tonjuh. Do you understand his speech?’
‘Not a word. I reckon he figures you do. Likely he’s pegged you both as a couple of his tribe’s deities and he’s offering his people’s sincere regards.’
Narregan’s inclusion in the tap is a deep harmonic, the familiar sound of his voice supplied by the memory of it in the minds of his a’chi kah.
‘Whether this is an address prepared well in advance of our emergence, or an impromptu obeisance, we have been treated properly, honorably, and I suspect, at some risk had we been discovered by those less invested in our safety while we were vulnerable. We will allow him to find the end of it before we proceed and withdraw before it becomes necessary to conflict with these t’sunguc further.’
Jonas’s opinion is that with Ile Slohan holding them as they slept, they were likely never vulnerable at all, but as Narregan has demonstrated some tangled emotions regarding the spirit-stone in the past, he decides it best to hold that thought close.
This one Brin called ‘Tonjuh’ seems to reach a coda in his formal address and falls silent, studying the kachinas with expectation. He appears to shy from Brin’s eyes and Narregan has none he can find. Finally, he settles his stony gaze on Jonas. Tonjuh’s spirit-face fairly shouts of inner conflict between doubt and conviction and, regarding Jonas in particular, an abiding suspicion.
Jonas paces forward until he’s even with his companions and plants himself beside Brin. The brindle wolfhound rocks back on his haunches beside Jonas’s caboodle. The fawn noses her way between Jonas and Brin, jostling them just enough to allow her space to add her weighty stare to those of her people as they consider the lone man facing them.
Martin eyes this rough fellow with skepticism, this supposed “sorcerer” who, in his turn, levels a solemn scrutiny from the shade of his hat.
The old stories say the kachinas arrived outside the pueblo in a storm of power unlike anything ever witnessed—everyone saw it—power wielded by the brujo who accompanied them. His great grandfather, Poeyeh himself, witnessed this wonder with his own eyes. Martin knows how stories grow and change in the telling. Embellishments creep in, pertinent details creep out. Critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific method were not even remotely part of his peoples’ early belief system. If these dogs are only dogs—and despite their great size and intelligent appearance, they are just that—perhaps this man too is only a man, an ordinary man who seems more out of place in this moment than either of the inscrutable beings beside him. More so even than the dogs, for that matter.
Martin looks to Choktotuchaanay, as the one who named herself Brin called him, an imposing tower of muscle and armor and unknowable potential. And what of she whose display of inhuman ability is beyond his understanding. The question that presents itself to Martin thus is a valid one. What ordinary man travels with such as these? Martin is moved to recall once again old Poeyeh’s recollections. It is a dawning possibility he may have judged this one in haste.
The man speaks up, calling Martin by his ceremonial name. His voice is measured, his intonation traditional. “I am Jonas Sunka Nunpa of the Sicangu Oyate. I am son of Burns Red and grandson of Standing Elk, a wicasa wakan of our band. You honor us with your recognition and the powerful words you’ve spoken to mark our re-entry into the world of Men. The generosity of your people, the gift of shelter within your sacred space, and the protection you and your people have given us will never be forgotten. We are in your debt, and that’s a fact. Your people and their selfless contribution to our safety will remain in our memory and prayers as long as we draw breath from the Mother.”
This one who names himself Jonas Shoonka Noompa withdraws a coin from the watch pocket of his denims and holds it out for Martin to accept. Sunlight flashes off a silver dollar.
It would be an insult if considered as remuneration for all his people have given to protect these visitors, but that is not its purpose, nor its true value, and Martin knows it. The coin properly satisfies a traditional protocol. It anchors the story he will tell his people of this momentous day. Almost anything the man would have given him would have sufficed. He is not a numismatist, but recognizes a Seated Liberty stamped eighteen seventy-seven. It’s shiny and possibly worth thousands on the collector’s market. He nods stiffly in acceptance.
