IN JUNGLE JEOPARDY
One steamy summer morning, the emperor’s Fortune-Teller
carried me outside for fresh air and placed me on a plump
pillow. He spoke in a baby voice and tickled me under the
chin. “Would Sugar like some armadillo meat?”
“I’d prefer some pleasant conversation,” I said. “And my
name’s not Sugar. It’s Kichi.”
His face remained blank as he fed me a piece of roasted
I chewed on it and sighed. As usual, he hadn’t understood a
word I said. I might as well have been speaking in Jaguar.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t teach him my
language. It wasn’t his fault. Humans are rather dull-witted
and simply cannot speak Dog.
Or so I thought until . . . but, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
So there I was, chewing armadillo meat in front of the Temple
of the Two-Headed Snake, the largest building in Chilaam.
Stomach full, I rested my head on crossed paws and scanned
the main plaza and the emerald lawn that stretched from
pyramid to pyramid.
In the nearby jungle, monkeys shrieked, making me glad they
were there and I was here. I had never been out of the capital
and I planned to keep it that way.
I was born in a cotton-lined basket two years ago, the only
bluish gray puppy in the litter. The birth of a rare blue
chihuahua was hailed as a sign of good luck. Priests
immediately designated me a sacred temple dog to be
pampered and spoiled and fed the best food.
Still, I wondered. Was I to be a pet all my life? Or something
No city in the Mayan Empire is quite like Chilaam. Morning,
noon and night, it swarms with people. Today, noblemen
played ball in the court to my left. To my right, workers
chiseled designs on the steps of the new pyramid.
Not a hint of a breeze stirred in the city, so my keeper sat
beside me, fanning me with a palm leaf.
I heard the tramp of approaching feet.
I smelled the soldiers even before they came into view. Every
human has a special odor. Potters smell like mud. Cooks
smell like cornmeal cakes. Soldiers smell like blood.
The emperor’s guard, back from a raid, strode into the plaza.
Behind them came captives with hands tied behind their
I felt sorry for them, for I knew their fate. People of little
importance would become slaves. The rest would be
sacrificed to the gods. If one of them happened to be a king
or prince, he would be the first to die.
One captive in particular caught my eye. A boy about twelve
summers old stumbled along in the center of the caravan. He
wore only one sandal. His eyes darted left and right, taking in
the grandeur of Chilaam. He seemed impressed with our
pyramids, the tallest in the empire.
But the thing that struck me as odd was his forehead. Unlike
the other captives, his hadn’t been shaped when he was a
baby to slope backwards. Humans considered a slanting
forehead a sign of great beauty.
He stopped and stared straight at me. Offering me a half
smile, he grunted hello. Not just any “hello,” mind you. He
This was most puzzling. Before I could respond, Ah Tok,
captain of the emperor’s guard and Fortune-Teller’s brother,
shoved the boy forward.
The captives bristled and circled him protectively. It
reminded me of a mother bird spreading her wings over the
nest to protect her babies.
I just had to talk to that boy. I jumped down from my pillow.
Fortune-Teller was too fast for me. He scooped me up and
held me tight to his chest. “Be careful, Sugar,” he cooed.
“You could break a bone and I’d be in sooooooo much
That was true. Anyone who hurt me would be severely
“I want that boy!” I whined as I quivered with excitement.
Fortune-Teller didn’t understand and wrapped me in a blanket.
“I didn’t ask for my blanket,” I barked. “I want that boy!”
The god-who-hears-dog-prayers must have been listening.
The other captives were led off, but Ah Tok brought the boy
over. “Dearest brother,” Ah Tok exclaimed as he grasped
Fortune-Teller by the upper arms. “You are looking well.”
“As are you. May the gods be praised for your safe return.”
“They smiled on me this time, brother! I captured five slaves.
I can sell them and finally have enough cocoa beans to get
out of debt.”
“What do you plan to do with him?” Fortune-Teller nodded
toward the boy.
“Uxmal? I haven’t quite decided.”
Fortune-Teller cradled me in his arms and that put me at eye
level with the boy.
“How I wish you could understand me,” I whined.
“I can,” the boy whined back.
It was too good to be true. To test him, I said, “I adore being
scratched between my ears and eyes.”
The boy reached toward me.
Ah Tok’s arm shot out and grabbed him by the scruff of the
neck. “Don’t touch the sacred temple dog.”
I squirmed, whined, and wagged my tail.
Fortune-Teller had trouble holding onto me. “He seems to
like you,” he said to Uxmal. “Usually, I don’t let anyone touch
him, but you may pet him just this once.”
Ah Tok released Uxmal. “Don’t abuse my brother’s
The boy gently rubbed that special place between my ears
A big smile stretched across my face . . . and his.
“I like to be tickled under my chin,” I said.
“Is this the right spot?”
“You can understand me! At last! Someone who speaks
Dog. How did you learn my language?”
The boy grinned and shrugged. “It just came naturally.”
The conversation ended between the two brothers. They
hugged and said good-bye.
“Come, slave!” Ah Tok said sharply.
Anger flashed from the boy’s eyes. “My name is Uxmal.”
Ah Tok slapped him.
The blow hit Uxmal so hard he reeled backwards and fell. His
hand flew to his stinging cheek. He looked shocked, as if he
had never been struck before.
It hurt to see the boy mistreated. I struggled out of Fortune-
Teller’s arms and dashed over to Uxmal. I licked his face to
Fists on his hips, Ah Tok stood over the boy and glared down at
him. “A slave does not speak until spoken to. You belong to
me now and you will never use that tone of voice with me
again.” Ah Tok turned and dragged the boy away.
I was sad to see Uxmal leave. At last I had found a human
who understood me! Unfortunately, he was Ah Tok’s slave. I
had to do something to change that.
|Kichi, a rare blue Chihuahua, has lived his whole life
pampered by Fortune Teller at the temple in the Mayan
city of Chilaam. Still, he is lonely. No matter how
much he tries, he can't seem to teach Fortune Teller to
speak Dog. When Fortune Teller's brother captures a
new slave from a rival city, Kichi can't believe his luck.
The new boy, Uxmal, can speak Dog! Just as Kichi
makes a new friend, raiders attack Chilaam and
kidnap Uxmal. Kichi decides to venture out into the
dangerous jungle to save his friend.
Related Topics for
KICHI IN JUNGLE
Chihuahua (Dog Breed).
Historical / Ancient
Social Issues /
Indians of Central
Proper Care of the
KICHI IN JUNGLE
JEOPARDY is ideal for
6th Grade World Culture
Purchase a classroom set
of 30 hardcovers and
receive a free or
reduced-rate author visit
(depending on your
Finalist, Juvenile Book,
Finalist, Cybils Award,
Literary Award, 2006