A routine archaeological excavation of an ancient Native American site goes horribly wrong when a tribal elder is assaulted. The attack uncovers tampering and thefts from the dig, escalating the growing mistrust between the tribe and the archaeologists.
When the tribe hires private investigator Killian Kendall to look into the thefts, they're hoping to settle the matter quickly and peacefully. All hopes for a simple resolution are dashed when the lead archaeologist is found murdered...and a tribe member is the chief suspect. Suddenly, Killian's investigation is a matter of life and death.
To complicate matters, the spirits of those who once dwelled on the land are furious at being disturbed, and they have very real ways of manifesting their anger. Killian isn't just facing danger from the living, but also the dead.
"The dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds."
The spirits were restless.
And that meant so was he. He shifted uncomfortably in his bed and wished for the first time in his life that he wasn't quite so sensitive. Ever since the excavation began, he'd had trouble sleeping.
Finally, as he had every other night for the past several weeks, he gave up with a beleaguered sigh and turned on the light next to his bed. He stuffed the extra pillows behind his back to prop himself up and reached blindly into the stack of books on his nightstand. Drawing one out, he smiled at his seemingly random choice.
He firmly believed that very little happened by chance. He was certain there was a reason he'd chosen an old favorite: a worn, faded, out-of-print copy of Touch the Earth. It was a simple collection of speeches, letters, and quotes from Native Americans -- some famous, some anonymous. He was pretty sure he knew why he'd picked it, since it harbored a very appropriate speech within its covers. He flipped to the correct page with a familiarity that spoke of many repeated readings. After a moment's thought, he began to read aloud the words attributed to Si'ahl, known to Americans as Chief Seattle:
"To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred, and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors -- the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.
"Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant-lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely-hearted living and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.
"And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth, there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.
"Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds."
He closed the book and set it aside thoughtfully. He realized there was controversy about what Chief Seattle actually said in his speech given in 1854 in the Salish language. He didn't care. His heart told him that Chief Seattle was guiding the various later embellishments made by poets and writers. It was still one of his favorite passages in the book. He usually found great comfort in its words.
Not that night, however.
He looked over at the stack of books by the bed and thought about selecting another one, but he knew it was no use. He was much too distracted. The spirits were even more restless than usual. He could almost feel them pulling at him, tugging at the sleeve of his pajama shirt.
Heaving another sigh, he climbed stiffly out of bed. He wouldn't be able to rest until he'd checked on the excavation site. He pulled on a pair of jeans over his pajama bottoms and opened his bedroom door.
As he passed his grandson's bedroom, he stopped to peek in. The boy slept peacefully, just as the old man had expected. While the youngster had many strong gifts, empathy perhaps being one of his strongest, he had little sensitivity to the spirits. His grandfather often wondered if things would have been different had the boy been raised within his culture, showing more respect toward his ancestors. There was no point speculating, however. What's done is done, and everything happens for a reason, he reminded himself.
He moved away from the bedroom and let himself out of the house, grabbing a flashlight as he went. There was a new moon that night, and he thought he might need the light.
As he stepped outside and took a deep breath of the summer night air, he decided a nice walk wasn't such a bad idea. A little exercise might be just what he needed to drop off to sleep. He smiled as a warm breeze played its fingers through his long hair, which he had released from its usual braid before bed. The stubborn winter finally seemed to be admitting defeat, and the unpredictable Maryland weather was settling directly into summer. Spring had been largely skipped, as so often seemed to happen in those parts.
He set off into the forest in the direction of the dig site. Fortunately, the night was a fair one, because the only way to reach the site was on foot. If it had been raining, the task would have been much less pleasant. Walking briskly, he could have gotten there in roughly fifteen minutes. It took him nearly twice as long because he didn't hurry anymore. Hurrying was for young people, and he most certainly was no longer young. He chuckled to himself. They didn't call him a tribal elder for nothing.
His smile faded as he neared the site. The spirits were definitely agitated. He could feel it ever more strongly the closer he got. He slowed, suddenly wary. He couldn't imagine what could be stirring them up so.
As he stepped into the small clearing the archaeologists had created, he stopped in his tracks. Something was wrong. The white tarp they used to cover the pits at night was flapping in the breeze. He knew the students were very careful when they left for the weekend. Someone had been there, someone who had no business being there in the middle of the night. A vandal? No wonder his ancestors were troubled.
He took another step into the site when suddenly he sensed alarm, a faint warning from the spirits. Before he had time to understand, he heard the slight sound of a footstep behind him. He started to turn, but it was too late. Something hard struck him in the side of the head, causing his vision to explode in a burst of agony. He fell heavily to the ground, the flashlight bouncing away. He tried to raise himself enough to get a look at his assailant, but a sudden pain in his chest forced him back to the ground. He heard his unseen attacker pounding away in retreat. When the pain began radiating down his left arm, he knew what was happening, though he was powerless to stop it. He'd had a heart attack before.
So this is where I die, he thought sadly as the spirits drew close to him. I have so much more I want to do. I'm not ready to change worlds.