After Easter, Antonio continues to take communion in church, but he is not satisfied. On the last day of school, Antonio challenges the Vitamin Kid to race across the bridge as they always do. But this time, the Vitamin Kid does not try to race with Antonio and instead walks calmly alongside a girl named Ida. Although Antonio knows that he has finally beaten the fastest runner in the town, he does not feel happy in his victory.
As the summer days pass, Antonio notices that Ultima’s owl is making cries of warning every night instead of the gentle hooting of the previous summer. Ultima tells Antonio not to worry about it, but Antonio is not comforted. Antonio overhears rumors that Tenorio’s second daughter is now dying, and he worries that Tenorio will finally fulfill his vow to kill Ultima. One day, Téllez, a friend of Antonio’s father, comes to ask Ultima for help in removing a curse that has been laid on his house. Téllez believes that the house is possessed: pots and pans fly across the room and stones fall from the sky onto the roof. The local priest was unable to lift the curse, and Téllez views Ultima as his last hope. Ultima agrees to help and explains that the Trementina sisters have awoken the ghosts of three ancient Comanches and forced them to do evil to the Téllez family.
Antonio and his father accompany Ultima to the house to help lift the curse. When they arrive, Ultima orders Antonio and Gabriel to build a platform of cedar posts and place juniper branches on the top. While they are building it, Ultima herds the family back into the house, and Antonio hears her chanting for several hours. When Ultima emerges from the house, she is carrying three mysterious bundles to burn on the cedar platform. She declares that the curse has been lifted but that Téllez should avoid Tenorio at any cost. When Ultima mentions his name, Téllez remembers that he had had a confrontation with Tenorio a few weeks earlier and realizes that he and his daughters have been the source of the curse.
That night, Antonio dreams of his three brothers wandering in a foreign city. They beg him to release them from their wild Marez blood, but Antonio tells them that he cannot help them. He removes their livers from their bodies and places them on a fishing hook. His brothers suffer so earnestly that Antonio removes their lives from the hook and throws them into the River of the Carp. Only then are his brothers able to rest.
Later in the summer, Cico and Antonio walk toward the secret creek so that they can see the golden carp. As they wait, Antonio thinks about God’s failure to communicate with him during Communion. He wonders if God is still alive or if God ever was alive, remembering all of the times when God has failed where Ultima has succeeded. The golden carp arrives, and Antonio is transfixed with its beauty. Then he remembers that he wanted to tell Florence about the golden carp, and he and Cico leave to find Florence. As they walk near the concrete spillway, they see Horse and Antonio’s other classmates waving frantically at them: Florence had dove into the water in the spillway ten minutes before and still had not come up. Cico is about to dive into the water to find him when they see Florence’s body slowly rise to the surface; he is dead. As a crowd forms around the body, Antonio tries to prayer an Act of Contrition for Florence, but he knows that it is useless because Florence was an atheist. Antonio notices that Cico has disappeared and, as Horse and Bones enthusiastically answer questions from the crowd, he runs to the river to escape the sick feeling in his stomach.
That night, Antonio dreams of Narciso, Lupito, and Florence, the three people that he seen die and prayed the Act of Contrition for. He asks why he must be witness to so much violence, and a voice replies that creation lies in violence. He watches as a priest desecrates the altar with pigeon blood, Cico kills the golden carp with his spear, and Tenorio kills Ultima. Antonio is desolate and asks God why He has forsaken him. Antonio awakes from his nightmare to find himself in Ultima’s arms. Ultima gives him a potion to make him sleep without any dreams.
The next day, Antonio does not go to Florence’s funeral; he does not feel that he can be comforted by church when God leaves Florence to wander without peace because he did not accept Communion. Ultima suggests that Antonio should spend the rest of the summer with the Lunas at El Puerto, and his parents agree, hoping that Antonio will be able to cope with his grief when he is not surrounded by the memories of his friend. Antonio’s father drives him to El Puerto and explains that it will be good for Antonio to be in the company of men who can guide him in his development. Gabriel acknowledges that the ways of the vaquero are ending and thinks that it might be time to end the conflict between the Marez and the Lunas. Antonio must take the good characteristics of the Marez and combine them with the good characteristics of the Lunas, just as he must combine different religious beliefs to create his own personal faith. Gabriel also explains that most of the things that are seen as “evil” are not actually evil; they are just things that people do not understand. Understanding, he asserts, does not necessarily come with taking Communion, but rather with life experiences. Because Ultima understands so much from her experiences in life, she is able to touch the souls of sick people and heal them.
