Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ninth Lord of the Night

Ninth Lord of the Night


Moonlight floods the ancient ruins of Tikal. The park’s gates are locked, the tourists safe and comfortable in their hotels. Only the night creatures and ghosts from the past are witness to the eerie shadows cast upon the Great Plaza by the giant temples. From the depths of the jungle the roars of howler monkeys and the drone of insects mimic ancient Mayan voices.

In the bright moonlight a lone figure crosses the plaza. The Mayan chimán climbs the North Terrace stairway, ascends the stone steps of a temple, and disappears into a small opening at the summit.

Deep within the innermost chamber, he sits cross-legged on his multicolored woven mat. He faces northwest before an altar of white flower petals, beeswax candles, and copal incense. Under the flickering candlelight the grotesque drawings on the walls seem alive while the corners of the cell remain shrouded in darkness.

The medicine man’s weathered face bears a vacant, glazed expression as he enters his self-induced trance and concentrates on the vision appearing before him. He sees the image of a seventeen-year old boy with long reddish-blond hair, troubled blue eyes, and a glint of gold in his left earlobe.

The vision fades leaving the chimán with a clear mental picture of the youth. The waiting is almost over. Soon the chimán will attempt the most important ritual he has ever done, a ritual taking a lifetime of preparation. Using knowledge passed from father to son, from generation to generation he will invade nighttime dreams, create daytime visions, and use his influence to bring this young man to a point beyond fortune and personal gain. This boy is destined to return to the Mayan people a part of their lost and ancient heritage.

