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Rated: 13+ · Novel · LGBTQ+ · #2303415
Meeting the parents turns into survival of the fittest in the Brazilian jungle.

Outrunning Shadows Book 3:
The Way of the Warrior

A novel by Allen Mitchell

Chapter 1

          It was summer and the South Carolinian heat was bearing down full force. Engrid rocked slowly in her porch swing, sipping a glass of iced tea when she heard footsteps crunching across the sun-seared grass. She turned to see Andrew coming over.
          "Good afternoon!" she called out, sitting her tea glass on the floor beside the swing.
          "Hi Engrid, do you have a minute?" Andrew asked, standing on the ground in front of her porch.
          "Always." She replied, then smiled, "It's been pretty quiet around here lately. I hope you're not here to upset the apple cart."
          "No, hopefully this will be good." Andrew said.
          "That didn't sound very definite," She said, taking another sip of her tea and sitting the glass back down, "But come on up. What's going on?"

          Andrew came up onto the porch. Even he was glistening in the equatorial heat.
         Engrid and Andrew were next door neighbors in a small South Carolina town named Deerfield. Engrid was a retired high school math teacher. Andrew was a youthful man about town who'd been all over the world but opted to settle down in this nice, quiet town. As it turns out, his life in this town had been anything but serene. From Andrew falling in love with her other neighbor's son Evan, to stalkers and spies, to running for her life, Andrew's time in Engrid's life had been the most eventful she had ever known. Their houses were both older, two-story houses with large porches and wide steps leading up from a fieldstone path that led to the driveway.
         "How's your day going?" Andrew asked.

          She slid over and patted the wooden slats of the old porch swing, "It's okay. Just this heat never lets up for a second this time of year."
          "Have you talked to my parents recently?" Andrew asked, sitting next to Engrid on her porch swing, "I know you two chat sometimes."
          They started swinging again, each lightly tapping their feet to keep themselves moving. It was the only way to get a breeze to stir.
          "Not in a few weeks. She gave me her recipe for chile relles, whatever on God's green earth that is, or those are, I'm not sure if it's plural or not."
          "Good. And they're plural. Stuffed chiles."
          "What about them?"
          "Just white cheese stuffed inside a chile pepper, battered, and fried."
          She looked at him, she knew perfectly well that he knew perfectly well that was not his question.
         "They've invited us to visit them in Brazil." Andrew said.
         Engrid looked startled. She put her foot down and the swing slid to a halt, her foot sliding and decelerating on the wooden slats of the porch floor. She cocked her head to one side and asked, "Who is 'us'?"
         "All of us, as in...you, me, Evan, Dora, and Myrtle."

         Engrid sat silently for a moment to ponder what Andrew said. Perhaps he hadn't said what she was pretty sure he'd said.
         "You want us all to go to Brazil?" She clarified.
         "No, I want you to meet my parents. That's a very different deal than just going to Brazil." Andrew answered, "It would mean a lot to me if you would come. I know it would mean a lot to Evan too."
         She drew the corners of her mouth down in a thoughtful frown and pondered the implications for a few minutes, "What is Manaus like?"
         "It's hot. Like here." He let the 'here' hang in the air. If he made it sound not quite so foreign, she'd be more inclined to agree to go.
         "That's fine. It's funny to think that South Carolina is as hot as a Brazilian rainforest."
         "It is. It rains a lot. It earns its name 'rainforest.' The difference is that here it does eventually get cold."
         "What made them go there?"
         "They wanted to serve God in the rainforest."
         "Why couldn't they just work in a church here?"
         "I guess it was too boring for them. They wanted the excitement of the front lines of Christendom."
         Engrid nodded, "I suppose, but why Brazil?"
         "That's a question you can ask them."
         "I'm not sure I can go. It's probably very expensive." Engrid said.
         "Don't worry about the expense, I'll cover it."
         "Really? Isn't that expensive?"
         "You won't have a suite in first class, but I can afford to get us all there."
         "Hmmm. So you'll spring for all of us to go?"
         "Yes. I've already looked up the airfare."
         "What does Evan think about this?"
         "I don't know. I was going to tell him when he got back from the store."
         "Why'd you tell me first?"
         "I wanted to see what you thought. If you said yes, I thought that would make it easier on him. What do you think- about going with Evan and me?"
         "Truthfully I think you and Evan should go by yourselves." She shook her head and waved her hand dismissively, "This is something that you need to do on your own. This isn't something that you need meddlesome old women interfering in."
         "That's precisely what I need. Well, not meddlesomeness and interfering necessarily, but I'm afraid that it will be awkward with just him and me. I've never brought a boy home to meet my parents. What would we talk about? I want some familiar faces there for Evan, so it won't seem so threatening."
          "That does make good sense." Engrid acknowledged.

"I know," Andrew replied with a killer smile.
         "Okay. That doesn't sound so bad...not promising, but not terrible either," Engrid chewed her bottom lip.
         "So you get that he'll be in a foreign country completely unlike anything he's ever known, surrounded by people he doesn't know who may or may not like him. It would be comforting to have familiar faces around."
         "I'd be scared out of my wits if George's family had been missionaries living in some grass hut in the middle of the Amazon."
         "Imagine not only if George's family lived as missionaries in a grass hut in the Amazon, but George was actually Georgiana."

          She pushed the swing back off again with her foot.
         "That would definitely have complicated things," Engrid nodded her head in agreement, "That would be more awkward."
         "Yes, yes it would," Andrew said, returning her nod, "And they live on a beautiful missionary compound overlooking the river. It's far from a grass hut."
          "Sounds lovely," Engrid said, "So, I'll go. I doubt Myrtle will. She wouldn't leave the store that long."
         "What about Dora?"
          "I don't know. I'll talk to her and let you know."

          "Okay. Thanks!" Andrew was much more chipper now that he'd gotten his way, "I'll tell Evan later today and we can decide when we want to go. It will probably be in a few weeks. I want to go before the school year starts back up."
          "Okay. Dora is coming over this evening, so I'll see her then. Hopefully, she'll go for it. I'm not sure I'd be too keen on going without her. I'll still go regardless, but I'll be a lot more nervous about the whole enterprise."
         "Will you call me in the morning and let me know what she says?"
         "I will," Engrid nodded.
         Andrew stood up and stretched, "I hope this goes well."
         "Me too. This is a big step. I'm proud of you," she smiled.
         "For what?"
         "For not keeping your family hidden from us. I know your Mom sort of inserted herself, but that's a mother's prerogative. This is probably something you've been struggling with since you first came here. I'm glad you are giving Evan the chance to get to know them."
         He smiled, "I have struggled with it for years, but you're my family now too. It's only fair that you get to know each other in person."
         Engrid blushed slightly and smiled, "I'm glad you think of us that way. It really means a lot."
         "You mean a lot to me. I understand why Evan is so attached to you. You are a very kind person with a heart of gold."
         "Thank you," she blushed even deeper, "You don't need to butter me up, I already agreed to go."
         Andrew just smiled and looked away towards his own house. He stood to leave.
         "So," she continued, "Tell me about your hometown. It's interesting to hear the origins of Andrew Garrison. Since you did sort of randomly show up in our lives."
         "Well," he sat back down, "My current life began when I was 15. Until then I'd lived my entire life in Brazil. Manaus is a beautiful city in the interior of the country. It sits along the banks of the Amazon River. But they don't live in Manaus; they are on a missionary compound outside the city. My father serves as pastor in a couple of rural communities."
         "How big is Manaus?"
         "It's not the jungle, but it's surrounded by it. It's actually over a million people and it's the territorial capital. It's a really beautiful city. But even still, it's a tropical city. They live out in the remote regions and sometimes even further out for weeks at a time when they are doing some of their itinerant ministry. They had a little boat that they use to motor up one of the rivers. There are thousands upon thousands of rivers in that part of the world that all feed into the Amazon itself. Everything is so green and big. You just think you have trees and foliage here in South Carolina. This is a dust bowl compared to Amazonas."

         "That's incredible. I've never been to the rainforest before. Believe it or not, though, I have been to Brazil." Engrid nodded her head, smiling.
         "Yes, back in the 1960's, but then I was in the southern part near the border with Uruguay. I'm sure the north is completely different from down there. There were mostly prairie and cattle farms down where my people were. It was like a Spanish version of Kansas."
         "The north is like a Portuguese version of Hawaii."
         "Oh yes, Portuguese, not Spanish. Sorry." Engrid acknowledged her mistake.
         "It's okay. At least you realize they're different."
         "That sounds nice."
         "It can be. Their missionary compound is about an hour outside of the city. Out there, you're beneath the canopy with spiders bigger than your hand. There are piranhas in the water and bats in the air," Then Andrew realized he wasn't over selling it, so added, "...but we'll be fine."
         "Will your parents take us out into the jungle?" Engrid's swinging slowed as the images of colossal arachnids and toothy fish flashed through her mind.
         "For sightseeing, but they wouldn't abandon us out there."
         "You have a lot of faith in your parents not wanting us all exterminated. It would be the perfect cover for disposing of a homosexual- throw him and his friends to the piranhas," she chuckled, "What a way to go!"
         Andrew scowled, "They're not like that."
         Engrid stopped herself when she noticed his expression, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."
         "I know."
         "Your parents seem very nice. I'm sure your mother will look out for us."
         "It's okay. My Dad and brothers are nice too. We've had our differences over the years, but it's all fine now."
         "I'm sure it will be a fun excursion." She tried to move past her gaffe.
         "Well, I'd better get home and psych myself up to convince Evan that he won't be fed to the piranhas."
         He stepped away and she watched him as he descended the steps and headed home. He was such a nice person, but very conflicted inside. She was sure that this had been a long time coming in Andrew's brain even if it caught her off guard. She swung back and forth thinking to herself. She wasn't sure Dora would go for it. Other than a few car trips to Canada, she'd never left the United States before. It wasn't that she was opposed to the idea; it's just that the opportunity never presented itself.
         Engrid was rather excited by the prospect of visiting a whole other continent, but she was nervous about meeting Andrew's parents. She wasn't quite sure why that bothered her. She had nothing at stake in the matter. She was just going to go, meet some wonderful missionaries, and then return to her normal routine.
Chapter 2

Dora sat at Engrid's kitchen table. Engrid left her alone momentarily to go get something. She hadn't said what it was, but she did seem excited to show Dora whatever it was. Dora looked around and listened to the sounds of Engrid moving through the house. Engrid reappeared in the kitchen doorway holding a very large, very heavy book.
Dora looked up with surprise, "What's that?"
"It's a world atlas."
"Okay. What did you want to show me?" Dora asked, her curiosity piqued.
Engrid flopped the large book on the table and opened it up to a previously marked page.

         Dora leaned forward and looked at it, "It's a map of South America."
         "Yes, specifically, it is the northeastern quadrant."
         Dora looked up quizzically. She pushed her thick glasses high on her nose and looked back down at the atlas. "What's in the northeastern quadrant of South America that interests you?"
         Engrid pushed her glasses up close to her eyes and peered at the page, she slowly extended and uncurled her finger and pointed, "That." Engrid pointed to a small dot along a large blue line."
         Dora looked through the lower part of her bifocals. "Manaus...Andrew's parents."
         "Yes, they live there. Right there..." She tapped her finger on the page, "Well Andrew said they live an hour outside the city somewhere, but that's the general vicinity."
         "We know his parents live in Brazil. Why are you showing me this now?"
         Engrid paused for dramatic effect, "Andrew has invited us to go there and meet them."
         Dora sat back in her wooden kitchen table chair. "Us?"
         "Well, us and Evan. And Myrtle, but I doubt she'll go on account of the store."
         Dora looked back at the atlas page then back up at Engrid. "Why us? It's not that I don't want to go, I'll gladly go, I'm just curious about the reason."
         Engrid explained, "He wants us to be familiar faces so that Evan will be more comfortable. Plus, he wants us to be extra voices so it's not just the four of them staring at each other in an uncomfortable silence."
         "We can do that. If anyone can chatter, it's you."
         "I know."
         "Well, count me in." Dora said.
         "Wow. That was easier than I expected." Engrid said, sitting down next to Dora and scooting the atlas over to herself to get a better look.
         "Evan and Andrew are great people. I want to help them out. I'll just find out how much it costs."
         "Andrew said he would pay for it."
         Dora was surprised, "Even better!"

Chapter 3
         Evan walked through the front door and flung his leather messenger bag down on a chair and yanked at his tie.
         "How was your day?" Andrew asked, standing in the living room doorway.
         "It was okay, I guess. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. We're doing a unit on poetry and emotive expression. How was yours?"
         "Same. Dow was up, Dow was down."
         Evan nodded. "What are you looking like that for?"
         "What do you mean?"
         Evan explained, "I'm familiar with most of your facial expressions. There's really not that many - sleepy, cranky, hungry, happy, excited, horny, and bothered. I'm getting a mix of excited and bothered. Is something wrong?"
         "Not 'wrong' exactly."
         "Uh-oh, what does that mean?"
         "Well, I'll just spit it out. My parents invited us to Brazil to visit."
         Evan looked stunned. He didn't say anything. He stood there with his fingers behind the knot of his tie.
         "What do you think?" Andrew prodded.
         "I don't know if that's such a good idea." Evan said, the uncertainty evident in both his tone and facial expression.
         "Why not? You've met them on Skype, so it's not like they're total strangers."
         "Why can't they come here?" Evan walked towards the stairs to go up and change clothes.
         "I think it would be fun for us to go down there. You've never left the country, so I think it would be a good experience for you to get out and see the world." Andrew followed him up the stairs.
         "Maybe..." Evan didn't sound convinced.
         Andrew rushed ahead of him and blocked the bedroom door at the top of the stairs, "I think my parents will be fine. They've met you. They know the basic premise of our relationship. Plus, they invited us, we're not inviting ourselves or crashing their party. I think those are all good signs."
         "Or a trap." Evan pushed past him and sat on the edge of the bed to take his shoes off.
         "Trap?" Andrew followed him into the room.
         "Maybe they're going to get us down there and do an exorcism or something."
         "Don't be ridiculous. They wouldn't do something like that. That's not how they are." Andrew flopped into a chair by the window.
         "Are you sure?"
         Andrew shrugged, "Yes?"
         Evan turned on the bed and stretched out his legs and feet. "So you don't really know."
         "What if Dora and Engrid came with us? Would that make you feel better about going? That way you'll have some familiar faces with you and it won't be all strange and foreign. You can discuss things with them in real time in real life."
         Evan considered it for a moment, "It would help a little but I'm still not sure it's a good idea."
         "Good. Then it's settled." Andrew slapped his knees and made motions to stand.
         "Settled? No, I didn't say I would go, I just said that would help a little."
         "What would it take?" Andrew resettled into his chair.
         "I don't know. Just let me think it over. This is a lot to have thrown at me like this."
         "Okay. Take your time. It's fine."
         Andrew got up and left the room and went back downstairs. Evan finished changing out of his dress clothes and thought hard about going down to Brazil to meet Andrew's parents. That was a huge step, and one that he assumed would never happen. They didn't seem like kooks. They seemed like polite, rational people. A bit hippy-ish, but not homicidal. But maybe Andrew was being spun into their web as well. Perhaps their exorcism or intervention or whatever they had in mind was really for Andrew while Evan was just along for the ride. Evan paced around the bedroom as he could hear Andrew moving around downstairs, probably preparing dinner. Evan knew he was being ridiculous and catastrophizing. He'd talked to Andrew's parents and twin brother on the phone and they seemed like sane, pleasant, actually nice people.
         Andrew was in the kitchen preparing dinner while hoping against hope that Evan would come down with an affirmative answer. The stress and nervousness were killing him. He'd been worrying ever since his parents had invited them that Evan would decline their offer. That would not look good. He fumbled around the kitchen as he heard Evan's footfalls descending the staircase. He poked his head out into the hallway. Evan looked unsure.
         "So? What's the verdict?" He asked, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.
         "I'll go. I'm nervous about it, but it's something that we've got to do. It would be good for you to spend time with them and for me to meet them."
         "Great! I was sure you'd see the light, but I also wanted to make sure you were comfortable, so I've invited Engrid and Dora. I'm also going to invite your mom if you want me to."
         "No, we'll take her on a subsequent trip. I think the four of us would be plenty. Besides, she wouldn't leave the store that long."
         "That's what Engrid said."
         "Besides, my mom hates traveling. She always has."
         "Do you like to travel, Evan?"
         "Yes. I haven't in a long time, but am looking forward to seeing a new country. Its occupants scare me a little, though."
         "I don't think there are many cannibals left."
         "Those aren't the inhabitants that scare me."
         "You'll be fine, my parents are very nice people and I'm sure this will go well."
         "I know," Evan said, reassuring himself, "Like you said, I've talked to them on Skype, so it's not like we're complete strangers."
Chapter 4
         The date was agreed upon and the day of the departure arrived. Myrtle had taken it well when told she would be left out. Frankly, she was relieved. She didn't have the slightest interest in going to Brazil to meet Lewis and Marian Garrison.
         The morning of their departure was a scorching July morning, even by South Carolina standards. At 9am, it was already over 90 and would be past the century mark by early afternoon. Engrid rolled her suitcase down the sidewalk to the open rear end of Andrew's Pathfinder. She had on her 'traveling clothes' which consisted of nice pastel orange slacks with matching coat, white ruffled blouse, and orange flats. Engrid's outfits for going out in public were always in good condition and color coordinated. She only wore jeans or shorts in her house or for yard work.
         Dora was another matter. Dora's tastes were a little more eclectic. Usually, she dressed in the way southern ladies dressed, but today she must have been feeling her oats. She looked like she just stepped off the pages of a western wear magazine. She wore a denim top with horses embroidered on it, a turquoise necklace, and an ankle length Native American style skirt that had mesas and headdresses printed on it. The outfit was topped off with gleaming white tennis shoes that were fresh out of the box.
         Engrid just stared, mouth agape, "Where on earth did you get that?"
         "It looks like it." She chuckled.
         Dora smiled, "I felt like doing something a little different today. It's not every day we jet off to South America for the weekend. I thought I would spice it up a bit. What do you think the boys will be wearing?"
         "Let's go find out."
         They went up the steps as Andrew opened the door. He looked slightly startled as he beheld the western gaucha and the Church Lady Quarterly centerfold.
         "Ready?" Engrid chimed.
         "For what? The garden party rodeo?" Andrew quipped cheerily.
         "No, for Brazil, silly." Engrid replied, "Your parents didn't take you to rodeos when you were a kid?"
         "No. That's more of a southern thing. I lived in the northern part of the country."
         "Oh yes, you went to python races and such."
         "Anacondas, actually. Well, Evan's still getting ready, so come on in; it'll be a few minutes."
         Once they were sitting on the sofa alone in the living room, Andrew went upstairs to light a fire under his boyfriend. Engrid and Dora exchanged concerned looks.
         "I wonder what the jungle is going to be like." Dora mused aloud looking out of the large living room window overlooking her house.
         "I don't know. The few times I went to South America, it wasn't the jungle part."
         "I watched Survivor: Amazon."
         "I don't think it's really like on TV."
         "I hope we don't end up like the people in Gates of Splendor. That was a pretty rough story." Dora stated.
         "What's that?" Engrid asked, seating herself on the sofa facing the fireplace.
         Dora remained standing, but explained, "It was about a group of missionaries in Ecuador, I think. Either there or Peru, I forget which. But at any rate, they wanted to establish contact with a group of natives that had never had contact with the outside world and bring Christianity to them. The group was cannibalistic...or maybe just violent...anyway, the missionaries go there and try to do their mission work but end up getting killed."
         Engrid looked startled, "They killed the missionaries?"
         "Yes. But I'm sure Andrew's parents wouldn't put us in a place where we might get killed. That would not be good."
         "It could happen. It's the untamed jungle after all. It could happen by accident." Engrid pointed out.
         "Perhaps." Dora said, "But let's not think about that. Let's think about this as a fun vacation in Brazil with local guides. Besides, they are Christian missionaries, they wouldn't kill anyone or through inaction allow anyone to come to harm."
         "Okay. I suppose you have a point." Dora said, "I guess they could be bound by Asimov's Laws of Robotics."
         The women wrapped up their conversation as they heard a suitcase hitting the stair treads. They stood up, walked out into the central hallway, and waited. The boys appeared at the base of the stairs and headed towards the front door.
         "Is everything okay?" Engrid asked.
         "Yes," Evan replied, "I didn't know what to pack."
         "I figured I didn't need to pack a coat, scarf, or mittens." Engrid said.
         "I figured that too, but long pants, short pants, sleeves, hat, or type of shoes?"
         "Mosquito netting..." Andrew said.
         "Yes." Evan replied, "And I've been taking my anti-malarial pills just like you said."
         "You two?" He pointed at Dora and Engrid, "Pill popping?"
         "I've been popping them like Tums." Engrid said.
         "Good. I had malaria twice...trust me...you don't want anything to do with it. It's a vicious, nasty bug that lives in your body permanently."
         They walked out to the Pathfinder and loaded the rest of the suitcases. Once inside, Dora got to thinking.
         She said, "What's it like to have malaria?"
         "You get feverish, chills, aches. It's like your whole body is revolting on a cellular level. The fever makes you feel like you're on fire and you sweat and sweat and just can't get cool. You can't eat, you can't drink. All you can do is lay in bed thinking about how much you hurt and how miserable you are. Then the fever breaks and you can't get warm. You pile on blankets and clothes, but the cold goes through your bones. Even your organs feel like ice cubes inside of you."
         "That's awful." Engrid said.
         "It is horrible. You realize why people die from it. When I got it, I spent a month in the hospital in Rio de Janeiro in isolation. I had to stay in a plastic tent. My mother stayed with me. It was after the second bout when I was 15 that they carted me off to live with my Uncle Ray. That was beyond culture shock. I've never been through anything else like it."
         "What was that like?" Evan asked.
         Andrew kept driving but didn't say anything for a moment.
         He began, "Mom and Dad had arranged it with Uncle Ray, my Dad's brother. He offered to get out of the CIA and take me so that I wouldn't have to battle tropical diseases. I was lucky to even still be alive and they didn't want to kill me. He was a colonel, and he was stationed at Penobscot Army Base."
         "Where's that?" Dora asked.
         "Interior of Maine."
         "Maine?" Engrid exclaimed.
         "In January. Why they did that I don't know, but I'd lived in equatorial South America all my life and they plopped me in the middle of Maine in the dead of winter. I was miserable. When they told me that I was going to move to the United States, I was excited but after I got here, I hated it. Everything in Maine was dead. Everything in Brazil was alive. All year it was hot and humid with bugs and critters and lush plants and massive trees with all kinds of vines. I got to Maine and everything was dry and dead and covered in snow and ice. I'd seen pictures of snow and ice, but I'd never ever experienced it before. My uncle Ray visited every year for Christmas. So, I knew him, and he knew I thought he was the most fascinating man I'd ever met. He'd regale me with stories of faraway lands in Africa and Asia. That was why I was excited when my parents told me that I would go live with him until it was time to go off to college. I think he hated Maine even more than I did, so that following summer, he and I moved to San Diego. I liked San Diego much better. Then he came to South Carolina the following year and I liked that. The heat and humidity appealed to me. California was cool and damp on the coast and hot and dry on the interior. I liked South Carolina because it reminded me the most of a tropical rainforest. I thought about Florida, but decided to stay in S.C."
         "I'm glad you did," Evan said.
         Andrew nodded, "I am too. It's worked out well so far."
         They came around on the highway and parked at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. They would fly to Charlotte then Miami then Rio de Janeiro, and lastly to Manaus.
         "Passports at the ready!" Andrew said as they pulled into a parking space, "Let the adventure begin."
         "As long as this adventure doesn't end up being the death of us, I'll be fine." Dora said, opening her car door.
         "It'll be fine." Andrew reassured her.
         "I was kidding...more or less." Dora said.

Chapter 5
         Engrid and the others were okay at first. There was an anticipatory nervousness in the air as they pondered what they were about to do. They'd been pondering it daily since Andrew brought it up, but now it was reality, not just some flight of fancy of someday one day...this was today.
         The flight from Charlotte to Miami was on a nice, large jetliner. The flight from Miami to Rio had been a colossal aircraft. All except Andrew were astonished and amazed at the sheer size and grandeur of the jetliner. Andrew had flown all over the planet and was anesthetized to the size of the planes. As the flights progressed, so too did their nervousness and anticipation.
         Andrew watched out of the window over Evan's shoulder. He was clearly excited about this. He was getting to go home to see his parents. The plane banked as they approached Rio.
         Engrid turned around in her seat and looked at Andrew.
         She said, "It all sounds so mystical...Rio...this is exciting. I can't believe I'm about to be here."
         Andrew bared his white, perfect teeth in a broad grin. He pointed out the window, "It feels good to be back. Look down there...see those beaches?"
         "They are world famous beaches."
         "We have beaches in South Carolina."
         "Yes...but down there is Ipanema and the Copacabana."
         "Really? I've heard of them."
         "Everybody on earth knows those two names. Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island are nice but they don't have world-famous names like those. And look over there on that hilltop."
         All three others squinted and followed the line of Andrew's finger through the thick jet plane window.
         "Is that Jesus?" Engrid asked- her mouth agape in wonder.
         "Yes. On top of that hill over there is the Christ the Redeemer Statue...one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It's a symbol of this whole country. It's like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty but for Brazil."
         "My goodness," Dora breathed. All three were rapt at the sight of a 130-foot concrete and soapstone statue of Jesus with a 98-foot arm span.
         Once deplaning, the foursome sat at their gate at Rio de Janeiro International airport looking at Manaus, Amazonas on the marquee. It was such a foreign and mystical sounding name... Manaus, Amazonas. It sounded downright prehistoric.
         Engrid walked over to the window looking at dark clouds in the northern distance. Andrew walked up behind her.
         "Are you okay?" he asked.
         She flinched, startled. "I'm okay."
         "I'm not. My whole world is about to change." Andrew said.
         "How so?"
         "I don't know. I just feel like I'm on a precipice. If they like him or not...if he likes them or not...I would feel bad if any of us got sick down here...there are just so many ifs."
         "Yes, there are. I don't know how all this will work out, but just remember that Dora and I love you and we will be here for you regardless of what happens with Evan or your parents.
         "I know. That does help tremendously."
         "Good," she paused, "I hope those clouds don't make us late. It's going to be dinner time soon."
         "I doubt it. We don't really have thunderstorms down here like back in South Carolina."
         "No thunderstorms?"
         "Not really. There might be a few rumbles but not the house shaking things we have back there. Those kinds of storms come from cold air meeting hot air. Down here, there isn't much cold air."
         "I'm impressed with how big this city is. I saw all the buildings and skyscrapers from the airplane window. I thought we were back in Miami.
         "This is one of the largest cities on earth."
         "Oh yes, Rio is massive. It's the New York or the Los Angeles of Latin America."
         "I'm impressed."
         "Well, don't get too cozy. Manaus is a big city too but it's nothing like this."
         "Compared to the cities around us, how big is it?" Engrid asked.
         "Buenos Aires."
         "Not around here, around back there." She smiled, knowing he was teasing her.
         "It's almost exactly the same size as Charlotte."
         "Yes. They're both around 1.7 million people."
         Engrid looked surprised, "That's a lot bigger than I thought."
         "It's pretty big."
         "That's about an hour from where your parents live?" Engrid confirmed.
         She turned back to looking out the window at the approaching storm clouds.
         "So," she asked mischievously, "Pop quiz- what is the largest city in Brazil?"
         "S Paulo." Andrew replied.
         "How big is it?"
         "It's the seventh largest city on the planet." Andrew said.
         "Good grief! How big is it?"
         "About 18 million. It's bigger than Los Angeles."
         "I can't conceive of that many people." Engrid shook her head, trying to comprehend that many people in one place.
         "It's three and a half times the size of Atlanta."
         "Good God!"
         "It has a larger population than North and South Carolina put together."
         She gasped.
         "In one city," Andrew said in a feigned deep, dramatic voice.
         Engrid chuckled. "I've never been claustrophobic, but I think I might be crammed in a place like that. Manaus is looking pretty good right about now.
         "Then mission accomplished," Andrew replied, turning, and leaving her at the window.
         Andrew returned to the seating area and sat next to Evan.
         He leaned over and whispered to Andrew, "Is she okay?"
         "Yeah. She's a little nervous, but she'll be fine."
         "That makes two of us."
         Andrew put his hand on Evan's knee. Evan closed his eyes and leaned back.
         "This is going to be fun," Andrew said, "Remember that. There's no coming out, no big reveal, we've done the hard part. Now we're just visiting and getting to know one another better."
         Evan didn't reply verbally but nodded his understanding.
         Their flight was called and so they boarded for the last leg of their flight to Manaus. Evan sat in his window seat and stared at the light mist that was falling on the Plexiglas. He turned to Andrew and looked worried.
         "It'll be fine. They are nice people and you're going to get to see a new part of the world." Andrew said.
         "I know. I'm just ready to get there." Evan turned back to the window and watched as the plane started to taxi. It was much smaller than either of their previous flights, but it wasn't the bumpy, microscopic turboprop Engrid had convinced Dora awaited them in the tropics. Engrid had mortified Dora and Evan that they would be on this tiny plane cramped shoulder to shoulder and sharing their seat with goats and chickens. Andrew assured them that that sort of thing didn't happen in modern-day Brazil. Now that they were on the plane, it didn't seem so bad. There were no chickens or goats with which to share their seats.
         The flight passed quietly as the afternoon sun sank lower in the sky. Evan looked entranced out of his window at the lush tropical landscape zipping by below. There were rolling hills shrouded in mist. The green carpet was so deep and beautiful that it took his breath away. Evan marveled at the beauty of the countryside that passed beneath his feet.
         There was an opening in the dense forest and Evan saw a small pocket of thatch huts surrounding a small fire. There were people gathered around the fire sitting on the ground. He smiled looking down at this pastoral scene. Their lives had probably been unchanged since time immemorial. They lived just the same way their ancestors did millennia ago. There must be such comfort and security in that type of regularity and continuity.
         The aircraft passed on over and they returned to the unbroken green expanse of lush, tropical rainforest below. It was just what he'd imagined from watching the National Geographic Channel. The time passed quickly. The plane began its descent into the Manaus area. The announcement was made in what Evan assumed was Portuguese and then in what he thought was supposed to be English. The frequency of buildings increased, and Evan recognized what he saw as suburbs. Apparently, America wasn't the only nation with suburban sprawl. Then he could see the skyline of low-lying tall buildings of what was presumably downtown in the distance as the plane lowered toward the tree line. The moment of truth was rapidly approaching, and Evan could feel the stress rising in his throat as a lump. Andrew's parents were waiting for them outside the terminal. At this point, anything could happen.
         The plane stopped, taxied, and parked outside the gate. LAN Airlines Flight 892 from Rio de Janeiro had arrived. The lights came up and the sound of unlatching seatbelts resounded throughout the cabin. Evan sat still and watched Engrid and Dora in the row ahead of him preparing to get off the plane. His nerves were shot and all he wanted was to go home to his nice safe bed in his nice safe house in the safety and security of the United States of America. Back home, he could speak the language, he knew where things were, he could get to the hospital or the grocery store. Here he was at the mercy of people he did not know. He did not speak Portuguese or anything akin to it. He had a sinking feeling that this was the beginning of a disaster.
         Andrew got up and reached for his bag in the overhead compartment. To him, this was going home. He was going to see his parents again for the first time in over two years. This was essentially his hometown. He spoke the language; he knew how to get around and where things were. Evan relaxed momentarily when he realized that if he got into trouble, Andrew could get him where he needed or wanted to go. Then he tensed up again when a horrific scenario dawned on him...what if Andrew's parents turned him against Evan or threw down an ultimatum - his family or his boyfriend. Good God, that would be a true and utter disaster. Engrid and Dora would be helpless in that situation too. They didn't speak a word of Portuguese, nor did they know anything about the region they were entering. His stomach churned acidic and his mind swirled. Three lives were completely the mercy of Andrew Garrison.
         He took a series of deep breaths and tried to stand up. His rubbery legs gave way, and he collapsed back into this seat and looked up at Andrew. Andrew stood in the aisle and looked at his lover.
         "Are you okay?"
         "No, I'm terrified." Evan admitted, looking pale and panicked.
         "Like I've told you, it will be just fine. You will meet them, they will like you, you've talked to them on the phone, you will like them and everything will be copacetic from here on out. My mother and brothers speak passable English and my dad's a native speaker of American English, just like you. It's going to be fine."
         Evan breathed deeply again and stood up successfully. He retrieved his bag and followed Andrew out of the plane. Engrid and Dora were already waiting for him at the top of the jet way since their seats were further forward in the plane.
         "Is everything okay? You took a while."
         "It's okay. Evan was just having second thoughts." Dora said.
         "It's too late for that, I'm afraid," Engrid replied as she turned and tried to see where the baggage claim was. Fortunately, all the signs were duplicated in English. She was curious how far past the airport that little convenience was afforded. Once deciding on a direction, she took off with the others in tow. Andrew pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. Moments later it started to ring.
         "OlMam! Chegamos ao aeroporto. Estamos indo ea de bagagem. o meu pai com voc
         Engrid and the others stopped in their tracks and stared at Andrew. They'd never heard him actually speak his native language before. Evan had heard him speaking both Spanish and Portuguese and it still caught him off guard hearing a different language coming out of the same face that talked to him in flawless English. Engrid and Dora relaxed much more now that they had someone they knew who could ferry them through the city.
         "O verei quando chegamos em casa. Sinto que ele n possa estar aqui. Esperaremos por vocfora da ea de bagagem."
         "What does that mean?" Engrid asked Andrew.
         Andrew answered, "My mother is here and she will pick us up on the curb outside the baggage claim area."
         "Your dad isn't here?"
         "No, he had an emergency to attend to at the church. We will see him when we arrive at their house."
         "Are you sure it was really an emergency?" Evan asked.
         "Yes. If he was just being a brat, she would have said so. My mother is a very honest person. She's friendly, but she also tells it like it is."
         "That's good...to a point." Dora said.
         They progressed quickly to the baggage claim area and retrieved their things from the carousel. Andrew's eyes scanned up and down looking for his mother. He could barely stand still as his excitement rose at seeing her again. He was smiling broadly.
         "Here she comes!" he announced, pointing at an old minivan coming down the lane. He waved. The driver of the van waved back. The dark haired, medium framed but buxom middle-aged woman came to a stop in front of the group. She smiled at the others, shut off the engine and stepped out. Andrew dropped his shoulder bag and grasped her in a strong embrace. She was medium height, slightly taller than Andrew. She had strong arms and legs, and it was clear that she'd spent much of her life working hard. She had kind eyes ringed by laugh lines that matched the creases at the corner of her mouth. She had streaks of gray in her black hair and an ample, matronly chest. She wore no jewelry or visible makeup, but she was quite pretty without such adornments.
         "Oh, I've missed you!" he said, "I missed you so much!"
         "S S Yo tambi.." She broke the hug and stepped back, "De este modo, presteme en sus amigos. Creo que puedo adivinar ques Evan."
         "I'm sure you could guess which one is Evan."
         The group chuckled lightly.
         "Mom, this is Evan."
         Evan stepped forward, shook her hand and stammered, "Mucho gusto. Co estusted?"
         She smiled, "Estoy bien." She pulled him in and hugged him. Not quite as intensely as she had Andrew, but that was understandable given the situation.
         "These are our friends Dora and Engrid. They are our neighbors."
         Engrid stepped forward, "I've enjoyed our phone chats and I'm happy to finally meet in person."
         "Well, I am delighted to meet you in person too. I wish Andrew had told us more about you. Most of what I know about you and the others, and my son's life, comes from you, Engrid."
         She picked up both Engrid and Dora's suitcases effortlessly and laid them in the back of the minivan. Engrid and Dora exchanged a look of surprise at her unpretentious strength.
"I know. I'm excited to be here," Engrid said, "But I also know Evan is scared out of his mind."
Marian nodded but didn't say anything else right away. They all piled in the minivan and she took off at breakneck speed through the complex of roads that led from the airport through the city.
"So, Evan, you have nothing to worry about." Marian said after they got to a slightly quieter stretch of road on the edge of the city headed toward the mission compound, "Andrew told us about you and I've been looking forward to meeting you. He sent us a few pictures of you and told us what you are like, how nice and kind you are. Then you met Lewis and James on video chat, and they seemed to take a liking to you. Engrid spoke very highly of you. So, there's nothing to be scared of. I don't know what wild ideas my son put in your head, but you are safe with Lewis and me. He was sorry he couldn't make it today, it's a long drive to Manaus from the compound and he had to do a home visitation for an elderly member who is dying from dengue fever.
         "I'm sorry to hear that," Evan said, "About your elderly church member."

