Martha Bourke Reading Chapter One of Jaguar Sun
I was standing by my locker when it happened. I was listening to the twins standing next to me babbling in Spanish. Sadly, I didn’t speak a word. (Hopefully they were discussing how cute I looked in my new Diesels.)
I managed to decipher the name Matt from their conversation and suddenly realized they weren’t talking about me, they were talking about my soon-to-be exboyfriend!
“Hey! We have a no-Spanish rule when it’s about guys!” I protested.
“Oh, Maya, it’s no big deal. Damian was just saying how hot he thinks Matt looked in AP English this morning,” Alyssa said. Right on cue, Damian flushed a delicate shade of pink. Seriously, he was the most adorable gay guy on the planet.
“All I’m saying,” I said, “is that if you expect me to take part in the conversation, use a language I can actually understand.”
I don’t know what I was getting all worked up about. It’s not like I didn’t experience this a hundred times a day. At El Desierto, my pointless high school in the New Mexico—yep, you guessed it—desert, you either hung with the Hispanics and spoke Spanish or you had
white friends. Sadly, being a Hispanic with a freakish inability to speak Spanish did not help my already nonexistent status.
“I just think that maybe you should make more of an effort. It’s not like you’re not Hispanic,” Damian said.
“Yeah, well, my Hispanicness ditched me when my loser-mom did,” I reminded him.
We all shared knowing looks as I paused to think about my loser-mom, who’d abandoned me and my dad, and my friends tried to think of what to say. (I mean, what kind of mother takes off on you when you’re four? And goes to Las Vegas? I’m sorry, but could that be more cheesy? Cheesier? Whatever.)
Alyssa giggled. “‘Hispanicness?’ Is that even a word?”
“Yes and no. It’s not in the dictionary; however, it is used in daily conversation, which, as I’m sure you know, is often how a word is added to the dictionary anyway,” Damian explained.
Lyssa crossed her eyes. “Seriously, Maya, you should just have your grandma help you.”
I knew that they both had the sweetest intentions, as always. But I spent so little time with Grandma, I wasn’t about to waste it working on my foreign language skills. No. Way.
That’s when I saw it. A dark shadow was moving along the wall. It paused at the end of our row of lockers, crouching there as if it were hunting something.
Hunting me? A chill ran down my back. I started shaking uncontrollably. That was when the nausea hit.
“Uh, you guys, I gotta make a run to the ladies’— girly issues. I’ll meet you in English!” I tore down the hallway and nearly knocked over Ashley Daniels, a member of the famed (and ho-ish) EDHS cheerleaders.
“Freak!” She yelled as her minions scrambled to pick up her books.
I hooked around the corner and into the girls’ bathroom. Thankfully, I was alone. For a moment, I just leaned against the wall, trying to catch my breath and get a handle on my stomach. What the hell was that thing? I walked over to the mirror and looked at my reflection. The dark, sad eyes of my grandmother’s people stared back at me. I looked at my long dark hair, olive skin, and high cheekbones. Locals often mistook me for some kind of American Indian. But I was from a different tribe. I was Mayan. It was Grandma’s idea
to call me Maya.
The girl in the mirror now looked like a stranger. I was sweaty, pasty, and I had dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep. Had I just imagined it? How could a shadow just move all by itself like that? And it looked like some kind of animal. Okay, I told myself, there is no way there is some large animal roaming the halls of the school.
But I had seen it, hadn’t I? What was happening to me? I splashed some water on my face and attempted to pat it dry with a paper towel. (Why do school paper towels feel like you’re using an actual piece of paper to dry your face? Seriously, should I be able to take one back to class with me and use it to take notes on? I’m just sayin’.) I peeked out the door. The hallway was empty.
Crap, crap, crap. I was late for English.
I couldn’t focus at all during morning classes. I replayed what had happened that morning over and over in my head. I kept expecting the shadow to appear again at any minute. By the time we all met at the cafeteria for lunch, I was a nervous wreck. As the twins and I sat down at our usual table, I was met by two very annoying sets of eyes.
“What?” I asked, opening a can of diet Coke (aka, my elixir of life).
“You look like crap, that’s what,” Lyssa said.
“What, are you scouting for Vogue? I just haven’t been sleeping well lately,” I said, as I checked out some moron walking by our table with his jeans hanging below his butt.
(Speaking of fashion, should anyone really accessorize with underwear? I mean, besides like, Madonna?)
“Are you still having those weird animal dreams?” Damian asked.
All the time. “Yeah, sometimes,” I said. I carefully omitted that as of two hours ago, they were hunting me during waking hours as well.
“Is it the same animal every time?”
One thing about Damian, he was nothing if not persistent. And smart as hell. Absolutely nothing got by the kid. But I was not in the mood. I looked straight at my best friend’s beautiful almost-black eyes, and said, “Give it a rest, will ya?”
