Antonio is fishing and wondering why Ultima was able to cure Lucas when the priest could not. He hears someone calling him and discovers Cico, the boy who Samuel had promised would take him to see the golden carp. Cico offers to show Antonio the golden carp, and Antonio enthusiastically agrees. His only concern is that he is Christian, and he does not know if he is allowed to believe that the golden carp is a god as Cico does. Cico makes Antonio swear an oath that he will never kill a carp and then leads him off into the direction of the carp.
On the way, Cico takes Antonio into a beautiful luscious garden that is owned and tended by Narciso. Antonio is amazed that Narciso has such a close connection to the earth and grows such beautiful plants even though the town people mock him for being a drunk. Cico and Antonio also run into some of Antonio’s friends while they are playing basketball, and they taunt Antonio about his relationship to Ultima and ask him to do magic. Upset at their accusations about Ultima, Antonio agrees to do magic and throws up on the basketball court. Laughing at the looks on his friends’ faces, Antonio leaves again with Cico. After walking further than Antonio had ever walked in the hills, the boys crawl through a thicket and come upon a large hidden pond where Antonio sees the glorious golden carp for the first time.
Cico tells Antonio about the golden carp’s prophecy that the weight of people’s sins will one day cause the land to sink deep into the earth. Antonio argues that the prophecy is unjust because everyone will be punished for the sins of a few people. Cico replies that every person sins. Antonio is deeply saddened by this knowledge and returns home to ask Ultima about the golden carp and what he should believe. Ultima asserts that she cannot tell him what he should believe. Instead, as Antonio grows up, he will have to find his own truths for himself.
That night, Antonio has another dream about the conflicting cultures in his life, first about the clash between Christianity and the beliefs of the golden carp and then about the tension between his Luna family and his Marez family. At the end of the dream, Ultima appears and assures Antonio that he contains elements of both sides of his family.
Later in the summer, Antonio’s parents are still trying to cope with the unbalance in their family. Antonio’s father drinks constantly and is extremely upset that his dream of California has been destroyed. Antonio’s mother is equally depressed and tries to comfort herself with the fact that Andrew is still at home. Antonio continues to spend most of his time with Ultima and begins to feel even more attached to her than he is to his mother. One day, Antonio notices the three wax-covered clay dolls in Ultima’s room. Ultima forbids him to touch the dolls and then gives him a strict warning to stay aware from Tenorio Trementina if Antonio should see him. She then gives Antonio her scapular, a pouch of dried herbs, for additional protection.
One night, Narciso bursts into the house, warning the family that one of Tenorio’s daughters has died and that Tenorio is out for revenge. Narciso also explains that Tenorio has accused Ultima of performing witchcraft and raised a drunken mob to capture her. At that moment, the angry mob reaches the house, and Antonio’s father demands that they explain their reasons for trespassing. The mob begins to feel ashamed in front of Gabriel, but Tenorio upholds his accusation and demands that they give him Ultima.
Narciso offers a compromise, suggesting that they make Ultima undergo a test for witchcraft: if she is unable to pass through a doorway marked with a cross made out of needles, she is proven to be a witch. The mob agrees to abide by the result of this test. Suddenly Ultima’s owl swoops onto Tenorio and claws out one of his eyes. When everyone looks back at the doorway, Ultima has passed through and proven that she is not a witch. The mob breaks up but Tenorio still promises that he will kill Ultima. Before Antonio goes inside to bed, he notices that the holy cross on the door has fallen on the ground. He does not know if it fell or if someone knocked it down.
The next morning, Uncle Pedro arrives and the family goes for their annual vacation at El Puerto to help with the harvest. This time, Antonio’s father agrees to accompany the family as well. Although no one speaks openly about the events of the night before, Gabriel secretly tells Antonio’s mother that Tenorio has lost one of his eyes from the owl attack and that the priest has refused to give his dead daughter a proper Christian mass. As they drive to the farm, Antonio has time to think about the golden carp and its differences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Antonio wishes that it were possible to find a god who was always forgiving.