“I can tell it plain enough you have misgivings,” Jonas says. “It don’t much matter what you think of me,” he gestures to indicate the Travelers with him, “but my friends here and me,” he sweeps a hand to indicate the wolfhounds, “and these two brave hearts, have a narrow path and a dire purpose before us. Time is short and our presence here’s been exposed. We need to be away from this place.”
Martin arrives at a decision. He reaches to withdraw a bone-handled knife from its ancient rawhide sheath, the leather cured and hardened by time until it is almost as rigid as the wootz steel he slips from it. He holds the sacred thing in both hands for Jonas to see.
“This gift,” he says, “given to my twice great grandfather, has remained with each Watcher over the years. Do you recognize it?”
The sorcerer’s eyes trace the mysteries whorled in the blade as though they are familiar and he nods.
“I do. My father won it in battle ‘fore I was born. Gave it to me when I was ten winters.” He raises his eyes to Martin. “Wait. You said your… GREAT grandfather?!”
“Poeyeh?” Emerald eyes sweep the horizon behind Martin as if he’d become transparent.
“We went into the ground near the end of July thereabouts,” the brujo says. He seems to be speaking from far away. “Eighteen an’ seventy-eight.”
“Jonas Shoonka Noompa, you are in the Pueblo of Sandia. The city you see grown up around us to the south and west is Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today is the thirteenth of September and the year is two thousand twenty-seven. We have watched over you for a hundred and forty-nine years.”
Jonas’s mouth opens, as if he’s thought of something to say in response, then closes again.
“Grandfather Poeyeh understood,” Martin says, “after you had gone into the kiva to rest, that when you awoke, it would be appropriate to square with you. He did not want you to go back into the world without a knife of your own. I believe he intended to give you his own, but when you did not awaken and he grew too old to maintain his vigil, he passed on that responsibility in the same way as this,” he lifts up the wootz blade, “passed down to the next Watcher. And the next… and so on to me.
“This knife, your gift, has become a part of the story of my people. It will not pass on to another, because today, with your awakening, I am become the last Watcher.”
He sheathes the blade. Unfastening his belt, he draws it from its loops to release the rawhide scabbard at his hip and, with it, another sheath. He slips the first into a back pocket and holds the second like something fragile between his outstretched hands, eyes low, offering it to Jonas in ceremonial manner.
Jonas extends both hands and the gift is laid in them. It’s heavy.
The sheath is blood-red leather, hardened, but with a pennant of fringe so fine the breeze stirs it. Adorning it is an unfamiliar pattern of beadwork. The handle is fashioned from a small antler with a projecting spike about halfway along its length that slips into his grip between middle and third finger. He exposes the blade, just a sliver, just enough for breath to catch in his throat. He withdraws its full length—a slab of snowflake obsidian six or seven inches long shaped like a spearhead, knapped to a point, its edges twin razors.
Ton’ja makes a circular pass with his open hand, palm down, indicating the gift. “Today is only the second time this blade has seen the sun since it was made. I have kept it only for this day. My grandfather made this when he was Watcher. It took him years working it with a patience and precision that continues to elude me. It is sharper than steel and, though it can be broken, its edges will never dull.”
Jonas watches his hand slide the knife back into its sheath, feeling its weight and presence, hearing the whisper of the leather caressing it. That one, who sat vigil above the kiva from the day he was given the sacred responsibility as Watcher until he was no longer able to carry it, that one, created this beautiful and deadly thing. Created it for him and no other.
“Your grandfather, what was his name?”
“His name was Miguel. As Watcher he was named Ca-pen.”
Around his neck, beneath the drape of a bandana that had once been blue, is a braided leather cord joined to a leather bag hardened by sun and sweat and years. Jonas lifts it out from his shirt and works it open. His fingertips slip inside past Ile Slohan. Delving, small familiar objects with personal significance shift aside until he touches his mother’s earrings. He traps one between a fingertip and a ragged nail and extracts it. Without haste, he cinches the little bag, drops it back inside his shirt and repositions his bandana over its near-insignificant bulge. He holds the precious thing out to the Watcher.
