“…action we associate with thriller writers like Michael Crichton…a flavor of story-telling, narration, and a touch of the archaic that one might find in a native story. Hunton’s work is animated and compelling.”
Philip Baruth, award-winning commentator, University of Vermont professor, author of The Dream of the White Village
‘chiadag’ in O’odham, is one of only two venomous lizards in the world, patterned in yellow or orange, and black beaded scales. Their jaws are powerful and their bite is tenacious. They hold onto victims tightly, injecting a continuous flow of venom. They are to be avoided when encountered. Their numbers are greatly reduced in recent years and they are protected by law in Arizona. The O’odham hold them in high esteem, believing the beautiful creatures to be a gift of the sun god, thus the colorful bands.
The ‘man-in-the-maze’ is the most cherished symbol of several southwestern tribes; the Hopi, Navajo, and Tohono O’odham people show great reverence for its meaning in life and death. There are varying interpretations of the design, all closely related to the creation story. Here are two from the O’odham:
The man is I’itoi, Elder Brother, and the first man to walk Mother Earth. He represents the human seed and the maze is the womb of Mother Earth. And so, he is seen emerging to walk the land. Near the summit of Baboquivari is a sacred cave where the O’odham believe I’itoi emerged. The cave actually exists as a sacred shrine. The interior is scattered with burnt offerings and other gifts brought to I’itoi. Author’s note: I have never visited the cave, since Baboquivari is a challenge to climb and the cave is difficult to access, but I know it’s there based on numerous climber accounts.
The symbol can represent a person’s journey through life. The figure of the man represents each person beginning their journey. The maze contains many twists and turns, or choices made in life. The center represents a person’s dreams and final goals. When the center is reached, a person’s goals have been achieved and the sun god blesses them and allows them to pass into the next world. Before a person passes, they step back into the small recess, away from the center, where they contemplate what they have accomplished before they cross the last threshold.
“I wish more authors would write books like these for young people. Hunton did his homework in researching the books. Main character Danny is a very believable twelve year-old, and his adventures make me want to go out and experience the desert more myself. As a middle school librarian, I search for these kinds of stories to recommend to my students. I look forward to reading the whole series. Bravo!”
Jerri Blackman, librarian - Valencia Middle School, Tucson, AZ
“These books introduce heart, spirit, and soul to adolescents. The ties to American Indian culture and mythology are great!”
Peggy E. Gillard, Assistant Principal, Colchester, VT Middle School
“Crappy fire...that the best you can do?” asked the man sitting on a rock directly across the pit.
His oversized companion stared numbly into the glow of embers, poking and stirring with a stick.
“I said crappy...”
“Man, shut up,” the hulk suddenly blared, his voice echoing through the twilight of the mesquite grove. “You don’t like the way I built it, get off your butt and do it yourself.”
Their angry exchange reverberated off the jagged walls of Baboquivari, the dark and mysterious mountain looming over them like an oncoming tidal wave.
“Hey, I would if I had any energy left. I used it all up tracking ‘chu’uchum sihki,’ after you let it get away,” answered the first.
“Huh, little whitetail...anyway, there was barely enough meat on that deer for a meal. You were wasting your time,” the fire tender added, gesturing with his hand, “jujul bibijim... zigzagging around.”
The other man smirked. “Crazy brah, you cluck like an old quail. The whole rez knows you can’t hunt, so why fake it any longer? I should find another to camp with besides you. You can’t hunt...can’t build a fire...baaah.”
“Uh huh, you say...well, no one else could stand your armpits or your bad breath...ayeee, rotten as a dead prickly pear,” the O’odham giant declared.
“Ho,” the first responded, “not to mention the odor coming from your sleeping bag.”
The big man coughed in the gathering smoke. “And I suppose yours smells nice and fresh, too,” he said.
They were startled by the sound. The smaller one stared with frightened eyes into the darkness at the base of the cliff.
