Chapter 4: The Mark of Tachahuatl

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“Are you okay?” Liberty grabbed Al’s arm and pulled him toward her. “What on earth was that?”

“I don’t know.” Al’s face was pale as they looked back at the skeleton. Its strange, jeweled eyes had stopped glowing, and its spear was once again upright. “I guess I shouldn’t have touched it.”

“Maybe it’s electronic?” Liberty gave it a dubious look. There were no wires or electronic nodes that they could see. Just a bunch of dull, dusty bones.

“Maybe,” said Al. “I think we should get out of–” He stopped and stared at Liberty, openmouthed. “Um…there’s something going on with your face.”

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“What are you talking about?” Liberty reached up to feel her face, which felt normal to her. But judging by the expression on Al’s face, it was definitely not normal. It took several hours for them to make their way back to their house, where Liberty made a beeline for the bathroom mirror. When at last she saw her reflection, she let out a scream. Her skin was covered in a bizarre, bright green rash.

“Does it itch or anything?” asked Al, frowning in concern.

“No,” said Liberty. The rash looked odd, but it didn’t itch, or hurt, or anything. It was more like someone had taken a neon green sharpie and drawn circles on her skin. “I feel fine.”

Since it didn’t bother her, she decided to ignore it and let it go away on its own. Al didn’t seem to mind the rash, either. In fact, as the weeks of their mission trip drew to a close, the two were more inseparable than ever. They even began to sneak away from the group of volunteers for stolen moments of bliss together.

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But then the illness struck. Some morning, Liberty could hardly crawl out of bed, so intense were the attacks off nausea.

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“It’s probably from something you ate,” said Al, when the illness lingered. He walked her to the medical cabin, where the volunteer doctor looked her over and agreed with Al’s conclusion.

“Digestive illnesses are not so uncommon among the volunteer workers,” he said. “Be sure to boil your water carefully before drinking it.”

Liberty had another idea. “Could it have anything to do with the rash?”

The doctor had never seen a green rash like hers before. “I thought you’d decorated yourself for fun.” He promised to do some research, but later came up empty-handed. The green rash and nausea may be a symptom of some rare tropical disease.

It was Marta, from the village, who saved the day. “It is the mark of Tachahuatl,” she said. “I know a recipe from my grandmother. I will make it for you, and you will be fine.” She gave Liberty’s hands a reassuring squeeze, then went off to her home. She returned with a glass containing a murky, foul-smelling liquid that looked like pond scum. “Now drink,” she said.

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Liberty tasted a sip, then made a face. The drink tasted like pond scum, too. Then she counted to three, tilted back her head, and drained the glass.

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The effect was immediate. When Liberty looked over the big mirror hanging on thee wall of the cantina, she saw that her skin was once again a smooth cocoa brown. No more green splotches!

“Muchas gracias,” she told Marta.

It wasn’t until the next day that Liberty realized that the disgusting drink had cleared up the rash, but it had done nothing to ease her nausea.

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The doctor must have been right the first time. She must have eaten something that upset her stomach, and would just have to tough it out until it passed.

In the meantime, she enjoyed her good moments as much as possible. She worked hard during her volunteer shifts, then spent time with Al, playing music together and even learning how to dance salsa and rhumba. They no longer strayed into the jungle. Though neither one of them really believed that their encounter with the skeleton guard had anything to do with Liberty’s illness, they decided not to take any more chances.

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