         "It's really a sad situation because they can't really do anything for him. They can't even make him comfortable because dengue fever is such a painful disease."
         "I hope we stay healthy while we're here," Dora said.
         "I hope so too. We will pray for your safe time here and a safe journey home at the end."
         "I had dengue fever," Andrew admitted.
         "Yes, you did. That was terrible." His mom didn't say anything else about the subject. They drove out of the city and into the rural area along a small highway. It was paved, which surprised Evan and several others. The car kept going with sporadic conversations until Marian slowed and turned onto a dirt road.
         "This is the last part before we reach the compound." Marian informed her passengers.
         "Why is it called a 'compound'?" Dora inquired.
         "It has a wall around it." That was all she said.
         Andrew continued in English, "Some of the locals don't like Christian missionaries. It comes from a long history of hostile relations. See, there were indigenous people who practiced all kinds of things from mundane rituals to human sacrifices. When the conquistadors came in the 1500's from Spain and Portugal, they brought Christianity, but Christianity came with disease, war, pillaging and all manner of un-Christian behavior. So, that left a sour taste in people's mouths for the faith."
         "I'd be the same way if I equated it with those awful things. Isn't Brazil a Christian nation?"
         "In a way...it's heavily Catholic in the cities and small towns but out here in the country, a lot of the old ways still exist."
         Evan looked at him, "Including human sacrifice?"
         "In some of the most remote regions it can. It's pretty rare. The Amazon is an incredibly diverse place. Pretty much anything you can imagine is here." Andrew explained.
         "Balumbol" His mother said.
         "N devemos assustar eles, a m," he replied to her. (Trans: We shouldn't scare them, Mom)
         "What's that?" Evan asked.
         Andrew rolled his eyes, annoyed his mother brought up the subject, "Balumbolis one of the more gruesome indigenous religions. It's the one my parents have spent the last 10 years trying to root out."
         "Have they been successful?"
         "It's hard to say. It doesn't seem like it's getting stronger or weaker."
         "That's too bad. If it's the most gruesome one, I don't want to know about it," Engrid said.
         "You don't. I'm sure my father will fill you in though. It's something he's very passionate about." Andrew forewarned her.
         "I assume that being passionate about their work is a common trait in missionaries," Dora replied.
         "Yes, it is. The trouble is that the Balumbolhave missionaries of their own."
         "Si!" Marian called out from the front seat, "They are evil. They kill their own children!"
         Evan's eyes got wide, "They do?"
         Andrew shrugged, "We don't know that. We know they used to, but the practice is supposed to have stopped, but it's difficult to know. It's not like there is surveillance."
         "That's terrible!" Engrid said.
         "That's why my mother and father do what they do."
         "How come you never showed much interest in church back in South Carolina?"
         "It's a long story."
         "Ah," Engrid recognized that tone. She didn't pursue the topic any further.
         The minivan's interior became silent as they rode along. The dense underbrush of the rainforest came right up to the side of the vehicle. A light rain began to fall and the road became muddier as they progressed along. They were going uphill and larger and larger rivulets of water came cascading down from further uphill. Engrid worried that they would get stuck out here.
         "I guess this is why it's called the rainforest." Engrid said.
         "Yes," Marian said, "It rains a lot here."
         "Everyday?" Dora asked.
         "Not every day but almost every day," she nodded, "Home is not far ahead."
         Evan and Marian exchanged smiles via the rear-view mirror. Evan hoped she liked him. She'd greeted him very warmly at the airport but who knows what her real reaction was. Evan liked Marian. He knew absolutely nothing about her other than what Andrew had told him, but she seemed friendly and nonthreatening enough. He'd been mostly quiet during the car ride as his nerves were getting the better of him. He was afraid he'd accidentally say something wrong or bad and embarrass himself.
         Marian pulled the van off the road onto a muddy little spot and rolled down the window. A small boy, not more than 12 or 13 years old, dashed out to the window and addressed Marian by name.
         Marian addressed the boy in some language lost on everyone but presumably Andrew. The boy scampered back to his post under the tree and pressed some buttons. A large wooden gate opened before them, and the minivan pulled through. The gate appeared to be thick logs lashed together with heavy vines.
         Evan and the others stared out at the paradise they were entering. The grounds of the missionary compound were gorgeous. The grass was green, the trees large and soaring heavenward. There were banana trees, palm trees and coconut trees and who knows what else everywhere. There were massive flowering shrubs adorned in red, white, yellow, pink and just about every imaginable color. Everyone gasped and gaped at the breathtaking scene. The buildings were rather homely looking, but the landscape was almost beyond description. A massive body of water spread out at the edge of the property.
         The compound consisted of five buildings arranged in a circle around a large courtyard. There was the main building which was two stories where Lewis and Marian's quarters were along with the kitchen, open rooms with rows of twin-sized gray metal bunk beds and a long, open portico that ran the length of the building. Two other buildings were small bungalows with porches and lots of windows. One bungalow was directly next to the main building while the other sat about 30 feet away at a 90-degree angle to the other two structures. Another building was a boathouse building where all sorts of supplies from Windex and paper towels to religious tracts and hymnals were stored. The fifth building was a large, open air gazebo on the waterfront. It was octagonal with plenty of open space in the center for a table and folding chairs. All sorts of activities went on there from dinners to prayer meetings. Its columns were graced with what might have been mistaken for lace but was billows of mosquito netting.
         The grounds were immaculately manicured with beautiful tropical flora and there were fieldstone pathways running between buildings so that there was no need to walk on the grass.
         The buildings were made of what appeared to be sandstone or at least they were a light tan. Each building had its own porch and patio furniture. The little bungalows looked quaint and cozy.
         Engrid pointed, "What's that?"
         "Rio Amazonas," Marian replied. It didn't take a linguist to figure out that that was the Amazon River that lay sprawling before them like nothing else they'd ever seen. She pulled up to a building and stopped.
         "Estamos aqu" she announced.
Chapter 6
         Several people came out of the surrounding buildings and stood on the porch to greet their visitors.
         Andrew looked around for his father. He didn't see him, but there was a surprise waiting for him on the front porch of his parents' house. Dora pulled open the sliding door of the van and stepped out followed by the others. Engrid stopped and stared at the people on the porch. Dora stopped when she saw what Engrid saw. They both stood looking at someone who appeared familiar.
         "Who is that?" Dora asked Andrew.
         Andrew looked, "That's my twin brother James."
         "You have an identical twin?" Engrid was amazed.
         "Yes. We look exactly alike."
         Evan smiled, "We've only seen each other briefly on video chat a few times. It's spooky, isn't it Engrid?"
         "Well, he does look a bit like a neighbor of mine back home," She remarked with a grin.
         "Well, let me introduce you." Andrew said.
         They walked forward.
         "Everybody, this is my twin brother James and our brother Mark. James, Mark..." Andrew swallowed hard, "This is Evan."
         Evan stepped forward and shook their hands.
         "These are our friends Engrid and Dora." The two women stepped forward and shook hands with Andrew's brothers.
         "I am glad...to...meet...you," James said. His English was pretty rocky which was odd because Andrew was seamless and seemed to have no trouble switching back and forth like a UN translator.
         Then the door opened and out stepped an older man. He appeared to be in his mid-50s, tall, lean, and was also darkly tanned but his tan was from being in the sun, not from genetics. He had a rough scrabble beard and wore round, wire-framed glasses and a khaki outfit that looked like something from the Serengeti. He had a friendly air and demeanor similar to Marian. He smiled and grasped Evan's hand.
         "It's nice to finally meet you in person, Evan. I think you've met the rest of my crew."
         His hands were rough from years of work, but his nails weren't dirty and he looked like he took care of himself.
         "Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Garrison."
         Lewis smiled, "It was our pleasure. You can just call me Lewis. When Andrew told us about you, we were anxious to get a look ourselves. He's never brought a boyfriend home before."
         "Well, I suppose someone had to be first," Evan laughed, "And hopefully last."
         That remark got a few laughs as Evan tried to unspool his tightly wound nerves. He felt strangely at home here, but also out of place. Everyone else spoke other languages and knew where they were. Plus they all looked so different. Even Andrew looked like he belonged here now that Evan saw him in the context of this place. Andrew looked more relaxed here.
         "It's nice to meet you, too," Lewis said, extending his hand to their traveling companions, "You must be Engrid and you must be Dora. Andrew told us you were coming," he shook their hands in turn.
         "We're delighted to be here. I was happy to accept the invitation. You have a beautiful home here." Dora said.
         Engrid was unusually quiet as she looked around trying to take in the majesty of the tropical paradise surrounding her.
         "Thank you." Lewis replied.
         Marian called out, "It's dinner time. Mark and James have gotten dinner all ready and it's time to eat! Are you hungry?"
         "Yes." Everyone replied.
         "Good! We've whipped up some family favorites for the prodigal's return." Lewis quipped.
         "I'm looking forward to it. I'm famished." Engrid said, "Those airline pretzels were not satisfying."
         "Then right this way, Engrid." He led them down the steps and across the way to an outdoor gazebo. It was open but surrounded by a lightweight mosquito netting. Lewis pulled back the netting and ushered his guests inside. There was a long table full of food awaiting them.
         "This is lovely," Engrid stated, "Isn't it nice, Evan?" She prodded him to say something.
         "Yes, it's beautiful. I like looking at the river."
         "I'm sure Evan's a little nervous," Lewis said, "There's no reason to be. We're all family around here. Once we get used to one another, I'm sure he'll be chatting up a storm."
         "You're right," Engrid admitted. She wasn't so sure. Evan wasn't a big talker normally. She hoped his quietness didn't make the others uncomfortable or worry he didn't like them.
         Engrid kept staring at James across the table. It was so eerie that he looked so much like Andrew. He was a little more darkly tanned because he lived in the tropics while Andrew lived in South Carolina, which was an arctic wasteland compared to here. James smiled at her and looked away shyly.
         "James," Engrid said, "It's nice to meet you. I didn't know until today that Andrew is a twin."
         "Yes," he said uncertainly, but smiling, "We look the same."
         He had an accent, and his English was a little halting.
         "Yes, yes you do."
         Lewis piped up, "James' English might be a little rough. There's not much call for it out here, so you might have to simplify a little bit."
         "Okay," Engrid said, "But your English is impeccable."
         "I'm a native English speaker. My parents immigrated to the United States from Switzerland, and I grew up in Michigan."
         "Really? I've been to Michigan a couple of times. It's very different from here."
         "About as different as it gets, I would say," he smiled and nodded.
         She turned her attention to James.
         "So," she said slowly, "Do you live here?"
         "No. I live in Manaus. I am a chaplain in a hospital."
         "Really? That is a good thing to do," Engrid replied, "Do you work in one area or all over the hospital?"
         "Geriatria," he replied.
         "Geriatrics...so you work with the elderly?"
         "Yes. I enjoy work. I help people prepare to die."
         "That's an important task," Engrid said, "I hope to have someone like you by my side when that time comes for me."
         "You are young in spirit. You have many years to go."
         "Thank you, that is very sweet of you to say. I just hope it's true. I have a lot of work to do keeping an eye on these two," she said, pointing at Evan and Andrew.
         "Evan," Mark said, "How was your trip?"
         Evan looked terrified. "It went well." He felt all tongue-tied and couldn't think of a more eloquent response.
         "That's good," Mark said, "I had to fly to Brasilia a few weeks ago and there was a storm. That plane bounced and rocked back and forth...it was a nightmare."
         "How long is the flight from here?" Evan asked.
         "It's about three hours. But I didn't fly from here. I live in Chile and I just came for a visit because I heard Andrew was going to be here."
         "That was very nice of you."
         "I haven't seen him in several years."
         The group chatted amiably and dug into the feast the Garrisons had prepared for their guests.
Chapter 7

         After dinner, Lewis and Marian took the plates and silverware inside accompanied by Mark and James. The American group remained behind in the gazebo overlooking the expansive river and the opaque wall of vegetation on the far bank.
         "Are you okay?" Andrew looked at Evan, "I've never seen you that shade of green. Not even after the egg salad incident."
         "I don't think they like me," Evan almost got teary eyed.
         "What makes you think that?" Engrid asked, "I thought they were very gracious to us."
         "I guess so." Evan said.
         Andrew leaned over, "Is that all that's bothering you? Are you sure there isn't something else?"
         "No. I was just afraid to talk at dinner. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I would sound stupid or I would insult them or something. I really want them to like me."
         "I think they do," Andrew assured him, "Just relax and enjoy this. It will all work out just fine...I promise."
         "Maybe if you and my dad had a one on one talk that would put you more at ease. It..." Andrew began to suggest.
         "I think I would have a heart attack." Evan said.
         Lewis walked up on the gazebo and smiled broadly. He said, "Follow me and I'll show you where to put your things."
         Dora leaned over Evan, "Well, that didn't go your way."
         They talked as they walked from the gazebo to the bungalow.
          "Evan," Lewis said, "I can tell you are scared out of your mind to be here. This must all seem so foreign and unfamiliar. I think it was wise to bring Dora and Engrid here. It will give you a stronger sense of belonging to have their familiar company here."
         "I am scared, but you seem so nice." Evan was embarrassed that he sounded like a frightened elementary school student, "Plus we've talked before on video chat, so I'm not sure why I am so worked up."
         "We think you are a nice person too. Not everyone would wash out our son's refrigerator drawers." Lewis said with a smile.
         "True," Evan admitted, with the barest trace of a laugh escaping his throat.
         "Missionaries are often nice people. It can be a fault at times. Andrew tells me that you are active in church."
         "Yes. I teach Sunday school."
         "That's very noble. You must like to share your knowledge with people since you are also a literature teacher."
         "Yes. I love to read. I never thought about it before, but I think it would be fun to learn Portuguese someday."
         "Do you speak any other languages?"
         "Actually yes... I had a French friend when I lived in New York and he taught me some stuff. I was pretty good at it. I even met his grandmother and talked to her. She taught me how to make pots de creme."
         Andrew looked surprised, "I didn't know that."
         Lewis laughed, and then said, "I don't know French. I'm limited to English, Portuguese, Spanish and a couple of the local dialects around here."
         "I wouldn't consider that 'limited.'" Evan remarked.
         "I guess not," Lewis commented as they walked along.
         Lewis ushered his guests into their bungalow. The door opened into the living room with four bedrooms and two bathrooms opening onto it. Except for the front wall, which faced the porch, the rest of the room looked like nothing but a series of doors with pictures and other artwork hanging on the small slivers of wood that separated the door frames.
         "You guys are in the first room over that way. Dora and Engrid will be in those two rooms. The bathroom is the next door beside your room. There is also a door that opens into each bedroom on either side. So, be sure to lock the doors so that you don't get walked in on but also unlock them when you're finished so that others can get in."
         "Okay," Evan said looking around, "This is a nice place."
         "Thanks." Lewis replied, "Well, I'll leave you to unpack. If you go out here and walk across to the two-story building, you'll see a set of steps going up to the second floor. That's where Marian and I live, so if you need anything, you can come and knock. There's also Wi-Fi. The password is on a sticky note on the coffee table."
         "Okay." Engrid said.
         "Okay," Evan smiled.
         Lewis went back outside and left them in peace.
         Andrew went into their room. He flopped his suitcase on the bed and unzipped it.
         "Your father seems very nice." Evan said.
         "He is. I think you two will get along." Andrew replied.
         "I hope so. Engrid sure seemed to fit right in."
         "She did. I hope she's going to be okay."
         "Why wouldn't she be?" Evan asked, curious about the question.
         "Well, it's James."
         Evan looked at him strangely, "What about James?"
         "He likes old women."
         Evan laughed, "There's liking old women and there's just creepy. You think your brother might develop a crush on Engrid?"
         "Well, not 'crush' really. It's not a sexual attraction; he's not a perv, he just really enjoys the company of old women. So I just hope he doesn't get too clingy with her, that's all."
         "I'm sure he'll be fine. If he does make a move, who's to say she wouldn't go along with it?" Evan laughed.
         "That's gross, Evan," Andrew couldn't help but laugh even while shushing Evan.
         "Well, you brought it up," Evan snickered, "Engrid might have herself a fling with your identical twin."
         "Am I the only one who sees that as wrong?"
         "Which's wrong...the grave robber or the cradle snatcher?"
         "Stop it, that's crazy." Andrew put his black silk boxer briefs in a drawer and shut it a little too hard, "I'm sorry I brought it up."
         "James and Engrid deserve to be happy too."
         "You're insane."
         "Oh Jaime...she'd say...come away with me...there's this nice nursing home in Columbia," Evan cackled.
         Andrew turned completely red.
         Evan gasped, "What if she screams out your name at the wrong moment...oh that would be embarrassing! Or...or...get this...what if she mistakes you for him and starts...well."
         "You are gross and nasty." Andrew said.
         "For a gay man, you sure are a prude."
         "You are a perv."
         Evan collapsed into hysterical, much needed laughter.
Chapter 8
         Meanwhile, Engrid finished putting her things away and went out to the gazebo and planted herself in a chair overlooking the Amazon River. Dora remained behind to take a shower. Engrid sat thinking about the events of the past few weeks. Here she was in the middle of the jungle meeting her new gay neighbor's family. And the gay neighbor was dating Evan. Evan, of all people, Engrid still marveled at that. It just all seemed so surreal. The surrealism continued with meeting James who looked so much like Andrew it was spooky, to use Evan's term.
         She sat so lost in her thoughts that she neglected to hear footsteps coming up from behind her. She didn't hear until he was right behind her. She sensed a presence over her left shoulder. She turned and let out a little yelp of surprise.
         "I didn't see you Andrew, why'd you sneak up on me?"
         "I am sorry. I...you scared."
         He smiled, "Yes. It is me."
         "Come, sit down." She patted the arm of the chair next to her. He took the invitation and sat down.
         She looked at him, unsure what to say.
         Evan pulled back to curtains and looked outside.
         "Andrew, look!" he said, pointing. Andrew joined him to see what was going on. With a twinkle of mischief in his eye, Evan said, "The tango begins."
         "Reading?" James asked, pointing at the book Engrid had.
         "It is a phrasebook."
         "What is the name?"
         "Portuguese for Travelers"
         "You are studying Portugu"
         "Sim." (Yes)
         He smiled broadly, "Bom!" (good)
         She flipped through the book, "Foi bonito...en...con...trlo...hoje." (It was very nice to meet you today.)
         "Muito bonito!" (Very nice.)
         She turned back a few pages, "Obrigado."
         "Vocaprende muito rido." (You learn very quickly.)
         From the similarity of 'aprende' to 'apprehend' and 'comprehend' and the obvious meaning of 'rapido,' she took it as a compliment.
         "Obrigado," she said again.
         "Quanto tempo o t sido estudar?"
         She looked confused...did tempo mean speed? Did it mean time? Estudar was clearly 'study' and she was pretty sure 'quanto' meant 'how much' like in quantity but the other words were completely lost on her.
         "How well do you speak English?"
         "Not very much. I tried learning, but it is not easy. I don't use it much."
         "I know Portuguese is not easy either."
         "I was asking how long you study Portugu."
         "About a week."
         "And you speak good."
         "Thank you."
         "Did I say that right?"
         "Actually, it would be 'you speak well.'"
         "Por que? I mean, why?"
         Engrid closed her book and sat it on the side table next to her and prepared to offer a grammatical explanation, "'Good' is what's called an adjective, so it goes with a noun. For example, that was a good dinner. 'Speak' is a verb which takes an adverb. 'Well' is an adverb."
         "You teach well."
         She grinned, "Thank you! I taught school for many years."
         "Did you teach English?"
         "No, I taught math. Evan is an English teacher."
         "He is?"
         "Yes. Your brother is a very lucky guy to be with someone like Evan."
         "That is nice."
         "I agree. He used to work for a publishing company in New York City."
         She reopened her book. She couldn't find it so she picked up her phone, "How do you say 'publishing' in Portuguese?"
         "Publicao," it responded.
         "Ah. Do you like Evan?" James asked.
         "Yes. I've known him since he was born. His mother lives near me."
         "That is very nice. You are a very nice person."
         "You are too. I just cannot believe how much you look like your brother. It's just amazing."
         "He speaks so much better than me. In English, I am not a good speaker."
         "You speak it better than I ever could Portuguese. Andrew speaks English well because he lives in America."
         "I know. I wish I spoke better. I want to talk to you more. I like talking to you."
         "I like talking to you too. Maybe I could teach you some more English. I'm sure Evan will too."
         "That would be nice."
         "And you will teach me some Portuguese?"
         "Why would you want to learn that?"
         "I want to talk to you more."
         "That would be nice," he replied, grinning from ear to ear.
         James stood, "I must go now. I see you soon?"
         He walked away and Engrid returned to her phrasebook and her thoughts. It would be fun to learn a language. She'd often wondered if she could actually become fluent in anything. She'd assumed that she was far too old for that, but she did feel like she was picking up the language fairly well, considering that she'd been in Brazil for about five hours. She also could not believe how beautiful and verdant everything was. The light was getting dim as twilight set in. She wasn't sure if there was a 'lights out' time around here. No one had said anything about one, so she figured probably not.
         As she sat pondering these things, she heard a door shut behind her. She turned to see who was coming down the hill from one of the buildings to the river's edge where the gazebo was positioned. She squinted...which one was it? Both Andrew and James looked alike, walked alike and it wasn't until they opened their mouths and spoke that she could tell them apart. James was slightly darker tanned, but unless they were right next to each other, there wasn't much to go on. Even that minimal distinction would likely fade in a few days. She decided to wait until the approaching person spoke before she started up so that she would be certain to whom she was speaking.
         "Engrid are you settling in?" he asked as he sat in the same chair James had occupied only minutes earlier.
         Turns out, it was Andrew this time.
         "Yes, I got all my stuff put away. Dora is taking a shower and then I'll take one. By then, it will hopefully be bedtime."
         "It will be. People stay in once the sun goes down. People don't venture out much after dark."
         "That's pretty early in the winter," she remarked.
         "There really is no winter here. It's like this year-round. It's hot and humid and the sun sets around 8 and rises around 5. It's pretty predictable." Andrew explained.
         "That's good to know."
         "Did you like meeting James?"
         "Yes. It's a bit eerie, but he seems harmless enough."
         "I suppose so." Andrew said.
         "You do, do you?"
         "Yes, I suppose."
         "Do I detect a hint of sibling rivalry? I'll bet you two competed for everything growing up."
         "No. I don't know. I just felt like I was always in his shadow. I always felt like he was better than me."
         "How so?"
         "People have always liked him better. He's more outgoing, has more friends."
         "So? If anyone around here has a shadow that looms large it would be you. You went to the U.S., got an education, you have a beautiful home with a wonderful boyfriend and neighbors who love you and look out for you. You speak English like a native. You have a family that is crazy about you. That's a lot of stuff to be thankful for. It's a lot more than a lot of people have."
         Andrew nodded, "I guess so. But remember I'm the one they got tired of and shipped off to another continent. Not just another continent but the arctic tundra of Maine."
         "It was for your own good."
         Andrew smiled, "That's what they said."
         "I didn't mean it like that." She replied, backpedaling a bit.
         "I know." Andrew admitted, "Intellectually, I understand, but it still bugs me. They kept Mark and James but carted me off right after word got out that I'm gay. I thought I was over it, but seeing them all again today just brought up a lot for me."
         "I guess I hadn't considered that part. I assumed you were excited about seeing them all again." Engrid said, her sense of concern growing.
         "I am. I don't mean that I'm not, it's just that..." Andrew shook his head, "I know I'm being ridiculous."
         "You're not being ridiculous," Engrid said, "I'd been concerned about this being a lot for Evan to handle, but now I realize it's actually worse for you. You're dealing with a lot of the same things Evan is but with the added baggage of this being your family and the many years you lived with all of this before meeting us."
         "I know that in the game of life, I won. I have a well-paying job in finance, an MBA from Clemson, a nice house, and Evan and you. I feel like I've come so far and grown so much as a person, yet somehow, being here, I still feel like a terrified gay teenager stranded in the boondocks scared to death he's alone in a hostile world."
         "Wow," Engrid said, "I know we've talked about some of the issues around being gay, but that's a lot to process. I hope as the shock of all this wears off, it will seem more natural. I'm not sure 'natural' is the right word, but I think you get what I mean."
         "I do. Having Evan and my family occupying the same space will help normalize everything."
         "Sure," Engrid said, "Let's go with that."
         They both looked at the river.
         "I guess we can't go swimming," Engrid said.
         "No, between the piranhas, anacondas, and crocodiles, swimming is not recommended in the Amazon River."
         "That's too bad."
         "I didn't know you liked to swim." Andrew said.
         "I haven't been swimming in years, but it sounded fun."
         "It would be fun."
         "So, if you don't mind my being nosey, is there more to the story of why you left than you've said? I know you said they sent you away because of you being gay, but they don't seem to think that."
         "They've always denied it, but the dots were pretty easy to connect."
         "It just strikes me as odd." Engrid said.
         "What does?"
         "I'm not sure yet. Their story is that they sent you away because you were always sick, correct?"
         "Did James?"
         Andrew thought about it, "Yes, but maybe not as bad? I don't know. A lot of things happened when I was younger that I only vaguely remember or I'm pretty fuzzy on the timeline. But I know he was sick some."
         "I'm sorry if being gay really is the reason they sent you to live in Maine." Engrid said, "I don't know if it is or it isn't, of course, but like you said, in the game of life, you won."
         "And Evan is one fantastic prize." Andrew said.
         "Yes, he is," Engrid concurred, "But, let me tell you something. Evan is lucky too. You are a fantastic prize for him too. Evan deserves the very best, Andrew, and that very best person is you."
         Andrew sat silently for a few moments.
         "Thank you, Engrid. I needed to hear that. I have to say that I don't want to imagine my life had they not sent me away. If I'd stayed here, I'd likely be working in Manaus doing who knows what. I love my life in South Carolina and none of that would have happened if they hadn't sent me away."
         "It also must be hard on you to have a sort of dual life- Evan and us in North America and your parents and siblings in South America. That couldn't have been easy."
         "It was difficult sometimes," Andrew admitted, "But the trip is going very well so far."
         "We're all turning out to have a lovely time." Engrid agreed.
         "I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."
         "You mean for them to get tired of this?"
         "To get...I don't know...upset."
         "I wouldn't get too carried away," Engrid advised, "They seem like nice people, and they've been very gracious to us. If I were you, I would just go with it and not try to look for the negative."
         "You don't know them like I do."
         "No, you're right about that," Engrid admitted, "But if you're on the lookout for trouble, you're more likely to find it."
         "I know."
         "So, promise me that you'll act like it's all peaches and cream. If there's any trouble to start, let them start it." Engrid said.
         "Okay." Andrew agreed, "I promise."
         "Otherwise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy- you say there's going to be trouble, then you start something and say 'see- I told you so'."
         "Okay, okay Engrid, I get it, you don't have to bash me over the head."
         She smiled, "Fine. Just relax and enjoy what we have."
         "I will."
         They two fell into silence until Dora came down to the waterfront to tell Engrid it was her turn for the shower.
Chapter 9

The following day was Sunday. Since it was a missionary endeavor, church was part of the package. After breakfast, Lewis left to get prepared for the service. Shortly after, everyone else piled into the minivan and Marian drove them the short distance to the church and attached school. Evan watched through the windows as they approached. It was a low-lying cement block building. Many of the blocks were turned sideways so that the holes faced outward to allow airflow through the walls. The interior was a concrete floor with rows of plastic chairs. There was a small platform up front with a lectern and several musical instruments lined up. Engrid recognized the one she liked best- the electric keyboard. There would be no way to keep a real piano in a place like this simply because the humidity would ruin it within a few months.

         Everyone was dressed in lightweight, breathable clothing because it was swelteringly hot outside. Engrid marveled how they could stand this year-round. At least in South Carolina fall, winter and spring served as relief from this unbearable heat.
"Engrid, I need you," Lewis said, rushing up to her.
"What's the matter?"
"Our keyboard player is out sick. Can you play accompaniment?"
"Do you have sheet music?"
"No, we don't. I can give you a sheet with the chord progressions if you can then invent something."
"I can try. I can't make any promises."
"I know you're accustomed to a hymnbook, but I would greatly appreciate you trying."
"I'm happy to help." She bid adieu to the group and went up front.
"I hope your friend can pull that off," Mark commented.
"Engrid will do fine. She's been playing the piano since she was 6 years old, or so the story goes."
Mark looked incredulous.
"She must be older than dirt."
"She's awesome, don't say bad things about her," James said, poking his brother on the arm.
Mark didn't say anything else. Engrid did just fine. The service was quite different than what she was accustomed to. It was much livelier. She hadn't played with such gusto in decades. It felt refreshing. It was freeing to play like that. The regular pianist could be sick anytime and she'd be happy to fill in. The sermon was also different than she was accustomed to. Besides the fact that it was in Portuguese and therefore she had no idea what was being said, it was clear that it was a very passionate plea and that the crowd really got into it. She often worried that the churchgoers back home were going just to go or to fill some social obligation. It was clear that these people loved being here and wanted to be here with all their hearts. They sang with as much passion as they talked.

         She also had no idea what the words were to the songs she played. She just kept the tempo and played arpeggios and other arrangements of chord structures and tried desperately to keep up with the other musicians as beads of sweat from heat and concentration beaded up on her forehead. Two other musicians played guitars and another played the drums while two others sang. It was an incredible service even though she didn't understand a word of what was said the entire time.
         After the congregants were dismissed, Engrid rejoined her party.
         "Vocjoga o teclado muito bem," one of the guitarists said, "Tenho vontade de tocar o viol para vocnovamente logo."
         Engrid looked mystified. She had been introduced to the group and she'd greeted them with most of the Portuguese words she'd learned in the previous fortnight. Somehow, they'd gotten the impression she had a clue what was being said.
         Andrew stepped up to the plate, "He says that you play very well and that he looks forward to playing with you again soon."
         "That was very nice of him to say."
         Andrew turned to the young guitarist, "Ela diz, 'o que foi muito bonito de vocdizer.'"
         "Vocuma mulher muito religiosa e sou feliz tlo encontrado."
         She turned back to Andrew.
         "He says that you are a very godly woman and he is happy to have made your acquaintance."
         "De mesmo modo," Andrew translated.
         Lewis came over, "Engrid, that was incredible."
         "I didn't know I still had that in me. I don't think I've ever played like that before."
         "Well you are welcome to play again for us."
         "What about the other pianist?"
         "He'll be fine. He'd appreciate the relief. He's the only one around here who can play it. It was donated by a volunteer a couple of years ago. Our regular pianist plays by ear and doesn't read music."
         "Well, I'd be happy to, for as long as I'm here."
         "Good. Can you play again tonight?"
         "Tonight? Sure, why not."
         "Good. We have a night service at another location. It's a little further away."
         "That's okay...as long as I don't have to drive."
Chapter 10

         That evening, Lewis and Engrid rode alone in his truck to the second service.
         "Engrid, can I ask you a personal question?" Lewis asked, nervously massaging the steering wheel of the truck.
         "Sure, I suppose so."
         Lewis was silent a few moments before speaking, "What did you think when my son told you he was gay?"
         "He didn't tell me. I figured it out."
         "Well, when Andrew and Evan first met, they didn't get along. I'm truthfully not sure what the problem was, but they just did not hit it off at all. I tried to get them to like each other. Maybe I did too good of a job," she laughed, and then continued, "Then I started seeing them together more and more. I would see them working together in the yard. I was surprised but not surprised when I got confirmation that my suspicions were correct about them. Then Evan moved in. I've known Evan all his life and I knew he was gay. We'd never really discussed it until Andrew came along, but I knew. I'm not sure he knew that I knew, but I did. I visited him a couple of times when he was living in New York, and I met some of his friends. I may be old but I'm not stupid."
         "Very clearly not."
         "I met Andrew when he was touring the house and he was so nice and polite and friendly. As soon as I saw him and talked to his mother on video chat while we were touring the house, I knew he would get that house. I just knew instinctively that he would be a big part of my life. Dora is his next-door neighbor on the other side. Actually, come to think of it, Dora was the first one who tipped me off that something might be going on between them that was more than meets the eye. They got all dressed up for dinner at Andrew's house on a weeknight. I didn't take her seriously at first, but now looking back on it...I think she knew long before I caught on. She's always been more perceptive than me. It's probably because she talks less and listens more."
         "What was your reaction when you found out about them being...you know...together?"
         "It's just something that is. I've met other gay people besides them and...being gay is just something that is. I don't know how to explain it...the Andrews and Evans of the world aren't mischievous or degenerate people who do what they do just to upset the rest of us. I'm sure there are gay people who do, just like there are non-gay people who do the same thing. But the Andrews and Evans are just regular, normal, you and me people trying to live their lives as best they can and do the best, they can with what they have. Andrew isn't gay to annoy you. It's just how he is."
         "I know...it's just hard to come to terms with. I just hope and pray and nothing Marian or I did that made this happen."
         "Why he is the way he is anybody's guess. It's probably the same with you and me. We're not gay- we don't know why we aren't; it's just the way we are. From what I can tell, Andrew had a very positive upbringing. I don't know what else happened to him as he was growing up but I've known Evan every day of his life and I know he had a solid, positive upbringing. And he's a very fine, responsible, mature man who happens to find emotional satisfaction, companionship and fulfillment in Andrew. Why 'Andrew' and not 'Andrea,' who's to say, certainly not me. But it is what it is."
         "You are very wise."
         "When you've been alive as long as I have, you get a lot of practice at learning from your mistakes."
         "I guess since you accompanied them on this trip, Andrew must consider you an important part of his life. I can see why. When I first met you I wondered why they wanted to bring you and Dora along on this little adventure. Now I see that they'll pick your brains over your interpretations of events later."
         "They do seem to seek our opinions about things."
         "I'm glad. I don't think you would steer them wrong."
         "I would never intentionally do that. Andrew and I haven't known each other very long, but we've been through a lot together in that short time. I was around when one of Evan's ex-boyfriends tried to murder Andrew with a pistol."
         "I have never been so scared as I was when Evan called and told us what happened." Lewis admitted.
         "That was a terrible time. Evan was devastated and I wasn't much better. But Evan caught the guy. Tackled him to the ground and tied him up with the jumper cables from the trunk of my car. I think that's part of why those two are so good for each other. They look out for each other and will stop at nothing to protect each other."
         Lewis didn't say anything for a few minutes.
         "I also remember him saying something about a road trip the two of you took a while back. Where did you go?"
         "Road trip? Is that what he called it? We were running for our lives!"
         "Oh!" Lewis looked wild-eyed, "Running for your lives?"
         "Oh, my goodness...I'm not sure how it all came to pass, but Andrew was accused of kidnapping Evan's mother's boyfriend's teenage lesbian daughter. But it turns out the whole thing was some blackmail scheme to extort money from the boys."
         "Good God!" Lewis was thunderstruck.
         "The 'road trip' as he called it was really us fleeing from the law. We were going to take a stand, but then the evidence was stacking up against us, so we panicked. The people who framed us did a really convincing job, I must say. The police even managed to convince Evan and Dora of our guilt. We drove for days on end and I wound up hiding in a toilet paper box then walking outside in my pajamas in the middle of a frigid night in western Minnesota during a snowstorm. Then we drove all the way back to South Carolina only to have a shootout in a city park in Columbia and that night began and ended in disaster too. It was the most God-awful experience of my life."
         "All because of my son..."
         Engrid chuckled, "I love Andrew as if he was my own grandson, but Lewis, your kid has been trouble since the day I met him."
         "It sounds like it."
         "Since I met Andrew, I have been framed for kidnapping, shot at, chased by drug dealers, chased by police, interrogated, had nightmares, been bailed out of jail and hitchhiked, among other things. He's gotten Evan arrested; poor Evan has been held at gunpoint twice since meeting Andrew. Even our minister ended up being pursued by the police and ended up in a car chase with government agents. I don't know what it is about Andrew Garrison, but trouble follows that boy everywhere he goes."
         "It's been that way his whole life."
         "I can believe that. He's disrupted my quiet, small-town, old woman lifestyle more than you can imagine. I can't believe some of what happened to us, and I was there."
         "I'm sorry you had to go through that."
         "It's okay, I know Andrew never meant for any of it to happen. He was as much a victim of circumstance as any of us."
         "At least you survived."
         "Barely. Though I have been meaning to ask you, what was Andrew like as a child. I'll bet he was a good kid."
         "He was a very good kid. He was always rather quiet and reserved. But whenever he tried, something went awry. One time when he was about eight years old, he found a bat in his bedroom. He didn't want to kill it, so he kept it as a pet. He named it Ralph." Lewis shrugged as if to say 'I have no idea why.' He continued, "We had some volunteers come down for a two week mission trip...one night Ralph escaped from the twig and fishing string cage that Andrew and James had constructed for him. I assume it was 'him,' I really don't know for sure."
         Engrid interjected, "That doesn't sound good."
         "Even I felt guilty and I felt bad for Andrew and James. All they wanted to do was save a harmless little bat. When it escaped, it got into the room of an elderly volunteer while she was sleeping. Who knows what she thought had happened. She had a heart attack and died right there at the mission compound."
         "That's horrible!" Engrid gasped, "That must have been so traumatic for both of them. Maybe that's why James has a passion for helping elderly people...he feels guilty on some level for having killed one when he was a child."
         "I've thought that myself."
         "Did they ever have any counseling?" Engrid asked.
         "Just from me."
         "Poor kids. And poor old woman. That must have been rough trying to ship a dead body out of the country."
         "I've had more pleasant experiences," Lewis nodded.
         Engrid watched as the tropical landscape zipped by. It was still breathtakingly beautiful. Then there was a break in the forest. There was a vast expanse of destroyed forest. There were uprooted trees, dead vines, and leaves all over the place. It looked like a tornado had come through and destroyed everything in sight. Engrid was horrified. She couldn't believe the devastation of the landscape.
         "What on earth happened?" she said, unintentionally loudly.
         "Deforestation is an increasing problem."
         "I've heard of that, but I had no idea it was so ugly."
         "It is. They will come through to harvest the trees and medicinal plants. Then they will plant crops or graze animals for a few years until the soil wears out and they move on."
         "Who is 'they?'?"
         "There are different companies that do it plus individuals. It must be lucrative because they've been doing it for years. And you're right, it's ugly."
         "That's worse than killing an old woman with a bat."
         "I don't know about that, but it creates flooding and erosion. It contributes to the disruption of weather and oxygen concentrations."
         "I guess the people who do it don't care because it doesn't directly affect them."
         "No, it doesn't and no they don't care. If they're making money, nothing else matters."
         "That's a sad statement."
         "It's a true statement. They only started clearing that patch a few months ago. It looked just like the rest of the forest until then. Who knows how many centuries some of those trees had been there."
         "Many, I'm sure. Is anything being done to stop it?"
         "People have been raising money and staging protests for decades. But in recent years, destruction of the rainforest has sort of dropped off the global consciousness. The world moved on to carbon emissions and global climate change. The rainforest is all but forgotten except for a few diehards and Eco tourists."
         "What's an Eco tourist?"
         "That's someone who travels somewhere to enjoy the natural beauty but also has an awareness of environmental impact."
         "There's an old aphorism that says when you are enjoying nature or the out-of-doors, you should 'take only pictures and leave only footprints.' I try to live by that motto, and I've tried to teach my children to do the same."
         "That's a very nice saying. I've never heard it before."
         Once again, they lapsed into silence.
Chapter 12

         "Dora!" Engrid called out, flinging her purse on an armchair in the corner of the main room in the bungalow they shared, "Are you in here?"
         "Yes...what on earth is going on?" Dora came out of her bedroom, a paperback book in her hand.
         "They are destroying the rainforest!"
         "Deforestation has been around for years, are you just now catching on?" Dora asked.
         "I've heard of it, but I'd never ever seen anything like it. It was awful. I've seen logging back in South Carolina and that makes a big enough mess, but this is even worse."
         "When they clear cut stuff back there, they plant more so that they can harvest those trees later. But it was such a mess. Plus, I'm sure a lot of animals were killed too. It's just bad. I want to do something to stop it."
         "People have been campaigning for that since the 70's," Dora replied, putting Engrid's purse on a side table, and sitting down in the armchair.
         "So? What have they been doing?"
         "Protesting, raising money, writing to politicians...everything they could. Stopping deforestation is a multi-million-dollar operation."
         "Then why hasn't it stopped?"
         "...because deforestation is a multi-billion-dollar operation. It's hard to stop that kind of money."
         "People are so greedy. It's disgusting."
         "They are and it is...people aren't magnanimous enough to give up that kind of money because of a few birds and some frogs. It's just not going to happen until it becomes unproductive to do it."
         "Then what can we do to make it unproductive?"
         "I don't know. I can't say I gave it much thought until you came blazing through the door all in a tizzy."
         "Well, I'm going to ask Lewis. He might have some ideas of what I can do."
         "If it will make you feel better, then you should."
         "You didn't see what a mess they made, Dora. They tore that forest apart. It'll be hundreds of years before that can be repaired. I don't have that kind of time, but I can do something."
         "Yes, you can."
         "I'm going to go talk to him now."
         "Okay. You go right ahead and do that."

