Chapter 10: The Shaman

The idea had come to Liberty as she was staring at the sea in the little Oregon town, dreaming of Al. They’d conceived Callen when they were still volunteers, living in the  rainforest. Who knew what kinds of strange bacteria cold have been lurking in the food or water? What if she’d contracted some strange, tropical disease that had caused her son to be so joyless?

After coming to a decision, she explained it to Callen. “We’re going to spend some time in the rainforest. I’ll homeschool you over the next few months. But I feel like we need to go there to figure out what’s happening with you.”

“Okay, sure,” Callen said in his usual lackluster tone. She may as well have said they were moving to the moon, for all his indifference.

She rented a small place for them to stay near the small village of Selvadorada. The village had grown since she’d been there last. There were more electric lights, and the people appeared less impoverished. There was even some tourism — groups of curious foreigner staying in a village inn and taking tours of the jungle. It warmed Liberty’s heart to see how the people were now flourishing.

“What do you think?” she asked Callen, as they played chess near a lovely view of a waterfall. Tropical birds and butterflies flitted around them, and the air was filled with the cries of monkeys and other wildlife. Callen just shrugged.

Liberty spent the next few weeks talking to locals, trying to find anyone who might have a clue about her son’s condition. Most villagers shook their heads, puzzled. Liberty was starting to feel discouraged when at last, she ran into Carmencita Rosales, great-granddaughter of the village shaman.

“You say that you swam in the crystal waters of Tachauatl?” Her eyes grew as wide as the moon. “But those waters are cursed!”

“Guess we didn’t get the memo,” said Liberty.

“Were you pregnant at the time?”

“I’m not sure. I could have been.” She remembered floating around in those warm, clear pools with Al, their own private Eden. They had already been lovers by then. She could very well have been pregnant.

“This is bad,” said Carmencita. “This is very bad.”

“Is there anything that can be done?”

Carmencita frowned. “I will give you a list of ingredients. My great-grandfather can use them to make a temporary potion to ward off the curse. But your son will continue to suffer until you can provide us with the blood and tears of both the father and the mother.”

“But I don’t know where his father is!”

“Then we can only cure your son for a time.”

Liberty’s heart sank.She’d really hoped that a cure would be easier to find. How in the world could she ever manage to track down Al after all these years? For all she knew, he was living in some other rainforest as a volunteer.

“Am I going to be like this forever?” asked Callen.

Liberty straightened up and wiped her tears. “No, sweetie. I’m going to do everything I can to help you get better. Got that?” She hugged him reassuringly, then left him to play his violin near their little house as she began gathering supplies.

The list of ingredients was not easy to gather. Bark from a Yaoja tree. Three live red stinging beetles. A handful of camu camus. 10 lúcuma seeds. And more. She headed out during the early mornings, while Callen still slept, then returned, often covered in bug bites, to cook him breakfast and homeschool him.

But at long last, she had everything the shaman had requested. She and Callen remained in the rainforest for an additional month as the shaman prepared the potion. And then they packed up and returned home, where Liberty gave Callen his first dose of the foul-smelling liquid.

The effect was almost immediate. Suddenly, Callen went from being a boy whose only spark of joy came when he was playing music, to one who smiled and laughed and began to take an interest in life. He made friends at school and on their block. He even joined the Scouts, and proudly added one badge after another to his collection. Liberty’s own joy and relief was profound as she observed these wonderful changes in her son. She hated to remind herself that each bottle of potion only lasted a few months. She had to get in contact with Al before the stock ran out, and the curse stole Callen from her again.

While Callen was waking up to life and experiencing joy for the first time, Al Dawson was many miles away, in New York City, wondering why his musical talent had suddenly slipped away.

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Chapter 9: Almost-Famous Al Meets the Genius

Grunge Rock Al

The best part about being a grunge rock star, Al decided, was the girls. They seemed to throw themselves at him, eager to do whatever it took to win his favor.

“That’s stupid,” said his sister, Polly, who was never afraid to tell him exactly what she thought. “Those women are only into you because they think you’re rich. And anyway, you’re only famous in Oregon.”

