My Moon in Red
by L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou
My grandmother always told me the earth would listen to my cries. And it would answer. The fanua is dying. Not just in Samoa, but the entire world. Here I stand, in the midst of rain laced with volcanic ash, hard brown earth turning trees into twisted demons, and flowers so full of poison that one sniff will bury you. And humans. Between the tainted food and acidic waters, humans have become animals, feeding off the flesh of others. Our family land sits on sacred grounds. It is protected. But as the gods begin to fade and leave us, their protection withers. Soon, we will fall into the wild abyss.
Vaitele is the waterfall near the top of our family mountain and the only pure water source I know. There is something about that space. I am drawn to it. I have been since I could walk. As a toddler, I heard Vaitele’s call, beckoning me to visit and talanoa. I found my way to her on my own. I remember my family calling into the jungle, searching for me frantically, as the sun began to dip in the sky. My mother’s arms grabbing hold of my tiny body, promising to never let go. Terror was the feeling they brought. But Vaitele brought me peace.
There is no escape. Earth is saying its final farewells. Papa’ele has had enough. She is tired. For too long, she has watched her indigenous people fight against those who tore at her very soul. And now she is ready to sleep. Her chosen people weep. Once she is gone, they will be gone with her. They are saddened they could not do more. They could not save her. So, they cry out to Tagaloa for forgiveness. They hope their voyage to Pulotu will release them gently from this diseased world.
I lie beside Vaitele’s clear waters, exhausted. My hand runs gently through her pureness, creating small ripples that end in the gushing waters near the mountainside. I am in awe of her mystical powers, purifying the deadly rain that falls into her streams. Yet here she sits, drinkable and kind. I sigh and ask if she can show me how it will end. Just so I know and can prepare.
“Please make it swift,” I whisper softly. “So we don’t feel any pain.”
“You can always come here,” the voice states quietly.
Startled, I sit up and look around. My family knows I come up here often. And now that I’m old enough, they don’t go out searching for me anymore. If times were different, I would be bombarded by questions of marriage and children. There’s no use for that now. Why would I bring a life into a world that has none left?
“Who’s there?” I call out.
I catch a shimmer on Vaitele’s surface. A face that looks just like mine. She’s under the water. How can this be? Maybe it’s my reflection. My hand reaches toward the glassy mirror, not wanting to disturb the image, afraid of chasing her away. Wanting so desperately to touch her hand. She looks so much like me. Except. Maybe it’s the color of the water. Her hair is the same dark brown with wild curls surrounding a long face filled with a wide nose, large brown eyes, and a small mouth pulled up in a smile. The dimple in her cheek is unmistakable. Except. She seems brighter, happier, full of energy. So many years of pollution has dulled our everything. Maybe that’s it. She’s an image of the past. Yet, when I stir the water, and it finally calms, she is still there. Looking up at me.
“Is it time to board the va’a to Pulotu?” I ask. It must be one of the gods summoning me. I’m ready to go. My heart has been breaking for too long. My whole being is tied to Earth Mother. As she has been dying, so have I. My eyes carry dark rings around what used to be vibrant skin. My sunken cheeks are brushed by my dull, wild hair. My body is shriveled into bones painted with wrinkled skin. This is what a dying fanua does to a person. The only thing I still have is the dimple. Just like my dad.
“I’m ready, Vaitele,” I say softly. “I have cried enough tears. I’m ready to go and meet Tagaloa.”
The prophecy was upon us. Masina and La. Moon and Sun. We were connected in a way no one else could understand, our universes tied together along this small stretch of water. I could always sense her in my thoughts. Our souls were matched by the gods. Her name was whispered to me in the breeze. There was so much hope and power in that knowledge. Masina’s world had stopped worshipping the ancients long ago. She was unaware of the energy she and I shared. Even as she called to them now, I knew her pleas fell on deaf ears.