         Engrid turned and flew out of the door as Evan was walking across the porch. She almost ran into him, but he sidestepped, and she went on her way. He opened the door and saw Dora sitting in the chair in the far corner of the great room, opening back up her paperback book.
         "What's Engrid up to?" Evan asked.
         "Saving the rainforest," Dora replied casually, as if it was just another day, "And I mean that literally."
         "Oh," Evan replied looking behind him, "May I join you?"
         "Sure, I was just reading a little. Settling in I guess."
         "Me too. It's so strange to be here, yet it's kind of nice."
         "It is peaceful here. But this is only our second day. We'll see what the future holds," Dora replied.
         "I hope it holds good things." Evan sat in the chair opposite her and folded his hands in his lap.
         "I'm sure it does."
         "I'm glad people seem to be settling in. I can only imagine what all this must be like for Andrew."
         After a few minutes, the pair fell into silence, comfortably sitting together without saying anything. Dora continued reading her book while Evan flipped through an old copy of National Geographic. He read an article on the Mayan archaeological exploration on the Yucatan peninsula. The afternoon was passing, and evening was quickly approaching. Soon, Marian would have dinner ready for her family and her guests.
Chapter 13

         The following day, Engrid sat at the computer that was for general use in Lewis' office. She'd asked if she could do some research on deforestation because she wanted to see what she could do to help. She was still bothered by what she'd witnessed the other day on their way to the Sunday evening service. She read several articles on the topic and she also read a posting about a rally that was going on. She sent a few emails to the organizers and others. She had to use online translation software to figure out what was going on. Provided that it worked decently well, she understood what she read and decided to attend a rally.
         When the day came, Engrid conscripted Andrew to come with her and translate so she'd know what was being said. He balked at the idea and tried to talk her out of it, but that wasn't to be. He decided that if he went with her he could at least keep her from getting killed by a gorilla or a poison dart frog. Engrid stepped out of her bungalow dressed for church. Why she decided to wear pink wool slacks and matching blazer and pillbox hat with a white ruffled blouse and a gold brooch, to an outdoor rally in the tropical rainforest was a mystery to Andrew. She had her Southern Living charm about her as she walked towards the waiting RJ40. Andrew was already nervous enough about what they were up to without the fact that Engrid bore a striking resemblance to Queen Elizabeth II.
         Andrew drove along in silence.
         "Do you like my outfit?" Engrid asked.
         He didn't say anything for a moment, "It's not that I don't like it's just that I don't think you're going to fit in with the crowd you're going to meet."
         "Have you ever been to one of these rallies?"
         "Then how can you know what they will look like?"
         "I can imagine."
         "So, can I. I am dressed like someone who knows what they are doing and someone that the company executives will take seriously."
         "What's that supposed to mean?"
         "We are on the opposing side from the company executives."
         "You're not supposed to dress like the enemy."
         "Why not?"
         "You'll raise the ire of both sides. The rally participants will see you as sympathetic to big corporations while the big corporations will think that you are a rabble-rousing tree hugger in sheep's clothing."
         "Which, I am...literally in sheep's clothing."
         "What do you mean?"
         "This is a wool pantsuit." Engrid grinned.
         Andrew rolled his eyes.
         "I'm serious." he scolded, "I just hope you don't get yourself in over my head. My Portuguese legalese is rusty."
         "You're a fast learner. Besides, I've spent most of my life getting into and out of trouble."
         "So have I."
         "Then together we will be an unstoppable force."
         "I think deforestation of the Amazon might be your immovable object."
         "I know we're not going to have any major impact today. I'm not delusional, just idealistic."
         "Okay. I guess that's a step in the right direction."
         Engrid sat watching the tropics pass by. Andrew kept his eyes dead ahead and his mouth shut. Shortly, they reached a small tin shack in a clearing. Engrid tried to hide her reaction.
         "I thought we were going to their headquarters." She said.
         "This is it."
         "Are you sure?"
         "Yes. Well, not their corporate headquarters."
         "Then what is this?"
         "Regional headquarters." Andrew said as he pulled to a stop at the edge of the dirt parking area.
         Engrid didn't reply. Andrew looked at her as if to say, 'ready to go home now?'
         "Well, we'd better get started." She pulled her door open and stepped out.
         "Engrid, I'm not sure this is such a good idea." Andrew continued to sit in the driver's seat and hold the steering wheel.
         "I've never been one to sit around and do nothing."
         "I realize that, but this isn't your fight."
         "For today it is," she replied and shut the door and walked off, leaving Andrew looking at her through the windshield. He got out and followed her. There was a small crowd gathering by the front door.
         "S vocconosco?" (Are you with us?) asked a young man who approached.
         "Sim, somos" Andrew replied. (Yes, we are.)
         He looked strangely at Engrid, "Como se chama voc" (What is your name?)
         Andrew opened his mouth to speak but before he could form the words Engrid stated, "O meu nome Engrid. Como se chama voc?" (My name is Engrid, what is your name?)
         "bonito encontrlo Jorge." She replied.
         Andrew just shook his head. Maybe Engrid understood Portuguese more than she let on. Perhaps he should have stayed home. After making Andrew's acquaintance, Jorge led them towards the group gathering by the door. They were chattering in who knows what but a hush fell over the group as they one by one noticed the newcomers. Jorge introduced them and the group members went back to their various discussions.
         "See, that wasn't so bad." Engrid said, "This will be fine, you will see. We'll participate in a little protest, and then I will go back to the missionary compound confident that I did my part."
         "I look forward to that." Andrew replied.
         A convoy of three small flatbed pickup trucks rolled into view. Everyone piled on and off they went. Andrew looked longingly as they drove past the RJ40 and went out onto the road. Now they were at the mercy of forces beyond their control being taken to a second location. It was anybody's guess what would happen to them next. He wished he had read that notice a little more carefully. Engrid had described it to him, but she had roughly translated it using a dictionary and online translation software. He's glanced at the online posting, but what if he'd missed an important detail? What if this was really a dangerous mission and they would come under gunfire? Andrew banished those thoughts from his head as he sat on a wooden orange crate bouncing long on the back of the truck. Engrid craned her neck to see what was coming up ahead. After about a half an hour of driving, the truck stopped.
         Jorge stood up, "Siga-me." (Follow me.)
         He hopped off the back of the truck. Andrew followed suit and then helped Engrid down onto the ground. Engrid scurried after Jorge as he disappeared into the underbrush. The others rushed around them shouting things in their native tongues.
         "Stop deforestation!" Engrid shouted in her native tongue.
         Andrew just rolled his eyes. Engrid slowed as her shoes bogged down in the soft soil.
         "We have to hurry." Andrew said.
         "I know, but I can't go any faster. I wasn't expecting to be running through this muck."
         "They're leaving us behind," he said.
         "I can see that," she snapped. Soon they came out into a clearing. There were massive bulldozers, skidders, and other massive pieces of equipment. The people they arrived with rushed at the machinery and dragged the people out of the operator's seats and threw them to the ground. Engrid stopped and stared in horror. She hadn't expected this violence. Andrew stood next to her, wide-eyed. Their compadres were pulling wires out of the machines and smashing the control panels with hammers. They broke off levers, switches, and keys by stomping them with their feet. A scene of complete anarchy, mayhem and bedlam was breaking out before them.
         She turned to Andrew, "We have to get out of here."
         "We can't walk all the way back to where we left the car.
         "Call your dad, he can come get us."
         "We're in the middle of the rainforest, there's no cell service way out here." Andrew said.
         "Then we're just going to have to make a run for it."
         A gunshot like cannon fire roared out of the trees. A tall, scruffy man in khaki came out of the woods toting a massive shotgun which he'd fired into the air. Engrid took off for the woods with Andrew close on her heels.
         "Freeze!" the man shouted. Andrew stopped but Engrid kept trotting. The man, who appeared much larger and even more menacing up close, grabbed Andrew by the collar and pulled him to the ground.
         "Run!" he shouted to Engrid. She was already passing the tree line going full steam ahead. Andrew landed on his butt with a thump. The man put his foot on Andrew's throat.
         "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
         "There's been a terrible mistake!" Andrew gurgled.
         "You're right there has. And you're going to pay for it."
         Several other rough-hewn men with shotguns were rounding up the ruffians and herding them towards the middle of the clearing.
         Engrid hid behind a large shrubbery and watched. There was no way to know what would happen next. She couldn't understand a word that was being shouted. All she knew was that it appeared that Andrew was in mortal danger. Before he reached the center where the huddled masses were waiting, Andrew turned to his captor.
         Engrid could scarcely believe her eyes regarding what happened next. Andrew attacked his captor like a rabid badger on steroids. He smashed his nose, stomped his foot, elbowed his groin, and in a coup de grace round-housed him with a foot to the jaw. Goliath stumbled back and Andrew raced around him as he slumped to the ground. Andrew zigzagged towards the forest as bullets whizzed by. The bullets caused little dirt eruptions from the ground. The crack of the powerful shotgun blasts was deafening.
         Engrid gasped. He was headed in her direction. She hopped through the soft dirt as her feet sank with each step and hid behind a tree. The tree made for better shelter during a hail of bullets than the azalea-like flowering shrub she was behind at first. Andrew dashed behind the same tree as Engrid. He didn't see her and knocked her down. He grabbed her and scooped her up in his arms and ran off into the woods.
         "I can walk." She said, swatting him on his shoulder.
         "Not fast enough." He said, the sweat beading up on his forehead and running down his cheeks.
         "Fair enough...get me out of here!"
         The bullets faded as the men decided that the two escapees weren't worth pursuing. After a few hundred yards, Andrew collapsed, "You're on your own." He gasped and wheezed as the adrenaline from his brush with death wore off. She stood up and dusted herself off. He massaged his shoulder with the alternate hand.
         "I don't think I've ever been so scared." Engrid admitted, taking a hard swallow to moisten her dry, scratchy throat, "My heart is thundering in my chest."
         "Mine too," Andrew said, trying to catch his breath.
         Engrid waited for Andrew to recover. He looked up at her and froze, "Engrid, don't panic."
         "Why would I panic now?"
         "Move towards me as slowly as you can."
         Her eyes bugged, "What's the matter? What's happening?"
         "Just do it."
         He stood slowly. "Walk this way."
         She didn't say anything else, just walked slowly following Andrew's finger. Andrew came behind her. She heard a rustling in the underbrush. She turned and her mouth opened. She tried to scream but nothing would come out. Terror overwhelmed her and she tried not to pass out. The largest snake she'd ever seen was appearing to fly through the air. Its body was massive and it wrapped itself around Andrew. The massive boa constrictor was going to eat Andrew. Engrid stood frozen in place by sheer horror.
         "Help!" Andrew gasped trying to breathe. Engrid was galvanized by his plea. She picked up a stick and started to smack the boa's head. It didn't faze the colossal snake as its grip tightened. She threw down the stick and grabbed the only other weapon she had. She drew an ink pen out of her pants pocket and stabbed at the snake. The first jab missed and poked Andrew in the forehead. The next jab poked the side of the boa, but the third strike landed right where she'd intended. It stuck in its eye. The boa flung around and knocked Engrid to the ground. She rolled over and watched as the snake spun and whirled around with the ink pen sticking out of its face. Andrew wiggled his way to life and freedom. The snake slithered away. Not dead but dissuaded from its prey.
         "The pen is mightier than the sword." She said, quoting the old adage.
         Tears were forming in Andrew's eyes and his lip quivered. She grabbed his shoulder. He turned and put his head on her shoulder and cried as the fear subsided.
         "It's okay," she said, patting him on the back, "We're going to get out of this mess and go back to the compound and stay put until it's time to go back to South Carolina."
         He wiped the tears from his face, "I was so scared."
         "Me too, me too." She continued patting him on the back as he calmed down. "With the guns and then that snake, this was all my fault, Andrew and I am so sorry I dragged you into this."
         "I know you didn't mean for any of this to happen," he said, regaining some of his composure.
         "I certainly didn't. I figured we'd go wave some picket signs in front of an office building and go home. I had no idea it would turn out to be so dangerous."
         "Have you learned your lesson?"
         "Yes, combating deforestation is beyond my scope of expertise." She said, holding her hand up as if swearing an oath.
         "I hope we can find the road before dark," Andrew said looking around. The sun was invisible in the thick brush, but nighttime was inevitable.
         "I was so busy running from the commotion, that I didn't see what direction we went." Engrid said.
         "Me either."
         "Are there any tracking techniques you can use? Some old spy wisdom?" Engrid asked.
         "What about that?" she asked, pointing at a tree trunk.
         "What about what?"
         "See that greenish stuff on the tree trunks?"
         He looked carefully, "The stuff with the spores poking out?"
         "Yes. Isn't moss supposed to grow on the north side of the tree? From what I remember of the map, the road we were on went east to west so, if we ran to the left of the road, we went south. The road runs all the way to the coast, so if we head north, we should go straight to it, right?"
         "Why not?"
         "Moss only grows on the north side of the tree trunk and that's only in the northern hemisphere."
         "That's not moss?"
         "No. Moss is a plant. That is a fungus called Ecosporidium."
         "Why does moss only do that in the northern hemisphere?"
         "Moss doesn't like direct sunlight, so it hides in the shadow of whatever it's growing on."
         "So in the southern hemisphere, does the moss grow on the south side?"
         "If you go far enough south, yes."
         "I didn't know that."
         "Even if we did find moss, this close to the equator, and this deep under the canopy, it's impossible to know for sure what side of the tree it was on."
         "Oh. And with the clouds and the canopy, I guess there's no way to know where the sun is either."
         "Are we doomed?"
         "I hope not," Andrew didn't sound convinced.
         Engrid looked around at the massive trees as big around as houses. She felt a lump rise in her throat. She'd imagined all kinds of final fates for herself in this world, but this one hadn't flashed through her mind. She stood motionless staring at the gray, rain-laded sky.
Chapter 13

         Evan looked at his watch as he and Dora sat together on the front porch of their bungalow at the missionary compound.
         "They should be back by now," he announced.
         "I know," Dora replied, tapping her foot nervously on the floor.
         They watched Lewis's approach from the main building where his quarters were.
         "What time were Andrew and Engrid supposed to be back?" Lewis asked.
         "Hours ago." Evan replied, "We're getting worried."
         "Oh Lord, I've got to go!" Before he could turn on his heels towards an old truck on the edge of the property, Dora and Evan were hot on his trail.
         "What's happened?" Evan asked, "What's going on?"
         "I'll be back in a little while," Lewis refused to turn and face them.
         "If this has to do with Andrew, I'm going with you." Evan said.
         Lewis paused for a moment; the fear evident in his eyes.
         "Get in the truck."
         Evan sat in the middle of the bench seat shoulder to shoulder with Dora who was up against the passenger side door.
         Lewis fired up the ancient truck; ground its gears loudly into forward and lurched toward the gate to the main road.
         "What's happened to Andrew and Engrid?"
         "I don't know. I hope nothing, but I heard on the radio there was a dust-up at the deforestation rally they attended."
         "What sort of dust-up?" Evan asked.
         "Apparently some folks got shot. According to the reporter there was a young American man and an elderly woman who escaped into the woods when the violence started."
         "So, they escaped. That's good right?" Dora said.
         "It's a start. But if they're lost in the forest, that's not good...especially now that it's getting dark."
         "Can Andrew track their way out of the forest?"
         "I don't know."
         "But he grew up in the jungle, right?"
         "He'd know the basics of survival but not much else. Mark could track a squirrel through the trees with nothing but a pocket watch and Scotch tape, but Andrew's a different story. Andrew's...special...he never had much to do with the forest."
         "I can imagine that" Evan said, nodding his head, "He didn't have much of a green thumb."
         "What about Engrid?" Lewis asked.
         "What about her?" Evan asked.

         "Does she have any experience with surviving in the forest?" Lewis repeated the question.
         Dora chuckled, "Engrid would have trouble finding the ice machine at a Hyatt Regency."
         "So that would be a 'no.'"
         Dora nodded.
         "So, it's critical that we find them before dark."
         "How do we do that?"
         "This is the only road in the area. I know where the rally was supposed to take place. Hopefully, we can find the FJ40 and track them from there."
         "We'll start off with footprints and we'll see where it goes from there. Maybe they've tracked back to the FJ40 and they're on their way home." Lewis said.
         "That would be the ideal."
         "Yes, it would."
         Lewis sped along the highway. The forest was so dense and so tall that it was starting to get shadowy even though the official sunset time was still hours away. Evan was near panic when Lewis turned off the highway into a dirt parking lot. There sat the FJ40 on the edge of the space by the tree line. There were several old, beat-up police cars out front of a sheet metal building.
         "You two stay put," Lewis said as he got out. He slammed the truck door and jogged off towards the gaggle of khaki clad officers. Evan tapped his foot nervously watching Lewis interacting with the officers. He hoped to God that Andrew and Engrid were safe- wherever they were- even if that was a Brazilian jail cell- that would be preferable to being lost overnight or eternally in the Amazon jungle.
         Dora scanned the tree line hoping to spot some sign of Engrid and Andrew. She waited for a miracle while the missionary tried desperately to get information about his lost son.
         Lewis spoke rapidly as he approached. The officers didn't know anything about Andrew. They had heard the news reports of two Americans being involved, but Lewis learned that by the time the police arrived, the Americans were not among the small crowd that was now either dead or in jail.
         Chapter 14

         Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Engrid and Andrew walked quickly but cautiously through the underbrush hoping for some clue as to their whereabouts. Surely even out here in the wilderness, there was bound to be civilization of some kind. The ground was moist and squishy as they made their way through the dense foliage, keeping ever vigilant for spiders, snakes, or any other wildlife that might make a meal out of them. Hours had passed since they'd escaped the clearing. Andrew and Engrid both worried that they were walking in an endless loop and would never find their way back. The rainforest covers millions of square miles and they were just two tiny, insignificant specks.
         Engrid stopped, "Did you hear that?"
         Andrew stood as motionless as possible, scanning between the tree trunks and looking up towards the patches of light filtering down through the canopy. He couldn't hear anything. Engrid peered into the shadows. Maybe it was just her imagination playing tricks on her. Andrew strained his ears hoping that whatever made the sounds would do it again. There was a sizzling sound and Andrew felt a sharp pain in his neck. The world swirled into a mass of shapeless colors then turned to inky blackness. Engrid stood horrified and her eyes darted around panicked to see if she was next. She thought she heard the same sizzling sound and ducked quickly. The needle-like object stabbed into a nearby tree trunk. Engrid gasped in horror. She looked at Andrew's wilted body lying on the ground at her feet. His eyes stared up at her lifeless and unseeing. She realized that she had no hope of escape either. If she fled, they would find her, and her fate might even be worse than his. Engrid debated the merits of both plans and she decided to stay with her young friend and die with him rather than attempt a cowardly way out. She knelt on the ground, the moisture soaking into her knees.
         "Andrew, I'm so sorry all this happened. You had a long and fruitful life ahead of you. I'm so sorry I wanted to go to that rally. I should have had better sense. I had no business going there and I had no business dragging you into it. You'd be safe at the compound with the love of your life if it hadn't been for me and my foolishness."
         The tears flowed freely as she waited for the sizzle through the leaves that would be her end. Soon she would be with her husband and parents again. She'd never imagined that Andrew would get to the pearly gates ahead of her. She looked down and cradled his head in her arms and wept for Evan. She understood the pain of losing such a powerful love. She wouldn't wish that agonizing torment on her worst enemy let alone such a sweet, kind, and caring man as Evan. Andrew was dead and soon, she would be too.
         She looked up through her tears and saw a group of men with minimal clothing holding spears and what she assumed to be blowguns. They reached towards her. She pulled away and held Andrew's head tightly, shielding it with her bosom. One of the men stooped down to her eye level.
         "Pam ydych chi'n yma?"
         She tried to give them a look to indicate that she did not understand. He tried again but repeating it slower and louder did not increase her comprehension. He gently pulled her arm. She realized that he wanted her to stand up. Engrid released her death grip on Andrew's head and torso and gingerly stood up.
         "Dewch gyda ni." The man pointed into the brush. Another, younger, stronger man lifted Andrew's body effortlessly from the ground and slung him over his shoulder. Engrid rushed towards him, but the elder statesman grabbed her shoulder. She looked back and he had a strange look similar to compassion that made her stop.
         He pointed to himself, "Mwensi." He pointed to Engrid.
         "Engrid," she said, pointing at herself.
         He smiled. Engrid's mind was still a blur over Andrew's death. Now she was being hauled off by his murderers to who knows what fate. The cadre moved off into the wilderness with Engrid in the middle of the group. The youth carrying Andrew was in the lead since he was carrying the spoils of war...or dinner, Engrid wasn't sure yet. It couldn't have been a comfortable trip for Andrew, had he been alive. The way he was being carried, his face kept smashing into the sweaty lower back and upper buttock of his bearer.
         Engrid looked at the older man she'd made contact with earlier and pointed to the young man to find out his name.
         The man smiled and said, "Rhyfelwr."
         Engrid repeated it. The youth stopped and looked at her.
         "I guess I said it right."
         He turned back around and continued tromping through the forest floor. Twilight had set in when they arrived in a large clearing containing some huts of various sizes and levels of elaborateness. Engrid looked around as curious onlookers turned from their labors and watched them pass.
         A naked little boy pointed, "Wach wen! Wach wen!"
         Engrid looked shocked but no one seemed to think it odd. She was led through the town to a hut near the center. She entered when shown the way. She had no strength left with which to resist and was afraid that resistance would make her fate more brutal. Rhyfelwr brought Andrew's body in and laid it gently on the ground. Andrew remained motionless and unresponsive. Rhyfelwr nodded to Engrid, then turned to leave. He put some sort of primitive bolt on the door and left. From a distance, Mwensi watched, holding his staff, his scepter of power. His prothad performed admirably today. He was as proud as a Guardian could be.
         Engrid examined her new surroundings. Their hut was a flat structure with sticks laid across and thin thatch overhead. The limbs that formed the wall were bound together with what looked like old electrical wire. The branches looked strong and sturdy. The limbs formed bars that were far enough apart to see everyone on the outside and anyone passing by had a clear view of the interior.
         "I think this is their city jail," Engrid said to Andrew's lifeless body, "I hope they haul you out of here before you start to stink. In this heat, it won't take long."
         "Yep. They put us in jail," she continued mumbling and looking around, "I guess this is the end of the road for little old me."

         Rhyfelwr had been selected early in life to be trained as a warrior. It had been foretold to the people that a white witch from the north would come to them to give them victory over their adversaries. The prophecy was that she would bring food- a youth whose strength they would consume to bring victory.
         When Mwensi and Rhyfelwr saw the white witch walking in the woods, they were astonished and felt privileged that their god, Duwa, had seen fit to fulfill the ancient prophecy during their lifetime. The offering of food she had brought looked delicious. His strength would serve them well.
         Her reaction to dinner's death and her lack of understanding of their speech left them surprised. She had recovered quickly and seemed okay now. At first they were afraid they had made a mistake and this was not the white witch. Now that she was calm and placid, this must be her.
         The white witch had amazing powers and her speech was that of Duwa. Few earthly beings had ever heard the language of Duwa before. Rhyfelwr felt privileged that she had spoken to him. She had not directly addressed anyone but him. His calling as a warrior must be true.
         He was afraid to ask what she said or what it meant. He was surprised that being a divine entity, she did not speak their language. Then it occurred to him...their language must be too primitive for her. Their language, to her, must sound like a cacophonous assault to the ears after speaking the language of Duwa. The language of Duwa was said to bring great wealth and power but it had been forgotten centuries ago by their forebears. Rhyfelwr walked back over to the hut where dinner and the white witch were stored.
         He smiled at her and sat on a stool outside the door. He was their guardian in case anyone would try to defile the white witch or spoil her offering. Engrid sat on a bench along one wall of the hut. She stared at Andrew and wondered if she would ever see Evan, Dora, or her home again. She didn't understand that she was a divine being who had brought victory to her people. She thought she detected motion. Rhyfelwr turned around when he heard her leave the bench. He watched between the slats of the wall as Engrid walked over and stooped down to Andrew. She took his head in her hands and looked at him.
         "Wake up! Andrew, are you still alive?" She lovingly stroked his cheek as she spoke.
         Rhyfelwr's eyes widened in amazement. The white witch was speaking the language of Duwa. Andrew drew a breath and rose up. The poison had not proved as deadly as intended. Rhyfelwr fell off his bench. He stood there. Mwensi was nearby and sensed a change in Rhyfelwr's demeanor. He came and stood next to him.
         Rhyfelwr told Mwensi that the white witch had been speaking the language of Duwa to their prey and he returned to life. Mwensi could barely believe his own eyes and ears. Andrew raised up and Engrid helped him over to the bench.
         Mwensi told his companion that they must have made a mistake. They must not have been supposed to kill the white witch's companion, so she resurrected him. Tonight, there would be a celebration of the white witch's healing powers.
         "That must have been a powerful sedative," Andrew said as he hauled himself off the ground and sat on the bench.
         "I don't think it was meant to be a sedative. I think you were supposed to be dead."
         "That would explain the astonished looks in our audience."
         "I think that they think that I brought you back to life."
         "Then they must think you are powerful."
         "I hope that makes them revere me and not fear me."
         "I hope so too. Since you brought me back to life, maybe they won't try to kill me again."
         Rhyfelwr came rushing in and stopped just before getting to them. He'd been so overcome by excitement. He couldn't control his boundless 20-year-old energy. He started speaking quickly and, to Engrid, incoherently.
         "It's okay, he's alive now," Engrid smiled and nodded.
         Rhyfelwr fell silent in reverence to this holy being.
         Engrid continued looking at Rhyfelwr. "I don't think they understand English."
         "Then what are we going to do?" Andrew asked.
         "Try Portuguese- maybe someone around here can understand that." Engrid suggested.
         "Ol" Andrew said.
         Rhyfelwr stepped back, "Vocdiz a lgua da gente oceanic!" (You speak the language of the ocean people.)
         "Sou o ela tradutor. Ela n pode dizer a sua lgua." (I am her translator. She cannot speak your language.)
         Rhyfelwr nodded his understanding, "Voctraz a mensagem da bruxa branca do Duwa." (You bring the message of the white witch from Duwa.)
         Andrew leaned over to Engrid, "They think you are a white witch who has come to bring them a message from Duwa, presumably some sort of deity."
         Engrid stared blankly in return.
         "Engrid, do you have a message for your people."
         "Let me go right this instant you wretched heathens." Engrid replied.
         "I wouldn't start off with that."
         "Ask them what they know of the white witch."
         "I can't do that. If they think you don't know about the white witch, they'll know we're frauds and we'll be fried- literally."
         "Then present it as a test." Engrid suggested.
         "How should I do that?"
         "Tell them, 'I am the White Witch of the North and I bring you a test of your worthiness to receive Duwa's message."
         Andrew swallowed hard and thought fast to convey such a message in Portuguese.
         Rhyfelwr filled her and Andrew in on the prophecies and Duwa. Duwa was the creator god who brought all things into existence. Engrid thought that Duwa sounded an awful lot like the regular God, but she wasn't sure. She thought fast.
         Rhyfelwr continued speaking. The people would host a banquet the following evening in their honor.
         Engrid leaned over to Andrew, "Ask them what's on the menu."
         "What is it?"
         Andrew conversed with Rhyfelwr. He deferred in his native tongue to several women who were standing in the doorway.
         "A wide array of meats, fruits and vegetables."
         "Meat? What kind of meat?"
         Andrew continued the multilingual conference.
         "People from a neighboring village."
         Engrid flinched. "Tell them, 'Duwa commands that we do not eat the flesh of people. People were created in the image of Duwa and that we cause pain to Duwa whenever we eat human flesh.'"
         Engrid was thinking pretty fast on her feet. Andrew pushed through the last of the sedated haze to convey her latest message to her people.
         Rhyfelwr and Mwensi nodded their understanding. Mwensi turned around, lifted his scepter and conveyed the divine decree to the people. The infallible white witch had spoken.
         Engrid and Andrew sat next to each other watching the commotion through the slats in the prison hut.
Chapter 15

          "Evan, I'm sorry but there isn't anything else we can do tonight. It is getting dark, and we need to get back to the compound."
         Evan looked crestfallen and heartbroken.
         "Trust me, Evan, I want to get Andrew and Engrid back as much as anyone. He's my son." Lewis' voice cracked with emotion.
         "I know," Evan admitted.
         Tears welled up in Lewis' eyes, "It broke my heart to send Andrew away, but he just isn't cut out for this environment. We sent him away so he wouldn't be killed out here. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life."
         Dora put her hand on his leg, "We're here for you. We will do whatever it takes to get them back."
         Lewis nodded, as a tear streaked its way down his face. He wiped it away, "Andrew thought we didn't love him because we did that. But it was because we loved him so much that it would have destroyed us if he'd died because of us."
         Dora and Evan exchanged looks, but neither knew what to say to comfort the frightened and distressed missionary.
         "Now he's out there all alone. He's probably terrified if he hasn't already been killed by a snake or something." He cried out, "Oh God, what if my son is dead?" He put his head on the steering wheel and wept.
         Evan patted him on the back, "You've suffered enough today. Let me drive back and you can rest."
         Lewis nodded silently and opened the door and walked around to the other side. The tears were still flowing as Evan started the vehicle and drove away. Lewis leaned against the window of the dirty old pickup truck and sobbed for his likely dead son.
         Dora kept her hand on his leg to reassure him. She leaned over, "God is still with you."
         Lewis nodded.
         "I don't know how all this will work out, but don't lose your faith. I'm sure God is going to do something with this." Dora said, trying to convince herself as much as anyone.
         Lewis took a deep breath and sighed, "You're right. This will all be okay in the end."
         "See, now don't you feel a little better?" Dora asked.
         "I'll feel better when this is over and Andrew is home safely."
         "Me too."
         "I don't think I'll be able to sleep soundly until he is back in the US with you, Evan."
         Evan looked over at Lewis.
         "I mean it. Andrew is safe with you. You are strong and I know that you will love my son and take care of him."
         "I do love him."
         "I know."
         "I would lay down my own life to protect him."
         "I know. Andrew has always needed someone to look out for him. I prayed and prayed that God would send him a guardian to look out for him and give him the love and support he needed."
         Evan smiled bashfully.
         "I assumed it would be a woman, but I suppose God saw fit for it to be you."
         "God sent Andrew a few women along the way," Evan said looking at Dora.
         Lewis smiled, "I suppose He did."
         "I'm sure Andrew will be fine. He and Engrid are resourceful people. They'll figure a way out of this." Evan said definitively.
         "With God's help they will," Lewis replied, "If they get out of there alive after spending a night in there, it will be nothing short of a miracle."
         "Then a miracle we will have," Dora said.
         Evan kept driving until they reached the gates of the missionary compound. The great wooden doors swung open and allowed them access. Marian and James were on the gazebo overlooking the river when they heard the old pickup truck rumbling onto the property.
         Marian's heart sank when only the three who had left returned. She looked over the river and saw the sunset already growing dim on the horizon along with her hopes of finding Andrew.
         Lewis and his companions walked over to Marian and James. The mother and father held each other tight and cried on one another's shoulders. Their grief rose in a chorus of crying and tears. James too was teary eyed. Evan put his hand on James' shoulder. James pulled Evan into a tight hug.
         James whispered in his ear, "You love my brother too."
         Evan cried on James's shoulder which was genetically identical to Andrew's. Dora turned from the weeping and gnashing of teeth and went up on the porch of her bungalow and sat down on a wicker chair. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She suddenly felt so fatigued from the stress and nervousness of the day. The adrenaline was wearing off and the weariness was setting in. She yawned and put her feet up on an old, rough-hewn wooden stool. She knew that she could not comprehend the danger that Engrid and Andrew must be facing out there in the wilderness.
         After a few minutes, the wailing subsided. Marian and Lewis escorted each other back to their quarters. Evan and James approached.
         "May we join you?" Evan asked.
         "Pull up a chair," she motioned to two nearby chairs before letting her arms flop back into her lap.
         Evan fell heavily into his chair while James sat down in his.
         "This has been a terrible day," Evan announced.
         Dora and James both silently nodded. The three sat in silence, both grieving quietly in their own way. The darkness was full now. The stars twinkled with an almost mocking merriment.
Chapter 16

         Rhyfelwr opened the door to the prison hut and bowed. The crowds had subsided and people were going about making preparations for bedtime. Twilight had deepened into dusk.
         "Posso entrar?" Rhyfelwr asked.
         "Sim, por favor," Andrew said. Engrid sat on her bench watching. She knew enough Portuguese to understand what was said but she decided that she shouldn't show off her primitive knowledge so as not to blow her cover.
         "Preparamos uma cabana para voc" (We have prepared a hut for you.)
         "Obrigado. Foi muito muito amel." (Thank you. That was very, very nice.)
         He turned to Engrid, "They've prepared a hut for us. We won't have to spend the night in here."
         "That's definitely good news!"
         She walked up to Rhyfelwr, "You are a very nice young man and I am thankful that you helped us today."
         He looked at Andrew for an interpretation.
         "Ela disse que vocfoi muito bonito e ela agradeceu-lhe para toda a sua ajuda hoje."
         Rhyfelwr looked at the floor bashfully. He had been complimented and thanked by the white witch herself in the language of Duwa. There couldn't have been a higher honor in their entire civilization.
         Rhyfelwr led them out of the hut and across a dirt courtyard to another hut. It was much larger than the prison hut they'd been kept in thus far. This one was round with much thicker thatch on the walls and roof. The roof was steeply pitched up to a point about 30 feet above the ground. Like all the other huts in the compound, it looked like it had been standing a while. The thatch had turned gray and was black in places. It wasn't hard to realize that things rotted fast in such a damp, hot climate.
         Rhyfelwr turned to Engrid, "Isto o templo de Duwa. Voco seu hpede honrado. Vocdeve ficar na sua casa."
         Andrew supplied the Anglicized version, "This is Duwa's temple. You are his honored guest and so you'll be staying here."
         "A temple, how nice. I've never stayed in a temple before. I chaperoned a couple of youth sleepovers at church years ago, but that was all." She walked through the entrance and looked around. There was what appeared to be an altar made of branches, rocks, and sand. There were small cups and other vessels made of carefully carved stone. There were other large vessels situated on the floor around the room that may have been used as storage.
         There were vestments hanging on a rack in the corner. Obviously, a priest or someone serving in that capacity would wear them during services. Engrid wasn't sure how religious ceremonies went here. It was far too small for the whole village to congregate. It couldn't have been more than 20 feet in diameter. The center of the room contained a large fire pit which was situated just below a circular hole at the very pinnacle of the pitched roof.
         Andrew looked around, "It's not exactly Westminster Cathedral, but it's a step up from earlier."
         Engrid smiled, "Well who needs stone and brick when you have sticks and twigs.
         "We shouldn't be picky houseguests; we should just be grateful to be alive."
         "You're right. This is probably the nicest place they have, so we should be grateful."
         Rhyfelwr smiled and left the two alone. He propped the wooden door that covered the entrance back in place. They could hear his footsteps receding in the distance.
         "So, what are you going to tell them at the festival tomorrow?" Andrew asked.
         "I'm not sure but I have a few ideas."
         "Like what?"
         "I don't want to spoil it," she smiled.
         "That's code for '[you] don't have a clue,' isn't it?"
         "Yes," she replied, pursing her lips and looking around the dimly lit room.
         "Am I the only one who feels uneasy here?" Andrew asked.
         "I don't like it. It smells musty and I can't see much. Since it's almost dark, there's not much light coming in through the roof.
         "Now I know why the townsfolk bed down when it gets dark outside."
         There was a knock on the door.
         Andrew peeked around the corner and his eyes nearly popped out. Panic filled him and he rushed away from the door and pushed Engrid up against the wall. She yelped a little in surprise. She then saw the orange flicker outside the door. It was an eerie glow of fire. Andrew turned around to face the marauders.
         "Are they going to burn the place down with us in it?"
         "It looks like it."
         "Why would they do that?"
         "Maybe they found us out."
         "I don't know. This must not be a temple. This is probably just some old building. They moved this stuff in so we'd think it was a temple and not try to make a run for it."
         "That's horrible. Now we're sitting ducks," Engrid said in a strained whisper.
          "I can't believe after all this; they're going to kill us!"

