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Missionary Kid Chronicles: The Naga Trilogy: Journey: A Supernatural Adventure

 

Missionary Kid Chronicles

Journey

Book two of the Naga Trilogy

A Supernatural Adventure

 

By: Sean Sanborn

Shakespir Edition: Version 1.0

Copyright 2017

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Please remember to leave a review for this book at your favorite retailer

 

To order paperback copies of this book, or to inquire regarding Sean’s availability to speak in your conference, training center or church, please check out Sean’s website:

www.mkchronicles.com

 

[]Reviews for Naga Trilogy: Rescue

 

Review by: Soriah E. (Age 15)
“Rescue” is hard to put down. It is action packed, full of adventure and is also inspiring. The combination of the setting, Thailand, and memorable characters such as Chaz, Sarah and Katya make The Naga Trilogy a great read. In addition, it is also eye opening due to topics in the book like miracles, orphans, religion and missions. Definitely recommended.

Review by: Amanda M. (Age 14)
The first book in the Naga Trilogy is an exiting novel filled with adventure and mystery. Rescue is a great book for teens because it helps you look outside of your own world and see what it’s like to live in a foreign country. You can almost taste the exotic foods described and feel the terror as Chaz attempts a daring rescue. This series encourages teens to help others and to be brave.

Review by: Robby C.

I can relate to Chaz, because I was also a missionary’s kid, spent time in Chiang Mai, have frequented some of the same haunts and can practically taste the various foods as they’re mentioned… The sequel will be the trip to Katya’s village, all because Katya believes that if Jesus is all-powerful, he can defeat the Naga.
I’m looking forward to it…

Review by: Carissa G. (Age 20)
There is more reality to this book then a reader might think. Despite the fact that this is a fictional book, it gives great insight to what life is like for many living in Thailand. A great thing that the author does is that he explains Thai terms throughout his book, making it easier for those who haven’t lived in Thailand to understand the story on a deeper level. This book is a fun read because you will get to experience the intense raw adventure that Sean brings to his book along with his lively characters.

Review by: Sandra B.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rescue, the first book in this series set in Thailand. The book works on several levels. First, there is the story of Chaz, a thirteen-year-old boy navigating girls, friendships, and Thai mobsters. Running parallel to Chaz’s story is that of a girl named Katya who is forced to flee her village or die. Lastly, the book offers insights into Thai culture and the life of missionaries. You will find yourself really caring about these characters and eager to read the next book.

Dedication

I dedicate this book series to my wonderful children Samantha and Timothy, without whom I would have otherwise completed this trilogy years sooner.

 

Special Thanks

To my lovely wife and inspiration, Anne Sanborn.

To all my proof-readers and editors, especially, Amber Mooney, Fanny Bot, Moira Dempsey, Dawn Schauer and Ellen Sanborn. Without you, an exciting story would have remained unread. Special thanks to my graphics artists Helen Dean (branding and layout), Dean Schauer (maps) RavenInk (cover) and Jacob Mooney (design).

 

Suggestion

The glossary at the end contains further insight into Thai words and culture.

 

Parental Discretion Advised

As my target audience is teenagers, there are themes that may not be appropriate for younger audiences. Even though I try to handle the subject matter as tastefully as possible, there are still themes of demon possession, military torture, and other sensitive topics.

The Naga Trilogy Book by Sean Sanborn

 

Book 1: Rescue

Chaz rescues Katya and assists an outreach team.

h4={color:#000;}.

Book 2: Journey

Chaz and his family travel to Katya’s village.

h4={color:#000;}.

Book 3: Dragon

Chaz and his family faces-off with a dragon.

[]Table of Contents:

Reviews

Dedication

Map of Chiang Mai

Maps NW Thailand

Cast of Characters

Demon Cat

Exorcising

Cat in the Bag

Re-in-cat-nation

Will You Marry Me?

Load ‘Em Up

Bad Luck

Spared

Oracle

Generosity

Lunch

Police Smackdown

You Ate What?

Angry Buffalo

Dog Tired

Slingshot

Village Meeting

Capture

Investigation

Temple Rescue

Creepy Crawlies

Bullet

Demon Slave

Vanish

Fall from Heaven

Hike

Dreams?

No Boats?

Dam

Karma

All Aboard

Feeding Spirits

Snot

Buzz Kill

Arsonist

Unrecoverable

Kissing Practice

Camping

Voloun-told

Coiled

Hebbie Jebies

Lagoon

Blood Sucker

Rope Swing

Forgiveness

Spun

Gathering

Churn of Events

Whistle

Burma

Soldiers

Discovered

Hiding

Risk

Transported

Waiting

Fisherman Captured

Captive

Fellow Prisoner

Regroup

Torture

Bracing for Heaven

Oblivion

Break Out

Minefield

Going Ape

Submerged Voyage

Sombaht

Pathfinder

Recovery

Arrival

Author’s Note

Excerpt from Book 3:Dragon

Glossary

Walking Miracle Book

About the Author

[]Map of Chiang Mai Thailand

 

[]Map of Northwest Thailand

 

[]Cast of Characters

(In order of Appearance from Book 1)

 

*
p<{color:#000;}. Katya: A nine-year-old orphan girl from Mae Naga village.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Moo: Katya’s best friend who disappeared.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Katya’s aunt and uncle.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Maw Bo Nguen: Spirit Doctor from Mae Naga.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Naga: The dragon.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Chaz Stevens: The thirteen-year-old protagonist. This is his coming of age story. He is a missionary kid living in ChiangMai, Thailand.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Saint: Chaz’s obedient golden retriever.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Miss Helen: Chaz’s science teacher.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Tik: She is a close friend from River of Life Church.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Carolyn Stevens: Chaz’s mother.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Nick Stevens: Chaz’s Father.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Nicole Stevens: Chaz’s sixteen-year-old sister.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Sarah Stevens: Chaz’s nine-year-old sister.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Fred McDermond: The same mission as the Stevens family.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Alice McDermond: The wife of Fred and the mother of Derek.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Derek McDermond: The thirteen-year-old son of Fred and Alice.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Tongdii: Nick’s right hand man. Married to Wanida.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Sukit: Man freed from demon possession.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Woman in ice cream shop.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pastor John and Margaret Newton: Leaders of the outreach team.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Ashley Bradley: She is a thirteen-year-old blonde vivacious girl on a mission trip.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Jake Calloway: He is a handsome nineteen-year-old on a mission trip.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Summer Adler: She is a fourteen-year-old blonde California valley girl on a mission trip.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Brandon Keefer: He is a tall, redheaded, sixteen-year-old on a mission trip. He is Clair’s boyfriend.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Clair Robinson: She is a fifteen-year-old brunette on a mission trip. She is dating Brandon.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Rosalee Brown: She is a shy seventeen-year-old brunette on a mission trip.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pastor Albert: The pastor of a church in California. He couldn’t make the trip.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Noot: Member of RLC Church, Nicole’s close friend.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Emmi: Member of RLC Church, Nicole’s close friend.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Laa: She is a close friend from River of Life Church.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pastor Neeran: The pastor at River of Life Church.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Bik: The sound guy at River of Life Church.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pat/Patchara: A cute twelve-year-old Thai girl.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Mai Awng: Karin woman who escaped from Burma into Thailand when her village was destroyed.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Chok Dii: The strong Night Market hero.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Lieutenant Wiraporn: Tourist police in ChiangMai.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Captain Phichit: Tourist police in ChiangMai.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pastor Chayote: Home of Love Orphanage director.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Ladda: The wife of Pastor Chayote.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Worachai: An orphan at Home of Love Orphanage.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Sak: He is an orphan at Home of Love Orphanage.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Nadya: A girl Chaz once liked.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Lit: He works at the C-MUCH Christian coffee shop.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Vince: He runs the C-MUCH Christian coffee shop.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Burut: Luggage salesman at the Night Market.

*
p<{color:#000;}. The ninja and the three thugs: Mafia who capture Chaz.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Khun Shalee: Most powerful pimp and drug warlord in northern Thailand.

 

Book 2

*
p<{color:#000;}. Noi: The black cat.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Chaiwit: His son is demon possessed and needs help.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Boonpen: Her son is demon possessed and needs help.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Boonada: The daughter of Chaiwit and Boonpen.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Chokchai: The demon possessed son of Chaiwit and Boonpen.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Rathon: The leader of a horde of demons.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Wanida: Tongdii’s wife.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Male Shop Keeper: Tall and thin.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Female Shop Keeper: Larger than most Thai women.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Lera Pon (Nam Fon): Seven year old orphan, next on list to be sacrificed.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pimp: He abducts and sells children into prostitution.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Brothel Matron: An older woman who maintains and controls the salves at a brothel.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Nong New- An orphan at the Home of Love Orphanage.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Mechanic in Hang Dawng: Generous and helpful.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Lieutenant Ahwut: Meet at military checkpoint at the forestry department.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Officer Bong: Meet at military checkpoint at the forestry department.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Officer Boonlert: Meet at military checkpoint at the forestry department. He is older.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Colonel Prateep: Stern Thai officer.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Mae Rhuthirat: Tongdii’s mother.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Paw Waet: Tongdii’s father.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Pra Kret: Buddhist Priest in Baan Salee.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Burly nineteen-year-old drug addict.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Lanky twenty-year-old drug addict.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Chief Weechai in Baan Salee.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Woman alongside the road who gave directions.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Shopkeeper in Mae Saam Laep.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Thai Policeman in Mae Saam Laep: Grouchy and stern

*
p<{color:#000;}. Restaurant lady in Mae Saam Laep.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Wee Chu Fat: Chinese raft guy.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Yu Chu Fat: Wee Chu Fat’s mother.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Weerapon Sombat Charoenkit (Sombaht): Captured and tortured by Burmese soldiers.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Burmese Major of the 532nd Battalion (Nga Zou army).

*
p<{color:#000;}. Nga Zou: Burmese General of the 532nd Battalion.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Guard with the 532nd Battalion.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Burly Guard with the 532nd Battalion.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Robinson Caruso: shepherd boy from Mae Naga.

[]

[]Demon Cat

Finally, today they were going on a dragon hunt. Chaz’s adrenaline
had awakened him early, and he dug out some eye grit as he scanned
through the pre-dawn, gray haze that settled over his front yard.
Sitting on the front step, his shorts soaked up the dew.

Maybe I should go back to sleep. I feel like a rickshaw ran over me.

Only a week ago, Wednesday, he would have been preparing for school, but today he was embarking on an adventure. He intended to make this Summer the best in history, and a dragon hunt was sure to make that happen.

The McDermond’s truck ambled up their driveway. Chaz went over to greet Derek, Fred and Alice McDermond, who were in the same mission as the Stevens which meant their two families spent a lot of time together. Derek’s freckles and red hair encouraged a lot of attention from the locals. Even though Derek’s behavior was often annoyingly spoiled, Chaz still considered him his best friend.

Chaz looked around and then asked Derek, “Where’s your bag?”

Derek slapped his forehead then turned to his mom and whined, “Mom, I forgot my backpack.”

She sighed and rubbed her eyebrows with her thumb and index finger. “I’ll bring it to you at the church.” Alice climbed back in her truck.

Chaz grinned at Derek, “Ready for an adventure?”

Derek hopped down and said, “Always. Let’s go!”

“My dad went out for more supplies, so we won’t be leaving right away.”

“What should we do until then?”

“No idea,” Chaz said yawning and stretching.

Two local village boys, whom Chaz had met before, passed by in front of the Stevens’ two story house carrying a large cage. This behavior struck Chaz as extremely unusual and he felt compelled to investigate.

“What sort of animal do you think they’ve got?” Chaz asked.

“Who cares,” Derek said. He didn’t seem interested at all.

“I’m just curious.” Chaz started walking. “Let’s go ask them.”

“I guess,” Derek sighed. “At least it’s something to do.”

The boys went to the front gate and turned left along the potholed asphalt street.

His dog, Saint, came over to join them but Chaz sent him home. As Saint dejectedly retreated, Chaz felt convinced that Golden Retrievers were clearly the best kind of dog, ever. He wished his dog could join their upcoming dragon hunt.

Last Sunday, Chaz had rescued a girl from prostitution and taken her to the safety of an orphanage. On Tuesday, the child had pleaded with him to go to her village and convince her people they should not sacrifice any more children to a river dragon. Yesterday, on Wednesday, he was astonished when his parents agreed to allow him and his sisters to join this quest.

A soft, warm breeze jostled the nearby trees. The base of the mountain was the perfect place to live. Not only was it cooler here, but Chaz could easily just walk up the undeveloped hill for adventures. Chiang Mai, Thailand was a jewel of the orient, filled with smiling faces. Sure, like most places, there was a seedy underbelly, but most people he encountered were kind and gentle. He didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

Up ahead was a little mom-and-pop shop that offered a wide variety of merchandise crammed within two narrow aisles.

The village boys walked past this shop and turned right through the gates of a small community crematorium. By now, Chaz could tell there was nothing inside their cage. When there was a Thai funeral, a cremation ceremony would be held here on weekends, but today it was deserted. The atmosphere smelled of death and decay.

This place creeps me out.

The two boys were dressed in worn out clothing and Chaz wondered if they lived in the thatched shack village near the Buddhist temple. They walked past a cement court, which the young people used for basketball, soccer and other sports. Then they searched through the rows of gravestones. Chaz thought it odd for there to be gravestones at a crematorium, but obviously, people of other religious beliefs used this place for their dear departed as well.

Chaz held his hand out in front of Derek’s chest and said, “Let’s wait here,” motioning towards a circular cement table with four benches and an unfinished game of chess between them. Chaz liked chess but had never played here because this slab was usually in the scorching heat. But today, the morning was crisp, and the air smelled fresh.

Before Derek sat down, he swiped the water away. Chaz didn’t care; he just plopped right down on the dew laden bench. His shorts were already soaked from earlier. He’d change later.

One of the boys walked past the gravestones and picked up a well-groomed black cat and started petting it. The cat looked familiar, but Chaz couldn’t place it. The boy quickly shoved it inside the cage.

Chaz sat upright saying, “Did you see that?” Derek tilted his head but didn’t reply. Scrutinizing Derek’s quizzical face he could tell he had seen it too.

“Maybe it’s theirs?” Derek asked. The cat meowed and tried to paw its way out. Chaz finally recognized it as the cat that belonged to the owner of this very shop. The front grill of the shop was locked, so it was likely the owners were still asleep. He was quite sure the cat’s name was “Noi”.

“No, I know that cat, and it’s not theirs.”

Why did they just kidnap that cat?

Chaz and Derek waited patiently, pretending to ignore the young boys who raced past them.

“What now?” Derek asked standing up.

“Let’s follow,” Chaz said and grinned.

As soon as the boys went around the bend and out of sight, Chaz and Derek followed after. Chaz figured they were heading towards to the temple. When they reached the temple, there was no one around, so it seemed probable they went inside.

Chaz said, “Let’s go around the side and cut through the village.” The boys turned right down a dirt path which led them through a small farming community, comprised of bamboo shacks and thatch, lean-to houses.

A stinky sewage drain drizzled down the middle of the street and they easily hopped over the rut. No one was around, and Chaz figured everyone had gone out to the rice fields. A couple of dogs followed at a distance and barked at them.

At the end of the village, they walked left towards the temple. A large oak tree’s branches hung majestically over the temple’s walls. It was an easy climb, and soon they were both peering over the high white wall into the temple’s grounds.

“Let’s stay in the tree, “ Derek said. Chaz nodded in agreement.

An impoverished family sat in front of a line of fifteen chanting monks, all clad in bright orange robes. The repetitive, low-toned recitations vibrated the ground.

The man, whom Chaz assumed was the father, clasped his hands in a waii, high over his head, as a sign of great respect. Everyone in the family immediately followed suit. A shriveled, high-ranking monk dipped a branch of thatch into a pot of water and shook it, generously sprinkling it on the family until their faces glistened. Symbolic tattoos covered the ancient monk, who was sitting in a lotus position. One by one the family approached to receive bracelets of gray thread.

“The monk is putting demon protections on them,” Chaz whispered.

“You think I don’t know that?” Derek looked at Chaz with irritation.

“Oh, sorry.” Chaz wasn’t always sure how much of Thai culture Derek understood because Derek’s Thai speaking ability was rather limited.

A man and a teenaged girl, his daughter perhaps, carried an emaciated, pale, little boy up to the senior monk. They lay him down, and the monk wrapped a bracelet around the child’s frail wrist.

The father reached into his pocket and pulled out a large wad of money and put it neatly in front of the head monk. Chaz speculated this amount was way beyond what the poor family could afford.

The monk gestured for the father and the girl to hold the child down. The father held the wrists, and the girl held the ankles. The boy trembled as the chanting grew louder.

Chaz still didn’t see any sign of the two boys, but he now saw one of the novice monks carrying the caged cat towards the group. He set it down next to the child. The senior monk pulled out a jeweled knife and set it on the cage.

Derek jolted upright. “They’re going to sacrifice the cat!”

“We don’t know that yet,” Chaz hissed, holding his hand in front of Derek’s chest. “Besides, that doesn’t sound like something a Buddhist would do. They believe humans shouldn’t even kill a mosquito, much less a cat.”

