It was Nemontemi, the last week of the year, the unlucky days, and Naylay washed the corpse of an old man with a rag and a bowl of water by the light of the evening fire.
"You should not be working," said Chimalma, Naylay's grandmother.
"The body will not wait for the new year," said Naylay. She stroked the man's forehead with her long, workworn fingers.
"Mmmn," said Chimalma, pulling her blanket more snugly about her. "This is true, but don't let the priest catch you."
"This man lived a long life," said Naylay. She examined the wrinkles on his face. "I wonder what his life was like. Was he a good man? Was he just? We know he had children since they brought him to us, but was he loved?"
"We do not get paid to speculate. That is just a body. His spirit is on a journey with Xolotl to Mictlan now. How he lived his life is not our concern."
Naylay sat down on the floor next to the body and became silent.
"You are bothered," said Chimalma. "Your visions--"
"No," said Naylay.
Chimalma rose and poked a stick into the fire to stir it up.
"Don't said Naylay, turning away.
"You must face your fears, child," said Chimalma. "Come, turn to the fire. Gaze into it. Tell me again of the future."
"Grandmother, it is not right. I am not trained, I have not gone to the Telpochcalli...and I do not want that life." It all came out in a fast monotone, like she had rehearsed it in her head a thousand times.
Chimalma shuffled to her granddaughter and put her arm around her. She smiled.
"I know, you have doubts. You reject the Gods, you pine for the visions you have seen. I do not judge you for this, but you and I both know it must be kept a secret."
"Then why do you press me to have more?" Naylay's voice cracked and she looked forlorn.
"Because I have my doubts too. Why should a thousand slaves die to appease one God on one day? Why must we let out blood during the festivals? The priests tell us that rebirth can only come at the cost of death, and that the plants will stop growing, that babies will not be born, if there are no sacrifices. And yet in your dreams of the future, there is no sacrifice like that. You spoke of vast cities with many millions of souls, in strange clothes, with light their slave, living in the underworld on the other side of the Earth, and beyond even the upper worlds. And there are no Gods among them."
Naylay put her hand on her grandmother's and squeezed. She lay her cheek against the rough fabric of Chimalma's tunic and breathed in her scent.
"You believe my visions more than me," she said quietly.
"I am not quite there," said Chimalma. "I want to believe. I want to know there is another way, even if your visions aren't real."
"But there is nothing we can do to change anything," said Naylay. "It is pointless."
"It is hope, and maybe that is enough," said Chimalma. She stroked Naylay's hair. "Gaze into the fire Naylay, and tell me what you see."
Naylay closed her eyes, trying to push away the decision, but she opened them and looked directly into the fire. She watched the wavering flames, and noted how they moved like a fine fabric in the breeze, then mind began to burn. Her sight turned to black.
"It's...started," she intoned breathily. Her extremities became numb, and the sounds around her became muted, like she had slipped quietly into a cold, still lake. She began to see colors. Then faces. They each looked at her as if they were looking into a mirror, and Naylay knew she was in each of them, seeing what they say. There were thousands, and Naylay riffled through them like a handful of dried leaves. "When..." she whispered.
"A hundred years from now," said Chimalma, her voice distorted.
Naylay sought out a suitable face. It was a man with yellow hair. Naylay paused to take in the scene he was experiencing, before describing it to her grandmother.
"He is a priest," she said. "Not like ours. This is a new kind. He bears carved wood and wears a long skirt. He attends to the diseased and dying. He pities them, but he also thinks they are shameful. They are people like us."
"Five hundred years," said Chimalma.
Naylay drew back from the man with yellow hair, and searched through the leaves to find another face, a girl child.
"It is cold," said Naylay, "desperately cold, and it's happened in a matter of hours. This one will die, I can tell. She was with other children, away from her family. She was sent home because of the cold, and walks alone across a desolate plain. She is terribly frightened. She hopes to see a...it is a black shape that roars and conveys people like a horse. She is hoping to see that so that she can get out of the cold."
"One thousand years," said Chimalma.
Naylay searched again. The number of faces available increased, and it took her longer to reach the faces from a thousand years hence, but she finally settled on a young woman of her age.
