The two-inch-long tarantula hawk wasp, blue-black metallic body with orange wings, grabbed a plate-sized tarantula by one of its hairy front legs, flipping it over in a split second. The large wasp carefully probed its victim’s abdomen then crawled onto the spider’s stomach. A few seconds later, the tarantula’s legs stopped moving.
The wasp sat atop its victim, drinking the viscous fluid oozing from the spider’s recent wound. A minute later, the tarantula hawk climbed back down onto the ground and began to drag the spider away by its abdomen from the location of the attack.
Lorelei Healy, psychic medium and paranormal investigator, watched within two feet of the surreal scene, her long blonde hair falling around her while she leaned in to observe.
“That’s only the beginning,” Joe said.
Lorelei jumped. Joe Luna, Native American shaman and FBI agent, approached from behind, intently watching the morbid play between insects unfold.
Ian’s son Paul, a very grown up eleven year old, walked around inside a ceremonial kiva, part of Cutthroat Castle group of ruins. The three of them had escaped to the Four Corners from Phoenix, each running from their own monsters and memories.
“The female tarantula hawk stung and paralyzed the tarantula. But that’s only the beginning. She’s going to take her victim back into her own burrow to lay a single egg on the spider’s body and seal her underground chamber. When the wasp larva hatches, it will rip a small hole in the spider’s abdomen, then plunge into its belly, feeding voraciously, yet avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep it fresh. After several weeks, the larva pupates. Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, and tears open the spider’s belly to get out.”
Joe looked over at Lorelei. His dark facial features serious, eyes fervid. “All while the tarantula is alive.”
The tarantula hawk continued to drag its victim toward a circular, partially collapsed stone tower, part of the Cutthroat Castle unit of ruins at Hovenweep National Monument in Colorado; one of six prehistoric Puebloan-era villages spread over a twenty-mile expanse of mesa tops and canyons along the Utah-Colorado border on a portion of the Great Sage Plain known as Cajon Mesa.
Lorelei thought of Shannon, who would have run screaming from the encounter with the arachnid. Shannon, Joe’s ex-girlfriend, had turned out to be a goddess of the Universe named Galiena. Shannon had forgotten her true identity on her many years on earth, until Mattie, Annie and Dagon had returned for her the same day of Lorelei and Ian’s wedding six months ago. None of them had gotten over losing her, especially Joe. He had planned on proposing to Shannon the very night Dagon returned for her.
Joe’s gaze became solemn as it diverted from pinion-juniper forest scattered throughout the ancestral Puebloan towers and kivas to the blue sky and cotton ball-like cumulus clouds. He must have been thinking about Shannon again. Perhaps hoping she might return.
Her husband Ian Healy, Wiccan, healer and paranormal investigator, placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder.
Joe turned and smiled. A half-hearted, forced smile.
Joe and Ian followed Lorelei from a partially collapsed round tower to Cutthroat Castle. A unit of ruins built on top of a boulder, with a circular tower in the center and two square buildings on either side. Smaller pueblos had been built underneath the shade of the massive boulder, surrounded by pinion, juniper and prehistoric rubble.
She knew most of these structures, located at Cajon Mesa in the northwest quadrant of the San Juan River Basin, were built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. A variety of shapes and sizes, including square and circular towers, D-shaped dwellings and many kivas, subterranean ceremonial chambers, abound throughout the various sections of the monument.
There were many theories regarding the use of the striking towers at Hovenweep, which archaeologists thought to be associated with kivas. Or they might have been celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage facilities, civil buildings, homes or any combination of the above.
Lorelei noticed Paul approach a two-foot-wide crack between two boulders on which Cutthroat Castle had been built. He stepped closer, staring down into the darkness. His gaze transfixed, Paul leaned forward, inch-by-inch.
Misty tendrils reached up from the darkness. The dark grey shape moved carefully, deliberately in the direction of Paul.
“Paul, be careful.” Ian raced out of one of the Cutthroat Castle structures to catch Paul before he could fall in.
The mass had formed fingers, grabbing for Paul’s arm. “Ian, hurry.”