I have heard her cries since I was born. As I exited my mother’s womb, screaming for air, I heard her. Her screams were softer. I knew I had to defend her. Always. I found Vaitele when I was a toddler. The image of her sitting by the water’s edge, looking down at me, is etched in my mind. Seeing her now, a skeleton of the full-bodied woman she should be, is breaking my heart. Her mother’s cries, vowing to protect her, scolding her for going too far, haunts my dreams. What kind of mother limits her child? Set her free, I cry. My voice falls into the dark void that separates us.
“You can always come here,” I say softly. My real voice would scare her away. It is powerful. Dominating. It commands troops of warriors in battle, in prayers to Tagaloa, in speeches to other villages. I mean what I say. I want her to come here. She needs healing. In my world, Earth Mother is thriving. Her people have stifled anyone who tries to abuse her. We have banded together with indigenous people of the world to protect her at all costs. And we have won. For centuries.
Her response to my invitation brings tears to my own eyes. She is ready for Pulotu. If she only knew the wonders of Tagaloa. He visits us regularly. We are his chosen people. And Papa’ele? Oh how beautiful she is with her expanse of green, her crystal clear blue waters, her children that provide us nourishment from the land and sea, and her warm breezes that hold us tightly in the night.
Tagaloa’s breath cascades through my hair as he sits beside me. He sees her. His face is dark, the frown so low that clouds are building on the horizon. I smell lightning and rain. My hand reaches out to touch his, trying to calm his anger.
“I must go to her,” I say. “Only I can bring her here and save her. If she dies, so must I.”
“And how will you do it?” he asks thoughtfully. “To break the seal of Vaitele is to invite destructive forces into your world. Are you willing to pay that price?”
“There has to be a way!” I cry, making sure I have shadowed Vaitele’s waters so Masina can’t see or hear me. Or Tagaloa.
My frustration grows as the god of creation shakes his head.
“What about Pulotu?” I ask.
“Even if you get through the spirit world, you are still breaking the barrier,” his dispassionate reply chills my soul.
“La,” Tagaloa sighs. “I tried to save them. There was nothing I could do. When they finally decided it was time to fight, it was too late. Their world must die.”
“No,” I sob. “We are linked together. I could not survive without her.”
“We will not know for sure until the time comes,” he answers, looking at our reflection. With that, he is gone.
Reaching out to Vaitele’s waters, I swirl them around. I see her. So sad. And so confused. Her eyes have become wild.
“I will save you,” I say softly. Tears stream down my face as she cradles her head in her arms and falls asleep.
I don’t know how long I slept. It could have been a few minutes. Or maybe a few days. My family is so weak they don’t have the energy to climb the mountain to look for me. I could be dead. We all will be soon.
Vaitele is quiet. The stream has slowed for the night. Sipping on some water, I store up the energy needed to walk down the mountain to our home. The trees twist into silhouettes that would stop your heart with fear. As long as they don’t move, they are safe enough. The walk down the mountain is deathly quiet. Everyone is either hiding or gone to the underworld.
Home is an expanse of land that used to be covered by grass, surrounded by plants that bore food or flowers. The guava tree beside our fale is now darkened and gnarled, producing noxious fruit oozing a bright yellow substance. Ulu trees that used to line one side of the yard are bent and broken. My father and brother cut down the remaining flowers along the perimeter of the yard to hide our presence.
The breeze blows dried leaves across the jungle floor. They follow me as I step into the clearing, heading for our sleeping house. No fires are lit at night. We have nothing to cook and no need for warmth. We hide in the darkness, trying not to draw their attention.
Snarls break the silence as I near my home. Then come the screams. The wind carries a metallic tinge that I can taste in the back of my throat. Something lands at my feet. I am frozen. My eyes want to look down. My heart tells me to run. Human-like figures are ripping into flesh in the fale. They growl, elongated canines snapping at each other, saliva sliding freely from their jowls. Smelling my scent, they turn. Glowing red eyes stare at me, reaching into my mana, wishing to tear it out. They want to take my essence. So they can become stronger.
“O lo’o i ai,” they hiss collectively. “There she is.”