“We’ve got to stop them,” Derek said.

“What could we do?” Chaz held his hands out in frustration. “Besides, this is their country.”

“I feel so helpless.”

“Let’s just see what happens.” Chaz adjusted to a more comfortable position in the nook of the tree.

The chanting became louder still, and the child started shaking intensely. The senior monk put one hand on the boy, and with the other hand he picked up the ornate dagger.

Chaz and Derek tensed. The monk touched the cage with the knife and the child convulsed, as froth burbled from his mouth. At the same time, the cat began scratching and trying to paw its way out.

Soon the child settled down, and the monks stopped chanting. The cat thrashed around in the cage. The cage flipped down the red-carpeted steps, and a frenzied cat bolted out of it.

The boys watched in alarm as the cat raced towards them. They pounced down from the tree, so as not to be seen, but also to avoid the path of the wild cat, which ran at full speed along the top of the wall, leapt into the tree and then jumped down a few feet from them.

“Let’s follow it,” Chaz said already running.

How in the world did a non-Christian cast a demon out of a person?

The boys were no match for a crazed cat running at full tilt. They watched it as it grasped and scrambled its way up a tall pine tree.

“What do you think?” Derek asked.

“Go after it?” Chaz asked.

“It would claw us to death.”

“I want to get it.”

“Why? I mean it’s scared and will just go home when it’s ready.”

“No, I don’t think that’s what we are supposed to do. There is something seriously wrong with the cat, and if we don’t bring it home, then I don’t believe it will ever return.”

Derek spied an old rice bag half-buried in the mud and picked it up. As he pulled it out, it slurped loudly.

“How about we use this?” Derek suggested holding the bag out to Chaz.

“Nice,” Chaz said and nodded. “Let’s do it.” He grasped the bag and ascended the tree after the cat. Derek followed.

As they got closer to the cat, Chaz saw its eyes were wide with terror. It clung to the tree trunk as the boys braced their feet on branches, on either side, at a safe distance.

The cat hissed at them with a sound that to Chaz’s ears sounded a lot like, “Leave.”

“Did you hear that?”

“I think I did, but…”

“Flee us,” the cat hissed more clearly.

“Now that I heard,” Derek said.

“Shut up, Demon,” Chaz said. He surprised himself. The words just came out, bypassing his conscious thought. The cat glared at him with intense hatred. “Oh, yeah,” Chaz cleared his throat and added, “In the name of Jesus.” At least now it wasn’t hissing at him anymore.

“Possessed?” Derek asked shrugging his shoulders and raising his eyebrows.

“Guess so,” Chaz said.

A talking cat? Now that’s new. My dad will know what to do.

“Distract the demon cat, will you?” Chaz edged closer so he could grab it.

“How?” Derek asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, I have an idea.” Derek waved at the cat to get his attention while saying, “Hey, how do you get a one-armed demon out of a tree?”

While the cat looked at Derek, Chaz used the distraction to plunge the rice bag over its body. In one quick movement, Chaz yanked the lip of the bag across the branch to dislodge the cat’s feet. The cat tumbled into the bag. The sudden weight jolted Chaz’s arm, and he nearly lost his balance.

“Good catch,” Derek said.

“I almost fell,” Chaz said lifting the bag higher and away from his body. “Hey, impressive distraction.”

As it clawed and thrashed, one paw became completely entangled in the woven fabric.

“So, what’s the answer? How do you get a one-armed demon out of a tree?”

Derek held his hand up and waved, “You wave at it.”

“Nice. What about a four-legged demon cat?”

“I distract it, and you bag it.”

“Well, it looks like we sure have the cat in the bag,” Chaz said.

“Leave the jokes to me, okay?” Derek said.

“That’s easy. You are the joke.”

“Cute comeback. But like I said. Leave it to me.”

The boys carefully made their way back down the tree, as the cat tried to wiggle and claw its way free. Chaz shook the bag a couple of times to get it to stop fussing, but that only made it more crazed.

The boys retraced their way back through the village to the main road, where the family they had seen in the temple was now strapping their sick child to the sidecar of a motorcycle.

“How is your boy?” Chaz asked the family in Thai. Chaz loved how easy it was to start conversations with everyone in Thailand.

“We don’t know yet,” The father said.

“What happened to him?” Chaz asked.

“Demons came on him, and he hasn’t eaten any food since.”

“Did the monks help?”

“This is our third time here. The hospital won’t help. We have no money left, so if our boy isn’t healed this time, we don’t know what we will do.”

“I think my Dad could help you,” Chaz said.

“We have no money.”

“We don’t want money. Follow me.” Chaz swung his arm over his head in a welcoming gesture. “My family is experienced at helping people.”

“I don’t…” the man started to say, then he looked at his teary-eyed wife. “We will follow.”

The wife kick-started the motorbike, and the girl got on next to her brother and mother.

The father walked alongside the boys as they headed to Chaz’s home.

“Is your father a doctor?” The man asked as he strolled alongside them looking curiously at the shaking bag. Chaz didn’t think it was wise to divulge his secret in the bag.

“No, but we know the greatest doctor in the universe.”

“Will I meet him?”

“I hope so.”

“What’s in the bag? Dinner?”

“No. This is not for eating.”

“Why do you speak flawless Thai?”

Chaz looked at Derek and wondered how much of the conversation he understood. Then he said, “We’ve been here a few years.”

“It’s easier to learn when you are young.” The boy’s father put his hand on Chaz’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I don’t speak your language.”

“Don’t worry about it. English is unusually hard to learn. This is our house right here.”

 

 

 

[]

*Exorcising *

Chaz gestured for the motorbike to enter the front gate. It was wonderful living in a little house with a big yard. He felt fortunate to have his own room under the stairs.

His dad, Nick, had already returned from shopping. His dad’s burly shoulders were laden down with supplies, which he tossed into the family truck. The wrinkles on his face turned upwards as he saw Chaz and new guests head down their the driveway. Nick called over to Chaz, “Who are your new friends?”

“We just met,” Chaz said gesturing towards the man. “They need our help.”

Nick saw the bag in Chaz’s hands lurch, and he raised an eyebrow.

“Demon cat,” Chaz said flatly. Derek chuckled.

“Interesting,” Nick said with a smirk.

Nick wiped his hands and walked towards the visitors who had just lifted their son from the vehicle. Warmly, he said in Thai, “Welcome,” as he held his hands in a waii, at his nose. The father, mother and daughter gave a high waii of respect in response.

The father kept his waii up until he was done talking. “Thank you. We are so sorry to bother you, but your son said you might be able to help us.” His grizzled hands looked like a farmer’s, but his accent was as clear as a professor’s.

“I’ll do my best. Please, sit down,” Nick gestured towards some wicker chairs.

The father carried the comatose boy in his arms. Chaz noticed the hollowed lifeless eyes of the child and shivered.

Chaz found some rope, tied the top of the bag and hung it from the branch of a nearby tree. The cat began to settle down. Maybe it was too tired to struggle further. Chaz wondered if he was truly doing the cat a favor, but if it had a demon in it, then it probably wouldn’t live long.

“Thank you. I am Chaiwit. My wife Boonpen, our daughter Boonada and our son Chokchai.”

Dude, those are crazy hard names to memorize. I’m glad my dad is brilliant with names.

Nick sat down and inquired, “I take it you are here because of your son.”

Chaiwit stroked his son’s forehead, “Yes, he has not eaten any food in the last eighteen days, and it has been tough getting water into him.”

“Have you taken him to a hospital for an IV drip?” Nick asked.

“We tried, but each time the nurse attached the IV line, our son would violently rip it from his arm. The hospital sent us away saying they could not help us.”

Chaz wanted to get the conversation on track, so he said, “I think the kid’s got a demon, Dad.”

“Is this true?” Nick asked the visitors.

This time the mother, Boonpen, spoke “Yes, our son has several evil spirits. Chokchai’s friends say they dared him to touch a sacred tree, in the middle of the field, at the crematorium.

“Just across the street?” Derek asked.

Chaz shivered, glad he hadn’t gone near where the village boys had found Noi, the cat.

“Yes.” The boy’s father nodded. “He fell down and started babbling. At first, they thought he was joking and laughed at him. Then, when he stopped moving and became comatose, they ran and got us. He has been like this for eighteen days.” The father put his hand in front of Chokchai’s dry and flaking face. He waved his hands over the dark, hollowed eyes and the boy didn’t flinch or blink in response.

Just then, Carolyn and Chaz’s sister, Nicole, joined them outside, carrying a tray of lemonade and a column of cups. Nicole had long brown hair that matched her eyes. She was adventurous and patient and a little bossy. She looked quite different from her mom, Carolyn who had blonde hair and blue eyes, yet the resemblance was unmistakable.

Carolyn quietly poured the drinks and handed everyone a cup. His mom was prettier than any of his friend’s moms, and it was evident he had gotten his blue eyes from her.

“What about the monks?” Derek asked.

“Monks?” Nick asked.

Chaiwit explained how the senior monk from the temple nearby tried casting the demons into a cat to help his son. Most temples were not willing to do this dangerous exorcism, but after some searching, they learned of a senior monk who was prepared to take the risk.

“I think our boy has too many demons in him, even for the monks,” Chaiwit said wiping the boy’s sweaty brow.

“We don’t know what to do,” Boopen wept into a handkerchief.

“So, you’d like us to help your son be free of demons?” Nick knelt next to the boy. He gently lifted an eyelid to reveal the whites of his eyes.

“But we have no more money,” Boonpen said.

“We don’t want money,” Carolyn said coming to kneel next to the family. “We just want to help you.”

“You know how to do this?” Boonpen hiccupped the words through her tears.

Chaiwit frowned and said, “But the cat…”

Nick smiled compassionately “A few of the many spirits from the boy entered the cat. It seems obvious the task was incomplete. Even if the monks had gotten all of them out, your son would still be in grave danger.”

“How so?” Boonpen asked sniffing.

“It’s very simple. The Buddhist monk who performed the exorcism meant well, but there is something he didn’t fully understand. There are two invisible forces on the earth. There are Satan’s forces and then, on the other side, are the creator’s angels. If you try to control Satan’s forces without the power of God, then there will be a negative result, even if there is a partial success. The spirits will usually return stronger. Satan’s demonic spirits are trying to kill and destroy humans. But someday, God and his forces will conquer all the evil on this planet. The secret is…” Nick paused for effect, “God’s son, Jesus.”

Chaiwit gave a thoughtful reply, “So, if you send the spirits away without the power of God…?”

“Then you are sending demons away using a demonic power, and that can’t end well.”

“The Monks are using demon power?”

“Sure. The monks have even directly admitted this to me. Instead, we have to ask for help from the enemy of the demons. But, before we begin the task of getting rid of demons, I want to be sure we aren’t dealing with a psychological disorder.”

Chaiwit furrowed his brows. “I don’t understand.”

“If what is afflicting your son is psychological, then our prayers will provide help, but he might also need the assistance of a professional psychiatrist. But, if instead, evil spirits have possessed him, and I believe they have, then God can help him dramatically. Is there any stressful life event which could have triggered your son’s condition?”

Chaiwit replied with confidence, “He dared to touch a spirit tree. Otherwise, I can’t think of anything else.”

“Okay, well, assuming it is demons, there are some things we should discuss first.”

“What is that?”

“What you are about to witness has nothing to do with my personal abilities or powers. I will ask the Creator of the universe to help us. I want you to see that the Supreme God over all other gods loves you and your family. Once your son is free of the demons, then I recommend for him to choose to follow Jesus. Otherwise, this may happen again with seven times as many demons.”

“Right now he is starving to death. What could be worse than death? Please, what must we do to save him?”

“We will pray for him. Then, I would encourage you to find out more about the creator God.”

“Can you teach us?”

Nick smiled and replied, “That’s why I came to Thailand. Now, while I am praying, I need everyone to pray quietly and not interfere. Also, at first, the boy may say things that are deceitful or even hurtful.”

To his family and Derek, Nick said in English, “Make sure you focus on God and mostly ignore the spirits we are about to confront and just keep praying.” He paused, took a deep breath and said, “Okay, let’s do this.”

Then, in Thai, he said, “Let’s all pray that the Creator God of the Universe will free Chokchai from this evil. We will ask the presence of the Holy Spirit to come, and we claim the authority of God’s only son Jesus.”

At home, Chaz usually folded his hands in prayer, but around Thai people, he and his family used the more formal waii’ing prayer position.

Carolyn and Nicole sang a Thai Christian worship song and then the Stevens and Derek prayed quietly. Chaz prayed sincerely for the boy. For several minutes nothing happened, and Chaz grew bored. Derek, meanwhile, was squirming as if he had gotten into poison ivy.

When is this kid going to get cured?

Chaz could hear the cat writhing again in the bag. It felt a little cruel, but he wanted to save its life. Now it was meowing and thrashing. He wondered if there was a connection with that and their praying. His dad’s praying had been quiet murmurings, but now his voice was getting louder and sterner.

Finally, the possessed boy began to respond, and Chaz wondered why it had taken so long. Chokchai’s body convulsed, similar to the way it had in the Buddhist temple. Like before, in the temple, the father laid his son on the tile floor and held his wrists. The daughter gripped his ankles. They had clearly done this a few times before and knew the routine.

The boy’s yellowed eyes opened very wide. “Leave me alone!” he rasped in a guttural voice. Chaz wondered if that was the way the boy usually spoke or if it was a demon voice.

“Which one of you servants of Hell is in charge?” Nick demanded.

“I am,” The boy said in a lower huskier voice than before.

“Fine, tell me your name.” Nick’s voice was businesslike.

“Rathon.”

“Never heard of you.” Nick yawned. “Now, command your underlings to stay silent.”

The boy snarled and winced in a similar way to how the cat had acted in the tree.

“Good, now, I say that you have no authority to possess this boy. In the holy name of Jesus, who has defeated all the forces of Hell, I command you, Rathon, and all of your followers to leave this boy immediately.”

The boy started to scream the word “No” from the back of his throat, and to Chaz, it sounded a lot like a cat hissing. Gray froth erupted from the boy’s mouth, and he gagged on it. Chaiwit turned his son on his side, and he vomited black foam.

“Help me,” The boy rasped quietly between gasps for air with a high-pitched child’s voice. Then his face cringed, and he curled up in a fetal position.

A deep, raspy voice came out of the youngster’s mouth saying, “He’s mine.”

“Jesus loves this boy,” Carolyn said, and the child’s body recoiled as if he had been slapped.

Chaz grinned mischievously, and muttered, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Each time he said it; the boy’s body flinched dramatically. Chaz felt laughter trying to bubble out of his throat knowing he was getting an opportunity to torture demons.

His mom put her hand on this thigh. He took this to mean she wanted him to be more cautious of demons and not taunt the spirits that way. Chaz looked over at his dad who mouthed to him and Carolyn, “It’s okay.” Chaz figured this meant he had permission to continue torturing the demons.

Out loud, Nick said, “I remind you of the victory of Jesus. Leave this boy now and forever. You may never again have anything to do with him, his family or ours. In the name of Jesus, I cast you out.”

The boy screamed, “Nooooooo!” in a gruff voice like a lion’s roar.

The boy’s eyes widened, he convulsed one last time and then flopped comatose on the floor.

Moments later, Chaz heard the cat screeching. Chaz looked at the tree and saw claws shredding the bag. He worried the demon cat might break through the worn fabric and escape.

Chaz looked back and saw Chaiwit cradling his son. The boy’s eyes opened again, and he said, “Daddy?” The family made a unified sound of relief, and they huddled over the boy in a group hug, while trying to avoid the foamy vomit.

The mother started tearfully kissing her son’s cheek. The girl hugged the boy’s waist, and the father seemed stunned and overwhelmed.

Chaz quietly excused himself with a bow and went to his shed. He procured an old sports bag, destined for the trash anyway and went back over to the cat in the bag. Lifting the sports bag under the rice bag, Chaz was able to zip it up until it enclosed around the support string.

He went back over to the veranda. Derek gave him a thumbs up sign. Nicole gave him a quizzical look. His dad and Chaiwit were hugging at the same time his mom and Boonpen were hugging.

Carolyn knelt and asked the boy, “How do you feel?”

“Hungry,” Chokchai said, and the adults chuckled in relief.

Carolyn stood and said to Nicole, “Honey, would you go and heat up some soup for young Chokchai?”

“Sure,” Nicole said standing up.

“Please, we don’t want to impose on you,” Boonpen said. “You have given us our son back. How can we ever repay you?”

“It’s no imposition.” Carolyn nodded at Nicole who then went inside the house. “We expect nothing from you, and we are thrilled to help.”

“Please, we must do something,” Chaiwit said.

“There is one thing you can do,” Nick said slowly.

Chaiwit did not hesitate. “Anything.”

Nick chose his words carefully. “You may find it difficult at first, but it is a path to joy and freedom.”

“Tell us,” Chaiwit and Boonpen said simultaneously.

“Become a follower of Jesus.”

“How can we do this?”

“Humble yourselves by repenting of all selfish actions. Follow the path of Jesus and become His disciples. Pray and read the Bible. Then share your blessing with others. When you see others in bondage, you must be willing to bless them with the same blessing.”

“My household and I shall do this.” He looked at each family member who nodded back.

