Authors: Anisa Claire West
“My name is Herculea Sanchez and I---“
The old man’s uncannily pearly smile increased in wattage. “And I am your Secret Keeper!” He replied in a jolly tone.
Herculea was stunned. “How do you know that?!”
Because nobody comes to visit me.
almost 100 years
for a Stolen Mortal
to come to me. You have been deceived,
?” The old man’s smile faded, replaced by a deeply compassionate stare.
, I have.” Herculea said weakly.
“I know what you need, and I will help you. But you must help me as well. I have been in this old man’s body for too many years. When you become mortal again, I will be youthful! I lost my youth to the selfishness of the evil two. I will not say their names aloud.” The old man shuddered and shriveled in his chair.
Herculea knew he was talking about Pedro and the Silver Goddess. She saw no need to utter their vile names either.
The old man continued, recovering some of his earlier lightheartedness. “I know where the Island of Vinova is, and I will help you get there.” His expression turned grave again. “But I warn you that yo
u will be facing many dangers
am ready to face any danger necessary. As long as I can undo this curse!”
shaking her head in desperation.
The old man regarded her with brown eyes the color of the garden’s fertile soil. “
It is the
’ fault for writing this book in the first place
Sparks of anger ignited in the old man’s eyes. “
Let me explain everything.
years ago, I
met a woman named
hilda. Pedro was her lover, but I didn’t know this at the time.
. My wife, Teresa, had died a few years earlier during childbirth to our first baby.” The Secret Keeper’s voice trembled as tears brimmed his eyelids. “It was a little boy, and he died too, a few days after he was born. He couldn’t live without
his mother’s love
The Secret Keeper’s tears flowed in earnest now, and Herculea sensed that he had not broached this topic in many years, if ever.
“I’m so sorry.” Herculea said, feeling the inadequacy of her words even as she spoke them.
The Secret Keeper nodded solemnly in response.
“I was living alone in Rio. One day, I was walking down the street and saw Mathilda.
She was so beautiful, even though I could tell she was a little older than me. I didn’t care. I desired her, and she seemed to desire me as well. She never told me
I only found out after…” The Secret Keeper
voice trailed off.
, feeling a wave of sadness for what the old man had endured all these years.
“Matilda invited me one evening for dinner. She said she would cook me a delicious meal. No one had cooked for me since Teresa.
I thought this night c
ould be the beginning of a new life. I was so stupid.” The Secret Keeper slapped his hand on his thigh and pounded the armrest with his fist.
“I’ve been telling myself the same thing! But you can’t ever blame yourself. Evil people can deceive the most intelligent of us. Lying is their only expertise.” Herculea felt like running over to the old man and giving him a bear hug, but she stayed in her seat.
“Thank you, dear.
When I got there, I was shocked to see another man. I was so stupid and asked if
he was her brother! He
was Pedro. He became so jealous and threatened to fight me. Then, he suddenly changed his mind and offered me a goblet of red wine.
I drank it, and I will never forget that bitter taste. Like salt and fire and smoke together with other strange things I cannot name. But I drank it anyway.
” As the Secret Keeper scrunched his face up at the memory, Herculea remembered the bitter taste of the mango juice Pedro had served her.
The Secret Keeper continued.
didn’t even try to stop me. I drank every drop of that poison---thinking it was just wine!
When I got home, I passed by a mirror in my living room, and I thought there was an intruder standing behind me. Some old man I had never seen before! I turned around, but there was no one there. I thought I had seen a ghost. I looked in the mirror again and saw that it was me! I still couldn’t believe it. I thought the wine had
inate. So I went to bed. N
ext morning, I saw the same old face in the mirror.”
The Secret Keeper clammed up suddenly, and Herculea did not press him to elaborate. The nightmare he had just shared made her blood curdle, and she looked down at the floor helplessly.
The Secret Keeper seemed to have a rein over his emotions as he resumed his story. “
I went to many doctors and spiritual healers, but no one could help me.
No one knew that Pedro put poison into the elixir to make me not only immortal, but also old!
his is how I have lived ever since.” A fresh onslaught of
tears burned t
he Secret Keeper’s eyes, and his emotions once again rose to the surface.
Herculea was silent for a few moments, having trouble absorbing the horrific tale he had just conveyed. As she contemplated his words, she realized that one detail was missing from his account.
“Secret Keeper, I have only one question. How did you l
earn what had happened to you
?” Herculea posed the question as gently as she could.
One day, I was at the library.
I probably looked at every book on every shelf trying to find answers. What I found was
.” The Secret Keeper’
s mouth unveiled a vivid smile.
“It was like
some good spirit
left it there just for me.
You see, I couldn’t leave it in the library. I am not a thief, but I had to take that book. My life depended on it, and it still does.
I will show you the book in a moment, but first I want to tell you what you must do.
“Yes, please, could you explain the verse about drinking the
and touching the Golden Orca?” Herculea asked eagerly.
“Yes, the Golden Orca is your friend. The whale will guide you to more secrets you need to learn. You will touch the orca’s back and drink the same elixir Pedro gave you…except that you must mix it with sea water.
