The old matriarch stirred, then opened her eyes. She looked out past the wide beach at the dark time’s light and its sister walking across the big water. Although it was the time of the light getting smaller and coming later in the night, it was still bright enough to see the sleeping bodies of the clan and its two kin clans from up and down the coast sleeping under and around the shallow cave. She heard movement behind her and turned. One of her big sons and a male from the down-coast clan were sitting up. The whites of their eyes gleamed from under their ridge brows and she could tell they, too, were looking out over the path of light across the water. Then they exchanged grunts with her and each other and, curling up next to their mates, fell back asleep. All was well now but it hadn’t been for many light and dark times.
Three visits of the light’s round face had passed since a big cat had taken up residence on the plains above the beaches and lagoons where the clans lived. One night when the light was still growing this last time a young male had not followed the clan into the safety of the water when she and her two big sons had sounded the alarm. He had instead climbed to the top of the low rock ridge and screeched defiance into the night. They had heard his scream cut short and found what was left of his remains in a nearby tree the next day.
He had been a younger son of the next oldest female, who had just left her childbearing behind her. The clan grieved with her, howling at the sky while water coursed from their eyes. After their sorrow began to subside, the matriarch, her two sons, and the young male’s mother had gone up the coast to the next clan, bearing with them the torn arm of the victim. When they had reached the camp, the camp from which the matriarch’s last mate had come, they discovered that a cat had killed two members of that group in the recent past. Her sons joined the males of the up-coast clan in a search of the area and reached the conclusion that the same cat was marauding both camps.
The up-coast clan had journeyed back with them to their camp the following day. On their arrival, they discovered the cat had returned to the ridge above the shoreline the previous night but had not managed to take another victim. The males from the camps followed the stream that flowed gently down from the plain above and searched the area above. There they found the scattered remains of an antelope, most likely taken down several nights ago but with the cat’s distinct teeth marks through the skull. Fresher marks near the edge of the ridge indicated the cat’s presence the night before. Following the cat’s trail, the trackers soon realized the cat had headed down-coast. Older indicators showed it had done that as well as gone up-coast in the past.
The group returned to camp and a crowd formed around them as they presented their information to the matriarchs of both clans. Together, they reached a decision to journey to the down-coast clan and the following day the old matriarch accompanied by one of her counterparts from the up-coast clan as well as two of the experienced males from both groups made the journey. Again they discovered that the cat had left a trail of grief and after little discussion, the matriarchs of all three groups, remembering times in the past when this had been necessary, made the decision to join together at the central camp for safety while the males could work together to rid the area of the menace. Their sleep was again disturbed by presence of the feline hunter that night but a dash to the water prevented more carnage.
When the day’s light was just over the edge of the big water, they hurried up-coast. The impromptu gathering of the clans was cause for as much celebration as it was for concern. Families and friends came together, smiling broadly with pleasure and sharing in the food gathering for the day. Many young males and females, who had not seen each other in some time, and sometimes never, gathered in groups and couples occasionally drifted off to private places. Mothers admired each other’s infants, handing them around to be cuddled and groomed. Often, one or more of the older males would join these groups and the infants and young ones would climb on them and beg to be held up and tossed around from one set of big, safe hands to the next. That night, the rock overhang was not large enough to accommodate every member of the three clans but they piled around it, knowing they were safe in such a large group. Besides, the dark time’s light was at its biggest and nothing could have come upon them unnoticed.
As the sky over the big water began to glow with the coming day, the males from the three clans rousted themselves and each other and gathered on the beach while the other members of the clans still slept or only began stirring. Grouped together, they motioned and grunted and drew pictures and marks in the sand with their forefingers. Gradually they broke into four groups and scattering along the sand that stretched in both directions, leaving only the weakest and very oldest behind with the females and young. There was no need now for worry because the cat would not come in the day; the only concern was that everyone on the trek would be able to cope with the upcoming exertions.