Well, that sure was easy.

Chaz snatched a lychee and popped the juicy white fruit into his mouth. Chaz was glad these nice people were learning about Jesus, but he felt very responsible for the cat, which was still making a commotion as it busily ripped up the sports bag. Thankfully, their guests didn’t seem to pay any attention to the noisy bag hanging from the tree.

He felt like his mom was reading his thoughts when she said to Nick, “Honey, why don’t I take the family inside. I can answer their questions while they eat. I think there is another matter you boys need to settle.”

“Sounds good,” Nick said. “But first I need to call Tongdii.”

Carolyn and Nick escorted the family inside, and the boys went over to the cat in the bag. The cat was now scratching and hissing more fervently.

“Well that was an exciting demon-stration.” Derek joked.

How long was Derek bursting to say that?

[]

Cat in the Bag

That was freaky,” Derek said. “Did you see the black vomit?”

Chaz nodded his head. “And the violent shaking?”

“Cool, huh?” Derek’s wide eyes seemed almost demented. “Hey, wasn’t there a demon possessed guy at the kids club last week?”

“You heard about that, huh?” Chaz paused and said, “It could still be a coincidence.”

“Yeah, or maybe it’s the end of the world, and the powers of darkness are amassing their forces around us!” Derek laughed at his little joke.

“You know what I’m wondering…” Chaz said.

“That we should wait out the Great Tribulation in a cave?” Derek asked.

“No, that what we did wasn’t all that different from what the monks did,” Chaz said. “We prayed, and more demons entered the cat.”

“I suppose,” Derek said. “But the difference is the monks failed, and we succeeded in helping the boy.”

“Good point,” Chaz said thoughtfully.

Nick came over to the boys. “That kid is eating faster than a pregnant elephant. Okay, fill me in about our noise making yard ornament.”

“It’s like the boy’s dad explained. The monks tried to cast the demons from the kid into a cat.” Chaz walked closer to the bag and patted it. “This cat. But they didn’t send all the demons over.”

“And then it seems we inadvertently did the same thing with Rathon and his slimy horde,” Nick said.

“I think that about sums it up.” Chaz lifted the squirming cat a little higher. “So what do we do?”

Nick winked. “Same as we did for Chokchai.”

Derek folded his arms and asked, “Mr. Stevens, how in the world did those demons even get inside the cat?”

“Good question.” Nick paused and said, “I’ll try to explain this in a way I think you guys can appreciate. First of all, there are two parallel dimensions. We live on one plane, and spiritual beings like demons are on the other. Evil spirits are always looking for a vortex to help them break through to our side. Violence, injustice and cruelty can open a rift to our plane. If they encounter a blanked mind or a bitter heart, it helps them to cross over into our dimension. Their preference is to possess people, but they can possess animals, plants or even cursed objects.

When his dad paused, Chaz took the opportunity to suggest, “Like when Jesus helped the demoniac and sent Legion into the pigs at Gadarenes?” His dad always loved it when he quoted from the Bible.

“Exactly.” Nick touched the bag holding the cat, and it flinched. “Jesus clearly demonstrated his authority and his expertise that day.”

“But how were non-Christian monks able to do it without the help of God?” Chaz asked.

“I don’t know. Some Buddhist monks do seem to have some limited ability in this area. Of course, without the authority of Jesus, they can’t get anywhere near the results that we can.”

“So what now?” Derek interrupted. “Do we need a cross or holy water or something?”

“No. Putting our faith in the creation instead of the creator is called idolatry. Using the symbols of a cross or relic or even a Bible represents our fear. We must claim our full authority based on the Person who gave us that power. If we show the demons any fear, then they will try to deceive us or even harm us. So, if either of you has cold feet, I want you to leave right now. Dealing with demons can be scary for anyone, so you have to let me know if you are completely ready for this.”

“Of course! Let’s torture some demons!” Chaz wanted to hurry up and help the frantic feline before it harmed itself.

“Yeah!” Derek started bouncing excitedly. “Let’s send them where the sun don’t shine!”

“Now boys, we need to do this with seriousness. These entities were once angels. They are smarter and stronger than us, but we are calling on the greatest power of the universe to help. We can’t go into this lightly. Okay?”

They both nodded.

Why must everything have to be so serious? I’ll bet Jesus enjoyed beating up demons.

Nick put his hand on the rope holding the two bags. “In the name of Jesus depart from this cat and from my property.”

The cat gurgled a noise that sounded like, “Please.”

“Did the cat just…?” Nick started to ask.

“Yeah, earlier the cat hissed, ‘Flee us’,” Derek said.

“I think the demons have got the cat’s tongue,” Chaz said snickering. His dad gave him the look which meant he’d better take this more seriously.

“Is that you Rathon?” Nick asked.

“Let us stay.” It hissed in low guttural tones.

That’s Rathon’s voice all right!

Chaz really wanted to say the name of Jesus over and over just to torture it before casting it out or, even better; it would be so cool to lock themselves in a room with the cat and for a while to teach these demons a lesson. He didn’t suggest it because he could tell his dad was in a humor-impaired mood right now.

“No, you may not stay! I command you and all other spirits in this cat to go to Hell by the full authority of Jesus Christ of Nazareth!”

Again Chaz repressed a chuckle. His dad had just said, “go to Hell”, and Chaz had never heard his father say anything that close to cussing before. He took another deep breath. He wondered where demons went when cast out.

“Tree,” the cat hissed. The foolish demon was asking permission to haunt a tree in his front yard. This would mean the dimwit would be trapped there for Chaz to torture anytime he wanted.

“No way!” Nick shouted in disgust. “You lost that possible opportunity when you chose to enter the cat. I now command you to return to your fiery domain. You may never again possess a person or animal…”

“Or plant…” Chaz added.

“Or rock…” Derek added.

“In Jesus Name!” Nick shouted.

The cat let out one last “meowrrrr” and then was silent.

A moment later they heard the soft and fearful meowing of an ordinary cat.

“Let’s get it down from there,” Chaz said reaching for the bag.

“Obviously, it’s time somebody let the cat out of the bag.” Derek joked. Chaz chuckled.

“Be careful.” Nick put a hand on Chaz’s shoulder. “It’s still scared.”

“Where did the demons go?” Chaz asked.

“I’m not really sure.” His dad answered. “Hell, maybe?”

“Cool,” Chaz said.

“Nope,” Derek laughed, “scorchin’ hot!”

They lowered the bag to the ground and zipped it open. The sports bag wasn’t as torn as Chaz had expected, but the cat’s claws were caught in the strands of the rice sack which it had shredded to tatters.

The cat meowed helplessly. As they pried its claws free, the cat started purring. Chaz cautiously lifted the cat out, and it purred louder. He set it down, and it walked against each of their legs pushing for attention to be petted.

Just then, Chaz’s sweet, timid, younger, nine-year-old sister, Sarah, came out of the house. She had pale blonde hair and blue smiling eyes. Chaz wondered what she’d been doing this morning.

Sarah saw the cat and bee-lined towards it asking, “How come Noi is over here?”

“So you kids know who actually owns this cat?” Nick asked, thumbs in his belt loops.

“Sure, “Sarah said. “It belongs to our neighbors.”

“They have a shop across the street,” Chaz said.

“Chaz, could you make sure Noi makes it safely home?” Nick asked his son.

“Sure,” Chaz said.

Sarah reached towards the cat with arms outstretched.

“It’s scared. You have to be gentle and firm, and you can’t let it get away,” Chaz said.

Sarah stopped and said with her hands on her hips and her bottom lip in a pout. “I know how to hold cats.”

Sarah picked it up, and it nuzzled into her arms. The purring grew louder as she smoothed down its silky black hair.

“It’s just that she’s been through a lot today,” Chaz said. Sarah cuddled the cat tightly.

Sarah smiled and took the cat on a walk around the yard. Just then, Tongdii and his wife Wanida arrived by motorbike, and she went over to show him the cat in her arms.

Nick turned to Chaz and Derek and said, “I’d rather you boys not to tell the owners what happened.”

“About the near catastrophe?” Chaz waited a moment to see if anyone would respond to his pun. When they didn’t, he continued. “Okay, why not?”

“There’s no need to upset them,” Nick said. “If they thought their cat might still have an evil spirit then I just don’t know how they would react. But you can tell Sarah some of the story when you get a chance.”

“What if they ask me directly?” Chaz asked.

“When has a Thai person ever asked you something directly?” Nick asked, and the boys smirked. Chaz knew Thai people were so polite that sometimes it was challenging to comprehend what was actually going on. For most Thai people, a diplomatic lie was considered better than an impolite truth.

“I don’t want any of you to tell any kind of lie, but I don’t want you to tell them the whole truth either,” Nick said. “This is not a court of law. The Buddhist monks have authority here. If the authorities find out what we did today, they might think we were somehow opposing Buddhist practices. That kind of perception could land us in some hot water.”

“But we were just trying to help,” Chaz said.

“I know,” Nick said. “But some people might think we were interfering. Wisdom is learning to be cautious with your words. If news of this got to the head monk, then it could lead to a misunderstanding that could even get us kicked out of Thailand.”

“Gotcha.” Chaz clucked his tongue. “We’ll be careful.”

“While you guys are taking Noi home, I will take Tongdii and Wanida inside and introduce them to our new friends,” Nick said and walked over and started talking to Tongdii who was just setting his helmet over his bike’s rear view mirror.

“Sarah, you coming?” Chaz called over to her.

“What happened to her claws? There’s blood on them.”

“It’s part of a long story,” Chaz said.

“Noi just used up one of its lives,” Derek said. “We can tell you more later.”

“Please tell me now.” Sarah held Chaz’s arm and looked up at him with her adorable pleading smile.

“I tell you what; I’ll tell you some of it as we head over.” Chaz then summarized the events of the morning to Sarah as they walked across the street to the little shop. Sarah gently petted the cat, daintily jumped over potholes and remained engrossed in Chaz and Derek’s story. She had always been proficient at multitasking.

Near the end of the story, she looked a bit nervous to be holding a cat that had just been possessed by demons. Another look at the content cat and she relaxed and rubbed her nose against the cat’s face.

[]

Rein-cat-nation?

When they got to the mom-and-pop shop , Chaz stepped up the
tiled stairs, under the shade, and called out. At first, there was
no response. Then he heard something plastic fall.

Moments later, a rotund lady emerged out of the back, squeezing down the fresh produce aisle. To fit her girth down the aisle, she had to swivel her hips in huge arcs with each step. A smile spread across her triple chinned face as she came towards them. When she reached Sarah, she hugged her, pinning the squirming cat between them. Then she took the cat and held it high.

“Thank you, thank you. You found my daughter.” She swung it around once with its paws spread out wide. “I was so worried when Noi didn’t come in for breakfast.” The cat’s fur bristled, and it showed its claws. As soon as the woman cuddled the cat in her arms, it retracted its claws. “Noi has always been a good girl about eating her breakfast. Yes, she has.” She seemed to be talking more to the cat than to them.

A gaunt man with a receding hairline came out of the back area. In contrast with his wife, the man had a flat face and an invisible chin that merged with his neck. He carried a dish of tuna, garnished with a sprig of cilantro. He skirted the boxed and canned food aisle and gracefully swept the food bowl down, in front of the cat. “There you are my beautiful, naughty little girl. If you tease us like that again, I will put you on restriction from your favorite TV shows.”

The shop lady put the cat on the floor and watched it intently, as it gobbled down the meal quickly. Chaz couldn’t help but feel a little weirded-out by their actions. He had heard of people treating animals like children, but he had never seen it close-up.

Mostly, he just wanted to make a quick escape, especially with his dad’s warning about being discrete. Besides, it had been a long morning, and he just wanted to rest.

If the couple asked him what had happened earlier, he had no idea how he might respond. His dad often said, “a prudent man knows when to keep his mouth shut,” and this was clearly one of those times. He saw Derek edging slowly backward. Sarah, on the other hand, was still petting the cat as it ate.

He touched Sarah’s shoulder and said, “Sarah, I was thinking…” but she cut him off.

“I think we are supposed to pray for you,” Sarah said to the shopkeepers.

“You are so kind.” The woman put a hand over her heart. “We would love for you to bless us with prayer.”

“I think we are supposed to pray for your daughter.”

Daughter?

“Please pray for her. I’ve noticed my daughter’s fur has been thinning lately,” the lady said. The cat finished eating, so she picked it up and cradled it on its back as if it were a human baby. The cat purred and stretched out long.

“I mean,” Sarah sighed and continued, “We need to pray for your daughter who isn’t here.”

What in the world is Sarah talking about?

Chaz gave Sarah an inquiring look, but she continued to ignore him.

“Oh, but Noi is here,” the woman said surprised and held up her cat. “This is the reincarnated spirit of our daughter.”

Chaz blinked hard and repressed a snicker, which turned into a cough. He watched with a feeling of envy as Derek slipped quietly away. He wanted to escape too.

Derek is probably heading back to the house.

Chaz was fairly fluent in Thai but not perfect, especially not with some of the high king’s language. He reviewed the woman’s sentence through his brain over and over, scanning for any other possible different meanings or metaphors. But the Thai language has pretty clear definitions for these concepts. Sarah looked at him quizzically as he knew more vocabulary than she did.

“She says that,” Chaz had to pause to think how best to word in English, “Noi the cat is the reincarnated spirit of their daughter,” Sarah raised her eyebrows as high as they would go.

The gaunt husband took over the narrative saying, “Three years ago our daughter left to work in a bar at a tourist resort. A flash flood killed many of the people in that town. The police informed us her life was washed away with the others. Two days later, our darling daughter came back into our lives as a cat, evidently ashamed of her earlier behavior. She returned a far more obedient child.

This was one of the freakiest stories Chaz had ever heard. In their grief, they believed their daughter had come back to life in the form of a cat.

You know what? Proving things logically is a waste of time. Unless God personally shows them, then there’s no use in arguing. God, can you help them to see the truth about the cat?

Sarah stood up and looked them in the eyes. “Your daughter is still alive, and she lives in Bangkok.” The couple stared at her in disbelief, mouths gaped.

Oh man, why did Sarah have to go and get their hopes up like that?

“In Bangkok?” The man cleared his throat and said. He braced himself on the counter so he wouldn’t fall over.

“But she’s right here,” The woman said, holding the purring cat in front of her like a treasure box.

“The flood washed her downstream to another village but didn’t kill her. She is too ashamed of her sins to come home, but she misses you.”

“But our cat, Noi,” The lady said squinting her eyes.

“Is just a cat,” Sarah said. “Your daughter Noi is still alive.”

“What should we do?” The man asked.

“Your son knows where she is. You need to write her that you love and miss her and she should return home. Your son can take the letter to her.”

Tears dripped down the man’s face, but the woman seemed angry and defiant.

“This is my daughter!” She said with a flushed face, squeezing her cat even tighter, as it tried to squirm away.

The husband put his hand on his wife’s shoulder and bent near to Sarah whispering, “I will do as you say.” His wife’s eyes widened in shock. He stood back up. “Thank you for your kindness in bringing Noi to us, but I think you should go now.”

“Don’t you want me to pray?” Sarah asked.

“Maybe later. Thank you.” He slowly ushered his wife to the back of the store.

Chaz and Sarah looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Chaz took one more look at the cat that had received so much attention today, and he stepped outside into the blinding sunlight. After sauntering a few paces, Chaz asked, “How did you know about their daughter?”

“I didn’t,” Sarah said. “God told me.”

“Hmm, makes sense.”

They walked in silence. When Chaz and Sarah arrived home, Derek was busy using Chaz’s dirt bike to spin doughnuts in the gravel driveway.

I wish he’d ask my permission first.

Sarah went inside. He knew he should hang out with Derek, but he felt exhausted and wanted to be alone. He went straight to his room, drew a book from his pile of summer reading and went back outside to lounge on the hammock.

His English teacher had startled his whole class last Friday when she handed out a summer reading assignment. Summer vacation was supposed to be a time for coming alive, but instead, now, he had to read a bunch of “classics.” Sadly, fun classics like “Lord of the Rings” or “Hardy Boys” were not on the list. Instead, he’d been assigned boring literature like Shakespearean poems and strange titles he’d never heard of, written by authors, long dead.

How was that supposed to build an appreciation for reading?

He couldn’t endure the sight of Derek thrashing his most prized possession, but he didn’t want to be rude to his guest either. He tried reading, but the words wouldn’t stick in his mind.

I wonder if I can distract him from using my bike by suggesting we go snake hunting.

Just then his dad called out, “Let’s go! We’re ready.” Derek hurled Chaz’s bike to the ground, ran to the truck and hopped in.

Chaz went over to his bike and rolled it to the shed. He propped it up in its proper place. Inside, he set his school book down on the workbench and picked up his machete.

“Hey, watcha doing, we’re leaving,” his dad called out when he emerged. Derek and both of his sisters were already inside the truck.

Great, now I’m the one who looks like he’s holding everyone back.

“I’m coming,” Chaz sighed as he trudged over. He mounted into the back of the truck with his machete and sat next to Derek. His golden retriever, Saint, howled forlornly.

I wonder if Saint somehow understands I’m leaving on a dangerous mission.

[]

Will You Marry Me?

