When Netta’s father failed to return home from his excavation trip after 6 years, Netta was full of questions. When her father’s attorney called saying her family had decided to split his estate and divide his assets, the questions only multiplied. Netta didn’t want most of her inherited fortune. The hidden beach house in Miami he left her was sold to a shady but generous businessman. The dozens of priceless antiques were donated to a museum. The $20,000, however, Netta would use to buy her plane ticket to Cocoah Island: the Island her father was born and raised on; the place he lived until he was 15 and visited trip after trip until the time of his disappearance.
She’d never really known her father. He spent most of her childhood flying from small island to small island learning about the civilizations that once lived there and collecting their treasures to bring home. Half of her heritage belonged to the people of Cocoah Island. She knew they couldn’t tell her anything about her father’s disappearance, but maybe they could tell her about herself. Mere days after receiving her inheritance Netta chartered a small private plane to the tiny island near the coast of Bermuda. The pilot didn’t know if superstition would prove to be true, but choosing to be safe over sorry, he dropped her off at a neighboring island, so Netta, a local, and his dinghy, rowed the rest of the way. Not that she minded. The outskirts of Cocoah Island were gorgeous: bright green trees, new and exciting local creatures and water you could see straight through. Netta gratefully sucked in the fresh air while thumbing her father’s adventure journal: a small black notebook. She understood more why her father loved this place so much.
When they arrived, her guide helped her out of the boat and onto soft, dry land. She attempted to tip him, but he vigorously refused. Never being one to upset the natives, Netta returned her money to her handmade wallet and hugged him, wishing him a safe journey back. For a moment, she stood in awe at the beauty of Cocoah Island. Netta’s trance was short-lived as a friendly and unfamiliar voice shouted out, “moki!” Netta, familiar with the language, turned towards the voice and waved, delivering the same “what’s up” greeting. “Moki! You must be Navetti?” Netta called. The thin, brown girl with that same strip of grey hair Netta had, delivered out a hearty laugh.
“Absolutely not. I’m Tiva.”
“So Navetti is…”
“Me,” a stern voice said from the opposite direction.
Judging from the way the soft dirt had already begun to envelope her feet, Navetti had clearly been there for some time, but for how long? And for such a portly woman, how was she so light on her feet? “I am your Auntie Navetti. You’ll be staying with us.” Navetti said almost stone faced.
Tiva grabbed Netta by the arm excitedly and pulled her in the direction of their home.
“Don’t worry about my movai,” Tiva whispered, "She’s just cautious of strangers. But she’s really glad you’re here! We both are!”
The pair entered the adobe home within minutes. Tiva, still excited about the new arrival, pulled Netta through the sections of the home. It was nothing like most people would imagine, but then again, the Cocoahn people were nothing like most would imagine. They wore nice clothes for starters, all handmade. And their homes may have looked like huts on the outside, but they had broad gardens out back. The main indoor level housed a personal art gallery on the walls: Cocoahns were natural artists. The upper and lower levels were bedrooms. Upper levels, as Tiva explained, were traditionally for parents or the eldest child if parents were deceased. This was only an issue for Tiva because Navetti’s snoring shook the house so much she rarely got in any rest.
“Are you hungry?” Tiva sang at Netta, “I didn’t finish my morning portion and I probably won’t so it’s yours if you want?”
As Netta opened her mouth to answer, Navetti, perfecting her art of not being heard when she walked in a room, cut her off, “Finish, Tiva. We have to take Netta to the Elders soon.”
“The Elders?” Netta questioned.
“Yeah!” Tiva said slurping the contents of her bowl, “There’s nothing that happens here that the Elders don’t know about. Since you’re new, you gotta go meet them.”
Netta chewed her lip inquisitively. Her father’s journal never mentioned anything about the Elders. Still, never one to upset the natives, she waited for Tiva to finish eating, then followed her aunt and cousin to the center of town.
“We need to make a pit stop,” Navetti stated, “I haven’t made my sacrifice for the month and I’d like to before we see the Elders. Tiva did you—”
“Yes, movai, I did. On the second day” Tiva cut in.
Navetti nodded with approval, “I won’t be long.” She quietly strode off with something in a basket towards the middle of town. Netta hadn’t noticed it at first, but there sat a large, black cauldron. Navetti was tossing in carrots and yams, but other villagers were adding all sorts of fruits and vegetables: kiwi, apples, corn, peas, even some produce Netta had never seen before. She stared, partially fascinated, partially confused.
“I’ll explain later,” Tiva whispered. Her mother promptly returned, as promised, and the trio made their way to a large stone structure. The center of the largest stone had been cut out and replaced by a well constructed mud-moss door. Navetti walked over to the door and tapped it three times. A voice from the inside called out.
“Pomisola rewe?” She asked the voice. The door slowly opened and Navetti signaled for the girls to follow her in.
“Do you speak Cocoahn?” Tiva asked hurriedly.
“Somewhat. I know Auntie Navetti just asked for permission to enter,” Netta responded.
