Chapter 6: Failure and Frustration

Al couldn’t stop thinking about Liberty. From the moment they said goodbye in the rainforest, he was filled with regret. She had been the best thing that had ever happened to him. Why had he pushed her away? Why hadn’t he begged her to stay?

As time passed, he figured out the answer. If she had stayed with him, she would have eventually come to see the truth — that he was a big flop. Become a rock star? Ha! The band he’d formed with friends, The Fire Brigade, had fizzled before they even made it to their first gig, thanks to a huge blowup between the drummer and the bass guitarist. So Al took to the road as a solo artist, which he quickly learned was harder than he’d anticipated.

He earned a few clients while singing or laying his guitar at local amateur nights, but the only gigs he managed to snag were small parties and musician hour at coffee shops.

He was also not doing so well on the social scene. He went out with friends, but his mind was often thousands of miles away. He bored his friends to death by talking nonstop about Liberty and Selvadorada.

Other times, he would zone out while friends were talking, laughing to himself about some private joke he and Liberty had once shared, or checking his phone for a miracle text from her.

“Look face it, you’re not going to hear from her,” said his friend, Dirk, while they were working out together. “You never gave her a phone number, remember? What are you expecting her to do — hire a private detective to track you down?”

Not a bad idea, Al thought. He wished he could hire a private detective to track her down.

But he couldn’t even remember her last name. They’d never had to use them during the mission. To him, she was always Liberty. His Liberty.

He was a flop on the dating scene, too. “No one will ever be able to measure up to your ex-girlfriend!!” Charlotte, one of the women he’d been dating, said in frustration. “Nobody could possibly be that perfect.” She left the date in a huff, leaving Al to pay a huge tab.

After several years of failures, Al finally had to face the truth. His career was getting him nowhere, he was burning too many bridges to count, and thanks to a lack of music gigs and a lifestyle he couldn’t keep up with, he was running out of money.

“Why don’t you come and live with us for awhile, until you get back on your feet?” His sister, Polly, suggested. So Al packed up his life and moved across the country to the Oregon coast, where his sister and her son shared a small house with about a hundred cats. Okay, maybe it was more like three or four cats, but to Al, it felt like one hundred.

“Just until I get back on my feet,” he said, as he brushed cat fur off his clothes.


Chapter 5: Dr. Lehoia’s Diagnosis

The night before the mission came to an end, Liberty and Al joined the volunteers for a big feast in the village. There was music and dancing, and heaping plates of juane, steamed tigerfish, and papaya salad. Liberty was breathless by the time she and Al took a break from dancing to get some fresh air.

“I’m going to miss all of this.” Al motioned at the lush forest all around them, which was alive with the chatter of birds, monkeys, and frogs.

“So…” Liberty chewed her lip. “We haven’t really discussed…after.”


“After this. I mean, you can come up where I live. Gold Valley is just your basic suburb, but it’s pretty nice.  My house has plenty off space. Or I could come down to your state, if you prefer.”


“Libby.” Al took her hands. The pained looked in his eyes made her stomach drop. “I love you. But we can’t do this. Not now.”

“Why not?” Her voice quavered. “Don’t you want to be together?”

“Some day. But I want to get established in my music career before settling down. I’ll be traveling around a lot, taking every gig that comes along.”

“But…I can come with you. I can write, and–”

Al was shaking his head. “I just don’t think we’re ready. I’m not ready. I’m sorry,” he added, as Liberty burst into tears. “I’m so sorry.”


They spent one final night together in the house that had been their home for the past year. Then, with broken hearts, they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

Liberty’s house was too big, and too clean, and too quiet. The only sounds she heard were an occasional car passing outside, and the click click click of Katniss’s toenails on the hardwood floors. She missed the noise, and the constant activity, and the people of the rainforest. Most of all, she missed Al.


The symptoms of nausea and fatigue still continued to plague her days after returning, so she went to visit her doctor. Doctor Lehoia was a very, very very old friend of hers, and a skilled doctor who could solve just about any problem.

