Sierra glanced up from her inflight magazine and stared at her companion with concern. Chaco’s face, normally a warm, glowing brown, was a sickly gray with green undertones. Sierra scrabbled hastily in her seat pocket for the barf bag and handed it to him.
“If you feel like you’re going to be sick, use this,” she said. “I didn’t know you get motion sickness.” They had just taken off from San Jose International Airport—how could he be sick already?
Chaco waved away the bag with a weary gesture. “I don’t have motion sickness.”
“What’s the matter, then?” she asked. She hoped he would recover soon—and that he wasn’t contagious. But then she remembered; Chaco couldn’t get sick. He was an Avatar. He was thousands of years old, and had literally never been sick a day in his long life. If Chaco was sick, something was seriously awry.
“I dunno,” Chaco replied, closing his eyes. “Do you … do you suppose you could just leave me alone for a while?”
Sierra returned to her magazine, glancing at his tense, gray face every so often. When the stewards came by with trays of lunch, Chaco shook his head without opening his eyes.
When the screaming began, Sierra nearly jumped out of her skin, and she wasn’t the only one. A female flight attendant was shrieking incoherently in the rear of the plane, where the galley and restrooms were located for economy class passengers. Other attendants crowded around her, and her shrieks stopped abruptly. But not before Sierra heard, “Green! Monster! I saw it…!”
“Oh, no,” Sierra moaned. “Oh, no, no, that’s just what we needed…!”
People were still craning in their seats, trying to see what was going on. The curtain had been drawn across the galley space, so there was nothing to be seen. Chaco had been roused from his lethargy by the commotion.
“What was that all that about?”
“It’s Fred,” Sierra whispered grimly. “It has to be Fred. The flight attendant was screaming about a green monster. Sound familiar?”
Chaco closed his eyes again. “Figures.” Sierra waited for more, but he remained silent.
“What are we going to do? Fred will be a disaster on this trip, which is why I told him—firmly!—that he couldn’t come with us.”
“I don’t know.”
“We have to do something.”
Chaco shifted his long body slightly to face her and opened his eyes. “Look, Sierra. I have no more idea than you do. In fact, I think I’m in real trouble here.”
Sierra looked at his pale face and anguished eyes. “Are you sick?”
“It’s worse than that,” he responded miserably. “I’m mortal.”
“Mortal? Mortally ill, you mean?”
“No. Mortal. As in not magic. As in, I’m just like you, now. I’m not an Avatar anymore. I can get sick. I can die.”
All thoughts of Fred forgotten, Sierra said, “How do you know? How is that even possible?”
Chaco shook his head. “Wouldn’t you know if all your blood left your body? I mean, just for an instant before you died? I’ve been severed from the numinous, the sphere in which we Avatars exist. The power source has been unplugged, if that makes more sense.”
Sierra absorbed this in silence. Finally, she said, “But you’re still alive. So cutting you off from the, um, numinous doesn’t kill you?”
Chaco rolled his eyes. “Apparently not. This is all new to me, too, you understand.”
“Okay. Why don’t you try to turn into a coyote? If you can do that, it proves you’re okay.” In addition to being an outwardly young and indisputably handsome young man, Chaco was Coyotl the Trickster, demi-god and culture hero of many Native American traditions. Sierra was so rattled that she didn’t consider what her fellow passengers’ response might be to a coyote lounging in a nearby window seat.
Chaco looked at her, his golden-amber eyes now dulled to hazel. Dark circles beneath his eyes made them appear sunken. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do for the past hour?”
“Oh.” Sierra sat quietly for a long time, thinking. Eventually, she asked, “How did you get separated from the, um, numinous, anyway? How could something like that happen?”
Chaco roused himself from his lethargy. “I don’t know. It’s never happened before. I could make an educated guess, though. I think it’s because I’m no longer connected to my land, the land that created me. I think my land is the source of my power. I’ve never been on an airplane before, so I didn’t know this would happen.”
“We’re thousands of feet in the air. When we get to Hawai‘i, we’ll be on land again—maybe you’ll get it back. Hawai‘i is part of the United States, after all.”
Chaco brightened a little at this, but his enthusiasm flickered and died. “I don’t know as much as I should about things like history and geography, but wasn’t Hawai‘i built by volcanoes in the middle of the ocean?”
“And when did Hawai‘i become part of the United States?”
Sierra’s dark brows knit together as she tried to remember. She gave up. “I’m not sure, but it was probably about 60 years ago.”
Chaco groaned, almost inaudibly. “So Hawai‘i isn’t part of my land at all. It’s something different, not connected to my land. The people there are probably not even Native Americans.”
