The sun rose into an azure sky and seemed intent on scorching what remained of moisture from the broad plateau. Storm clouds were gathering to the west, but while some atmospheric madness was causing spectacular lightning storms there, the storm made no movement in this direction. Truman Singleton sat next to the low mud wall in the shade of a rock outcrop, and near a stand of willow trees. He fanned himself, but even this little effort was draining, and sweat rolled down his back like the river that centuries ago ran through the ancient plateau. The air hung heavy and oppressive over the entire region, the high humidity aggravated further by the rising heat. Singleton was sitting in the shade, though with little benefit, and wished it would rain and get it all over with; this hot and humid weather was wreaking havoc with his dig team.
Truman Singleton was one of those seekers of antiquity not only with a knack for finding fascinating locations with remarkable time lines reaching into the distant past, but who one also sensed could have lived in those times. He seemed to know things about a people who lived in a region, a cliff dwelling, that one couldn't know from just what was pulled from the earth and dusted off. Most who met him, initially felt him eccentric, strange even, though with an incredible sense of humor - he did make one laugh. His peers believed him pretentious, and given to an interpretive style that in their view relied more on science fiction than scientific method. His approach to antiquity suggested either he was a buffoon and a jester and took things lightly, or one with incredible insight into things and places not accessible to the normal bent of even his colleagues. Those who held to the former view, discounted him and discredited his work; the latter watched his progress with rapt fascination and applauded quietly in the background. All of this did little good for his reputation, particularly with his colleagues, though he was oblivious of much of this, and what he was aware of, he dismissed as unimportant in the larger scheme of things. In the end, this was what drew students to him and his research teams, and that was what was important.
Carrie Fishburn was Singleton's colleague of 17 years, another old soul with inexplicable connections to the earth and its peoples, especially of the ancient and long-deceased type. She was a brilliant archaeologist and a classic scholar, though little recognized for her seven volume doctoral treatise on "Dwellers of The Cerro Madre," a little-known people thought to be descendants of the Anasazi. She was intensely shy and of essence an introvert, an endearing quality in Singleton's mind, and what drew him to her. She thought of it not so much an endearing quality, which to her was simply sexist projection, for which she rode Singleton unmercifully, but a convenient ploy of the intelligent that kept the unimaginative at bay, providing the means to avoid certain encounters at will. Students of vision, however, those with unfettered intellects, and who loved the earth and its peoples, mostly of the ancient and long-deceased type, were drawn to her, and she to them. Being with her was the point. This was how it was with Truman Singleton as well.
The low wall had been discovered the day before by one of the students working in Carrie Fishburn's section. It was the first substantial evidence of a possible site connected with Coronado's journeys into the southwestern United States during the mid-1500s. While a far cry from Cibola and the Cities of Gold, this mud wall was a major find, and the students of the team were still reeling with the significance of it. Singleton and Fishburn were excited, too, and had risen with the dawn, filled with anticipation over beginning their careful and closer examination of the mud wall. Several of the students were up as well, and there was anticipation throughout the camp. The storm clouds gathering in regions to the west on the previous day, however, had shifted, and massive dark thunderheads had moved in and now blanketed the mesa. The anticipation was more than palpable. Periodic lightning strikes lit up the skies and the vast arid plateau, the harbinger, Fishburn knew, of the deluge to come. She knew there would be precious little to accomplish once the rains began, so directed team members to batten everything down, clear the common tent areas, and settle down with a good book. The eager students worked quickly. Although there was a bit of disappointment with the postponement of their scrutiny of the ancient wall, they relished the idea of spending "down time" with Dr. Fishburn, hearing stories and anecdotes from her previous digs.
Long jagged flashes seared the darkening skies, throwing everything momentarily into the brightness of a hundred suns, and then abruptly back into dark shadows. Lightning strikes crashed into the mesa closeby, making the surrounding air electric, and giving off that distinctive odor of ozone. Almost immediately the skies seemed to unbuckle, and thunder engulfed everyone in a bone-shaking grasp, felt mainly from the top of the forehead to a point just behind the eyes. The heavens opened, and the rains came.