“This is a pretty classic case,” he told her after her tests came back. “I’d say you’ll start feeling much better in about seven months. Just in time to hold your new baby.”

ancient old friend

“I’m having a baby?” Liberty was stunned. “Al’s baby!” she clapped her hand over her mouth, dismayed. Al, who was traveling around the country, taking music gigs and had no home address. She didn’t even have his cell phone number, since cell phones hadn’t been allowed on the mission. He was going to be the father of her baby, and she had no way to tell him.


“Well, Katniss, it’s not going to be just you and me anymore,” she told her dog, who wagged happily. As the months passed, Liberty prepared her life for the baby’s arrival. She painted a spare bedroom for the nursery, and folded stacks of tiny clothes and onesies. She took a part-time job taking inventory for medical supplies to make ends meet as she worked on her writing.


She often thought of Al, which filled her with sadness and longing. But she had no way to find him. The internet was filled with Al Donaldsons, and none of them had his face. On a cold morning in February, baby Callen was born. Liberty wept as she clutched him in her arms. He would never know his father.

baby Callen

Chapter 4: The Mark of Tachahuatl


“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.”


“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.



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


“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.


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.



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.


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.



Chapter 3: The Map to Paradise


Liberty never would have believed how much she and Al had in common. Now that he’d finally loosened up around her, they spent plenty of time getting to know each other. Al enjoyed reading, like her, and loved the idea of her becoming a writer. He came from a close-knit family, all of whom were crazy about music, like him. “My dad’s a police officer, but he plays weekend gigs with a bluegrass band,” he said. “He’s the one who taught me how to play guitar.”

“Does he know you’re hoping to become a full-time musician?” Liberty asked.

“Nah, he’d kill me if he found out that I was wasting my shiny, expensive business degree.” He frowned. “He thinks I’m going to look for a nice, stable desk job in a cubicle jungle after I finish my stint in this jungle.”


During their work days, they slaved away as usual, helping to improve the lives of the natives. On their free days, they sometimes stayed close to home, trying new foods in the village. Al often strummed songs on his guitar as Liberty sang along, or recited literary passages to the music. Other days, they explored the rain forest together, snapping photos of wildlife, examining ancient ruins, and pretending to be expert archaeologists.


They grew so close, that it felt completely natural when their relationship evolved to another level. When they kissed for the first time, the birds of the rain forest seemed to sing louder than usual, as though cheering for the couple.


During the nights, there was no longer any arguing over who would sleep where.

One warm, muggy day, they trekked further away from the village than they had ever ventured before. Marta, one of the village women, had told them about an amazing waterfall, and they were eager to find it. After a few hours of hiking, however, they realized that they must have missed a trail.

Al studied the crudely drawn map Marta had drawn for them. “I think we can find the trail if we circle around this way, he said, leading the way.



Instead of the trail to the waterfall, however, they discovered a hidden lagoon, with clear green waters that sparkled beneath the blazing sun.

Liberty flashed Al a mischievous grin. Then she slid off her clothes and slipped into the cool waters. “It feels sooo good!” she said. “Come on in!” Al shed his clothes, too, and joined her. They paddled around lazily, drinking in the sunshine and one another’s company.

“We’re like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden,” Al said.

“It sure feels like paradise.” Liberty said with a laugh. “If I see a talking serpent, I’ll be sure to stay away.”



After leaving the magical lagoon, they made another surprising discovery. An ancient pyramid, still standing in the middle of the rain forest.

“I don’t see this on Marta’s map,” said Al, puzzled.

“Maybe she doesn’t know about it.” Liberty stared in awe at the vine-covered structure. “Think we should check it out?”

“I don’t know…” Al hesitated. “Maybe we should tell someone about it first.”

“Oh come on. Where’s your sense of adventure?” Liberty forged ahead, with Al close behind. Inside the ruins, it was cool and dark, and smelled dank. Liberty let out a shriek as a colony of bats swirled overhead, their leather wings beating against the air before they flew out into the daylight.


“Hey look!” Al hurried across the chamber, where a row of skeletons stood, jewels sparkling in their rib cages. Each clutched a spear with a sharpened stone for a blade. As Al studied the skeletons, Liberty noticed other abandoned treasures scattered about the chamber.