Antonio asks his uncle why the Lunas did not warn Ultima of Tenorio’s rampage. Pedro is disconcerted by the question and eventually explains that Antonio’s grandfather did not want them to become involved, despite the fact that Ultima had saved Lucas’ life. Antonio criticizes his uncle for this decision, and Pedro admits that he is ashamed of his cowardice. He promises that he will stand by Ultima in the future.
After they are settled at El Puerto, Uncle Mateo and the other adults discuss the latest news of Tenorio and his daughters. Because the priest has refused to allow Tenorio’s daughter to be buried in holy ground, her sisters will weave a coffin of cottonwood branches for her body and perform a black mass. When Antonio falls asleep, he dreams of the witches’ black mass and sees the cottonwood coffin. But when he looks inside the coffin, Antonio is horrified to see Ultima’s body.
The next morning, Antonio and the rest of the family watch the funeral procession for Tenorio’s daughter. Tenorio leads the procession to the church in an effort to force the priest to allow his daughter the holy Christian rites, but the priest refuses and excommunicates Tenorio and his two daughters in front of the entire town. Although Tenorio will no longer be able to rally the rest of the town to pursue Ultima, his thirst for revenge against her has only increased with this blow.
Antonio’s interaction with his friends at the basketball court demonstrates the view toward Ultima shared by the people in the town. The majority of the townspeople believe that Ultima practices witchcraft and, whether it this craft has good intentions or not, she is still a bruja. Ultima, then, is prey to the fear of difference as well as the ubiquitousness of rumors. Antonio has never been fully exposed to this feeling of guilt by association, and he is sickened by the accusations of his friends.
Similarly, Antonio’s discovery of Narciso’s garden forces him to reconsider the common perceptions of Narciso as a worthless drunk. Antonio had never come into close contact with Narciso and had always accepted the town’s perspective as accurate. When he sees Narciso’s beautiful garden with Cico, Antonio realizes that there is more to Narciso than meets the eye. Although he is technically a vaquero like Antonio’s father, Narciso also exhibits the characteristics of Luna in the connection that he shares with the earth and with nature. In Narciso, Antonio finally has an example of a person who blends both cultures in his life. Unfortunately, even as Narciso is able to successfully balance these conflicting cultures, he is still isolated from the rest of the town and only has Cico and a few others for support.
When Antonio sees the golden carp for the first time, he finally feels a true connection to nature. This harmony with nature is broken as soon as Antonio introduces the thought of Christianity into the scene: at the precise moment that Antonio begins to think about God and sin, the black bass breaks through the water as a clear symbol of evil and sin. Antonio hopes that his first communion will be as harmonious as his first experience with the golden carp, but the appearance of the black bass suggests that this will not be the case.
When Antonio notices his parents’ unhappiness, he discovers the inevitable nature of change in life. His brothers’ decision to leave Guadalupe has resulted in his parents’ unhappiness, but Antonio begins to realize that they needed to find their own independent lives. He understands that he may eventually cause the same grief and sadness in his parents when he becomes an adult, but this transition is a natural part of life.
The sadness of Antonio’s father, in particular, demonstrates a personal epiphany about his sons’ character and the Marez family. He always hoped that his sons would exhibit the characteristics of a Marez but never realized that their Marez blood would lead them away from home. He cannot fault Leon and Eugene for their departure; the wildness in their Marez blood already determined their paths, long before they returned from the war. Gabriel now realizes that he must admire them for their rebellion because it is a quality that he shares, and he can only hope that they will be happy in their independent lives.
When Tenorio and the mob come to the Marez house, we see a glimpse of the superstitious fear of witchcraft that permeates the culture of the town. The men in the mob allow themselves to be stirred into a frenzy because they are afraid of what they do not understand. The test for witchcraft is an opportunity to place Ultima in a definable position: either she is a witch, or she is not a witch. Although the mob is eventually satisfied that she is not a witch, Antonio notices that Ultima cannot be defined by such a test. The fact that Antonio finds the cross of needles on the ground demonstrates that Ultima has not necessarily even taken the test for witchcraft. Above all, she cannot be characterized as one thing or the other because she is a blend of many cultures and many beliefs.