This book won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for best young adult book.
The shout for help echoed across the hospital parking lot. Ellie Palongohoya couldn’t see who was shouting, but she saw the station wagon blocking the entrance to the hospital and Dr. Haaz streaking across the lot.
She stepped from her car and walked toward the entrance. Haaz yelled for a stretcher and bent over a body in the back of the vehicle.
“I found him in the canyon. I tried giving him some water, but . . .”
“He’s dead. He’s been that way for a couple of days, I’d guess,” Haaz said.
The driver shook his head. “No, I heard him calling to me. He was calling for help just before I found him, barely half an hour ago. Out by Prophecy Rock.”
A powaqu’s deed. Witchcraft. Unsettled by what she’d heard, she stepped quickly around them into the cool air of the hospital. The dead man was white. She had heard that whites, even those who didn’t believe, weren’t immune to the magic of a powerful witch. Now she knew it was true.
She tried to push the thought away and concentrate on what she was going to say to Danny. But the conversation between Haaz and the driver kept playing over and over in her mind, an omen of things to come.
She headed down the hall toward the physical therapy room. Danny was an outpatient and spent three afternoons a week in therapy. Four months ago, he’d survived a head-on car collision in which three people were killed. He was lucky the accident occurred only a few miles from the trauma unit at the Public Health Service Hospital in Kearns Canyon.
Ellie, who was sixteen, worked part-time at the hospital and had taken an interest in him from that first day. As he’d slowly recovered, she’d spent a few minutes with him before and after work and during her break every day. Since he’d been released, she’d seen him less and less. So she’d promised him she’d come in on her day off.
She paused a moment outside the room, then jumped aside as the door sprang open and an orderly, George Somebody, a huge man who nearly filled the door frame, barreled into the hallway. “Sorry, Ellie.” Then, with a chuckle, he added, “He’s been asking about you,” and hurried down the corridor.
He was riding a stationary bicycle, his shiny black hair loose over his shoulders, a blue bandana tied around his forehead. He seemed surprised to see her and hopped off the bike. “What are you doing here on a Friday?”
“I told you I’d be here.”
He limped slightly as he walked over to her. He kissed her, but she stepped back when he tried to hug her. “Still afraid someone will see us?” he teased and laughed.
“I work here, remember?”
“So what. How about coming home with me today?”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
He looked disappointed. “Why not? I want to take you around town so you can meet all my friends.”
“Before my parents left, I promised them I wouldn’t leave the rez unless I got permission from my grandmother. She doesn’t want me to go.”
Chinle, where Danny lived, was two hours from the hospital and she lived another forty minutes beyond that. But distance wasn’t the only problem. Chinle was a Navajo town; she was Hopi. Her grandmother had never been to Chinle in her life.
“You don’t have to stay overnight or anything. My brother and I’ll drive you back. Besides, your grandmother won’t miss you for a few hours.”
“No. I better not.”
“What’s wrong? Don’t you like me?”
“It’s not that,” she said softly.
“Don’t tell me it’s because I’m Navajo. That’s it, isn’t it? Your grandmother doesn’t like it.”
Ellie’s eyes were fixed on the floor; she didn’t answer.
“Your grandmother is still stuck in the old ways. I bet she doesn’t even have a television.”
Ellie laughed nervously. “My father got her a TV, but she doesn’t watch it much.” Ellie’s parents had left the reservation this spring to work in Gallup. But she had only a year left of high school and had decided to stay with her grandmother until she graduated.
Danny didn’t laugh. “I want you to come with me.”
“Why don’t we go down to the little lake in the canyon where they’ve got picnic tables?”
He walked back to the bike. “I’ll think about it.”
“Oh just forget it. It’s not going to work out anyhow.” She rushed out of the room, her eyes blurred with tears. She walked as fast as she could without running, then took the stairs, two at a time. It was better not to see him anymore, she told herself, swiping at her eyes.
Besides, it wasn’t just her grandmother. There was something about Danny that wasn’t right. Maybe it was the money. A few days ago, he’d paid two thousand dollars for a Honda Civic and he seemed to have lots of cash. Yet, he hadn’t gotten any money yet on the insurance claim for the accident and he didn’t have a job, except for occasionally painting cars for friends.
She took a shortcut that led her past several small examining rooms. She stopped short at an open door, transfixed by the sight of a body on a table. It was the white man who had been taken from the station wagon, the powaqu’s victim, and Dr. Haaz was examining his wrists.
Dead, but not dead, like her relationship with Danny, she thought, and hastened away.
The Rockies were far behind him and the landscape three miles below was dry, brown, and rugged. Will Lansa stared glumly out the window of the 727. He was feeling lost and alone, and he’d only left home this morning. He missed his friends, he missed the mountains, the town, football, and skiing, and it wasn’t even the season for either sport.
He felt the plane descending and glimpsed a long, winding canyon. Just as he wondered if they were approaching the Grand Canyon, the pilot announced they were passing over Canyon de Chelly. The name was vaguely familiar. His father had planned a few weekend trips for the summer and maybe the canyon was one of them.
He pulled his map of Arizona from the backpack stuffed under the seat in front of him and ran his finger across it, searching for the name. He found it east of the Grand Canyon, on the Navajo reservation near the New Mexico border and the town of Chinle. He was surprised by the spelling, because the pilot hadn’t pronounced the ell-ell-why. “Canyon de Shay,” he said to himself.