Each of the four groups founds its own way up the stone ridge, one taking the streambed. The men made barely a sound as they worked their ways across the plain with its scattered trees and rock outcrops, sometimes within sight of each other, sometimes not. Within their groups they exchanged looks which carried much of the information they needed to communicate. At times whistles and calls pierced the air, only slightly off from the birds they mimicked. Then, as the day’s light reached the height of its arc, three of the groups turned toward the sound of a large bird making its kill. Quickly but silently they made their way toward the sound, taking great care to scan their surroundings as they went. Those that were not already carrying large stones or large dead branches picked them up as they went. Again they heard the bird call, very close now, and while most members of the groups crouched for cover in the tall grass, one from each search party cautiously moved to a higher place. A small bird’s territorial call could now be heard from four locations in a small area and the lookout males from each group were able to spot one another.
Almost languidly, so as not to disturb other animals in the area, they exchanged information by pointing and following one another’s gaze. Dropping down into the grass, the lookouts passed the information on to the rest in their groups. The cat had taken refuge in a low tree for its daytime sleep and looking carefully, all of the hunters were able to see its tail alongside the trunk while two of its legs draped limply from a sturdy branch. Gradually they moved closer, pausing only once when the great spotted cat showed its teeth in a fearsome yawn and readjusted its weight along the branch, certain in its supremacy in the region. But its stalkers moved closer until they were almost crowded around the base of the tree. With glances, barely motioning, they coordinated their attack.
Some of those beneath the tree helped others to reach other low-hanging limbs, handing up makeshift clubs, while the rest began screeching and throwing rocks and pieces of dead tree limbs at the cat. It sprang back against the trunk of the tree in surprise, then bared its fangs and roared with fury, its ears flat against its skull. Those in the tree climbed higher, now screeching and swinging their weapons at the cat below, while those on the ground threw rocks. Some of them grabbed at the ends of the cat’s branch and shook it violently. Facing a three-pronged attack, the cat was forced to defend itself in too many directions. It lost its footing and dropped to ground. Those in the tree followed it down swiftly and joined their companions on the ground, hitting the beast with stone and sticks.
Then it was over. Although a number of them had deep scratches and one male’s left armed hung limply, having been dislocated as he swung from the tree, they were basically unharmed. They stood silently around the body of their dreaded tormenter for a moment, then broke into ululating cries of victory and joy. Birds broke cover at the sound and four-footed denizens of the plains took noisy flight. The clans’ members barely took notice. They were many and they had conquered their enemy together. At that moment, they were invincible.
Taking turns, they dragged the cat down the streambed to the beach although long before they reached it, the others of the clans heard them and joined them on the last part of their journey. Once the body was laid out on the sand, the families of those who had lost loved ones to the cat were allowed first access to vent their fury and grief on it. Other members of the clans gradually joined in and within a short time, the former terror of the dark was reduced to pieces of skin, mashed flesh, and shattered bones. Everyone grabbed for the pieces of skin with the fur still attached, but the best went to the hunters and matriarchs. That night, with the dark time’s light still big and round, the clans did not sleep until the first light showed over the big water. They laughed and stroked each other and from time to time, groups got up to stomp and jump in time to the clapping of the rest. They splashed in the shallows just for play and throughout the night broke into periods of the far-reaching ululating cry that the hunters had uttered at the kill and during their return.
* * * * *
The visiting kin clans had stayed but when the big light came again they would return to their homes. The beaches were again safe. The old matriarch watched the partial circle of light climb higher into the light-freckled darkness, its glow overcoming the other points of light. As it climbed, its sister on the water grew smaller until it was simply a footprint. Finally, the matriarch reached out for her oldest grandchild and drew her near, then closed her eyes until the big light came again.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Back on Aug. 18, 2010, io9 posted an article about “The ‘mystery stone,’ discovered on a mountainside in New Mexico” (io9.com). Being that we live in New Mexico, Little Dragon read the article with interest and was surprised to find that this “mystery stone” was right in our proverbial backyard. With a little investigation we determined that it was in close enough that at least Little Dragon would reach it on foot and that it would be an interesting adventure. Not to mention, it seemed our duty to our fellow io9ers to investigate. So the day after a marathon Skype session with some io9ers, we set out with ice coffee, ice water, and a camera.