“Are you losing your damn mind? The boy is just trying to help,” Lyssa said, tucking one side of her brown, blond-streaked bob behind one ear. She was a very petite girl, just barely five feet tall, much shorter than me at five foot eight. I’d be surprised if she weighed
a hundred pounds. But, man, she had enough attitude for someone twice her size!
“Yeah, I know,” I said. Jeez, I was a crappy friend.
The Vasquez twins had been my best friends since the third grade, and here I was being a huge grump. Of course I had plenty to be grumpy about, but they didn’t know that. And I wasn’t so sure about talking to them about it. I mean, what would I say? Hey, guys, guess what? A shadow thingy is after me and I’m scared shitless. They would probably decide I was certifiable, immediately dial 911, and have me carted away. Sounds about right. One
thing was sure; I was going to have to talk to someone about this or I really would lose my damn mind.
“Hello, earth to Maya.” Damian waved his hand in front of my face.
“Sorry, Damian,” I said.
“It’s okay, honey. We just don’t know what’s going on with you.”
They both looked concerned, and that made me more upset than I already was. I decided right then that, after last bell, I was driving to my Grandma Rosa’s. It was quite a hike. She lived in a cabin about an hour outside of town where she could work on her photography. Grandma’s beautiful nature photography was very well known. She said that living close to
nature inspired her. She wanted to let people see the earth through the eyes of the Mayan people so that they would honor it. Go, Grandma!
As last bell rang, I stopped by my locker to pick up my things and noticed I had three new text messages. They were all from Matt. He wanted to know what our status was. Seriously, I felt like telling him that we had no status as long as he insisted on behaving like an ass. We’d been together “officially” for six months, but we’d been interested in each other long before that. And the truth was, I was still into him. He was Matt Caldwell—a
six foot one sexy senior with light brown hair, beautiful brown eyes, a tanned, athletic body, and above average intelligence. Who wouldn’t be into him?
And we did have a lot in common. We both lived with single parents. But since he made the varsity football team, he was changing. We used to spend lots of quiet time alone. (Not for that. You know, for cuddling and whatnot.) Sadly, since he made varsity, we hadn’t
spent any time alone. All he wanted to do when he wasn’t playing football was party. I mean, I was proud of him. He worked incredibly hard to make the team. And he had goals, like an athletic scholarship. I just wasn’t so sure I was cut out to be the star quarterback’s
girlfriend. It just wasn’t what I’d signed up for. He was also a year older than me, so I wasn’t actually sure what we were doing, anyway. He was already eighteen and would graduate in the spring, leaving me deserted at El Desierto. (Ha! Deserted at “Deserted” High.)
I glanced at my watch. If I left right away, I could make it to Grandma’s and back before my dad got home. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Grandma personally. I think he appreciated that she was a positive female influence. But all the Mayan traditions reminded him of my loser-mom and how she’d skipped town. But that was like a gazillion years ago. Sometimes I just wished that he could move on.
I headed for my Wrangler that my dad bought secondhand for my sixteenth birthday. It was perfect for New Mexico weather and I couldn’t wait to get on the highway and ride to Grandma’s with the top down. I was particularly careful to avoid the far side of the school parking lot where I could run into the twins or Matt. I didn’t have time for socializing. If I was going to pull this off, I was going to have to make very good time.
Thankfully, when I arrived at Grandma’s, she was home. I was afraid she would be out scouting for shots somewhere. Grandma wasn’t just Mayan, she was a Mayan Elder, so I was pretty sure she’d be able to help me. At least, I hoped so. I opened the door to her cabin and walked in.
“Grandma,” I called as I put my bag down and headed toward the kitchen. The cabin always smelled of copal, the sweet-smelling incense that wafted through the little house. The scent of it immediately brought me back to my childhood and gave me a sense
“Oh, Maya, I’m in the darkroom. Go ahead and put the tea kettle on. I won’t be long. Some of your favorite cookies are on top of the fridge.”
Grandma’s amaranth-cinnamon cookies are seriously yummy. She grows her own amaranth, just like the Mayan people did back in the day. She uses it in lots of stuff, but my favorites are her cookies. (Oh, and toasted amaranth! It’s just like popcorn, but better.)
“I’m so glad you’re here, baby,” she said, coming out of her darkroom and giving me a big hug.
“Me too, Grandma.” It was so good to see her. As usual she wore her graying hair in a long braid down her back. She was wearing a beautiful yellow blouse that set off her dark skin and eyes and a long colorful skirt.
“On a school day, Maya, is everything all right?”
She poured us each a mug of tea and sat down with me at the kitchen table.
“I…I don’t know,” I stammered. Hot tears started to pour down my face before I could stop them.