Chapter 1

Zack tucked an unruly lock of curly hair behind his ear and checked his watch. In exactly twenty-nine minutes he’d planned to be cruising down Sunrise Boulevard. This unexpected family meeting definitely cut into his schedule. What the heck was it about anyway? His family wasn’t a democracy. They didn’t discuss problems in an open forum.
More annoyed than worried, he sauntered into the den and joined his family for what would turn out to be their last family conference.
“Let’s get this over with quick,” he said. “I have things to do, places to go, people to see.”
The silence was deafening.
Zack’s father sat in the faded tan recliner, his large body bent over, his powerful forearms resting on his knees. He didn’t bother to look up, but kept his eyes focused on his shoes as if they possessed some fascinating feature he’d never seen before.
His mother sat on the sofa, very businesslike in her brown suede suit. Her face was dry-eyed, serious, and composed as if she were about to give a major presentation to a potential client. Only her hands betrayed her nervousness as she rubbed her palms over non-existent wrinkles.
Even Zack’s older brother remained mute. Kyle leaned against the patio door, gazing out at the swimming pool like a kicker who’d just lost the team a championship game by punting the football wide of the uprights.
Zack began to get panicky. Whatever this family meeting was about, it was big. He slid from the sofa arm to the seat cushion trying to make himself small and mentally inventoried his latest escapades. He could think of several exploits that would mean his death if his parents knew of them and they wouldn’t look so serious unless they had extremely damaging evidence. He steeled himself for a barrage of accusations and the lecture he knew would follow.
“Okay,” he conceded. “What’d I do now?”
But, it wasn’t about him. Not directly.
His mother’s voice possessed a gentleness he hadn’t heard in months as she explained that she and their father had problems they couldn’t seem to work out. Every now and then her voice would quiver and catch and she’d pause as she fought to regain her composure. She cast pleading glances at her husband, but he continued to stare at his feet. He wasn’t helping her out of this one.
Zack’s eyes drifted beyond his father to the trophy case that housed Kyle’s gleaming football trophies and his own tarnished little league ones. Memories of glory days flooded over him. He shifted his gaze to Kyle who shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘Well, what did you expect, fool?’
Not this. Not ever.
“Jeez,” Zack whispered. “When?”
His mother stood up and took a deep breath. “This summer. Right after school is out.”
Couldn’t be. School ended in two days.
“Holy shit!” Zack blurted. His father arched an eyebrow.
His mother continued on, “I’ve purchased a townhouse and I’ll be moving my things out at the end of the week.”
“You’re moving out?” His mom bit her lower lip and his father looked up. The sadness in his eyes told Zack all he needed to know.
“Your father earns more money in construction than I do in health care,” she said, making the word construction sound like a swear word. “And, teenage boys should live with the father.”
“Where’d that come from?” Zack said. “You making up new rules as you go along?” From the corner of his eye he saw Kyle frown.
His mother continued, “As you know, Uncle Clifton is at an archaeological dig in Guatemala. You boys will spend the first month of summer vacation with him while I get settled in my new place and your father and I work out the details of the divorce.”
First month?
Zack shook his head. “Nope. No way. Can’t do it. I’ve made plans with the guys and my first month of summer is all booked up.”
“Unbook it,” his father stated. “You’re going to Tikal.”
“Tikal?” Kyle asked.
“Tikal is an ancient Mayan city,” their mother explained. “One of the archaeologists, a Dr. Collins, has brought along his daughter and a group of her friends. You and Zack will be staying with them. Your passports are still current and we’ve already purchased your plane tickets. You’ll be leaving Wednesday morning.”
Whoa. The lump in Zack’s throat grew larger and a knot appeared in his stomach. There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare. Only two days.
“Hey, cool!” Kyle piped up. “New babes.”
Their father gave Kyle a slight smile.
Zack groaned. “Oh, right. Chicks.”
“Well, I guess that’s all for now,” their mother said.
Zack leapt to his feet, towering over his mother. “What do you mean, that’s all? Excuse me, Mom, but don’t we get a say in anything? First, you lay this divorce thing on us. Then, you add that we’re being shipped off to Guatemala.” For an instant emotion appeared in her blue eyes, then faded as Zack blundered on. “What about what we want? Huh? Did you even think about us? Maybe we don’t want to go to Guatemala!”
Kyle stepped away from his spot by the door. “Zack, cool it.”
Zack stared at his father. His dad had always been such a tough guy. He never took any shit off anyone. “Why are you letting Mom get away with this?” Zack demanded. “What’s wrong with you? Tell her to forget it. Tell her she can’t have a divorce.”
His dad’s muscles were taut and well defined underneath the white cotton of his v-necked T-shirt. The veins in his neck began to stand out as a warning of his anger.
Zack’s mother positioned herself between them. “Stop it,” she said. Zack’s dad stared at her for a second then stood and quietly left the room. “Kyle, you and Zack need to think about what to pack. Later you’ll be given a list of items to purchase. Zack, you look like a slob. Get a haircut and lose that earring. I want you to look presentable around your uncle. Is that clear?”
They were dismissed and there was to be no discussion. Zack retreated to his room and flopped down on his bed. At least finals were over. These last two days of classes would be a breeze. He slammed his fist into the pillow, leaving a nice dent right in the middle.
