“Come on, Junior. Don’t be scared,” Tai giggled and grabbed his hand. It was dark, and they were surrounded by a jungle. He could hear the toads croaking and the breeze moving the leaves in the trees. He felt nervous. He felt scared.
We shouldn’t be here, he thought. It didn’t feel right. He felt like they were intruding on a sacred space and they were not welcome. The hair on his arms stood up and he felt a chill slide down his back.
Tai’s hand felt soft and warm. He could smell her ginger perfume. She was pulling him deeper into the darkness.
We shouldn’t be here, he thought again. He tried to pull her back, but a force was dragging him forward.
Tai turned to look at him, frowning, her pale blue eyes glowing in the dark. His knees felt weak and his body began to shake as shadowy figures rose in the darkness behind her.
His eyes were burning behind his closed eyelids. He could feel a cool, wet touch to his forehead. Gentle hands were massaging his head which was pounding. His body felt like it was on fire. He kicked off the sheets then began shaking uncontrollably from the chills. Someone put his covers back on and added a heavy blanket that pinned him to his bed. His head was being lifted. Cool water touched his lips and he drank thirstily. With his head back on his damp pillow, he moaned. He heard his mom’s voice as she stroked his hair, singing softly.
Fiti stood at the edge of the cliff. The water below was crashing against the rocks. Blow holes shot ocean water high in the air sending droplets to fall on them like rain. The wind was whipping through the coconut branches nearby. Junior was nervous. He didn’t want them to get hit by flying debris. He also felt a deep fear. Fiti was standing too close to the edge. A gust of wind in the right direction could send him over the cliffs into the swirling mass and jagged rocks below.
“Fiti, come away from there,” Junior pleaded. “Let’s talk about this.”
Fiti turned and glared at his friend. Or the person he thought was his friend.
“You know, Junior, no one wanted to be around you. None of the guys. They used to tease me because I wanted to be your friend. They told me I was crazy. They said you were cursed. I never believed them or those stupid stories. You were a nice person. Quiet, yes. But that was okay. I never thought you would betray me like this,” Fiti’s eyes filled with tears. His face twisted into a scowl, fists tight at his sides.
Junior’s shoulders slumped, and he reached his hands out, stretching toward his buddy.
“No, Fiti. I didn’t betray you. You’ve always been my best friend. Always,” Junior said sadly. He didn’t know what else to do. He felt powerless.
“Give her up,” Fiti challenged.
Junior whispered, “I can’t.”
Junior woke up in sweat covered sheets. His mouth felt dry, his voice hoarse as he tried to call someone. He felt movement on his right side. Strong hands lifted his head and put a cup to his lips. He drank deeply. Eyes still closed, his whole body burning, he heard heavy rain pattering against the tin roof above. Gusts of wind blew in cool air. He heard footsteps and the closing of louvres to keep out the wind and rain. A clap of thunder and a flash of lightening made him jump. A hand touched his forehead. A cool cloth took the place of the hand. He focused on the storm outside that lulled him back into a fevered sleep.
He turned as he heard a voice he didn’t recognize. Frozen, he stared in the direction of the sound.
“Junior,” the voice said again.
Mama was standing behind him. She smiled and reached out her hand. Silently, he took it. Her fingers were straight, long and graceful, and her grip was strong. Tears streamed down his face. When did she start talking? And how was she able to use her hands again?
“There are many things you need to know,” she began. She guided him to the door. They walked out into the sunlight toward the family graves. Junior brushed off some leaves and sat with his grandmother near his father’s headstone.
“Talofa e, isi ‘ou tei,” his grandmother said holding his hands. “My sweet grandson, there is so much I need to tell you. But time is short. You are almost sixteen. Have you noticed there are no men still alive in this family? Only fafine. Women. Why do you think that is?”
Junior shook his head. He had wondered the same thing. The idea nagged at him as he looked expectantly at Mama.
“There is a family curse,” she began.
Suddenly he felt an agonizing pain in his chest. He bent over and wailed.
“Every time I try to take the ula off his neck, he screams in pain. I don’t know what to do,” his mother cried.
Junior lay on the bed clutching his chest with both hands, protecting the boar’s tusk necklace. He moaned. His eyes, still closed, produced a trail of tears down the side of his face. He could hear crying on both sides of him. A cold piece of metal touched his chest near the tusk, so he clutched tighter making sure no one tried to move it again.
“Junior,” a female voice said softly. “It’s Doctor Koria. I’m just checking your vital signs. That’s the cold metal you’re feeling on your chest. It’s my stethoscope. You’ve had a very high fever for a week.”
As the metal touched more of his fevered skin, it warmed up. He could feel the doctors soft but strong hands checking his glands and feeling his limbs. He tried to open his eyes. They felt so heavy.
“We need to get him to the hospital for some x-rays,” the doctor said. “I’ll call the ambulance to transport him.”
About twenty minutes later the sound of a siren broke through the normally quiet, peaceful Sunday afternoon. Strong hands lifted Junior onto a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance. He could hear Dr. Koria’s voice as she called orders to the attendants. Mama and one of his sisters were going to follow in their car. His other sister would stay at the house to watch over Mama.
The ride was short since there was no traffic. Everyone was doing what they would normally do on a Sunday. They would be sleeping, reading, or watching television. No children would be out playing, and no one would be working outside. It was a day of rest.
He felt himself being wheeled into an air-conditioned room and he began to shiver again. A blanket was put on him as he was lifted onto a hard surface.
“Junior, it’s Doctor Koria again,” he heard a woman’s voice say calmly. “I know you’re cold, but we need to take off the blanket to take some x-rays. We’ll make sure it’s quick, so we can get you covered up again. If you understand what I’m saying to you, can you squeeze my hand?”
Junior felt a hand holding his and he concentrated on using his muscles to do as she asked.
“Good boy,” she said. “Your mom is watching through the window. We’ll get you into a room as soon as we’re finished.”
“Doctor, are we going to take off the ula?” a male voice asked.
“No,” the doctor answered. “He screams in pain any time someone tries to get it off.”
“Oka,” the male voice said. “I hope it’s not some ‘aitu thing.”
He felt a rush of cold air as the doctor removed his blanket. He lay as still as possible despite the waves of chills. As the doctor promised, the x-rays were completed quickly, and the blanket was placed on him. As the warmth enveloped him, he fell back asleep.
(This story takes place in American Samoa during the 1980's. I'm excited to write it as this is home to me. Person of Shadows, my book based in Kauai using Hawaiian legends, is available on Amazon)