This Sierra did know. “They’re Polynesians. They came from Tahiti, I think. But we won’t even know until we land. Once you get your feet on the ground, maybe you’ll feel better.”
“Maybe,” was all that he said, directing a morose gaze out of the little window at the clouds. It was the last thing he said until they landed in Honolulu.
* * * *
It had started as a fun vacation with her fiancée, Clancy. At least, Sierra thought it would be fun, but as Clancy pointed out, his idea of an island vacation had more to do with drinking fruity tropical drinks on the beach than with counting albatross chicks. Nonetheless, he had gone along with her plans for a one-month stint on Midway Island. It was an eco-tourism gig that allowed some 20 volunteers at a time onto Midway to help biologists monitor the bird life. The island was a national wildlife refuge that provided breeding grounds for millions of sea birds, including several endangered species. The volunteers lived on Midway for a month, counting chicks and cleaning up plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch so that adult birds wouldn’t mistake the colorful bits of plastic for food and feed it to their nestlings—thereby killing them.
But Clancy’s boss had asked (demanded) that he cancel this scheduled vacation. Sierra was upset by this, but she understood. Clancy was head of security at a high tech Silicon Valley firm. The President of the United States scheduled a visit to the plant to highlight her support of American technology—and Clancy’s vacation was sacrificed amid promises of more vacation time in the future.
“I’m going anyway,” she had told Clancy. At his look of surprise, she added, “Remember? My employer is paying for it. I have to go so I can report on the wildlife conservation work on Midway.” Sierra worked for Clear Days Foundation as a communications executive.
“Oh. Well, sure. I just thought …”
“I’d like to ask Chaco to go with me,” Sierra said. “That okay with you?”
There was a long silence. Clancy finally spoke. “Chaco? Isn’t he with Kaylee? Wouldn’t that be kind of awkward?”
“I thought you knew. Kaylee is dating someone named Guy now. She’s moved on. Kaylee always moves on.”
“Oh. Well, what about taking Kaylee with you? Or Rose? Or Mama Labadie?” Clancy listed off Sierra’s three closest female friends.
“All three of them are going to some animal spirit guide workshop in Sedona, so they’re not available. Look, please don’t worry about this. Chaco and I are just friends. We’ve never been anything else. And I’m going to be on a remote island in the middle of nowhere for a month with a bunch of people I don’t know. I’d like to have a friend with me.”
“I’m not worried. Well, maybe I am, a little. Just tell me you’re sorry that it won’t be me.”
“I’m really, really sorry that it won’t be you!”
He would have to be content with that.
* * * *
Discovering that Fred had decided to stow away on the airplane was unwelcome news. There could be no other explanation for the commotion among the flight attendants and that telling shriek of “Green! Monster!”
Fred was a mannegishi. When he was visible, Fred looked like a green melon with pipe-cleaner arms and legs, six flexible digits on each paw, and swiveling orange eyes that resembled traffic reflectors. He had the ability to disappear at will, which had been handy in Sierra’s earlier adventures, but he was a mischievous creature with little or no impulse control and an enormous appetite. In short, Fred was not Sierra’s first choice of companion for a visit to a delicate ecosystem populated by endangered birds.
Now she had to deal with an errant mannegishi as well as a mortal and extremely miserable Chaco. As they walked through the loading tunnel to the gate, Sierra whispered, “How are we going to find Fred?”
Chaco shrugged. “My guess is that Fred will find us. Don’t worry about him—he’s been around the block a few times in the past few thousand years.” He was still drawn and tired-looking, with none of his usual sexy saunter. Sierra guessed that returning to the earth had not restored his supernatural powers or immortality.
They made their way to baggage pickup. When Chaco hefted his suitcase, he nearly dropped it, then frowned.
“I think Fred found us,” he reported.
Sierra looked at him, puzzled.
“My suitcase.” He hefted it again. “It’s a lot heavier than it was when I dropped it off in San Jose. It’s either Fred or someone stuffed a bowling ball in here.”
Sierra was horrified. “Well, let him out! He must be smothered in there.”
“Not likely,” scoffed Chaco. He gave the suitcase a good shake. “Serves him right.”
“What if he’s lost his powers like you have?” she hissed, not wanting to be overheard.
“I don’t think so. He disappeared on the plane fast enough when the flight attendant started screaming. Otherwise, there would have been a lot more commotion.”
Acknowledging that Chaco was probably right, Sierra turned her attention to finding transportation to their hotel. It was located right on Waikiki Beach and wasn’t far from the airport.