Katya had
endured a whirlwind of emotional experiences the last few days.
People she had assumed she could trust, had betrayed her.

Until last Sunday, her nine years of life had been consumed with grueling chores just to survive. When she wasn’t needed, she’d been free to wander aimlessly through the jungle or play games with the other kids.

City life was awkward to adjust to. She looked at her oddly clean fingernails and realized she preferred to see a dark line of dirt wedged into them. Her hair was combed and pulled back tightly, and it felt like it was ripping her forehead backward. Her white school shirt and blue skirt was much cleaner than anything she had ever worn. It felt itchy and uncomfortable.

She had always known the Spirit Doctor Bo Nguen was grouchy and mean, but she had been surprised to discover he was a murderer as well. Her biggest fear was that Bo Nguen might have sacrificed her best friend, Moo, to a Naga Dragon. Memories of beautiful Moo tore through her emotions, causing her to cry at inappropriate moments. The adults at the orphanage were kind but didn’t know how best to comfort her unexpected outbursts.

After her escape, she had met a pock-faced man who seemed to offer her hope in the darkness. How wrong she had been to trust him. The pimp had brought her to the imposing city of Chiang Mai. Until then, she had assumed Mae Sarieng was huge, but it was merely a tiny town in comparison.

The pimp had taken her to purchase some of the most beautiful clothes she had ever seen, much less ever worn. Then a hair stylist had massaged her head while rubbing creams into her hair. To finish off her hairdo, the hairstylist had used a wind machine and smelly sprays.

It had been a shock, when he had then thrust her into a dungeon, and introduced her to a dozen other beautified and fearful girls about her age. He had given her a felt blanket and rock hard wheat-pillow on a vacant spot on the floor, squished between the other girls. By the time he laughed his cruel triumphant laugh, her intuition had already begun to warn her of impending danger, much like she felt before she had discovered about the dragon in Mae Naga.

A thin, angry, wrinkly woman brought a bowl of rice into the room. Without
speaking, bitterness seeped from the lady like noxious fumes. Katya
could already feel her mind twisting down the same path. She didn’t
want to be anything like that matron.

The twelve girls gathered around the bowl and reached for handfuls of rice. The rice was soft and bleached white and had none of the chewy fibers like the rice at home. Katya and the others sat quietly, trembling under the watchful bronze-eyed stare of the man she had once trusted.

The lady came back in, carrying a large tray of water glasses. She handed each child a glass of water and a small white pill and emphasized it would be of great benefit to take it.

A wide-eyed younger girl nodded to Katya that the lady was speaking the truth.

After watching the other girls swallow theirs, she also took the pill, and within minutes the effects overcame her. Her eyes blurred over, and her body felt tingly and numb. Her mouth went dry, and it was hard to swallow. Katya felt like she was floating above her body and she wanted to giggle.

A man clad in black led Katya and the others to a black room with black leather couches and bright spotlights. Before she sat down, she could see, on the far wall, a large glass mirror.

Whether minutes or hours, she never could recollect how long she waited. Occasionally, they’d call another of the girls away. Fear of the unknown clawed up her esophagus, yet she refrained from vomiting.

Katya attempted to whisper a question to another girl, sitting next to her, but the matron observed her impertinence and hushed her into silence.

Soon after that, the wrinkly woman yanked her upright and brought her into a room with the most unbelievably large and grotesque man she had ever seen. He handed money to the Madame, leered at Katya and took her tiny hand in his sweaty behemoth hand.

She didn’t fully understand what was going on, but she knew enough to realize this monster had just purchased her. The room spun in a dizzying blur, and her only thought was “escape.”

The stranger dragged her along the crowded streets of the big city. Instead of feeling terror, she felt oddly calm.

Then the most wonderful event happened. The incredibly handsome Chaz, and some other girl named Ashley had rescued her.

Chaz had dared to face down the giant at his own peril. He had brought her to safety where she could recover.

She had been especially pleased to learn Chaz and Ashley weren’t married. Asking around, she had discovered Chaz was thirteen years old, the perfect age for marriage, and he was the guy she wanted to marry. She still had a little crush on a fifteen-year-old buffalo herder named Robinson, from her village, but that desire was childish and unrealistic. Besides, Chaz was so handsome and smart and amazing.

At nine, Katya was still a little young for marriage, but it wasn’t unheard of in exceptional situations like this one. A couple of her friends had married when they were around age eleven. How wonderful it would be to marry a prosperous foreigner who would always protect her.

In the meantime, she would enjoy this paradise. Here, there was no need to forage for her own food. Instead, three times a day they gorged on rice, stir-fry, fish-heads, eggs, curry and green papaya. The expectations on her were so minescule she could complete her chores in under an hour.

Learning city skills, like reading and speaking in Thai, took up most of her time. Clearly, her best path forward for survival would be to receive as much education as possible while she was here.

The Home of Love was truly a paradise, with running indoor water, electric fans, and toilet paper. She knew it couldn’t last. Nothing in her life ever did. At some point, they would send her away, or her aunt and uncle would ask for her to return to the danger, or somebody would kidnap her. She needed to create long-term options for her life.

Katya drew a crayon picture of her and Chaz holding hands. It was simple to get the crayons to replicate her naturally scraggly black hair but it was difficult drawing Chaz’s white skin. What would her new last name become, she wondered.

Nong New came into the bedroom and sat next to her on her bed. She was shorter with light brown hair and was always nosing into everyone’s business. Katya didn’t mind as she appreciated the company. Nong New was also from the same Karin ethnic minority, but oddly, she could only speak the primary language of the country, which was Thai, and couldn’t speak her own native language.

She watched Katya draw for a while and eventually said, “The Stevens family is here.”

“Who?” Katya looked up from her picture.

Nong New’s eyes brightened as she said, “The nice white family who always plays with us and helps us.”

“Chaz?”

“Yes.”

Katya dashed across the room and raced to the top of the stairs. She peeked over the edge and saw Chaz and Patchara, one of the orphanage helper girls. They were talking and laughing, and Katya’s heart caught in her chest, and a tear leaked out of an eye. Previously, Katya thought Chaz and Ashley were in a relationship, but now looking in Patchara’s gleaming eyes and her cute dimpled face, she feared maybe Chaz would choose her.

She wanted to run back to the room and cry, but she decided to be brave. Sometimes her perception of what was going on was wrong. She should never have trusted that greasy haired pimp. She took a deep breath and descended the staircase.

Chaz looked up and smiled at her for a moment and then went back to smiling at Patchara. Katya’s emotions bounced inside her like a scared grasshopper.

She tiptoed down the stairs and sat near Chaz listening quietly as Chaz told a story about a demon possessed cat. Clearly, Chaz was an incredible hero who went around saving orphans and kitty cats.

When his marvelous story ended, Ladda asked Patchara to help with the laundry. As she stood, Chaz said, “Don’t worry about the cat. I’m sure it has several lives left.”

Patchara giggled and went to help Lada.

Chaz turned to face Katya and said in Thai, “So, we are going to your home village today. Is there anything else we need to know?”

Katya smiled and took a moment to gather her thoughts. “I’ve been told the Spirit Doctor, Bo Nguen, uses a staff to wield his magic. I haven’t seen this, but you should watch out for it.”

“Cool, thanks.”

“Chaz?” She tried to think of something chatty to say and then decided just to plow right into the only burning question on her heart.

“Uh-huh?”

“Do you want to marry me?”

Chaz’s face turned bright red. She had never seen a person’s face look that color. “I don’t. I don’t. What’s that?”

“Well, you saved my life. I thought maybe you could keep me safe,” Katya gazed deeply into his eyes, “Always.”

“Look,” Chaz looked side to side to check if anyone else was listening. “You’re just a kid. I’m just a kid. We are both just kids.”

“Aren’t you thirteen?”

“Exactly! And you’re nine!”

Katya’s eyes filled with tears, “You don’t want me?”

“Want you?” He threw his arms up high in the air. “I don’t want anyone. I’m not ready for marriage to anyone. What I want is for you to be safe here.”

“But what if they make me leave?”

Chaz slapped his palm to his forehead, but she didn’t know what that gesture meant. “They wouldn’t do that. They won’t let anything happen to you.”

“So what do I do?”

“Nothing.” He rolled his wide eyes. “You just enjoy being a little girl and having fun.”

Katya didn’t know what else to say. Chaz didn’t want her, which, of course, why would he? She ran crying to her room.

After a while, she decided maybe he was right, and she could enjoy this place for a while. In the meantime, he was going to visit her family and village and learn all about her. Eventually, she would find a way to convince Chaz to marry her.

[]

Load ‘Em Up

At the Home of Love orphanage, Chaz encountered the strangest
experience of his life. That was significant, considering he had
escaped execution by the local mafia godfather and, just this
morning, had cast a demon out of a talking cat.

Katya had just asked him if he would marry her. Clearly, her culture was different, and she was grateful Chaz had saved her life, but marriage?

To make matters worse, he kind-of liked Patchara and what if Katya’s proposal somehow messed up his chances. He didn’t want to even think about how he felt about Ashley.

The entire ride over to the River of Life Church, Chaz tried and failed, to refrain from thinking about his relationships with girls. He was glad Derek wasn’t chatty right now.

The newly painted church was where the Stevens attended on Sunday mornings and where they often helped with ministry each week. Tongdii, his dad’s right hand man, had brought his wife Wanida along.

Chaz couldn’t imagine life in Thailand without their help. He was glad to see Jake was ready and waiting. An outreach team had come to work with them last week, but had suddenly abandoned them. Thanks to his and Derek’s manipulations. If he could have asked for any member of their team to stay on and help, he would have chosen Jake. The guy was strong and loyal and way nicer than the rest of his team, except, possibly, for the sweet, shy Rosalee.

Chaz and Derek walked over to Derek’s mom Alice. She had some last minute instructions for Derek. “Now, have fun, but be safe. I expect you to obey everything Pastor Nick tells you! Do you understand?” Her voice was intimidating. Maybe that was the only way to get her son to pay attention.

“Yes Mom,” Derek said while yawning.

Alice left Chaz and Derek to talk to Nick.

“How heavy is your pack?” Chaz asked. He knew this was a crucial detail to his dad and he would check.

“I just hope we don’t have to walk very far,” Derek answered.

“We might,” Chaz said wondering why Derek was avoiding his question.

“So, let me show you what I brought for fun.” Derek reached into his pack and pulled out a press-and-seal bag full of firecrackers.

Chaz felt a surge of adrenaline but calmly said, “I’ll bet that’ll come in handy.”

“I know right?” Derek held up a large firecracker. “It’s how we got rid of the team.”

Chaz considered how getting rid of the team had also gotten rid of his chances with Ashley. Then again, maybe he didn’t even want to date her at all. Part of him hoped he would never see her again.

Losing the team had also upset his dad. Nick had been counting on them fulfilling their commitments to assist with some ministries. On the other hand, they probably wouldn’t have been able to go on this adventure had the team not jumped ship.

“You should probably tell my dad about your toys.”

“Are you saying you’re gonna tattle on me?”

“No way, but I won’t defend you if you get caught.”

“Deal.” They bumped elbows to signify their agreement. Derek shoved his bag of contraband back into his frame hiking pack.

The boys walked over to Chaz’s dad who was standing on a blue tarp organizing supplies into small piles. Carolyn was helping him by putting each pile inside a plastic bag.

“Okay everyone, let’s work on packing our bags.” Nick stretched and groaned putting his hands on his lower back. “We are going to need to disperse our supplies for the week. If you have already jam-packed your bag too full, then we will need to do some repacking. Also, I don’t want anyone’s packs to have a final weight of more than fifty pounds.”

“I can probably handle more,” Jake said.

“I’m sure you can,” Nick replied, “but that just means I might call on you for help if any of the younger ones start struggling,” Nick said.

“I get it,” Jake said, testing the weight of his pack.

“I’m not sure how far I can carry my bag,” Sarah said biting her index fingernail.

“I told you to pack light,” Nick walked over to her, “but I’ll help you if you need it.” Then he called out to the others. “Does everyone have their water bottles and flashlights?” Everyone nodded that they had them. “Good, what about sleeping bags, mosquito nets, and thin mats?”

“I have a chunky fat sleeping bag.” Derek gestured with arms spread.

“Yes, it sure is. Don’t worry; we have another one you can borrow,” Nick said, lobbing a small red one at Derek.

Mounds of food and tools were gathered and sorted by weight. Chaz looked over the inventory such as aluminum plates, mugs, utensils, a kettle, a pot, a pan a lighter, a water filter, trash bags, a shovel, and dishwashing items and it seemed they had everything they needed.

Chaz was glad there were three other machete’s to share besides his own. Nick put the kettle and pot in his bag and then carried some of the unused foam mats and mosquito nets to the truck for Carolyn to take back home. The food was light but bulky, but they distributed it, and somehow it all fit.

“Check the weight of your bags,” Nick said. “If it still weighs too much, let me know.”

The boys walked over to Jake, who was standing on the metal frame, above the canvas roof of the truck. Jake was beginning to tie down a couple of the packs with a long rope. Derek handed his bag up, and Jake asked, “Whoa, how many bowling balls did you decide to bring?”

“Just one, but it’s my magic eight-ball.”

“Cute, but seriously, are you sure you can hike with all that weight?”

Nick had just finished talking with Alice, so he came over in time to catch the tail end of the conversation. “Let me feel the weight of your pack.” Jake lowered it down to him, and Nick hefted it like a barbell. Chaz could see Derek sweating nervously, clearly worried he might get caught with the firecrackers.

“Yeah, that’s too heavy, you’re going to have to get rid of some of that load if you want to join us.” Nick reached down to unzip the bag.

Derek hurriedly spoke and reached for the pack, “No, that’s fine, I’ll repack it by myself. I don’t want to bother you.”

“No bother.” Then turning to Alice, who was just getting inside her truck he said, “Can you hold up a sec. Your son needs to bring you some items to take home.”

She nodded that she would wait.

Derek hoisted his bag to his shoulder. “I’ll bring my bag to the truck when I finish.”

“That’s fine. Be quick; we’re leaving soon.”

Chaz helped Derek lug the bag over to the front of the church.

“Phew, that was close,” Derek sighed.

“You sure you don’t want to tell my dad now?”

“No thanks. Can you get me some plastic bags for the items I need to send back with my mom?”

Over at the kitchen, in the corner, Chaz found a large bamboo basket full of plastic bags. He grabbed a few and brought them back to Derek. Chaz helped Derek separate out piles for taking and leaving. Items he’d be sending home included: an extra pair of shoes, some comic books, and a mound of clothing.

For the clothes Derek would be keeping, Chaz showed him how to keep them dry in re-sealable bags. Modular bagging was a Stevens family tradition because, as Chaz explained, you never knew when your bag was going to get wet.

Once his firecrackers were sealed and hidden in a side pocket, Derek brought his pack over to Nick. Nick held the bag and determined that this time Derek’s pack passed the weight test. Chaz hoped to learn that skill someday.

Derek hurried over to his mom with his excess baggage and gave her one last hug. Then he came back and joined the group, just as Nick called out loudly, “Okay, everyone come around me in a circle.”

Everyone assembled on the gravel driveway, around Nick. He cleared his throat and announced, “I know most of you know what’s going on but let me review. Last weekend, Chaz rescued an orphan girl named Katya. She has asked us to go to her village of Mae Naga in the Mae Sarieng province to tell people about Jesus, so they won’t sacrifice any more children to demons.”

Nick started pacing. “She believes her friend, Nam Fon will be the next candidate. Katya also says the Spirit Doctor will most likely sacrifice her during the next full moon, which is also Visakha Bucha Day. I looked it up, and unfortunately, that gives us less than a week. Today is Thursday, and the full moon is on Tuesday.”

Nick stopped pacing and gathered the full attention of his team. “Now, I want each of you to know this trip is going to be very dangerous. I need you all to promise me you will obey my every order.”

Derek saluted sharply. “Ya vole mein commandant.”

Nick grinned and said. “I’m deadly serious.”

“Even if you order us to jump over a cliff?” Derek asked.

“Especially then,” Nick said.

“Okay. Can do,” Derek said.

“That sounds fun. Count me in,” Chaz said, imagining a fantastic dive from a cliff into a lagoon. Sort of like when he saved Brandon, but safer.

I wonder if we will get to do anything like that?

“When I say jump, I want you to say, ‘how high?’” Nick said.

“Okay, Dad, how high would you like us to get?” Chaz asked with emphasis on the word “high.”

“Not funny,” Nicole whispered.

Nick ignored Chaz and continued. “If I tell you to duck what are you going to do?”

“Quack?” Derek asked with a screwy smile.

“You are a real quack-up, Derek,” Jake murmured aside to Derek with a dry, emotionless voice.

“I try,” Derek whispered back.

“You will duck out of the way, right?” Nick looked over each member of the group to make sure they were listening.

“Right!” Chaz said.

“If I say eat a bowl of chili peppers, what are you going to do?” Nick asked.

“Breathe fire?” Derek said and chuckled at his own joke.

“Give the plate to you?” Sarah suggested.

“Good. Any questions?” Nick asked.

“Do you think the dragon will be able to breathe fire?” Chaz asked.

