How far would you go to save your own child? In the excerpt from my new novel, Spiral, a mother is fighting to save her infant son from the tyranny of a group of Elders, those “wise ones” who rule Chaco Canyon and sacrifice children in the name of the Sun God.
One afternoon just before dark, the three of them had just returned home when Owl Watching noticed a small object on the hard-packed floor. He picked it up.
“What is it?” asked Willow as she carefully took off the heavy cradleboard with the sleeping child inside.
“The Elders have been here,” he said, scowling as he held out the little copper bell. He grabbed Willow.
“We must hide him before it’s too late.”
“Too late? What do you mean? What should we do? Where can we go?” she cried.
When her mother found out, she took the bell to the Master Pot Maker, and they threw it in the hot kiln. Together the two shaman women made powerful secret magic, chanting, threatening and howling with the wind to twist the Elders’ power and render it harmless. The bell melted in the fire, turning into a small dull stone.
Now Owl Watching insisted Willow he and the baby leave his relatives’ house each morning. This way, he said, the Elders would not find them at home when they came back. Stepping gingerly over the icy brittle snowy ground, their little family traveled up and down the canyon in the frigid air, paying visits on the Coyote Clan. The baby was held out, admired and feted. People discussed a good time for a naming ceremony. Names were suggested for him.
The winter was worse than any Willow could remember, the wind blinding, ripping through the canyon, and the daylight too short to stay any length of time at her mother’s house or to make pots. Owl Watching grew more worried with each day he ushered Willow and his son out into the cold. They both knew it was only a matter of time. Finally, Willow refused to leave the house. She was just too exhausted.
Owl Watching said he was going out one morning to search for more kindling while Willow ground corn and the child slept close on the warm hearth. The baby boy was wrapped in his bunting, adorned with the necklace of turquoise and bird bone she had fastened around his tiny neck. How sweet he looked! Willow was daydreaming, admiring her baby when the Elders came again, the staggering men stomping and dropping snow and ice on the floor. She jumped up but not soon enough, for Thin Nose had already grabbed the infant out of her arms. The baby let out a scream.
“No!” Willow cried, reaching for the child wailing in the Elder’s scrawny arms.
“I’ll take that blanket too,” Thin Nose laughed, picking it off the floor. Surrounding them, the others began to chant, skipping with their bells around and around in a little dance. Afraid to pounce on him or grab her crying child for fear she might hurt him, Willow grabbed for the blanket instead. Thin Nose let it go as he held the baby higher in the air. The child began to scream.
“Pray with us, sister,” said one Elder.
“You should be honored we have chosen your child for the sun dagger,” another said.
“Aeeeeah, Aeeeeah,” Willow screamed, choking, emitting high quivery gasps like a stricken coyote.
“The perfect sacrifice!” Thin Nose called out, stumbling toward the door with his prize, Willow following, kicking at his boots wrapped with delicate metal bells.
“Stop!” She screamed, lunging after him. Suddenly she saw Owl Watching hovering behind the deerhide door, which was flapping in the wind.
“Help me!” Willow cried.
Owl Watching rushed past her, shouting to the Elders, “Just the blanket!” He pulled it out of Willow’s hand and thrust it at the Elders. “You said you only wanted the blanket! Here! Here it is!” he cried, holding it up in front of Thin Nose and the screaming baby.
“Give our child back!” Willow screamed.
Holding the blanket, Owl Watching attempted to take away the baby. But he too hesitated for fear of harming him. The Elders’ feet tinkled as they pounded the ground, forming a circle around the child.
Suddenly Willow leaped onto Thin Nose’s back. They swung around as if in a dance. Owl Watching tried to grab her. Tipping back and forth, the rest moved in closer, pushing, pushing. Thin Nose stumbled, almost letting go of the child and knocked Willow off his back. Lunging for the baby, Owl Watching fell sideways to the floor with her. Thin Nose held out the screaming baby in front of him for all to see as he and the Elders danced away.
Owl Watching looked up just as they spirited his child out the doorway.
“No!” he wept. “No!”
“You brought them here!” Willow screamed, twisting out of his arms, turning on him.
“They said they only wanted the blanket!” He sat up, desperate, dazed, still holding the blanket.
“You fool!” She jumped up. “When have they ever told the truth? When?”
“He said they needed the blanket,” Owl Watching groaned. “Forgive me, Willow.”
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“Just ordered my copy. I so enjoyed Sundagger.net: such vivid depictions of place & time and such interesting characters. I lost many hours of sleep staying up late to read because I just had to know what happened next. “— Sarah F.