This will reverse the immortality curse on both of us, and I will be young again!
” The Secret Keeper revealed Herculea’s mission with shining eyes.
“It sounds so complicated. How will I even find the Golden Orca?”
“I will show you.”
The Secret Keeper rose from his chair with minor difficulty and walked over to
bookshelf. “My friends.” The Secret Keeper indicated, making a sweeping motion near the books. “They have kept me company for my whole life. But only one of them is priceless.”
The Secret Keeper blew on the dusty cover of the precious book and handed it to Herculea. She flipped through it thoughtfully. It seemed to contain the same information, verbatim, that
The only difference was
that a small
iece of paper was folded inside. It was a
detailed map in tiny, almost illegible lettering
, along with a few verses about how to channel the Golden Orca’s power
That paper was
tucked inside the book when I found it at the library.
It has directions to the Island of Vinova.
Like I said, a good spirit put them there.” The Secret Keeper nodded his head confidently.
“Or an evil conniver who wanted to lure someone into a trap.” Kent’s alternative explanation rattled the old man.
“No! That is not possible.” The Secret Keeper’s a
rm began to shake as he spoke.
Herculea knew that Kent, ever the realist, could be absolutely right. But she couldn’t make a predetermination as
to whether a “good spirit” as t
he Secret Keeper put it, or some evil force, had stuck the directions and map into the book. The only way to find out was to take that map all the way to the Island of Vinova
and find the Golden Orca
The sunset was a flaming crimson ball splashing over the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. The sky was ablaze with every mile of that setting sun, whose fire bled out into the atmosphere like a gaping wound.
Herculea sat in the taxi with the map and directions securely zippered in her purse. On her right side, Kent sat with a grim expression on his face. On her left side sat the Secret Keeper, who had insisted on taking this journey with them.
At his cottage that afternoon, t
he Secret Keeper had nearly had to beg them to come along. Both Kent and Herculea viewed the old man’s presence as a liability. He was not half as spry as the
he had been when this he
inous spell was cast. Indeed, t
he Secret Keeper appeared frail and tired. But he had perked up like a pot of freshly brewed coffee when he told them how much it would mean to him to come along.
“Think how many years I have waited for this! I want to be on that island and look in Mat
ilda’s eyes when I get my youth and mortality back! I want her to know that she has not won. Besides, you may need my Portuguese skills.” The Secret Keeper had persuaded, and Herculea could not argue with the last part.
On the long journey to the Island of Vinova, they would pass through remote areas of Brazil, regions where English was not likely understood. Plus, H
erculea felt passionately that t
he Secret Keeper deserved the firsthand satisfaction of victory after nearly a century of suffering and isolation.
The taxi chugged along over bumpy, poorly paved roads. The map contained precise directions
measurements of latitude and longitude. They would surely find the island, Herculea thought. That was a foregone conclusion. But, after reaching the destination, the events to follow were wholly unpredictable.
Herculea glanced over at Kent, admiring his strong profile. She had never sat this close to him before and was acutely aware of their hips fused together on the hot leather seat. Still fatigued and without a good night’s sleep since her last night in San Francisco, Herculea wanted to rest her head on Kent’s chest. She imagined the soothing feel of his hand caressing her hair, lulling her into sleep. Kent’s eyes met hers suddenly, and there was a fierceness in his expression that suggested he was having similar thoughts.
Inconveniently, the old man launched into a coughing fit, placing a hand over his
as he heaved for air. Herculea smirked comically for a moment until the coughs became more raspy, and the old man’s throat constricted painfully. Instinctively, Herculea slapped him on the back as he leaned forward in his seat gasping for oxygen.
“Are you OK?” Herculea asked.
The Secret Keeper caught his breath before answering in a hoarse voice. “Yes, dear. Don’t worry. Just a tickle in my throat.”
Clearly irritated by the man’s intrusive presence, Kent rolled his eyes before affirming, “I don’t think you’re able enough to take this trip. We’re only sitting in a taxi, and you’re practically choking to death. How will you deal with
what lies ahead
Taken aback, The Secret Keeper bristled. “I said it was just a tickle. So it was just a tickle. Don’t underestimate
, boy. I’ve been around a long time. I didn’t last this long from being weak.”
The old man had a point, Herculea t
hought. It was remarkable how t
he Secret Keeper had survived a lifetime in such a
He was so tall,
his limbs long and lean,
no meat on the bones at all. The trio continued to ride in semi-awkward silence along the startlingly beautiful Brazilian coastline. The ocean became more crystalline with every mile south they traveled. Sands were as white as sugar cane, and the sky was sheer aquamarine.
Herculea tried to pretend that she was on a tourist bus, just like any other privileged mortal. This was not a grave journey to challenge the crude destiny someone else had chosen for her, but rather
a lighthearted prance through
South America. Next, Herculea imagined, the tour bus would be heading west and crossing over into her homeland
, she would leave the bus behind and meet her mother at a café in Lima where they would sit outside in the baking sun and sip ice cream sodas.