“The eye teeth of a bull elk are ivory. Two of ’em were given to me as a remembrance of great affection. Nothing I have means more to me. Take this one and the thing’s done.”
Ton’ja extends an open hand and Jonas lays the small treasure into it.
“In my prayers I will remember your grandfather, Miguel Ca-pen, and the unbending honor your lineage and your people have demonstrated to bring all of us safely to this moment.”
Martin’s nagging sense that none of this looks or feels like it should, is overshadowed by the reality in front of him. He draws himself up straight, his voice clear.
“This is a momentous time. Long we have waited for this day. There is so much for us to talk about. So much you have to teach us.” He gestures toward a row of modest structures across the roadway. “I understand your desire to be away from this place, but my home is there, a simple dwelling, but removed from the kind of misunderstanding that has occurred here.
“I ask that you do not judge us by the actions of those men. They did not understand, did not know who you are, did not comprehend the magnitude of this event, of what your presence among us means to our people. Tasked with protecting this community, the rules they must follow are narrow. Your existence is beyond the scope of their statutes, beyond their limited experience.
“Know that you are revered guests. I will alert the elders. They will come and draw their circle of protection around you. There will be no further confrontation. The entire community will come together to celebrate your awakening, a proper ceremony and feast to honor you, as you have honored our people by coming among us.” Ton’ja motions toward the street. “Let me show you the way.”
Brin’s words stall him as if she had reached out with her power and locked his knees. “Ee’eh! No, Tonjuh. I am… sorry. Jo’nas is right. We cannot remain here with you.”
“Why not?” Martin’s consternation at the way this improbable episode has so far played out has robbed him of his stony composure, his oft-imagined sense of how one conducts oneself in the presence of mythological beings and mixed-race sorcerers notwithstanding, he realizes his tone might be construed an impertinence, too late to call it back.
“Because, if we stay,” Jonas says, “there’s gonna be a ruckus. That won’t be good for anybody here, nor for them lookin’ on neither.”
“Do you suppose the Council has not the authority to intervene? The council is the authority here and I am their immediate representative.”
“I mean no disrespect to you or your council, Tonjuh, but I don’t s’pose nothin’. I can see it. Trouble’s coming and by the time we get through talkin’ about it, it’ll be on us like flies on a cow chip.”
“I will intercede with them. Once they understand who you are and why you are here, there will be no trouble.”
“You’re tellin’ me how it’s s’posed to go in your mind an’ I’m tellin’ you what’s fixin’ to happen. The cavalry’s gonna come ridin’ in with their narrow rules and guns drawn and the big guy here’s gonna loose his child-like equanimity.”
“How do you know this?”
“How d’ya know when you try to put your boot on the wrong foot?”
Ruby’s penguin shuffle carries her forward, staff chattering. She plants herself too close to Martin to be disregarded. “He’s right,” she says. “Two body recorders and one in the car, even if no one was monitoring at the moment, somebody will review the record soon enough.”
She turns to Brin. “Hi, I’m Ruby. I’m a human being too.”
“He’alowa, Roobee. I am Brin.”
“Pleased to meet you, Brin. Listen, that fellow you disappeared… where’d you take him to?”
Martin cannot believe the woman’s audacity and he opens his mouth to end her interference.
Brin indicates the church with her chin. “There. Below.”
“In the kiva?” Martin is incredulous. This has gotten completely out of control.
“Keeva… Ha’eh! Yes.”
“And the other one?”
“The soft one who went away? I showed him a different purpose. He will follow it for a time. What is a ‘cheeseburger’?”