During his time at El Puerto, Antonio no longer suffers from nightmares, and he learns a great deal about farming and Luna beliefs from his uncles. His future may be uncertain, but Antonio is happy to be familiar with the lifestyle of the Lunas and recognizes that he could be happy as a farmer if he chose that path. Near the end of the summer, Antonio learns that his parents will be arriving within a few days to take him home. His uncle Pedro informs him that he and his brothers have been very pleased with his progress over the summer and are happy to have a man of education among the Lunas. Antonio asserts that he is also a Marez, and Pedro agrees, restating their pride in his accomplishment. Their conversation is interrupted by Uncle Juan who informs Pedro that Tenorio’s second daughter has died, and Tenorio has vowed to kill Ultima. Juan is hesitant to become involved, but Pedro reminds him of their debt to Ultima for saving Lucas’ life and is determined to warn her. Pedro tells Antonio to go back to the farm and back up his belongings; he will take Antonio back to Guadalupe that night.
As Antonio walks across the bridge to his grandfather’s house, he is almost trampled by Tenorio and his horse. Tenorio is drunk and determined to kill Antonio if he can. Antonio escapes by jumping into the embankment, and Tenorio taunts him by telling him that he will kill Ultima’s owl and thus kill Ultima herself. Antonio finally understands that the owl is Ultima’s spirit and soul, and he is suddenly frightened for Ultima’s life. Unable to cross the bridge with Tenorio trapping him, Antonio decides to run straight to Guadalupe to warn Ultima. After many miles, Antonio finally reaches home just in time to see Tenorio shoot Ultima’s owl with his rifle. Triumphant at his success in killing the owl, Tenorio turns to shoot Antonio in the forehead, but Uncle Pedro kills Tenorio before he can pull the trigger.
Antonio finds the dying owl on the ground and, wrapping it in a blanket, rushes to Ultima’s room. Finding her dying in her bed, Antonio kneels beside her and begs her not to die. Ultima explains that her teacher taught her to perform good works without interfering with destiny and upsetting the balance of the world. When she and Tenorio are both dead, the balance will be restored. She accepts her death because it means that she helped others to live. Ultima asks Antonio to burn all of her possessions and to bury the owl underneath a forked juniper tree. Antonio agrees, but asks Ultima to bless him before he goes. Ultima blesses him “in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful.” Antonio buries the owl under a forked juniper tree and returns after Ultima’s body has been taken away. The next day, the town holds a funeral for Ultima and buries her body in the cemetery, but Antonio knows that he has already buried Ultima’s true spirit beneath the juniper tree.
Antonio is growing up, and he begins to realize that growth and development are often accompanied by sadness and regret. When he tries to race the Vitamin Kid over the bridge but the Vitamin Kid is no longer interested, Antonio recognizes that something has been lost; he and friends are leaving their childhoods behind. Antonio must come to grips with the fact that change is always a factor in life, even when it brings sadness with it. Antonio’s dream about his three brothers highlights this realization as Antonio accepts that his brothers must be wanderers. The fact that Antonio is the source of some of their pain also demonstrates his gradual acceptance that he has lost his innocence and is capable of committing sins against others.
Antonio was forced to mature quickly when he observed the deaths of Lupito and Narciso, but Florence’s death is even more difficult to take. Because he knows that Florence did not believe in God, Antonio cannot find solace from his grief in the same ways that he dealt with Lupito and Narciso. He knows that Catholic doctrine dictates that Florence will either burn in Hell or simply wander the world, never to be at peace. Antonio knows that Florence was a good person, and he only wishes that he could have shown Florence the golden carp before his death.
Antonio continues to be preoccupied with questions about God, but he has given up waiting for God to speak to him through Communion. He continues to go to confession and take Communion, but he has also decided that he must find the answers to these questions from other sources. Although he still acknowledges that God determines who will go to Heaven and Hell, Antonio no longer believes that God is involved in the occurrences of daily life. This realization draws Antonio to the golden carp for a different kind of understanding of the world. While he is waiting to see the golden carp with Cico, Antonio finally feels an inner peace that he cannot find through Catholicism. Antonio has finally discovered a way to reconcile his conflicting religions as different perspectives of the same world. When one belief cannot answer all of his questions, Antonio knows to seek other sources until he has all of the understanding that he desires.
Antonio’s drive to El Puerto with his father reveals that Gabriel Marez has also realized that a person should not think only in terms of one perspective. All beliefs and ideas are a matter of perspective, just as the concepts of good and evil are dependent on the beliefs of individual people. Every person builds their character according to their experiences in life, and this type of development ensures that a person cannot think in terms of absolutes.
In Antonio’s final dream in the novel, he sees the three individuals that he was unable to save from death and prayed for in his innocence. The figures show each of Antonio’s three faiths in life as they are desecrated and destroyed: the Catholic priest defiles the altar, the golden carp is killed, and Ultima is murdered. This destruction of Antonio’s faith represents the darkest point in his religious beliefs when he no longer has anything to believe in. Yet, the voice from Heaven insists that violence and change are linked to creation. This declaration echoes the theme of growth and personal development that is emphasized throughout the novel. When Ultima dies, Antonio is finally able to understand this link between change and violence. His time working on the Luna farm has taught him the importance of harmony in nature, and he realizes that Ultima’s death will reinstate the natural harmony of the world. He no longer fears death because he knows that it is a natural cycle of life and a change that is necessary for life to continue.