The orange of the golden carp appeared at the edge of the pond. As he came out of the darkness of the pond the sun caught his shiny scales and the light reflected orange and yellow and red.
When María’s youngest brother, Lucas Luna, is near death that summer after having fallen ill the previous winter, neither a Las Vegas doctor nor the local priest can cure him. When Pedro, Lucas’s brother, asks for Ultima’s help, he explains that Lucas saw the daughters of Tenorio Trementina dancing the Black Mass, a blasphemous satanic ritual. When Lucas challenged them with a cross made from two sticks, they fled the scene. Within the week, Lucas fell ill.
Ultima says that she will need Antonio’s help to cure Lucas. Antonio states that he will be proud to assist a curandera. As they approach El Puerto, they see the horned day moon, the moon of the Lunas, between two dark mesas at the end of the valley. When Ultima arrives in El Puerto, she forbids the Lunas to kill the coyotes that will surround Prudencio’s home when she works her cure. When Ultima takes Antonio to confront Tenorio to warn him that his daughters must lift the curse or suffer the consequences, Tenorio makes the sign of the cross. Ultima declares that his daughters gathered Lucas’s hair for their curse after he came to Tenorio for a haircut. Tenorio denies her accusations and calls her a bruja, or witch.
Ultima closes herself and Antonio in Lucas’s room. After she forces a mixture of kerosene, water, and herbs down Lucas’s throat, she asks Antonio if he is afraid, and Antonio says that he is not. She explains that the reason for his courage is that good is always stronger than evil. Antonio hears Ultima’s owl attacking the coyotes surrounding Prudencio’s home. Antonio enters a trance and finds that he cannot move or speak. When Lucas writhes in pain, Antonio feels pain as well. Ultima makes three clay dolls covered with wax and forces Lucas to take more medicine. Afterward, Antonio drifts to sleep. When he wakes, he vomits green bile. Ultima catches it in rags that she stores in a bag. Afterward, Antonio is able to keep down some atole, a gruel made of corn meal. Lucas screams in pain, vomiting a squirming mass of hair. When Lucas successfully eats a bowl of atole, Ultima declares the cure finished. The house fills with happy people, but some whisper the words bruja and hechicera (meaning “witch” or “sorceress”). Ultima burns the mass of hair and dirty linen in the grove where Lucas challenged Tenorio’s daughters.
Cico offers to take Antonio to see the golden carp. After confirming that Antonio has never fished for a carp, Cico asks Antonio if he believes the golden carp is a god. Crestfallen, Antonio replies that he cannot believe in any god except the god of his church because he is a Catholic. At Cico’s request, Antonio swears by the cross that he will never hunt or kill a carp. Afterward, Cico and Antonio visit Narciso’s garden, where they eat carrots. Cico explains that Narciso’s magic and an underground spring make the garden so lush. Narciso plants by the light of the moon.
Antonio’s group of friends invites Antonio and Cico to play ball. Ernie claims that there is a witch living in Antonio’s house. Horse asks Antonio to do a magic trick for them. Angry at Ernie’s taunting, Antonio agrees. He vomits the carrot juice on the ground, frightening his friends. Cico and Antonio run to a hidden pond where the huge, beautiful golden carp makes its appearance. Cico explains that the carp lives in the Hidden Lakes, a place with a strange power like the presence of the river, but stronger and hungrier. A mermaid lives there, trying to lure men to their deaths. Cico warns Antonio never to go there alone.
Cico explains that the golden carp prophesied that the weight of people’s sin would cause the land to sink and be swallowed by the underground lake beneath it. When Antonio replies that it is not fair to the men who don’t sin, Cico tells him that all men sin. The story saddens Antonio, and he feels burdened by the knowledge. When he returns home, he learns that Ultima already knows about the golden carp. She tells Antonio that he must find his own truths in adulthood. That night Antonio dreams about the conflicting beliefs he has encountered, as well as the conflict between his parents’ wishes for him. Ultima tells Antonio and his parents that the water of the moon and the sea are the same water and that each family member is part of the same cycle.