The young boy Jesus, relieved to be a new assignment by Chilam Balam, followed the directions given to him. In the pre-dawn light, all the dirt paths looked the same to him. Taking out the GPS device that the drug cartel leader had given him, Jesus soon found the right path and took it straight toward the temple ruins at Palenque. As he approached one of the temples, he heard rustling. Heart pounding, Jesus turned and scanned the land behind him. Seeing nothing, he turned and gaped at the temple with its long stairway rising before him.
“Quite a sight," Acan said, swooping down behind him and slowly closing his wings.
Jesus gulped. Terrified, he backed up onto the first stone step.
Acan shook his head.
“Not any more. Camazotz said you were coming. Let us take the easy way up to the temple. Take my hand. You are not afraid of heights, are you?” he playfully asked.
Jesus shook his head, not aware that he had taken another backwards step up the stairs. Hesitant, he swung his hand forward. Acan grasped it and balanced himself on the balls of his feet.
“Ready. Set. Go!”
Closing his eyes, Jesus felt the wind slam against his face. His cheeks drooped as if pulled by dead weights affixed to his flesh. His legs dangled freely. Cradled by Acan’s body, Jesus felt a protected hand cradling him as the wind buffeted his torso. The flight took less than a minute, although Jesus swore later it took longer. They alighted on the top temple platform facing east.
There, near a stone altar, stood Camazotz. His face was framed by his elaborate headdress of feathers, jade earrings dangled from his ears, and his skin was painted a vivid blue. He watched the landing of Acan and Jesus, who stumbled and pitched forward. Camazotz caught him.
"I see you found him in one piece,” Camazotz said. “Does he have the paths that we seek?”
Acan glanced down at the shuddering boy.
“Have not asked him . . . yet.”
“It is time.” Camazotz said.
Acan grasped Jesus’ shoulders and turned him to face Camazotz, but instead Jesus’ eyes roamed the sky.
“I will not feed upon you,” Camazotz said. “Did your priest give you a stone tablet with a path used by his lesser priests?”
Jesus thrust the paper map at Camazotz, turned and ran down the stone steps. Acan spread his wings to fly after him, but Camazotz restrained him.
“Let him go. He is a child and still fears the black of night. It is enough that we have what we need to stop these new invaders from taking our land.”
Acan folded his wings and stared at Jesus as the youngster scrambled down the steps.
“He runs fast.”
“That is why his priest pays him . . . . to run fast for him. He will make a good warrior one day. Let us check our food and see if we need more pale-skin bodies to feed on.”
Inside the temple, the last remnants of the Spanish class lay in a drunken stupor. Since their last drink of Blanche, a drink prepared with bark of a native tree mixed with honey, anise, and alcohol, not one of the boys stirred.
Acan kicked one of the inert bodies.
“They should last twenty kins glphys,” he said, referring to solar days.
Camaztoz studied the prostrate bodies on the floors. None blinked an eyelid or even twitched when the God or Acan nudged them.
“Let us see what this piece of bark says. These pale-skins will not awake for several hours. I wish to ask them questions about Gabrielle. There is much here that he did not tell us.”
“Do you think they will tell us? They are followers of his,” Acan said.
“We will offer them something that they can not get at home.”
Acan’s eyes widened.
“What is that? From what I saw, these pale-skins seem to have everything. They have already eaten of our sacred maize cake. What else do we have left to offer them?”
“We can take them to hunabku,” Camazotz said, using the Mayan word for birthing place.
“Can we?” Acan asked.
“The cycle draws near. We can . . . .”
Chac flew into the chamber. In his hands he carried a dismembered arm saturated with dried blood. Acan stepped aside, although his mouth watered and the corners of his lips drooled. Swiping at his mouth with the back of his wing, Camazotz stared down at the body part.
“Where did you find that?”
“In the ceynote. The big fish with sharp teeth was chewing on a body. Before it could eat all of it, I picked up a forked stick from the ground and retrieved one of the arms sticking out. The fish thrashed the water, but I came away from the ceynote carrying my find. Is it one of our people come to worship at our alter beneath the temple?”
Camazotz took the torn arm from Chac and studied it.
“It is not a pale-skin’s arm. It is an arm of one of our people. Here is a tattoo I have not seen since we were entombed alive. The . . . Tree . . . of . . . Life . . .”
