The high priest facing the giant stone disc made a hasty obeisance as a jaguar screamed in the distance, then turned back to the circle of sub-priests who sat next to the stonecutter. For a moment there was nothing but silence except for the chattering of monkeys in the forest below the pyramid. The high priest counted again on his fingers and toes, then looked at the waiting circle of men.
“So the day of the Dog is followed by the day of the Monkey in the month of the New Sun in the great cycle of the Father God One Hunahpu?”
The chief calculator bobbed his head affirmatively and grinned, showing pointed teeth inlaid with jade. “Which will be repeated eighteen times twenty, times twenty, turnings of the sun.”
The high priest nodded with satisfaction. “Which is repeated thirteen times, and then all that is ends.” The assembled worthies looked at the glyph at the bottom of the outer edge of the giant stone calendar. “The last chisel marks put in today. The work of years finally finished, tracking as day by day we approach that apocalypse.” There was a moment of sober contemplation, broken by a commotion from below. A small woman in a lavishly embroidered hupil was standing on the platform at the base of the pyramid, and her voice carried easily to the assembled group.
“Walks Staight Path, have you noticed what day it is?”
The high priest turned pale.
“All that time devising that thing, and you don’t pay attention to it. Your daughter missed her appointment to have her teeth filed again, and now it will be weeks before we can get another one! We’ll owe him eight cacao pods for the missed appointment, too.”
The chief calculator’s eyes flicked to a point on the giant carved stone, where he noted a hieroglyphic-covered leaf glued with pond slime.
“Day of the Snake already? Er, excuse me, guys, I gotta go… If I hurry I can catch the second half of my son’s game on the ball court. Be a shame if he gets to behead the other team captain at the end of the game and I miss it.”
Other men muttered and sidled toward the edge of the giant pyramid that towered over the Guatemalan jungle. The high priest sighed and covered his eyes. Every new invention had its drawbacks, after all. He had an eerie feeling that the day would come when people wished this thing had never been made…
This story originally appeared in Analog.