“Do you think we’re the first people to discover this stuff?” she asked. “Maybe we shouldn’t touch anyth–”

But it was too late. At that moment, Al grasped one of the skeleton’s spears and gave a tug. The skeleton’s sapphire eyes began to glow.



Chapter 25: Consequences

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Puaura could not stop smiling as she looked back and forth from Ahohako to Ahio – her Ahio. The real Ahio, who had returned to his own body. He and Ahohako seemed overjoyed, laughing and hopping around in the sand like kids. She imagined that the way they felt was somewhat like her when she was finally able to walk again on her own legs. Summon Ahohako (28)

“But what do you think Maui meant when he said there would be consequences?” Puaura asked after the excitement had settled down. They didn’t have to wait long to find out. First, Puaura fell ill. Her skin stung, as though she were being attacked by jellyfish. “What’s wrong with me?” she asked, holding her stomach. Then, Ahio let out a groan and collapsed to the sand. Puaura rushed toward him, but was suddenly twisted into the air by a swirl of wind and water.

“Puaura!” cried Ahohako. But there was nothing he could do to stop it. When Puaura was released from the watery cyclone, she had changed. And so had Ahio.

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“I can’t believe it!” said Ahio, gaping at his and Puaura’s legs, which were now covered in colorful, glittering scales.

“No!” Ahohako stared in horror. “This is all my fault! I didn’t mean for this to happen!”

But Puaura began to laugh. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a mermaid,” she said. “It always looked like more fun than diving with scuba gear.” Before anyone could respond, she ran toward the sea and dived into the waves. Her scale-encrusted legs immediately transformed into a strong purple tail, which thumped against the water, propelling her forward. She twisted and glided through the water as easily as a fish. Soon, Ahio and Ahohako joined her. “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” said Puaura. “I was born and raised right here on the sea. This is where I belong.”

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Puaura and Ahio were more deeply in love than ever. And one day, for the second time, Ahio asked her to marry him. “Yes, I’ll marry you again,” she said, slipping on the ring.

“Well technically, you never married me,” said Ahio. “Just my body.”

“Then this time,” said Puaura, “I will marry your body, your mind, and your spirit.”

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And so she did. And after that, the three friends lived together, dividing their time between life on land, raising Tane, and life in the ocean. As Maui had lifted the decades-long ban on visitors, many tourists began to come to the islands, often making a stop at Meherio Inn, where Puaura, Ahio, and Ahohako treated them to world-class service and free magic shows. And every night, Puaura would gather a crowd around the bonfire and tell them the stories her parents had passed on to her, about Tangaroa, the Treasure of Rongo, and the mysterious mer-people of the Matahina Islands.

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“Are any of those stories true?” the guests would often ask, wide-eyed with wonder.

Puaura would smile. “Some would say they are nothing more than fish-tales. But others would say that if mana is strong in you, then you will believe. And when you do, you will feel the truth beating inside of you like the great Treasure of Rongo.” As it still beat within her. As it would always continue to beat.

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Chapter 24: The Reversal

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“You!” Ahio could hardly speak. He glared at Maui, his voice shaking with rage. “This is all your doing, isn’t it? Give me back my body!”

Maui tried to swim away, but was held firm by Tangaroa’s bond. “Set me free!” he begged. Resort (114)

“Not until we settle a few things,” said Tangaroa. He lifted his hands, and the sea around them began to stir. Ahio felt as though the sea were pressing in tightly on all sides. Next thing he knew, he was standing with his feet planted on the hot sand. A few feet away, Tangaroa and Maui were engaged in a heated argument.

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“Those people deserved their punishment,” Maui was saying. “You should have seen the waste of fish. Great, rotting mounds tossed back into the sea.”

“Those people,” said Tangaroa, “were wrong. But they did not disturb the mana, and do not deserve this lasting punishment. I command you to lift the curse. Now!”

Pouting like a child, Maui waved one hand through the air. “There,” he said through gritted teeth. “The curse is no more. Satisfied?”

