Chapter1 from Dance of the Jaguar

1
On the first day of spring, Martha Peggity was buying flowers at the farmer's market when she felt a pebble in her shoe. Spying an empty folding chair nearby, she cut through the throng of shoppers to sit down. "Now what?" her friend Liz asked, studying some watercolors at the next booth.
            At the same moment, a half continent away, a feathered serpent formed in the shadows and prepared to descend a pyramid. A crowd had collected, among them a professor, his video camera in hand. He took a drink from his bottle of tepid water and then jostled in the humid heat for a better position.
            Deep in a rainforest adjacent to the archaeological site, Aurora Luna sat in serene silence on a meditation cushion, her eyes closed. Knowing that the serpent would soon begin to move, she waited for a message. It was a moment of alignment and convergence not seen on the planet for some time.

            Shaking her shoe out, Martha apologized to the card reader for using her chair. The woman's dark eyes took her in. Her auburn hair, accented by aquamarine earrings, gleamed. "What is your question?" Her long fingers shuffled a deck of cards.
            Taken aback, Martha consulted her friend Liz, who giggled nervously and asked, Why not? A sense of obligation for using the chair propelled Martha forward. This was a new experience, but maybe Liz was right. What harm could it do? Maybe she could ask about the house.
            "Would you like some guidance?" Martha nodded and the reader directed her to focus on her question as she shuffled the deck. Martha wondered if the potential answer was really taking shape in the cards, which looked too worn to hold anyone's destiny. The reader lowered her eyes. Moving her hands over the cards, she spoke quietly, asking for direction. As she did so, the noise of the market seemed to fade. Martha's reluctance gave way to anticipation; she felt suspended in time, as if her past had vanished and her future had not yet been dreamed. Oddly magnetized by the uncertainty, she waited.

            Near the pyramid, the professor had found a good vantage point for taping. He had witnessed the event a few years earlier, but that was before he realized its significance. He wished the crowd would stop shifting. The aimless milling and noise distracted him. He wanted silence. Tourists, he thought. They don't even know what they're watching.

            Deep in meditation, Aurora Luna lost her sense of time and place. Her breathing slowed until it was almost imperceptible. In her relaxation, she no longer felt her body. She merged with a universal heartbeat that sustained her. In this state, she was open to perceiving energy, particularly energy that had not manifested in a physical form. This was how she would receive a message if it came.

            A breeze rattled the canvas canopy of the market stall as the reader turned the first card, which read Death. Looking at it, Martha felt a sense of dread. The woman studied her as if she didn't know where to begin. Martha thought, I'm a goner.
            Her decision to go to the market, the pebble in her shoe, the empty chair: a seemingly random sequence of events had brought her face to face with a fortune-telling stranger. Why did things like this happen to her? She braced herself. In a few minutes it would all be over and she could go home, make dinner, and go about her routine for as long as she had left to live.
            "In the same way that a seed falls to the ground and, given the right conditions, takes root," the reader began, "a seemingly random event can occur in someone's life and open new ways of seeing the world. It's part of the mystery, but this is how things happen." The reader tapped the Death card. "This shows a powerful new beginning, a second chance to live your dream. Something old gives way to something new. A part of you that you no longer need will die."
            Martha recoiled like a fish that had just been hooked. Liz leaned closer.
            Would you like another card?"
            What choice did she have? She bent over the table to gain some privacy, wanting details, as the serpent began its slow descent. It was a form that wasn't a form, only the appearance of one: a shadowy representation of an ancient, unfulfilled legend. There was little explanation of what it meant, like a riddle with no answer. Yet there had to be an answer, the professor thought as he recorded; the pyramidal puzzle must lie in its ritual with the sun.

            Aurora felt the stirrings of movement, the representational transition. An open channel, she waited. She had done this before. When the message came, if it came, she was ready. She had spent two weeks in the Cloud Forest House preparing, quieting her mind, consulting her charts.