         "We'll be roasted like a pig on the 4th of July."
         Fingers came around the edge of the door. Andrew stood in a defensive stance with his arms raised. Engrid kept herself up against the slats of the wall. If nothing else, they could probably break out. The building didn't look that sturdy. Andrew charged the door plank and threw his shoulder into it. Whoever the fire bearer was he was shoved to the ground. Andrew landed on top of him and the fire stick flew out of his hand and clattered to the ground a few feet away. Rhyfelwr's face peeked around the edge of the door as the torch bearer lay splayed on the ground.
         "Em que vocestfazendo aqui?" Andrew demanded (What are you doing bringing fire here?)
         Rhyfelwr picked up the torch, "escuro em aqui. Pensei que vocpoderia gostar de uma tocha." (It is dark in there. I thought you might like some light.)
         "Obrigado," Andrew said, standing up and dusting himself off. Engrid still stood up against the wall.
         "O que vocpensou? Vocpensou que queimarmos a bruxa branca?" (What did you think? Did you think we would burn the white witch?)
         "Ele n seria a primeira vez quanto algu queimou uma bruxa." (It wouldn't be the first time someone burned a witch.)
         "Sas m bruxas t de ser purgadas pelo fogo. Isto uma boa bruxa. Ela uma boa bruxa, correta?" (Only evil witches need to be purged by fire. This is a good witch. She is a good witch, correct?)
         "Sim. Ela uma boa bruxa. Ela trarsboas notias no banquete amanh Prometo." (Yes. She is a good witch. She will bring only good news at the banquet tomorrow. I promise.)
         "Me desculpe, eu trouxe o fogo. Eu n quis ofender a grande bruxa branca do norte." (I'm sorry I brought fire. I did not mean to offend the great white witch of the north.)
         "Tudo perdoado. Durma em paz Rhyfelwr." (All is forgiven. Sleep in peace Rhyfelwr.)
         "Bom. Boa noite." (Good. Good night.) Rhyfelwr walked out of the temple and left them in peace once again. Only this time they had a little more illumination.
Chapter 17

         Evan fitfully settled in on the bed he and Andrew were supposed to share on this trip. Every time he dozed off, an awful nightmare would come to him. He'd imagined Andrew being eaten by a crocodile, a python, a horde of army ants, and being killed and eaten by bloodthirsty natives. Each time he would sit up in bed, drenched in a cold sweat. Then he would realize that Andrew wasn't there and an intense wave of grief would overcome him.
         If he had a nightmare about something happening to Andrew, he could look over and see Andrew sleeping safely next to him. Then he knew that it was just a dream and that everything was okay. He did not have that luxury tonight. Tonight, Andrew could be suffering any one of those fates.
         It almost tormented him more that he didn't know than it would have to know what happened to Andrew out there in the jungle. He looked around the room and Andrew was nowhere to be found.
         He settled back down on his pillow and stared at the ceiling. The fan turned slowly on the ceiling. Evan followed it with his eyes until it made him a little dizzy. Faint moonlight filtered through the curtains. He rolled over on his side and looked at the clock. Its red digits showed brightly in the darkness. 2:30 am. It would be sunrise in a few hours. How would he pass the endless night? The night of torment would not end.
         He got out of bed and paced. He walked back and forth across the floor at the foot of the bed. He stopped and looked outside. Marian and Lewis' lights were on. He watched their shadows sitting next to each other. One's head was resting on the other's shoulder. At least they had one another for comfort. Evan felt utterly alone in the world. He knew Dora was probably awake too but he felt like being alone and sulking.
         Evan pulled a chair over to the window and watched Andrew's parents' silhouettes. What must they be thinking? Had they assumed Andrew's death out in the rainforest? Were they planning further attempts to locate him? Were they planning a funeral? Perhaps they were narrowing down the search options. Evan would be no help because he knew virtually nothing about the continent he was on, let alone the seemingly infinite and impenetrable forest that stretched in every direction. He wanted to go sit on the gazebo down by the water, but he was afraid of what creatures might be waiting in the shadows. There was an endless supply of insects, reptiles, and other creatures that would be invisible to him in the dark until they moved in for the kill.

         Marian and Lewis sat in their quarters at their small dinette table. They had a map spread out; the edges held down by small knick-knacks they had collected over the years. It was a political map of Amazonas on which they had written the different tribal and native areas. They also had the locations and territories served by other churches and missionary agencies including their own. It was a tattered and careworn map that Lewis had used many times to figure out unchurched areas and in what areas would be suitable for a church planting operation. Now he was using it to figure out where Engrid and Andrew might have gone from the site of the ill-fated anti-deforestation rally.
         Depending on which direction they went, they could be any number of places. The worst conceivable possibility was that they had been captured by or stumbled upon the Balumbolpeople.
         They had attacked and conquered many tribes in their history. They had been remarkably quiet on that front lately, but they were not a tribe to be messed with. This was mostly because the Brazilian authorities had been cracking down on such practices, even among the most remote and inhospitable tribes in the country.
         Lewis prayed that God would not let his son and his friend fall into the hands of the Balumbolpeople. If they did, he prayed even more fervently that Andrew and Engrid would be delivered from their grasp. Lewis had heard reports from converts and others of the heinous things they did to their victims. Lewis banished such thoughts from his mind and resumed his focused search, poring over the maps hoping against hope that Andrew and Engrid were safe wherever they were. Marian sat right by his side just like she had for the last 32 years of their lives.
         Marian also prayed that whatever happened, that her son was safe and would be returned to her unharmed. It was unlikely, though, because without shelter, there was little repose from the snakes, boars, spiders and other things that would kill people.
         "Where do you think we should look, Lewis?"
         "I'm afraid to say. I was hoping they would find their way back to the road before dark. But if they got picked up, they should be here by now. So, this late, we can only assume they are spending the night somewhere."
         "I know that. Where are we going to look tomorrow?"
         "Given where the rally was, they are dangerously close to the Balumbol"
         "I was afraid you would say that." Marian shook her head grimly, "If they get out of this alive, it will be nothing short of a miracle."
         Lewis nodded his head.
         "Can we make contact with them?"
         "I'm afraid that if we do, they might go looking for them."
         "Do you think they would be that vindictive to hunt down and kill the son of a Christian missionary?"
         Marian shook her head grimly. This did not look good.
         Is there any other possibility that doesn't involve them spending the night in the forest?"
         "Not that I can see," Lewis replied.
         She reached up and pulled the curtain back with her hand and looked out. She could see Evan's silhouette in the bungalow across the courtyard. She made no reply because she knew that he could not see her face any more than she could see his. She worried for Evan too. Though she had only known him a very short time, she knew that he loved Andrew very much and this must be a very difficult night for him as well. They also could not forget that Engrid, Dora's oldest and dearest friend, was out there with Andrew. Andrew wasn't the only one in mortal danger tonight. If anything, Engrid was in greater danger because she could not run as fast or defend herself as readily as the youthful and strong Andrew. Her old age also made her more vulnerable to the rain and dampness of a night spent on the forest floor. Marian released the curtain and let it fall back across the window and sighed heavily.
Chapter 18

         Engrid laid on her pallet along the side of the temple of Duwa. She stared at the flickering torchlight that Rhyfelwr had set up in the center of the room. She closed her eyes and imagined herself back in the safety and comfort of her large, two-story house on Maple Avenue in Deerfield. The interwoven slats of tree bark and leaves were not as comfortable as her down comforter and 1200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets back home. Some lumps and other protrusions made the bed rather uncomfortable. But she didn't complain because she understood that this was the best bed in town.
         Andrew was sleeping across the room on an old sheet that was tied at each end and hung between two rafters to form a hammock. He looked like a massive larval insect, wrapped up in that dirty, tattered sheet. His hammock swayed back and forth as he adjusted his weight and tried not to dump himself off on the ground. Engrid guessed it was an old death shroud that someone had lying around. Evidently the translator was not as highly regarded as the great white witch of the north herself.
         "Are you comfy?" she called out to him.
         "Sort of. I'm afraid if I move, I'll fall out."
         "I'll trade you," she said, smiling at the ceiling.
         "No thanks. I'd rather be sleeping suspended from the rafters than down there on that rickety board you're on."
         "It's woven tree bark slats, I'll have you know. Why don't you want to be down here?"
         "This is finery compared to that rickety thing you're on. Besides, if I'm going to be eaten alive by a wild animal, I'd rather make them work for it. Your interwoven tree bark is nothing more than a serving platter. You might as well put a napkin on your head."
         Engrid rolled over and looked down. Sure enough, she was only about two feet above the ground. She quickly scanned the room. The door into the temple wasn't exactly secure. It was just a plank propped over a hole in the wall. An animal could easily reach her where she was. An animal was less likely to be hungry enough to climb up a wall stud then down a death shroud to feast on the leaner and less fleshy occupant.
         "Will your father know where we are?"
         "Yes. I'm sure he's at home right now formulating a plan. He will rescue us as soon as he can. There isn't much he can do tonight. He's probably worried sick, though."
         "I'm also worried about Evan. I wish we had a way to get a message to him that we are okay. He probably thinks we are dead."
         "My parents are probably worried about that possibility too."
         "But you are resourceful and tough," Engrid said, "Surely, they know you can take care of yourself.
         "No one spends a night in the rainforest without shelter. Even the hardiest natives find a safe place to sleep at night."
         "We have one. It's safe as far as we can tell."
         "Evan and the others don't know we're here. They probably think we're sleeping under a banana tree making midnight snacks out of ourselves."
         "If I can survive traipsing around a Minnesota blizzard in just a nightgown and curlers, I think I can survive a night in a rainforest in slacks and a blouse."
         "Well, point of clarification; you didn't spend the night in a Minnesota blizzard. You hitchhiked with a trucker and spent the night in a jail cell with me."
         "I guess you're right. At least we won't run the risk of freezing to death this time."
         "That's not very likely."
         "Roasting on a spit over an open fire like a Christmas goose on the other hand..."
         "Is a distinct possibility." Andrew finished the thought.
         The pair fell into silence for a few minutes.
         "Do you think we will survive this?"
         "As long as we can keep up the great white witch charade, we should be okay."
         "We can't keep that up forever."
         "No, the Great White Witch of the North will be making a brief appearance among the people tomorrow and then heading off into the woods to hop on a Great White Boeing 747 from the North and leaving this place in the jet wake."
         "That sounds like a fantastic plan."
         "It's simple and runs a minimal risk of getting consumed by our fellow villagers. They can't eat us if we're ensconced in our houses in Deerfield."
         "I think our government would frown on Brazilian aboriginals eating US citizens in their own houses."
         "I like our government. I know people like to fuss about it and I know it's not perfect but at least we don't have to fear marauding cannibals," Engrid smiled.
         "It does a good job of protecting us from that."
         "Yes, it does," Engrid agreed.
         "It's time to get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day."
         "Good night, Engrid."
         "Good night, Andrew."
         Silence fell on the temple of Duwa and soon darkness followed as the torch burned itself out.
Chapter 19

         Dawn slowly grew on the horizon. The missionary compound ground to life slowly as the nightmare of worrying about Engrid and Andrew's fate weighed on the minds of everyone present. Lewis and Marian had fallen asleep in each other's arms on a sofa near the table in their quarters. Evan's head lolled on his shoulder in the chair by the window.
         Dora had spent a fitful night tossing and turning in her bed. She couldn't shake the story of the Balumbolthat Marian told them in the van on the way from the Manaus airport. Dora just sensed that they were with them but were unharmed. She couldn't explain how she knew, but she did.
         Dora knocked on Evan's door and startled him to wakefulness. He wiped the drool from his chin with the back of his hand and stretched as much as he could, arching his back until his head touched the back of the chair. He walked over to the door and pulled it open.
         "Good morning, Dora."
         "Good morning. I think that Engrid and Andrew are okay."
         "What makes you think that?"
         "I just do. The question is how we are going to retrieve them."
         "I think we should just let Lewis and Marian handle this. They are the experts on how things work around here." Evan said, red-eyed and clearly unrested.
         "Let me take a shower and get ready. We'll go over there for breakfast and talk to them about it and how we can help. I know both of us will do whatever it takes to bring them both back safely."
         "I agree. I just need to clean up. I'm sure I look horrible."
         "I can't imagine how this must feel for you," Dora said, shaking her head.
         She returned to her own room to wait for Evan to get ready to go. Lewis and Marian sat on the gazebo overlooking the river with James and Mark sitting across from them. After Dora and Evan joined them, there were still two empty chairs to be filled by a successful rescue attempt. They sat in the silence that comes from physical and emotional exhaustion.
         "Good morning," Evan and Dora greeted their hosts.
         "Good morning." They each murmured in response. Evan and Dora were not the only ones worrying themselves sick.
         "What is the search plan for today?" Evan asked.
         "Lewis made some phone calls and we're waiting to hear anything. There are too many places he could be to go knocking on doors," Marian stated.
         "Plus not all those doors would be hospitable," Lewis added.
         "So, we just wait?" Evan asked.
         "That's all we can do right now." Lewis replied.
         Evan didn't reply, only looked out over the rippling surface of the Amazon River listening to the quiet gurgle of the immense river as it passed by in its eternal rhythm. Evan was struck by the fleetingness of life. The river had been there for millennia before any of them existed and would be here for millennia, long after they were all gone and found out what, if anything, lies beyond the veil of life.
Chapter 20

         Engrid rolled over on her slat bed and looked at the beam of early morning sunlight streaming in through the hole in the roof of the Temple of Duwa. It had been a fitful night sleeping on a terribly uncomfortable bed, while also fearing what creatures would be able to reach her. She looked over at Andrew's fabric perch. He was still wrapped inside sleeping snugly. He had not stirred or snored or anything. Engrid began to worry that perhaps he'd succumbed to the poison after all.
         She slowly got up off her bed and rubbed her lower back. This might be a painful day. She only hoped that it would be a day that she would survive and not become lunch. She stood up and slowly stretched her ancient, creaking joints. She yawned broadly as she stretched. The room showed no evidence of any nocturnal visitors. Engrid scanned the dirt floor for signs of animal tracks and saw nothing but their own footprints from the night before.
          She walked over to Andrew's swinging death shroud and poked him with her finger. He swung slightly and stirred. She poked him a little harder. He jerked to wakefulness. The death shroud swung wildly as Andrew thrashed about not sure what was poking him. He shifted his weight improperly and he fell out of the shroud with a thump.
         "I'm glad you're up," Engrid said, "I thought you were going to sleep the day away."
         Andrew was dazed and looked around the shabby, makeshift temple. He wiped his hands on his shirt before using them to rub the sleep from his eyes. He looked up at Engrid, towering over him.
         "Are you okay?"
         He slowly stood up, "Other than the rude awakening, I'm fine."
         "Sorry about that. I didn't think you'd jump out of your skin like that."
         "I didn't know what was attacking me."
         "It's just me," she replied, with a hint of mirth, "Nothing to be scared of."
         "There's plenty to be scared of out here."
         "I'm basically a deity and you're my prophet...what could go wrong?" Engrid smirked, relieved that Andrew was still alive, even if he was a bit annoyed at her for waking him up the way she did.
         "We're messing with stuff we shouldn't be messing with."
         "I'm not going to go overboard. I'm just doing what I think we have to in order to get out of this mess alive."
         "I hope you succeed."
         "Me too."
         Rhyfelwr rapped quietly on the door slat.
         "Entrado," Andrew said.
         Rhyfelwr slid the door slat aside and poked his head in,
         "Boa manh Ele o tempo do cafda manh"
         "It's time for breakfast," Engrid said, recognizing enough of the words to create a coherent thought.
         "Yes," Andrew confirmed, "What are the chances they'll have actual coffee?"
         "You're the only one who can ask." Engrid replied.
         Andrew and Engrid smiled at their morning visitor. He ushered them out into the morning light that filtered down through the canopy of tree branches and leaves. Engrid walked along looking up into the trees. They heard the call of macaws, parrots and other birds and the hoot of monkeys in the distance. Andrew kept scanning the perimeter to see if anyone suspicious was approaching. So far, nothing jumped out at him.
         Rhyfelwr opened the door of a hut. Andrew and Engrid followed him inside. There was a roughhewn table sitting unevenly on the dirt floor. Andrew and Engrid seated themselves on benches made of the same split tree trunks as the table. Rhyfelwr explained that they would be joined by Mwensi and a few of the village elders. Rhyfelwr sat down opposite them and waited quietly, saying nothing else. Engrid looked around the room. The hut was constructed of the same vine-like vegetation bound together by vine cords with gaps between to facilitate airflow. The moments ticked by as the triad sat and waited for the arrival of Mwensi and the other tribal elders.
         Engrid glanced at Rhyfelwr then turned to Andrew and whispered, "I just had a terrible thought."
         "What's that?"
         "What if they really are going to kill us?" Engrid asked.
         "Why would they go through all this trouble?"
         "They wanted to wait for today for whatever reason. What less troublesome way would there be to get us to stay than making us think we are honored guests?" Engrid explained.
         "That would be pretty ingenious." Andrew admitted.
         "It's easier than keeping us in prison where we know we're in trouble and make a definite attempt to escape."
         "You made your point, Engrid, but what do we do about it now?"
         "I'm not sure. Just look natural. We shouldn't give them any indication that something's not right."
         Andrew nodded, "What if you're wrong? We could make a bad situation disastrous."
         "I know," Engrid said, "Believe me, I've thought of that. I may be nearly 60 years older than you, but right now I'm as much of a clueless idiot as anyone."
         She smiled innocently at Rhyfelwr who returned her smile. The wooden slat that formed the door to an adjacent room moved and Engrid heard voices on the other side. The slat slid aside and Mwensi's head came through the entrance.
         He apologized for being late which was conveyed to Engrid via translation. Her acceptance of the apologies was conveyed back via translation. Engrid and Mwensi exchanged pleasant smiles. After the smile, she became oddly uneasy. There was an unsettling knowingness in Mwensi's eyes during their smiles. She realized it was a nonverbal communiqu Engrid's pulse raced when she realized that she'd agreed to something. Her smile and accompanying nod had been received as an affirmative answer. She didn't know what her smile and nod had obligated her or Andrew to.
         Mwensi sat directly across from her next to Rhyfelwr. They nodded to each other. Rhyfelwr stood and bowed slightly as he turned and walked away from the table. He slipped silently out of the doorway into the bright morning sunlight. Engrid watched him go, her brow furrowed with concern over the permission she had inadvertently granted. Andrew sensed something was wrong. The game had changed.
         Rhyfelwr returned with three other young men carrying spears. They stood tall and erect, the bottom heel of their long spears resting on their right foot. The points of their spears stood up about 18 inches past their heads. The spears looked ceremonial with leaves, feathers and other ornaments attached with colored ropes of vine fibers. The three young men were dressed in ceremonial looking garments, long sashes of banana leaves over their chests, wreaths of vines crowning their jet-black hair. Their faces were painted with stripes of clay in various colors.
         It appeared that the Great White Witch of the North's Honor Guard had arrived. Engrid swallowed hard. To what had she committed?
         Via Andrew's translation, Engrid was informed that she would be dining with Mwensi only. Andrew was needed to help prepare for the festivities later in the day. Engrid watched with outer calm and inner terror as Andrew was ushered up from the table and out into the morning sunlight filtering through the rainforest canopy. Not only was her translator gone, she had no idea what was to become of him.
         Mwensi sat quietly as a plainly yet scantily dressed woman came through another door, presumably a service entrance. She carried trays of food and presented them to Engrid first as the guest and then to Mwensi. She scanned her culinary prospects. She eyed the variety of fruits and nuts while trying not to look at the roasted fish whose dead, desiccated eye scared back at her. She looked at Mwensi who looked back at her. She gestured for her to begin first. She gingerly took a mango and sat it on her plate.
         There was such a variety of food Engrid couldn't help but worry that this was a test. There were probably some dietary laws or customs that the real Great White Witch would know, but an impostor would not be privy to. These rainforest people may look primitive, but they hadn't lasted this long by being dumb. She took a piece of wood that functioned as a spoon and served herself some corn and manioc pudding. She then took a hollow gourd and served herself some maniba which is a stew made with manioc root. [Manioc is a common food found in tropical Latin America and Africa that is similar to a sweet potato.]
         Once she had assembled her plate, she picked up the coarse-hewn utensils and began to eat. Once she started to eat, Mwensi began assembling his meal. The two ate in silence. Engrid was afraid to say anything. Mwensi was observing her every move to see if he could determine her authenticity. Engrid fervently hoped that she was passing whatever test this was.
Chapter 21

         Lewis and his crew ate their breakfast quickly. They were going to ride out to the church where Lewis had called a meeting. He was hoping someone in the church would have heard something about the lost pair. He hoped and prayed that his missing son would be restored to him unharmed. Evan wolfed down his eggs and whatever else there was while Dora picked at her plate of sautd fruits and vegetables. James, Mark, and Marian ate quickly too. As soon as everyone appeared to be finished, they caravanned the food dishes back from the gazebo to the main house. Marian quickly organized the cleaning crew while Lewis and Evan made final preparations for departure. In short order, they were ready to go. Everyone piled into Marian's minivan, and they sped off to church, Marian pushing the elderly van as hard as she dared. Dora wrung her hands while Evan leaned forward staring through the windshield as if he were willing the van to go even faster.
         Evan's heart raced as he dared believe that their mission to rescue his love would be successful. Evan desperately wanted to be back in Andrew's arms. It pained him to think of Andrew stranded in the woods facing death from some poisonous plant or ravenous wild beast. It would nearly kill him to find out that Andrew, the love of his life, was dead in the wilderness never to be heard from again. The van flew as if borne on eagle's wings, yet time seemed to crawl interminably as Marian made her way to the church for the community meeting.
         Marian kept her eyes straight ahead as she barreled down the tar and gravel road towards the church. Lewis silently rehearsed his comments he would make in his effort to find Andrew and Engrid. Marian rounded a corner in the road and the church came into view. She pulled into the dirt parking lot and shut off the engine.
         People had already started to gather for the meeting. Word had spread quickly that Pastor Garrison's son was missing in the forest. People around there took such things very seriously. Being lost in the forest was tantamount to a death sentence even for native inhabitants let alone some young boy who'd grown accustomed to the posh, soft lifestyle of the United States.
         There was also a rumor afloat that Andrew and his compatriot had been captured by the Balumbol The Balumbolwere the stuff of legend. They were barbarous and were well known as cannibals, headhunters, headshrinkers, and all manner of rainforest lore. They were experts in the 'artes do mal'...the 'evil arts.' For the regular folks who came around the church and Pastor Garrison, the Balumbolwere an endless source of cautionary tales to children who might wander into the woods unwary and away from their parents' watchful eyes. The very thought that their minister's son had been captured chilled them to their souls.
         Everyone watched silently as the minister and his family disembarked from their van and approached the church. There were several strangers in their midst. Judging from their appearance, they were fresh off the plane from Pastor Garrison's homeland. Lewis walked through the airy, well-lit sanctuary and approached the pulpit. A stream of people came through the door and took their seats around the room.
         Mark and James sat along the back row with Dora and Evan looking solemn. Marian sat on the front row and looked hopefully at her husband. She hoped and prayed that something would happen. She wanted so badly to hear words of comfort and wisdom in this, her darkest hour. Lewis looked down at his wife sweetly. She needed his leadership and his shoulder, and he hoped that God gave him the strength to deliver. Lewis lifted his gaze and looked out over the gathering assembly. Their faces looked worried yet hopeful. They hoped that their minister's son would be okay, but their faith in that outcome was not so certain.
         Lewis drew a deep breath and addressed his congregation. In English translation, he said to them in their native tongue, "Brothers and sisters, thank you for coming to my family's aid. We are facing a terrible trial and test of our faith and we need your help to succeed. As many of you know, my son and a friend of his from America disappeared into the forest yesterday afternoon. They were participating in a protest to stop the tearing down of the rainforest. They should not have been there, but they were. The protest turned violent, and they tried to leave. We do not know what happened to them after that. I called you all here in case someone might know something that we can use to rescue them."
         He watched the expressions on his congregants' faces. Most of them shrugged and didn't know anything. Several promised to pray about the situation. Then in the back, a man stood.
         Lewis looked at him, "Yes Paco, are you able to help?"

         "Yes. My son and I were hunting boar yesterday. We saw your son and an elderly woman. We were going to ask them if they needed help but other people got there first."
         "Who?" Lewis asked urgently.
         "I don't know who the others were, but I recognized one. His name is Mwensi. He is a Balumbol"
         "I've heard of him," Lewis said, "He is a tribal elder."
         Paco nodded solemnly. Lewis wasn't sure if he should breathe a sigh of relief because they finally had a lead or panic because that led them to the worst possible, doomsday scenario. Marian's heart skipped a beat, and she felt her head swim at the confirmation that her son had been captured by the Balumbol This was a mother's worst nightmare come to life. She felt the tears welling up in her eyes.
         She couldn't stand it anymore. She leapt from her seat and rushed down the aisle towards the exit. The tears were beginning to streak down her face. She wiped them away quickly. Everyone in attendance watched her leave. Mark and James hopped up from their seats and followed their mother outside to the parking lot.
         "I guess it must be bad news." Evan whispered to Dora.
         "Just about the only word I recognized was 'Balumbol'" Dora replied.
         "Oh...that's bad. That's the people that Marian told us about in the van on the way from the airport." Evan replied.
         "Yes. They are supposed to be some nasty characters." Dora said.
         "Maybe that Paco guy was mistaken." Evan hoped.
         "I hope so." Dora replied.
         Evan breathed the fear that gripped the room. Marian pulled her arm away from Mark.
         "Mam" he called out to her.
         She shook her head and leaned face forward against the side of her van.
         "Lo vamos a encontrar. Todo va a estar bien." Mark tried to comfort and console his mother.
         "Yo no quiero que mi hijo vaya a morir."
         They looked at the ground. Their mother had made her plea that her son would not die. They knew that there was a distinct possibility that their brother was already dead.
         Evan leaned over to Dora, "Do you think we should go outside with Marian?"
         Dora shook her head, "No. Her sons are with her. She doesn't need interfering strangers right now."
         Evan nodded his head in understanding.
Chapter 22

         Engrid cautiously nibbled on a piece of papaya. She kept her eye on Mwensi as he ate some shredded leaves. She was almost beside herself not knowing where Andrew was, but she had no way of asking. Even if she could ask the question and even if she could understand the reply, the possibility seemed likely that she wouldn't want to know the answer anyway. So, on the papaya she nibbled.
         Mwensi returned her gaze. He knew what awaited them, what awaited this impostor and her consort. They would not get away with this treason against his people. His anger burned against the woman with whom he dined. She had brought disgrace and dishonor to his traditions, to his theology, and to his people. Such a person should not be permitted to live. To ensure the peace of their village, this woman had to be drawn out. She could not be allowed to deceive his people any longer. There was one way he could get her to confess her sins. Her young consort was the leverage.

         Andrew was led away from the hut where Engrid was to dine with the head cheese. He walked across the dirt pathway across the village following Rhyfelwr his guide. He saw the women going about their domestic tasks of caring for children and cooking food. He saw the men sharpening their weapons, discussing who knows what and preparing to defend hearth and home.
         Rhyfelwr led him to another hut, very similar in size, shape and building materials as the others. Andrew was ushered inside and Rhyfelwr stood behind him. Andrew turned to ask a question and felt a stinging in his neck. The pain seared through his body.
         The world blurred and turned to black. He could still hear the movement around him. He'd been hit with a dart. He felt the dart being yanked from his neck. The pain was incomprehensible, but he could not react to it. All he could do was lay on the ground in a limp pile. A few minutes elapsed. Andrew couldn't tell if it was a few minutes or hours or days. His vision was coming back but he still couldn't react to anything. Whatever this was, it was potent stuff.
         Andrew saw Rhyfelwr and someone else come into the little hut where Andrew remained as a rag doll. They hoisted him up onto a table. Pain flew through his brain. There was no end to the tortures that might be in store for him. Once he was deposited on the table, a middle aged, matronly woman came in and proceeded to remove his clothes with Rhyfelwr's help lifting and repositioning in the body. Andrew tried to think of reasons why they would see fit to tranquilize him only to wash the body.
         Why would someone wash a lifeless body? The answer flashed through his mind. You wash a body to prepare it for burial. They must think Andrew was dead. That didn't entirely make sense because he could see. Surely, they could tell that his eyes were open and he wasn't dead. These people may not have medical degrees, but they should be able to recognize the spark of life in someone's eyes. They would be able to recognize the vacant stare of a corpse. They knew he wasn't dead. Andrew's mind continued to whirl. He wasn't thinking clearly. If he was, he would know their purpose in washing the body.

         Engrid finished her meal and sat back on her bench. Mwensi shortly wrapped up his meal and she did the same. A guard appeared in the doorway. Mwensi said something to him that was utterly lost on Engrid. The instructions were clear though- follow that guy. So, she did, keeping a watchful eye in every direction. She walked a similar dirt path through the village as Andrew until she arrived back at the temple of Duwa. Mwensi bid her adieu with a smile and a nod. After he'd held his hand up to show her that he wished her to enter, he turned and left. Engrid wasn't sure what else to do, so she obeyed.
         "Andrew," she whispered, "Are you in here?"
         She looked around the interior but found no sign that anyone had been there since they'd departed for breakfast. She paced around her little temple/cell and thought long and hard. She had to find Andrew and get them both out of here. She hoped, yearned, and prayed that Andrew wasn't already at the Pearly Gates.
         She peered through the gaps in the slats. She needed to get out and look around, but she'd be spotted instantly. Her pale skin, snow-white hair, and big thick glasses would give her away. If only she had a way of disguising herself, but these women barely wore spaghetti straps, let alone burqas. If she wore the native dress, she'd scare them all away. Or else blind them because she doubted any of them owned a pair of sunglasses. She searched under the benches behind and around what she could only assume was a makeshift altar. Nothing sparked an idea in her mind. She would just have to 'wing it.' Engrid walked around the interior perimeter of her dwelling to see if she could see anyone watching her. She walked around again. She only had one chance to make this work. If she failed, she was doomed.
         Engrid went to the entrance and pushed the door board back a little bit and peeked around the edge. She was sure she was being watched, but she couldn't see anyone. She slipped as surreptitiously as a chubby geriatric could and hopped quickly around to the back. She scurried over to a tree and tucked herself behind it. She peeked around and watched. There were a few villagers off in the distance. No one seemed to notice her.
         There were so many buildings around the village, he could be anywhere. This wasn't Christmas in New York when one was encouraged to peek in every window. She was sure to draw attention by tiptoeing around the village holding her face up to every crack in every wall. She decided she would begin by walking around the perimeter of the village and watch from the forest for any signs of Andrew.
         She went a little further into the woods so that she would be shielded from sight but she could still see into the village. She began her peripatetic circumlocution of the premises. She walked as quietly as she could; being very mindful of every dead leaf and fallen branch she stepped on. Partway around the village, she saw several women at a fire pit. The pit billowed smoke as they sat around it preparing vegetables. There were two posts on opposite sides of the fire pit with 'y' shaped notches at the top. It must be a spit for roasting wild boar and other game animals. The women must be preparing the feast where the Great White Witch of the North was supposed to make her pronouncement.
         She was about two thirds of the way around the village. She was beginning to lose hope because she would soon have gone completely around the village and had not seen the slightest hint of Andrew's whereabouts. She saw a doorway open up. There was a long table set up behind the structure. Rhyfelwr and someone else appeared. They were carrying cargo.
         They deposited Andrew's naked body on the table, glistening in the equatorial heat. Rhyfelwr said something to his companion, and he hurried off. Rhyfelwr stood over Andrew and looked down at his trophy. The impostor witch was going to have to sacrifice him herself in order to prove she was real. Human sacrifice was a long-standing tradition. If the white witch was real, she would not hesitate to drive the stake into the heart of this man- regardless of what she said earlier. It was her comment about not eating human flesh that tipped him off that she was a fraud.
         She would drive the stake in, castrate the body and present the removed organs to Mwensi. That is how this would work. If she refused, then she was not the real witch and it would be her roasting on the fire pit. Instead of wild boar, they would feast on old goat. Rhyfelwr hoped that the white witch was real. This man's skin was so clear, his flesh so soft and supple that it would be a rare treat to dine on it. Rhyfelwr looked down at Andrew as if he was a nice, fleshy piece of chicken.
         Engrid's skin crawled. She didn't know what precisely Rhyfelwr was thinking, but she knew it wasn't good. The youthful Balumbolwarrior turned and went back inside the hut. Engrid seized her moment. She flew out of her hiding place on the edge of the forest. There was a blowgun lying on an overturned plate near the body. She grasped it in her teeth and grabbed Andrew's hands and pulled him off the table. His bare buttocks hit the ground rather hard, sending a ripple through his body.
         It might have just been the adrenaline, but he was lighter than Engrid would have imagined. She pulled with all her might as Andrew slid across the ground. There was no way she could escape at this rate. Rhyfelwr was an accomplished warrior and would catch her within seconds. She glanced around. About twenty yards away there was an old wheelbarrow upturned against a post. Engrid dropped Andrew's arms and went to retrieve it. She returned and lifted Andrew's torso over into it. She hesitated. His rear and legs were still on the ground. She looked around. Even in this primitive environment her sense of decorum was hard to overcome but she had no additional clothing to spare. She put her arms around his midriff and heaved him over into the wheelbarrow. She turned just in time to see Rhyfelwr running towards her. She remembered the blowgun still clenched in her teeth. She took a deep breath. Rhyfelwr reached into a pouch he was wearing and pulled out his. Engrid was more prepared and had every ounce of adrenaline she possessed pumping through her veins. She blew into the blowgun as hard as she could. She heard the dart searing out of the end of the gun. As if by divine providence, it struck Rhyfelwr right in his neck to the left of his Adam's apple. He gurgled and stopped. He looked stunned and surprised. He reached up and felt the spine of the dart sticking out of his neck. He collapsed down to his knees. He fell face down into the dirt.
         Engrid tossed the blowgun down on Andrew's stomach. She grasped the handles of the wheelbarrow and made her way to the edge of the forest. She had to get them both out of here because it was only a matter of time until the disappearance was discovered, and a search posse was dispatched. She couldn't help but sneak a peek at Andrew as his body swayed back and forth as the wheelbarrow bumped over rocks, tree roots and other obstructions. It wasn't hard to sneak a peek because it was pretty much out for all the world to see.
         Engrid pushed and pushed as the village disappeared into the brush. She kept going. These people knew these woods better than anyone else. She had to get to help because they would find her. Onward she pressed hoping against hope that she would be far enough away from the village. After not very far, she pulled off to the right so that if they followed her into the woods, they would pass to the left of her position. Engrid worried that she'd killed Rhyfelwr. Her conscience didn't allow for the fact that he was going to kill Andrew and most likely her. In exhaustion, she flopped onto the ground.
         "I can't go anymore, Andrew. I'm too old for this."
         She heaved great breaths as she tried to calm herself. The adrenaline was wearing off and she could feel her antiquity rearing its head. Andrew's hand flopped off the side of the wheelbarrow. Engrid looked at his young hand, not a wrinkle and barely a crease on the whole thing. It looked like it belonged to a child.
She supposed it did. Lewis and Marian Garrison's child, to be exact. She looked down at her own hands, wrinkly and covered with liver spots and knobby knuckles. She scratched at the brown dots on the back of her hands. They were as much a part of her now as anything else. She reached up and felt Andrew's wrist. She might as well make sure he was still alive. She'd been in such a rush to save him from becoming lunch that she hadn't had time to check his vital signs. There was a pulse. At least he wasn't dead yet. He was tougher than she'd given him credit for. She pulled herself up on a nearby low-hanging branch to a standing position. Engrid looked down on her companion with compassion. She brushed his black hair with her knotty, arthritic fingers. She gritted her teeth and smacked him as hard as she could.

