Guardian of the Hills

 

Open Road Media 2015
(first published by Morrow Junior Books, 1995)

Ebook: $7.99
ISBN: 9781497697591

Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / iTunes / IndieBound

 

A young girl in Depression-era Arkansas discovers her Native American heritage when a series of strange and troubling spiritual events plague an archaeological excavation on sacred lands.

The mounds have stood for centuries, holy ground for the Quapaw Indians of rural Arkansas. Pamela and her mother, left destitute by the Great Depression and forced to move in with Pamela’s well-to-do grandfather, are newcomers to the small town of Flat Hills. Ostracized by her high school classmates because of her Quapaw heritage—a culture she knows nothing about—the quiet, sad teenager silently wishes they had never come to this place. But while wandering alone through the countryside, she stumbles across the sacred hills and discovers an ancient artifact that fires up her grandfather’s archaeological fervor. Soon a crew moves in to excavate, ignoring the objections of the local Native population, and Pamela begins to experience nightmares and terrible visions as an ancient evil reaches out from beneath the disturbed hallowed ground.

When a string of inexplicable accidents befall the workers at the digging site, and thousands of crows gather ominously at its edges, a young girl who has always been kept sheltered from her family’s past will have to make the most difficult decision of her life and embrace the strange and powerful destiny that she never dreamed could be hers.

An ingenious blend of historical fiction and dark fantasy, Guardian of the Hills is a page-turning coming-of-age tale that thrills and chills in equal measure.

 


PRAISE

- A 1996 New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age -

- A 1997-98 South Carolina. Association of School Librarians Junior Book Award Nominee -

Mysterious dreams, suspense-filled legends, the terror that unfolds as the dig ensues, and the fine characterizations weave together beautifully to make this adventure fantasy a winner.
- Booklist (starred review) -

The intricately devised tale falls into place like the pieces of the ancient mosaic Pamela finds, to complete a satisfying picture.
- Horn Book -

A swiftly paced drama about the clash between science and myth, and the mixture of burden and fulfillment that accompanies accepting one’s past.
- Kirkus -

A fully realized, almost Gothic setting breathes life into the mythic underpinnings of this coming-of-age novel.
- San Antonio Express-News -


EXCERPT

Pamela realized that the woods had ended. She’d come to the crest of a hill overlooking a great bowl-shaped valley.

Original William Morrow Cover

At its lowest point, the valley cupped five very odd-looking hills: One large, central hill, with four smaller ones ranged around it at more or less equal distances. All poked unnaturally out of the ground as if a giant hand had placed them there. Their tops were perfectly flat. The silver-green grass that tangled their slopes could not disguise the strange regularity of their shapes, suggestive of truncated pyramids.

Pamela felt a stirring of interest. This couldn’t be a natural formation–though if not, she had no idea what else it might be.

She began to descend into the valley, the sleepy song of the crickets falling away behind her. It was farther than it looked, and tough going–the remains of last year’s vegetation were matted in tussocks beneath the new growth, and there were many stones and hidden brambles. As she progressed, the hills lost some of the geometry that distance had lent them. She could see that they were textured by water erosion, their sloping planes bumpy and uneven.

She skirted the smaller hills and approached the one in the center. One side seemed to extend outward, less steep, almost like a ramp.

Accepting the challenge, Pamela began to climb. The hill hadn’t looked so very tall from far away, but soon she was panting and running with sweat. She stopped and looked up. Why am I doing this? But an odd stubbornness would not let her give in.

She came upon the top abruptly, like reaching the landing at the top of a flight of stairs. It had been worth the work: She could see the entire valley, which from this vantage looked more than ever like a great grassy bowl. The trees were a solid mass ringing the valley’s rim; the springy grass, pressed down by her feet, had already risen up to hide all signs of her passage. Seen from above, the pyramidal shape of the smaller hills was very evident, and the symmetrical way they flanked the central hill. It was impossible that such a formation had occurred naturally. Somehow, these hills had been deliberately created. But why? And by whom?

The air was still, and very quiet–a peculiar silence, heavy, as if someone had stopped up Pamela’s ears. She was tired: she couldn’t remember the last time she had walked so far. She crossed to the middle of the hill and stretched out on her back, hooking one arm across her face to shield her eyes from the sun. The heat was so intense that it seemed actually to be pressing her into the ground. I’ll get sunburn, she thought, but the thought drifted away on a tide of sleep.

Pamela dreamed.

She was in a large place, a vast flat area like the hilltop. A massive building rose at one end. It was night: torches burned on posts thrust into the ground, forming an avenue of light that led from where she stood to the foot of the great structure. Someone was approaching along the avenue, walking at a measured pace: A man, his face hidden by a strange beaked mask. He was a stranger, yet Pamela had the impression that he knew her. A broad gold band on his left arm caught the torchlight.

In the dream Pamela tensed, ready to flee. But the man halted well before he reached her, regarding her through the mask. Pamela felt something–a pressure, a stretching–

With a start she opened her eyes. She had the impression that she’d heard something–a noise? a voice?–but now there was nothing but the strange, dense silence. She sat up. She couldn’t have been asleep for more than a few minutes; the angle of the sun was unchanged. The heat spilled over her like honey. The short grass shimmered, the air was opalescent, and the whole world was bright and still, suspended in the glowing amber of the heat.

