Copper walked out of the jungle into the circle of firelight and rhythm: an emergence that echoed the story of her life. She stood at the edge of the pounding drummers and girls swirling around the bonfire, holding her hands behind her back but weaving to the deep tattoo of congas and djembes. Steven looked up from trying to keep his crisp Senegalese djembe rhythm aloof from the chaotic hippy “dope beats” and saw her standing there, head tilted forward to strafe him with that seductive half-smile from under the spillgate gush of flame-colored hair. And thought; Uh, oh.

She wove her way through the circle of dancers: post-Deadhead hippies swirling dreamy in clouds of white gauze, Euro clubbers pogo-ing in tubetops and mini-wraps, two athletic Oz chicks joyously stomping, colorful sarongs twirling like petals. She came right up to the wall of drums, leaned in over his sunfishing hands, and yelled, “You think of Palenque, what do you think of?”

“Ticks? Leeches?”

Paco, whamming away on a set of three congas, yelled, “Cockfights!”

Disgusting. After all she’d gone through to find these things. She held out her hands, heaped with fresh-picked Psilocybe Cubensis, then screamed, “Shrooms, you moron!”

She dumped the sacred mushrooms into the fanny pack riding low across her tight belly and slammed her hands onto the two closest drumheads, popping out a pattern of contra-rhythmic dissonance she’d picked up from Kenyan drum master she’d had a fling with in Santa Cruz. The dancers faltered, the drummers stuttered and stopped, confused as to why their beats weren’t working out.

Livid, her coppery mane seething with fireglow, she screamed at Steven in the impactive silence. “We’re here in Palenque, you putz! In the shadows of Mayan wonders. We’re surrounded by shroom vibe and you don’t get a clue.”

She sneered at the long-suffering Steven and spun around to dress down the dancers and assorted flautists and didgeridudes. “You should be swarmed over with hongos here, for shit sakes. The people who built these temples were shroom-heads: you can feel that in a second. Just look at those carvings and shit: stone cartoons for people tripping. Zap Comix for Mayaholics. Get with the program, you… drones.”

She turned back to Steven, washed over with the realization: What am I doing, hanging with this eunuch? She strode over to her pack and grabbed her chains, then flashed back to the circle of drummers and embarrassment. She stepped up to lean on his drum, right in his face. “By the way. I’m out of here, you clueless dork.”

Steven shrugged, “How you gonna dance with no drummer?”

She held out her hands again, but this time each held a charred ball of Kevlar cuffed to her wrists with two feet of chain. “I don’t dance to music, dickhead. I dance to fire.”

She stepped back, brushing through the dancers, almost into the flames. She extended her hands over them and leaned her head back, eyes closed. Invoking the closest thing she had to a religion, the cosmic circles of blaze. Then she turned her hands over and the balls fell into the fire, the white gasoline they were soaked with immediately turning them into crackling comets. She turned and her two fireballs swung around her: Deimos and Phobos sizzling out tight orbits of streaking light. Blurring into arcs around her as she danced, sheltering and exalting her in a red-orange sphere of hot light.

The drummers started up again, as if on command, and she moved smoothly into the shifting polyrhythms. Several of the drummers grinned at her. You go, girl. The dancers also swung back into motion, but outside the hot circle her dance carved around her.

She stalked out of the thatch lean-to wearing her road warrior drag: Doc Martins and jeans, big old backpack slung over both shoulders, liter bottle of gasoline dangling behind. Ah, shit, Steven thought, standing up and brushing off the remains of the green tamales he’d just had for breakfast. Another one rides the bus.

“Yo, Coppertop,” he called out, moving to intercept her as she moved out of the encampment and towards the village and highway. “Hey, thought we were going to do some shrooms.”

“Wasted on you,” she snapped, obviously in no sort of kiss and make up mode. “I’m going sola, asshola.”

“Where?”

“The coast. Make some money for a change. Meet a better class of drummer.”

“Meet the class of veterinarian who’ll sell you enough Ketamine to veg you out again.”

She nodded grimly, continuing to stride up the path. “Vitamin K deficiency; you bet. But also need a cash transfusion. And a man who can keep a beat and swing his meat.”

“Oh, dick is a big priority for you now?”