         "Wake up!" she whispered as loudly as she dared. She smacked him again and he stirred. "I need you to wake up, right now." She said in her most demanding tone. She hadn't had to use that tone since she'd retired from teaching. He stirred a little more.
         He was coming out of his daze. She grabbed his shoulders and shook him. His head banged against the side of the wheelbarrow, and it became unbalanced. She tried to grab it but it was too late. Andrew went tumbling over face first and butt up onto the ground. He stirred again, rolled over, and looked up at her.
         "Oh, I didn't mean to wake you," she said sarcastically.
         He rubbed his head.
         "I need some clothes," he said, "and some food."
         "I know." She looked around but didn't see anything satisfactory for the job. She looked down at him again. He started to get up. She reached up and undid the top button on her blouse. The blazer was long gone back at the Temple of Duwa.
         "You don't have to do that."
         "I'm wearing a bra, I won't be completely topless."
         "I'm more worried about my midsection."
         "You can tie the sleeves around the waist. That should suffice until we get back to civilization. After that, you can keep it. You can buy me a new one from the mall in Columbia."
         "Okay," he agreed. She completed her task and handed over her top. He took the sleeves and wrapped them around and tied them off. It looked odd but it would keep him from getting sunburn somewhere inappropriate.
         "Now, how do we get out of here?"
         "I haven't the foggiest idea. I just wanted to get you away from that awful village with those awful cannibals."
         "I appreciate that." Andrew said.
         "I thought you might."
         "How far are we from the village?" Andrew asked.
         "Not far enough."
         "London wouldn't be far enough." Andrew quipped.
         She chuckled and nodded. "That's true. I don't really know how far we went. I was so focused on getting away from there that I really didn't pay attention to how far I went."
         Andrew paused as if he heard something. Engrid scanned the dense underbrush trying to determine the best way to proceed. She noticed his concentration expression.
         "What do you hear?"
         "It sounds like...mom's van."
         "You recognize the sound of her van?"
         "Yes. It has a distinct knocking sound in the engine. It has ever since she got it hung on a tree stump when I was ten years old."
         "Are you absolutely sure?"
         "Yes. I've never heard another car make a sound like that."
         "What are they doing here?"
         "We have to go back."
         "Why? I just about killed myself getting you out of there the first time."
         "I know, but they are here on a rescue mission. We have to get back out there and flag them down. It's our only hope of getting out of here alive."
         "Are you willing to bet your life and mine that it's you mom?"
         "If it's our only choice, then I guess we'd better make a run for it."
         Andrew cinched up the arms of the ruffled blouse in preparation. His legs were still a little rubbery, but he was properly motivated. Engrid shook her head and hurried back towards the sound of the van.
         Marian warily drove towards the Balumbolvillage. It was one of the most remote villages. To say there was a road to the village was a massive overstatement. It would have been preferable to bring Lewis' RJ40, but it would have required returning to the mission compound and time was of the essence. Once Marian knew her son had been captured by the Balumbol it would have taken the forces of Hell itself to keep her away. Everyone kept their eyes open as the primitive huts came into view ahead. Dora pulled herself forward using the back of the front passenger's seat and peered intently through the dirty, mud-spattered windshield.
         Evan gasped. All eyes turned to the driver's side windows. At first no one else saw, but then it all came into view. Andrew was running towards them wearing only Engrid's dirty, tattered blouse tied around his waist.
         "My goodness," Dora mumbled under her breath. Her fellow van occupants gasped. It was quite a spectacle.
         Engrid was hustling along behind him breathlessly- her bra crooked and holding on for dear life. Lewis saw what was happening out of the corner of his eye. There was a Balumbolwarrior making a direct line for Andrew. Andrew was racing full tilt but it might not be enough. Andrew caught the movement out of the corner of his eye but there was nothing he could do. Inertia kept him going on his original path. His legs didn't have the strength and his feet didn't have the traction to do anything else. Rhyfelwr put his shoulder into the collision. Andrew crashed and rolled. Engrid raced up as the two nearly naked men wrestled on the ground.
         "Stop it!" she screamed. The occupants of the van streamed towards the trio.
         "We have company," Evan said, noticing that the spectacle was drawing spectators from the village.
         "We are in danger," Lewis said, "You need to get back in the van."
         "I'm not going anywhere without Andrew," Evan stated. He ran full speed forward toward the fight. The others stood and watched. Evan reached down and used his southern musculature and lifted Rhyfelwr up by his shoulders. He tried to reach around to punch Evan, but Evan simply held the warrior near arm's length. The Brazilian aborigine was quite small. His spirit and strength were larger than life.
         Evan set Rhyfelwr on the ground and stared at him. Andrew rolled over on the ground. In the tussle, Engrid's blouse had come loose but no one noticed. All eyes were on the showdown between Andrew's boyfriend and Andrew's would-be murderer. Neither spoke because both knew the other would not understand. They were beyond words anyway.
         The people of the village knew that these were not the people of Duwa. These were outsiders. It confirmed that the Great White Witch of the North was a fraud.
         Engrid knelt down next to Andrew.
         "Cover yourself up," she said quietly. Andrew looked baffled but then understood. He picked the blouse up off the ground, took the arms of the blouse and tied them back in place.
         It happened in less than the blink of an eye. Rhyfelwr lifted his arm to strike Evan. Evan's hand seemed to instantly get from his side to Rhyfelwr's face. Rhyfelwr's arm barely made it to his own eye level before Evan's hand came briskly down. Rhyfelwr fell to the ground flat on his back.
         Evan turned and looked down at Andrew.
         "I love you, Andrew."
         Andrew smiled. "I love you too."
         "I know."
         "I can't believe you found me."
         "It was a team effort. I love you, but I'm not the only person who loves you, Andrew. You have a whole family who will stop at nothing to keep you safe. I've seen them do it."
         "I know."
         "Now, let's get out of here."
         Evan reached down and lifted Andrew out of the dirt. Engrid followed them back to the van and piled in behind Andrew. Marian put the van in reverse and backed up before hurrying back down the dirt path and took everyone back to the mission compound.
         Rhyfelwr rolled over onto his back and got up. The pain seared through his entire upper body but concentrated on the bright red, already slightly swollen cheek where Evan had planted his mightiest force. Rhyfelwr reached up and rubbed it. Mwensi stood by watching with disapproval. Rhyfelwr noticed half the village watching him. The heat from the injury was replaced by the heat of embarrassment. Rhyfelwr looked away from his village in shame.
         He was a warrior. It was his job to defend his village from evil, from outsiders, or from any other threat that might come their way. He had failed spectacularly by being beaten in one punch and falling before the eyes of the whole village. Rhyfelwr fought back the tears of humiliation.
         Mwensi approached and knelt beside the injured warrior.
         In translation he said, "You have embarrassed the people. They cannot have faith in you until you make this right."
         Rhyfelwr looked back angrily, "How can I make this right?"
         "Bring me his head."
         "Follow me." Mwensi stood and walked away.
         Rhyfelwr stood. He was a bit dizzy from his brush with unconsciousness, but he knew that he must follow Mwensi and do his bidding or forever leave his village. Mwensi went to the Temple of Duwa and pulled back the wooden plank door. He and Rhyfelwr entered. Mwensi went behind the altar and pulled out two things wrapped in cloth. He reverently laid the items on the altar and unrolled the tight, swaddling bands. Rhyfelwr watched intently as Mwensi chanted over the items. When the cloth was completely unfurled, he could see that they were two knives, one much larger than the other. The small one was a dagger and the other a machete. The machete had about a twenty-inch blade with a carved bull's horn handle and both looked razor sharp. The instruments were often used in ceremonial sacrifices. They would be again.
         Mwensi explained to Rhyfelwr what must be done. Rhyfelwr was instructed to locate Andrew, then at the zenith of the moon he was to send Andrew to Duwa for judgment. He was to thrust the dagger into Andrew twice. The first was to puncture the lung so that he could not call for help. The second plunge was into the heart to chase the life force out of him. Then he was to be rolled on his stomach and the machete used to decapitate him. He was to be rolled on his stomach so that when the machete hit the neck, it would sever the spine first. The rest was flesh and could easily be hacked away as need be. He was to then place the head in a burlap bag and bring it back to Mwensi immediately.
         Rhyfelwr had his instructions and now he was not to return without Andrew's head.
Chapter 23

         Marian pulled through the gates of the missionary compound. Andrew had never been so relieved to be here. He'd almost given up hope of ever seeing civilization again. Engrid's eyes moistened when it finally sunk in that they were back safely. She made a quiet vow to herself never to leave Deerfield again once she made it back there.
         Dora, Evan, Andrew, and Engrid retired to their bungalow to get cleaned up. Marian informed them that lunch would be ready in two hours.
         Once inside, Engrid went to their rooms alone while Evan and Andrew retired to their quarters.
         Evan pulled Andrew in and kissed him passionately. The kiss was returned with equal relief and gratitude. They embraced and Andrew put his head on Evan's shoulder. Evan patted the back of Andrew's head. He leaned down and whispered in his ear, "You are safe now. I will never let anything like this happen to you again."
         "I'm so sorry!" Andrew cried out.
         "Shh, shh. It's okay. It's okay my love. You are safe in my arms. I won't let those people get to you."
         "I shouldn't have gone. I should have insisted she stay here."
         "It's not your fault. It's not her fault either. No one could have seen this coming. It's no one's fault. It just happened, that's all."
         Andrew nodded and sat on the bed.
         "I want to go home." Andrew said, slumping on the edge of the bed.
         "Me too. We'll wrap up our time here and we'll go back to Deerfield."
         "I'm staying put once we get there."
         "I would like to travel the world someday, but for now there's no place like home." Evan said.
         "I love you, Evan."
         "I know. I've never loved anybody the way I love you. I get so giddy when I think about you. I can't help but smile. You make me so happy." Evan choked up and tears formed in his eyes, "I thought I would die when I thought I'd never see you again. I cried every time I thought about what they might be doing to you."
         "But it's all over now."
         "Yes. You are safe now."
         "You know what else?" Evan asked.
         "I love you more each day."
         "Yeah. We've had some rough spots, but I feel my love for you getting bigger and stronger every day."
         Andrew smiled and leaned against Evan's arm. They both shared a quiet moment.
         "You need to go get cleaned up," Evan stated.
         "I know, but I don't want to leave you."
         "Then I'm coming with you."
         "Sure. It'll take a lot of work to scrub that filth and stink off you and I don't think you have the strength to do it by yourself."
         "No. I need your help to clean me up. I took a couple of darts to the head."
         Evan got up and ushered Andrew to the shower. The tattered blouse was tossed in the trash can, presuming Engrid was not going to want it back.
         Dora quickly freshened up and went back out to the living room and sat in her now favorite chair by the window. She looked out over the lush floral landscape to the lazy, magnificent river snaking by. She was so relieved to have them both home safely. Dora sat in her chair gazing out the window when she heard a door opening behind her. She turned to see Engrid emerging from her cocoon fresh and clean.
         "I'm so glad you are okay," Dora said, smiling so broadly her lips hurt.
         "I am too. I wanted to help but all I did was end up making a mess of things and nearly getting Andrew and I both killed."
         "There's no reason to get upset. It's over now." Dora replied.
         Engrid paused and looked at her friend, "I'm glad you are here."
         "Why is that?"
         "When I was out there lost in the woods, it made me feel better to know that you were out there looking for me. I know if you hadn't been here the rest wouldn't have cared a bit that I was out there too. They would have been totally focused on getting Andrew back, not me."
         "Everybody was looking for both of you."
         "I know, in theory. But I know that you would have missed me more than the others."
         "Evan would have missed you."
         "Evan has Andrew now. Those two only have eyes for one another. He would have noticed eventually, but...I don't know."
         "I did miss you the most. We've been through a lot together. We've been best friends for most of our adult lives. We shared our lives together, our families together. I don't know what I'd do without you."
         "I don't know what I would do without you either. You've saved my life in more ways than one and more times than I care to remember. You, Dora Murchison, are the best, most faithful friend anyone could ever have."
         "Thank you..."
         "No, really. I know I haven't always treated you as well as I should have but I love you. Not in the Evan and Andrew way, but you know."
         "I know what you mean," Dora smiled and nodded, "I love you platonically too, Engrid Matthews."
         Both women smiled at each other and leaned back in their respective chairs.
         "I'm going to go take a nap. I am exhausted." Engrid said, standing up.
         "I'm sure you are."
         "Will you get me up when it's lunchtime?" Engrid asked.
         "I wonder what we're having."
         "Hopefully some more jungle treats." Dora said.
         "We'll just have to wait and see."
         "Marian is such a good cook." Dora said, "I can see where Andrew got some of his cooking skills."
         "Yes she is," Engrid agreed, "She's been a very good momma to those boys."
         Engrid returned to her bedroom and quietly shut the door. Dora returned to her musing and reverie overlooking the Amazon.
         Andrew and Evan completed their shower and stress relieving activities together in the bedroom. Afterward, Evan sat on the footlocker at the end of the bed watching Andrew lying on the bed.
         Andrew dozed off to sleep. Evan slid in next to him. He put his arm over Andrew's body, and he too fell asleep. The exhaustion from stress and sleeplessness overwhelmed the two young lovers.

         There was a light knock on the door that disturbed neither slumberers. Dora pushed open the door and poked her head in. Both boys were fast asleep on the bed.
         "Are they in there?" Engrid whispered from behind.
         "Yes. They're asleep."
         Engrid pushed the door open slightly wider.
         "I don't want to wake them," Dora said
         "But they need to eat. They don't want to wait until breakfast."
         "We'll make them plates and bring them back up later."
         "Fine," Engrid agreed.
         Both kept watching them sleep.
         "They look so peaceful. It's like nothing could ever bother them," Dora commented.
         "It's hard to imagine that those people were going to kill him and eat him."
         Dora shook her head sadly, "How could anyone eat something so beautiful."
         Engrid looked at her oddly and tapped her playfully on her shoulder, "They are people. It doesn't matter if they are as ugly as sin, you don't eat people."
         "I know. That's not what I meant."
         "They are cute, though." Engrid admitted.
         "It's like watching two puppies sleeping."
         Both fell into silence for a moment watching Evan and Andrew sleep, their chests slowly rising and falling as they sought to repose in one another's presence.
         "We'd better get down to the gazebo before we miss out," Engrid said.
         Dora stepped back and pulled the door quietly shut.
         As they walked, they talked.
         "Andrew really brought out my protective instincts lately." Engrid said.
         "I can scarcely imagine." Dora replied, "You two have had a wild ride since Andrew showed up in your life."
         "That's true. When I realized they were going to cut him up and serve him for lunch...ooh that just made my blood boil. I would have stopped at nothing to rescue him. I would have offered myself in his place."
         "If they had the choice between Andrew and you, do you think they would have made the switch?" Dora asked.
         "Probably not, I'm what one might call a tough old bird, but I would have offered."
         "I'm sure you would have."
         They arrived at the table.
         "Donde son Andrew y Evan?" Marian asked.
         "They are sleeping. They've had a rough day." Engrid said, surmising the meaning.
         "We all have," Marian replied, "But I'm glad they are sleeping."
         "It's for the best," Dora said, "We will take plates up to them afterwards."

Chapter 24

         Rhyfelwr picked up the instruments of death carefully. He ran his fingers along the blade and held the handles solidly in his grasp. He knew what he must do to restore honor to his name and security to his village. He switched the knives between hands and felt the heft of each. These were sturdy, well-built pieces of equipment. Mwensi smiled at his apprentice. Rhyfelwr bowed reverently before his master and turned. He departed the temple of Duwa.
         His friends, family, and neighbors watched from their doorways, window portals, and dirt paths as Rhyfelwr passed. They had all witnessed his humiliation earlier and now they witnessed him leaving to reclaim his honor. He walked purposefully, his head held high, shoulders squared, and a strong, determined look in his dark, autochthonous eyes. He reached the edge of his village but did not look back. It was a sign of cowardice and fear to look back as one departed for war. He did not pause as he passed the threshold of his village and went down the dirt road that led out of the forest.
         Rhyfelwr walked on. He would not be defeated. He would return with the head of the one who took his honor. He would present the spoils of the battle to his master, Mwensi.
         The sun began sinking lower in the sky as Rhyfelwr walked. He stopped soon and set up camp just into the trees along the side of the road. His camp was meager, a few rations from his knapsack and a wooden fiber mat. He settled in and thought back to his village. He banished those thoughts from his mind since they brought only longing and drew his strength away from what he must do.
         He listened to the sounds of the forest all around him. He knew he was vulnerable to all manner of wildlife out here, but that was the risk of traveling. There were many war stories from veteran hunters in his tribe of battling pythons, constrictors, all kinds of poisonous spiders, snakes, and boars. He'd often thought they were made up or embellished stories but laying alone out here on his mat it seemed all too real. He could almost hear the screams of the boar as a spear punctured it, the hoarse cry for help from a man caught in a constrictor's coils.
         It was almost completely forbidden to go out into the night alone, but this was his punishment for being defeated and publicly humiliated by the fraudulent witch and her minion. He must face imminent death and return victorious in order to have any status in the community. Rhyfelwr was from a long and illustrious family of warriors and protectors of the Balumbol His great-grandfather had defeated outside marauders nearly 60 years earlier. His grandfather had died when Rhyfelwr was ten. Rhyfelwr idolized his grandfather. He must succeed because he must put things right. He could not rest with his ancestors if he did not restore honor to his grandfather's legacy.
         Rhyfelwr lay on his mat staring up at the vast, starry sky above. He thought of his grandfather and all the warriors in his lineage. They were looking down on him from above, watching him at this moment.
         Laboriously and sleeplessly, the night crept by and morning arrived. As soon as the faintest traces of dawn crept through the dense stand of trees, Rhyfelwr took out his breakfast provision and ate it. The rice and leaf concoction was quickly consumed and he left on his day's journey. It was a long shot. Foreigners could come from far and inaccessible places. But he knew one thing. He'd recognized the man who was with the others. He was a missionary whose compound wasn't more than a day or two's journey from the village. Several villagers had attended services at the church operated by the missionary. He had neither an idea of, nor interest in, the man's name, only his location. He sensed that the man was the progenitor of the youth who'd disgraced him. It was likely that if he found the father, he would find the son.
         Rhyfelwr journeyed towards the main road that cut through the forest. It was the easiest way to get to the compound. Through the forest was too dangerous to do alone. There were far too many poisonous animals and plants. Rhyfelwr was an experienced traveler through these woods and so he knew his limitations. After a few hours, the main road came into view. He stood at the edge. The tar and gravel road snaked through the forest in both directions. The large, thick-trunked trees towered over the road. The fog of the morning moisture hung in the air like a wispy blanket. He heard an old engine roaring up from the east, headed in the opposite direction that Rhyfelwr knew he must go.
         The missionary compound was in the east. He jogged back down the dirt path from whence he came and concealed himself behind a tree. He watched attentively as the old flatbed truck rumbled by, driven by a weathered Portuguese man with deep lines across his face. He had endured a life of hardship and work during his time on this earth. The truck continued around a bend in the road. Slowly, the rumbling of the engine died down and the hushed sounds of a rainforest morning resumed. Rhyfelwr waited a moment longer before continuing his journey along the road heading east towards the missionary compound.
         He decided that it was too dangerous to be seen walking along the road. He stopped and tried to think. Then it came to him. The missionary compound was along the river. He wasn't sure how to get there by road, but he was certain he could find it along the riverbank. He cut back through the forest, following the sun. He found the bank of the Amazon River and followed it west towards the compound
         As he walked, he felt his resiliency wane. The bravado and pomp that launched this was starting to fade. He thought of the trauma of having to kill someone by himself then chop off the head and carry it all the way back to the village. In his hunter/warrior life, he'd never actually killed someone. He'd only witnessed it one other time when Mwensi killed someone with a dart gun from fifty feet away. Now he was charged with attacking, subduing, stabbing, and decapitating someone by himself on a mission compound surrounded by people and the spirits that guard them. He paused momentarily. He shook his head and kept walking. If he did not go through with this, he could never go back to his village again. He pressed on through the brush and forest as his reservations mounted.
Chapter 25

         The morning after their daring escape, Andrew and Evan awoke slowly as the warm sun filtered in through the drapes. After his experiences in the wilderness, Andrew languished in the cozy confines of the bungalow quarters he shared with Evan. The night of sleeping on the ground and fending off deadly serpents and arachnids, then swinging in the dirt and dinginess of the temple of Duwa, this place seemed like paradise. He stretched out his hands and felt the softness of the sheets and the springing resilience of the mattress. He opened his eyes to see his mussed-haired mate slumbering next to him. He reached out and put his hand on Evan's gently rising and falling chest. Evan stirred and mumbled something unintelligible. Evan smiled lightly as his eyes fluttered open. Andrew yawned, wide and lazy. He stretched out like a cat from end to end on the bed. Evan smiled at his love reposed on the bed.
         Andrew sat up slowly and propped himself up on the pillows.
         "Good morning," Evan said, sitting up.
         Andrew yawned, "Good morning to you!"
         There was a light tap on the door.
         "Yes?" Evan called out.
         "Are you up?" Engrid called out.
         "No," Andrew replied.
         "Oh," she paused, then cleared her throat, "Well, okay then."
         They heard her walk away from the door.
         "Do you think we should get up?" Evan asked.
         "I guess. They'll hear us now."
         "Why can't she be deaf as a post like other old people?"
         "I guess it's God's way."
         "Of what?" Evan twerked an eyebrow.
         "Keeping tabs on us I guess."
         Evan smirked, "You're probably right."
         Evan threw back the covers and stood up.

         Lewis sat in his easy chair by the window reading a book. The morning light streamed through the curtains. He paused his reading and looked through the second-floor window at the lush, tropical vegetation that stretched across the compound from his cinder block quarters to the river's edge. He was so happy to have his son home and safe after that horrendous ordeal. He noticed movement at the bungalow across the way.
         He watched Engrid and Dora walking towards the river to sit on the gazebo. He quietly thanked God for sending two such wonderful women to take care of Andrew now that he was out on his own. Lewis felt comfortable knowing that they would look after Andrew if they could before passing on to their eternal reward. Engrid and Dora sat on the bench overlooking the river with their backs to the buildings. How long had those two been best friends, Lewis wondered. They had probably been friends longer than he'd been alive. They both probably had children older than him.
         He was shaken from his reverie by the hard ringing of the black plastic, Model 500 rotary telephone. It was an old model that still had two bells with a hammer then made a high pitched, tinny sound that startled everyone within a hundred feet of it.
         He leaned over to his desk and picked up the receiver.
         "It's your old chum." a cheery voice on the line said.
         "Ray! How are you?"
         "I'm doing just fine. You?"
         "Andrew is visiting."
         "Really? That's awesome!"
         "Yes, yes, it is. He's here with some other people."
         "That's...that's...wow! I'm happy for you."
         "I'm happy for me too," Lewis beamed.
         "So it's been a good trip for him and his friends?"
         "I wish I could say yes, but it's been rough."
         "Uh-oh, what's the matter?"
         "They had a run in with the Balumbol"
         "What do you mean 'run in'?"
         "Andrew and his friend Engrid were captured by the Balumbolbut we rescued them before anything happened."
         "That's fantastic."
         "I don't think I've ever been so scared," Lewis admitted, "But they are safe and resting up now."
         "That's good. So, tell me more about Engrid."
         "She's not that kind of friend. She's a little old woman who lives next door to him."
         "Where is he living now?"
         "He's still in South Carolina."
         "Okay. I hadn't heard from him in so long I wasn't sure if he was still there or if he'd moved off somewhere else."
         "He's still living there. He's here with Engrid, her friend Dora, and his friend Evan."
         "Dora and Evan, huh."
         There was a moment of silence that stretched continents as the brothers waited.
         "Okay, Lewis, I'm just going to ask this."
         Lewis swallowed hard, "Yes, Ray?"
         "Neither Dora nor Engrid is a 'special friend,' but Evan is, isn't he?"
         Lewis bit his lip for a moment, "Yes."
         Ray chuckled.
         "What's funny?"
         "Nothing. It just explains a lot. I wondered from time to time if Andrew might be."
         "I know. Me too. He told me a while back, but it's different now."
         "Different how?"
         "Well, when he told me I was a little surprised but frankly not as shocked as I would have expected to be. Even still, it was a faraway concept to me. But now that he's here, it's different. I see him in a different light."
         "Is this good or bad?"
         "I guess more good than bad."
         "Okay..." Ray prodded.
         Lewis squirmed in his easy chair, "Sometimes I see him as a fellow adult and sometimes I still see the little boy he once was. It's weird."
         "So this is more about a parent seeing his child as an adult rather than anything else."          
         "Yes. When I found out for certain that he was gay, I was afraid for him. Granted, I don't know any other gay people, but the reputation is promiscuous, immature, and diseased."
         "But now that I've met Evan, I actually feel better about it because Evan's not like that. He seems to be a very mature, upstanding, responsible man."
         "That's good."
         "I'm happy for him."
         "I'm happy for you. Well, and him too."
         "So, what's new with you?"
         "I'm retired."
         "Whoa! Retired?"
         "Yeah. After 32 years, I'm throwing in the towel."
         "32 years," Lewis shook his head in disbelief, "I guess it has been that long."
         "Wow. You're getting old." Lewis quipped.
         "Hey, you're older than me, big shot."
         "Don't remind me!" Lewis laughed.
         "Are you going to retire?"
         "Not in this lifetime," Lewis chuckled.
         "I remember that refrigerator magnet you have that says, 'Church work doesn't pay much, but the retirement package is out of this world.'"
         "You got that for me." Lewis said.
         "I know. How else would I be able to quote your refrigerator magnets?"
         "Are you coming to visit?"
         "Yes. I booked the ticket. I leave for the airport in about an hour."
         "I was going to surprise you, but I decided that I should let you know. I didn't want you to be gone when I got there."
         "Where are you coming from?"
         "Tokyo, Japan."
         "Is that where you're stationed?"
         "No, I was on assignment. My old buddies at central intelligence asked me. One last gig in the orient. They needed someone mature looking."
         "Okay. I guess that gray around the temples is paying off. When will you arrive?"
         "Tomorrow afternoon. I have layovers in London and S Paulo."
         "Sounds good. You always were the globetrotter."
         "Your son is the one who lives in the wild, wild west."
         "South Carolina is in the east."
         "You don't get it?"
         Lewis furrowed his brow, "No."
         "Japan is in the east; the US is in the west."
         "Oh, that 'west'."
         "Oh, we're going to have fun when I get there." Ray said, laughing at having gotten one over on his brother.
         "I don't doubt it," Lewis replied. He'd forgotten how much his brother loved to put one over on him.
         After hanging up the phone, Lewis leaned back in his chair, content and happy at the upcoming family reunion. He folded his hands over his chest and watched the world below his window.
Chapter 26