Pamela turned her head. Something flashed. A little distance away lay a lump of rock, strewn with glittering flecks of mica. She tilted her head again; brilliance rippled across the surface of the rock–too bright, blinding. She squeezed her eyes closed, and still the flecks danced across her vision, burning in the dark behind her lids.

#

Much later, Pamela opened her eyes again. She was lying on her side, one arm folded uncomfortably beneath her. The sun had sunk quite a distance toward the horizon. She felt a sudden alarm. How long had she been asleep?

She was on her feet before she realized that there was something heavy in her hand. Looking down, she saw that she held a chunk of mica-glittering rock. It was roughly square, about six inches across, incised with a design that ran off its edges, as if it had once been part of something larger. She squinted at the curving lines, trying to interpret them. They came clear all at once, and she realized that they represented birds: a line of birds with sharp beaks, marching across the surface of the stone.

She put her free hand to her forehead, feeling lightheaded, as if she hadn’t fully woken. She was sure she’d dreamed the rock, along with the masked man and the torches…but here it was, in her hand. How had it gotten there? She couldn’t remember picking it up. For that matter, she couldn’t remember seeing it when she walked across the hill.

She tilted it so that the mica caught the light of the setting sun. It was very, very old; she knew this with the same instinct that had told her of the oldness of the hills. It, and they, came from a time that had nothing to do with her own.

Pamela’s skin prickled. The light had changed with the approach of evening, deepening to gold, laying an ocher tint across the grass. The air was weighted, electric, as if a storm were coming. The ground under her feet seemed to vibrate.

Quickly Pamela crossed to the edge of the hill and began descend the ramp, sliding and stumbling in her haste. The lengthening shadows of the smaller hills seemed to catch at her feet; she was almost running as she passed them. Panting, she mounted the slope of the valley, looking for the break in the trees that marked the path that had brought her here. Gratefully she plunged into the woods.

Some distance down the path she had to stop for breath, one hand pressed against the stitch in her side. A gust of wind stirred the undergrowth. A twig snapped. The wind died, but the stirring continued, as if something big were moving amid the vegetation.

Transfixed, Pamela stared at the endlessly replicating curtain of leaves that surrounded her. Each time she looked toward where she thought the sound originated, it seemed to jump elsewhere.

She gasped, and began to run. She ran until she could hear only the sound of her own feet on the path, her own body displacing leaves and branches. Still she thought the rustling followed, and, clutching the stone she’d found as if it were a weapon, she blundered through the woods, her breath burning in her chest. She burst at last through the final rank of trees and found herself in her own back yard.

Safe now in the world she knew, she stopped and turned. She could hear nothing, see nothing but the dense and faceless trees. Whatever it was had gone.

Much later, Pamela opened her eyes again. She was lying on her side, one arm folded uncomfortably beneath her. The sun had sunk quite a distance toward the horizon. She felt  a sudden alarm. How long had she been asleep?

She was on her feet before she realized that there was something heavy in her hand. Looking down, she saw that she held a chunk of mica-glittering rock. It was roughly square, about six inches across, incised with a design that ran off its edges, as if it had once been part of something larger. She squinted at the curving lines, trying to interpret them. They came clear all at once, and she realized that they represented birds: a line of birds with sharp beaks, marching across the surface of the stone.

She put her free hand to her forehead, feeling lightheaded, as if she hadn’t fully woken. She was sure she’d dreamed the rock, along with the masked man and the torches…but here it was, in her hand. How had it gotten there? She couldn’t remember picking it up. For that matter, she couldn’t remember seeing it when she walked across the hill.

She tilted it so that the mica caught the light of the setting sun. It was very, very old; she knew this with the same instinct that had told her of the oldness of the hills. It, and they, came from a time that had nothing to do with her own.

Pamela’s skin prickled. The light had changed with the approach of evening, deepening to gold, laying an ocher tint across the grass. The air was weighted, electric, as if a storm were coming. The ground under her feet seemed to vibrate.

Quickly Pamela crossed to the edge of the hill and began descend the ramp, sliding and stumbling in her haste. The lengthening shadows of the smaller hills seemed to catch at her feet; she was almost running as she passed them. Panting, she mounted the slope of the valley, looking for the break in the trees that marked the path that had brought her here. Gratefully she plunged into the woods.

Some distance down the path she had to stop for breath, one hand pressed against the stitch in her side. A gust of wind stirred the undergrowth. A twig snapped. The wind died, but the stirring continued, as if something big were moving amid the vegetation.

Transfixed, Pamela stared at the endlessly replicating curtain of leaves that surrounded her. Each time she looked toward where she thought the sound originated, it seemed to jump elsewhere.

She gasped, and began to run. She ran until she could hear only the sound of her own feet on the path, her own body displacing leaves and branches. Still she thought the rustling followed, and, clutching the stone she’d found as if it were a weapon, she blundered through the woods, her breath burning in her chest. She burst at last through the final rank of trees and found herself in her own back yard.

Safe now in the world she knew, she stopped and turned. She could hear nothing, see nothing but the dense and faceless trees. Whatever it was had gone.


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