"Oh," she said, her eyes widening. "She is not on Earth."
"Beyond the upper worlds?" asked Chimalma.
"I do not know. She sees the stars. She is making a map of the stars, but the map moves. She is finding a path. Each of the stars pulls, and she wants to find the safest path through the stars. I don't understand, but the map folds--no, no the map. I can see it in her head, but I don't know what it means. There are others with her. There is some urgency. There is a war. They convey supplies."
"Look further," said Chimalma.
"How far?" asked Naylay.
Chimalma did not immediately respond, and Naylay continued to watch from inside the young woman's face.
"All the way to the end," said Chimalma.
Naylay snapped out of the young woman and into the dark again. She felt her own face tingle with fear.
"I do not know when that is," she said.
"Search," said Chimalma. "Find the end."
"Is that wise? Should we know that?"
"I want to know how it ends," said Chimalma. "How does the story end?"
Naylay felt angry, but her own curiosity was strong. Knowing she would not be alone with the knowledge of the end pushed her into a decision. She pulled back towards the colors and they resolved into faces again.
"There are so many people," she said as she moved through them. "Millions, and I know I only see a fraction of all those who live. I wish I could see those in the past as well."
"You would have to see inside Mictlan for that," said Chimalma.
"But what if there is no Mictlan?" said Naylay, feeling herself slow down with the distraction.
"Keep going. When are you now?"
"Forty centuries, I think. There are so, so many. Oh no, oh."
"There was a massive war. So many deaths. So much despair. Even whole stars were casualties. But the numbers are rising again. Yes. There are many wars now. They stretch on, in strange places."
"Keep going," said Chimalma.
"There are more and more, there are...loops. Strange loops. And there are people who travel them. The faces are changing. There are many different kinds now. Different colors, writing. Some have scales like reptiles. The faces stretch...through time now. They live lives longer than the trees. They carry their wisdom beside them now, in jars. Very small jars, but they are so wise. The wars are diminishing. The enemy is gone. Ignorance is gone. There are such multitudes spread out across the sky, to every corner."
"When are you?"
"Millions of years now," said Naylay, her voice slurring. "It's harder. They look at me. The faces look at me. They know I am here. They all know I am here," she became frantic and spoke quickly, "they see me, they see into me--they...they're..."
"What are they doing Naylay?"
"They're using me," said Naylay flatly. "I am their instrument."
"For what?" asked Chimalma.
"To see the past. I am Mictlan," she sat quietly and calmly. Chimalma watched her intensely. "The Gods reside in the future, and they are our descendants." Naylay smiled. "They tell me not to think of them as Gods. They tell me to not be afraid. Should I go further?"
"Yes," said Chimalma, licking her lips.
"The faces are still many but they are fading. They have changed from us so much. They are like points of light now. They speak and chatter...the noise...it's like birds in a roosting tree in the forest. So many voices in each of them. They talk of preparing something, of remaking the world. No! Oh no. There is only one now, and it is long. No, it is alright. This was planned. A consolidation. I am being pulled along. It contains the whole history. Everything that will and has happened. It is like a box, storage. When it is opened, the world will be new. I am being asked to reach out. I will be the one. I am trying...the box is fading. I cannot...I am not fast enough--"
"Reach!" screamed Chimalma.
"I-I...I have touched it! It is opening, unfolding...oh! I--"
Naylay stood up with a start, her eyes wide. She stumbled towards the door and vomited outside. She panted and tried to calm her breath.
"What did you see?" asked Chimalma.
"It was no something to be seen," said Naylay.
"Then it was a terrible thing," said Chimalma gravely.
"No," said Naylay. She stepped back into the room and sat down again next to Chimalma. "It was a beautiful thing. I just meant it was not something that I saw. It was something I...experienced. I don't think I will be able to have visions again."
"It has taken away your gift?"
"No. It has taken away my doubts." Naylay smiled.
Chimalma smiled back.
"It is just as well. We have committed heresy," she said. "But very interesting heresy." They both laughed.
Naylay turned and looked at the body of the man they were preparing.
"He was loved," said Naylay, looking at him fondly. "He was loved."