“I doubt it. We are about to head into one of the most biodiverse river deltas in the world. Animals and plants, formerly thought to be extinct, are frequently discovered there. So be careful.”

“Of the dragons.” Derek implied he was finishing the sentence.

Nick continued without looking at Derek, “Anyway, we are going to places where not many white people have been before. We might even be the first. That means we must be very careful with our manners. If we make a mistake here in Chiang Mai, people are usually very forgiving, but we have no idea what we will encounter on this adventure. A mistake could get us killed. Do I have your attention?”

“Get us killed. Gottcha,” Derek said.

“Let’s also not forget, we are not going there to change their culture, only to tell them about Jesus and hopefully help a little girl. Is that clear?” He looked at Jake.

“Crystal,” Jake replied.

“Now, I wouldn’t bring you guys on this trip if I didn’t trust each one of you to behave yourselves and adhere to my rules as well as the dictates of the Thai culture.”

Chaz could tell his dad was looking intently at Derek as he said this.

“No toe pointing?” Chaz asked.

“Eat a bit of whatever they serve us?” Nicole asked.

“Yes, all of that and more.” Nick looked intently into the eyes of every team member. “I need each of you to pay attention and not goof around. I need you to act more mature than your ages. Do you think you are up to that?”

“Yes sir,” Chaz, Sarah and Nicole said. Their dad expected this kind of response when he was unusually stern like this.

“Sure,” Jake said.

“Yeah,” Derek said.

Nick spoke even louder. “Okay everyone, pull together in a close circle and hold hands. One of the most important things we can do on this trip is to pray, and I expect we will do a lot of it. So, if you have a problem with prayer, now is your chance to bail.”

Nick looked again at Derek who smiled back. “Good, because prayer is a parachute. One way or another you are going to hit the ground. The parachute determines just how hard. I am determined to see that all of us will return safe and healthy. So, with that in mind, I am going to lead out in prayer and Carolyn is going to close.”

Chaz was glad Tongdii and his wife were fluent at speaking English. Otherwise, he knew his dad would have said everything in Thai, and he would have had the responsibility of translating everything for Jake and possibly Derek since Derek still couldn’t speak Thai very well yet.

Nick prayed a simple prayer for protection and that God would give them opportunities to share the love of God on the trip.

Carolyn emotionally beseeched God to protect her babies and bring them safely back to her. When she said “Amen,” they squeezed each other’s hands with a quick time-to-let-go-grip.

Carolyn hugged Sarah and then Nicole.

Chaz came over to his mom and said, “Take care of Saint for me. Okay?”

She hugged him. “I will even play ball with him.”

“Thanks.”

Carolyn ruffled his hair and said, “I’m going to miss you.”

“Me too. Sorry you’re not coming.”

“I’m here for a reason.”

Nick came over and gave his wife a quick peck and a hug. “You’ll be alright?”

“I’ll be fine,” She said. “It’s you guys I’m concerned about. I love you, be careful.”

Nick stood back and said, “If we take more than a week then send someone to look for us.”

“I won’t send someone. I’ll come myself.” Chaz could tell she was getting red-faced and teary-eyed which left her unable to say more. She hugged her arms to herself and smiled a big fake smile that didn’t fool Chaz. He and his sisters usually knew what their mom was feeling, regardless of what her face displayed. Up till now, Sarah had seemed calm, but when she saw how her mom was responding, she ran and gave her another tight hug. Chaz wondered if Sarah was going to bail on them at the last minute.

Nick asked the group, “Does everyone have a bandanna to keep the dust out of your face?” Nick held out a handful of bandannas, “I have some spares. Anyone?”

When no one responded, he said, “Okay, let’s load ‘em up. Is everyone ready for an adventure?”

“I am,” Chaz hollered. A few others enthusiastically agreed. What could be more exciting than a river voyage?

Carolyn got into Tongdii’s rickety little car with Tongdii’s wife. Chaz wondered which endeavor was going to be more dangerous; their jungle journey or his mom’s ride home in that unreliable tin can.

The young people piled into the covered back of the four-wheel-drive pickup truck and sat on one the benches facing each other. Sarah, Nicole and Jake on one side, facing Derek and Chaz on the opposite side. Tongdii hopped into the passenger seat, and they hastened into the unknown.

 

[]

Bad Luck

The truck wound along one-way roads until it got to the
bougainvillea-lined two-lane Super Highway. Chaz wished the
government would widen the roads to accommodate the exponentially
increasing population. The city of Chiang Mai radiated outwards
from the walls and moat of the ancient city to the provincial rice
fields.

Chaz breathed-in deep the fresh smell of the countryside. A beautiful panorama of farmland and pristine mountains stretched around them. Even though it was the end of the dry season, there were still plenty of flowering plants along the roadside.

Jake asked, “So, when were you last in America?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Nicole asked. Chaz thought about replying to Jake even though he knew his question was for Nicole, when she said, “Oh, we went on deputation there a couple of years ago,” Nicole said.

Jake squinched his face up in confusion. “Deputation?”

“It’s when missionaries go and talk to churches.”

“Did you have culture shock?”

“Yeah, I always get more culture shock going there than coming back home to Thailand. I think the biggest shock was the grocery stores.”

“Because it was so difficult to find fried bugs or boiled snake?”

“It was incomprehensible to me that there was a whole aisle for every kind of cereal and yet it was hard to find the oatmeal. There was an entire huge aisle dedicated to chocolate and candy on both sides, but I couldn’t find any dried fruit.”

“It was probably over in the baking section.”

“Oh, that explains it. Anyways, the checkout line took a half-hour to buy some oatmeal. But then later, I finally found this quaint little Asian food store. It was perfect because they had everything I wanted. There was even one Thai woman who worked there.”

“That’s great, did you get to speak Thai with her?”

“No, she was Thai but had come to America when she was little. So when I talked to her, she said my Thai speaking ability was much better than hers, and I sounded like her aunties.”

“Well, that’s quite a compliment,” Jake said.

“I suppose, but I’ve only studied up to the sixth-grade level,” Nicole said.

“So, you can read and write?” Jake asked.

“Well, I can read Thai better than I write it….”

“It must be wonderful to speak two languages.”

“It’s like a secret spy language that hardly anyone understands. Our family uses it all the time to say really useful stuff like, ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ or ‘I’m tired, can we leave now?”

“I sure wish I had a secret language like that.”

“It’s not that hard. I’ll help you.”

“Are you kidding me?” Jake’s held his arms wide. “I’m still struggling to pronounce, ‘hello’. The whole language sounds like somebody playing a record backward.”

Chaz snorted at the comparison.

“Your accent isn’t that horrible.” Nicole smiled at Jake and then frowned at Chaz. “What else in Thai do you know?”

Jake said, “Khun suaay,” which could have meant, “You are beautiful,” if he had gotten the tone right except that he didn’t.

Chaz spotted the mispronunciation and tried to think of a way to tease Jake when Nicole said, “Oh come on, I’m not that unlucky.” Then she gave a high pitch giggle.

“What? What did I say?”

“You just called my sister ‘bad luck’!” Chaz said laughing.

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“No, You have to say it with a rising tone. ‘Seuaay’.”

“Seuuuuaaay.”

“You got it. See, you’re getting it.”

“Thanks for the encouragement, but it’s still rough, ‘Khun suaay’,” Jake said it with an intense grin, making Nicole blush and Chaz annoyed that he was flirting with his sister.

“Well umh, just keep up the practice.” Nicole flicked her hair.

They sat in silence for a while. Then Jake asked, “So, what do you plan to do someday?”

Nicole tilted her head. “With my life?”

“Yep.”

“I like traveling, and I like animals, but I really have no idea what I want to do.”

“Sounds like you have what it takes to join a circus,” Jake said.

“This is a circus,” Nicole said.

“Or you could even be a space veterinarian. I’d say the possibilities are endless,” Chaz said.

Nicole rolled her eyes at Chaz then turned back to Jake.

“So, are you going to go to college?” Jake asked.

“Yeah, if my parents can afford it. But that’s still a couple of years away.”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know. Probably a Christian college with a lot of other MK’s.”

“MK’s?”

“You know, Missionary Kids.”

“Oh, cool. Why?”

“’Cause the only other people who know what it’s like to travel a lot when they are young and become a part of different cultures are other Missionary Kids and Third Culture Kids.”

“Third Culture?”

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m from both America and Thailand, and in a way, neither. So, me and other MK’s are part of a Third Culture. Whenever I meet people who’ve traveled a lot, then it’s easy to become friends because they know what it’s like. We are part of a new Third Culture that isn’t completely American or Thai.”

“What about me?” Jake grinned and raised an eyebrow.

“Well,” Nicole playfully punched his arm. “I’ll let you be an honorary member. Maybe a week out here is long enough to let you become a TCK.”

“TCK?”

“Third Culture Kid.”

“Oh right sorry, I’m just not used to all the acronyms. I need to abandon learning Thai and just try to figure out the Missionary Kid language.”

“That’s okay, so do you have any college plans?”

“Yeah, I’m planning to go to school in Illinois next year,” Jake said.

“That sounds too cold and snowy for me.” Nicole played with her hair. “I want to go somewhere near the beach. I miss going boogie boarding and snorkeling. My favorite part of deputation was when our supporters took us to the beach.”

That was all the flirting Chaz could endure, so he blocked out their conversation. He stared at the countryside and tried to imagine Katya’s home village. He pictured a dozen thatched huts atop the pinnacle of a mountain and from time to time a dragon would slither through the village.

 

 

 

 

 

[]

Spared

After half an hour drive out of Chiang Mai on the Hang Dawng road, the highway narrowed. Nick slowed down for a large
tractor-trailer hauling televisions and other electrical
appliances. It spewed out a thick wad of smog, engulfing them, and
for several moments, Nick couldn’t see anything outside, aside from
the license plate of the truck ahead.

He glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed all his passengers coughing vigorously into their bandanas. He was grateful to be in an air-conditioned front cab. Nick wondered who the truck company bribed to keep their environmental hazard on the road because repairing the exhaust had to be cheaper than a bribe.

The fumes dissipated as they came to a halt at a red light, in the middle of the town of Hang Dawng. The town was so small, it would be easy to miss, were it not for the traffic light. The light turned green, and the diesel monster ahead moved off, leaving a dense cloud of tear-gas in its wake.

Nick slowly accelerated when the engine began making a loud knocking sound. Nick stomped on the accelerator a couple of times, hoping he would at least make it as far as the gas station up ahead. Nothing he did kept the engine running, so he eased the truck safely to the side of the road. Motorbikes weaved around them, trying to get through the green and yellow light in time. Nick coasted to a halt and got out. Steam seeped out from the hood.

Screech… bang!

Nick looked up just in time to see a car protruding from under the back of the tractor-trailer. A moment later, a pickup truck crashed into the backside of the sedan. It took only a second for the car’s hood and trunk to crumple like a Chinese fan.

Nick leapt out of the cab and came around the back of his truck.

“What happened?” Nicole asked.

“An accident ahead,” He replied and then to Jake said, “You come with me, and the rest of you stay here.”

“But, Dad,” Chaz whined.

“Stay here,” Nick commanded.

Jake and Nick jogged up the road past the gas station. When they arrived at the accident, Tongdii was already helping a lady out of the crushed car. Nick and Tongdii escorted her to the side of the road. She appeared dazed but not badly injured.

Nick looked back at the scene of the accident, which had slightly dented the tractor-trailer’s bumper. The truck behind the woman’s car was moderately damaged, but the sedan in between was completely totaled.

Nick could see God’s hand of protection over them. Had his Toyota truck not had problems, it was he and his passengers who would be sitting in a crunched up vehicle right now.

The colorful, flashing lights of an approaching emergency vehicle bounced off the buildings, and he was grateful help had arrived so quickly.

Tongdii gripped Nick’s shoulder and whispered sternly in English, “You go now.”

“You sure?” Nick asked.

“Woman is fine. You go.

Danger they could blame you, outsider.” He and Jake strode back to
the truck just as the police car and ambulance skidded to a
halt.

At the back of their truck, Nick asked the young adults, “Who wants to push?”

They all did, including Sarah, so Nick asked Nicole to make sure Sarah would be completely safe as she helped. Nick opened his door, reached in and turned the steering wheel.

The first few pushes just made the truck roll back and forth, but when Tongdii arrived and added his strength, it lurched forward. Soon, they were all jogging after the truck, so when it arose the slight rise of the gas station’s driveway, the momentum kept it going. In the parking lot, Nick bounded into the cab and pressed the brakes.

For now, they were safe, but Nick didn’t know if it would even be possible to continue their journey.

[]

Oracle

Chaz pushed with all his might
until the truck rolled into an open parking spot in front of a
mechanic’s garage.

Muscles shaking, Chaz sat down with
the others to catch his breath at a cement table on the side of the
shop. His dad entered a mini-junkyard to talk to the mechanic. The
table was in the middle of a small lush garden and on it a few
bottle caps covered a playing grid from an earlier game of
checkers. Gas fumes intermixed with the smell of tropical flowers.
Chaz didn’t know whether to gag or inhale deeply.

Nicole plopped next to Jake on the wobbly cement bench. Apparently, she was in one of her hyper, goofy moods. She pushed her face up really close to Jake’s. “Wasn’t it cool how God protected us?”

Jake defiantly kept his face close to hers as he harrumphed and said, “Coincidence.”

Chaz started to laugh at the joke, but when he glanced at Jakes steely eyes, he realized he was completely serious. Not a mischievous muscle on his face twitched. Nicole and Sarah seemed just as bewildered.

“Look I’m serious.” Jake leaned back, raised his hands in a surrender position and said, “I just don’t believe miracles ever happen anymore.”

Nicole blinked hard. “How do you explain the unexpected and unexplainable?”

“I don’t need to.” Jake crossed his arms defensively. “While the Bible was being written, God allowed a dispensation for miracles. Now we have the truth of Jesus, so we don’t need miracles anymore.”

“So, if you encounter a healing or supernatural event then it’s Satan?” Chaz asked. He squinted as the shrill whistle of a policeman directing traffic around the accident hurt his eardrums.

“It could also be positive thinking, chance or the placebo effect,” Jake said. “God has no need of miracles anymore.”

“But our lives were just spared.” Chaz stood up and pointed at the crumpled vehicles. “Was that just a coincidence?”

“The driver didn’t die but was just shaken up.” Jake pointed up the road where paramedics assisted the lady into an ambulance. “And yes, it was only a coincidence. Besides, does God love us more than that unfortunate woman?”

“Of course God doesn’t, but I, I have nothing to say about your theology.” Nicole rolled her eyes and tightened her lips. “I’ve got scriptures to back me up, you know.”

Chaz walked away from the conversation and went over to stand next to his dad. Chaz had seen so many miracles in his life, he couldn’t fathom a worldview that didn’t believe they happened in the first place. He tried to put himself in the shoes of someone who had no experience with the supernatural, and it was just too hard to imagine.

How could a person go through life and not experience supernatural events? Anyone who doesn’t recognize all the miracles around us, must not be looking very hard. I’m sure he’ll see the truth soon enough and stop putting God into such a tiny box.

A man, whose shirt and face was streaked with oil, came over to the truck. When Nick popped the hood, a cloud of steam escaped. The radiator cap jiggled like a locked door handle during a burglary. The gurgling and hissing sounds made it seem like some caged angry creature was trying to escape and was looking for revenge.

“The truck must cool down first, I think,” The greasy faced mechanic explained. His accent was thick and unusual. Chaz supposed he came from one of the many ethnic minorities in Thailand. He remembered his teacher telling him there were seventy.

“I just topped the radiator up with water this morning,” Nick said.

“You have a leak, I think. An easy repair, I think.”

“How long do you think it will take?”

“Maybe half an hour to cool down, I think,” The mechanic wiped motor oil down his dirty shirt, but his hands didn’t appear to get any cleaner. “Then I will look at it.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Nick and Chaz rejoined the group. No one was talking. The conversation had fizzled, but Nicole and Jake seemed upset. “Looks like we might be here for a while. Here is some lunch money.” Nick handed everyone some small bills. “The market is on the next road over. We’ll picnic in a couple of hours. Please
be back here in twenty minutes,” He put his hand on Nicole’s
shoulder. “Oh, and can you get me some sticky rice and chicken for
lunch?”

“Sure,” Nicole said and headed off with Sarah and Jake.

Before Chaz left, he asked his dad, “Can I buy a pack of cigarettes?”

Nick half choked and blinked hard, “Excuse me?”

Chaz grinned and said, “You know, to stop leeches.”

“Oh right.” Nick chuckled. “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of that.”

Chaz went to stand next to Derek who asked him, “Ready?”

Together they crossed a small side street.

“Mind if we split up?” Derek suggested.

“Sounds good.” Chaz actually preferred to explore on his own.

They passed three pig heads and a plastic box of live eels. When they came to the boiled frogs and toads, Derek kept heading up the sidewalk towards the fruit.

Chaz figured he’d start with a snack, so he wandered into a little mom-and-pop shop. The aisles were loaded with canned sardines, bags of dried squid, Japanese jellies, and colorful sugary candies covered in cartoon characters.

He purchased a bar of peanut brittle, a bag of dried, powdery mango, a bag of Maggi-Mamma noodles
and a bottle of orange Fanta soda. The man at the cash register
asked, “Is this to go?”