In spite of my concerns about trekking to an off-road site, I was delighted that I was able to make the one-and-a-half- to two-mile round trip walk to see the Los Lunas Decalogue stone (the “mystery stone”). Little Dragon and I drove out to see it on Sunday, August 22. (One can easily find it by going to Google maps and typing in “Hidden Mountain, Los Lunas.”) The Rio Grande valley is a halted continental rift that has seen volcanic activity on its west side and which has been filling for millennia with fluvial deposition. Hidden Mountain itself is a handful of small hills of basaltic rock rising up from the surrounding desert.
One turns off state road 6 onto a dirt road across the railroad tracks. Straight ahead is the Valencia County solid waste disposal area. To the left is a very sturdy locked gate that bars vehicular traffic but a pedestrian bypass invites anyone on foot to take a walk up the road. I ambled along at my pace aided by my cane while Little Dragon forged ahead.
It was a lovely afternoon – hot and sunny but a breeze and gathering clouds made for a comfortable stroll. The road, lined with wildflowers, led past the first hill on our right. A wash leading out from the dip between the hills provided a shortcut to the base of the trail. We ducked under a loosely held barbwire fence and each of us put a stone on a small pile that previous visitors had started, a bit of a tradition when starting a journey, even a short one. The trail was clearly marked with arrows scratched into boulders at a couple of points where one might have done some head scratching. It was a bit difficult for me because it is narrow and for the most part up hill, in some places fairly steep. It also crossed several spots of loose rock as well as a patch of sand at a critical point. However, with Little Dragon’s help I was able to make it.
The inscribed rock is in a little gully between two hills filled with basalt boulders and rocks with sandy pockets providing plenty of places for plants to grow. A small tree is growing to the right of the rock. There is nothing remarkable about the boulder having a flat surface. Many of the boulders (and smaller stones) there have flat faces to one degree or another. The inscribed rock face has been cleaned of its desert varnish and any lichens and the letters have obviously been cleaned even more thoroughly. I doubt the accuracy of the inscription as being, in 1933, “covered with lichen and patination and . . . hardly visible.” (This description was given in 1996 by Professor Frank Hibben, then a retired archeology professor from the University of New Mexico, to Prof. James D. Tabor of the Dept. of Religious Studies during an interview. Hibben died in 2002 at the age of 92. Wikipedia notes that Hibben’s work has come under question: “In at least two separate incidents, Hibben fabricated some or all of his archaeological data to support his pre-Clovis migration theory.) The flat face may have been as dark colored as the surrounding rocks but while there are lichens growing here and there on the boulders, none of them could be construed as being “covered in lichen.”
The markings themselves are not very deep and although it is a shame that someone has defaced them by scratching out the top line, it is an indication that the rock would not have been difficult to inscribe. People have also scratched their initials on the portion of rock just behind the inscription.
I have read accounts on line by various (Christian) religiously inclined people, one of whom believes the rock was at the top of the hill when the markings were made and that it has slid down to its present location. He also believes that the rest of the boulder, which extends to the left, is a separate piece of an “alter.” Obviously these boulders have been in their current position for a very long time. If it is an ancient inscription, it was done in the boulder’s current location and angle.
I believe the inscription is a hoax, perpetrated by someone wanting to give a young archeologist a rush or even a young archeologist himself. It would not have been difficult to reach these hills in 1933. The original Route 66, which the current state route 6 follows, dipped down from Albuquerque to Los Lunas before heading west again. (I have a 1931 Rand-McNalley atlas and have checked my information with it.) It would have made a day’s outing even then. Little Dragon states that she is undecided: “I cannot deny or confirm anything.” Hopefully, we will be making another trip out to Hidden Mountain, if no other reason than it is a beautiful place to visit.