At dusk, one of the boys awoke from his comatose state. Blinking, he twisted his head, praying that his aches came from sleeping on a cold stone floor. His eyes searched the darkened room. Two large objects reared up near the back of the room.
“Damn!” he muttered.
His voice caused Chac’s crossed eyes to focus on the boy’s restless body. Picking his way through the maze of unconscious bodies, Chac found the boy propped up on his arms. The vampire bat poked his face into his.
The boy screamed. A blue, feathered face confronted him.
“Where the hell am I?”
“You are in Xibalba,” Chac said.
“Where’s Señor Tiarino? I know he’s in here somewhere.”
Another body stirred. Chac turned and saw Camazotz slip into the body of one of the older men, becoming that person’s avatar. The temple brightened as Ixbalanque, the Mayan moon goddess, sent her beams through the open roof and doorway. The temple’s darkness lifted. The boy inched his way back from the hideous creature straddling his body. The tourist rose to his feet, his face taking on the features of Gabrielle Tairino.
“Michael, are you okay?” the avatar asked, in the voice of Gabrielle Tairino.
Michael stared at the spectral form of his Spanish teacher.
“I think so. Are we still in that Mayan temple or am I dreaming this?”
“Still here. We missed the bus and were invited to spend the night here. In return they asked each of us to make a small blood donation for the Mexican Red Cross. With all the druggies around, it’s hard to get uncontaminated blood.”
Michael gulped. His thoughts were scrambled but he managed to say.
“Sure, why not? We’re all in this together. How much blood do they want?”
The avatar reached down, grabbed Michael’s hand and pulled the boy to his feet. The boy stumbled trying to get his balance. Light-headed, with pins prickling his skin, Michael stumbled as he tried to get his balance. He clung to the slight frame of his Spanish teacher.
"Steady. You should feel better after having a bite to eat. Here’s an energy bar. I packed several before leaving this morning. Never know when you need one, eh?”
Michael’s stomach turned and its pain bent him over. Sen͂or Tairino caught Michael and lowered him down to the floor. He collapsed in a heap.
He dropped two zea mais cakes wrapped in maxán leaves onto Michael’s chest. Michael picked up one of the cakes. Bringing it to his nose, he sniffed it, then popped it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. He quickly ate the second cake. Wiping his hand across his lips, he smiled, burped, and said.
“Hey, this stuff is great. Can I have some more?”
Camazotz smiled, pleased that his captive so enjoyed zea mais, an ancient dish prepared by boiling or soaking maize in lime water and then draining it in a gourd colander. Still wet, the maize is then ground on a metate – a small stone table – with a cylindrical hand-stone called a mano. The resulting paste is mixed with water to make a thin gruel called atoo or ul, or it is formed into cakes called tortillas, which are roasted on a flat pottery griddle and eaten with beans or chili.
“Bring some more,” he said in Chac’s mind.
Chac danced his way among the still bodies and flew out of the temple. Michael rubbed his eyes and focused them on the stone altar gleaming in the Xbalanque half-light.
“Didn’t notice that before. What is it?”
“A prayer alter,” Camazotz said.
“You’ve gone to church,” the avatar said to Michael. “There’s a sacred alter before which you genuflect”
“Like Christ on the Cross?” Michael asked.
“Like Christ on the Cross. You promise Christ something in exchange for what
He can give you. It’s the same thing here. When you give your blood at the sacred alter, His alter, then He will give you something to return.”
Michael’s stared at the stone alter. Struggling to his knees, he crawled forward. He reached the alter, embraced it and prayed out loud.
“Heavenly Father, I come before you to ask for your protection against the powers of darkness, which came to disrupt my life. You are my shield and my fortress, and my refuge when I am in distress. There is no one stronger than you. I trust in you. In the name of Jesus no weapons formed by Satan against me will prosper. Come Holy Spirit, and help me to put on the Armor of God, according to Ephesians 6:10. I put on the belt of truth because Jesus is the Truth, and the Truth set me free; I put on the breastplate of righteousness to protect my body and my heart as I walk in righteousness; I put on the shoes of peace as I walk in obedience to You Lord, and go wherever the Spirit takes me; I put on the shield of faith to protect me against the fiery attacks of the enemy; I put on the helmet of salvation to protect my mind and my salvation; I take hold of the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, to defend myself against Satan and demolish his strongholds. Thank you, Lord, for your full watchfulness and full protection. I give you Lord, all the praise, and honor, and glory forever. In Jesus name, I pray . . . ”