            The reader turned another card. After a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity, she said, "You are standing in a doorway of opportunity. You are crossing a bridge to a bigger life. You will be traveling and learning new things. You have many abilities that are untapped. It is important to begin to focus on yourself. It seems you have always put yourself last."
            Martha tried to anchor these statements to her daily reality. She did have a trip planned. Who didn't? And of course she had put herself last. That's what women did. They took care of everyone else. What did this mean? Should she take a painting class? What kind of opportunity? How would she recognize it?

            There was an audible gasp from the crowd as the head of the serpent in front of the pyramid seemed to move. For the professor it was an electric moment. It was stone, how could it move? But he was certain it did. "Mira!" cried a small boy on his father's shoulders, pointing. What were they looking at? He squinted as the setting sun glinted off something metallic.

            "Something unusual will happen." The reader pointed at the next card, flashing a large silver ring. Martha felt something brush against her leg. Her bag had toppled over, spilling kettle corn. A yellow lab trotted over to investigate. "Hank, no!" The sturdy dog gulped the treat. Martha grabbed the bag to right it as the owner retrieved the dog. "This is a very important card. It signifies responsibility and power. Remember your power."

            Martha studied the card, which showed a lovely woman in a filmy gown floating in a magical garden, but it meant nothing to her. Liz butted in. "The suspense is killing me. What's going to happen? Give us some facts." The reader shushed her with a finger to her lip, but Liz had puts words to Martha's concerns. Suddenly she felt worried. What had she started? Liz, growing impatient, drummed her fingers on her leg as the reader, whose dark eyes had grown even darker, moved to the last card.

            In the slanting sun, the diamond-backed serpent continued to move. In a few minutes it would be gone. With his videotape, the professor hoped to find answers he had long sought, answers that would help him unravel the riddles he had spent his career investigating. The myth that had grown up around the serpent had possessed him. He wanted to penetrate the mystery. Back in his office, he would be able to study the tape for telltale clues.

            Aurora watched the serpent's descent on an inner screen that only she saw. She knew time was running out. If there wasn't a message soon, the information would be lost, and with it, the vision she had held for so long. If it disappeared wordlessly again she…she stopped herself, remembering her years of training. Once again, she quieted her mind and waited, trusting in the power of the ancients to reestablish the connection.

           "The next step," the reader said suddenly, "is up to you. But I'm not sure you have a choice. It appears to be your calling." She paused, and Martha sensed that she was trying to emphasize the message so that it would be understood. "It is important to follow your heart. Let your inner wisdom be your guide, whatever happens." She collected the cards as Martha, not as enlightened as she hoped, paid.
            "Talk about throwing money away," Liz snorted as they left. "What a bunch of baloney. Some soothsayer she is."
            "It was your idea." Martha was miffed with Liz for having pushed her to do the reading, which had created more questions than it answered.
            "It was not my idea. You sat in the chair. All I said was, why not."
            "Next time you do it. See if she gives you any facts."
            Liz sighed. "I thought they were supposed to tell you you're going to meet a tall, handsome stranger who still has his own teeth." She opened the trunk of the car to put her bags in. "So what do you think she meant? Does any of it make sense?"
            "Don't I wish." Martha climbed in the car. "But if some part of me that I don't need is going to die, let it be my forgetfulness."

            In front of the pyramid the ground rattled. Henry heard shouts and screams. As the crowd began to surge in his direction, he looked for an escape. He pressed his slender frame toward the exit, keeping his center of gravity low. The molten crowd seemed impenetrable. Worried that it was out of control, he ducked into a doorway and made his way down a narrow hall into a room so black he had to grope his way. A startled iguana skittered by, making his heart pound. He pressed against the wall, wishing he'd brought a flashlight. The musty smell was oppressive. He waited, listening to the pandemonium outside. And then the ground shook again, an unmistakable earthquake. Fear gripped him. Staring into the disorienting darkness, he held his breath to listen, wondering if he would be buried alive by the massive rocks. All at once a soundless shaft of light penetrated from above, and across the room, a pair of green eyes gleamed.