On the bus ride to the hotel, Sierra took in the tropical plants, caught glimpses of turquoise ocean, and, cracking the window a trifle, breathed in the scent of many flowers—and the usual smells of any big city. The people walking on the streets all looked like tourists to her. Many were wearing shorts, flip-flops, and Hawai‘ian print shirts. Surely not everyone in the city could be a tourist, she thought. At one point, Chaco’s suitcase began to squirm, but he kicked it sharply and unobtrusively, and the suitcase subsided.
Their hotel was an enormous complex of tall buildings, and they had a room on the 17th floor overlooking the ocean. Sliding glass doors on a balcony opened to let in breezes, and the afternoon air smelled soft and sweet with an underlying sharper tang of salt. They dumped their suitcases on the floor—in Chaco’s case, none too gently. Chaco unzipped the bag and Fred rolled out onto the carpet.
“Ow ow ow ow,” he complained, rubbing his fat bottom and staring at them reproachfully.
“It’s your own fault,” Chaco said coldly. “I’m going to bed.” He commandeered one of the two queen-size beds and pulled the covers over his head.
“What’s his problem?” the little mannegishi asked. “He didn’t spend hours balled up in a suitcase.”
“He’s lost his powers,” Sierra explained. “He’s a mortal now, and it disagrees with him. Anyway, why’d you do it, Fred? I asked you not to come. Now I don’t know what to do.”
She felt as weary as Chaco. The trip had started with Clancy dropping out. Now Chaco had lost his powers and become mortal—and who knew what that would mean? She supposed it would be like a human losing the ability to see, or walk. And she had to deal with Fred, too. As fond as she was of him, Fred was a nuisance at the best of times.
“Lost his powers? How does that happen?” asked Fred, looking worried. He disappeared briefly then reappeared. He looked relieved but puzzled. “I haven’t lost my abilities. Why did Chaco lose his?”
“He thinks it’s because he’s no longer in contact with his birth land. He says he’s cut off from the numinous, whatever that is.”
“I dunno from numinous, but I’m still okay.”
“How nice for you!” came an irritated growl from under the humped covers on Chaco’s bed.
“Look, Fred, I could really use a drink right now. Disappear yourself and we can talk somewhere. There’s got to be a bar in this hotel somewhere.”
As it turned out, the hotel had many, many bars. Sierra picked one with an outdoor seating area on the beach and ordered something unfamiliar with rum in it. The drink arrived, bedecked with chunks of fresh fruit, small umbrellas, and plastic hula girls and accompanied by a bowl of peanuts. She cleared away the ornamentation, ate the fruit and began working slowly on the remaining fluid. It was cold, tart, and sweet. She still felt grubby from the trip, but at least she was near a beach—she could see surfers from where she was sitting—with a fruity tropical drink. And an invisible mannegishi. She could see the imprint of Fred’s bottom on the chair cushion next to hers, and the peanuts were disappearing at a rapid pace. She picked up her phone and pretended to tap in a number, then said, “Hi, Fred. We can talk now.” Anyone observing would see a trim woman with tanned skin and long, dark hair, sitting alone and talking on the phone.
“So what happened to Chaco?” Fred asked.
“As soon as the plane took off, he started to look kind of green around the gills. Then he slumped down and acted like he was sick. He says he’s mortal now. He can die.”
“That’s not good,” Fred observed.
“Tell me about it,” said Sierra. “I’ve been mortal my whole life.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”
“It’s all right. I’m used to it. Chaco isn’t. Do you know if he can ever regain his connection to the numinous? Whatever that is?”
“And why didn’t you lose your powers?” Sierra demanded. The mannegishi was quiet for a few minutes.
“Chaco and I aren’t exactly the same sort of thing, you know,” he said finally.
“How do you mean?”
“Chaco is—was—an Avatar. Much more powerful than a mannegishi. I’m just a, ah, kind of an … well, I don’t know exactly. I have certain powers, but what I can do is born inside me. Like bees can make honey? I can do what I do. That’s all I know.” Sierra could tell by the sounds next to her that the mannegishi was sucking his digits—a nervous habit.
“Stop that!” The sucking sounds ceased and the peanuts began to disappear again. Sierra flagged a passing waiter and asked for more peanuts and another round of whatever she was drinking.
She couldn’t do anything about the situation today. Right now, she was sitting in the Hawai‘ian sun on a Hawai‘ian beach, drinking a Hawai‘ian drink, and watching the Hawai‘ian waves. Almost against her will, she began to relax. The waiter brought her a fresh drink and another bowl of peanuts. She thanked him, took a long swallow, and closed her eyes. She began to think about Clancy and Chaco and Fred. Not relaxing. She opened them again, only to find the rest of her drink gone as well as all the fruit.