Ruby’s grip on her staff tightens, head back, her body ripples with rich, round laughter until she breaks wind and, still chuckling, shifts a meaningful glance back to Martin. “As soon as either of those officers establish contact with their base, we’re going to be surrounded by flying assholes in riot gear and NO bodycams. You don’t suppose your ‘sacred guests’ have any ID, do you?”
Martin wheels on her imbued with all the authority his position carries. “This is a tribal matter in which you have no part!”
He notices the blanket she gave him from the corner of his eye, blues and greens against desert bland, and wonders when it slipped from his hands.
“Your immediate interest and personal safety will best be served if you leave us right now. In fact, I am telling you to leave. Right now.”
Ruby stares at him from far away.
Martin meets her gaze. “You say you were led here to find two dogs,” he gestures, “and you say these two are not the ones. I believe you, Ruby Bones. You are done here. Leave us.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time Spirit World has pulled my leg to get me moving the right way. You see I am here at this moment in time. You say you don’t believe in accidents.”
“Accident or not, your welcome has run out! You are trespassing on tribal land. If you’re still here when the police arrive, you will be arrested.”
“Enough.” Brin has not raised her voice, but Martin’s ears are ringing.
She steps forward, close enough to touch him, and his heart breaks into a crazed pow wow rhythm. He doesn’t want to look into her upturned face, but she speaks his name and he does. He looks away. It isn’t her eyes he remembers in the next distinct moments, but the starburst around the right one. Was it spinning around, or was he? He has to know.
Quiet calm enfolds him. His inner turmoil is not altogether gone, but he has no need to act upon it right now. He can hear the echo of his words in his mind, flinching inwardly at his loss of self-control.
Ruby scuffles closer to him and grounds her staff with barely a sound.
“I understand your entire life and purpose is invested in this moment. I don’t blame you for wanting to keep them here, but there are forces stirring. Can’t you feel it?”
Martin can feel it. There is nothing to say.
Something is nagging Jonas, like a tiny burr in his boot that won’t abate until he stops to root it out, and it turns him about. “Beg pardon, ma’am,” he says to the eccentric woman, “but what was that Tonjuh here said to you just a minute ago?”
A foot shorter, Ruby cranes her neck to afford him a searching look. “About my welcome running out?”
“Nope, ‘fore that.”
She reminds him of old Standing Elk who often had that same expression when he was listening to something no one else could hear.
“You mean about the dogs?”
“That was it.”
“I told him before that Spirit sent me here to find two dogs. Why?”
“I am Two Dogs.”
Ruby looks at the wolfhounds. The wolfhounds return an impassive consideration. She looks to Martin, whose open-mouthed bafflement says enough.
“The children of my band started callin’ me Sunka Nunpa when I was just a pup,” he says. “They meant it to be an insult. My father convinced me otherwise. Either way, it sorta stuck.”
Ruby blinks. “I did not see that coming.”
“Yes, ma’am, but lest we’re prepared to entertain company, we really need to vamoose now.”
“Yes. Yes, I do see THAT coming.”
Circumstances have devolved beyond Martin’s ability to control any facet of them. He turns to the half-blood and strives to keep his voice level.
“Will you be leaving us as you came?”
Jonas, hoisting his burdensome saddlebags once more, pauses. “What?”
“In a storm of power.”
“That was a knee-slapper, wasn’t it?”
“By all accounts.”
“Nope. Reckon we’ll be leavin’ with her.” Jonas tips his head toward Ruby.
“And what of us?”
“You were given shelter within one of our most sacred places. We watched over you, protected you from the outside world for a century and a half, waiting for you to emerge and bend your powers to heal our land, restore the river, to renew and lift up our people, if for no other reason than in return for our faithful stewardship. Instead, you’re just going to leave? You never came here to help us at all, did you?”
“No,” Jonas says. “No, we didn’t. We were guided to the old, blind shaman who… “
“Ta’luli. His name was Ta’luli.”
Jonas nods. “Well, Tululi knew why we’d come and gave us what we needed. You’re free to question his decision, I s’poze.”
