Three weeks later, Al and Liberty returned to the Selvadorada Rainforest, with Callen at their side.
“I can’t believe how much it’s changed,” said Al. Tachahuatl Village had continued to grow since Liberty and Callen had last visited, and now teemed with tourists hoping for rainforest tours and cheap “authentic” trinkets. Though the village was still fairly remote, jeeps and small, rugged buses drove in daily on the new paved road.
A few things hadn’t changed, however. The forest around them still teemed with life. Monkeys chattered and birds shrieked from the canopy overhead. And giant bats, spiders, and snakes still made their presence known, reminding them that the rainforest was still a dangerous place.
To their surprise, the villa they’d rented not only happened to be the same house Al and Liberty had shared years ago, as relief workers, but had hardly changed at all, except for upgraded electricity and plumbing.
“This bed even looks the same,” said Al, throwing Liberty a meaningful look.
“Hmm,” said Liberty. “I wonder if it still feels the same.”
“Guess we’ll just have to test it and see,” said Al.
The next morning, it was time to get right down to business. After asking a number of native Tachauatl people, they managed to track down the village’s current shaman — a small, gray-haired women called Mama Juana, who at first kept trying, in broken English, to get them to buy a bottle of her homemade digestion syrup.
“No, no, that’s not what we want,” said Al. He began to speak in the native language. Roughly, at first, but as he spoke, the language began to flow as it once had. He explained who he and Liberty were, and what had happened to their son. As he spoke, Mama Juana’s eyes grew round with astonishment.
“Did you activate the ancient bones in the Great Temple of the Moon?” she demanded. When Liberty said yes, the old woman clapped her hands to her mouth. “It is the curse,” she said in a hushed voice. “The Curse of King Tachauatl. I have heard of this, but have never seen it before. Those bones are property of the spirit king who still roams the halls of that temple. If you anger him, he will take your most precious treasure.”
“But we didn’t have any treasure,” said Liberty. “We were poor as mice back then.”
“But you did have a treasure.” Mama Juana pointed to Liberty’s belly. “Hidden so deep inside you, even you didn’t know it existed. The spirit king was merciful. He chose to spare your child’s life.”
“But he took our child’s joy,” said Al. “He knew that the most important thing to a parent is to see his child grow up healthy and happy.”
“Yes,” said Mama Juana, examining Callen’s face. “And this child is not a happy one.”
“What can we do?” asked Liberty. “We’ll do anything to make him better.”
Mama Juana’s face was grim. “There is only one cure. You must bathe in the blessed Waters of Tachauatl. The enchanted springs hidden so deep in the forest, that almost no one can locate them.”
Al and Liberty exchanged glances. Once, all those years ago, the two of them had stumbled across a hidden pool so lovely and remote, they had considered it their own private Eden. Could those be the blessed waters?
“Don’t worry,” said Al, giving his son’s shoulder a reassuring pat. “Your mom and I once knew this forest so well, they could have hired us as guides. We’ll find those enchanted waters and get you cured.”
And so they began their hike. For six long days in the stifling, humid heat, and for five restless nights filled with buzzing mosquitoes and the wild chorus of rainforest wildlife, they trekked deep into the jungle. Sometimes they talked, sometimes Al and Liberty sang together, and sometimes Callen even joined in. And sometimes, they walked in silence, too sore, or sunburned, or itchy from bug bites to feel like making much conversation.
And at last, they came upon the pools. The waters shone green, clear, and inviting, even under the pale silver light of the moon.
“Bless our son, Oh Great Tachauatl,” Al said, face lifted up toward the glittering night sky.
“Cleanse his spirit with your blessed waters,” added Liberty, “and return him to life.”
And with that, they peeled off their clothes and splashed into the enchanted pool.
Two months later, Callen was still smiling, even after his orthodontist put braces on his teeth. “I can’t help it,” he said, his voice bubbling with excitement. “I’m playing first chair in the spring orchestra concert. Cassandra Walters said she’ll go to the dance with me this Friday. You guys are finally getting married. And — man, I don’t know. Everything is just so awesome!”