         "What do you want to do today?" Andrew asked, munching on his slice of bread at breakfast.
         "Don't you want to rest?" Evan replied.
         "And mull over what happened? No thanks, I'd rather stay busy and not think about it."
         "Done! What is there to do around here?" Evan asked, excited.
         "We could take the canoe out on the river."
         "Aren't there piranhas and such in the river?"
         "Yes. We'll be in the canoe. But I don't suggest sticking your hand in the water."
         "What if we capsize?"
         "It is a risk," Andrew agreed, nodding his head ominously, "Are you up for it?"
         Evan grinned, "Oh yeah!"
         Engrid shook her head but couldn't suppress a smile.
         "What's funny?" Evan laughed.
         "You two. You may be a lot of things, but ultimately, you're still boys. Nothing would excite you more than sticking your hand in a piranha infested river."
         Evan grinned widely, "I know."
         "Evan, I'm serious. I know you've never seen one, but believe me, you don't want to mess with a piranha."
         "Andrew, I'm not really going to get eaten by a fish."
         "He's right," Engrid chimed in, "How much can a little fish eat? They're not that big."
         "Yeah, but they can injure you. Do you want to go through life with a maimed hand?" Dora asked.
         "Fine, fine, I won't stick my hand in the water," Evan conceded.
         "Alright then, after breakfast we'll go out on the water."
         "How far are we going to go?"
         "Not far. The current is strong, so we won't venture far, otherwise we'll have to walk back."
         "Be careful out there," Marian said from behind. They turned to look at her.
         "The sand moves so the current moves." She warned them.
         Evan looked at Andrew, "Of course the current moves."
         "She means that the current shifts in the riverbed, so the current won't be in the same place all the time."
         They group finished up their breakfast. Dora returned to the bungalow while Engrid remained on the gazebo and watched her youthful companions venture to the boathouse on the edge of the property.
         Andrew swung open the large, decaying wooden door. The interior was in about as bad a shape as his tool shed back home. It looked as much like a workshop or tool shed as a boathouse. Andrew and Evan disappeared into the dark, musty interior. Engrid continued to watch.
         Andrew showed Evan some of the finer points of the boathouse including the canoes, rope, pruning equipment, sawhorses, wooden crates full of dishes, and the pie de ristance, Andrew's GI Joe and He-man action figures in a cardboard box.
         "Oh wow!" Andrew exclaimed.
         "These are not just any ordinary toys. These are my action figures. I haven't seen them since I left."
         "They didn't send them to you?"
         "No. Oh, Masters of the Universe."
         Andrew's face fell, "Masters of the Universe."
         Evan shook his head slowly.
         "How can you not know?"
         Evan shrugged defenselessly.
         "Skeletor? Castle Grayskull?"
         "OH! I always liked Skeletor. I didn't get to watch a lot of TV growing up."
         "You didn't?"
         "No. We didn't have a TV."
         "Why not?"
         "My dad didn't want one."
         "You didn't have Saturday morning cartoons?"
         "Sometimes. I went over to Engrid's house."
         "Oh, okay. It's funny to think of you as a kid running around Engrid's house."
         "The bigger question, though, is how did you have TV?"
         "There was an American TV channel."
         "There was an American TV Channel?"
         "The American TV channel showed American shows. I learned English watching He-Man and Batman cartoons. Now, with streaming, it's really common to learn English by watching American and British TV."
         "Watching Batman cartoons explains your love of onomatopoeias."
         "Ka-blam," Andrew replied, while excitedly digging through his childhood treasure trove.
         Evan was amused at seeing this happy, childlike side of Andrew. They had to deal with some pretty adult stuff lately and it was reassuring to see that Andrew had an inner child left.
         Andrew looked through the crates of his old things in the boathouse for quite a while. Engrid grew bored with her spying and went back to the bungalow. It was more exciting to be a spy when your subjects were doing something. Looking at moldy, old comic books and action figures was not Engrid's idea of international intrigue. Lewis was leading a Bible study that afternoon and he'd invited Engrid to attend and she'd been excited to agree.
         Andrew and Evan stayed in the shed looking over his old toys, comic books, and the detritus of a bygone youth.
         "Are we still going canoeing?" Evan asked as Andrew leafed through a Green Lantern from twenty years ago.
         "Sure!" he put the book back in the crate and started unhitching the tie down straps that secured the canoe to the rack. It was an old-fashioned wooden canoe that had obviously been refurbished several times, but not recently. Evan eyed the contraption warily. It was one thing to promise not to put his hand in the water for fear of carnivorous fish, but it was another thing entirely to sink and be swept hundreds of miles into the Atlantic where he'd be picked up by the sea currents and lost in the open ocean. Andrew noticed that Evan's eyes were a bit wider than a few moments ago.
         "It's perfectly safe."
         "I don't know." Evan shook his head slowly.
         "We've had this thing for as long as I can remember."
         "I think this canoe predates Engrid and Dora, something which the Twentieth Century barely did."
         "They aren't that old, and neither is this."
         "If you say so. We aren't going to sink, are we?"
         "No. We won't sink."
         "I promise. You are as safe in this canoe as you would be sitting on the couch at home."
         "That sounds like an overstatement, but okay." Evan said, unwilling to spoil the fun.
         "Remember a few weeks ago when Engrid knocked the lamp off of the mantle onto your head before she spilled the hot tea in your lap when that spider ran across her foot?"
         "Yes." Evan answered.
         "Nothing that bad will happen to you today."
         "I hope not."
         "Just stay away from Engrid, lamps, and tea." Andrew teased.
         "Yeah, yeah- whatever."
         "Okay. Now pull up on that metal tab over there." Andrew pointed at the yellow tie down strap on the far side. Evan released the tie down and pulled the cord through to release the canoe. He swore he heard the old canoe crack. Then he thought he detected the faintest movement. The canoe slid off its rack.
         "Catch it!" Andrew called out, pushing his end against the wall of the boathouse.
         It was heavy enough that it knocked Evan off balance and he crashed to the floor with the canoe landing on top of him. The twisting motion caused Andrew to lose his grip on his end and it fell. Andrew stepped into an oily spot and fell against a wheeled metal cart covered with tools. The cart rolled onto a crack in the floor and overturned spilling wrenches, sockets, and ratchets all over the floor.
         Evan looked up, "Why wasn't that secure?"
         "It was. What did you think the straps were for?"
         Engrid was part way back to the bungalow when she heard what to her sounded like Andrew and Evan had gotten in a fist fight with the Tin Man. She scurried to the rescue.
         Andrew got up off the floor and dusted himself off and tried to wipe the motor oil from his shoes. Evan started getting the tools up off the floor.
         "What's all the ruckus?" Engrid asked, standing in the doorway.
         "We had an accident." Evan replied.
         "But you weren't hurt?"
         "No, we're fine." Andrew answered.
         "Okay." Engrid turned and left, then thought for a moment.
         She reappeared at the door, "Are you sure that thing is safe?" She pointed at the canoe.
         "Perfectly safe," Andrew assured her.
         "Andrew promised we're as safe as if we were home on the couch."
         "Don't you remember a few weeks ago when I..."
         "Yes!" they answered in unison.
         "Okay, okay" she put her hands up in surrender and left them to their own devices.
         Once they'd reassembled Lewis' tool cart and righted the canoe, they were ready to depart. Andrew went over to the workbench and picked up an old, green canvas bag from a military supply store. He rambled around in its contents.
         "What's in there?"
         "Hopefully bug spray. We'll need it out there on the water."
         Andrew found the spray. He and Evan hosed themselves down with DEET before Andrew put it back in the bag and tossed the bag into the canoe.
         "Pick up that end and I'll get this end."
         Evan complied with his instructions. They carried the surprisingly heavy canoe out to the water's edge. They sat one end of the canoe in the water while letting the remainder sit on the shore. Evan got in the far end over the water and sat down. Andrew tossed an oar to Evan, sat his oar down in the canoe before shoving off and hopped in without getting a drop of water on himself, which impressed Evan. The canoe floated gently out onto the water. Evan could feel the current of the river gently pulling them towards the center.
         "You row on the opposite side from me. That way we will go in a straight line." Andrew directed.
         Evan nodded and continued paddling. Andrew gently put his oar in the water and listened to the quiet swish of the water as it circled around the paddle. He stopped once they were about twenty feet from shore and put his oar on the floor of the canoe. He watched the eddies of water dissipate, replaced by the striations of the current. Evan noticed and he too stopped paddling. The canoe stopped the circle he started when only Evan was rowing. They continued to move towards the middle of the river.
         "How will we get back?" Evan asked, noticing that they were drifting downstream away from the missionary compound.
         "We just paddle to the edge where the current isn't as strong and we can paddle back. We won't go far."
         Evan resumed looking up at the trees. It still seemed so foreign and bizarre to him to be here. He looked up at the tall trees, the river forming a break in the dense rainforest canopy. He saw macaws and monkeys in the branches. It was like a living zoo except this was the place that zoos tried to recreate. Here he was in the middle of it all, a world away from Deerfield. He imagined the Amazon being more of a raging torrent than this. This part of the river wasn't that wide, perhaps a few hundred meters at most. It got much, much wider as it made its way to the Atlantic Ocean. By then it was almost like a lake with the many islands formed by its delta, just like the Mississippi River did in Louisiana.
         "I always pictured the Amazon River to be a lot bigger than this."
         "It is. That bank you see across from us is the edge of an island in the river. The rest of the river is on the other side."
         Evan's eyes got big as he looked at the monolithic side of what was only an island, not the rest of the continent.
         "Whoa." Evan marveled.
         "We are canoeing on the largest river on the planet. This river carries more water than the next ten largest rivers combined."
         Evan just smiled.
         "The Amazon Basin is only a little smaller than the continental United States."
         "That is incredible."
         "It covers 40 percent of the South American continent."
         "That's unbelievable."
         "Another fun fact about the Amazon is that there are no bridges over it."
         "Because it's too wide?"
         "It is in some places but mostly because there aren't many roads or people so it's just impractical to build bridges over the river. So the crossing points have ferries to go across to the other side."
         "I can't imagine a river that massive with no bridges."
         "A fact, use it as you wish."
         Evan went back to marveling at the green landscape.
         "Ahh," Andrew said, leaning back in the canoe. "I'd forgotten how nice it is here."
         "Even with all you've been through since you got here?"
         "Well, what's happened to me since I got here has been my own stupidity. I should have never let Engrid talk me into going to that deforestation protest. I should have stood my ground and told her no. Those things are dangerous and people like her or me have no business whatsoever being there."
         "So, all in all, you still like it here?" Evan said.
         "Yeah. Do you?"
         "It's kind of nice. I didn't grow up here, so I'm not used to it. It is incredibly muggy and buggy and I'm afraid to leave your side because of a need for a translator."
         "Once you study the language and use it for a while, it comes pretty easily."
         "Since people know you are a foreigner who is making an effort to learn their language, people are usually pretty forgiving of mistakes and polite in correcting you."
         "Yeah, everyone who learns a new language at some point asks for poison instead of a fish."
         "What?" Evan laughed."
         "I was visiting Paris and I was in a restaurant. In French the word for 'fish' and the word for 'poison' are only one silent 's' different and they sound a lot alike. So in this nice Parisian restaurant, I announced that I wanted poison almandine."
         "You didn't!"
         "Yeah. The waiter flashed me a sympathetic smile and said in heavily Russian-accented English, 'I'll bring you fish.'"
         "At least he didn't take you literally."
         "If he'd brought me cyanide, I wouldn't have known the difference."
         "I think you'd notice."
         Andrew smiled, "After a while I guess so, but it was a joke since cyanide supposedly smells like..."
         "Oh, I get it- almonds."
         Both laughed quietly at the linguistic anecdote.
         "So, you speak French?" Evan asked, "I didn't know that."
         "Not very well, apparently," Andrew laughed, "I speak it a little, but Spanish, Portuguese, and English are my primary languages."
         "Primary languages," Evan mocked, tossing his nose in the air snobbishly.
         "We can't all be monolingual."
         "It keeps your brain sharp." Evan said, "Or so the language learning apps tell us."
         "I suppose so. I should learn another language." Evan said.
         "I suggest Chinese or Japanese. Maybe Thai"
         "Why?" Evan asked.
         "That way we could go to Asia. I can translate for when we go to the west and you can translate when we go to the east. Between the two of us, we could go anywhere."
         "You make it sound so app..." he never finished the sentence.
         Evan let out a less than manly shriek. He pulled back from the middle of the boat, his left knee jerked up and his oar slid off into the water.
         "Get the oar!" Andrew called out, pointing.
         Evan reached desperately towards the water and grabbed the oar and pulled it back into the canoe. The canoe rocked violently back and forth as Evan tried and failed not to panic.
         "Calm down!" Andrew ordered.
         "It's got teeth!" Evan exclaimed, pointing.
         "Just sit down; it's not going to hurt you."
         Evan stood up, put the oar against his bench and rested against it, his breaths coming in labored heaves. He tried to breathe deeply to slow his heart rate down.
         Andrew stood up and looked down at the lone piranha flopping helplessly in the bottom of their canoe.
         "It jumped in our boat." Evan said angrily, "You didn't say they did that."
         "Oh, by the way they do that sometimes. But don't worry, one at a time in the bottom of a boat, they can't really do much, it's when you're in the water and there's a whole bunch of them that you're in trouble."
         Evan didn't look convinced, he looked disgusted. Andrew leaned towards the piranha and lifted his oar. He stepped over a bench into the central part of the canoe. He put his oar underneath the piranha in an attempt to throw it back overboard into the river where it belonged. The fish calmed down and its glassy eye looked back at Andrew. The fish lay still until the edge of the oar paddle touched his scaly side. It flopped up so quickly, even Andrew flinched. The fish seized the loop of Andrew's shoelace in its pointy teeth and resumed its flopping. Andrew lifted his leg and started shaking it all about trying to unhinge the unwelcomed attachment. The fish seemed latched on for dear life as he slammed repeatedly against Andrew's ankle and calf. The shoelace started to loosen a bit but Andrew lost his balance and fell. His butt landed just beyond the edge of the canoe and he flipped over it. His weight caused the canoe to lurch to Evan's left and his sweet Andrew's feet disappeared over the edge as a bit of river water came over the edge to the bottom of the boat. The force of Andrew's ejection pushed the canoe a tad further out into the mainstream of the river.
         "Oh my God, oh my God!" Evan yelled as he ran to the middle of the canoe and looked helplessly over the side into the murky water. His eyes scanned for any sign of Andrew. A few feet from the canoe, Andrew gurgled to the surface. He sputtered and spewed river water.
         "Help! Help"
         "I'm coming!"
         "The piranha's got me, hurry!"
         Evan ran back to the end of the canoe and grabbed his oar. He frantically raked at the water trying to pull it broadside towards Andrew as he bobbed below the surface and came up coughing and calling out for help.
         "They're gonna eat me!" Andrew cried out, "Hurry!"
         "What do you think I'm doing?" Evan retorted, raking the water harder. He reached close enough that he put the oar out and Andrew grabbed onto it. Their combined strength pulled the canoe too fast. The oar hit the side of the canoe and did not yield. The wet paddle slipped out of his hand. Evan didn't expect the sudden loss of pull from the other end, so he flew back because he was still pulling on the oar for all he was worth. Fortunately, he landed just on the inside of the canoe side and so he slid down onto the floor of the canoe as it ran over Andrew's head. He reached up quickly and grabbed the oar as it sailed over his head and almost landed back in the water. Andrew pushed off the bottom of the canoe and popped out on the opposite side. He reached up and pulled against the side of the canoe. It lurched to that side.
         "Don't capsize us both!" Evan said.
         "Then help me up!"
         Evan reached forward and pulled on the back of Andrew's shirt. He slowly rose from the water. His midriff passed over the edge of the canoe and they both collapsed into the bottom.
         "Ack!" Evan yelped and got up on the bench and pulled his feet off the bottom of the canoe. There were three piranhas on each of Andrew's legs. Fortunately, they had all attached to either his shoes or his pants legs and had not made flesh contact. Their lack of skin contact was not from lack of trying on their part. Evan grabbed his oar and smacked at the piranhas.
         "Let go of him!" he demanded.
         "Stop hitting me with the oar!" Andrew yelled at him.
         "I'm trying to get the piranhas to turn loose!"
         "Don't break my legs in the process."
         Andrew kicked his legs as hard as he could. The piranhas' teeth shredded his pants legs, but ultimately were no match for brute force of panic. As he kept flinging his legs, piranhas flew off in every direction. Evan smacked one back into the water with the broadside of the oar like a baseball as the fish flew towards his face.
         "Fly little fishies!" Andrew said as the last piranha released its grip and went back into the water. He put his feet back down and breathed a sigh of relief. Evan sat heavily on the bench at the end of the canoe, and it rocked slightly, but not enough to raise alarms.
         After a few minutes of regaining his composure, Andrew said, "Well I'm glad that's over."
         "I've had enough canoeing for one day," Evan admitted.
         "Let's go back to the compound."
         "Let's go back to North America. People in South Carolina don't run the risk of getting eaten by man-eating fish.
         "Except sharks."
         "That's rare."
         "So is a piranha jumping in your boat."
         "Fine. At any rate I'm ready to go back." Evan said, annoyed.
         "Okay. We'll head back."
         "Raise the mast and take us back to port." Evan said. Andrew lifted his oar and prepared to put it in the water. He felt something hit it. He paused and looked at the oar. There was a little needle looking thing with a feather sticking out of the end.
         "Oh no." He threw himself to the bottom of the canoe and peered over the edge.
         "What?" Evan asked.
         "Get down."
         Andrew motioned for Evan to get down. "Lay down on the bottom of the canoe."
         "Just do it." He held out the oar and let Evan see it.
         "What's that?"
         "A poison dart. This is what they almost killed me with."
         Evan belly flopped onto the bottom of the boat. Andrew peered over the side again, just his eyes and forehead peeking over the edge.
         "How are we going to get out of this?" Evan whispered through the gap between the top of the center bench and the bottom.
         "I don't know." Andrew admitted. He brought his head up as far as he dared and scanned the far bank of the river. He couldn't see Rhyfelwr in the dense foliage, but his presence was unmistakable. He squinted in his effort to see any sign of Rhyfelwr. He heard the distinct hissing sound of the poison dart flying. He ducked back down to avoid being struck.
         "We have to get to the far bank," Andrew announced.
         "We can't go back to the mission compound because we'll lead him straight to it. So, if we go to the far bank, we can lose him in the brush and double back to the mission compound."
         "That won't work." Evan shook his head, whispering and keeping his head down against the damp bottom of the canoe.
         "Why not?"
         "He's on the same side as the mission compound. If we go to the far bank, we'll be on the wrong side of the river."
         "I wouldn't mind putting the Amazon River between us. That's a formidable barrier."
         "So, what are we going to do?"
         "Doubling back will include coming back to the canoe and paddling across."
         "I don't think we're far enough from the compound to do all that without leading him to it."
         "I wish we could warn my dad so he could call the police."
         "Wait a minute. He's got a dart gun."
         "Yeah?" Andrew looked at Evan. He could tell that there was an idea formulating in a beautiful blonde-haired head, "So?"
         "We're in a river, a big, wide river."
         "I like where this is going."
         "Why can't we just float with the current out to the main channel of the river? Do you think that the current would carry us far enough out into the channel to be out of range of his dart gun?"
         Andrew's face brightened, "Yes."
         "Then all we have to do is keep our heads down and let nature take its course."
         The fun of the canoeing trip had worn off and the oppressive heat of the tropical day burned down on them. Out in the middle of the river, there were no trees, no shade, only the rippling water of the murky river. The humidity was unlike anything Evan had ever experienced even in a lifetime of living in the interior of South Carolina. The wet blanket of air was closing in as he breathed in the wet, musky air of the canoe bottom. He slapped a mosquito on his neck and wiped the blood away and smeared it on a nearby rope. Andrew wrinkled his nose.
         "I hope you've been taking your malaria pills," Andrew commented.
         "Don't even joke about that."
         "I wasn't. We should reapply bug spray."
         Evan rambled around in the canvas bag and found the spray. A light mist of aerosol insect repellent rose from the canoe as they tried to prevent deadly tropical diseases.
         Rhyfelwr watched from the riverbank wondering what they were doing. They were probably conjuring up some spirit, so he had to act fast. He crouched behind some rushes and planned how he would get them. They were almost out of range of his dart gun. There had to be another way. He glanced down and noticed a small disturbance in the water moving near him. He debated what he should do. He decided it was probably a small turtle. They would disturb the water like that because they swam so near the surface. He averted his eyes from his prey and watched as the water disturbance came closer to him. It was just a small turtle, its wrinkly head poked out of the water and its reptilian eyes peered at him. It was no danger, but it gave him an idea. He picked up a large stick and struck the water and splashed while screaming. He slammed the stick on the mud making a thick, thudding sound. He stopped and waited.
         Hiding in the bottom of their canoe, Andrew and Evan heard the loud thrashing sounds.
         "What is going on?"
         "I don't know," Andrew whispered back, shrugging his shoulders.
         "Do you think we should make sure he's okay?"
         "He tried to kill us both, he's on his own."
         "What do you think is wrong?"
         "I don't know, and I don't care." Andrew scowled, "He's the one who came out here to kill us. Whatever's wrong, he's not getting any help from me."
         Evan put his hands flat on the bottom of the canoe and prepared to lift himself up to see what was wrong with their pursuer.
         "Don't you dare!"
         "Just because you don't care doesn't mean I don't." Evan retorted.
         "It might be a trap."
         "What are you talking about?"
         "He could be trying to get us to look up so he can get a clean shot."
         "Oh...I hadn't thought of that."
         "He's dangerous."
         "He could be in trouble."
         The noise abated.
         "If he's dead, it's on your head," Evan said.
         "Suits me."
         Both boys lay as quietly as possible and listened. Maybe Rhyfelwr had been killed by whatever attacked him. If so, Andrew was relieved that his own life was no longer in danger.
         Despite his own warnings, Andrew slowly pried himself off the floor of the canoe and peered over the edge. He heard a sizzling sound, and he ducked down just as a dart flew through the air his head had just occupied. It lodged itself in the far sidewall of the canoe.
         "It was a trap."
         "That dirty rat," Evan scowled.
         "So now what?"
         "I guess the original plan stays in force."
         They waited while their tiny canoe floated lazily toward the main channel of the mighty Amazon River. Now that the adrenaline of the previous moments ebbed, they both became intensely aware of the heat.
         Rhyfelwr unslung his satchel from his shoulder and dug around in his bag and pulled out a small wooden vial with a cork in the top. He pulled off the top and sniffed. The pungent odor of onwelriekende wafted out. It was a smelly, oily substance that his people used when going in the river. Fishing and other activities required wading out into the river. Onwelriekende was applied to the feet and other parts of the body to ward off carnivorous fish and reptiles. He was going to need some protection. After making a scene and shooting at them again, he was pretty sure they weren't going to peek their shiny, white American heads over the edge of that canoe any time soon. Their canoe was moving away from him towards the main channel of the river and as they got closer to the main currents, their canoe would pick up speed. There was no time to lose. He quickly applied the onwelriekende waded out into the river.
         Andrew and Evan remained plastered to the bottom of the canoe, the beads of sweat forming and rolling down their faces. Evan looked at the top of Andrew's head as he rested it on his interlocked fingers on the bottom of the canoe. He sighed.
         Andrew looked up at his love laying across from him. "I'm sorry."
         "It's okay, you have nothing to apologize for."
         "I shouldn't have come out here. I thought Rhyfelwr might try again so I had no business bringing us out here by ourselves like this. That was a stupid thing to do."
         "It'll be over soon," Evan intentionally didn't deny nor reply to the 'stupid' portion of Andrew's comment. Andrew nodded his head slowly then lowered it back onto his fingers and resumed waiting.
         "How long do you think it will be before we reach the main channel?" Evan asked.
         "I have no idea. I don't know how far it is and I don't know how fast we are moving."
         "Do you think Engrid has noticed that we've been gone a long time?" Evan asked.
         "If we don't come back soon, Engrid will call the police, the state department, the US Embassy, and possibly the White House switchboard."
         "She is protective."
         "Why is that?" Andrew asked.
         "I don't know."
         "I guess deep down she's still a mom."
         "I guess. I don't really know." Evan admitted.
         "What does that mean?" Andrew looked quizzical.
         "I've known Engrid all my life and I have never met any of her children. She'll often say, 'I'm going to visit my son and his wife or I'm going to go visit my daughter and her husband, but I've never met any of them. Plus, she doesn't have any pictures of them up around the house."
         "That is odd. I've never noticed the picture thing, but you're right. Old women tend to have family pictures on every available surface."
         "You are probably the world's least observant spy." Evan said playfully.
         "Whatever." Andrew growled and put his head back down.
         "Sorry. But I sometimes wonder about her family." Evan said.
         "Have you ever asked Dora?"
         "No, I figure she's entitled to a few secrets."
         "Most old people never shut-up about their kids and grandkids." Andrew said.
         "That's another thing. She never tells stories about them. She'll tell stories about George and about Rose and about Dora. She'll mention that she had kids living with her at the time, but she never calls them by name or anything. I wonder if they exist." Evan said.
         "They might not. Or they might have all died or they might be estranged for one reason or another." Andrew surmised.
         "That's sad. Maybe when she goes and 'visits' she is really going to a cemetery somewhere. That's a sad thought. To think that Engrid's all alone in the world."
         "She's got you," Andrew remarked.
         "And now you," Evan replied.
         "Maybe that's why she's so jealously protective of us. Since her own children are either dead or won't have anything to do with her, she's making it up by being really good to us." Andrew wondered aloud.
         "Then I don't mind her being protective and a tad nosey if I think about it that way." Evan said.
         "Rhyfelwr's been quiet for a while now." Evan observed.
         "Well, he's not dead," Andrew was disappointed, "This would be much easier if he'd been eaten by an anaconda or something."
         "You really shouldn't think things like that about other people."
         "He tried to kill me- multiple times. If I turn the other cheek, I'll get a poison dart in my butt."
         "It's called forgiveness. You don't want to be harboring all those negative thoughts for the rest of your life."
         "As it stands, that'll be a few hours at the most. I can deal with it that long."
         "I'm serious."
         "I know. I'll get around to it, but at the moment if I can get my hands on him, I'll kill him with his own darts." Andrew huffed.
         "I couldn't blame you, but I would advise against it."
         "Why? Forgiveness?"
         "I was thinking more about a life sentence for murder in a South American prison, but sure we can go with forgiveness." Evan replied.
         "Murder? I would have a self-defense case."
         "I wouldn't risk it. People have gone to prison for far less than killing someone who was chasing them."
         "You're probably right. It wouldn't look good for a missionary's son to murder a local aboriginal tribesman." Andrew said.
         "See, you're starting to be smart about this."
         "Shhh." Andrew waved at Evan to be quiet.
         "What?" Evan whispered, "What is it?"
         "I think I hear something."
         Evan strained his ears trying to discern the sound Andrew was hearing. He could hear the bird calls echoing from the trees, he could hear the sound of the water gently lapping at the side of their canoe as it bobbed back and forth in the water. He tried harder to hear. He could make out the sound of the wind passing over the canoe ushering in the afternoon thundershowers. Then he heard it. It was a faint sound that didn't quite fit. It was a faint swishing sound in the water.
         "What do you think it is?" Evan whispered urgently. Andrew closed his eyes and tried imagining what sort of jungle creature would make a sound like that while moving through water.
         "You don't think it's this Rhyfelwr guy, do you?"
         "It could be. His display earlier may have only been a ruse to get us to keep our heads down. He could be sneaking up on us as we speak."
         The liminal sounds of the swishing in the water kept their rapt attention. The swishing sound was approaching their canoe rapidly. Andrew could hear his heart pounding in his chest. He could feel the blood roaring through the arteries and veins in his head. The stress was mounting. This could be anything from the last moments of their lives to a humorous anecdote that they would each tell, making the other party out to be the foolish scaredy-cat. The swishing stopped. The moment of truth had arrived. It was as if time had stood still for eternity as they waited for something to happen. It was as if the entire planet had come to a complete standstill.
         They both gasped when something bumped the side of their canoe and it rocked slightly to the side. Neither man breathed for fear of capsizing in the piranha infested waters. Evan and Andrew looked at each other and swallowed hard. They were about to die. They just knew it.
         Fingers appeared over the edge of the canoe. The dark-fleshed knuckles wrapped around and squeezed in preparation for hoisting weight. Their eyes bugged out. It was true. One of their worst fears had been realized. Rhyfelwr had swum out to their canoe. How had he not been eaten alive by the bloodthirsty fish? Evan stood up suddenly. He reached down and grabbed the oar just as Rhyfelwr put his strength into his forearms and shoulders to lift himself up. The canoe rocked violently to the side with his weight bearing down on it.
         Evan lifted the oar and swung roundhouse onto Rhyfelwr's left hand. Rhyfelwr jerked it away and yelped in pain. Evan swung for the right hand and missed creating a dent in the side of the canoe and a crack formed in the edge of the oar paddle. Rhyfelwr put his left and back onto the canoe and continued to struggle up. He was not as adept with his injured hand. He'd planned this to be a sneak attack. They were supposed to stand up then the sudden tipping of the canoe was supposed to throw them off balance and into the water where they would be mercilessly torn to shreds. But Evan had better sea legs than Rhyfelwr anticipated. Evan raised the oar again.
         "Wait!" Andrew called up to him, "Don't break the oar, it won't be of any use to us if you do that."
         "Then I'll stab him with it." Evan jabbed at the face hanging over the side of the canoe. The weight had pulled the canoe far enough over to the side that water was splashing into the canoe. Evan's jab caught Rhyfelwr in the forehead and his head snapped backwards. He was dazed for a moment but quickly regained his composure and made another attempt to board the vessel. Evan jabbed again and Rhyfelwr jerked his head to the side and the oar caught his ear, which hurt more than the original jab.
         "Pare com isso!" Rhyfelwr shouted. (Stop that!)
         Evan paused, "What is that? Some Balumbolcurse?"
         "He told you to stop." Andrew said, standing up. He kept to the far side of the canoe in order to keep it afloat.
         "He did, well tell him this, "No way. We're going to feed you to the piranhas."
         Andrew looked down at the struggling cannibal, "N! Estamos indo para alimentlo para as piranhas."
         Evan looked astonished, "You actually told him that?"
         Andrew didn't reply to Evan. He said to Rhyfelwr, "Deixem-nos sozinhos ou vamos chamar a polia. Vocnunca vai ver sua famia novamente."
         "What did you tell him?"
         "I told him that if he didn't leave us alone, we would call the police and he'd never see his family again."
         "Yeah! Take that!" Evan said, wagging his paddle at the intruder, "Wait- the police? Really? From where?" He motioned around at the remoteness of their location.
         "It's a threat, moron."
         "This isn't a threat," Evan said and brought the paddle squarely down on the crown of Rhyfelwr's head. It splintered into several pieces and flew apart.
         "I told you not to break it."
         "Now it's even better."
         "Now I have a harpoon." He looked down and Rhyfelwr had the dart gun in his mouth and was aiming straight at Evan. Andrew kicked his hand from the side and the dart flew harmlessly out over the water. Rhyfelwr grunted in disgust. This was much more difficult than he'd planned. He reached back towards his satchel again. He reached for another dart when Evan's foot flew off the bottom and canoe and struck him dead center in his bent elbow. That was the most painful blow yet. It torqued him around and he almost lost his grip on the canoe. Evan didn't waste a nanosecond. He planted another blow to Rhyfelwr's face. His head snapped back again and he slumped towards the water. He didn't quite let go. It was a showdown to see which one was a tougher cookie. The foot lifting threw Evan off balance, and he stumbled back and landed on the bench at the front of the canoe with a thud. The canoe rocked with the sudden movement and Andrew had to sit down too to prevent being thrown overboard. They missed their chance for the knockout punch. By the time they'd regained their footing and their balance, Rhyfelwr had shaken off the pain of his war wounds and was gaining ground on them again. His shoulders were over the side, and he was moments away from being in the canoe with them.
         Andrew grabbed Rhyfelwr's head and kneed him right in the face. Blood flowed from the injured nose. Andrew grabbed the satchel and Rhyfelwr wrenched it away. The price for the wrenching was that his wet hand slipped on the edge of the canoe, and he splashed back into the river. Andrew snatched up the unbroken oar and started paddling furiously downstream. His rowing plus the current kept them ahead of the injured Balumbolas he struggled in the increasing current.
         "Is he going to drown?" Evan asked.
         "Maybe. Right now I'm so panicked I don't know what to do other than flee."
         "That works for me." Evan turned on his perch and looked out over the water like a captain going out to sea as they raced toward the main channel where they had the best chance of losing their tail.

Chapter 28

          Meanwhile, Engrid stood on the gazebo looking out over water. She strained her eyes to see any hint of her boys. She paced worriedly back and forth across the worn, wooden slats of the gazebo floor. Andrew and Evan had been gone for hours. She hadn't asked them how long they would be gone, but she assumed they should be back any minute. It was going to be suppertime soon and it just wasn't like them to stay gone so long.
          She just had a deep, abiding, gut-wrenching feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. She was still unnerved by her experiences in this wild, foreign jungle. The violence of the deforestation protest, plus spending the night in the woods fending off wildlife not to mention the fiasco with the Balumbolover the Great White Witch of the North misconception had her nerves raw and jangled. She swallowed hard as she tried not to imagine the doomsday scenarios of what might have happened to them. She felt like her own children were lost and soon would be lost forever.
         Onward she paced as she felt her breath come quicker and shallower. She'd never had a panic or anxiety attack before but she imagined that this is what it would feel like. She took a deep breath and held it. She exhaled it slowly and tried to slow her heart rate down. She walked over to the railing and leaned over. She heard footsteps approaching behind her. She turned to see Dora walking up.
         "What's the with widow's walk routine?"
         "I've been watching you for a while and you've been pacing back and forth on this gazebo like a caged tiger. What's wrong?"
         "Andrew and Evan went canoeing."
         "So? I'm sure they're fine." Dora replied.
         "They've been gone almost four hours. That's way too long. I'm scared to death that something happened to them."
         "That does seem like a long time."
         "It is. It'll be dark before long."
         "It won't be dark for hours."
         "They should still be back by now."
         "Have you talked to Lewis about it?"
         "No. We went to a Bible study this afternoon, so I didn't realize they weren't back until I got back from the church."
         "I would ask him if they should be back by now."
         "That's a good idea."
         The two old women walked across the compound and found Lewis sitting beneath a banana tree reading a book. He looked up as the motion of their approach caught his eye. He could see the look of concern and consternation plastered on Engrid's face.
         "What's wrong?" he asked, snapping his book closed.
         "Evan and Andrew went canoeing."
         "They went..."
         "I heard you; I just can't believe Andrew did something that careless."
         "Why is it careless to go canoeing? It seems harmless enough."
         "But after his run in with that Balumbolwarrior, he's in danger. The warrior is now honor bound by his culture to kill my son, decapitate him, and carry the severed head back to his village for a whole bunch of different unspeakable, heathen rituals."
         Engrid and Dora both gasped simultaneously.
         "You don't mean..."
         "That's horrible," Engrid stated the obvious, "Why on earth would someone do that?"
         "Cannibalism is part of their culture."
         Engrid wrinkled up her nose in disgust "I just can't believe people would do that."
         "It's part of their symbolism. Consuming one's foes is a way of assuming their power. In some cultures, eating recently deceased relatives is customary as a way to keep their spirit with you."
         "Dora, when I'm gone let my spirit go. I don't want to be part of your intestinal tract."
         Dora turned, looked Engrid squarely in the eye and with the most formal tone she had said, "I promise that if you die, I won't resort to cannibalism."
         "Thank you."
         "You're welcome." Dora smiled.
         Marian was not amused, "I know it sounds strange to us, but it's a deeply held belief for some tribes."
         "I'm sure it is." Engrid nodded, appropriately admonished, "I'm sure many of our customs would seem distasteful."
         "Like what?"
         "It doesn't matter. We'll talk about it later, how long have Andrew and Evan been gone?"
         "They left shortly after lunch."
         "So, about four hours."
         "They should have been back ages ago," Lewis stated.
         "My point exactly," Engrid replied, "Should we go look for them?"
         "Which direction did they go?"
         "There's no way we could catch up to them."
         "How would they get back if they're going downstream?" Dora asked. "How would they paddle upstream?"
         "It's really difficult. They most likely would take the canoe out of the water and portage it back."
         "Carry it."
         "Oh. No offense," Engrid said, "but Andrew's pretty lazy so if they have to carry the canoe back, they probably didn't go far."
         "I know." Lewis replied, "If they didn't go far, they really should be back by now."
         "I hope nothing's wrong."
         "We all do."
         "So, what do we do? How would we gather a search party?"
         Lewis pursed his lips. "James, Mark, and I will go."
         "What about Marian?"
         "We're not going to tell Marian anything yet. She's a worrier. She'd worry herself into a frazzle if she knew Andrew and Evan were missing."
         "I want to go," Engrid said.
         "No. We only have one other canoe and five is the absolute maximum it can fit. So, if we find them and their canoe is damaged, we need the extra space to transport them back."
         "Wouldn't you just portage it back?"
         "Not if they are injured. Mark, James, and I can paddle it back upstream if we need to. Or some of us can walk back while the others paddle. However, it needs to work out. But regardless, it would be easier if you both just stayed put."
         "And if Marian asks you where we've gone, just tell her we went canoeing. The boys and I go canoeing all the time, so she won't think it's a big deal."
         "Okay," Engrid and Dora agreed, "We can throw her off the scent if she suspects anything."
         Lewis chuckled, "It's good to know you've got my back."
         He went off to round up his posse and head off into the wilderness to rescue his son and his son's boyfriend.
         Engrid and Dora retired to the gazebo to watch the two healthy, strong young men and their spry but aging father get the canoe off in the water. It took them a few minutes of rambling around in the dark, dankness of the boathouse before they emerged carrying a canary yellow fiberglass canoe.
         This one was much newer and sturdier but not as classic looking as the wooden one Evan and Andrew had departed in a few hours earlier. The old ladies waved at the men as they backed out into the water. Lewis directed them and sat in the middle. Mark sat in the front providing the power which Lewis supplemented with his oar in the center position. James, twin of Andrew, steered from his perch along the rear of the canoe. Engrid and Dora watched from their seats on the gazebo as the men of the Garrison family rounded the bend in the river and slowly disappeared.

         "How far do you think they went?" James asked.
         "I have no idea," his father replied, "According to Engrid they've been gone almost four hours. They left soon after lunch."
         "If they've been paddling this whole time, they'd be halfway to the Atlantic by now," Mark grumbled.
         "Not quite, but I see your point. I worry and hope that they aren't that far." Lewis said.
         "Why worry?"
         "That means something's gone wrong."
         "What if they got lost walking back?" James asked.
         "Then they're on their own," Mark replied, "It almost serves him right; I mean what was Andrew thinking bringing Evan out here like this?"
         "Evan is strong." James said simply.
         "He is," Lewis replied, "Evan is Andrew's protector."
         "What?" Mark asked, turning around to face his father.
         "I didn't understand what God was up to at first with Andrew being, you know, the way he is. But now that I've met Evan, I understand. Ever since Andrew was little, I worried that he would end up with a mean, despot of a woman who would walk all over him and treat him like dirt. Andrew is a loving man, but he's weak-willed and so I worried about how he would fare in the world. Evan is strong, he loves Andrew, and I think he'd lay down his own life for Andrew's if it came to that. So, I don't have to be as worried about Andrew knowing he's with Evan. Evan will rescue him and keep him alive as much as it's within his power to do so."
         "You really believe that?" Mark asked.
         Lewis thought about it for a moment then replied, "Yes, I do. Is it the most theologically sound opinion, who knows, but it is what it is. I figured that if God can love cannibalistic, heathen people, he can love a gay man."
         James smiled, "That is true."
         "I guess," Mark replied. He fell silent and continued to power the canoe down the river.
         "Son, when you've done missionary work as long as I have, you realize that some things aren't as big of a deal as people make them out to be. There are a lot of malicious, dastardly, and evil things in the world and from what I've seen, this just isn't one of them."
         Mark didn't respond, he just kept his eyes alert and scanned the riverbanks and the water for any sign of the canoe and its occupants.
         "Do you think it's a choice?" Mark replied after an extended silence.
         "No," Lewis replied, "I've known since he was a toddler that Andrew wasn't like other boys. At first, I didn't really have a name for it, but as he got older, it became clearer. At first, I didn't want to admit it, but some things are undeniable."
         "Andrew told me he was gay," James said.
         "He told me too," Lewis said.
         "I mean a long time ago." James clarified.
         Lewis spun around on his canoe bench and looked James straight in his eyes. James flinched at the suddenness of Lewis' movement and the intensity of his expression.
         "Mom had met this girl at church, and she wanted them to go to the cinema in Manaus. Andrew begged me to go for him. I asked him why he wanted me to. He didn't want to tell me, but he did."
         "When was this?"
         "We were fifteen. It was a month before he left."
         "Oh," Lewis leaned back.
         "I knew too," Mark admitted.
         "What?" Lewis turned to look at Mark.
         "Mom and I were in the next room slicing tomatoes. We overheard everything."
         "Is that true?" he looked at James.
         He nodded, "Mark told me he heard us."
         Lewis was astonished and horrified, "So let me get this clear, you all knew, including your mother, for over a decade that my son was gay, and no one said a word to me about it?" Lewis' face turned red; he was embarrassed by their deceit.
         "We didn't know what you would think." Mark replied, "With you being a missionary and a man of God, we thought you'd hit the ceiling and...I don't know what."
         Lewis' mouth dropped open and he looked back and forth between his two sons whose faces were looks of horror and fear. He wasn't sure if he should feel angry, betrayed, embarrassed, or sad that this family saw fit to keep this secret from him for all these years.
         "I'm sorry, Dad," James said.
         "Yeah," Mark chimed in, "We did what we thought was best."
         "How was this best?" Lewis furrowed his brow and shook his head.
         "Okay, we did what we thought was safest." Mark said.
         "How was this safer?"
         "Okay, we did the chicken shit thing, Dad," Mark snapped.
         "I know you did. I just don't know why."
         "What would you have done if we'd told you?" Mark asked, almost rhetorically.
         Lewis thought about it for a moment. He knew he probably wouldn't have reacted very well. He was hotter headed back then. His temper and pride had been tempered by the years. He knew that his reaction to Andrew was far milder and more passive than anyone expected.
         "I guess I would have been upset."
         "Upset?" Mark said, "You would have raged against the Devil himself."
         "Probably," he admitted, "I thought about it this time."
         "See," Mark said, "We may be cowards, but we put this off as long as we could."
         "I can't believe you two have known all this time," Lewis lowered his head and shook it slowly in melancholic disbelief, "My own sons betrayed me."
         James and Mark exchanged a look. They weren't sure what to do. They didn't feel they'd betrayed anyone. If anything, their lack of disclosure kept their father from shutting Andrew out of his life forever.
         "Oh God," Lewis raised his head and looked at James.
         "What is it?" he asked.
         "You said it was the month before he left."
         Lewis swallowed hard, "You don't think that Andrew thinks that being gay is why we sent him away."
         James and Mark exchanged a furtive look.
         "Tell me the truth. Don't you dare lie to me now," Lewis said in a warning growl.
         James and Mark both swallowed hard.
         Mark spoke, "We all kind of assumed it was."
         "Oh no. Why?"
         Mark explained, "We assumed you'd found out somehow. James and I had a big fight about it, but I didn't tell you and he didn't tell you, so we assumed Mom blabbed."
         "I can't believe this. Andrew thinks the reason I sent him away is because I found out he was gay. It doesn't make sense. If Andrew thought that, then why did he tell me now?"
         James and Mark shrugged. Mark said, "I don't know."
         "Did you talk to Andrew about it?"
         "Yes. Andrew thought so too. He was mad as fire at us for years because he thought one of us told you. Then I guess since you never talked about it with him, he wanted to bring it up again because he had someone, he wanted you to meet."
         "I guess," Lewis was bewildered.
         The rowing had ceased as the past revelations were being revealed.
         "Paddle, Mark! We have to find him. I have got to tell him the truth."
         "What is the truth?" Mark asked as he turned to face the river and resumed rowing at a breakneck speed, "Tell us the truth, Dad, why did you send Andrew away?"
         "You know why."
         "We know the official reason." Mark continued, the sweat pouring down his brow from the humidity and the exertion, "The official reason is that Andrew caught every disease he got within a hundred miles of but was there another, ulterior motive?"
         "Ulterior motive? No, there was no other reason. I was afraid that if we didn't send him to live with Ray, he would be dead by now. It's nothing short of a miracle that he's alive today as it is."
         "Are you sure?"
         Lewis' forehead vein bulged as he yelled at them with full volume and ferocity, "How dare you insinuate that I sent my own son away because he's gay!"
         "I'm sure parents have done worse."
         "Stop rowing," Lewis ordered.
         Mark stopped, rolled his eyes, and set the oar in his lap.
         "Look at me."
         Mark turned to face him.
         "I did not send Andrew away because he is gay. I swear and promise that his health and safety were the only reasons."
         Mark stared at his father with an insolent glare, "Only because you didn't know."
         "You were upset that he was gay," Lewis said, "Why are you condemning me for having the same reaction?"
         "So? I wouldn't have cast him aside."
         "I didn't. Would you rather have him stay here and die? I would rather have my son alive in America than dead in the Amazon."
         Mark jerked his body back around and continued rowing.
         "Don't you turn away from me!"
         "We have to find him. We don't have time for this," Mark spat.
         James sat meekly in the back. Mark and his dad were at each other again. Poor Andrew might wish he'd stayed put in Deerfield or remained missing in Amazonas after the tongue lashing he was going to get for this. Mark feverishly rowed and scanned the trees and brush for any sign of anything. They were several miles from home by now. It was going to be a long day. James dutifully steered the raging alpha males down the river, much like Andrew would have done if the roles we reversed.
Chapter 28

         Andrew paddled for his life, literally. Rhyfelwr was an unbelievable swimmer. Andrew had no idea the human body could move through the water with such speed and agility. His arms moved effortlessly through the water. His head bobbed up for water for a split second before disappearing into his own wake. His sleek, dark skin and slender frame cut through the water as if propelled by an unseen force. The canoe with two full grown American males didn't move with the same speed or agility, but Andrew and Evan tried with all their might to outrun their cannibal pursuer. Only having one serviceable oar didn't help matters in the slightest.
         Rhyfelwr was relentless in his pursuit of vindication and the return of honor in his village. Plus, he was hungry and the blonde looked tasty. Evan was equally determined not to become a snack. Their dance of death continued as they approached the main channel of the Amazon River. As the current began to pick up, the canoe moved more swiftly while Rhyfelwr's vast store of energy began to wane. He was a strong, formidable warrior with incredible stamina, but even he had his limits. Not only had he swum a long way to catch them, Andrew and Evan had given him quite a thrashing before they took off.
         He worried that his onwelriekende was washing off and that the piranhas would come to visit. Finally, his strength abated, and he stopped. Andrew and Evan continued to paddle furiously in case this was another trap. If he really was in trouble, it was his own fault, so they weren't about to come to his rescue. Rhyfelwr didn't splash around like he was drowning or in trouble. He just floated on the surface. After putting another couple of hundred yards between them, the couple stopped and watched. Rhyfelwr still hadn't moved. He just did a very convincing rendition of the dead man's float.
         "Do you think he's dead?" Evan asked.
         "I'm not risking it. If he's dead, it's his own fault."
         Evan nodded in agreement.
         "So, you don't think we should go check on him?" Andrew asked.
         "Not on your life. He can just float there on the water until Judgment Day for all I care." Evan huffed, then asked, "Why didn't the piranhas eat him?"
         "I don't have a clue. They tried to eat us, and we weren't even in the water. He must have something to keep them away."
         "I guess. I wonder what it is."
         "He looks dead," Evan said.
         "Andrew, it's not good to want the death of someone else." Evan admonished.
         "Normally I would agree, but right now I'm hoping for it."
         "If we're not going to offer our assistance, we should go." Evan said. "We can go to the edge and go back to the compound. I don't think we can row against the current right now. I'm sure Engrid has raised the alarm so the sooner we get back, the better."
         Andrew sat still for a moment, staring at Rhyfelwr looking for any sign of movement or any hint that this was a trick or a setup. After a few minutes, Andrew decided that it was safe to portage back to the compound. He rowed over to the edge of the river and they pulled the canoe out.
         "How does one portage a canoe?" Evan asked.
         "Grab that end. I'll grab this end. We'll flip it over, lift it up and hold it over our heads."
         Evan's eyes narrowed, "You're joking."
         "No, now we have to hurry." Andrew looked back out over the water and looked at Rhyfelwr. He could see his body still floating calmly in the water, moving slowly downriver. This could be a trap. Only time would tell. Evan still eyed the cadaver in the water. He felt guilty just leaving the guy there, but at the same time, he had tried on multiple occasions to kill them. They took up their labors and hurried as best they could. The soil was very soft and loamy. Countless eons of dead vegetation lay beneath them. Their feet sank a few centimeters into the ground with each footfall. The softness absorbed the impact enough to make walking more difficult than it ordinarily would be. The canoe formed a lid over their bodies obscuring their view of the towering canopy of branches, leaves, vines and flowers over their heads. Several curious monkeys paused and watched them move through the forest. Evan slowed to see if the body was still floating down the river. Andrew didn't and bumped his head on the overturned bench of the canoe.
         "Ouch! Why'd you stop?"
         "I just wanted to see if he was still there."
         Now Andrew stopped. He tried to see through the reeds and grasses that grew along the riverbank. He was pretty sure he saw Rhyfelwr's backside parallel to the surface of the water. They resumed plodding through the soft soil and thick vegetation.

         Lewis and his crew rowed madly down the river. He and his sons labored earnestly beneath the scorching tropical sun. Sweat poured from every part of their body that it was possible to pour. Lewis kept a hawk eye out for the slightest hint that they were gaining on Andrew and Evan.
         Lewis spotted something in the distance not too far from where this offshoot joined the main river channel. He squinted, trying to focus on the object in the water. He bobbed his head back and forth trying to decrease the glare of the sun off the water.
         James, obediently rowing and steering from behind, noticed the subtle movements.
         "What do you see, Dad?"
         "I'm not sure. I think I see something in the water."
         Mark continued to row and scanned the surface of the water to see what his father and brother saw. Mark gasped as they slowly approached.
         "Oh my God."
         "What?" James asked, trying to see around Lewis who was standing up.
         "Row, row please God row."
         Mark sped up and James resumed furiously rowing.
         "What do you see?"
         "I see a dead body."
         "I see a dead body floating in the water."
         "I think it's just a log," Mark replied, but he dared not abate his rowing.
         "I hope so, but I don't think so," Lewis replied, putting his oar in the water and pulling it back for all he was worth. He switched sides to keep the canoe going straight ahead. As they approached, Mark's stomach and heart sank. He could make out the outline of arms, torso, and legs on what he still hoped was a log. They still approached and the body didn't move except for the gentle bobbing in the water as the breeze blew over it.
         Lewis was almost crying, fearing that his son was dead in the water. The body was far too slight to be Evan. As they pulled up alongside the body, Lewis saw the clothing.
         "It's not him," he announced, "Thank God."
         "Who is it?" James asked.
         "I don't know." Lewis replied. Mark reached down into the water and grabbed the arm of the cadaver. The dead guy wasn't so dead and his reflexes were lightning fast. The arm flew out of the water, the droplets trailing along creating a rainbow effect as they spewed out over the water. The pruned fingers wrapped around Mark's forearm. Mark screamed bloody murder and tried to shake the guy off.
         Andrew and Evan were making their way along the shore when they heard the blood curdling scream. Andrew recognized his brother's voice.
         "Put the canoe down," he ordered.
         Evan obeyed. Andrew held his hand up to his brow to block the intense sun and looked out over the water.
         His face fell with horror, "Oh no."
         Evan followed Andrew's eyes and the direction of the scream. He knew what he saw. The rescue party was in mortal danger. The canoe containing Andrew's father and brothers rocked wildly as they fought for their lives.
         Evan grabbed the edge of the canoe and pulled it toward the water. Andrew pushed from behind. They had to get out there and help. They could see Mark struggling to free himself from Rhyfelwr's iron grasp. They could hear their father's voice ordering Rhyfelwr to let go. It wouldn't be long before Andrew's big brother would be pulled to his death in the piranha infested waters. They hastily threw the canoe in the water and hopped in. Evan began furiously rowing immediately. The extreme danger of the situation was not lost on either of them.
         Lewis lifted his oar in the air and swung it at Rhyfelwr. It ricocheted off the top of his head and hit Mark right in his chest. It almost knocked the air out of him.
         "I'm so sorry!" Lewis gasped.
         Mark lifted Rhyfelwr up enough to head butt him. He felt the grip loosen slightly but redouble instantly after that. Rhyfelwr wouldn't be defeated that easily. Lewis started poking at Rhyfelwr's face and shoulders with the oar handle. Rhyfelwr ducked back and forth successfully dodging all the jabs except the chest and shoulder jabs. He bent his body back slightly with each blow to slightly soften the impact. Lewis' face grew red with rage and exertion. Mark put his foot on the edge of the canoe and tried to pull to lift Rhyfelwr up enough that his father could get a few solid blows in to knock the wind out of their adversary.
         Andrew and Evan rowed with all their might to get out to the middle of the river. The murky river water flowed back and dripped off their paddles as they frantically raced against time to rescue Andrew's father and siblings from a watery grave.