“And Washington!” Al protested. But scratch that — Polly was right. The women were fun and all, but when it came down to it, all that mattered was his music. Now that he was booking gigs and even selling a few albums, he was able to deliver his music to more people. More people to hear his art. More people to be moved by the magic that poured from his fingertips.

Grunge Rock Al

Grunge Rock Al

As he matured, so did his style. He lopped off the long, blue locks and traded his flannels for whatever felt right at the time. He branched off from the coastal grunge sound he’d started with and began to dig deep, producing songs with raw, honest lyrics and complex acoustics that the audience seemed to love.

One night, while playing for a small house at a seaside restaurant, Al overheard a woman singing along from the audience. Her rich, husky tone gave him chills. It was like nothing he’d ever heard before.

“Have you ever thought about singing professionally?” He asked the woman after the show.

“I guess we could give it a shot,” she said, in a tone that made Al wonder if she meant more than just music. A few weeks later, Al and Bethany gave their first performance as a music duo. They also went on their first date, but quickly realized that they weren’t very compatible.

Grunge Rock Al

Grunge Rock Al

Grunge Rock Al

Around the same time, Liberty and Callen were making travel plans. “You’re going to love the seashore,” Liberty told Callen, who picked at his French toast, wearing the same sulky expression he always wore.

“Will the beaches be crowded?” he asked gloomily. “I hate crowds.”

Liberty shook her head. “No, you’re thinking of beaches further south. Oregon beaches are cold and uncrowded. But it’s beautiful there.”

Grunge Rock Al

They flew to Portland, then drove to the small, coastal town Liberty had read about online. She and Callen stayed in a quaint bed-and-breakfast with views of the rugged coastline. Callen was content to walk beside her and Katniss along the beach, collecting sea glass and sand dollars as the wind whipped their hair. At night, while Callen slept, she sometimes slipped outside and walked along the docks, inhaling the salty air and thinking of Al. For some reason, she hadn’t been able to stop thinking of him since they’d arrived in town. She felt closer to him here, somehow. Almost as though the seagulls were crying his name.

Grunge Rock Al

One day, Al was seeking inspiration and strolled over to the park across the street from Polly’s house. As he was strumming, a young boy wandered by. The boy’s expression was so forlorn, Al was tempted to ask him if he was hurt. But then, the boy lifted his head, looked straight at Al, and smiled. Startled, Al hit the wrong string on his guitar, then stopped.

“Do I know you?” he asked, frowning. The boy looked so familiar, and yet Al was sure he’d never seen him around town.

“No, I don’t live here,” the boy said. “I’m just visiting with my mom. I like your music,” he added softly.

“Yeah?” Al grinned, then launched into one of his more popular songs. “Ever hear that one before? It’s an Al Dawson original.”

“Who’s Al Dawson?” asked the boy.

“Oh, he’s super famous,” said Al. “So you’re into music, huh? What kinds?”

“All kinds, I guess. I play music, too.”

“Guitar, like me?”

“No, mostly violin and piano.”

Grunge Rock Al

“Hey, my partner and I could use some piano for the song I just wrote. Think your mom would let you visit the clubhouse to make music with us?” Al pointed to the public clubhouse at the edge of the park.

“Sure.” The boy sent his mom a quick text message, then joined Al and Bethany in the clubhouse. To Al’s surprise, the boy was very talented. He took one look at the sheet music Bethany handed him, then began to play, finger flying over the piano keys. The three of them jammed for a good hour before the boy slid off the bench and said he’d better go.

“Hey, it’s was nice to meet you…what’d you say your name was?” asked Al.

The boy looked back over his shoulder. “Callen,” he said. “My name’s Callen.”

Grunge Rock Al

“You should have seen this kid,” Al told Polly later. “He was some kind of musical genius.”

“I’ll bet he gets famous before you do,” said Polly, smirking.

“I’m already famous,” Al grumbled. “More famous than you.”

“You’ll never get famous if you stick around here,” said Polly.

“I know.” Al sighed. He loved it there, next to the sea. But he knew that it was time for him to spread his wings. “That’s why I’ve decided it’s time for me to leave,” he said. “I’m headed to New York City.”

Grunge Rock Al