Maui held up a finger. “Not until you have returned the man and the merman to their rightful bodies.”

Maui shrugged. “Can’t help you there.”

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“What do you mean you can’t help us?” Ahio’s eyes widened in horror. He couldn’t be stuck in Ahohako’s body for the rest of his life!

“Well for starters, I can switch you back, but there will be consequences,” said Maui.

“What kind of consequences?”

Maui ignored Ahio. “Secondly, the other dude’s got to be here, too, or the switch can’t happen.”

“I can help with that,” said Tangaroa. He produced a large conch shell, which he lifted to his mouth and blew.

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Moments later, the air on the beach began to shimmer. Then Puaura appeared, along with a man whom Ahio had not seen since he had escaped with Puaura in a tiny rowboat years before.

Puaura’s face was shocked as she looked from face to face, landing at last on the man. “Ahohako?” Her voice was hesitant.

“Yes, it’s me,” said Ahohako. “But I don’t understand how I got here.”

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Tangaroa spoke. “Are you both ready to be returned to your true selves?” Everyone fell silent, looking with expectation at Maui.

Maui rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine,” he said. “But don’t forget what I said…there may be consequences to switching back.” He waved his arm through the air. Ahio felt his vision dissolve into blackness. Then, he opened his eyes.

“I’m me!” he cried. He touched his arms, his chest, and his hair, which had grown long and unkempt. “I’m myself again!”

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“Well, almost,” said Maui, his eyes glinting with mischief. He turned and raced for the sea, diving into the waves before Tangaroa could stop him.

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Chapter 23: The Trickster

Rebuilding the old resort was taking every bit of Puaura’s time and energy. There was trash to be hauled back to the mainland. Old, rusty fixtures to be replaced. And cockroaches everywhere. Luckily, Tane was now old enough to pitch in and help, even though his autism made it challenging to communicate.

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Still, after months of labor, the resort was nearly ready to open. Puaura was both happy and sad – happy that they had managed to transform a wreck into a shining gem, but sad that her mother was no longer alive to see it. She was also sad that, although they had created a wonderful place on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, thanks to Tangaroa’s curse, few visitors would be able to enjoy it.

But one day, when Puaura and Tane arrived home, exhausted after a long day of working on the resort, Ahio returned from the sea, his eyes shining with excitement. “I’ve found it!” he cried. He grabbed Puaura’s hands and danced her around the room.

“What on earth have you found?” asked Puaura, who could help but laugh. “Did you lose your wallet again?”

Ahio pulled her close and kissed her. “I have found the great Treasure of Rongo,” he said.

Puaura’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. “You did?”

He nodded. “And get this – the treasure was the key to unlock Tangaroa’s prison. The real Tangaroa. Come on – hurry! He wants to meet you.” He tugged at her hands.

“Okay, just wait,” she said. “I’m not a mermaid, remember?” As quickly as she could, she pulled on her scuba gear. Then she followed Ahio into the sea, to the grotto where he’d last seen Tangaroa.

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When Puaura and Ahio appeared, Tangaroa broke into a huge grin. “My dear friends,” he said. “To show my gratitude in your releasing me from my prison, I am releasing these islands from the long curse. No longer will visitors be kept from these shores.”

“Oh thank you!” Puaura cried with happiness, her salty tears mixing with the salty sea. She returned to shore to spread the good news throughout the island.

“But I don’t understand. If you are the real Tangaroa,” said Ahio, “then who was responsible for switching me with the merman Ahohako?”

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Tangaroa’s face turned grim. “An imposter,” he said. “But my loyal sea servants have already informed me of his whereabouts. Come.” He motioned for Ahio to follow. They swam past colorful coral reefs and dark, mysterious caverns, following schools of tiny fish who led the pursuit. At last, they came across him – an oddly pale merman with a glittery green tail and eyes lit by mischief.

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“At last we found you,” said Tangaroa, confronting his imposter. “Don’t bother escaping – I have bound you to my side.” He turned to Ahio. “Ahio, I would like to introduce you to my cousin. Meet the great trickster himself, Maui.

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