I back away, hoping to disappear into the jungle. They continue to eat, savoring the taste of flesh. Those red eyes. I think of Vailulu’u rising from the water along the coast of Ta’ū. Her anger spewing lava into the air, breaking through the ocean’s surface. She has been in bondage for many years. Even as the world dies, Vailulu’u continues to fight. She is Papa’ele’s final cry for justice. I pray for her strength to carry me back to Vaitele.
Before I turn to run, I force myself to look at the ground. My brother’s empty eyes stare at me, his mouth open in surprise. Sobbing and stumbling, my legs carry me a few yards into the jungle before betraying me. I collapse among the rotting soil. I imagine their claws tearing my flesh apart, teeth sinking into my stomach. I am but a shadow. They won’t care. Whatever is left on me will be devoured.
“Please, Tagaloa,” my hoarse prayer calls into the night.
They should have been upon me by now. The distance is short, especially with their long legs and vision that slices through the darkness. My head feels like a boulder. It takes all of my energy to lift it and look toward the clearing. Toward my home. And my family, who are now fragmented pieces scattered along our once green landscape.
At the edge of the jungle, they pace, shouting at each other. The barrier is still there, but has become smaller. We should have moved up the mountain earlier, my thoughts rage into my head like a wild cloud of bats. Why did we wait? We should have stayed at Vaitele. There was nothing left for us here.
Thoughts of my mother, barely able to move, fill my vision. I catch the fleeting image of my father’s slow gait as he tried to make whatever food he could find while leaning against his walking stick, his gnawed leg festering. He was attacked weeks ago. The stench of rotting flesh mixed with decaying earth filled our days. Vaitele could have given us more time.
My brother’s face swirls through my memories. He was exactly one year older than me. We looked like twins. His own wild curls would be tied back while he worked on the plantation. He was the sound to my quiet. I knew in my heart he and my parents would be welcomed with open arms in the spirit world.
Despite the fear of my sanctuary shrinking more, exposing me to the animals outside, I could no longer hold on. The dry heaving shattered my body and mind. My stomach is an empty lapita pot, filled with dust and memories. Sleep washes over me, and I succumb to its deceptively warm embrace.
I pace around Vaitele until the sun slips from the sky. She is sleeping peacefully and I have to trust she will be okay, at least for one more night. Walking back to the village, my senses are on high alert. After Tagaloa left, the dark clouds dispersed. Waning sunlight along with the warmth of the day covers the land like a lullaby. Fires are burning for light and cooking. We all eat together as a group. We work together, play together, fight together.
I am late. The food tables are already put away, everything clean and orderly. Prayers have been chanted. I spy a basket of fragments of tonight’s feast sitting on the edge of a fale. A village elder waves me over and points at it, nodding her head. She knows I was missing. Smiling, I grab a piece of breadfruit and fish. I thank her and continue walking to my family’s house.
My mind returns to Masina. And her slow death. There has to be a way out. Tagaloa already said it is impossible. Maybe I can consult others who might have a solution. It’s not that I don’t trust our god of creation. I just know he is very angry with Masina’s world. He watches expressionless as the people die, ripped apart by human animals or poisoned by the earth. I also know his heart is broken.
Tagaloa created the heavens. Then he brought the land out of the ocean. Everything was
done so humans would have a place to live. Tagaloa taught them how to take care of the fanua. He sent other gods to teach his people how to grow crops, how to fight, how to love, and how to evolve. That’s where things went wrong in Masina’s world. They evolved quickly, not taking time to remember their creator. And now? There were human animals roaming, killing, feasting, and terrorizing. They will be the last in that world. Then Tagaloa will close his fist, and it will disappear, whispering farewell after the cries of agony.
I wash my hands outside of our main fale before stepping inside. My parents are weaving and talking on one side. My older brother is sitting on the other end, repairing a fishing net. They all look up as I enter.
“How is she?” my mother asks quietly, a frown forming on her forehead.
I shake my head. If I speak, I will cry again.
“What did Tagaloa say?” my brother’s question comes from a place of knowing.
He is exactly one year older than me. He is my war counselor, my confidant, my conscience. Where I am brash and loud, he is soft and still. When people are afraid of me, they go to my brother. He is the only one who is not afraid of my wrath. I could never hurt him.
