Lori Dewson drummed her fingers on the hood of the car. Impatiently, she watched a set of headlights approach, flickering through the skeletal trees like a mesmerizing strobe. They passed in a shocking blur that flashed precariously close to Mike who was working the car jack in the gravel just off the narrow shoulder. He seemed not to notice any peril from his position there within the dome of the grounded flashlight already trained squarely upon the rear tire. Lori paid attention to little else. The passing car's wake gusted against her in an eerie blast and then dissolved with the engine that faded behind southbound taillights. Just as quickly as it had spit the car out, the haunting silence of the forest swallowed it up once again.
I should be there by now.
She should have been there days ago.
"Isn't this great?"
Lori glanced over her shoulder where she found Gabriella's silhouette propping a foot up on the front bumper of Mike's car in an exaggerated effort to stretch her leg muscles.
"I love the morning colors," Gabriella said. "Just look at that sky."
Lori noticed the pre-dawn glow but only by its barest reflection in the rock-pelted bumper. Yes, the Mercury was old enough to have a metal bumper, another detail that reminded her of why she wasn't where she needed to be. The car was worth little more than the footstool Gabriella now used it for. At this point Lori swore it was bound and determined to leave them all stranded before reaching Chichen Itza. Not that a 1982 Mercury Zephyr was an ideal car to tour Mexico in, unless one hoped that even a car thief would pass it by. It had been evident from the start that merely driving the clunker across Salt Lake City was testing its endurance, a gut feeling that became reality when the alternator went out a mere seventy miles out of town. Lori knew then that this trip in this car was a bad idea, but there were no other immediate options.
Now, after a repaired alternator, two flat tires and a leaking gasket, she couldn't help but wonder if the trip was really worth this much frustration.
"Just look at that rich color lining the treetops," Gabriella said. "It's almost like gazing into the depths of the clearest blue ocean. A diver's blue. Scuba Blue."
Colors seemed to be the extent of Gabriella's observations. For ten days straight she'd passed the miles by commenting on an object's color, its tint, hue, shade and contrast. She'd compare everything to her mind's pallet, often speculating the effect should a new color be added to it, and then giving the colors a new name of her own.
Like Scuba Blue.
"How about cerulean?"
Right on cue, Gabriella's re-labeled blue prompted a Crayola box response from Mike who worked at the lug nuts on their third flat tire. He seemed unperturbed by the disruption in their travel. In fact, he'd handled all of the delays in stride as if rebuilding his car was all part of the journey toward his anticipated world apocalypse.
"Oooh, cerulean!" Gabriella blurted. "That's good, Mike. It's the kind of blue that turns green eyes turquoise."
Gabriella chuckled, apparently impressed with a brief revisit of yesterday's color discussion--the greenness of Lori's eyes. Thirsty Green, she called them, much like that of the Yucatan forest.
Lori couldn't argue with that last observation. Despite the thick tangle of trees they drove through, the green was sparse. The trees and brush had a parched appearance against outcroppings of brackish limestone and the more Lori thought on this point, the more she realized that she couldn't remember when they'd last driven by a river or creek, or any body of freshwater for that matter. They hadn't seen so much as a trickle in a day and a half.
Lori forced a grin back at Gabriella. She had grown tired of color-coded I-spy games a good thousand miles ago, but she wasn't going to be rude. After all, despite the setbacks with the Mercury, Mike and Gabriella had been gracious enough to let her tag along. With her own car totaled two weeks ago by a drunk who thought he could cut through her apartment building's parking lot at seventy miles an hour, Lori was still waiting for the insurance company to settle. Of course, she was allowed to rent a car at their expense, but not to drive it to Mexico. That left her on her own for this last minute trip, and with her savings sorely depleted, renting a car was out of the question. Even if she could have afforded a ticket, high interest in the whole 2012 phenomenon oversold all flights to Mexico, and that left Lori with Mike and Gabriella.
It was by chance that she met Gabriella in line at the campus Starbucks where the exuberant art major gloated about going to Yucatan for the "2012 event" with her history buff of a boyfriend. Gabriella suspected he was going to propose there, which seemed ironic to Lori considering Mike was expecting the world to end three days from now.
"It'll be the end of the world as we know it," he explained, to which Gabriella rolled her eyes and mumbled something about his habit of overreacting to things.