She stopped and turned on him, her simmer breaking into open fire. “No, but a man is! You know, human male? I’ve been carrying our busking, and I’ve been carrying the whole relationship. Making all the decisions, dealing with all the crises while you space out. I’m sick of having to be the macho around here. Now get out of my way before I slap you and make you cry.”

That pretty well did it. He recoiled and slunk off, bitterly aware that he was proving her point. She turned back towards the highway and ran into Paco, a hammy sad look on his broad indio face. “Copper!” he said as if deeply wounded, “Where do you go?”

She leaned in for a quick peck on his cheek, avoiding any further contact he might have in mind. He was another one who’d seen her as being essentially bereft of proper male company and had offered to remedy that lack, do his part to serve her pale flesh, fiery crest, and tigrish moves. “To a Caribbean island,” she said brightly.

“You having that much money?” Paco asked with more than passing interest.

“No need,” she called over her shoulder as she continued to hit the dusty trail. “I know the guy who built it.”

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“The fascinating part of the calendar is what nobody seems to care about. August 13, 3114. Before Christ, like he had anything to do with it. How many peoples have an opening date?”

Winston was wound up, lolling crossways in his matrimonial-sized henequen hammock, tripping his brains out and just dying to share it all. As he usually did, he rocked back and forth in the hammock, each swing bringing the tip of his toe to a bamboo pillar where it could propel his next rock with a mere flick. Beyond that, each swing slightly flexed the hammock’s stanchions, which also supported most of the palm thatch palapa that provided shade and shelter on his handbuilt floating island. It was like a combination, he’d said, of a soveriegn country and a waterbed.

“So let’s look around the world of the times, where dates are a little sloppier, but more historically sanctified. The first Egyptian dynasty circa 3100, “Uruk” the first city of Mesopotamia about the same time, though nobody claims they found the cornerstone. Kali Yuga in India, 3102. It was a time of beginnings all over the world. And you can trace them through the ages of fire, earth, air and water. And now we’re looking at the age of ether, the Fifth Sun, the Age of Center.

“Your people didn’t just do things when it looked good, you see. They timed it all out to the stars and Milky Way. Channel islands of the Pleiades, where they claim your people came from. Our system aligns with Alcyone in the Pleiades every 52 years, the exact length of the Calendar Round. You’re a race of astronauts, illegal aliens.”

For once he wasn’t raving to himself, though it’s uncertain how often he knew the difference. He was taking this particular info-dump on the girl who squatted naked at the edge of the raft, staring down into the water. Which was quite a sight for anyone who cared to stare instead of blathering about crypto-archeology: little breasts as spherical as stone temple houris in India, Chinatown cheekbones, matte skin the color of cinnamon sugar, and sleek black hair so long it brushed the floor every time she shifted her delectable ass (which was the only time it ever got swept).

Her name was XChab and she was as Mayan as they come: he’d found her selling cheap Chilangoware shell jewelry on the beach dressed in a village huipil, tapestry tied around her hips, and about three kilos of braids piled up on her head. Which she considered her working outfit. She’d much rather wear retro-slut black drag with Doc Martins and a buzzcut because she was a ponk at heart—a ponkita, actually, since she was drastically underage. But the only ticket out that had punched her so far was this old hippie, who liked her to wear her hair down and mostly nothing at all, which was fine with her. Anything to quit being Maya village people.

Although she was entertaining doubts about stranding herself on this crazy raft with this pendejo. What her mother would call me’ex ‘áak. What did he do all day? Smoked mota, which nobody did but low class losers, and get crazy on hongos, which nobody did but psychos and gringos. Well, he was a gringo, more of less. So why did he like that jungle shit instead of having some coca, or better yet, crack? She had only heard of crack, but lusted for a taste because the name itself just sounded so very, very bad. Which is to say, of course, good.

She stood up smoothly, though she’d been squatting on her heels for over an hour. She gazed at Winston Bacon, ranting on the bed, and shifted her weight just enough to give her pose a sexual tilt. She rocked her head forward, then shook it, her hair slithering around to hang in front of her the way he liked, her nipples staring out as round and black and beckoning as her eyes. She lowered her brow and stared at him from under her silken lashes, wetting her lips slightly. She said, “Hey, Winston, why don’t you shut up with that crazy Indio shit?”

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