“He said there is nothing we can do,” I sigh heavily, sitting in the middle of the fale, leaning against a smooth pole.
“What are you thinking, daughter?” my father questions in his thoughtful way. His mind is usually working through a million scenarios all at once.
“I told Tagaloa I could go through Vaitele’s waters to bring Masina back,” I answer swiftly. “I can heal her, make her whole again.”
I blurt out my idea of going through Pulotu when Tagaloa said Vaitele wouldn’t work. I hear my mother’s sharp intake of breath at the mention of the underworld. I have fought more wars in my twenty years than I can count, yet my mother still worries about me.
“Any way you enter, you will create an entrance for the sickness to come through,” my brother states, nodding his head slowly. “What price do we pay? Do we fight that evil and save Masina, or do we keep our world safe and lose her?”
“What are you afraid of?” Father’s words cut right through my already fragile strength.
“I have known her since birth,” I whimper. “I speak her name. How can I live without her presence? And what will happen to me? Are we not connected by the gods?”
My family sits quietly, allowing me to cry. My mother’s fear shows plainly on her face. She is always easy to read, never hiding her expressions, her thoughts, her emotions. My father loves that about her. She says what she means. The village knows her heart belongs to the people. And her children.
“Tagaloa couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me the answer,” I say softly. “I’m not ready to leave this world. There is still so much to be done.”
I think of my meeting with our Tikúna family in Brasil. Within their thriving rainforest, some of the trees have developed a disease. I am supposed to make the journey in a few days to investigate. And what about our Ashanti family in Ghana? They will be hosting leaders who are gathering on the African plains to discuss recent uprisings. I know the meetings will be serious, but I am excited to see my sister, She-Who-Powers-the-Moon, from the Muhhekunneuw people on Turtle Island.
There is so much to do. And so many people to save. Only one person is on my mind, though. I know Masina has only days to live. Possibly hours. Which means I have to work quickly.
“What if we set up a perimeter of warriors around Vaitele?” I ask suddenly. “I would move swiftly into Masina’s world, grab her, and get right back through the portal. She’s been spending a lot of time right on the edge of the water. It would be easy. Anything that tried to get through, our warriors would kill it on sight. Right now, none of the creatures can get to her at Vaitele. Not yet, anyway. It could work!”
My momentum builds up as I am talking, my voice and gestures becoming louder and wilder. I can picture the rescue in my mind. We can create a swirl to catch anything that tries to enter our world then push it back as soon as I get Masina through. My brother can make healing potions for Masina and for our own fanua to make sure nothing is harmed.
With a heavy sigh, my father cuts off my thoughts.
“La,” he says softly. “What about the things we cannot see? If any of that sickness gets through, how will we protect our world so we don’t become like the monsters on the other side?”
“You must seek guidance from Papa’ele,” my mother’s practical sense pushes through. “If she shares Tagaloa’s concerns, you must ask her what to do.”
“You must also listen and obey her,” my brother states quietly. “Even if it means losing Masina.”
Jaws clenching, I nod.
Muted sunlight is streaming through the branches of mostly bare trees, hitting my face in splotches. And in my hand is a perfect guava. Not the diseased, oozing ones I remember from our tree. An actual, solid guava. Shaking, I don’t know if I should eat it. What if it is a trick? What if I bite into it and become one of the human animals lurking just outside the sacred grounds? Who could have put it here?
My stomach clenches, my mouth waters, my whole body betrays me. I take a cautious bite. What do I have to lose? If I become an animal or if I die, it would be the same thing, right? I carefully chew, knowing my teeth might not be strong enough, nor my stomach, after so many weeks of eating next to nothing. Although my gut cramps, everything stays in. I feel my strength growing by the minute, surprised at how a simple fruit could make such a great impact.
I cannot finish it. Tucking away the leftovers, I rise slowly, testing my leg strength. I find myself standing solidly on the ground, feeling my blood pumping through my body with power. Was this a gift from Papa’ele? Or Tagaloa himself? I suddenly feel guilty that I have not taken this precious food to my family. How could I be so selfish?