“Yes,” Chaz replied.

The man opened the bottle and poured the contents into a plastic bag, stuck in a straw and then tied a rubber band around the top.

As Chaz wrapped the rubber band around his fingers, he paid exact change and thanked the man. He merged with the myriad of passing shoppers, skillfully navigating around the beautiful chaos. A rich diversity of cultures and exotic foods swirled around him.

He wondered what he would get for lunch. He seriously considered buying some steamed bee larvae, but it was too expensive. He nearly headed to the chicken and sticky rice stall but then noticed a vendor with meat on sticks.

“What’s this?” Chaz asked the vendor in Thai. Chaz couldn’t tell which lines on the man’s face were scars and which were wrinkles.

“Very good. You try.” The man replied in broken English and gave him a stick that pierced through a strip of gristly pink meat. Chaz took a bite.

It was savory like water buffalo.

“It tastes delicious. What is it?” Chaz asked in Thai.

“Dog. Ruff-ruff,” The man replied and Chaz choked for a moment.

Chaz mentally pictured how his sisters might react. That persuaded him to purchase a bag of eight sticks. While stuffing sticks into a bag of peanut sauce, the vendor explained he only served black dogs because they had the most tender meat.

He felt bad for the canine, but it was already dead, and he had never met it. Besides, it would be a shame to let the meat go to waste.

He paid the man, who brushed the money all over his stall. Chaz knew this was an encouraging sign the meat was very fresh because usually, shopkeepers would wipe the money on the stalls
after the first purchase for good luck. Then again, sometimes they
did this after their last sale of the day. It was still morning, so
he decided to hope for the best.

A dark, narrow alley cut through the market. It seemed the fastest way to get back to the truck. As he wandered along, he noticed a hobbled old woman coming towards him. He moved against the wall, politely making room for her.

Instead of passing him she stood on tiptoes and peered into his face. She pinched his trembling cheek and said, very clearly in Thai, “You seek the land of the dragon and their cannibal protectors .

You must learn to look deeply inside yourself for the answer to
their riddle.” Her putrefied panting made Chaz hold his breath.

The haggard Oracle stood back, turned and slowly sauntered through the alley as if nothing had happened.

Dragon? Cannibals? A riddle?

[]

Generosity

Chaz leaned
against the chilled wall until he regained his composure. Then he
sprinted back to where he knew his family waited. He even
incautiously dodged a speeding car along the highway and was
grateful no one from his team had witnessed his recklessness.

Chaz sat down with the others at the unsteady cement table where they had started. Sarah was drinking fresh coconut milk, Derek was eating a bag of chopped fruits including star-fruit and Lychee and Jake was sorting through his
purchases.

Chaz sat entranced by the vast quantities of unregulated exhaust, spewing from loud trucks, rumbling along the Hang Dawng Road. Staccato banging and scraping sounds perforated the air from inside the garage, overwhelming the sounds of nearby traffic.

He tried to make sense of the outlandish words of the old woman. He
wasn’t sure if she was crazy, prophetic, quirky or just confused.
He tried to memorize what she had said. The word dragon had caught
his attention. The word cannibal
made him
nervous. She couldn’t possibly have known him, where they were
going or if the villagers of Mae Naga ate people. He considered
telling someone but wasn’t sure anyone would believe him.

It was all too much for him to analyze right now, so he took a deep breath and dismissed it from his mind. He’d think about it some other time. For now, he wanted everything to get back to normal.

He pounded on his bag of dried Maggi-Mama noodles until the contents were all broken apart. He
opened it and added the flavoring as well as the entire packet of
hot peppers. This was one of his favorite snacks, even though he
knew it wasn’t nutritious.

He’d tried to do this with dried noodles back in The States, but he’d gagged on the chalky tasting carbohydrates. He decided then, the next time he visited America, he would bring a heaping supply back with him.

He passed it around, and everyone took some. Jake started coughing.

“What’s wrong?” Chaz asked.

“This is potent,” Jake spit out a few of the dry noodles into his hand. Derek laughed so hard, he started coughing too.

“Oh, right, sorry I didn’t warn you. I added hot peppers.” Sometimes Chaz forgot visitors had difficulty tolerating Thailand’s hot spices.

“It tastes like you put the entire packet of spices in here,” Jake said.

“Oh, I guess so. Sorry.”

“It’s fine. At least the flames are subsiding. I think I’ll go look for a drink.”

Chaz held out his soft-drink in a bag. “You can have mine.”

“No, that’s fine. I think the fizz would make it sting more.” Jake stood up. “I think I need what Sarah’s got.” Facing Sarah, who was blowing bubbles into her bag of coconut milk , he asked, “Where did you get that?”
Sarah pointed at a shop near where Nicole was fawning over some
clothing. He headed over towards Nicole.

His dad arrived. “Where are the others?” Chaz pointed at Jake and Nicole.

“Okay, well, I think we need to leave soon,” Nick said.

A minute later, Nicole came back with a new pair of flip-flops, and a red-faced Jake held a bag of coconut milk that he was rapidly gulping down through a straw .

Jake gasped for air and asked, “Why waste all this plastic?”

Nicole shook her head. “To ensure she keeps her bottle deposit.”

Nick cleared his throat and called out. “Ready?”

“The truck’s fixed?” Chaz asked his dad.

“Yep,” Nick said.

“Was it the radiator?” Jake asked.

“Yes, in fact, the mechanic did us a huge favor.”

“Oh?” Nicole asked.

“He only charged us for the sealant and a bit of coolant. He didn’t charge us for his labor.”

“Is that typical around here?” Jake asked.

Nick smiled big. “I think it’s because I told him we’re missionaries, and he wanted some good karma. We need to pray God’s blessing on his life.”

“Pretty cool,” Chaz said.

“Well, let’s head out.”

With little prompting, they piled into the back of the truck. His dad hopped into the front cab, and the four-wheel-drive sputtered and roared to life. Chaz found his spot in the back.

Soon they were back on the four-lane highway heading out of town and up into the mountains. The charming rice paddies speeding by mesmerized Chaz. A light, gentle rain blurred the mountain pinnacles like an
airbrushed picture, but the rest of the hill was so radiant and
sharp, it seemed like he was looking through a magnifying glass.
The mountain appeared to warble and hover from the steam. Water
shimmered along the truck’s canvas roof in rivulets and seeped
through the buttoned edges along the side windows.

After a little while, Chaz pulled his damp arm away from the window and leaned forward and said to no one in particular. “Wow, it sure is coming down geckos and tokays .”

“I don’t feel well,” Sarah said. Chaz could tell Sarah was getting nauseous from the twisting mountain roads.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be stopping in the town of Hawt soon,” Nicole rested the back of her hand on Sarah’s forehead. “We can get you some Dramamine there.”

“Ahh, you have the black plague, huh?” Derek said with fake concern in his voice.

“What? No. I just…” Sarah started to answer him. “What? I have an upset stomach and…”

Derek pointed at her stomach and asked, “Did you say something to upset it?”

“No, it got upset on its own.” Sarah scowled at Derek and said, “You’re weird.”

“You’re the one who has a stomach with a personality,” Derek said.

“I’ve only got nausea, and a sore throat,” Sarah said.

“Oh no! Are you sure?” Derek asked with wide eyes.

“What? Why?” Sarah asked.

“Those are just the first signs of the plague is all,” Derek said.

Nicole exhaled loudly, then said to Derek, “Leave her alone!” Facing Sarah, she shook her head and said, “Derek’s just messing with you, Sarah.”

Sarah spoke slowly with concern in her voice, “Could I have the plague?”

Derek snorted just loud enough for Chaz to hear. It was a little bit funny to Chaz, but it would have been hilarious if he had been the one teasing her. Chaz didn’t like it when anyone else teased his sisters. He was careful not to laugh because he didn’t want to hurt Sarah’s feelings.

“You don’t have the plague.” Nicole scowled at Derek. “It doesn’t exist anymore.”

“How would you know?” Derek asked with a mischievous glimmer in his eyes.

“Just leave her alone, Derek,” Chaz said. “It’s not funny anymore.”

They were quiet then, as they smelled the fragrant, clean scent of forests and rice paddies. The downpour
blurred the view of the countryside. Listening to the rhythmic
tapping of rain on metal and canvas, they all drifted off to a
half-sleep.

Minimal time had passed, and he wasn’t sure if he had napped when the truck slowed down, and Chaz sensed there was a bit more traffic around them. The rain had
passed, and they were entering a town.

Jake stretched and asked him, “Where are we?”

“Hawt,” Chaz replied, observing a mass of people buying and selling food.

“It sure is, but where are we?” Jake winked.

“We are in the town of Hawt,” Nicole said, eyes rolling but smiling as well.

“I know, I just thought it was a funny joke.” Jake gently elbowed Nicole. “I mean, it seriously is hot here.”

Chaz didn’t feel hot. He felt tired, damp and a little cold.

[]

Lunch

Nick was glad to reach Hawt.

He eased the truck into a diagonal parking space in front of a
7-11. He came around to the back and asked, “Is everyone feeling
okay?”

“Sarah feels car-sick,” Nicole said, and indeed Sarah was looking quite pale.

“Anyone need anything else?” Nick asked and observed a few head shakes but not a single nod. He went inside, made a quick purchase and was back to the truck in less than a minute.

He handed Sarah a bottle of water and a Dramamine pill. “It might make you a little sleepy.” She nodded her head that she understood. Then Nick handed the pack of the yellow pills to Nicole, “You can be our pharmacist.”

Nick got back behind the wheel and ambled the truck slowly through the town. At the roundabout, he turned right. The road narrowed to two lanes as they followed alongside a beautiful rocky stream on a windy road with numerous blind turns. Now that they had reached the mountains, he could keep the windows down for much of the rest of the trip.

On most of the blind corners they narrowly avoided trucks driving over the double solid lines and using both lanes to cut the turns. Nick drove under the speed limit and several times pulled onto the dirt shoulders. He kept calm and was glad no one else fully understood the peril speeding by them.

As the altitude increased, Nick noticed the trees changed from tamarind to pine. He had to yawn and swallow a few times to unblock his ears. He crested the mountain and descended into a picturesque valley. Lime green grass lay between the road and the royal pine forest. Just before they reached a police checkpoint, Nick pulled left off the road and parked.

Everyone slowly staggered out of the truck. Each of them stretched their stiff muscles in different ways. While Nick and Nicole laid out the green and yellow bamboo mat on the soft grass for a picnic, the others went to explore the forest. Tall pine trees, planted in perfect rows, were arrayed down a gently sloping hill. It looked a bit like one tree with a mirror on either side, giving the illusion of a row of trees that went on for infinity.

Nick sat down and pulled the grilled honey chicken and a large steaming lump of sticky rice out of the aluminum foil. He lay the food on a piece of flattened bamboo. Meanwhile, Nicole prepared drinks for everyone.

Nick stood, stretched and called out, “Lunch is ready!”

He couldn’t see Charles, but he distinctly heard his son’s reply, “Coming!”

By the time everyone was settled, a couple of stray dogs were already scampering around looking for scraps. Sarah lined a collection of adorable, little pinecones in a row next to the mat.

Soon everyone was quietly eating and smiling in satisfaction. Nick had noticed, through leading many outreach teams, no matter what hardships a group might go through, if there was plenty of delicious food then the troops would be content.

“Get away stupid flies,” Sarah said swatting several away from the chicken.

“They aren’t stupid.” Derek used a weird accent. “You are D-E-L-icious, my ‘ittle fly,” Derek snatched a big black fly between his fingers and then moved it towards his mouth.

“Eww gross, don’t eat it!” Sarah said.

“Why?” Derek held the fly in Sarah’s face, “Do you rawnt to eat my fly lice?”

“How about chicky lice and sticken,” Nicole said.

“I’m hungry for chicky flies and ricken,” Chaz said.

Sarah seemed to regain her composure, “Fine. They’re not stupid. You eat the smart bugger, then.”

“Your loss,” Derek said. He squished it and pretended to eat it as he hurled it behind his head.

Chaz grinned. “I think I’d be more concerned about eating ricken.”

“Speaking of unusual foods, what are you eating?” Jake asked.

Chaz took a stick of skewered meat and stuck the whole piece in his mouth. “This here is a hot dog on a stick.” Nick didn’t like it when Chaz talked with his mouth full but decided not to say anything.

“That doesn’t look like the kind of hot dogs we eat in America,” Jake said.

“It isn’t,” Chaz said grinning.

“Wait a second, do you mean?” Sarah asked. Chaz nodded grinning. “Eww, gross, you cannibal.”

Nicole put her hands on her hips. “Doggone it, Chaz!”

“Hey, it’s not like I killed and cooked them,” Chaz said.

Jake and Derek gave Chaz impressed nods.

“Can I try some?” Derek asked.

“Yeah, me too,” Jake said.

Nicole nudged Jake, “Please tell me you’re kidding.”

“You guys are horrible,” Sarah said crossing her arms and sitting back. Nick had been thinking about
trying a piece but, looking at his daughter’s face, decided against
it. Instead, he asked his son, “What does it taste like?”

Chaz handed a stick to Jake and Derek while he said, “Kind of chewy and gamey like water buffalo or venison. The vendor told me he only served black dogs because they had the best tasting meat,” Chaz said.

Derek made a show of eating his and said, “Oh boy! Hotdog! Yummy!”

“La-la-la. I can’t hear you.” Sarah put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes as she chanted, “lalalala.”

Nicole said, “Fine, you’ve tasted it. Now, promise me you’ll never eat a dog again.”

Chaz was still chewing his meat when he held his hand out in the three fingered Boy Scout salute and said, “I promise I will be the defender of all dogs.”

Nick wondered if he would ever again have the opportunity to taste something as exotic as dog meat. Then again, their journey had only just begun.

[]

Police Smackdown

Mangy stray dogs encircled their picnic spot. Chaz decided to test out what
the dogs would do if he chose to feed them, so he tossed a small
lump of sticky rice as far as he was able to throw. The dogs raced
over, and the winner trotted back, triumphantly.

This seemed harmless, and nearly everyone had eaten, so he tried flinging a chicken bone into the middle of the pack. After several growls and snaps, it seemed like no dog would successfully make it to the bone, but then a low ranking canine skirted away with it while receiving a few nips from the others. Sarah seemed fearful and snuggled into her dad.

Derek chucked his bones into
the huddle, while Nicole pitched some sticky rice beyond it towards
one of the smaller dogs. Chaos erupted, and it appeared a bit like
a pile-up at a football game. As best Chaz could tell, the littlest
puppy did not get the rice intended for it.

Chaz grinned fiendishly as he decided to fling the remaining meat from his hot dog on a stick. When he did, a large black dog chomped onto the hind quarters of a white dog, sending it whimpering away before gobbling the canine meat down. It seemed ironic that the black dog bit the white dog in order to eat dog meat. Something about it didn’t seem right so he decided he wouldn’t throw any more of dog meat.

Nicole said, “I know they are starving, but it seems cruel to feed them.”

“I agree.” Nick put a hand on Derek’s arm as he was about to lob another mouthful into the pack. “It probably isn’t safe for us either. Put your scraps on this plate,” Nick commanded. “I’ll toss it in the trash.”

With the trash gathered, Nick carefully dropped it into a nearby trash barrel and came back to clean up. A moment later, the dogs pushed over the barrel, and an even bigger war erupted over the bones, fat and other leftovers.

Chaz asked his dad, “Do we need to clean that mess up?”

Nick shook his head. “It doesn’t look safe to me.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Sarah said.

“There’s a police checkpoint up the hill. Let’s pack up the car and drive over,” Nick said.

Jake and Nicole shook off and folded up the mat. Jake heaved the mat into the back of the truck and said, “I’ll meet you guys over there. I need to stretch my legs.”

“Me too,” Nicole said. Chaz wondered if they were looking for a chance to be alone to flirt. They seemed to like each other.

Everyone else hopped into the truck, which was soon lumbering up the steep grassy embankment onto the two-lane highway. Several white and orange barrels sat on the divider line. A red and white blockade bar was lifted high, and no officers were in sight. Nick parked beside a forestry jeep next to a small green building, and everyone piled out.

Chaz didn’t need to use the toilet, so he followed his dad into the military police office. No one was there, but they could hear voices in the back.

A head popped around the door and lit up with a bright smile. A man in uniform beckoned him closer with his hand saying, in English, “You come.”

They stepped down to a small kitchen where five faces brightened at their arrival.

“I am Ahwut ,” The Lieutenant said. His
name meant “weapon,” and Chaz wondered if it was a nickname or if
his parents aptly named him.

Nick cleared his throat and said in Thai, “I am Nick ,
and this is my son, Chaz. It is nice to meet you.”

“Come. Sit. Somtam,” an officer, said in English and gestured at two large platefuls of somtam papaya salad with crushed up crabs. Chaz noticed there was more crab shell than crab meat on the plate. It looked delicious but very spicy. He knew it would be rude to refuse, so he sat down with his dad, smiled, and pinched several strands of spicy shaved papaya in his fingers. He dropped it into his mouth and smiled as his eyes welled up with tears.

His dad tried some and in a hoarse voice Nick said, “Delicious.”