Little Dragon: “Let me amend that earlier statement. I figured it out. There was a reason Moses was lost in the desert for forty years. He was so lost he ended up here. There is that bush he talked to right next to the rock. He didn’t smash the first set. He looked at this one and told that bush, “Look dude. I know you can do some pretty cool stuff. Bush burning and rock work and all. But dude. Buddy. I ain’t you. No way can I carry this down a mountain. I know it’s not a big mountain but, dude, I have been wandering around the desert for a long time. I’m tired. And not as young as I was when you got me started on this little sighting tour of yours.” So the bush was all, “Fine. I send you snakes and plagues and kill a whole bunch of kids for you and you can’t even move a little rock,” and proceeded to rewrite the commandments on some of the smaller rocks that were lying around, correcting some of the spelling mistakes he had made in the first draft as he wrote. It’s not like they had spell check back then.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Mattie heard the door alarm and put down her book. She listened as three people came into the shop and heard the heavy door slam shut. Well, give them a few minutes to see what kind of people they sounded like and if they were going to stick around. No use getting the old bones up for no reason.
“Shit. Look at the place. A dump, man. Let’s go.”
Nasty sort, that one, Mattie thought. Heard it before; guys who think they’re big and bad and treat people like crap. Any luck, they’ll turn around and leave, just like he wants.
“Hey, wait a minute, Bull” Another young male voice, but a completely different tone to it. “You’ve been saying for months you want a special tattoo for your twenty-first birthday and you’ve looked all over and haven’t found something you like. So at least look, ok?”
“You’re dumb. Eggshell. Just ‘cause someplace looks like a dive, you think it’s going to be all cool and mysterious, like it’s hiding something special. Shit, look at the dumb stuff on the walls. Cartoons from the ‘50s for crisake. Besides, how come nobody else knows about this place? Not in the phone book, either. You just happen to see it riding by on the bus.”
“But there is some pretty stuff. . .” Hmm. Teenage girl with fake ID.
“Fuck. I’m not after pretty. You’re as dumb as he is, Tushy Trishy.”
“I know that, and don’t call me that.”
“Something wrong with liking your ass?”
Mattie heard the them shuffling through the design binders on the counter as the rude one, the one they called Bull, accompanied their perusal with an almost continuous stream of derogatory remarks and snorts. After a few minutes of this she heard a binder slammed down.
“This is shit. I’m out of here.”
“Hold on Bull.” It was the other boy. “My dad told me that when he was a kid people had to ask to see the good stuff because tattoo artists kept their special stuff in back. I mean, you never know.”
“Well where the fuck is someone? Can’t someone hear us out here?”
“Um there’s a bell on the counter,” the girl ventured.
“So ring it.”
Mattie began uncurling herself from her chair before the bell actually rang. Once the damn bell rang you knew they were sticking around. If it had just been the girl and the one boy, she would have already been out front to help them. But that other one? Oh well, work’s work. The bell rang again.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” The beaded curtain across the door to the front area of the store clacked loudly as she came through and stood behind the counter. Not much to the front area – the counter with design books jutted out from one wall and barred easy access to the back room. A handful of plastic chairs with their backs to store windows flanked the front door. The three young people stood in the narrow space between the counter and the chairs. It wasn’t hard to figure out which one was her potential customer – he had the look about him that said he’d get a kick out of tying a cat to the back of a car and driving down the freeway.
“So you think my shop is funny, hunh?”
“You’re shittin’ me, right old lady? You run this place? This stuff is crap.” His laugh was hard as he gestured to the walls and books.
“Um, he really wants something weird, something maybe no one else has,” the other boy said apologetically. “He wants it for his birthday. See, he’ll be twenty-one and he figures . . .um, well.”
“Oh, come on, Eggshell, don’t crack on him now. I mean, after all, you found this place for him so don’t get all wimpy about it.” The girl’s voice had an edge on that Mattie suspected was for Nasty (no way was she going to dignify his pitiful existence by thinking of him otherwise).
Mattie looked at the girl. “Sounds like your friend isn’t impressed with my shop.” Her glance shifted to Nasty. “You rang the bell. Must mean you want something. Otherwise why are you still here?”