"It's the end of the Mayan five thousand year calendar," Mike retorted. "The Chinese I Ching confirms it. Two ancient cultures half a world apart from each other predicted the end of the world in 2012. Now that ought to stand for something."
"Nobody modern or ancient can predict the end of the world," Gabriella argued, turning to Lori for support. "You're the scientist, Lori. Tell him how ridiculous he sounds."
A debate about the significance of 2012 wasn't something Lori cared to take part in, even if it was steeped in her field of archaeology. There was too much science to debunk the doomsday predictions and yet, she decided to let her only mode of transportation have his fun; like allowing children to hold onto Santa Clause a little while longer. If she wanted to stick with Mike and Gabriella until they reached Chichen Itza, Lori decided it best to keep her responses as neutral as possible.
"I guess time will tell if Mike's interpretation is correct," she said.
"It's not just my interpretation," Mike argued. "The whole world is preparing for the end!"
Lori knew that to be another one of Mike's overstatements, but she had to admit, with all the crazy ideas out there, it was easy to believe the whole world was in 2012 chaos.
"So why are you going to Mexico if you don't believe in all this 2012 stuff, Lori?" Gabriella challenged.
"I'm sure it has something to do with that Effigy," Mike guessed.
In a round-about way, he was right. Her discovery of the highly valuable Effigy of Quetzalcoatl had made Lori an instant celebrity on the University of Utah campus, not to mention across the country. The find immediately stirred the archaeological community into a revival on Mesoamerica's influence on Southwestern cultures and everyone, it seemed, was left speculating on how such an effigy came to be interred in an Anasazi grave. The most popular theory concluded that trade relations between Mesoamerica and the Southwest accounted for the artifact's presence in Utah.
Lori had a theory of her own.
The precious jade and turquoise relic had been crafted as a bust of Mesoamerica's flying serpent deity, Quetzalcoatl. The effigy itself was believed to be the deity's personified power entrusted to the Toltec high priest who borrowed his god's name and became known as Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.
In AD 987 Topitzin Quetzalcoatl was overthrown from his own city and, according to one legend, was sent adrift on a raft of snakes from the coast of Veracruz. Another legend claimed Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl lit himself on fire and ascended the sky as the morning star, Venus. As for the Effigy, until Lori discovered it, legend thought it had been lost or destroyed after the priest's banishment. One interpretation of the latter version of the myth offered an explanation to the Effigy's fate--that it was the Effigy, the Power of Quetzalcoatl, and not Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl himself, that had combusted and sailed the skies as the morning star.
Having found the Effigy herself and now knowing for a fact that it had not been destroyed, Lori didn't believe it was the morning star. She didn't believe Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl floated eastward on a raft of snakes either. Instead, she believed the banished Toltec priest fled north, to the furthest reaches of Anasaziland, taking the powerful emblem of his god with him to the grave. That was how she came to believe the Effigy wound up in Utah, and she was prepared to go to Mexico to prove it.
Or disprove opposing ideas, rather.
With the bones of the man buried with the Effigy finally excavated, Lori could only sit and wait for the biological team to complete the meticulous cleaning and preservation before she could study them. It proved to be an excruciating wait, especially when, not wanting any outside opinions influencing her own study, she chose to ignore the preliminary reports until she'd had a good look at the remains herself. However, it was during that time that she received an e-mail from Dr. John Friedman:
Thought you might be interested in this fresco recently discovered by Dr. Matt Webb. He found it in Yucatan, near the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and believes it records the arrival of Jesus in the New World. You've probably already noted its striking similarity to The Trader. However, I conjecture that this frescoe may provide further evidence of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl arrival in Yucatan?
Lori opened the e-mail's attachment and found herself looking at an extraordinary anthropomorphic pictograph. Dr. Friedman was right. The broad-shouldered stance of the figure on her computer screen looked very much like the petroglyph pecked into the alcove just above the Anasazi grave. The petroglyph became known as The Trader because of its resemblance to a man carrying a trade good to market. The name was further extended to the remains buried beneath the petroglyph--the man Lori speculated was Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl himself.
But while she waited for The Trader's bones to be processed for study, Lori decided she could at least start proving her theory by disproving Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's arrival in Yucatan.
Which brought her to Mike and Gabriella.
But as she waited along the lone, Yucatan highway, her mind drifted to the man who had been her companion since the day they'd pulled the Effigy from the earth--the man who was strangely missing from her journey now.