When had his parents begun to think about a divorce? Where had he been? Kyle didn’t seem too surprised. Somehow he’d seen it coming. Zack hadn’t. He recalled vague memories of his mother on the phone, discussing real estate. He hadn’t paid too much attention, never thinking that she might be buying a new house for herself.
Jeez, now he’d have to call his friends and cancel his plans. No cruising tonight, and no scuba diving off the California coast this weekend. No surfing in Malibu, no camping trip to Yosemite, no hiking in the Sierras. Not for the first month of summer anyway. After that, he would be back home and his life would get back to normal. Except, of course, that his mom wouldn’t be around anymore. He tried to imagine what his father was feeling and couldn’t. What would it be like not to have her in the house? Would there be an emptiness? A void? Or would they just be eating more take-out? He felt someone watching and rolled over to see Kyle standing in the doorway.
“What?” Zack demanded.
“Hope you’re friggin’ satisfied,” Kyle said, and left.
Zack’s reflection stared back at him from the mirrored doors of his closet. Blue eyes peered out from underneath reddish blond hair and once again he was reminded of how different he looked from the rest of his family. Wrong, he corrected himself. Kyle’s family. They were Kyle’s family.
Being adopted was a slap in the face, especially when he’d started high school and his failures were measured against Kyle’s successes. The more he competed in sports, the more he was compared to his brother, and the more apparent it became that Kyle had not only inherited his father’s physical stature and looks, but also his natural athletic ability and timing. Last year Kyle was the football team’s MVP. Zack only made the second string, spending most of the season sitting on the bench. He lifted weights and busted his butt, but he couldn’t compete with an older brother expected to be the next great pro quarterback.
This past year it finally got around school that he and Kyle weren’t from the same gene pool and Zack quit getting so much pressure to perform. It bothered him though that being adopted elicited so much sympathy, as if there was something very sad about it and something very wrong with him. Public attitude negated his parents’ supposedly loving explanations.
He hated being compared to Kyle – especially by his parents. And, he hated being constantly hassled about his grades, his hair and his dude attitude. Kyle was their golden boy. Kyle could get away with murder while he got clobbered over the slightest infraction. Kyle dated the prettiest girls, was favored with the use of his mother’s ice-blue Mercedes convertible, while Zack was lucky if he got to drive his father’s trusty Toyota.
Things could be worse. The number of cute chicks who schemed to get Kyle’s attention by dating his younger brother was staggering. Although it was pathetic to see the disappointment in their faces when he pulled up in the Toyota instead of the ice-blue status machine. He never bothered asking the same girl out twice, though. Why set himself up for more humiliation than necessary?
Only now, Kyle’s life was as screwed as his. He, too, was going to Central America; hot, humid, buggy Central America where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got sick while filming the movie, Predator. If the climate in Central America could make a fitness expert like Arnold Schwarzenegger sick, then Zack knew he’d probably die.
He pushed his hair away from his face and winced as it tangled on his earring. Lots of guys had longer hair than his, but he was willing to bet they didn’t get hassled the way he did. Didn’t matter. From this day forward, his mother had relinquished her authority. No longer did she have the right to order him around. He wasn’t going to get his hair cut, and he wasn’t going to remove the small hoop earring he wore in his left earlobe.
The next two days of school passed quickly and Zack got his report cards. His lowest grade was a C in history. The grade wasn’t unexpected, as he hated studying about dead people. In fact, he got the shivers just thinking about spending the next four weeks in a city whose only claim to fame was that it had been built and deserted by people long dead and decayed.
By Tuesday evening he and Kyle had purchased insect repellent, good flashlights, and cool cotton clothes. Zack had also packed a few CDs and his player. Their father assured them that money wouldn’t be a problem as he handed both boys a small fortune in cash.
Zack fingered the wad of twenties and fifties. Maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad. Then he reconsidered, yeah it would. He would be bored, absolutely bored to death. It would be hot and humid and there would be nothing to do except sit around and look at a bunch of stupid ruins.
Before dawn on Wednesday, Kyle and Zack were dropped off at the airport. They departed Sacramento, changed planes in Dallas and continued on to Guatemala City, the whole time traveling in relative silence. Zack and Kyle hadn’t discussed the divorce before and they avoided the subject now. Kyle never explained the remark he’d made when he asked Zack if he was satisfied.
He didn’t need to explain. Zack knew what he meant.
They arrived in Guatemala City at 6:30 p.m., central time, and Uncle Clifton, white Stetson in hand, met them at the airport. In less than eight hours Zack had gone from California, land of fun in the sun, to the third world nation of Guatemala. In less than eight hours, reality as he’d known it had forever changed. He was now a statistic, a child of divorce and a kid from a broken home. There was nothing he could do to alter the situation even though he’d been the one to set these events in motion the previous January, on Super Bowl Sunday.