A wave of nausea pounds over my head, relentless in its attack. The memory of the night before rises above me, throwing me off balance. Images of the carnage push me under, bile rising in my throat, cutting off all air.
My family is gone. Brutally gone. My brother’s empty eyes make me drop to my knees in despair. I hold the wail that is fighting to escape from my weakened body. I am alone.
With my newfound energy, I make my way up to Vaitele. If I am going to die, I want my life to end there. My journey to Pulotu will be even more blessed if I wash in the sacred waters. Taking off the tatters of clothing that barely cover my skin and bones, I step into the liquid mist. The warmness of the water surprises me. I thought it would be cold, coming from the mountains. When I drink from it, the liquid is always cool and refreshing.
This is what grandmother taught me, I think. The fanua is taking care of me. Did the land also provide me with the guava?
What little strength I possess can only be used on one thought at a time. It takes me a minute to notice the dark cloud rising into the sky. Then the buzzing begins. Something comes crashing through the trees heading right toward me, rolling my body underwater.
This must be my time, I think.
The sun is blocked by the dark cloud for an eternity. I keep trying to swim to the surface, but a force holds me down. I thrash in the water, my hand brushing against something human.
Panicking, I gulp in water and struggle to breathe. Hands pull me behind the waterfall’s curtain, into a protected area. I break through the surface of the water gasping for air while emptying my stomach at the same time. With my body still submerged, I put my head on the rock wall and hold on for dear life. The water is wild at this time of the morning, so all I can hear is the crashing of heavy liquid. The buzzing sound is muted.
Hands hold onto me, keeping my head above water, then guide me back into the open. The dark cloud and buzzing are gone. I am lifted onto the shore, the sunshine warming my body as I shiver and curl up in a ball. I need to protect myself.
My bones ache and I struggle to look up, afraid of who, or what, I might see.
“Masina,” the voice comes out quietly. “Suga, are you okay?”
That voice. I know that voice. It reminds me of climbing our big mango tree on the side of the house. The only other voice that could walk along the branches with me, finding mangoes that were perfect for eating. The voice that sang with me, while teasing the other neighborhood kids who couldn’t climb the high trunk. The voice that would tell me stories in the dark, making me laugh or cry out in fear.
“Manu?” my voice croaks from lack of use. Tears mingle with droplets from the waterfall. “H-h-how are you here? I thought everyone was dead or turned into…”
My body convulses into sobs. Someone I know, someone I love, is right here with me. My best friend is alive. And I’m not alone. My thoughts go back to the night before. The sickening sound of bones crunching, quick screams of pain, the metallic smell of blood filling the air.
Manu covers me with a lavalava. Gently patting my back, he waits for me to calm down. A pungent odor suddenly fills the space around us. It is coming from him.
“You’re so skinny,” he whispers.
“How are you not dead?” I ask again. This time my body stiffens at his touch.
“I’ve been hiding in the mountains,” he answers, his eyes darting around the area. “My family is gone. I thought you were dead, too, so I left and never looked back.”
“We were barely surviving.” I sit up, struggling to speak. “We were starving and I thought I was going to die. And then last night...”
Sobbing again, I grab Manu’s face. He pulls away quickly, not making eye contact. Then anger and fear flare within me.
“My family was ripped apart last night!” I cry. “And you! You’ve been up here in the mountains all this time, and you didn’t even check to see if we were okay?”
“I thought everyone was dead,” he fires back.
“But did you actually look?” I scream. “I’ve been coming to Vaitele every day and you were nowhere around. We were STARVING! And you look like you’ve been eating a feast every night.”
Scooting away from him, my progress is stopped by a large boulder. I jump into a crouch, feeling around the area for a sharp rock, not taking my eyes off Manu.
“Who are you?” I ask, finding something suitable and holding it in front of me.
“Masina, it’s me,” Manu says softly, his voice changing into something rough and primal. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to find you sooner. I couldn’t get to Vaitele until now.”