         What Lewis and company couldn't know was that when Engrid told him about Andrew and Evan going missing, Marian was in a nearby grove of banana trees and overheard what was going on. The large, broad fronds hid her from their sight. While she somewhat appreciated her husband's efforts to protect her, she was not going to sit idly by while her son was in mortal danger out there on the river.
         Once Engrid knew that Lewis, Mark, and James were on the trail, she went back to the bungalow and informed Dora what was going on. Dora wrung her hands a bit.
         "I pray that they will be okay out there."
         "Me too," Engrid replied, "Me too. I just wish there was something we could do."
         "I know. But at this point, we'd be smart to stay put. We could get out there and get in trouble too. Lewis and they will have a hard enough time rescuing Evan and Andrew; they won't be able to save us too."
         "We'll be fine."
         "What do you mean?"
         Engrid was watching through the window. Shortly after Lewis and his sons disappeared around a bend in the river, Marian rushed to the shed where the canoes were stored.
         Engrid pointed, "Look- Marian's up to something."
         "What do you think it is?"
         Engrid shrugged. They both stood at the window inside their cozy bungalow. Something mechanical roared to life and smoke billowed out of the shed.
         "Oh my goodness!" Dora exclaimed.
         The two old women rushed down to the shed just in time to see Marian emerge on a dirt bike. A Mama Bear/ Tiger Mom was on the loose. She twisted the handle and the machine screamed like a banshee. She looked up and saw them coming. When they knew they'd been seen, Dora and Engrid stopped. She killed the engine and motioned for them to approach. They complied.
         "There are two others. Follow me." She said.
         Engrid shook her head.
         "Two other whats?" Dora asked dumbly.
         "Motorbikes," Marian explained, "They are Andrew, James and Mark's from when they were children."
         "I can't ride a dirt bike," Engrid said by way of explanation.
         "Evan, he is like a son to you, right?"
         "Yes. I love Evan as if was my own son."
         "Then you come too. We rescue them together."
         Engrid looked at Dora.
         Dora looked back, "I think we might be more of a hindrance than a help."
         "We have nothing to lose," Engrid said, her eyes widening behind her thick eyeglasses, "Besides, Lewis and Andrew's brothers probably already have them rescued. We'll just ride down there; see them coming back along the river. We'll turn right around and follow the river back here."
         "I don't know," Dora replied.
         "Hurry, we don't have any time to lose." Marian urged them.
         "Okay, okay," Dora acquiesced.
         "Good." Engrid turned to Marian and nodded her consent and her understanding. Engrid grabbed Dora by the hand and yanked her toward the shed. Inside they found a bright red and a bright yellow dirt bike propped against the far wall. Engrid approached the red one and pulled on the machine's handlebar. It was surprisingly light. She reached over and grabbed the other handlebar. She rolled the machine towards the exit.
         "See, Dora, this won't be bad at all."
         "I'm staying here. Someone needs to stay put and I volunteer."
         "Fine." Engrid replied.
         "Good." Dora was visibly relieved.
         Engrid rolled her bike out into the sun and the heat. Marian was agitated and in a hurry. She'd hoped to sneak off without interlopers, but that plan had not panned out. Engrid hiked up her pants leg and tried to hoist it over the machine. The dirt bike wasn't very tall, but Engrid was short, so her foot hit the top of the seat. She put her foot back on the ground and squared her weight for the next attempt. She hopped slightly when she threw her foot up. It hit the seat. She lost her balance and tumbled to the ground. The bike fell over the opposite way. Marian rolled her eyes.
         "Hurry," Marian insisted.
         Engrid got up quickly, dusted herself off and strained to lift the bike. It seemed substantially heavier now that she had to pick it up off the ground rather than roll it on its wheels. Her third attempt at mounting the bike was successful. She put one foot on the ground and scanned the instrument panel. There was a speedometer, a tachometer and a gas gauge that made up the totality of the instrumentation. Below the dials was the key. She turned it and the dirt bike screamed to life. She reached over and grabbed the handlebars.
         "This is how you shift gears," Marian said, looking down at her left foot. Engrid watched her as she pushed a small lever on the side of the bike with her foot. Her engine changed its idle sounds as Marian sent it up and down several gears. Engrid looked down at her left foot and saw the small lever.
         "You are not in gear now. This is the brake. Grab the brake and pull the gear up."
         Engrid obeyed. She slowly released the brake and the little bike burst forth. She zoomed past Marian and towards the gazebo. Engrid let out a scream as the Amazon River lay before her and she hurtled toward it clutching the handlebars of a dirt bike. She grabbed the brake bar and the bike wheels stopped. She slid to a halt and the engine stalled.
         Marian rolled her eyes and let out a sigh. Engrid turned the key but nothing happened.
         "I think it's broken."
         Dora was watching from the shed door, "Put it in neutral."
         Engrid pressed the lever back down. "Nothing happened. I didn't hear it click into the other gear."
         Engrid looked at Marian for advice. Marian leapt up and down on the bike while pushing on the lever with her foot. Engrid did the same and after a moment, she felt the gear click back into neutral.
         "Turn it around before you start it," Dora advised, "Before you run yourself off into the river."
          She rolled the bike backwards by pushing off with her feet while turning the handlebar. She eventually got it turned around, facing the direction the boys had left earlier.
         "I don't think you should go. You're not very good with that thing," Dora said, "I don't want to be a killjoy, but I don't want to have to call Rev. Creighton and have her alert the bereavement committee that Engrid Matthews perished in the jungle."
         "I'm not going to perish in the jungle- besides, even if I do, what a way to go!"
         She fired up the dirt bike again. She looked over at Marian, "Let's do this."
         Dora couldn't help but chuckle at the clich Engrid revved the engine dramatically. Marian did the same except she kicked her bike into gear and took off into the jungle. Engrid said a little prayer and took off after her. Dora shook her head and hoped against hope that this wasn't the last time she saw Engrid alive.
         Engrid sped off through the woods. She was surprised at how quickly she took to the bike. Once she developed a bit of muscle memory about the gear shifter, she was pretty good. She was nowhere near as agile as Marian who zipped under branches and around massive tree trunks. Marian was pulling ahead so all Engrid could do was follow her tracks through the jungle floor. Following the tracks wasn't very difficult since the bike left very clear tracks in the soft soil and there weren't any other tracks around to create confusion. The forest was very dense, the soft soil made the bike slide sideways when she went around sharp curves. Marian continued to pull ahead, but the tracks remained clear.

         Dora paced on the gazebo looking out over the murky river waters. She heard a strange sound from behind her. She turned and looked but didn't see anything. Maybe it was just a passing car on the road. A car came through the gateway of the compound and stopped by the main house under a banana tree. A tall, well-built man in his late fifties stepped out. He was Caucasian, but very tan and was in excellent shape and had close-clipped salt and pepper hair. Dora took a step back. The stranger scanned the area. Dora crawled under the dinner table. From her crouched position, she kept an eye on the man. He was strong and looked like a man with purpose. Why on earth would such a man come at this most inopportune moment? He walked up the porch of the main house and knocked on the door to no avail.
         "Nobody's home, mister, you might as well leave," Dora whispered under her breath. He turned and walked back towards the car. "That's it," she guided him as if he were under her mind control. He went to the first bungalow- the one Andrew's brothers were sharing. Again, he was rebuffed by silence. He got the same cold shoulder from the door of the other bungalow where the others were staying.
         Dora's knees were killing her. She didn't know how much longer she'd be able to do this. She lay down on her stomach. That was much less painful. She breathed a sigh of relief that she'd be able to stay in safety a little bit longer. The man sat down on the bungalow, his back to Andrew and Evan's bedroom window. He apparently was going to await the missionary's return.
         Dora's mind whirled. Everyone was in mortal danger. Andrew and the others could be swept away into the jungle and here she was face to face with an intruder. This was getting tiresome. Normally, she would get up and go introduce herself and fix him a glass of tea, but this place and what was currently going on had her spooked. There was something about this place and recent events that just unnerved her. She wanted to pack up Engrid, Andrew, and Evan and take them all back to the safety of South Carolina and the security of their houses in Deerfield. She was done with the tropical rainforest, with the cannibals, with the deforestation protests, with the foreign languages, with the strange people with their strange customs. Oh what she wouldn't give to be at a traditional southern church potluck right now dining on macaroni salad and fried chicken.
         It was all fun and games, but now the novelty had worn off and it was time to go home. Since wishful thinking wasn't going to keep her alive here, she had to devise a plan. Since the man seemed cozy on the porch and intent on not leaving, she wasn't sure what to do. He didn't look all that mean; it's just that his presence, and her being left alone, were unsettling.
         She sensed something moving. At first, she just ignored it and concentrated on willing the strange man away, but now she was sure there was something there. She put her hands on the floor and lifted herself just enough to turn her torso to see it. A few feet away at the edge of the gazebo was the largest tarantula she'd ever seen. She couldn't help it. She didn't think of herself as arachnophobic, but this fuzzy visitor pushed her over the edge. Dora leapt up in a single bound, not caring or noticing that she was still hiding under the folding table. She overturned the table and surrounding chairs and started screaming. The tarantula paused and looked perplexed, as much as a tarantula has facial expressions. The stranger on the porch sailed over the railing and ran behind the corner of the bungalow and peered back around. He watched with amusement as the old woman danced frantically on the gazebo. He had a gun, but he didn't see the need to draw his weapon. The old woman looked a bit crazed, but not dangerous.
         He left his corner and proceeded across the lawn to the gazebo. Dora ran off the gazebo and onto dry land. She came to her senses and froze solid and stared at the man.
         He put up his hands, "Don't be scared, I'm not going to hurt you."
         She took a deep breath, "Who are you?"
         "My name is Ray Garrison."
         "You're Andrew's Uncle Ray?"
         "Among other things, yes. I heard he was visiting and so I came too. I didn't mean to scare you."
         Dora relaxed a bit and shook her head, "You scared the living daylights out of me."
         "I'm sorry. Where is everybody?"
         "They went to find Andrew and Evan."
         "Did they get lost?"
         "In a manner of speaking."
         "Why are you being evasive?"
         "Truthfully, I don't know what's happening. All I know is that Andrew and Evan left in a canoe. His dad hit the ceiling and he and Andrew's brothers took off after him. Then Marian got worried and so she and Engrid went out to look for them."
         "That wasn't very smart."
         "You're telling me," Dora exclaimed, then asked, "Which part?"
         "All of it. Except you staying here- that was smart- it's always important on a mission to have someone back at base."
         "I'm glad you think I have some sense. Maybe when they get back, you can talk some sense into Engrid."
         "From what Andrew's told me about her, that's not likely to happen."
         "Well, I guess it would be a tall order to ask you to do in an afternoon what I haven't managed to do in over half a century."
         Ray smiled.
         "So, what do we do now?" Dora asked.
         "We go sit on the gazebo and wait. They're on their own now." Ray and Dora walked towards the gazebo.
         "You're not going to ride to the rescue and snatch them from the jaws of death at the last second?"
         "Huh." Dora was disappointed.
         "Lewis and Marian have lived most of their adult lives in the jungle and their children, except Andrew, have lived in the jungle all of their lives. They are much better equipped to do what they are doing than I am."
         "That makes sense."
         They righted the chairs and table and sat down overlooking the water. The hot sun hung low just below the treetops as a foggy mist began to rise off the water.
Chapter 29

         Lewis stood up on the boat, towering over the fray. Mark was still struggling with Rhyfelwr.
         Lewis said, "Forgive me." Then he smashed the oar down on Rhyfelwr's head and beat him repeatedly. Blood came spattering up and stuck to the oar. Rhyfelwr's body went limp and slipped out of Mark's grasp.
         Mark stood; his father looked at him.
         "Rinse off your face, you're covered in blood."
         Mark stooped down and scooped up some river water and rinsed his face. James didn't say anything. He did see Evan and Andrew paddling in their direction.
         "I can't believe you did that." Mark said.
         "I'm not proud of it."
         "You killed him."
         "I know."
         "You could get in trouble."
         "I would risk the fires of hell itself to protect my family." Lewis said.
         Mark sat without another word.
         Lewis heard the splashing of oars and turned to see Andrew and Evan approaching.
         "Thank God you're safe!" he said.
         "What happened?"
         "Dad killed him." James piped up.
         "What?" Andrew gasped.
         "I did what I had to do to protect my children."
         Everyone stood in stunned silence.
         "We should head back," Lewis said, "No one says anything to your mother, please."
         They all nodded. The two canoes paddled to the edge beyond the pull of the main channel and began slowly rowing back to the mission.
         "Hey! Hey!" They heard someone shouting from the shoreline. Engrid and Marian waved to them from within the deep weeds along the riverbank.
         "What are you doing here, Engrid?" Evan called back.
         "What does it look like? I'm rescuing your sorry butt."
         "Do you want a ride back, oh great rescuer?"
         "I have my own thank you."
         "Marian and I rode dirt bikes out here."
         "You rode a dirt bike?"
         "I didn't just ride, I drove. I'm pretty resourceful for an old relic."
         "You never cease to amaze me." Evan said laughing.
         "We'll meet you back at the ranch." She replied. For dramatic effect, Engrid hopped back on the bike and fired it up on the first try. She looked over to make sure Andrew and Evan looked suitably impressed.
         Engrid and Marian rode back on their bikes and informed Dora and Ray what went on. Marian neglected to mention that she'd witnessed her husband killing that guy. She hoped it didn't tarnish their missionary activity. While the missionary in her wanted to feel compassion for the deceased, all she could feel was utter relief that her family was safe once again.

         Dora offered to prepare dinner for them while the others cleaned up and rested from their day. She conscripted Ray to help her. They'd had a nice chat while waiting to hear of the others' fate. She liked him. He was an intelligent, witty guy who seemed genuine. She could see how entire nations entrusted their secrets to him. She made a variety of dishes out of the vast store of dry goods and a few refrigerated items in Marian's kitchen. She put together biscuits, gravy, some sliced mango and papaya, caprese salad, and a bit of spoonbread.
         Once the assembly had gathered on the gazebo, Lewis cleared his throat. The group fell quiet and turned to him.
         "This is a day in the life of our family that none will soon forget. We have been brought together, and we have survived fear, danger, the potential for death, and we have emerged stronger and wiser." He lifted his tea glass, "I would like to lift a glass to thank God that he has seen fit to bring us together in this place and see us through the trials of this day. Evan, Engrid, and Dora, welcome to our family. You are honorary Garrisons now. I know our earthly home may not be what you're used to, but in the home of our hearts, you will always be safe and comforted."
         The meal commenced. Dora's home cooking was just what Evan's spirits needed. He had never been so fearful for himself or for other people before in his life. His eyes looked across the table of faces, some familiar others becoming more so and he wondered if he could ever feel at home with them.

         Later, safely in their bungalow, Dora sat on the porch rocking back and forth. Engrid knocked on Andrew and Evan's door. "May I come in?"
         They were stretched out on the bed. Andrew was leafing through a tour book while Evan stared at the ceiling.
         "I just wanted to make sure you are okay." Engrid said.
         "We will be," Andrew replied, "Today was difficult to say the least, but it's almost over."
         "I can't believe what your father did to protect you."
         Andrew paused and looked up from the brightly colored photographs and accompanying text.
         "You saw that?"
         "Yes. More importantly, your mother saw."
         "Oh no."
         "Yes. She was stunned. So was I, but I probably would have done the same thing given the situation."
         Andrew didn't reply.
         Engrid said, "I can't imagine being given the choice between killing a man and protecting your child from danger. I have never felt as helpless as I did today standing on that riverbank. At least at that wretched temple, I could see you and talk to you and intervene, but then today all I could do was stand and watch. It was horrible."
         "It wasn't exactly sunshine and roses for us," Evan replied, not taking his eyes off the ceiling.
         "No, I suppose it wasn't. I'm just grateful that you are okay."
         "I have to go talk to Dad." Andrew hopped off the bed.
         "Why?" Engrid asked.
         "He told us not to tell Mom, but if she already knows, then it would be better for him to know that and come clean right away."
         He rushed out of the room.
         "Well," she said to Evan, "I guess I'll go and let you get some rest."
         "Stay." Evan said, "Please."
         "If you're sure." Engrid said, already pulling a chair up to the side of the bed.
         "It's weird. I kind of want to be alone right now and I kind of don't." Evan said, sitting up on the bed.
         "Do you want to talk about it?"
         "No, not really."
         "Okay." Engrid nodded and sat in the chair.
         "I would rather talk about anything else in the world than that right now."
         "I can fully support that," she smiled, "So did you get a load of Uncle Ray?"
         "Yes, I did. He's like an older, brawnier version of Andrew." Evan replied.
         "I wondered where Andrew got his looks."
         "I wondered that too. He sort of has his mother's complexion but that's about it."
         "Maybe 'Uncle Ray' is the real father," Engrid smiled mischievously.
         Evan laughed, "That'd be funny. Not really, but yeah."
         "And James..."
         "Now that's just freaky. I've met twins but holy cow. I know over video chat they looked alike, but I didn't realize until I saw them side by side that the resemblance is bizarre."
         "Just don't mistake one for the other." Engrid advised.
         "I already did." Evan said, looking chagrined.
         "You're joking!" She laughed.
         "I wish! He was sitting on the gazebo, and I sat down next to him and put my head on his shoulder. He was a little startled at first, but he gently let me know that I had the wrong twin."
         "Oh my gosh!" she guffawed, "I can't believe it."
         "Well, believe it. I'm not one to tell stories where I come out looking badly."
         "I guess you're not James' type."
         "No, but I suspect someone else around here is." Evan said demurely.
         Engrid took off her glasses and dabbed her eyes as the wave of laughter subsided. "What on earth are you talking about?"
         "Andrew told me, but I didn't believe him at first. Now I'm not so sure."
         "Sure, about what?" Engrid said, putting her glasses back on and trying to regain her composure.
         "James' interests."
         "Besides you, who else would it be?"
         "Apparently, James enjoys the company of old women."
         "What?" Engrid laughed in a new spasm, "Naw! C'mon, you're putting me on."
         Evan was laughing too, "No, I'm drop dead serious. Andrew told me that shortly after we arrived."
         The laughing fit abated slightly, and she cleared her throat, "You are serious."
         Dora poked her head in the door, "What's going on in here?"
         "Decompression," Engrid replied, "Join us."
         "Engrid's having an affair with James." Evan said.
         "Which one is that?" Dora asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
         "Andrew's twin," Evan said, "Wait, did you miss the part about Engrid having an affair?"
         "I'm doing no such thing. Don't listen to him. This whole experience has driven him plumb batty." Engrid said, playfully swatting Evan on his leg.
         "Engrid!" Dora mock scolded, "You didn't tell me!"
         "There's nothing to tell, I'm not having an affair with Andrew's identical twin brother. Evan is." Engrid said, sticking her tongue out at Evan.
         Evan pursed his lips, old lady style, "Well, I need a backup in case Andrew keels over."
         All three laughed.
         "Well, you can have him," Dora said sitting down in a wingback armchair. "Now, that Ray, now that's a refreshing sip I could really go for."
         Evan and Engrid both looked at her.
         "What? I'm serious. Strong, smart, sophisticated worldly. My goodness, you're a lucky duck, Evan."
         "What does that mean?"
         "Andrew obviously takes after his uncle, so Ray is a close approximation to what Andrew's going to look like in a couple of decades. Andrew's a scrawny man-boy now, a modern-day Mowgli, but give him another twenty years or so to fill out and get some laugh lines and a dusting of gray hairs, and oh baby you'll have to fend off competitors with a stick."
         "Dora, I've never heard you talk like that." Evan said.
         "I guess this place brings out the beast in you." Engrid stated, smiling.
         "The beast in me? You're the one having an affair with James."
         "I am not having an affair, with James or anyone else, now stop that, you'll get a rumor started and I'll be run out of town."
         "I knew you liked Andrew, but I had no idea." Evan teased, laughing again.
         "I don't like Andrew, well I do but..." Engrid sputtered, unsure how to shut down the topic.
         "See," Dora chuckled.
         "Not like that, you lustful old prune."
         Dora laughed, "I never took you for a pedophile."
         "I am not a pedophile, he is twenty-seven" she replied proudly, "I will have you know."
         "Oh, is he now," Evan said.
         "So, Engrid, riddle me this, what was your life like 27 years ago when he was born?" Dora asked.
         Engrid thought about it, she blushed, "That is unimportant and irrelevant."
         "Oh Engrid, we're just joking around." Evan said.
         "I know."
         "You never could take a joke," Dora said, "You remember that time you were house sitting for our minister."
         "Oh God!"
         "What?" Evan asked, "Story time!"
         "So, this was, oh years ago. You weren't even born yet. Anyway, our minister at the time was out of town and he had a dog, so he asked Engrid to house sit for him, you know, take care of the dog, and look after things."
         Engrid shook her head in dismay at the retelling.
         "So, as luck would have it, she was there over Halloween weekend. So, me and a group of others got together to scare the mess out of Engrid."
         "I knew what you were up to." Engrid said primly.
         "No, you didn't. So anyway, what we did was we put on these black sweatshirts and sweatpants that had a skeleton printed on it. I'm sure you've seen them in the store. Well, these skeletons were glow-in-the dark."
         "Don't forget the skullcaps," Engrid said, trying to appear disinterested but beginning to enjoy the moment.
         "Oh yeah, we also bought these ski masks with a glow-in-the-dark skull printed on them. So, we snuck out into the cemetery behind the church and the minister's house around one or two o'clock in the morning. We had someone rattle the back screen door and clomp around on the porch to get her attention. As soon as the bedroom light came on, I think it was Randy, anyway, he jumped behind a big peony bush. So, Engrid comes out to investigate and there's no one there. So, she goes back in, Randy does it again and she comes back. Then she hears chains rattling around in the toolshed out back. As you know, you can see the cemetery from the back door and even closer from the toolshed. Engrid calls out and oh boy is she scared. 'W-w-who's there?' Oh, I almost wet myself." Dora could barely finish the sentence she was laughing so hard.
         "So did I," Engrid put in, "But probably for a different reason."
         "So, she goes back in. We keep it up until she's beside herself and goes out to the toolshed to see what's making such a ghastly racket."
         "Where was the dog during all this?" Evan asked.
         Engrid explained, "That dog was a waste of time. It was dead to the world back on the bedroom floor."
         Dora continued, "So, she gets out to the tool shed. I'm crouched behind a tombstone with a boombox with a spooky Halloween cassette in it. I put the tape in and of course this eerie music starts coming from the direction of the cemetery. Oh if only I had a camera to get the look on your face. I was peeking out from around the edge of a tombstone hidden behind an arrangement of artificial flowers. Then I and the others started waving our arms and making ghostly 'ooooo' sounds and slowly getting up from behind the graves. Engrid took off like a shot. She was about halfway back to the house when Randy jumped out from behind the peony bush and yelled 'Boo!' She ran past him; he grabbed her arm to calm her down and explain before she had a heart attack. He could tell we'd gone too far. Well, when he grabbed her arm, she spun around and planted a right hook that would have made Chuck Norris proud. So, Randy yelps and she runs in the house so fast I thought she'd rip the door off the hinges."
         Evan laughed and laughed at the mental images that conjured up.
         "Yep, we scared Engrid." Dora didn't say anything else.
         "That is not the end of the story," Engrid stated.
         "What else happened?" Evan asked.
         "When I got in the house, I heard Randy calling from outside that it was only him. He'd pulled the mask off so I could see. I went back out there mad as a hornet. I stomped out to the graveyard and gave old Dora here a swift kick. Then I went back inside and left them all out there in the cold."
         "Ah," Evan said.
         "So, the end." Engrid said.
         "That's funny." Evan said, still laughing, "After today and yesterday, this whole trip really, I needed a good laugh."
         "So did I;" Dora said, "And nothing brings a smile to my face more than pulling a fast one on Engrid- even if it's just a decades old memory."
         "In some ways I've enjoyed meeting Andrew's family, but right now I'm ready for this to be a decades old memory." Evan said.
         "I will be soon enough, trust me," Dora said.
         Andrew returned.
         "How did it go?" Evan asked.
         "It was fine. I think Dad was relieved that he didn't have to keep the secret."
         "I'm glad it worked out. That could have ended much worse," Engrid said.
         "So what were you all laughing at? I heard you cackling all the way outside."
         "Oh we were just reminiscing and trying not to think too much about what's happened lately."
         "That sounds nice."
         "Well, Engrid, let's you and I get out of here and these two have some peace and quiet. It'll be bedtime soon."
         Engrid stood and both ladies exited.
         "Phew!" Andrew flopped down on the bed, "I don't think I've ever been so ready for a day to be over."
         They cozied up in one another's arms and dozed off to sleep, fully clad.

Chapter 29

         He felt the weeds brush against his back. Rhyfelwr was suddenly aware of an intense pain shooting through his head. Duwa was obviously angry, and this was his revenge for Rhyfelwr bringing dishonor to his village. Now he must redouble his efforts. The pain in his head was almost blindingly intense, but he must push all extraneous thoughts and feelings out of his head and focus on the task at hand. Andrew Garrison must die. Rhyfelwr pulled himself up onto dry land just beyond the weeds. He rested for a moment. He must not tarry. He assumed those miserable wretches thought he was dead, and he must capitalize on that.
         The men proceeded upriver, so he decided he must follow the river and try to find where they disembarked. That would give him a good starting point for his search. He noticed tire tracks in the soft dirt. That was a good sign. He followed the tracks easily. After walking quite a while, it was almost completely dark. There was a full moon that night and its white glow trickled down through a few breaks in the jungle canopy. The mosquitos buzzed, but Rhyfelwr paid them no heed. He marched onward towards his destiny and Andrew's fate.
         He saw lights up ahead. Surely it could not be this easy. He slipped behind a large tree and peered around the side. He silently slipped to a closer tree. He hopped behind a large flowering shrub with a decent view of the missionary compound. He watched patiently. His head throbbed and he itched to exact revenge against Andrew and his companion. If he had time, he would take out the false witch that had deceived his people. Rhyfelwr decided to use surprise and have a face-to-face confrontation with Andrew. He scanned the area to see which building housed his prey.
         Through a window, he saw the blonde one who rescued Andrew and the false witch laughing. Surely, they were laughing about the vile trickery they had used on his people. They were laughing at his failings as a leader and as a warrior. His blood boiled at the thought as he stood motionless watching them tremble with remorseless mirth. He saw Andrew returning from the main building. His prey was in sight, and he knew which building he was in. Rhyfelwr watched the door of the bungalow carefully.
         Rhyfelwr watched as one by one, the Garrison clan closed up shop for the night and lights clicked off across the mission compound. As night wore on, the missionaries were cloaked in darkness. The bright moon progressed across the sky and prepared for the moonset in a few hours. Rhyfelwr must act fast if he was to use its light for his escape. It would be easier for him to deal with them all since they were in the same bungalow. The false witch, her false prophet, and the tasty blonde were together- like fish in a barrel.
         Moonlight encased the compound. Rhyfelwr slipped from his spot behind the flowering shrub. He circled around the compound so as not to be seen by anyone taking one last look before settling in for the night. He completely circumnavigated the compound and slipped behind the bungalow to the dense foliage behind. The leaves were dry and crunchy, which was very unusual. Most of the time, the leaves remained moist, decomposing and, most importantly, quiet. He was making too much noise.

         Engrid's bedroom window overlooked the back of the bungalow. She lay in her bed draped with masses of mosquito netting hanging from a central hook overhead. The dead silence was unnerving. She had a weird feeling that something wasn't quite right. Anything and everything would make her feel uneasy out here in the middle of nowhere in the Brazilian jungle.
         Engrid's stomach churned as homesickness set in. She wanted desperately to go home and sleep in her own bed with her own sheets and pillows, no mosquito netting and surrounded by her own things. The darkness of the room seemed as oppressive as the heat. She got out of bed and went over to the window and opened it, hoping for a breeze to get some air stirring. There wasn't a whisper of air. She stood looking out of the window when she thought she saw movement outside. This part of the property backed up against dense vegetation and the dense leaves overhead blocked out any light there might have been.
         There must be some animal out there stirring around. While the bungalow wasn't home, at least having boards and nails between her and the outside world provided some modicum of comfort.
         Engrid reached her hand out and touched the window screen. She pushed on it lightly to make sure it was secure. That, at least, would prevent whatever lurked out there from coming in. As she drew her hand back, something thumped right in front of her, inches from her face. A small point stuck through the screen. She tried to see it. She went over to the doorway and clicked on the light. As soon as the room was bathed in light, she knew what it was. It was one of Rhyfelwr's darts. She'd be quite happy to never see one of those again as long as she lived.
         "He's not dead," she said to herself, horrified.
         She turned and raced out of the room. She opened the door of Dora's room. "Wake up," she whispered and shook Dora's shoulder. "Wake up!" she whispered more insistently. Dora stirred. Engrid grabbed her shoulder and shook her hard. Dora jerked awake.
         "What's going on?" she rubbed her sleepy eyes.
         "Rhyfelwr's not dead."
         "I thought Lewis killed him."
         "We all thought so, but he just shot a dart at me."
         "You were just dreaming, Engrid. Go back to sleep."
         "I wasn't dreaming."
         "Then I take it he missed."
         "Only because the window screen was in the way- otherwise I'd be a goner."
         Dora studied the darkness where she presumed Engrid was standing.
         "You weren't dreaming?"
         "No. I got up to open the window and he shot a dart at me."
         "Did you close the window?"
         "Then we'd better go check on it."
         The two women stood in the door of Engrid's room. The screen was still firmly in place, the point of the poison dart still hanging in the wires.
         "We'd better wake Andrew and Evan."
         Engrid hurried over to their room. She tapped lightly on the door. She opened the door a bit and stuck her head in. "Pssst"
         No response. She heard the deep breaths of two people sleeping soundly.
         "Pssst! Andrew, Evan, wake up."
         She still received no response.
         "I hope you're decent, I'm going to turn the light on."
         She reached over and clicked on the light. Evan was sleeping face down with his head angled away from the light. Andrew slept on his back, looking right towards the light. Evan was unaffected, but Andrew shielded his eyes against the brilliant intrusion.
         "What's going on?" Andrew asked.
         "Rhyfelwr's not dead and I'm not dreaming."
         "Am I?"
         "Are you what?"
         "Unfortunately, no, you're not." Engrid responded.
         "How can you be sure? I mean, about Rhyfelwr not being dead. I saw Dad beat him to death with a canoe oar."
         "You saw what we all saw, but there's a poison dart in my window screen that suggests otherwise." Engrid explained.
         "Are you serious?" Andrew sounded more annoyed than fearful.
         "Yes. I would never joke about something like this. You know that."
         "She's telling the truth," Dora confirmed, looking over Engrid's shoulder into the room, "He just shot a dart at her. I saw it."
         Andrew reached over and shook Evan awake. He reluctantly rolled over.
         "There's trouble afoot." Andrew said. He filled Evan in on what had happened. Dora and Engrid came fully in the room.
         "What are we going to do?" Evan asked.
         "I don't know. We have to warn the others."
         "There's a telephone in the main room out there," Andrew said, "We could call over to my parents' quarters."
         "Why didn't I think of that?" Engrid wondered aloud. She turned but stopped. Rhyfelwr stood in the doorway, brandishing the ceremonial knife he'd been given by Mwensi.
         He charged at Andrew, sitting in his bed. The knife blade glinted in the bright lights. Evan moved with the speed of a cheetah and the strength of a defensive lineman. He leapt over the bed. He crashed into Rhyfelwr with only the mosquito netting between them. The mosquito netting drew taut against the ceiling hook pulling Evan back. Rhyfelwr stumbled, but the surprising tensile strength of the mosquito netting kept back the full force of Evan's attack. Evan's feet hit the floor and he snatched back the bottom hem of the material. He flew at Rhyfelwr again. Rhyfelwr held up the knife. Evan threw up his foot and kicked the side of Rhyfelwr's wrist and the knife flew out of his hand. He reached out to get it. Engrid smashed him over the head with a small wooden chair. He fell to the floor again.
         "How many times do we have to kill you?" Evan asked rhetorically.
         Rhyfelwr stood up. He wasn't finished yet. He charged at Evan and threw him against the nightstand knocking off the lamp and the alarm clock. Andrew pulled back the netting and got off the bed. Engrid hurried and picked up the knife off the floor. At least this way one of them would be armed.
         Evan and Rhyfelwr struggled on the floor. They were both strong, powerful men.
         "I'm going to go get Ray," Dora said and turned to leave.
         "Good idea!" Engrid said, but Dora was already on her way.
         Andrew grabbed Rhyfelwr by the shoulders and pulled him back. He was afraid for Evan's safety. Who knew what voodoo Rhyfelwr might have up his sleeve? Rhyfelwr grabbed Andrew's arm and pulled him down. He put Andrew in a head lock and started twisting. Rhyfelwr tried desperately to break Andrew's neck, but he just didn't have him in the right position plus down on the floor, he couldn't get the right motion or leverage. He'd broken the necks of many forest creatures but never the neck of a full-grown man. It was harder than he thought. Andrew struggled desperately against the bulging muscles.
         Evan didn't want to plow into Rhyfelwr again for fear that his weight would be the straw that broke his lover's neck. Instead, he pulled on his arm, trying to get him to turn loose. Evan then kicked Rhyfelwr in the kidneys. Rhyfelwr's back arched and he let out a howl that would have distracted the damned from their suffering. He turned and gave an insolent glare. He threw Andrew aside and rose from the floor. He held Evan's gaze. Evan returned the gaze, just as determined and unrelenting as ever. Rhyfelwr raised his hands into a fighting stance. Andrew grabbed Rhyfelwr's leg to prevent him from lunging at Evan. Rhyfelwr kicked Andrew directly in the face. His head snapped back and smacked the bed frame. He fell over as blood poured from his nose. Rhyfelwr pulled a smaller knife from somewhere in his skimpy garments and brandished it. He thrust it toward Evan.
         Evan scarcely saw Engrid move. Her sock feet were as silent as fog moving across the floor. Rhyfelwr lunged toward Evan but stopped short. He looked surprised. Engrid was right behind him. He turned and Evan saw the ceremonial knife's handle protruding from Rhyfelwr's back. Engrid had stabbed him for all she was worth.
         Ray, Lewis, and the rest of the Garrison household arrived just in time to see the final act. Engrid stepped back and looked at what happened. As Rhyfelwr started to collapse in death, Evan grabbed him and lowered him gently to the floor. Andrew looked up from the floor with blood all over his face. Marian pushed through the crowd and stooped down by her son.
         Engrid went and sat in the wingback chair by the window. She had blood on her hands, literally, along with her face, arms, and clothing. Lewis approached Evan who sat on the floor next to Rhyfelwr's dead body. Evan looked up.
         "What are we going to do?" Evan asked.
         "We are going to give him a proper burial."
         "Will Engrid or I go to prison?"
         "To avoid that, no one must know about this. We will bury him quietly in a small plot tonight. There is a cemetery not far from the church. It is very old and no one goes there anymore."
         Evan looked down at the lifeless Balumbolwarrior.
         "I can't believe he's dead," Evan said.
         Lewis replied sympathetically, "He chose the path of a warrior. This is what comes to those who live by the sword."
         Ray said, "We must move quickly. It will be morning soon."
         Lewis gave the orders, "Andrew, you stay here with your mother and get that nose taken care of. Evan, you, Ray, Mark and I will bury the body. Dora, you James and Engrid should try to clean this up as best you can."
         No one questioned their orders. Ray reached down and pulled the knife from Rhyfelwr's back. Evan and Mark hoisted the cadaver up and carried it out. Marian rushed to the kitchen and pulled out some large trash bags. She spread them out in the back of the RJ40 and laid Rhyfelwr's body on them. Then James and Mark loaded up shovels and other tools in the back.
         Engrid continued to sit in the wing back chair. Dora picked up the matching chair off the floor and sat next to her. Engrid didn't say anything. She simply stared at Rhyfelwr's blood on the floor near Andrew's. She tried not to read too much into the fact that their blood looked identical.
         In a few minutes, Dora spoke, "What are you going to do?"
         "For possibly the first time in my life, I'm going to do what I'm told. I'm going to clean up this mess as best I can. Then I'm going to do everything in my power to forget this ever happened."
         Engrid shook her head grimly, "It'll take me a while to come to terms with the fact that I am a murderer."
         "You are not a murderer, Engrid. You were defending Evan's life. That does not make you a murderer. We're not going to tell the authorities here because they may not see it that way."
         "I know. But regardless of the legality, I stabbed a man to death tonight."
         After a few minutes of silence, Dora asked, "How do you feel?"
         "What do you mean?" Dora inquired.
         "I can't say I've sat around much pondering what it would be like to kill someone, but I thought I would feel worse. But I don't. I don't feel guilty about it. In fact, I feel oddly peaceful."
         "It's because you didn't do anything wrong."
         "Or it's just shock and the worst is yet to come."
         "That could be," Dora admitted, "I hope not though."
         "Me too."
         "Do you want me to get you anything from the kitchen?"
         "No. I don't want you going out there tonight."
         "It's safe now."
         "We don't know that."
         "We don't?"
         "We can't be sure that Rhyfelwr was acting alone. There could be others."
         Dora sat back in her chair. She hadn't thought of that.