            The feathered serpent looked directly at Aurora. It seemed to breathe fire; she could feel the heat. The eyes flashed. Thunder reverberated. But it wasn't thunder; it was a seismic voice that shook the ground. The words in the ancient tongue deafened her, and for the first time in ages, Aurora felt the prickle of fear on her skin. She fought it, needing to stay focused. From the depths of her being she summoned every ounce of energy, calling on her power to stand with her now. The serpent roared with a force that rocked the cosmos. I…AM…QUETZALCOATL. It hit her like a tidal wave, knocking her senseless, so that she didn't hear the rest. THE ONE…WHO RETURNS…NOT ONLY…IN SHADOW.

             On the drive home, Martha thought about the reading while Liz babbled about nothing. Occasionally she said "Hmm," but her mind was elsewhere. Lately she'd been feeling that there had to be more to life, but she didn't know what. It was a vague restlessness that she couldn't pin down. Maybe she hadn't challenged herself enough. After Liz dropped her off, she made her way up the walk to her two-story colonial, unlocked her door, and went in. As she put away her purchases, the words repeated in her mind: Something unusual will happen.
            Impulsively she grabbed her car keys. Moments later she was high on Owl Hill, parked outside a comfortable-looking Cape Cod. She had noticed in the paper it was for sale, and for some reason she felt drawn to it. It needed some work, and she hadn't looked at it because she knew her son would be opposed to the idea. But because of her reading she stepped out of the car and went up the walk. It wouldn't hurt to look around, maybe peak in the windows and stand on the porch to admire the view. And what if she did decide to buy it? She'd always wanted a house like this. Her heart skipped a beat as she considered such a rash idea.
            A car pulled up outside as she looked around. A man climbed out and asked if he could help her, introducing himself as the agent handling the sale. "You'll have to act fast if you're interested," he told her. "I've got a buyer ready." He let her in, and she looked around. Judging from the dust, the house had been vacant for some time. It sorely needed updating: the carpet was vintage, the wallpaper ancient. "It needs some TLC," the agent agreed, "but it's structurally sound." His cell phone rang, and he stepped outside to take the call.
            Walking through the house, Martha began to rethink her idea, but off the kitchen she found a den, painted the color of a tropical sunset. For some reason, a picture came into her head of a trip she had always wanted to take: a hotel in the heart of Mexico, margaritas on the terrace, bougainvillea thick on the wrought iron rail above the pool. It was odd to think of that now.
            On the wall was a carved wood mask, apparently a piece of folk art. Its glass eyes gleamed with uncanny aliveness. A leather tongue hung from an open mouth as if the creature had just chased down prey, and its fangs were at the ready. The mask was realistically painted yellow with brown spots. As she carefully lifted it from the wall, an old handwritten tag dropped out-El Tigre, 1937, it read, Dance of the Jaguar.

            Something made her put it on. Peering through the mouth, she began to move with languid steps. Remember your power. A low growl rumbled in her throat. She heard the agent returning, his shoes scudding in the hall. I'll buy the house, she thought, making up her mind at that instant. Suddenly she felt as if she had been set free from a lifetime of living for others. There was a swirl of air, and she turned to see if the window was open. The floor seemed to give way beneath her but she had no sense of falling. She also had no sense of fear, when, without a sound, the house she had been standing in disappeared.

            On the plane home, the professor fell into a restless sleep. For a few minutes he dreamed; he was standing at the edge of the pyramid when a serpent rose out of the shadows, looming larger and larger, until its shadow covered the crowd. And then, without warning, it struck. The strike was like a lightning bolt, unexpected and illuminating everything in its path. He awoke with a start to the drone of the engines and the flight attendant taking his empty glass. "Are you alright, sir?" He nodded, but it was several minutes before his heart stopped thudding in his chest.

            When Aurora opened her eyes, she was on the floor. Nothing appeared to be amiss, and she was exhausted but unhurt. She made some yerba maté to revive her body and spirit, sprinkling orange peel into it. The feathered serpent had appeared, big as life. And he had spoken, naming himself. That much she knew. But the rest was a jumble. All these years she had attempted to make the connection. Now she had, but having only legend to go on, she had misjudged the possibility. She needed to talk with Olivia.