“How could Ta’luli refuse such as you?”
Silent up to this moment, the big kachina speaks. His voice a pulse in the air, felt as surely as heard.
“The eld you name T’loolee was not afraid of us. Neither was the gift of his aegis given with the thought of what might be gained in return. The generosity of your people was conferred without stipulation. If this faithful stewardship you value is simply leverage against a benefit you believe we are capable of bestowing, one we are obligated now to bestow, what was your constancy beyond a calculated self-interest?”
The Watcher’s proud demeanor slips from him. Traditional teachings offer no clear guidance in this circumstance. His higher education included no practical tools to navigate the empirical fact of mythic beings intruding upon the here and now. It has, however, provided him a sharp understanding of the big kachina’s meaning. Martin fixes Jonas with a wild, searching gaze and the crushing disappointment of unrealized possibilities informs his words.
“You say you are in our debt. If you have the power to restore balance to the world, why would you not do it?”
Jonas scans the horizon, inhales dry heat and lets it out slowly.
“That’s a tall order. My friends an’ me just woke up. I always like to have breakfast before I restore balance to the world.”
The big kachina’s voice rumbles, “You have assumed a host of facts nowhere in evidence, Tonjuh. Your immediate advantage will best be served by swift reconsideration of your place in current events and undesirable results to follow if this talk is not followed by action.”
Ruby’s impish smile has disappeared into the void. “Is there a back way out of here?”
Martin’s emotions fail to correlate with his sacred responsibility. None of the possibilities presented seem to match either his expectations or his perceived duty to his people and their future.
“Old Ta’luli saw way better than I do where our trail leads from here,” the brujo says. “Tell me, Tonjuh. What has your own vision shown ya?”
Martin jolts. The memory of his journey beyond the boundaries of reason at the kiva’s doorway in the ground—less than twenty minutes ago!—returns with sufficient force to stagger him.
Is it possible his terrifying vision and these Visitors could somehow be bound together? A novel idea with nothing to substantiate it. Still, the synchronicity is as compelling as it is disturbing.
Nothing in this extraordinary sequence of events conforms to reason. There is no tradition, no historical guidance at all to match this instance, to offer direction. He is alone, immersed in a circumstance that, to his knowledge of his people’s history, has happened only once before. Martin’s opinion of Old Ta’luli’s judgment and decisions made in that other place and time has appreciated in the last minute. Who will advise him beyond the spirits of those who have preceded him? He had supposed them mute as he prayed for their guidance. He realizes now they are shouting to him across generations—as if across a gulf of stars.
Hand outstretched, palm down, Martin indicates a direction. “Head north,” he says. “Past the softball field there is a gate at the end of the paved road.” He extracts a slim ring of keys from the front pocket of his jeans, tosses it to Ruby. She plucks it from the air.
“One of those will open it. You won’t need them again. Lock it back up and drop them in the scrub beside the gate.”
“North Santa Fe Trail will take you into the town of Bernalillo. Stay off the CanAm Highway. It’s trac. Highway Three Thirteen hasn’t been converted yet.”
Ruby extends a pudgy right hand. Martin considers it only a moment, then brushes her fingers with his own.
“Throw your luggage and yourselves inside my rig,” she says to the travelers. “Half a minute we’re gone.” She pivots around her staff and does a creditable quick-march toward her vehicle’s street-side door, the syncopated stutter of her twin rattles providing the beat to her feet.
Brin reaches out a hand to Martin, an echo of Ruby’s gesture. A sensation like an electrical current accompanies her touch and he allows his fingers to rest in her palm for several seconds, indulging in the momentary thrill of contact. She graces him with a tender smile.
“You have lost far less this turn than you think,” she says.
He is careful not to meet her gaze. “How do you suppose?”