“What is it ts’unu’un? You know that you can tell me anything and I’ll understand.”
Although I could feel my throat threatening to close, hearing her call me “hummingbird,” her Mayan nickname for me, strengthened me. “Grandma, I’ve been having the most awful dreams.”
She reached over and handed me a Kleenex, which was when I realized I was snotting all over myself. “What are these dreams about, honey?” She took my hand in hers and rubbed it gently.
“Well, they aren’t always the same. But it’s like they’re real. Grandma, I’ve never had dreams like this before.”
“Tell me, ts’unu’un, what kind of animal is it?”
“It’s always this same kind of cat, I dunno, like a jaguar. How did you know?”
“I know because you are dreaming of your nagual.”
“My, my what?” I asked, wiping my nose some more.
“Your nagual is your spirit companion. We all have one. Yours just happens to be Balam, the Jaguar. Your nagual is part of you. It’s like having a double in the spirit world.”
“But why am I dreaming about it?”
“It’s easiest to meet your guiding spirit in your dreams. Think of it this way. Your dreams are where our world and the unseen world meet.”
Okay, that wouldn’t seem so bad if I wasn’t running into my nagual in broad daylight.
“Something else is troubling you. What is it, ts’unu’un?”
“Something has been happening to me. Grandma, I’m so freaked out!”
“Go on,” Grandma said, handing me another Kleenex.
“Today I saw a shadow, I mean while I was awake.
It’s like…like Balam’s shadow is following me!” As soon as I managed to choke out the words, the fear and panic I had felt at school returned with a vengeance.
“Maya, you’re very special. Remember when you were younger and I used to tell you—”
“That I was special because I had a lot of k’ul. I felt so proud because I thought you were saying that I was cool.”
“Ah, you remember!” Grandma said with a little laugh. “Do you also remember that k’ul is the life force that is in all things, ts’unu’un? I think that you may be able to see your nagual when it manifests in our world because your life force is very strong.”
“So Balam wasn’t trying to attack me?” Phew.
“No, no, of course not. Your nagual is part of you. It’s like your protector. And even though it lives in the Otherworld, it is possible for it to move from one realm to another. But I am curious about something, though.”
“What’s that, Grandma?” I asked, feeling much better knowing that there wasn’t a murderous jungle cat prowling around trying to maul me to death.
“During any of your dreams, did you ever have the sensation that you were Balam?”
“Sometimes it seemed like I was seeing through its eyes,” I said. “Like maybe from its point of view?”
“I don’t want to worry you, Maya. And there is no way to be sure of these kinds of things, but—”
My stomach gave a nasty lurch. “What things, Grandma?”
“I think that you might be becoming a mestaclocán.”
I swear I could feel the vomit threatening to come up my throat. Mestaclocán was an ancient Spanish word, but you didn’t have to be Mayan to know what it meant. Shape-shifter.
“I’m, I’m becoming a shifter?”
“I’m not sure, honey. But no matter what anyone else says, you know that shape-shifters are revered in Mayan culture for their powerful connection to their nagual.”
“I know, Grandma, but it’s different here. It’s just so scary and…I dunno, complicated.”
“I know, honey, but we aren’t even sure of it yet. Most shape-shifters don’t phase for the first time until they are at least eighteen. All we can do is wait. I know that’s hard and probably not what you want to hear right now. But everything is going to be okay, whether you ever phase or not.”
“Okay, Grandma. If you’re not worried then I’ll try not to.”
“That’s my brave girl. I love you, ts’unu’un, and I’m proud of you. Nothing is ever going to change that.”
“I love you too, Grandma.” I looked up at the kitchen clock. “I guess I’d better get going. I have to make it home before Dad gets back.” At that moment, I would have done anything to stay. But I was only allowed to visit Grandma on weekends. If he found out that I’d broken the rules, he’d ground me for sure. That would mean no Grandma at all.
“Take care,” she said, pulling me close. “Tonight I will burn copal and pray for guidance and protection for you.”
All too soon, I was back in my car on the highway, alone with my worries and fears. I felt like crap. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what my Grandma said was true. I had always felt different, but more like freakishly strange, not different in a good
way. I guess going out with Matt had eased that a bit, but now I was supposed to tell him and the twins that I might be a shifter? No frickin’ way.
Shifters weren’t well accepted for the most part, even though we all knew they existed. People were maybe a bit intrigued by the magic of it all, but no one wanted to be one, did they? Most shifters just buried it and moved on with their lives, kinda like gays that are still in the closet. Nope, I was definitely not overly excited about the idea. But since I didn’t have much to worry about for another year, I couldn’t see how telling my friends would make it any better. Then again, how could I not tell them? They had been so worried
about me lately. I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. No, actually I was sure of one thing. This really, really sucked.