Everyone was gathered in the main tent when Singleton threw back the large tent flap and himself entered. Someone kidded him about the increase in his intelligence that he came in out of the rain. Everyone laughed, as did he, a slight smile playing at the corner of his lips. The lights flickered with the crash of nearby thunder, and then went out, throwing everything into pitch-blackness. Someone cursed, and another said, "There goes the main generator!" Truman was conscious of the stillness, as he struck a light. The match flared, sending plumes of sulfur into the air, illuminating the space around him. For a brief moment, he became disoriented, for none of the others were around, and he was no longer in the main tent. He found himself staring into a deeply tanned face, wrinkled and creased with the folds of wisdom, and framed in long, silver white hair pulled back behind the ears. Her eyes were deep pools, steel-grey and passionate. They caught the glint of the match's flame - she smiled, and took his hand and led him out the cave's entrance, and onto the wide mesa. "Who are you?" he asked, his voice just a whisper. "And where are we?"
The woman said not a word, but raised her arm and pointed in the direction of the eastern horizon, where the dark of midnight was giving way to the lavenders and amber of morning. Wispy clouds caressed the mountain ridge, though in faint formation in the growing light. In slow motion they grew to huge thunderheads, and lightning flashed and the low rumble of thunder echoed across the valley in between. Then the clouds grew fainter, and the lightning ceased, but the thunder remained, although only as a hint of its former boldness. The clouds moved in a slow dance across the low eastern sky, and swirled into a ceremonial shield, the center of which was a circular form with delicate interlacing webbing across the middle, with two eagle feathers hanging down from either side - a dream catcher. As Singleton watched, the clouds shifted and moved yet again, now leaving faint images just above the distant ridges: the images of three men. "These were gods who came to this mesa and into the valley below many years ago," said the woman softly. "They rode on magnificent creatures - creatures that breathed fire, and peals of thunder came from their hooves." The woman's eyes flashed with wonderment, tinged with the hint of anger. "Their skin was light, as the clouds in the sky, their eyes the hue of a mountain lake - and they carried sticks that brought thunder out of the skies, and many of the people fell before them." The woman's steel-grey eyes burned with a passion, but she spoke barely above a whisper. "Then they did the unspeakable: they raped and murdered the daughter of the Chief of the Cerro Madre. And they walked freely among the people, who were sore afraid." Singleton noted a deep sadness in the woman's eyes. She paused. "But the medicine spirits of the mesa were very powerful, and brought a curse upon the three gods, and banished them to the lands beyond the Valley of Creation. The powerful medicine spirits gave them names, so the people would know them should their paths ever cross - Travels over Mesa, Journeys into Mountains, and Jumps above Yellowsun. Travels Over Mesa was the meanest, and was transformed into the Gila monster, cursed to roam the hot desert sands on his belly for the rest of his days. Journeys Into Mountains, a master of deceit and cruelty, was changed into the deadly scorpion, banished to live under rocks and in dark places, and hated by man for all eternity. Jumps above Yellowsun, spoke with a forked-tongue, and true to his nature became the sidewinder serpent, and he, too, was cursed to live in the barren desert and hated of man." The woman held Singleton's gaze. "The god spirits were interested more in the metal that shines as the sun, and once they no longer had influence over my people, they left the mesa and the valleys below, and with their magnificent creatures traveled to the northeast. My people then left the mesa, and traveled to the south. They live there still," she whispered, her eyes glistening. Singleton reached out and touched his fingers to the woman's cheek, and wiped away a tear.
There was suddenly a flare of intense light, and Singleton shielded his eyes against its brilliance. When he opened them, he held a match in his hand, and its light spread in a circle around him illuminating the space in the large tent. He could see a number of people seated on canvas-backed chairs and on cases on the ground. "Thanks for the light, Dr. Singleton," said a voice out of the darkness; "If you'd light the lantern, I'll get to work on the generator…"