“You waited, as those before you had done, for this moment to come, and when it did, you looked for Source to reach out through us, like the Hand of ONE, to touch your life and the lives of your people. Has it not occurred to you that ONE has never done otherwise? Look to the multitude of small things that have transpired while you were waiting.”
“So often,” she says, “it is the pivotal event with far-reaching consequence one desires in the hope new marvels and favor will accompany the occasion. See us now before you, Tonjuh, and know we have experienced such an alteration of circumstances as you may not be prepared to fathom, yet from it, I can tell you this: marvels are many; favor far less abundant.
“Where we come from, there is a truth all children know: There is no Color the darkness cannot occlude. When full Night blankets all, the light you require must come from within you.”
“I… I don’t understand,” Martin says.
“I know.” She smiles again and turns away.
He watches her go. The crazy woman motions for her to sit up front, and she does. The door seals behind her with a hollow, metallic clap.
Martin’s attention pans back to find Jonas. A volume passes in silence between them. Martin offers his hand. Jonas grasps Martin’s forearm. His grip is a strong one. Martin mirrors it and nods once his acknowledgement. He watches as Jonas treads the gravel interval to the waiting vehicle, the dogs circling. He follows his saddlebags through the van’s side cargo door and the dogs pile in behind.
Choktotuchaanay towers. His blank Face is turned Martin’s way and Martin is astonished to feel his knees tremble. Words are dust in his mouth. He’s certain the kachina can hear the blood pounding in his temples. He strives to control his breathing, searches his spinning thoughts for something to say that won’t sound weak or stupid when he revisits this graceless episode with the tribal elders. None occur. He hangs pierced in this great Power’s deliberation.
The kachina reaches inside its makeshift poncho and withdraws something small in its hand. As though from a distance, Martin observes his own hand reach out to take his baseball cap.
There is nothing more. Martin watches Choktotuchaanay cross the space to the waiting vehicle with an agility and lightness he would not have imagined of one so large, or so encumbered. The side door slides closed behind him and seals with a grinding complaint. The heavy electric drive whines to life and the van glides forward.
It eases through the quiet heat and a neighborhood of low structures separated by narrow expanses of dirt. The entire insulated community still appears to have been abandoned. No weathered faces peer out as they pass. No children or animals are in evidence. With the exception of vagrant insects congregating in lethargic eddies, there is no indication of life or movement anywhere.
Clustered housing gives way to open ground and the indicated ballpark, a diamond of bare dirt with a patchwork backstop, rickety bleachers, and a sagging chain-link perimeter fence. As promised, a boundary gate of substantial construction offers egress and, beyond it, the desert fans out, broiled to a dingy, sterile beige. Only a liberal peppering of stubborn scrub crowds the draws and washes and lines the banks of an old acequia tending roughly parallel west of the roadway. The way is clear and the van attains an impressive, albeit illegal speed.
Martin stands at curbside watching the squared-off rear end dwindle northward with its preposterous passengers. Six discrete beings, kachinas and sorcerer, the dogs, and a force of nature who reminds him of his paternal grandmother, Alu’una—all have passed beyond the boundaries and the complex story of his people. Six impenetrable mysteries, here and gone in the space of less than half an hour. It defies reason. The elders are going to have to ponder this one for a while.
A small dust cloud is kicked up in the distance by their passage. He watches it spin up into a thin, twisting column, a common enough occurrence in this land, yet somehow it seems to him a signature. The wind whips it away toward the mountain, dispersing it to nothing.
Squinting beneath a fierce midday sun, Martin notices the cap in his hand and settles it onto his head, its shade refreshing.
A rumpled bundle lies in a heap nearby—blues and greens, Northwest colors, an anomaly against the drab desert grit underfoot. Martin lifts it from the ground, brushes it off, and folds it under his arm. His sigh is a long one filled with resignation, regret, and perhaps a residual smattering of resentment.
A jolting electric buzz splits the air. Cicadas’ song, missing since the first kachina stepped into the sunlight, returns as though it had never gone.