“Dahm kachim...holy angel,” he voiced. “What was that?!”
“Dunno,” said the brute. “Came from up there...in the rocks.” He nodded at his partner. “You jumped pretty high. If you are a rabbit, can I shoot an arrow between those big ears of yours?”
The other failed to respond, but continued to peer nervously into the shadowy distance.
Danny Rivas grabbed too late for the handlebars of his bicycle. The front tire caught awkwardly in the dirt and jackknifed, sending him headlong into the ditch. He skidded on his chest through a mudhole left by recent rains and came to rest with his head wedged in the roots of an ocotillo.
“Ow! Oh...oh...God...ow...oooh...ow, Digs...man...”
“Nice landing,” his friend answered, pulling up beside him in a spray of gravel. “I told you it was too dark to go ‘no hands,’ but noooo, don’t listen to me.”
“Ooh...ow...get me outta’ here, you pimple brain,” Danny wailed.
Diego Ramirez chuckled. “I’d say you’re the one with a numb skull right about now.”
Danny pushed hard against the tangle of roots, freeing his head. He rolled onto his back in the muck and gazed up——mouth, nose, and ears plugged with slime.
“Hey, you heard that weird sound too,” he spluttered, wiping a grimy hand across his face. “How come you’re not down here with me?”
“Talent, dude...nothin’ but balance.”
“So, how do I look?” Danny asked.
Digs grinned. “Are you kidding? Good enough for a hot date with Theresa.” He reached out his hand. “Come on, get outta’ the slop, will ya?”
Danny gripped Digs’ arm and let his pal hoist him up. “I’m serious, that was one awful noise,” he repeated once he was back on his feet. “It scared the ‘you know what’ out of me.”
The expression on Digs’ face dampened as his eyes searched the growing darkness. “This is true, man. It sounded like...not human...and not animal either. Really, I mean, not a clue, ya’ know?”
Danny pulled the soggy tee shirt up over his head. He twisted it tightly, wringing the dirty water back into the ditch.
“Wow, that was totally thoughtful of you,” Digs observed. “Now the mosquitoes will have more area to breed.”
Danny took a swipe at him. “Keep your genius remarks to yourself, okay? Remember, you suck at science and soccer.”
“And you spelled your name wrong on an English paper once,” Digs chided. “Come on, how do ya’ spell ‘immediate?’ It was on our quiz last week.”
Danny scoffed. “Ha, that’s easy...i, m, i, d...i, o, t.”
Digs pursed his lips. “Hmm, let’s see...‘imidiot’...I’m an idiot.” He pointed and laughed. “Yeah, you sure are.”
A scowl formed on Danny’s face. He turned away and snatched his bike out of the mud. “You rushed me,’ he said. “I woulda’ spelled it right if you’d given me more time.” He banged the front wheel on the surface of the road, loosening the muck clinging to the spokes. “That’s what Joseph always tells me, take your time and do things right.”
“Your grandfather tells you everything,” Digs replied. “If he’s so smart, what happened to you?”
Danny decided to let this final insult go. “So, it sounded like that noise came from over around Baboquivari, wouldn’t you say? And since it wasn’t human or animal, then maybe it was the spirits.”
“You mean the spirits?” asked Digs restlessly.
“Of course, dummy. You may be Latino Lupe, but you’ve lived near the rez long enough to know about them.”
“Yeah, that’s right, so I have. Listen, I may not be Indian, but I can believe in spirits too...and don’t call me Lupe.”
“Fine, I won’t, and just remember, the spirits respect those who walk the earth and do not show fear.”
“Something else you learned from Joseph?” Digs asked.
“Yup, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the sound of their voices. If it’s really them and they keep this up...then we’ll know there’s a problem somewhere.”
Digs frowned. “Man, creep me out, why don’t you.”
Danny was feeling uneasy too. “Believe me, it wasn’t intentional. Okay, enough on the subject. Hopefully, we won’t hear them again.”
