Tep Jones has always felt the magic of Picture House, an Anasazi cliff dwelling near the seed farm where he lives with his parents. But he could never have imagined what would happen to him on the night of a lunar eclipse, when he finds a bone flute left behind by grave robbers. Tep falls under the spell of a powerful ancient magic that traps him at night in the body of an animal.
Only by unraveling the mysteries of Picture House can Tep save himself and his desperately ill mother. Does the enigmatic old Indian who calls himself Cricket hold the key to unlocking the secrets of the past? And can Tep find the answers in time?
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Read an Excerpt
The magic had always been there. In the light, in the rock in the miniature-city the Ancient Ones left perched in the cliffs. I've always felt it. It seems like every day of my life I've been trying to get a little closer to the magic. This would be the night I not only got close, but crossed over.
The long June day was ending as I was hiking to the ruin with my dog, Dusty. This was going to be my first total eclipse of the moon, and I wanted to witness it from Picture House. For all the time I'd spent there, puzzling over the secrets of the ancient pueblo, I've never had an opportunity like a total eclipse. Maybe during the eclipse, if I listened hard enough, I might hear the footsteps of the Ancient Ones. I might even hear their voices. It might be a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Who knows, I might even see dancers appearing on the dance plaza from their underground kivas.
After the eclipse, I'd have my night-hike back home. Night is my favorite time, and every so often I hike by the moon. Like Ringo, my pet ringtail, I was born nocturnal. All the sleep I've ever needed is a few winks here and there. Tepary Jones is my name, after the fabulous tepary bean, of course.
Dusty and I stopped at the spring where the people from Picture House had come for centuries to get their water. Despite how dry it had been this year, water was still gushing from a thin layer of shale and falling into the pool below. The cliffs and the mesa tops were glowing with the last reflections of the sunset as we watched the full moon rise over the canyon rims of our out-of the-way corner of northern New Mexico.
I shucked my clothes and dove into the pool. Acool jolt ran through me like electricity. "Jump in, girl!" I called to Dusty, and she did. I'm thirteen, and Dusty just turned eleven. At her age, even a natural swimmer like a golden retriever takes a little bit of encouragement, but there's a lot of puppy left in that old dog's heart.
I climbed out and shivered, and Dusty shook, and I rested my back against the slab jutting twenty feet into the air. A minute later I was dry and comfortable. The slab is an ancient creek bed turned to stone. You can still see the wavy water lines that the receding creek left behind, and even the tracks of a turkey-sized dinosaur that walked across the mud and left its mark in time.
Still a couple of hours until the eclipse. I dressed, and we threaded our way through the scrubby pinyon pines and junipers we call a forest around here, until we could see Picture House with its five kivas, forty three rooms, and two towers gleaming across the ancient dance plaza. The cave that housed the cliff dwelling soared high and wide, dished out of the arching cliff. Eight hundred years ago the people came through all those little doorways for the last time, walked away, and left only stiffness, silence, and secrets.
This is where I wanted to watch, to try to feel what the people must have felt when they witnessed an eclipse of the moon from Picture House. I curled up a stone's throw from the ruin and started snacking on a bag of pinyon nuts. Sitting on her haunches, Dusty's face was on a level with mine. Her muzzle was grizzled these days, like she'd stuck it in a bag of flour. I pointed at the moon, so close it seemed you could reach out and grab it.
"Tep-a-ree Jones and his faithful dog Dusty waiting for the eclipse of the moon,?' I half-sang. "Picture House, New Mexico. Tep the Bean Man, the Human Bean, Dusty the dog, the old retriever, Old Faithful, waiting for the eclipse with her sidekick Tepary Jones."
I listened to the silence coming out of the ruin, silence so deep it seemed loud, and I waited for something to break it. I wondered if I'd hear from the great horned owl nesting high in the cliff above the ruin. I wondered if the ancestors of that owl nested in the same spot back when people had lived here.
The silence was broken at last by the scurrying feet of packrats coming to life now that day was done. Not all the residents of Picture House had abandoned their homes.
I fell asleep. I don't sleep much, but when I do, I sleep ferociously and my dreams often take strange shapes. Sometimes I wonder if they are dreams of the future. I could have used a glimpse of the future now, a dream to warn me away from Picture House.
Next thing I remember, Dusty was stirring. I checked on the moon and found it full as before, barely higher in the sky. I hadn't missed the eclipse. Suddenly I be came aware of what Dusty already knew-voices were coming from the ruin. I was surprised and more than a little alarmed. We never ran into people up at Picture House.
I put my fingers to my lips. Dusty understood; we were old tracking partners. Once we even beat a mountain lion at her own game of watching without being seen.
Angling for a good vantage point, I crept a little closer, crouching behind the bushy junipers outside the big cave's drip line. Two voices. They were coming from inside the ruin all right, which rose like steps from one to two to three stories, all the rooms still perfectly preserved with even a couple of ladders connecting roofs and balconies. Picture House was lit up bright silver by the moon but still I couldn't see anyone in there. Then I heard a man's voice say, "This is going to be a five-thousand-dollar night." The second man laughed and said, "Ten-thousand-dollar night. This place has never been dug before."
I caught myself, hoping I'd heard wrong, but I'd heard what I'd heard. Pothunters! It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, and I went down on my knees. I couldn't believe this was really happening. Picture House had never been vandalized before; it's the "last, best jewel," as my mother likes to put it, of all the cliff dwellings in the Four Corners states. The ruin isn't marked on maps, and it's sure enough hard to get to. But my folks had always said it was bound to get "bombed" one day. . .
Copyright ) 1995 by Will Hobbs