         Lewis drove through the darkened roads. They had to hurry. It would be starting to get light in a few hours, and they had a lot of digging ahead. They had to make sure the grave was sufficiently deep to prevent wild animals from disturbing the site. Shortly, they arrived at the cemetery.
         Evan looked at it. It was much more rudimentary than the cemeteries back in South Carolina. There were no granite or marble headstones or flowers, no brass plaques or angel statues. It appeared to be just a field with tall weeds. There was a wooden cross hung on a tree in the middle. It looked decrepit like it had been there far past its usable life.
         "How will we know where to dig?" Evan asked.
         "We go to the end of the row." Mark replied
         "What row?"
         "We have to find the stones."
         "What stones?" Evan asked, dumbly.
         Mark rolled his eyes, "What stones would you expect to find in a graveyard?"
         "Mark, don't be snarky," Lewis said, "I don't see any stones either but I know they're here. This cemetery is overgrown because it's not maintained anymore- which is why I picked it for what we're doing. What we're doing tonight isn't exactly on the up-and-up. It's not something I'm looking forward to in my life review at the end."
         "No, Dad, it's illegal."
         "I know, but it's the right thing to do. If Rhyfelwr could have worked his will, he'd have killed all of us. He would have sneaked around the compound and killed us all. We owe Engrid a debt of gratitude for what she did. So, this is how we repay her, we help her stay out of a Brazilian jail cell."
         "Engrid is a hero," Ray said, "She was faced with a terrible decision, and she did the right thing."
         No one said anything.

         Lewis parked the vehicle, and everybody piled out and looked around. Lewis opened the back of the RJ40.
         "Mark, get that end and I'll lift him from this end. We're going to carry him out nearer the middle."
         Once a spot had been selected, Lewis and Ray flopped Rhyfelwr's body onto the weedy ground.
         "Well, we'd better get to work," Lewis said, "Evan, if you start digging on this end; Ray, start on that end and dig like there's no tomorrow. Mark, I want you to go to the road we drove in and keep your ears and eyes out for anything. If anything approaches, use a macaw call to alert us."
         "What are you going to do?" Mark asked.
         "Keep tabs on all of you," Lewis replied.
         Mark departed for the entrance to the cemetery. Evan and Ray picked up their shovels and began digging. The moonlight streamed down on them, but it was nearing the tree line. The moon would be set soon, and they would be plunged into deepest darkness.
         "Evan," Ray asked beginning their labors, "How long have you known Engrid?"
         "All my life- she's like a grandmother to me. She helped my mom raise me."
         "I'm glad you had her." Ray said, "I didn't."
         "You didn't have grandparents?"
         "Yeah, but not like what you and Engrid have. My, our, grandfather was an heir to a railroad fortune from his grandfather in the late 1800's. He lived in a posh estate in Illinois. That was our dad's parents. That's where our money comes from. Our mom's parents lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We saw them every summer. They were really nice people. One summer we would visit them and the next they would visit us here. We did that for years until they got too old and feeble to make the trip."
         "That's really nice," Evan replied.
         "It looks like James will be the next in line for the family missionary work." Lewis said.
         "He does have a heart for it. I never did." Ray remarked.
         "I don't think Mark does."
         "No, Mark's more like me. He's an adventure junkie. Did he tell you he went base jumping last year?"
         "No, where?"
         "I don't remember. He lives in Chile. He flew in because Andrew was visiting."
         "I assumed he lived around here."
         "No, no, as soon as he was old enough, he went to college at the University of the South Pacific then took off- just like I did."
         "It's funny how things run in families. Where's the University of the South Pacific?" Evan asked.
         "One of the islands, Fiji, I think, but I'm not sure." Ray answered.
         "Why there?"
         "It was the furthest, most exotic sounding place he could think of." Lewis interjected, then picked up a shovel and helped speed things along.
         "I don't think Andrew is an adrenaline junkie."
         "I doubt it, but I really don't know. He's grown a lot since he left. Besides, you know him best as he currently is." Lewis admitted.
         "I guess so. Andrew's always been an enigma to me."
         "Join the club." Ray replied.
         Lewis stooped down beside the cadaver. He began whispering in a language that Evan did not recognize. Ray and Evan shoveled in silence listening to Lewis praying over the body and for them. Evan felt comforted hearing the missionary's words, even if he didn't know the precise meaning. He could sense that it was a prayer. The two strong men sweated profusely as they labored in the tropical heat. Even at night, the heat was oppressive.
         Down in this overgrown grotto, there wasn't a hint of a breeze. The light of dawn was beginning to come over the treetops along the edge of the property. Lewis got down in it to determine that it was deep enough for their purposes. Once it was, they carefully and respectfully placed Rhyfelwr's body down at the bottom. Lewis looked up.
         "Flip him around the other way."
         "Why?" Evan asked.
         "It faces east."
         "What difference does that make?"
         "It's an ancient Christian tradition to bury bodies facing east."
         "I didn't know that."
         "The theology is that Jesus would return to Jerusalem which is traditionally east. So, bodies were buried with the feet facing east so that they would be facing Jerusalem at Jesus' return."
         "Huh," Evan said, "I've been going to church all my life and I've never heard that."
         "You learn something new every day. Look in the cemetery when you get home and see if..."
         "Lewis," Ray interrupted. He pointed to the sky, "We can chit chat later."
         "Ah," Lewis took the shovel from Evan, "You two go rest in the car, I'll cover him back up."
         Neither argued that point and left Lewis to his labors.
Chapter 30

         Mwensi sat by the fire. He threw in more herbs and watched the tendrils of smoke rise overhead. He thought about what he should do. Being misled by the false witch messed with his head. He wasn't as certain as usual. His dilemma was whether to come to Rhyfelwr's aid. Should he let his youthful protgo it alone and let the chips fall where they may? There was no one in line for Rhyfelwr's position so letting him die needlessly would be a waste and take years to repair. So he sought guidance from Duwa. Just because he mistook some old American woman for the long-prophesied Great White Witch of the North didn't mean that Duwa didn't exist or was disinterested in the affairs of his people, the Balumbol It was a mistake that Rhyfelwr was risking his life to correct.
         Mwensi knew the answer now. He must go. He could not take others from the village. He didn't want any more bad blood between his people and the white people. While he had no use for white people, he had to admit they were powerful. He recalled several times when they arrived with guns. The Balumbolwere not as savage as people made them out to be. While they were cannibalistic, it wasn't out of savagery or ignorance, it was a part of their culture to assume the power of their enemies and keep their forebears with them. The Balumbolwere not a warring people who went out to seek vengeance. Many people had that impression of them because once provoked, they defended themselves. Mwensi regretted his part in continuing that practice and perception. He wanted the best for his people. Being on the wrong side was not it. He wanted nothing more than for his people to live in peace with nature and others. He must put a stop to it. He must call an end to the violence while there was still time. Mwensi leapt from his seat by the fire and went off into the woods. This might be his finest hour, his last, or both, only time would tell.
         Mwensi recognized one of the men who took them from their grasp. He was a Christian missionary who operated several churches in the area. He didn't know his name, but he knew where he lived. It was common knowledge where the missionaries lived. The compound was down along the river. Mwensi wasn't sure how to find it via the road, plus it was dangerous to be spotted. The river provided a safe passage to their compound. He silently slipped through the dense foliage. They moved quickly as night was waning. If he tarried too long, he would have to wait until the following night and then it might be too late.
         It took a couple of hours of travel to arrive at his destination. He crouched behind a stand of banana trees and watched the scene unfold. He could see an illuminated room in one of the bungalows. Rhyfelwr was talking to the false prophet's companion. The false witch stood behind him with another elderly woman. The false prophet sat in bed buried beneath the mosquito netting. He got out from under it just before the horror happened. He saw Rhyfelwr lift a knife from among his clothing. He saw Rhyfelwr's leg jerk to the side and he saw the top of the false prophet's head come toward the bed and fall off to the side. Mwensi surmised that he'd been kicked hard. He saw Rhyfelwr's body tense up and lean forward towards an attack with his knife at the ready. Mwensi watched in horror and helplessness as the false witch plunged a knife into Rhyfelwr's back.
         As he watched, a tear formed on the perimeter of his eye as he watched the man, who was like a son to him, fall in death. The anger burned within him. He knew there were too many of them to stage an attack now. After all, an attack born of blind rage was more likely to end badly for the attackers. Mwensi considered his options. He couldn't leave it at this. He continued to watch. He saw the others rushing towards the bungalow just as the events unfolded. He watched as they carried Rhyfelwr's body out and drove off. He watched as the false witch and her companion began to clean up the room. There must have been a lot of blood. He watched and waited. He decided he must put a stop to this. The violence must end. He must not tell the Balumbolwhat happened. If he did, this would only be the beginning of the bloodshed. He wanted no more on his conscience. Rhyfelwr's death was enough.
         Marian stood in the darkened kitchen. She'd come to get cleaning supplies. The whole evening, the last few days in fact, had seemed surreal. This was a nightmare, except that it was real life. She saw by a small nightlight on the far wall. She knew every detail of this kitchen. She didn't want the bright lights beaming down on her. Right now, she felt safe being shrouded in the darkness. She reached under the sink and retrieved a plastic washing basin and started filling it with hot water and dish soap. She looked down as the mound of suds grew higher and higher toward the top of the basin. She looked up into the darkness. The moon was behind the building, so the only light was from the other bungalow and a few moonlit ripples on the river in the distance. She thought she caught sight of something. It wasn't moving but it was humanoid in shape. She tried to focus her eyes. The figure was bathed in almost impenetrable darkness. Then it moved. It sat on the ground. It was a person; she was sure of it. This must be the second attack. Marian felt idiotic for not thinking of it before Lewis, Ray Evan, and Mark had left them all alone. Of course, Rhyfelwr wouldn't be alone. He had backup.
         Marian rushed towards the door. She didn't know what to do, but she wasn't going to let whoever it was go without confronting him. She paused by the door, debating what to do. The Christian thing was to make peace, but this man and his people had tried on multiple occasions to kill her son and others. But mostly it was their concerted effort to kill Andrew that stuck in her craw. She threw open the door but grabbed it because she didn't want it to slam against the wall. She peeked around the corner. He was still crouched among the banana trees near the edge of the property. She stood on a paving stone between the kitchen building and the bungalow looking in his direction.
         Mwensi wasn't sure if she'd spotted him or not. He knew she was pretty sure she saw something.
         "Hey!" She called out to him.
         Mwensi sat motionless on the ground.
         "I see you sitting there," she shouted in Portuguese.
         "I'm sorry," he replied in kind.
         Marian paused. She hadn't expected that reply. Their conversation ensued in Portuguese.
         "How do you know Portuguese?"
         "I have been studying. I knew this day would come."
         Her eyes narrowed, "What day?"
         "There is bad blood between our people."
         "It doesn't have to be that way."
         "I know. I want to have peace."
         "So do I, but your friend tried to kill my son."
         "I know."
         "Are you alone?"
         "Why should I believe this is not a trick?"
         "I attended a few services at your husband's church."
         "You did?"
         "Yes. He spoke of trust."
         Marian took a deep breath, "I'm sure he did. Trust is an important part of our faith."
         "You must trust that I want peace."
         "What is your name?"
         "Mwensi. I trained Rhyfelwr."
         "The man your friend just killed."
         "The one who tried to kill my son?"
         "Yes. He was training to be a defender of our people."
         Marian stood still for a moment. She knew that she had to get the cleaning supplies to Dora and Engrid soon before they came to check on her. She had to let the others know before they stumbled onto him.
         "I have to go. I will be right back." Marian said.
         "I will be here." Mwensi replied.
         Marian turned and hurried toward the bungalow. Inside, Dora and Engrid had a bucket from the bathroom and were down on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor with a bar of soap.
         "I brought you some things." Marian said.
         "Thank goodness. I've never had to clean a floor with bar soap before. It's not very easy, let me tell you." Engrid said.
         "Take a break. I need to tell you something."
         The ladies got up off the floor and sat on the edge of the bed. Marian stood in front of them.
         "What's wrong?" Engrid said.
         "Mwensi is here."
         Engrid gasped. Dora looked confused.
         "Who's that?" Dora asked.
         "He was an older man who was in the party that captured Andrew and I. He seemed to be an elder among the Balumbol"
         "Oh, that can't be good." Dora gasped.
         "I doubt it is," Engrid agreed.
         "En realidad, it might be." Marian said.
         "What do you mean?"
         "He comes seeking peace."
         "Peace?" Engrid was genuinely surprised, "It's a trick."
         "I don't think it is. The Balumbolaren't tricky."
         "Why would a cannibalistic warlord suddenly want peace? What could possess a man to do that?"
         Dora turned to her, "Any number of things I would imagine. Maybe he's tired of fighting."
         "He seemed to be," Marian said, "He seemed like he meant what he said. He was sad that Rhyfelwr was killed."
         "I don't know." Engrid said.
         "I don't trust him yet either, but I don't know what to do. This could be a big deal in our ministry."
         "Having a Balumbolelder on your side would go a long way toward gaining converts," Dora admitted, "Or it could get us all killed."
         "That is a big risk," Engrid said.
         "Is it one worth taking?" Marian asked, "It is to me."
         "Me too," Dora said.
         Engrid looked at her and nodded her head.
         "After what happened tonight and what I've been through over the last couple of days, I would do whatever it took to end the fighting with the Balumbol" Engrid said.
         "I'm happy that you agree. I will go talk to him some more," Marian turned to leave.
         "Imagine that. After all the horrible things that have happened, finally something good might come of it."
         "Marian," Engrid said.
         Marian stopped in the doorway and turned back.
         "Have him come in here. I don't want you to be alone with him, just in case."
         Marian left the door. Engrid closed the door to the bedroom of blood, and both went out onto the porch. Through the shadowy darkness, they saw Mwensi following Marian toward the porch.

         Introductions were made. Marian and Mwensi continued their conversation in Portuguese. Neither Engrid nor Dora understood what was being said.
         Finally, Marian turned to them. "We are going to call a truce between our people."
         "A truce?" Engrid said, "That's wonderful!"
         "I hope he has the authority to do that," Dora said, "If not, it could end badly for all of us."
         "I know," Marian responded, "But we have to try. We have to take the chance and see what happens."
Chapter 31

         Lewis and the others packed up the RJ40 and began the journey back to the compound. The first rays of morning light appeared over the treetops and filtered down into the old, overgrown cemetery.
         "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some breakfast," Lewis said.
         The others agreed. They piled in the FJ40 and went back to the compound. They pulled through the gates and Lewis hit the brakes.
         "What's the matter?" Evan asked, scanning the premises, "I don't see anything out of place."
         Lewis motioned with his head to the porch of the bungalow the four Americans shared.
         "Who's that?" Evan asked, "What's he doing here this early in the morning?"
         "I don't want to know, but I guess we're about to find out," Ray said.
         "I don't know his name, but he means trouble."
         "Huh? Why are you being cryptic?"
         "That is a Balumbolwarrior."
         "He looks peaceable enough," Evan replied.
         "It could be a trap. He might be planning an ambush."
         The three men sat in the car. Marian and Dora looked in his direction. They motioned for him to come over. They exited the vehicle and approached the porch.
         From about halfway between the FJ40 and the porch, Lewis stopped and spoke, "Marian, you, Engrid and Dora need to step away from him right now- before he hurts you."
         "There's nothing to worry about Lewis."
         "Yes, there is. Do you know who that is?"
         "I do, do you?"
         "He's a Balumbol that's all I need to know."
         "Don't rush to judgment, Lewis. He comes in peace."
         "The Balumboldon't understand peace. Violence has been their hallmark for generations."
         "Maybe he's trying to change it."
         "Then he's suicidal."
         "He trained Rhyfelwr."
         "Then you need to get away from him, now!" Lewis shouted. The three women looked shocked at the sudden heat in Lewis' voice.
         "Why are you so upset, Lewis? I know this has all been tragic," Engrid spoke, "But if we have the chance to make something good come of it, then we owe it to ourselves and everyone else to try."
         "Engrid, no offense, but you don't know these people."
         "I may not have the history, but I've been their captive. They weren't brutal to us. They treated us well."
         "Because they planned to eat you, don't you understand?"
         "Lewis, we're all tired here, but Mwensi came here in peace and we intend to treat him peacefully until he gives us a reason not to," Marian stated.
         "Marian, honey, by then it may be too late. Are you willing to risk all our lives for this?"
         "We've risked and given up our lives to people like this already, Lewis. If we are mean to this man after he has offered us peace, then we don't belong in the mission field."
         Lewis stood silently.
         Engrid spoke, "Lewis, we believe that his man wants to end the violence between the Balumboland Christians. I can't go home and sleep in peace knowing that we could have intervened to stop it but didn't so that there is more bloodshed and the hatred, and the violence continues."
         "Engrid, it is not just your life in danger here."
         "I know that. Marian told us what these people are often like. If he wanted to kill us, do you think we would have survived this long? If he wanted us dead, you would have returned to find us so?"
         Lewis pondered her point for a few moments.
         "I don't know that I can sleep knowing he is on the grounds."
         "Then don't," Marian snipped, "Until you come to your senses, we will watch him."
         "I'm not comfortable with that," Lewis said, "I know I should be but after what has happened, I'm just not."
         "Evan and I will stay with them to stand guard," Ray offered, "Won't we Evan?"
         Evan nodded his assent, "Yes. We'll make sure he doesn't cause any more trouble."
         Lewis chewed on their offer for a moment.
         "Okay," he agreed, "We will hear him out."
         Lewis motioned for Ray and Evan to go onto the porch. They complied with Lewis right behind them.
         He communicated with Mwensi in the Balumbollanguage.
         "Why did you come here?"
         "I wanted to stop Rhyfelwr."
         "We have been at war with your people for many years. It has accomplished nothing but killing our friends. I want it to end. I am too old to continue the fighting," he shook his head wearily.
         "Won't others try to continue?"
         "Yes. I will try to stop them."
         "The Balumbolmay not have the same customs as you, but they are smart people. They know they cannot win against your forces."
         "They will listen to you?"
         "I am their elder. They must obey."
         "Will they try to kill you?"
         "Are you sure?"
         Mwensi paused and thought about his answer for a moment, "No."
         "But you are willing to try?"
         "With the last breath I have."
         "So will I." Lewis replied. Marian understood and agreed.
         Marian spoke up, "We stand together to stop this, no?"
         Mwensi nodded. The others listened intently. By reading facial expressions and body language, it appeared as if the conversation was going well. Engrid and Evan exchanged unsure glances.
         "Dad?" Andrew asked.
         "It's okay, son. He means us no harm."
         "You are sure?" Evan asked.
         "I'm as sure as I can be."
         "What do we do now?" Engrid asked.
         "I don't know," Lewis replied, "I suppose we'll have to meet with the other leaders of the Balumbol"
         "We should let Mwensi go first," Marian said.
         "I agree," Lewis said. He turned to Mwensi and discussed the situation.
         "Mwensi will go to them first. We will meet at the church at quarter until sundown."
         "What does that mean?" Evan asked.
         "In Balumboltimekeeping, that roughly corresponds to three pm. There's a quarter past sunrise, half-day and quarter till sundown," Lewis explained.
         "So that's it," Ray said.
         Lewis replied, "It's slim, I know, Ray, but it's the best we can do. Missionaries have been trying to make peace with the Balumbolsince time before memory. This is the best chance of success we've ever had. We are going to take what we can get."
         Ray nodded. Andrew and Evan glanced at each other.
         "What are we going to do until 3 o'clock?" Engrid asked.
         Marian answered, "First we are going to be good hosts and offer Mwensi some breakfast. Then he has work to do."
         Lewis smiled and nodded. Marian and Engrid left to fix breakfast. Mwensi remained on the porch with Ray on one side and Evan on the other. Mwensi's strength was waning from fatigue, and he sat quietly in his chair.
         Evan couldn't quite put it together in his mind yet. Why, after who knows how long of open hostility, would the leader of one of the most notorious tribes in the Amazon suddenly have such a change of heart? While he wanted Marian to be right, he couldn't help but share Lewis' about the situation. It just didn't quite add up.
         "Evan, do you think this guy understands us?" Ray asked.
         "I don't think so."
         "I wish you and I could collaborate on what we're going to do this afternoon." Ray replied.
         "You mean to protect Andrew and his family?"
         "Exactly. We'll be gathered together in a church in the middle of nowhere. If someone was planning an ambush, I can't imagine a better place to do it."
         "Do you think they would?"
         "I hope not, but it just doesn't add up."
         "I know. I don't think it does either."Evan admitted.
         "We should be prepared just in case."
         "What do you suggest?" Evan said, leaning forward in his wicker chair.
         "We'll be armed."
         "How? Did you bring guns?"
         "No. I'm retired now. But I'm sure Lewis does."
         "Why would missionaries have guns?"
         "The same reason others do- protection. In cities it doesn't make sense to have guns. I will be first to admit that with police just a phone call away, guns cause more trouble than they're worth. But out here in the boondocks, you're on your own."
         "It never would have occurred to me that Lewis would keep guns around here."
         "I don't know for one hundred percent certainty, but I'll bet there's something around here with a bullet and a firing pin."
         "I'll be right back; you keep an eye on our friend here." Ray said. He stepped off the porch and walked towards the main house. He saw Marian bustling around in the kitchen.
         "Where's Lewis?"
         "Upstairs." She replied.
         Ray walked up the external steps to the second floor and knocked on the door.
         "Come in."
         Ray opened the door and poked his head inside, "Lewis, do you have any guns."
         "Guns don't solve problems like this."
         "Solve? No, I know firsthand what guns do, but I'm not about to walk into that church without something tucked under my pants leg. And neither is Evan."
         "You guys are buddy-buddy now, eh?"
         "He's a sharp kid with a solid head. He'd be a real asset if we need to defend ourselves."
         "In case this is an ambush."
         "I see I didn't get all the brains in this family."
         Lewis smiled and nodded toward an oak armoire, "I got the brains, you got the scraps from the master's table."
         Ray tapped on it, "English oak?"
         "It was Grandma's. She bought it at an estate sale in Zurich and brought it to Michigan when she emigrated. That thing's as sturdy as it comes. Open it up."
         "Holy crap!" Ray shouted, his mouth agape. Only a few times in his military days did he see firepower like that. There were pistols and shotguns and even a semi-automatic assault rifle in addition to knives, ninja stars, and green military surplus boxes full of ammunition.
         "What are you doing with all this?"
         "I know it's not very missionary-esque."
         "I'm impressed. Surprised and pleased, but mostly impressed. I told Evan you probably had a gun, but I was picturing a pistol or an old shotgun- I wasn't expecting an armory in an armoire."
         "I know."
         "Ray, I have been a missionary all my life. That means I have seen miracles. I have seen things both good and evil that would turn your hair white. But if it weren't for the contents of that armoire, neither I nor Marian or any of my children would still be alive."
         "The depths of human depravity continue to amaze me to this day."
         "So, you were going to arm us all along?"
         "Carefully and confidentially."
         "What about faith?"
         "Faith is neither blind nor stupid. Faith is why we're going to the church at all this afternoon. Faith is why we aren't calling the police and bringing the full force of the Brazilian government and the US State Department down on the Balumbolvillage this afternoon."
         "As for the guns?" Ray prodded.
         "The guns are not for a lack of faith; the guns are in case the Balumbolare more deceptive than my faith has led me to believe."
         "So, the guns are Plan B."
         "I want them to be Plan Z, but if it comes to it, we may not have a choice. They can kill me, but as long as there is breath in me, they will not kill my family."
         "Then why not go alone?"
         "If the Balumbolare going to show up in a good faith gesture, we should be prepared to do the same."
         "What about Dora and Engrid?"
         "What about them? They will be there, but they are not to know about this. I'm not telling anyone who doesn't absolutely have to know. I don't want anyone inadvertently giving our secret away."
         "Who are you going to tell?"
         "The only ones armed will be you, me, Marian, Evan and Mark. The rest will be unarmed."
         "Marian?" Evan asked.
         "Don't let her fool you, you mess with her children and, as they say, Hell hath no fury."
         Ray smiled, "She's not someone you'd want as an adversary."
         "Not for anything in this world or the next." Evan said.
Chapter 32

         Mwensi departed as soon as the morning meal was complete. Lewis called Mark and Evan into the upper room where the armoire sat. He sat them down on a divan at the foot of the bed he shared with Marian. He explained the situation and informed the two young men that today they may be called upon in battle. This was a battle in which the stakes were inconceivably high. Hopefully, this would only be a spiritual and verbal battle, but in case it got physical, they needed to be prepared. After the shock of the revelation, he gave each of them some weaponry.
         "No one is to know about these unless we have to use them. Understand?"
         Both Mark and Evan nodded their agreement.
         "We don't want the others to know. Marian will be armed, Ray, me and the two of you. That is it."
         They continued nodding. He distributed small arms to each one.
         "I'm giving you small weapons because they are easily concealed under your clothing. The last thing on earth I want to have happen is for the Balumbolto see what we have. If they do, it will not lead to conversion among the Balumbolbut the afternoon will quickly descend into anarchy and possibly cost many lives."
         Evan took a deep breath and handled the pistol. Never in his wildest dreams imagined that this would ever happen. All he wanted was to come down here and meet Andrew's parents, shake hands, promote goodwill, and then go home with Andrew. He couldn't wrap his head around how disastrously awry this trip had gone.
         "Are you up for this?" Mark leaned over and asked Evan.
         "I have to be."
         "Me too. This week has turned into a mess."
         "Yes it has. When I got on that plane in South Carolina, I had no idea what a hornet's nest I was about to land in. It seems like a lifetime ago that I left Deerfield."
         "I guess you're about ready to go back to South Carolina."
         "Even more than you're ready to go back to Santiago."
         Mark chuckled, "I doubt that."
         The appointed time to leave arrived. They took the minivan and the RJ40. Engrid wrung her hands the whole time. The light of day helped ease her anguished mind over the events of the preceding evening. She knew that as soon as darkness fell, the thoughts would return, and she could replay the endless loop of stabbing Rhyfelwr. That is, if she was still alive come nightfall.
         They arrived at the church and disembarked. Lewis unlocked the door and swung it open. The midafternoon sunlight filtered in through the openings in the concrete block walls. Engrid walked in and looked around. It looked the same as it did when she attended services here a few days ago. The plastic chairs were in the same place, the music stands, pulpit, and electric piano all sat in their appointed spots. Ray went to the wall and peered through into the grassy field surrounding the church.
         "What do we do now?" Engrid asked Lewis, who sat on a chair behind the pulpit.
         "We wait. What happens next is not up to us."
         She wasn't comforted.
         "You probably shouldn't sit here when they arrive," Dora commented.
         "Why not? This is my spot." Lewis said.
         "I know. But don't you think it makes you look imperious sitting in the seat of power. It would probably look better if you were sitting down here- as an equal."
         He thought about it for a moment, "I guess you're right. We don't want to give them the impression that we are trying to exert power over them."
         "No, we want them to view us as equals so that they won't think we are being condescending. After all, it's enough that we aren't meeting on neutral territory."
         Ray stationed Evan by the door to keep a watch out for their guests.
         "Do you think they are coming?" Engrid asked.
         Lewis, seated among the chairs, replied, "Yes. They are coming. The question is what their intentions are when they get here."
         "It depends on whether or not Mwensi was successful." Marian said.
         "It all sits squarely on that old Balumbolwarrior-turned-ambassador's shoulders." Engrid replied.
         They sat in silence for about twenty minutes. Evan stirred, "I see something."
         Ray rushed to the rear of the sanctuary and peered through the holes. There was movement out there. Engrid and the others came and looked too. The Balumbolapproached with painted faces and flower blossoms in their hair.
         "The moment of truth," Engrid murmured under her breath, "I wonder what's with the flowers."
         "It's a good sign," James said, "The Balumbolwear flowers for ceremonies. They wear feathers if they are preparing for battle."
         Engrid and Dora nodded. As with many relationships, flowers were a good start.
         The Balumbolslowly processed closer. Mwensi was at the head of the line, which was also a good sign. He didn't appear to be under duress. The solemn group walked toward the church.
         "Open the doors," Lewis said.
         "Not yet," Ray contradicted, "Lewis, you go out and meet them. Make sure things are okay before we let them have the run of the place."
         Lewis nodded. He opened the door and stepped out.
         "I'm going too," Marian said, "Where Lewis goes, I go."
         Engrid and the others watched nervously as the missionary couple stood shoulder to shoulder on the stoop of the church building. Engrid knew that Marian would not want to live without her husband, so if this was his day to die, she would be right beside him in his death as she had been through their life.
         Mwensi approached.
         He greeted them in his native tongue, and they replied in kind.
         Mwensi said, "We have come as I promised."
         "Are you here for peace?"
         "You mean us no harm?"
         "We have come for peace. If you do not offer peace, we are prepared."
         The warning was not lost on anyone.
          "Then this day we offer peace between us and the Balumbol"
         Mwensi turned to his companions.
         "I have spoken. From this day forward, we will not start conflict with these people. If attacked, we will defend. But we will not attack."
         The Balumbolshow consent by lifting their left leg and firmly stomping the ground. The others of his group assented. Those inside the church who did not understand gasped. Mwensi turned to the missionaries. He extended his hand.
         "I believe this is how your people greet friends."
         "We are friends now," Lewis said.
         "We are friends," Mwensi replied.
         "Do you believe in Jesus?" Marian asked.
         The group visibly tensed. Mwensi's stern eyes turned to her, "Those among us who wish to follow your god may do so. Those among you who wish to follow Duwa may do so."
         "Agreed," Lewis said.
         Mwensi and his group assented with a firm foot stomp. Engrid preferred a bow or nod, to the jarring foot stomp but at least it was intended as a friendly gesture.
         "You dine with us tomorrow at half-day." Mwensi said. It wasn't a question.
         "Okay," Lewis said, "No people meat?"
         "No. Romans 14."
         "You read the Bible?" Lewis was clearly surprised.
         "I had Rhyfelwr read some to me. He was an intelligent boy," Mwensi's voice faltered, "He was like a son to me. It was his death that brought clarity. Our old ways would lead only to death. That chapter was one he read to me shortly before he left."

         The group returned to the mission compound after the meeting with the Balumbolleaders. Andrew had noticed his father and Evan chatting a few times and he thought that was wonderful. He had no idea what to expect coming here. He wanted Evan to be a fully integrated person in his life, but he was unsure if his family would accept him. They seemed to have, and Evan seemed to reciprocate their sentiments.
         Marian set about cooking dinner. Andrew was in the kitchen with her just like when he was a child, chopping vegetables and getting the salad greens ready.
"This has been one incredible trip," Andrew said.
Marian nodded, "I could have done without the danger and death-defying
antics, but such is life in the Garrison family."
         Andrew watched her for a moment. She was mixing the dry goods for a pineapple upside down cake. It felt nice. He'd always loved his mother and enjoyed spending time with her. Perhaps Evan and Marian could get closer. Andrew decided that he should teach Evan some Spanish, Marian's native language. That would be amazing if Evan could talk to his mother directly in her native language.
         Andrew was pondering all these things when Marian's voice cut through the reverie, "Earth to Andrew."
         He looked up at her.
         "Your mind is a million miles from here."
         "I'm just thinking about the future," Andrew replied, and resumed slicing a cucumber.
         "That's good. The future may be here sooner than you think."
         Andrew arched an eyebrow, "What does that mean?"
         "I just mean that things can change quickly." Marian said hastily.
         "I know. I mean, just being here...with Evan. Until recently, I never dreamed such a thing could happen."
         "And yet, here you are. And, Andrew, I know that you know this, but Evan is a good man. He loves you and I can see you love him."
         Andrew put the knife down. His eyes watered. "Thank you, Mom."
         She came over to him and wrapped him up in a big hug.
         "I love you, Mom." Andrew said into her bosom.
         "I love you too, son."
         They broke their embrace.
         Marian said, "We'd better hurry before we have a gazebo full of hungry people."
         Andrew finished the vegetables and pulsed some pine nuts and basil in a food processor for a quick pesto.
         Marian excused herself and went outside.
         Andrew finished the food alone.
         "Where is everybody?" Andrew wondered aloud. His mother left him in the kitchen, Engrid and Dora had not appeared at all. That was all very strange.
         Engrid and Dora arrived chatting excitedly but fell silent the moment they saw Andrew plating the pesto and some plantain chips on a tray.
         "We're here to help you get everything to the gazebo." Engrid announced.
         "Great! The upside-down cake has about a half an hour left." Andrew said, "Where's Evan?"
         "He's busy," Dora said, "He had some things to take care of."
         "Like what?" Andrew asked.
         "Don't worry about it, I'm sure he'll explain when he's ready," Engrid said, stacking trays on a small rolling cart that she hoped she could get to the gazebo without flipping it over and tossing all of the food on the ground.
         After several trips, they got everything down there. Dora left for the restroom.
         Engrid was pouring a glass of tea and tossed some at Andrew and got it on his shirt.
         He looked at her surprised, "What'd you do that for?"
         "I'm sorry! It was just a spasm; I didn't mean to do it."
         He looked down at his soaked shirt.
         "You should go freshen up right quick. You've been working in the kitchen and now you've gotten tea all over your shirt."
         Engrid was acting odd. She didn't have spasms and she was speaking with a strange cadence.
         "Okay," he said. He looked around. Everyone was AWOL but he and Engrid.
         "Where is everybody?" Andrew asked.
         Engrid shrugged, "I don't know. But you should hurry. Presoak before the stain sets."
         As he was going toward his bungalow, he could swear he could see his mother slip out of her bungalow in a fresh dress and head toward the kitchen. He assumed she was going to check on the pineapple upside down cake. He went into the bungalow and Dora was sitting in the common room reading.
         "Andrew, what happened to you?" She asked in surprise, looking at him over the top of a National Geographic magazine.
         "Engrid threw a glass of tea at me." Andrew replied, mystified.
         "Well, I'm sure it was for a good cause," Dora chuckled.
         "I can't imagine what that would be," Andrew said, and went into his room to get cleaned up. Evan was not there either.
         "Dora, have you seen Evan?" Andrew called out to her through the closed bedroom door.
         "No," she called back, "He was talking to your Dad a bit ago."
         "Those two seem to have hit it off," Andrew said, "I'm happy."
         "Me too." Dora called out.
         "I hope that..." he paused when he heard the front door close.
         "Engrid? Is that you?" He called out.
         He was greeted with silence. He threw a shirt on quickly and poked his head out into the common room. There was no one there. Dora has just left him mid-sentence. Everyone was acting so strangely. Andrew began to think he was the only sane one left.
         He rinsed off in the shower and put on a fresh change of clothes. He opened the door of the bungalow, and everyone was at the gazebo. The people who had been missing all afternoon had suddenly appeared. They had all changed and were dressed moderately nicely. Not Sunday service nice, but close. Even Dora was wearing a different outfit that she was when she was sitting in the common room of their bungalow.
         Everyone was smiling and watching as Andrew walked to the gazebo. Something was definitely going on.
         Evan was there in a blue polo shirt and white linen pants.
         Andrew looked around, "What's going on?"
         "Andrew," Evan said, "I have something to ask you."
         Evan walked up to him. He looked at the assembled faces and swallowed hard. He went down on one knee. Andrew's eyes got wide.
         "I am glad that I met you. I know we had a rocky start, but ever since I have gotten to know you, I have found you to be even more amazing and remarkable than I ever imagined. I am grateful to Engrid for pushing us together. While I know this was not her intent, I'm glad it was a happy accident."
         Engrid blushed. Evan pulled a small box out of his pocket and held it up. He opened the box and there was a beautiful silver band streaked with blue. It was a stunning ring.
         "Where did you get that?" Andrew asked.
         "At Velma's Jewelry."
         "In Deerfield?"
         Evan nodded.
         "You brought it with you? You'd been planning this?"
         "I would have done it sooner, but my plan got sidetracked when you got captured by cannibals."
         The group chuckled.
         Evan continued, "But, back to my speech. I wanted to do this right. I, Evan Grayson, asked Lewis Garrison for his son's hand in marriage."
         "He said 'yes?'" Andrew asked.
         Evan looked at Lewis.
         Lewis cleared his throat and began talking, "Andrew, ever since you were a little boy, I hoped that you would find someone strong, loving, and kind to be your partner and your helpmate in this life. I believe that, among God's mysterious ways, is your life with Evan. You went from the mission field to military life, to South Carolina, to Deerfield. It was in that small town on the other side of the world that you found your person. But you did more than that, you found your people." He indicated Engrid and Dora. "So, when Evan asked me for my permission to marry my son, I freely and gladly gave it, on behalf of our whole family, because I cannot imagine a more perfect union than the two of you."
         Andrew was pouring tears of joy. He had never, ever, even in his wildest imaginings, ever envisioned something like this.
         "Andrew," Engrid spoke, "We have not known you all that long, but in that short time, we have grown to love you. You are a shining example of a great human being. When I saw you on the lawn that morning with the realtor and I showed you the house, I knew you were special. We have known Evan every day of his life. Dora kept a bassinet at her house. I used to come over and rock you to sleep in a crib by the corner. We got the privilege to watch you grow and become the person you are today. I couldn't imagine a more amazing man, until I met Andrew. The two of you together is a beautiful thing and I cannot wait to celebrate with you."
         There was not a dry eye in the gazebo.
         "You all practiced this," Andrew said.
         "We knew what was happening," Engrid said.
         "You kept this from me?"
         "We certainly were not going to spoil this. Every last one of us will remember this moment until our last breath." Dora said.
         "Evan, I believe you were going to ask me something." Andrew prompted.
         Evan sat the ring box on the floor and took Andrew's hand into his own. He gazed up into Andrew's dark, soulful eyes that sparkled with joyful tears.
         "Andrew Garrison, will you do me the honor of a lifetime and marry me."
         "Yes!" Andrew yelped. The whole assembly erupted in applause.
         He grabbed Evan's hand and pulled him up off of the floor and planted a long kiss on his lips.
         Evan picked up the ring in its box.
         "We have a wedding to plan!" Andrew said.

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