Digs pushed off on his bike. “Wishful thinking,” he murmured, gazing back at the mountain.
Deep shadows filled the washes and sent fingers creeping into the thick undergrowth of the desert beyond. Giant saguaros stood in dark contrast to the sunset clouds streaming in orange and crimson across the ridge lines.
Throwing his weight onto the top peddle, Danny sped to catch up. They were soon cruising along, side by side.
“When we get to my house,” said Danny, “just let me do the talking. You know, about how I look and all. Mom’s hassle I can take...it’s Sophie I don’t need to hear from. She’ll spread it around school that I’m a total klutz.”
“Aw, I think your sister’s cute,” Digs offered, “Uh, I mean, she would be i-if I was a lot older.”
Danny grinned. “Well, I’ll have to fix you guys up sometime.”
Digs peddled faster in response. They darted briskly down the narrow track, a ribbon of gray in the surrounding gloom.
“Let’s pack up,” the smaller man said.
The big O’odham shifted his bulk to the other knee. “Where to?” he asked, continuing to poke the fire.
“To anywhere else but here,” came the reply. “I didn’t like that sound, and it’s from somewhere close by. I say we drive over and camp by the wash...Gila wash.”
“Okay with me,” the bear grunted.
“And when we get there, I’ll build the fire,” said the first. “That way, we can at least see anyone approaching.”
“Huh, so build a bonfire if you want. It might keep a coyote away, but it won’t stop them from paying us a visit.” He motioned at the shadows along the high cliff walls.
“Yeah. Do you forget the one who is your mother? I speak of the mountain and the spirits of our people, returned to this place where we were all born.”
The small man eyed the darkness warily. “I see nothing up here but a perch for eagles. Bah, you live in the past...with
crazy old storytellers.”
The big one shrugged his shoulders. “There may be nothing to see, but it doesn’t mean we’re alone,” he responded carefully. “I think a moon will pass and then we will know.”
They filled the ember pit with sand and gathered their gear. Soon, the crank of a starter broke the silence of the night, followed by a truck engine roaring to life. Twin headlights pierced the darkness. The lights began to move, swinging in a tight arch, then disappearing in the dense thickness of desert growth. A short distance to the east, the cool recesses of Gila wash awaited.
The sighs came from deep in a cleft in the rock-—not more than a hundred feet from the sand-filled pit. These were not natural sounds like those caused by the shifting of crystalline formations running in parallel layers beneath the surface, but strange unworldly sounds, and quite mournful, as a chorus of voices calling in distress. The crying steadily increased in volume, sounding even more desperate.
The ancient schist began to tremble and shake. Long veins of volcanic sediment, unmoved in two hundred million years, cracked and stretched. Old gaps in the rock slammed shut, and fresh crevices appeared just as quickly.
From her den some twenty feet beneath a massive boulder, the western diamondback had sensed danger several minutes before the heaviest shaking began. She had not heard the wailing voices, for she was deaf. But she had felt the first tiny vibrations in the ground passing through the bones in her skull, then to her inner ear.
She knew instinctively what to do next. She would lead her brood of newly hatched snakelets to the surface. There, on the open floor of the desert, she could encircle them, protecting them with her body.
Using a series of swift coiling motions, she gathered the wriggling mass and jettisoned herself up the slope of the tunnel. Some of her young were pulled forward, others naturally following along.
Desperate seconds passed while the rumbling and shaking continued around them. Dirt cascaded from the roof and walls, clogging the path ahead. She nosed her way through the loose sand with powerful body muscles. At last, her flicking tongue felt the moisture of the cool night air.
Near the opening, she waited for the snakelets to squirm past. Out the hole they poured, two and three at a time, into the safety of a nearby gravel bed.
Just then, the sound of cracking came from the rock ceiling directly above her. The immense stone shifted and dropped, pinning her head and crushing it with the full force of a bear trap. She died instantly, her magnificent body convulsing, the beads on her tail rattling softly.