He answered her question with one of his own. “How come nobody knows about this place? Maybe you aren’t legal or something?”
“People find it when they really need it.”
“Yeah? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mattie shrugged. “Whatever you want it to mean. So do you want a tattoo or are you leaving? I’m in the middle of a good book.”
“So go back to you book. We’re leaving.”
“Wait,” the other boy sad, grabbing Nasty’s jacket. He turned to Mattie. “He can be a real dick, but maybe you’ve got some other stuff? My dad told me the old tattoo parlors kept their good stuff under the counter or in back. You know, so people had to ask. . .like, people who knew to ask.”
Nice kid, this one, thought Mattie. Nasty and Nice. One of those kids who ends up running around with a jerk because they’ve known each other since first grade. Her voice gentled. “Your dad knew his way around, hunh? Smart guy. And you’re smart for paying attention.”
There was grit in her voice when she turned back to Nasty. “You ought to learn some things from your friend. And he’s right – I do have other designs in back. Not any of that new tribal stuff and I don’t do crude symbols or sayings so don’t expect anything like that. But I can’t think of anyone who looked that didn’t find what they wanted.”
“Yeah, well I don’t want anything everyone else has. I want something different. I want something so weird that people will just flip.”
“By the way,” Mattie said, “are you going to be able to pay? And it’s got to be cash. I don’t have a machine for plastic and wouldn’t trust one anyway. If you have to run to the bank before we start, that’s ok by me.”
“Shit. Now that makes me think you don’t trust me. I got cash all right and more than enough.”
Mattie shrugged, then turned and held the beads to the side, gesturing him to follow. “You can come too,” she said as she noticed the girl and Nice hesitate. The room behind the curtain was large. A single bright reading lamp beside one of the chairs was the only light. One side looked hospital sterile with a steel counter and cabinets running the length of the wall. Two sinks interrupted the counter at strategic points and an autoclave sat at one end. Two chairs and a masseuse’s table, all upholstered in dark leather with white paper draped over them were set far enough apart to allow ample work space around them. Pale linoleum stretched from the cabinets almost to the middle of the room.
Where the linoleum ended, the room abruptly changed its mind. Nondescript carpeting laid the groundwork for two clusters of furniture, each including a couch, mismatched armchairs and strategically placed coffee and end tables. Separating the two seating areas was a waist-high double-sided book shelf, its top providing a counter for all sizes of binders stacked on top of each other.
Mattie headed to the pile, flicking on a couple of floor lamps as she passed. “So where do you want this tattoo? I gather someplace people will notice?”
“I want it on my right arm and big enough so even if a person just gets a quick look they’ll know I’ve got the baddest tat they’ve ever seen. If you even have something that bad,” Nasty snorted derisively.
Mattie slid binders around, creating newly ordered stacks. Finally she slid a dark red, medium sized binder out from under a shortened stack and walked over to one of the couches. “Here. Sit down and find what you want,” she said, putting the book down and walking away.
She turned a radio on to a classic rock station and flipped on bright lights around one of the chairs. She glanced back to see the three sitting on the couch, their heads together over the book. She turned back and began readying her work space, rifling through cupboards and drawers for what she needed. Behind her, she heard pages being flipped and a mumbled conversation between the boys, pierced occasionally by a squeal from the girl.
Finally there was a moment of silence, almost as if they had stopped breathing. Then Nasty exploded, “What the fuck?”
“You find something?” Mattie asked, disinterest oozing alongside the words.
“This shit is fucking crazy.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yeah. Sure. But what the fuck is it?”
Mattie crossed the room and took the book. “Oh, that one. I call it ‘Deranged Mitosis’.”
Nice looked at Nasty. “Mitosis. That’s when cells divide to make new ones. I think it means crazy cell division.”
“That’s just plain dumb to name a tat design.”
”Don’t get it, Bull,” the girl pleaded. “It’s worse than gross – it’s ugly and scary. . .it’s wrong. I won’t touch you if you get it.”
“Oh yeah you will,” he sneered, “because you’re mine and you wouldn’t know what to do if you didn’t have me. My body, I do what I want and you’ll take it.”