Southwest of the canyon, completely surrounded by Navajo land, was the Hopi reservation. Will studied the strange names of the villages: Hotevilla, Oraibi, Bacavi, Kykotsmovi, Shunjjopavi. There were a dozen altogether. Most Hopis lived on three finger mesas, which were part of the sixty-mile-long Black Mesa. That was about all he knew of the geography of the reservation. Except that his father lived in Kykotsmovi, which was just below Third Mesa, and this summer Will was going to work as an orderly at the Public Health Service Hospital in Keams Canyon on First Mesa. First Mesa, first job. And for the first time since he was three years old, he would live with his father.
He couldn’t remember much of anything about the reservation. He vaguely recalled riding a horse with his father, bouncing and laughing. He remembered sitting on a hard-packed earthen floor as his grandmother, who had died years ago, talked to him in a strange language and cooked in a big pot over an open hearth. He thought he remembered falling into a kiva, a sacred underground chamber, but that memory was flavored by his mother’s frequent retelling. It had happened shortly before his parents had separated and divorced, before he’d moved with his mother, who was white, to Aspen, Colorado, and another life. His father, a reservation police officer, had remained behind.
Since the divorce, Will had seen his father only a half dozen times, and never on the reservation. They’d gone camping for a week in the mountains when he was twelve. That was his fondest memory of their time together. But now Will was about to spend the summer with him. He was looking forward to the stay, but he also felt apprehensive about it. His mother had never painted a pleasant picture of reservation life.
He would be working most of the time, he told himself. Maybe he’d even make up his mind about pursuing a career as a doctor. He wasn’t even sure whether his grades were good enough or whether he really wanted to be a doctor. An FBI agent was another possibility that he’d been secretly considering. But he still had another year of high school to decide.
He was jarred from his reverie as the pilot announced that the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign was on, and that they would be on the ground in Phoenix in twelve minutes. The landscape below him looked brown and bleak. Desert. He stuffed the map back into his backpack, and wondered if his father would be on time. They were supposed to meet at the airport, then tomorrow they would drive to Hopi country. His mother, who had lived five years on the reservation, had told him that Indians didn’t pay much attention to white man’s time, that the Hopi language didn’t even have a word for time, which meant they were usually late. His father had been late several times when he was supposed to meet him. But Will was never sure if it was because he was an Indian or a busy police officer.
The plane touched down and taxied to the gate. He slung his backpack over his shoulder as he exited the airplane and followed the ramp to the terminal. A few dozen people were waiting for passengers; he didn’t see his father among them. He walked out through the crowd and into the concourse. He stopped and looked back, thinking he may have missed him.
He spun around. “Dad!”
His father was an inch or two shorter than Will, and twenty pounds heavier. He and Will had the same dark, penetrating eyes and chiseled features. His father’s flowing hair fell over his ears and shirt collar. Will’s thick black thatch grew in short tufts on top and the sides were nearly shaved, a style popular on the football team.
Pete Lansa smiled and shook hands with his son. He wasn’t the sort of man who embraced other men, not even his son. “You’ve gotten bigger since I last saw you.”
“I guess so. But I’m still pretty small. I mean, compared to the other guys on the football team.”
Will couldn’t imagine what his father’s life had been like growing up on the reservation. His home had had a dirt floor, no electricity, and an outdoor toilet. He’d traveled eighty miles each way, to and from high school in a rickety bus. Yet, he’d won a track scholarship to the University of Northern Arizona, and after graduating with a degree in sociology, he’d gone on to attend the police academy His achievements were impressive, especially since he was the first Hopi to become chief of the tribal police.
“How was the trip?”
Will shrugged. “Okay. We flew over the Canyon de Chelly.” He made sure he pronounced it just like the pilot.
“It’s very beautiful. It’s a sacred Hopi place.”
“The map said it’s in the Navajo reservation.”
The way his father stared at him made him uncomfortable. “Navajos live there now, but it will always be a place of our ancestors.”
Our ancestors, Will thought. His and mine. He had always been proud of his Hopi blood, yet he had also thought of it as something from his past, not his present or future. It seemed almost novel to think of himself as Hopi
Most of the kids at school, in fact, thought he was from a rich Chicano family. When he told people he was of Hopi and German descent, they never knew what to say. It was as if he told them he was from another planet.
Except for Myra. She sat across from him in English class, and oddly enough it was his Hopi heritage that had brought them together. She’d visited the reservation the past summer and told him about the ceremonial dance she’d witnessed. It was beautiful, primitive, and mystical. But she was white and an outsider and, unlike him, could never have access to the Hopi’s innermost secrets, she’d said. His heritage was like a pass to another world, one which was ancient and mysterious. As Will had listened to her he’d realized that Myra knew more about Hopi people than he did. After that, he’d taken a renewed interest in the books his father had sent him and tried to recall everything he’d been told about Hopi life.
“I’ve got something for you.” Lansa handed Will a brown paper bag.
“What is it?”
He opened the bag, and took out a white T-shirt. A zigzag design, like he’d seen on Indian pottery, ran down from each shoulder and across the bottom. The black lettering across the chest read: DON’T WORRY, BE HOPI.
“I thought it would be appropriate,” Lansa said in a soft voice
Will stared at the shirt, then smiled broadly. “You got that right.”
They headed down the concourse, and Will felt better already. It was going to be a good summer.