Quachi (a short story, part 1)


Note: This story was inspired by a documentary about the ancient monuments of Peru.  The archaeologists could not understand why the people simply abandoned their great cities and religious centers.  They offered several possible answers, and this story is my answer.


Father held his head high as he proudly led his family up the rocky path to the plateau where the sanctuary stood.  All of them – his wife, three sons and three daughters – carried offerings for the nobles.  Each year in the season of offering, they brought their gifts, and each year in the season they prayed for the Great Quachi to play his flute and grant them the gift of rain.


The rain must return.  When it had rained, ten seasons past, the vicious torrent had torn long gouges into the earth with its claws.  The farms of the high plain needed gentle rain to fill their canals.  Father’s youngest son never had seen the rain.


On the shore stood cliffs filled with the shells of dead creatures that had suddenly found themselves lifted out of the sea by the uplifting of the earth.  The family farm would soon be a dead shell, as well.


Father looked back now and then, to make certain that his family stayed together and maintained a respectful silence in this most holy of places.  He worried about his youngest son, Tlati, who had let the llama bolt and run last year.  That must not happen this time.  They must see the Great Quachi.


Tlati led the llama colt by a fiber rope looped around its neck and tied around its nose, while his older brothers carried sacks of corn, melons and other fruits to offer to the Lords of the nation.  They had walked this maze before, making the annual pilgrimage to the high plateau of Perqat Namu on the western edge of the Terraced Mountains and entering the packed dirt path between mud brick walls that rose twice as high as their heads.  The path through the maze started out wide and open to the air, then narrowed as the walls closed in, finally coming to the part where they must walk single-file in the darkness under a thatch roof.  It felt good to be walking, after waiting for two weeks in makeshift tents on the beach by the Great Ocean for their turn to approach the Lords.  Other families still dotted the sand with their temporary encampments.  They littered the sand with the detritus of daily life:  fish bones, potsherds, corn husks, broken toys, scraps of discarded clothing and such.  The beach stunk of dead fish and cooking fires.


Every year they offered their corn to the Lord of the Fields, their melons to the Lord of the Gardens, and so forth, finally offering one young llama of perfect conformation and without blemish to the Lord of Livestock.  The llama must be less than one year old and raised in their house as a member of the family.  Every year they were turned back without having seen the Great Quachi at the center of the maze, their offerings having fallen short of perfection.  This was Tlati’s second year of pilgrimage, but he knew of years before from the stories that his three older brothers told.


Father never told stories.  He led them through the maze in silence, maintaining an air of authority over his family, turning around to shush them with a stern look if they dared to whisper in this most holy of shrines.  His two oldest boys carried the gifts of corn and melons.  His youngest son, as was the custom, led the llama colt.  Behind the line of men came the women, their mother and three sisters, carrying household goods to offer to the Lords:  hand-woven textiles of the finest wool and most precious colors, clay pots filled with delicacies of bean curd and llama stew, rough gemstones and small common stones carved with blessings and prayers.


The family hoped, with these offerings, to reach the center of the maze and petition the Great Quachi for the gift of rain.  Their canals had been running dry too soon, their fields scorching under the harsh sun, their crops shriveling and yielding fewer and smaller fruits each season.  Each year they dug the canals anew to better carry the scant rainfall.  Each year they brought the best of their produce, their finest handicrafts and their most perfect young llama as offerings to seek admittance that they might implore the Great Quachi to play his flute and, in so doing, to cause the sky to yield up rain.  Each year they were turned back, disappointed but determined to try again next year, when the season of pilgrimage came around again.


Dust swirled around Tlati’s bare feet with each step he took.  The llama, raised in their own house as a member of their family, walked by his side like a little brother, making the rope seem superfluous.  He kept a tight grip on his end of the rope, nevertheless, remembering last year when the llama had balked.  This llama would also try to run away, Father had warned him.  They always do.  Tlati resolved in his heart that he would not disappoint Father again.  They must see the Great Quachi.  They must have rain.


to be continued . . . quachi1