The three of them were tied together in ways most people couldn’t imagine. Since Lorelei had been kidnapped by Paul’s stepfather, the trio had occasionally been able to communicate without being around each other. Paul had been trying to deny his dream reality and bizarre ties to Lorelei and Ian, but unfortunately, spirits didn’t care. This could be an attempt from the afterlife to connect with Paul.
Seeing through Paul’s eyes, Lorelei could see the rubble of remains below the boulder where Cutthroat Castle had been built. Ian removed his hand from her waist. A three-inch piece of pottery lay just outside the air intake. Dark orange lines extended the length of the potsherd. She recognized the object as a brilliant three-inch piece of Tsegi Orange-Ware pottery created by the Anasazi around A.D. 1050.
Breathless, Lorelei stood in front of the circular tower, opposite the crevasse where Paul stood. He stared intently into the dark aperture, trembling violently.
Paul wouldn’t move. Lorelei realized it wasn’t that he didn’t want to. He couldn’t move.
Ian approached him from behind and pulled him back to safety. “Hey, buddy. You need to be more careful. What are you picking up on?”
Lorelei threw her backpack on the ground and jumped across the split in the rock.
“Ian, something has a hold of him.” She tried to shake him out of his possessed state, but his body was stiff and unresponsive.
Paul’s eyes were wide, his body shook and his face was ghostly pale. Lorelei gazed into Paul’s eyes. They weren’t his usual brown. They were a dark green. And his eyes weren’t as round and bold as they should be.
“Oh, Paul,” she whispered. She gently took his hand in hers. A few seconds after she touched him, a brief but fierce breeze blew through her. She gasped. The force threw her toward the chasm where Paul had been staring.
Ian grabbed for her. She desperately reached out, but something pulled her backward. She could feel arms around her waist as she slid through the mysterious aperture of Cutthroat Castle.
The last thing Lorelei noticed before she lost sight of Paul, Ian and the ruins of Cutthroat Castle was Paul’s eyes had transformed back to beautiful, big and brown.
* * *
“Dad!” Paul screamed, as Lorelei vanished from his view.
“I saw! Get away from here!”
Paul ran past the round tower and another small pueblo next to it. His father took a big leap off the Cutthroat Castle boulder.
Ian and Paul raced around the bottom of the boulder where Lorelei had fallen, but she wasn’t there. They both looked around frantically.
Joe quickly ran into the remnants of a tiny pueblo under Cutthroat Castle. He came out a few seconds later, throwing his hands in the air.
“Where the hell could she be?” Sweat accumulated on Ian’s forehead. His shaky right hand wiped it off in frustration as he slipped between the two boulders. “She fell right here.”
Ian hugged Paul fiercely and placed firm hands on either side of Paul’s shoulders. “I’m so glad you’re all right. But I need to know. What did you see down in the crevice?”
Paul could see the tendrils reaching for him and hear the whispers emanating from the opening between boulders. Yet he couldn’t react or move away.
“I didn’t see anything. One minute I was looking around, and the next I felt totally different, like someone else. Dad, I’m sorry!”
Paul knew Lorelei attracted many spirits, both bad and good. He wondered if a spirit from the other side wanted to lure him to get to Lorelei. Or if it could have something to do with Peter and his mother. Even though they were no longer of this world, could they somehow be trying to obtain revenge because Lorelei had a big part in ending Peter and Emily’s plan to steal Lorelei’s powers?
Paul glanced up at his father. He couldn’t bear the thought of Lorelei disappearing again and he knew his dad wouldn’t be able to either. And it would be Paul’s fault.
Joe shook his head and placed his hand around Ian’s arm. “Let’s look around the rest of the ruins.” Joe slipped through the opening that had transfixed Paul and taken Lorelei.
Paul knew Joe was using his shaman abilities to try to get a sense of what might have happened to Lorelei. His father held Paul close to him; so close Paul could feel his father’s desperate heartbeat.
A few minutes later, Joe re-emerged, brushing dirt and debris off his jeans. He slowly stood up and turned to face them.
“I’m picking up on a rather strong sense of desperation. Someone wanted attention and if they couldn’t get it from Paul, they were going to steal Lorelei. I have no idea where she’s gone though.”
“What?” Ian yelled. “She has to be somewhere.”
“I don’t know.” Joe removed his cowboy hat with a turquoise bolo tie on the front. “Someone, or something, has taken her on a journey to another plane.”