“No,” Tiva said sharply, grabbing Netta’s arm to keep her from walking, “You don’t speak any Cocoahn. Understood?”
Netta nodded in agreement. She didn’t know why her bouncy cousin was suddenly so serious but she knew better than to upset the natives.
As they made their way into the stone building, Netta, once again was awe stricken. The outside paled in comparison to the inside. Art work decorated the smooth stone walls. Soft, moss carpeting comforted her bare feet. Handcrafted candelabras were found at every corner. They followed a tall guard with broad shoulders and a gray patch on the back of his head to the western side of the building. “Woni tola” he said firmly.
“Tasek otai” Netta and her aunt said said simultaneously. Tiva shot her a stern look.
“It’s a lost language for a reason, miss. Not worth learning. Like I said, it’ll be a minute,” The guard said. Then he cracked a slight smile at her and turned away. Tiva turned to Netta ready to remind her of their conversation but her mother had gotten their first.
“I told Tiva to warn you but she obviously did a poor job,” Navetti whispered sternly, “You are NOT to speak Cocoahn during the duration of your trip. It is a language forbidden to foreigners.”
“I apologize auntie. It won’t happen again,” Netta said. Navetti nodded with approval.
From the inside of the room they were waiting to enter, shouting could be heard. The voices inside were clearly very angry. About 10 minutes later, however, the shouting had stopped and a tiny pale man swung the door open. Four very tall, but very old people marched out in single file. They each glanced at Netta, one while vigorously wiping the sweat from his face, but none spoke to her or anyone else for that matter. The tiny man walked up to Navetti. In Cocoahn, he informed her that the Elders wouldn’t be seeing them. They argued a bit, but eventually, Navetti gave in. As they stood to leave for dinner, the tiny man walked back into the room. Netta stared at the open door thinking, wasn’t there another person in there?.
There were a lot more inhabitants than her father’s notebook had mentioned. Tiva, already sitting on the ground, tugged at Netta’s sleeve. As, Netta sat next to her, a small girl ran up to the pair with two empty bowls. Another child, a little boy, made eye contact with Tiva and nodded. He was scooping soup from the cauldron into a sack and pouring the warm contents into the bowls.
“So,” Tiva said in a low tone, “I guess now is a good time to explain?” Netta nodded.
“Way back before our Elders were born, Cocoah had a fatal famine. The solution was seeking outside help. That worked until, after everything was under control, some of them wanted to stay. The Elders allowed it, but the people who stayed turned out to be horrible. They sold our land to other foreigners and when we tried to stop them, they sent in their armies. Hundreds of Cocoahns died. So, the new resolution was that we, instead, sacrifice the first of our harvest into the hoshan. We’re a farming Island, so everyone gives and everyone eats. There hasn’t been a famine since.”
“And the foreigners?” Netta asked
“I’m not sure,” Tiva said, “My mom said the island just woke up and they had all just disappeared.”
That word disappeared rang in Netta’s ears. Maybe they would know something about her father’s disappearance. While she pondered she sipped her soup. Netta stuck her tongue out. “Is there a cultural reason it’s cold?” She joked.
Tiva slowly looked at her, her bronze face suddenly pale. “D-don’t say that. It’s not cold,” she stammered.
Netta looked at the cauldron. The base was black where it had once burned red without a fire ever being lit. From across the field they sat in, someone else yelled out revichi, the Cocoahn word for “cold”. One by one, several others let out horrified gasps and angry revichis. There’s gotta be something in dad’s book about cold soup, Netta thought, desperate to help. She pulled the black notebook from her skirt pocket and flipped through it speedily. There was a brief moment where Netta thought she’d never find anything, but that thought was quickly put to rest when she found it.
January 22nd. Cocoah is cannibalistic. I’ve spent the greater part of my trip searching for a beautiful villager named Joala. After our last evening together, she divulged many wicked island secrets. Villagers frequently go missing and no one seems to care. Harvest is a good sacrifice but I fear there is one greater. My saving grace are the countless artifacts I’ve been sending N. They provide proof to what I’ve written. Beware the hoshan.
Cannibalistic? Netta mouthed. She looked up to find that most of the villagers, including Tiva, had disappeared and the few left were staring at her.
“The journal, foreigner,” one woman said walking close to her.” Netta quickly stood and backed away towards the hoshan, clutching the notebook close to her chest. She moved until she backed into something round and warm. Assuming it was the cauldron she turned around quickly, hoping to get a peak inside. Instead, she found herself face to face with her aunt, always light on her feet, as she yanked the journal from her hands and threw it down into the hoshan. Navetti and two other villagers grabbed ahold of Netta and held her over the cauldron. With the inner lid removed, she saw the bright, bubbling red lava running underneath pot. The realization dawned on her: hoshan wasn’t the Cocoahn word for “cauldron”, it was the word for “volcano”. The island was cannibalistic and it protected and fed its own secrets and people.
Navetti pleaded softly, “You know what must be done.”
With tears flowing, Netta nodded, she was a foreigner with precious Island secrets. Never one to upset the natives, she jumped in.