Carrying a basket filled with the freshest fruits from the land, I head to Logomē at sunrise. I’m also bringing the newest weapon from our arsenal, a nifo’oti made of ifilele wood. It is carved with images of the ocean, an underwater treasure of starfish, jellyfish, and shellfish. Interwoven among the sea creatures are pieces of fishing net and gogo birds. The wood is polished with coconut oil, its handle wrapped in sennet rope. My chief weapons maker also added shark’s teeth along the edges, creating a deadly hint to the artwork.
“Tulou lava,” I pray softly, stepping into the sacred area.
The usual village noise softens as soon as I enter the hallowed jungle, its otherworldliness shimmering on the edge of my vision, the spirits floating just beyond my reach. They cannot touch me. I carry our family blood in my veins.
The portal to Papa’ele’s home sits beside the graves of the old chiefs. Chanting the proper prayer, I wait. No one can enter Earth Mother’s world. It is tapu, forbidden. Papa’ele comes to us. Sometimes it takes days before she appears. On this day, it is only a few moments before she steps onto the land of my ancestors. Seeing the basket of fruits and the weapon, she sits gracefully on the ground in front of me.
“I know why you are here,” Papa’ele begins, her eyes searching the souls surrounding her. “There is nothing that can be done. Masina must die along with her world.”
“No!” I shout before cowering under the glare of Earth Mother. “Please, Papa’ele, I must save her.”
“Why?” Earth Mother asks. “They are not worth saving. Tagaloa and I tried our best, but they chose to listen to people who only meant to take from them.”
“If Masina goes to Pulotu, I will follow her.” The despair in my voice darkens the grass around me.
“If your fate is tied to Masina’s and you both enter the underworld, then you cannot fight it.” Papa’ele’s words cut me into pieces. “Do you ever wonder why she doesn’t recognize you? Why she does not speak your name?”
I shake my head.
“Masina’s people stopped praying to us long ago.” Papa’ele sighs. “Because of this, she was not able to hear the whispers telling her about you.”
“Can I tell her my name? Will that save her?” I ask.
“It is too late,” Earth Mother states with finality. “Go to Vaitele and say your final farewells. Masina will be gone soon.”
Papa’ele twinkles like a thousand stars, and she is gone. Shoulders slumping, I drag myself up the mountain to the sacred waterfall.
In my world, the afternoon sun is brilliant, highlighting a living, thriving fanua. In Masina’s world, the muted light signals a dying land. I open the eye of Vaitele, its waters reflecting a picture of terror. Masina stands, her back against a boulder, hand holding out a sharp stone.
In my fear, I forget to soften my voice. I see Masina jump, alarmed by the strength of my cry. The man across from Masina growls, his hands curling into fists, and his eyes cut to my reflection in the shimmering water.
Without thinking, my body crouches, legs tensing before I spring into a dive. I pray to the gods to guide me in breaking the seal.
But as soon as my feet leave the ground, something grabs hold of my legs. My body slams into the ground, just inches away from the water’s edge. Strong arms hold me down as I struggle to get to Masina.
“NO!” I scream. I dig my hands into the grass and dirt surrounding Vaitele in a blind rage, trying to pull myself closer to the water.
“Filemū,” Tagaloa commands. “La, be still.”
I glare at my warriors who are following Tagaloa’s lead and surrounding Vaitele. With a nod from the god of creation, two of them pull me up to my knees, holding tightly to my arms. I weep, the others looking on in silence.
“Get away from me!” Masina screeches suddenly as Manu creeps toward her. “It was you who killed my family, wasn’t it?”
A glint of red flashes in his eyes, and he snarls, slashing at Masina’s face with sharp nails, her head snapping back. With a surge of anger and strength, Masina swings back. Manu is much stronger, but Masina’s memories of her family being ripped apart fuels something inside of her.
My body jerks, feeling every single blow. My cries fill the mountainside, scattering the birds in the trees.
“Masina!” I call out again. “My name is La! Please hear me, Masina. Say my name!”