Chaz smiled with tight lips, as a burn like nuclear fission drizzled down his throat and combusted with his stomach acid. He gurgled out a burp, which he covered with his hand. Chaz wondered if there were more hot peppers used in this dish than actual papaya. He wiped a tear and some sweat away with the back of his hand.

The men exchanged triumphant smiles of camaraderie, glad the outsiders were willing to join them and could even speak some of their language. Chaz knew most of the conversation would now be in Thai.

Chaz and his Dad took another bite.

“Very good.” Another one of the officers spoke to Chaz in Thai. “Do you like spicy food?” An official plastic name tag on his shirt displayed his name was Bong.

“Yes,” Chaz said while successfully refraining from hyperventilating. He removed some crab shell fragments from his mouth and set them on the table. “My mouth is happy, but my stomach is angry.”

The men smiled and offered some polite laughter. One of the older men with gray hair and a wrinkled uniform held up a bottle of whiskey. “My stomach hates both alcohol and spices, but I refuse to allow my stomach to dictate my life. My ulcer medicine makes me feel fine.” The old man grinned wide, so that Chaz could see his few remaining, dark-colored teeth. Chaz smiled back.

“Boonlert, here,” Lieutenant Ahwut put his arm around the old man, “is not fine. He often misses work because of his health.” The men chuckled.

The man plopped some ice cubes into a small glass with tongs. Chaz noticed from the label that this whiskey was made from sticky rice and its strength was forty-proof. The old man sloshed some of the brown whiskey into two glasses filling them to the top. He placed the glasses firmly in front of Nick and Chaz, where they splashed a little on the hand-made wooden table.

“Please drink up,” Boonlert said holding up his glass.

“Thank you for your offer, but I have to drive,” Nick cleared his throat. “And my son is only thirteen years old.”

“One glass won’t hurt, besides,” Boonlert looked around conspiratorially, “It’s not like any policemen are going to pull you over.”

All the men laughed uproariously. Obviously, they were the only authorities around here. So, if they didn’t mind drinking and driving, then that was the end of the discussion.

“Can I dad?” Chaz asked in English. He didn’t want to get drunk or anything, but he did want to try a sip, so he knew what alcohol tasted like.

His dad shook his head and answered officer Boonlert for the two of them. “You are very generous, but I must say ‘no’.”

One of the men, who had been standing dignified in the corner of the room, stepped towards Nick and shook his hand. “My name is Colonel Prateep.” He
wore a green army issue sweater with patches on the elbows. The
patches did not make the burly man seem any less manly. Instead, he
made the fashion seem dangerous. He had short jet-black hair and a
steely gaze. His face was as cratered as a war-torn
battlefield.

“My name is Nick Stevens.”

“Come to my office .”
He turned briskly and walked into another room with a glass
door.

Chaz started to follow, but Boonlert stood in his path and asked in English, “Where you from?”

Chaz looked at his dad, questioningly. Nick nodded that Chaz should stay and chat. Chaz took a seat while he tried to think how best to answer one of the hardest questions for missionary kids to answer.

Finally, he decided on a response which he gave in Thai. “I was born in America.”

Boonlert nodded his head making humming noises. In English, he continued, “Very rich country. You like Thailand?”

“Of course.”

Why else would I be here?

“You speak fluently,” Boonlert took a swig of whiskey.

“Thank you,” Chaz replied, uncomfortable with the man’s penetrating stare. He warily held his gaze with a smile, occasionally glancing downward or at the other men. Finally, he settled on looking at a map on the wall .

“What do you like?”

“The food, the people, the weather…” As he looked more closely at the map, he realized it was a picture of the Salaween river in the area they were headed.

“Too hot.” The man folded his arms.

“Well,” Chaz said. “I prefer hot weather to cold.”

“Your father not here.” Boonlert grinned with two teeth jutting out. “Would you like to try whiskey now?”

“No thanks.” Chaz didn’t want that kind of trouble. On the map were inked-in images of dams with the Thai word for dam, khuen. Chaz knew that there were presently no dams on the river.

“Where you go?”

“The Salween River.” Chaz looked back and forth between the man and the map. Areas above the dams were circled and marked as flood zones.

“No,” Boonlert folded his arms. “that too dangerous.”

“We understand. But there are some people we need to help.”

“That river has many dangers. It swallowed my brother, and we never found his body.”

“I am so sorry.”

“Are you ready to fight?” Boonlert’s abrupt change in the conversation was confusing.

“Who would I fight?”

“There are many bad people in the world.” Boonlert set his chair in front of Chaz and sat down uncomfortably close. His pungent whiskey breath was unsettling.

“You hit me, now.”

“I don’t…”

“You protect yourself from dangerous men.” Boonlert held out two palms.

Chaz gave a half-hearted try. Boonlert’s furrowed his brows in response, so Chaz tried harder.

Boonlert said, “Good. Even harder.”

Soon Chaz was throwing punches, which Boonlert effortlessly swatted away.

Boonlert calmly monologued a story that shot the hairs up on Chaz’s neck. “I watch Burmese soldiers shell a village until many people dead. I sneak around, and I shoot them all in the head. Their ghosts visit me every morning. So you now see how important is this.”

“We don’t plan to hurt anyone.”

“Nobody can plan that.” Without warning, Boonlert shot his hand towards Chaz’s face saying. “Now your turn.” Chaz jerked back but had Boonlert not stopped his fist in time; it would have connected with Chaz’s chin.

Chaz feverously fended off blow after blow. The better he fought, the more encouragement he got from his opponent. The other men gathered around and cheered.

The whole experience felt surreal to Chaz. He had never truly fought someone, and it felt awkward to be fighting a military policeman. Faster and faster the man’s hands jabbed towards Chaz’s face.

Finally, the glass door creaked open, and Boonlert halted his attack and turned around. Momentarily, Chaz considered resuming his punches against Boonlert, but it seemed unwise.

Colonel Prateep and his dad came into the main room. “Okay, you go now.” Prateep’s voice was serious. “We will meet tomorrow at Mae Saam Laep, okay?”

“Sounds good,” Nick said. “I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good, good,” Prateep replied in a cheerful, relaxed tone of voice.

Nick put his hands together in front of his nose in a praying or waii’ing position and said “Sawatdii Khrap .” Which means both, “hello” and “goodbye.”

The Colonel didn’t gesture back, but the other four men gave Nick waii’s of varying levels of respect ranging from equal status to waii’ing Nick as if he were a high lord monk. Boonlert waii’d him as if his dad were the King of Thailand.

Chaz didn’t know if he should waii or not, but nobody was noticing him now, so he decided he didn’t need to. Soon they were out in the fresh air, and Chaz took several deep, steadying breaths before he was ready to get into the truck.

Everyone else was already waiting in the truck when he and his dad got back. Fortunately, despite the earlier radiator problem, the truck started without any problems. He was glad for what he’d learned, but hoped he never again have to fight with a policeman.

[]

You Ate What?

Mile after monotonous green mile rolled by. Chaz wondered if the
untouched, jade territory around them held any ancient
secrets.

What if this is what famous explorers felt on their journeys, not knowing what was around the next bend in the river.

He gazed at the distant hills and shaded his eyes from the sun. Aside from an occasional dog, sparrow or chicken on the side of the road, there were few animals around, or at least they were proficient at hiding. He wondered what kinds of animals were roaming around, just out of sight. Perhaps tigers or elephants or monkeys. Maybe even some unique animal thought to be extinct or unheard of species.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?” Sarah asked.

“Oh, just searching for extinct animals,” Chaz replied.

“If they are extinct, I doubt you’d see them,” Nicole said.

“You know what I mean. Wouldn’t it be cool if we spotted Bigfoot?” Chaz asked.

“You mean a Yeti,” Nicole corrected Chaz.

Chaz raised his eyebrows. His sister had a knack for agreeing with him and yet still appearing as if she were dissenting.

“Huh?” Sarah asked.

“That’s what the people around here call the mythical ape that looks like a man,” Nicole said.

“Exactly. That’s exactly what I want to discover,” Chaz said.

“Not gonna happen,” Nicole said.

“Why?” Chaz asked.

“Everyone knows they live in the foothills of the Himalayas in North Burma,” Nicole said.

“I didn’t know that,” Derek said.

Nicole snorted, “I meant educated people.”

“Burn,” Chaz said to Derek, “So if everyone knows they live there, then why doesn’t anyone go and get one?” Chaz asked.

“Because the Burmese government doesn’t like outsiders poking their noses inside their country,” Nicole instructed, “Besides, the beasts live where humans don’t, so no one would know where even to start looking.”

“I still think it would be cool to catch some rare exotic species,” Chaz said.

“Maybe, but if it didn’t kill you, what would you keep it in?” Nicole asked.

“Why do you always have to be so logical?” Chaz said.

“I don’t know, why are you always so illogical?” Nicole said.

“Am not.”

“Are too. What about that time you took a hose and a bucket and tried to swim to the bottom of Huay Tung Tao Lake?”

“How was I to know I couldn’t suck in the air at lower depths?”

Derek said, “Talk about sucking.” His crudeness earned him an angry glare from Nicole.

“You even lost the bucket in the middle of the lake,” Nicole said.

“So, maybe the cinderblock was a bit heavy. But it helped me to get pretty deep.”

“Yeah, and an ear infection,” Nicole said.

“At least I’m not afraid to try stuff.” Chaz stuck out his chest, “You haven’t ever eaten fried crickets.”

Jake asked, “Fried crickets?”

“Yeah, they taste like French fries, but you have to pop the legs off,” Chaz said.

“Eww,” Derek said. “I’ll eat a lot of things, but not bugs.”

“Well,” Nicole gestured at Chaz. “The human garbage disposal here will put anything in his mouth.”

“Not everything,” Chaz chuckled. “I draw the line at fried water cockroaches.”

“Now who’s the coward?” Nicole nudged Chaz.

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?” Jake asked.

“Probably batwing soup,” Chaz said.

“Seriously?” Jake asked.

“I’ve had it too,” Derek said.

“The aftertaste stays with you for a while,” Chaz said.

“Will you boys please quit it?” Nicole’s nose was flaring as if there was a bad smell in the room, “It’s grossing everyone out.”

“I’m not grossed out,” Derek said.

“Me neither,” Jake said.

“That’s why I said, ‘boys’! Will you please change the subject?” Nicole asked putting her arm around Sarah and pulling her close.

“Jake, have you ever butchered a pig?” Chaz asked changing the subject.

“Hey, I’m serious!” Nicole said.

“Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” Chaz said.

Nicole interjected sternly, “Watch it, or I’ll tell dad on you.”

“How come everyone’s picking on me?” Chaz asked.

“No one’s picking on you, yet. Keep it up, and you’ll really have something to complain about,” Nicole said.

“I’ve eaten monitor lizard,” Derek said.

Nicole gave her dead serious glare as she tightened the muscles around her eyes.

“Fine,” Derek pulled both arms back in surrender.

For a while no one said anything. Chaz peered into the tree line hoping to spot a tiger or a yeti.

[]

Angry Buffalo

Nick drove
cautiously with as few swerves as possible. The main highway
narrowed as they progressed alongside steep mountains. Sharp curves
poisoned the serpentine road, and even though he didn’t feel any
ill effects, he worried Sarah probably wasn’t doing very
well.

He looked back at the kids, and they seemed to be content and sleepy. At least they were resting up for the adventure. It was probably best he hadn’t planned on going all the way to the river tonight. Traveling there in the day was dangerous enough, but by night it could be treacherous.

Gloomy mountains loomed ominously ahead, like a tsunami rushing towards them. Pink clouds crested the dark lump as if the frothy swell were about to smash down over them. A bright flash of lightning illuminated murky plumes and a purple sky. Storm clouds swirled and avalanched down the mountainside as the rain applauded its way to the earth. A potent storm rolled furiously towards him.

A sense of doom breezed towards Nick, but his dread thawed the moment they penetrated the down-pouring curtain. Nick’s visibility was clear, and he was glad the downpour hadn’t been as intense as he expected.

The storm dissipated as quickly as it had appeared. Nick was amazed at the appearance of a beautifully intact double rainbow glistening a car’s length in front of the truck. The other end dissolved far off over the forest. Nick looked back to tell everyone but could see every single one of them was sleeping.

Tongdii’s home village of Baan Salee lay in the valley of Sameung. After twenty more
minutes of driving, the truck finally rambled down into the Sameung
valley. The evening sun skidded slowly downwards towards the
western mountains. The sun’s rays slowly retreated across the
valley. His excitement increased, knowing the Salween River and
Burma were just on the other side of those
mountains.

He turned right onto a dirt road, and the truck lumbered and rocked back and forth down the slope as the suspension squealed as it tried to cope with the bumpy new environment. Nick looked in the rearview mirror and noticed his passengers were stretching and waking.

“We are almost there,” Tongdii said to Nick.

“This is where you grew up, right?” Nick asked. His memory was a little foggy from the last time they talked about it.

“My parents moved to this valley from Burma before I was born.”

“Do you still have relatives in Burma?”

“All murdered. Just us.”

Nick slowed the truck as it crested the hill and he had to have faith the road would continue, because all he could see through the windshield were trees and sky. Moments later, the road eased back into view. He breathed a sigh of relief as he accelerated again down the hill.

The dirt road ended, and some paved road began as they entered the village. The truck
rumbled its way through the richer side of town, passing the
chief’s house. In the driveway sat a new Mercedes Benz and a shiny
new Toyota four-wheel-drive.

He slowly drove past the elementary school and could hear the familiar sound of children playing and screaming. Rotting sticks held up the rusty barbed wire fence that wrapped around the school property.

Sitting under a large bush and smoking, sat a circle of boys in tattered clothes, clearly not where they should be. One of the youngsters shouted at the truck and threw a rock. Nick felt anxious the rock would hit his children, but it bounced off the roof as the teenagers laughed and went back to their huddle.

A bejeweled glistening temple loomed ahead. Nick could hear the rhythmic droning of chanting coming from
the main chapel. Each house on this side of town had a small spirit
house in front. Most were cement pillars with a small white cement
temple on top, with two choss sticks and two glasses of water and
an occasional piece of fruit. A few of the spirit houses were
carved teakwood instead of cement, unlike the kind usually found in
cities. All of them were well tended.

The cement road ended abruptly as the
tires wedged their way down the slippery grooves of the overgrown
dirt path. Weeds thwacked rhythmically at the front grill.

He spun the wheel and the truck narrowly avoided a giant mud puddle. He came to a stop as a large water buffalo blocked their path. The beast regarded Nick with eyes that changed from bored to angry. It stood up and charged at the truck.

Tongdii jumped out of the back of the truck and calmly walked towards the mighty beast. It stopped, snorted and slowly turned and ambled into the nearby underbrush.

When Nick pulled up in front of Tongdii’s house, he was grateful for a chance to rest his eyes and stretch his legs. Even so, he was nervous about their safety level here.

[]

Dog Tired

Chaz ignored his weariness and
was the first to hop out and climb to the top of the truck. He
called over to his dad, “What bags do you want down?”

“Give everyone their own pack and let each person decide which items they need.” Nick turned and spread his arms to greet Tongdii’s family.

Chaz untied the bowline knots as he watched a wrinkled old lady race out to greet them. Her gray hair was wound up in a faded pale blue towel at the back of her head. Deep ruts were carved into her smiling face as if tilled for planting. This wrinkled old lady could not have been much older than fifty, but after a lifetime of laboring in the fields, her body was a shriveled, dried husk.

Jake caught the bags that Chaz pitched off the truck roof, and Nicole and Sarah shuffled them over to lean against the wall of the house.

A slender, smiling gentleman lumbered out of the house, and Tongdii introduced his parents to Nick. “This is my mother Mae Rhuthirat, and this is my father, Paw Waet.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Nick said.

Chaz swooped to the ground in a single leap, and he landed in a mud puddle. Paw Waet and Mae Rhuthirat ushered them all into their sparse home. He removed his shoes and lined them up next to the others. The walls were bamboo, but the furniture was antique hand-carved teak. Mae Rhuthirat handed each of them a glass of ice water. Chaz momentarily wondered how safe the ice was to drink, but he didn’t care. He quickly sculled it down. Meanwhile, Derek shoved his glass aside.

Nick discussed with Paw Waet about driving them to the river tomorrow. Chaz caught his dad’s attention with his eyes and Nick released him and the others to escape. Chaz didn’t want to ask what time dinner would be because he feared the adults might take their time in coming up with an answer.

Chaz dragged his green, internal-frame, backpack to a corner of the living room and propped it up next to a window. He admired how his tough new pack was holding up.

He considered napping but was much too tired to rest. He gazed at the scenic mountains and wondered what exploits he could find there. He turned and bolted towards the door, causing the house to shudder.

His dad called to him, “Careful or you’ll knock the whole house down.”

“Okay,” Chaz answered and headed outside. Derek came to stand beside him and said, “Well, I’m coming too.”

While they put their shoes back on, he breathed deeply, and the bitter scent of pine tingled his nose. He wondered if there might be a waterfall or cave nearby to explore. Instead of heading randomly into the jungle, he figured he’d ask one of the local boys for directions.

I’m not asking the rock throwing club, though.

