Free Sneak Peek! Chapter 1 of “Fire in the Ocean”

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?”

Sierra nodded.

“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.








In Which I Encounter Pele, Goddess of Fire

Day 5: Volcanoes National Park

I am not going to play some kind of cutesy metaphoric trick on you. My encounter with Pele was not just me visiting a volcano. Bear with me here–it’s worth it.

We have been to the Big Island a couple of times before–three?–and at none of these times has there been visible eruption from Kilauwea, the most active volcano in the islands at present. Kilauwea has been erupting since 1983, according to the National Park Service. Nonetheless, we visited Volcanoes National Park in the past, and enjoyed walking around the caldera, where wisps of gas and steam were visible rising from cracks below. We saw tiny orchids growing amid the rocks, and hiked Desolation Trail, which was bleak but incredibly impressive.

We heard before we left that Kilauwea was experiencing a resurgence. There were YouTube videos of houses burning as the flow consumed them, and people igniting tree branches from the flaming lava. Some (invariably young men) were walking on the hot lava flow. So we thought we might get to see the lava up-close and personal–or at least be able to see it flowing into the sea at night, which is spectacular.

Kilauea is very important in the legends of Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanos. I am tentatively planning to use Pele and her love-hate relationship with Kama-pu’a’a in my next book. (More about Kama-pu’a’a later.) There are several different versions of the Pele origin story, but the one I’ve encountered most often is this:

Pele was born in Kahiki (Tahiti). She has several brothers and sisters. Pele is very beautiful with a straight back like a cliff and breasts as round as the moon. She makes love to the husband of her older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha‘i, a sea goddess. Na-maka-o-kaha‘i is enraged and pursues Pele, who flees across the ocean, coming first to the island of Ni’i’hau. She is accompanied by her favorite sister, Hi’iaka and a brother or three. Pele tries to find a home on Ni’i’hau, but when she digs into the earth, she encounters water, which is antithetical to her fiery nature. Ni’i’hau is the northernmost habitable island of the Hawai’ian archipelago, and Pele tries each island in turn, coming at last to the Big Island of Hawaii, the last in the island chain. Here, she digs down and does not encounter water, so she makes Hawaii her home, along with her many relatives. She has several homes here, but her favorite is Kilauwea. The ancient Hawaiians also referred to Kilauwea, among other things, as “Pele’s ma’i.” Remember that the ancient Hawaiians were quite straightforward and frank about sex, and I am sure I need not translate.

As we were planning to visit Pele’s home, I thought, “Why not give Pele my precious maile lei and ask for her blessing?” After, all, what did I have to lose? The Hawai’ians I have met believe in Pele. A lot of other people do, too. The post offices here have large collections of stones tourists have taken from volcanoes and mailed back, citing unremitting bad luck ever since taking the souvenirs home. (The National Forest Service is happy to tell you this as well. They have their own collection of souvenirs returned by unlucky tourists.)

We had a leisurely breakfast, then set off. The drive to Volcanoes National Park is about 2 hours from Captain Cook. We drove along the Mamalahoa Hwy., sometimes with ocean visible on the right, sometimes climbing in altitude, going through tiny towns from time to time. We stopped at Punalu’u, the famous black sand beach. There is a legend (try to find some place in Hawaii that doesn’t have a legend) that a sea turtle goddess made her home there. She played with the keiki (kay-ee-kee, children) and protected them. The people in turn protected her keiki, the sea turtles, who come to feed in the bay and lay their eggs in the black sand. The black sand is, of course, pulverized lava. It glitters in the hand like a starry tropical night. We saw several sea turtles in the water, quite close to where we were standing.

Punalu'u black sand beach.

Punalu’u black sand beach.

We gained elevation as we began to climb the side of the volcano. Hawaiian volcanoes are not conical, like Mt. Fuji. They are called “shield volcanoes” because they resemble the shape of a warrior’s shield resting flat on the ground. You wouldn’t know you were on a volcano because the swelling is so gradual, but before we realized it, we were 4,000 feet above sea level. Although the terrain on the slopes of the mountain had been desert, largely fields of jagged chunks of lava (the Hawaiians have names for specific types of lava rock; this is called ‘a’a), as we approached the town of Volcano, it became quite lush.

We stopped at Kilauwea Lodge for lunch. This is a beautiful, old-fashioned establishment with a lovely garden. I had an antelope burger (the antelope is from Texas), largely because I had never had antelope before, and Tom ordered an ahi sandwich. They had decent wine, and we enjoyed ourselves. Antelope, by the way, tastes pretty much like beef, at least in burger form.

We went on to the park. As we went through the entry, the man who took our money said we qualified for a lifetime senior pass to all national parks. $10. There are some advantages to the silvery hair after all. He also admired my maile lei, which I had worn all the way from Captain Cook.

Things have changed. They no longer allow people into the caldera, and Desolation Trail is closed. You can view the caldera from the Jaggar Museum. The problem is that the volcano is emitting so much sulphur dioxide and other toxic gasses that it’s dangerous to get any closer. The path of the lava below the volcano (lava is not spewing out of the caldera, but squeezing through side vents) has been evacuated and quarantined, and no one is allowed near it. There is also a plume of deadly gas traveling across this area. To put a cap on our lava non-viewing experience, lava is not flowing into the sea right now, so that was out, too.