“She’s right,” Nice interrupted. “There’s something wrong with that picture. Ok, so it sounds dumb but there’s something bad, something really sick about it.”
“Yeah. And that’s why I’m going to get it. How much is it?” he asked, getting up.
“Humph.” Mattie let the air hang for a moment. Two fifty. Paid up front”
Nasty pulled out a wad of crumpled, dirty bills and counted them into her hand.
“Have a seat” Mattie stepped over and got out the ink she would be need.
Mattie turned to the two on the couch. “You guys want to look at more pictures? Or I’ve got stuff to read over on those end tables.” She motioned to some stacks of magazines.
“Thanks, but I’ve got a book,” the boy said pulling a paperback from his jacket pocket.
Mattie looked at the girl. “You?” she asked gently.
“Do you have something. . .not like that stuff. . .maybe pretty stuff?”
Mattie walked over to the bookshelf and rifled through the piles again, returning with two very large green binders and a petit pink one. “You’ll like these,” she said handing them to the girl.
* * * * * * *
Nasty preened in front of the mirrors, turning to see his new tattoo from as many angles as possible. “Come over and look at this. People are going to absolutely freak out.”
Nice shut his book. “We’ve already seen it in the book and we’ll have to look at it forever from now on. Why don’t you got out and show it to everyone who passes by.”
“I’m going to do just that while you two pussies get your act together.” He bashed through the beaded curtain and then the front door opened and shut, the alarm taking swift notice.
Mattie watched the other two drag themselves off the couch. The boy looked sad and apologetic. “Hey,” she told him, “you’re not him. And I don’t know where that asinine nickname of yours came from but I came up with another one for you. So you take care of yourself, Nice.”
She watched his face go from momentary confusion to a smile. “Thanks. Wow. Thank you.” As he ducked through the strands of beads he called back, “Don’t take forever, Trish.”
It did look like the girl would take forever. With obvious reluctance she put the binds back on top of the bookshelf.
“Aren’t you going with them?” Mattie asked.
The girl scrutinized the floor. “Yeah. . .but. . .I don’t know. . .don’t know why I stay with him.” She looked up at Mattie. “You have a lot of beautiful stuff in your books. How come you don’t put them out front so people can see them when they come in?”
Mattie put her hand lightly on the girl’s back and guided her toward the doorway. “Your friend. . .the one you call Eggshell?”
“I’m not going to call him that anymore. I don’t care what other people think, I’m going to call him Nice.”
“Ok, well Nice knows why these books aren’t up front.”
“So people have to ask for the good stuff?”
“Yeah. When you’re ready, honey, you come back and ask. And bring that Nice boy with you. I’ll still be here.”
Mattie watched her join the boys out on the sidewalk, then turned and walked back through the beads. She stood for a moment listening to the music before turning the radio off. She went back to the chair, her chair – nobody else ever sat in it. Sitting down, she reached over and opened the cupboard in the bottom of the coffee table near her seat. She pulled out an overstuffed scrapbook, the corners of its fabric cover long frayed to dust, and set it on her lap. A cat slithered out from under a nearby chair, jumped up, and hunkered down on the broad padded arm of Mattie’s chair.
“Hey Chocolate.” Mattie whispered. “You going to keep me company?”
Mattie let the album fall open. She never argued with it, never tried to force her will on it. She looked at the photographs and news clippings in front of her now and thought, Of course. On the left page was a picture of a smiling couple. The man cuddled a new born baby in the crook of his left arm while they held their right forearms up to display tattoos. Taped under the photo was a small note card. Mattie smiled, remembering their choices and remembering how wonderful it was to receive the photo and note telling her how their lives had blossomed.
But it was a newspaper clipping on the right hand page that was pertinent to today. The article was headlined “Slumlord won’t stand trial for multiple rape charges – Doctors say mysterious, aggressive cancer will kill him before courts can take action.” The photograph accompanying the article was a profile mugshot of the man, Deranged Mitosis clearly visible on his upper arm.