Masina ignores me. A lucky strike slices a deep wound in Manu’s neck. His gurgles and blood seeps into the ground. The shining sun in Masina’s world drifts away, replaced with ash clouds. Any color that is left turns to gray. Masina looks into the water one last time, eyes glowing red, then turns to Manu. Her new canine teeth sink into his stomach, the sounds of squelching and the stench of his insides bursting fill the air.
I lean forward and vomit. I can feel the crunch of bones between my teeth. The taste of blood fills my mouth. Tagaloa reaches his hand out over the water, his tattooed arm filled with stories of old, and closes it. Masina’s world disappears. I double over in pain.
I lie on my side, near the waters of Vaitele. Tagaloa’s chanting is a dull ache in my head. My warriors join him, sending prayers to guide the spirits in Masina’s world to Pulotu. The prayers also forge a seal. There will no longer be a portal in these waters. The magic will be gone, leaving only a beautiful place in the jungle to swim, worship, and be at peace. I don’t think I will ever feel that kind of peace again. Part of me died.
“Why am I still here?” I ask hoarsely.
“It was not your time to go,” Tagaloa answers, watching me closely.
“Leave us,” the god of creation commands the warriors.
They go as quietly as they arrived. I crawl to the water’s edge touching the stillness, creating swirls that reach across the glassy surface like fingers. I try to purge the images from my mind. Masina. Sweet, quiet Masina. Wild animal Masina.
“You and Masina were our final hope for healing,” Tagaloa says and sits down, an arm’s length away. “Our plan was to have your strength reach into Masina’s world, giving her the tools to prevent destruction. You were to teach her the old ways, to bring back the old gods. In doing so, her world would have had a fighting chance.”
Still in a daze at Masina’s deadly transformation into a human-devouring beast, I keep my hands in Vaitele’s water, still reaching for my other self.
As the tears begin to fall, the left side of my face burns in pain. I sit up, the water reflecting an angry, red slash running from just above my eyebrow down to the middle of my cheek. Blood has filled the whites of my eye, changing it to a bright red.
Inhaling sharply, I turn to Tagaloa.
“Let that be a reminder to you and your people,” the god of creation says. “Never forget the gods.”
“I told her my name,” I murmur, looking back at my reflection. “She should have been able to use its power. What went wrong?”
“When Masina’s people stopped believing in our gods, she lost the ability to hear or see us,” Tagaloa replies. “She saw your reflection when she visited Vaitele, but she thought she was looking at herself. She could never move past the barrier that would have guided her to you. Only at the last moment did she finally call out to us, opening her true vision. By then it was too late.”
“Do we know if the sickness got through the portal?” I ask quietly. My heart is torn between the loss of my other self and the thought of my own world dying.
“Only you will know for sure,” Tagaloa answers. “You and Masina were connected and a part of her still lives within you.”
I frown at the only visible piece of Masina that is left in any world. The wound on my face throbs along with the pain in my soul. I swirl the waters and catch a glimpse of my other self in the ripples. The red eyes flash, making my heart skip a beat. When the water stills, it is just Tagaloa and me.
I think about the sun driving the ocean currents that brought my people to Samoa and across the pacific. I remember each phase of the moon dictating our life’s work from fishing, to planting, to traveling. So much power in these two elements, in these two names.
Needing a few moments of peace, I dive into Vaitele and swim to the middle of the pool. I float there, feeling the water’s gentle embrace.
“I will protect this earth with all that I have,” I promise, my whisper reaching into the universe. “For Masina.”
“No.” A voice in the water whispers back.
I look at Tagaloa, but his eyes are closed in meditation. Heart pounding, I sink below the water, holding my breath. A face appears above the surface, eyes glowing red, hands reaching toward me.
“No.” The voice repeats, a sigh in the current. “For La.”
L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou was born and raised in American Samoa in the proud village of Nu’uuli to a Samoan dad and a Palagi (Caucasian) mom. As the middle child of five siblings, she loved to lose herself in books. While eating lots of chocolate. She plans to continue writing about Pacific Island subjects so that Pasifika children around the world can see themselves in stories written for and about them by someone who is “them.”
Fiction by L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou:
"My Moon in Red" April 2021