However, the Kilauwea caldera is awesome enough, with a white plume of smoke and steam rising up that can be seen for many miles. The area immediately around the caldera is barren, and it is easy to observe the way the mountain has melted, built and melted again with successive eruptions.

Pele's ma'i.

Pele’s ma’i.

We spent quite a long time at the overlook. A ranger talked about the volcano, Pele, and various related topics, and answered questions. We went through the museum. Then we walked a little way from the museum building and saw a path leading to the railing that prevented unwary tourists from falling over the cliff. There was a sign requesting soft voices and respect for those who had come to revere Pele. We saw a small tree just the other side of the railing that had two leis hanging in it, one of shells and the other of flowers. There was also an orchid lei draped over the railing.

I thought, “This is the place.” I asked Tom not to speak for a minute while I said my silent prayer to Pele. I stood at the brink, overlooking her home, and asked for her blessing on my work. I promised I would always be respectful to her and that which is hers. Then I took my precious lei off and hurled it into the little tree, where it lodged quite firmly. Maile leis are quite long, and this one twined across at least two branches.

Flinging the lei. The green thing in the upper right is the maile lei in flight.

Flinging the lei. The green thing in the upper right is the maile lei in flight.

“Mission accomplished!” I thought and turned away. We hadn’t gone more than four or five steps before I stopped and said, “Tom, let’s get a picture of the lei hanging in the tree.”

It cannot have been more than a few seconds since we stepped away, but when we turned around, the lei was gone.

We got as close as we could, but we couldn’t see it in the little tree (though the other three leis were still there). It was not in the bushes below the tree, nor as far as we could see, anywhere.

What fantasy writer would not kill for such an experience? However, I was accompanied by my rational and logical husband, so I quickly said, “Pele has accepted my offering–and I don’t want to hear any alternative theories!”

Tom, having lived with me for many decades, wisely kept his own counsel. As for me–despite the fact that I am not religious or even particularly woo-woo, at least for a fantasy writer–I was and am and continue to be thrilled. I feel I have Pele’s blessing on my work here, and I am incredibly energized. Every time I think about it, I experience the amazement and thrill I felt when I turned and saw that the lei had utterly vanished.

That might have been all I could ever have asked for, but the day was not over. We got back in the car and headed for Volcano House, which is a hotel and restaurant perched on the caldera, but far enough away from Pele’s antics to have survived since 1941. (There was a series of hotels before it that burned down.) We had heard that even if we couldn’t see actual lava, the glow from the caldera at night was spectacular in itself. We also knew from past experience that the restaurant is very good, so we made reservations for dinner that night.

The view from Volcano House is a panorama of Kilauwea, with its cloud of smoke and steam ever rising. We volcano-gazed for a while and then went to the bar. I intended to journal day 4 while we were waiting for our reservation. I ordered a daiquiri on the rocks because it’s kind of a tropical drink (the only cocktail I really like other than margaritas) and I hadn’t had the obligatory fruity drink yet. The waitress brought me a frozen daiquiri, and I politely reminded her that I had asked for it on the rocks. She said, “Well, you keep that one and I’ll go get you a daiquiri on the rocks.” Two drinks for the price of one! They kept me hydrated until dinner time.

By 7:00 it was dark, so we went outside. Kilauwea glowed a deep red-orange in the near distance, and the glare reflected off the smoke plume and the clouds above. It dominated the entire panorama, but trying to photograph it was hopeless. The best either of us could get was a large black field with a small red smudge in the middle that was as much a representation of this gaping maw of hell as a lit match would be. I do not know if anyone can see this without a frisson of unease up the spine: “I am standing right on top of an active, erupting volcano.”

The dining room also faces the volcano and has a wall of windows allowing an excellent view. Periodically, the staff turned out the lights so diners could appreciate the spectacle. Tom and I both ordered the kampachi, a fish in the skipjack family. It was pan-fried with a lobster and seaweed salad on the side. Heavenly! Sadly, I couldn’t finish it all.

After dinner, we went back outside. It was darker than before, and though Kilauwea’s smoldering glare obscured the stars in that direction, they were blazing overhead like living diamonds. Incidentally, it was quite chilly–59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), which is not a temperature one associates with Hawaii. We were inadequately dressed for the temperature, so we stayed as long as we could stand it, then piled back into Sparky (as we now call the Crapmobile) and began the drive back to Captain Cook.

As nothing memorable happened along the drive, thank goodness, I may as well mention that the temperatures in Captain Cook were much cooler than I expected. It stayed in the mid-to-low 70’s (20’s Celsius) during the day and dropped into the 60’s at night. The town is a thousand feet or more above sea level and gets cooling breezes all the time. The sea water is pleasantly refreshing, just the right temperature.

We got back to Camp Aloha around 11 pm. I was still buzzing from the day’s events and spent more time journaling before falling into bed and sleeping the sleep of one who has been incredibly, unbelievably blessed.