Derek said, “My legs ache, and my backside is still numb.”

“Not for long.” Chaz ignored Derek’s complaints. Talking about pain was a drag and a waste of breath.

Derek was already huffing as he skipped to keep up. “Watcha in a hurry for?”

“Adventure awaits. Let’s…” Chaz’s next words froze in his throat, and he coughed as quietly as he could. Up ahead was a glistening and intricately adorned Buddhist temple. Chaz wondered if the priests were to sell some of that gaudy, gold decoration, just how many of the local poor people they could rescue from dismal poverty.

In front, an emaciated man slouch-walked. He wore a
Buddhist monk’s red-orange robe. An animal fur
covered half of his bald head. He held his
gnarled hands with long fingernails in front, outstretched. His
motion was so smooth and his appearance so gruesome, it almost
seemed like he was a wraith.

When he passed out of sight around the building, Chaz rubbed his eyes and blinked hard.

“Did you…?” Chaz faced Derek.

Derek gave a wry smile, “Uh-huh.”

Chaz shrugged his shoulders to indicate maybe they should investigate. Derek smiled on one side of his face and nodded, clearly in agreement with his idea.

They sauntered along the dirt road towards the temple. When they got close, though, they slowed down and carefully peered around the corner. With the priest’s back turned, they couldn’t fully see what was going on. He stood in a clearing between several lit candles. A loud, low-pitched grumbly chant echoed across the clearing.

“Follow me,” Chaz whispered. He slowly continued along the dirt road until the clearing gave way to thick vegetation. He darted in a short distance and stopped. They’d have to walk much slower, or they’d give away their position with every crinkly footstep. Dense vines and thorns obstructed their progress. Chaz sort of wished he’d brought his machete, but the chopping would have made too much noise. He swiped some cobwebs away with a stick and dodged some thorny vines.

A few scratches later, they found
a fat Bo tree to climb. They perched up on a
limb with a great view. The priest yanked down on a cord, and
instantly a dog’s yelp surprised Chaz so much he nearly fell
backward off the branch.

When the priest moved to tie the cord to a small altar they were able to see a cute fluffy brown puppy yelping in agony.

It dangled upside down, suspended from one of its hind legs.

The man straightened back up and swished his animal fur cap around, so it dangled down his back again. He pulled out an intricately jeweled dagger and slashed a thin cut along the dog’s abdomen. The puppy yelped and tried to reach up and gnaw at the cord on its ankle, which now began to bleed as well. Blood splattered onto a scroll below, which was braced down with two rocks. The priest lay the knife on the altar and strode away.

Now that Chaz saw an actual dog get hurt, he felt a little queasy about his willingness to eat dog meat for lunch. But, that canine had been bred for food and killed instantly. This dog was about to be tortured and sacrificed to demons.

Once the priest was out of sight, Chaz looked at Derek, “Dude! Again?”

Derek shook his head. “I know, right? It’s just like this morning with the cat.”

“You game?”

“Why not?” Derek replied.

The boys jumped down and crept along the edge of the clearing. Then, at once, they burst into the clearing at full speed towards the dog.

Chaz arrived first and reached out to the yelping dog. It tried to bite him, so he reached higher and hoisted both of its legs and yanked upward. The mutt swung towards him and its teeth sliced into Chaz’s thigh. Chaz jumped back, ignoring the thin trickle of blood and made the mongrel swing side-to-side away from him.

Chaz whispered, “This whippersnapper nearly bit me!”

Again, it swung close to Chaz and just as its teeth were about to chomp down, Derek used the dagger to slice the cord. The dog fell to the ground and fled from them in terror with the piece of rubber clothesline dangling from its ankle.

Derek set the dagger back down, and they raced for the dirt road. Chaz imagined the wraith-like creature gliding after them. With the sound of the yelping puppy ringing in his ears, he sprinted faster than he had ever run in his life. Chaz looked back in time to see the object of his fears walking out of the temple doors. He increased his speed and ran towards the safety of Tongdii’s house.

[]

Slingshot

Sarah, Nicole and Jake sat on a mat, eating popped rice as they casually listened to Nick, Rhuthirat and Paw Waet discuss logistics. Chaz thought about telling
them what had happened, but they seemed very engrossed, and he
didn’t want to rudely interrupt.

Derek whispered to him, “Satan must be really moving in this village.”

Chaz whipped around to see if a demon possessed man had entered the room, “How do you mean?”

“Because something demonic is chasing all the food through my innards. I feel like I’m going to explode.”

“So, go already.”

“I didn’t see a bathroom.”

“So go find a tree.” Chaz laughed. “There’s a small shovel and some toilet paper in the front seat of the truck.”

Derek groaned as he raced out.

A moment later, Tongdii came in from the kitchen and handed Chaz a slingshot.

“Cool, what’s this for?” Chaz asked as he examined the forked stick with the thick rubber band.

“Dinner,” Tongdii said in Thai.

“My mother said we could choose our meat. Go find the biggest
chicken you can and she will prepare it.” Tongdii smiled big.

“Seriously?” Chaz stood and keenly examined the weapon. “I can just go and kill a chicken?”

“Have fun.” Tongdii put his hands on his hips and winked. “My mother is a good cook.”

Before acting, he carefully thought through his views on when it was acceptable to kill an animal. Killing for food was obviously appropriate. Torturing and sacrificing an animal to demons was clearly not appropriate. He wondered if everyone shared his point of view. He tried to think hard, but it was impossible to comprehend a different way of looking at this issue.

Chaz felt privileged to be allowed to hunt down dinner for everyone tonight. He walked around the back of the house and spied a lanky black chicken. It looked plump and delicious.

He reached down and snatched a jagged stone, pulled back and let fly. It struck the hen hard, and the unlucky bird stumbled to the ground, but then it got back up and started running and squawking. Within moments, the other chickens were making a huge ruckus as well. Chaz looked around and noticed he was the center of attention. From out of several stilted huts, he could see giggling villagers watching through doorways and windows. Even Tongdii was now watching.

I think I’ve been set up.

The chicken ran along the mud until it disappeared within a sugarcane field.

He looked over at Tongdii who said, “Hurry, go get our dinner and make sure you only go after the one you hit. It’s already dying.”

Chaz gathered a handful of rocks and
raced headlong after the hen into the sugarcane field. He ran along
a row of stalks as light branches smacked his face. Even though all
of the chickens and pigs were making disruptive noises, Chaz could
still hear the distinct squeal of the fowl he had already wounded.
He attempted to follow after the loudest sounding squawks and found
the wobbling chicken bounding onto several newly planted
stalks.

Chaz took aim and let fly with another rock, and in moments he had their dinner in hand. He was grateful it was already dead. He didn’t know whether to feel proud, foolish or cruel. Making his way past a pile of sugar cane poles prepared for market, he came to the packed dirt that surrounded the village. He looked up and saw several of the village men laughing uproariously and several of the women snickering and staring at him.

As Tongdii approached Chaz, he said, “I need to get cleaned up.”

Tongdii took the dead chicken and slingshot and said, “Good job. It is very good to learn lessons.”

Chaz wondered which lesson he was referring to, but he didn’t care. He wanted to get the blood rinsed off. He went down to the water cistern and washed up. When he felt clean and refreshed, Derek came over to the basin to wash up.

“What took you so long?” He asked Derek.

Derek squeezed his belly. “I don’t know if I feel better or worse. At least I found the toilet.”

“It all comes out in the end.”

“What was all the noise I heard from the sweatbox?”

“I think that was you.”

“No, I mean the other noises.”

“Which, the animals freaking out or the villagers laughing?”

“Both I guess,” Derek said.

“You missed an adventure. I got to kill our supper.” Chaz flicked his eyebrows up and down and grinned.

“You lucky duck!”

“What’s so lucky about getting your head chopped off and your feathers boiled off.”

“Lucky dog, then.”

“Have you forgotten so soon?” Chaz laughed.

“Right,” Derek said dryly. “So, why are you so drenched? Were you trying to catch fish?”

Chaz walked back up to the house, “Chicken.”

“Why didn’t you wait for me?” Derek scratched his forehead.

“Sorry, I didn’t think of it.”

Although, if I had thought of it, I would have feared Derek would take the slingshot from me and do it himself.

“How did you kill it?”

“Tongdii gave me a slingshot, but now I wish I had caught the chicken and used my machete instead.”

“Either way, I’ll bet Sarah will be upset,” Derek said this as if it brought him great amusement.

“So, don’t tell her, okay?”

“My lips are sealed up like a cheddi,” Derek said, referring to the commonplace Buddhist pyramids.

“I’m just glad the valuable livestock didn’t escape me in the sugarcane field.”

“Well, I don’t plan to eat any.”

“What, are you pulling a Sarah on me?”

“Not because of that. It’s because of my stomach. I have a case of King Mengrai’s revenge,” Derek said. Just then they heard the crackle of thunder and looked up.

“The ancient ruler from around here? Who would he want revenge on?” Chaz asked.

“White outsiders I guess.” Derek put his hand on his stomach and hurried back to the toilet.

[]

Village Meeting

The screeches of a dying animal blasted from the village loudspeaker. After a moment, Chaz realized it was merely
traditional cultural music. He didn’t like it.

Suddenly, an even louder piercing feedback squeal echoed across the countryside, and Chaz envisioned someone holding a microphone up against a speaker to test if it worked.

A man cleared his throat and
announced, using overly-formal high-level Thai, there would be an
urgent, village-wide meeting in half-an-hour. At least, that’s
probably what the man said, but he sure used some highfalutin’
words.

Chaz jumped up. “Dude, did you catch all that?”

Derek stretched, “I wasn’t listening. What was he on about?”

Nicole piped in, “It is just some boring meeting.”

“Exactly!” Chaz gestured forcefully in Derek’s face who pulled away, annoyed. Chaz continued, “You don’t think this is about the dog do you?”

Before Derek could reply, Nicole cut in, “Oh no,” she put her hands on her hips and scowled. “What did you boys do?”

Chaz paused a moment and said shyly, “We saved a life is all.”

“What…” Nicole cleared her throat and squinted her eyes. “life.”

“The Buddhist Priest was going to sacrifice a puppy.” Chaz looked at Derek for his support. “So we helped it escape.”

“Hmm…” Nicole took a minute to digest the information. “Chaz, why do you always have to leap before you look?”

“I don’t know. Why do you always have to leap to conclusions about my actions? What if it was Derek’s idea?”

Nicole pointed her finger at Derek. “Yeah, you’ve got the same problem too.”

Derek whined, “Do we have to tell your dad what we did?”

Chaz rubbed his forehead. His dad and Paw Waet were upstairs in a business meeting. “Let’s find out first what the meeting is about before bothering him.”

Nicole swept her hand dismissively. “You mean you actually plan to go to the town meeting?”

Sarah came in from the kitchen eating a banana and said, “I want to g…”

Chaz interrupted. “No, It’ll just be Derek and me.”

Derek leaned forward and squinted his eyes closed. “Speak for yourself, kemosabe. I’m not going.”

“What?” Chaz blinked hard. “Seriously?”

“It sounds fun, but my stomach is freaking out.”

Chaz still wanted somebody to join him, “Okay, so Nicole…”

Nicole shook her head. “I’m not sure it’s safe.”

“How could going and listening to someone talk be dangerous?”

“Something about this situation makes me feel nervous.”

“How else can we figure out what’s going on.” Chaz stood and looked out the window. “I want to know if I somehow blew up a hornet’s nest.”

“Fine. But Sarah, you stay here.”

Sarah looked upset and started to rebut. “But…”

Nicole glared at her, and Sarah backed down.

He was glad to have Nicole along. She spoke Thai even better than he did and she could help if the language got too advanced. “Let’s hurry and find a secure hiding spot.”

Chaz led the way, hopping over various mud puddles. A golden Buddha, glistening in the heat of numerous spotlights, loomed over the temple. They were on the opposite side of the temple from the sacrificial altar. A soft breeze forced nearby palm trees to thwap into the building. Not far away, several villagers removed their shoes and entered the temple.

“Over here,” Chaz said. He ducked his head and ran towards an edifice with a terracotta roof but no walls. He crouched behind a stumpy cement bench that skirted the perimeter and gagged on a cloud of soot. He jumped back coughing and said, “Oh, shoot!”

Nicole whispered harshly, “Oh soot, you mean.” Then she coughed.

“I just knelt on a pile of burned up dead people.” Chaz patted the dust off his legs.

“Well,” she rolled her eyes. “Get off of them!”

Chaz put his hand into the pile of ashes and pulled out a bone and held it up in the flickering light from the temple.

“What are you doing with that?”

“It’s a leg bone.” Chaz wondered if he could keep it.

“I think you’re pulling mine.”

“I’m serious. Don’t you find it humerous ?”

“Cute pun. I’ve got a bone to pick with you, but not that one. Just put it back and let’s pay attention to the meeting.”

He did, and they found a newly swept area to crouch behind. Soon, they heard the quivering voice of a man shouting angrily into a microphone. It was arduous for both of them to understand what he was saying. Chaz didn’t
know if he was cussing or using an altogether different language.
But when he did speak in Thai, one repeated phrase was striking,
“Kill all the Christians.” Nicole was noticeably distraught, and he
realized he shouldn’t have brought her along.

The crazed man ranted until his voice was hoarse. Eventually, a clear and calm voice took the microphone, and Chaz recognized it to be the same voice that announced this meeting. He explained that he appreciated the point of view of their spiritual leader. Obviously, it was the role of all such leaders to meditate and teach all religious minded people the course of detachment from all strong emotions. And far be it from him to point out that the five-fold path asserted no Buddhist should harm life.

He also explained how Thai people enjoyed the freedom of religion. Even though following Buddha’s enlightened path was clearly the only choice for a man of logic, they must all accept there were other valid ways to find truth. With a stern voice, he avowed that he would severely punish anyone who caused any Christians or any visitors harm or merely even acted inhospitably. He concluded by insisting everyone return home quickly.

Had this leader not expressed such wisdom to the mob, they could all have been in danger of martyrdom.

 

[]

Capture

The villagers came back out, slid on their footwear and slipped away quietly into the inky evening.

Nicole stood
and looked at her brother. He sure seemed to have a knack for
stirring up trouble. She had no idea what they’d tell dad. She
chuckled, “Well Chuck, you sure screwed up big, this time.”

“So what now?”

A twig snapped, and they jolted around. Two boys in their late teens approached
them.

“Run!” Chaz shouted at her and raced off into the nearby woods. Nicole fully intended to follow, but the larger of the two guys jumped in her path. Her mind filled with numerous horrible outcomes and she would fight to the death if it came to that. She was sure Chaz would bring help and imagined Jake heroically storming in to save the day.

The village boys seemed only slightly older than her. The huskier of the two had a broad face covered in pimples and a shaved head. The lanky guy had long oily hair and healed slice marks adorned his body.

She thought through the sensitive parts of a person’s body that she could knee, elbow and scratch. The husky guy pointed towards the walled Buddhist compound and said, “Go.”

The brightly lit, public temple seemed safer than this murky crematorium. Nicole held her shoulders high and marched straight towards the front entrance. The boys kept at arm’s length behind her making sure she couldn’t escape.

A minute earlier, people had still been leaving the meeting, but now, there was no one in sight. She walked as slowly as possible, to allow her father and Jake time to rescue her.

Clouds of pungent incense assaulted her nostrils, upon entering the temple. Ornate tapestries adorned the walls. Intricate scenes of agony depicted the future Hell that Buddhists of bad karma would have to endure before their next reincarnation as a lower life form. Blood dripped from guilty souls suffering outrageously cruel punishments.

A gaunt phantom approached her silently. His shriveled head seemed to hover in front of his chest. He gestured, and the burly guy wrapped his arms around her tightly from behind. She kicked the ground hard, sending them both tumbling to the floor.

The lanky guy wrenched her left arm, twisted it hard and leveraged her face into the harsh, bristling, orange carpet. The priest handed the bully a flexible curtain cord, and he quickly bound her hands together behind her back.

The burly guy pressed down on her kicking legs as the lanky guy tied her ankles together. The cords were too tight, and they cut deep enough to draw some blood. Her hands and feet throbbed nearly as much as the pounding headache, now forming in her temples. She smiled as she considered she truly had a temple headache. Her fear and pain were too severe for her smile to remain.

Nicole gazed at the door, longing for her rescuers to emerge. The burly guy hoisted her over his shoulder, and she gasped for air. He lay Nicole on an ornate altar at the base of a repulsive Buddha statue. The cement
was stained red, and it was clearly not paint.

The priest held high a large square plastic bag full of a white powder, and he handed it to the lanky man, who received it reverentially. A moment later, the two guys were hooting, skipping and laughing. They bounced out of the temple, thrusting their fists joyously in the air.

The priest picked up some incense and chanted. His gaunt form seemed lost in his billowing saffron robes. He dipped some thatch into a vase of water and flicked it in her face. It stunk worse than the incense. He hovered closer to her, and her eyes widened in terror when she realized he was clutching an ornate dagger in his right hand. She struggled to remove her bonds, and the cords cut deeper. Her heart pounded furiously. The priest closed his eyes and droned on in a language Nicole wasn’t familiar with.

A gust of wind raced through the room, extinguishing many of the candles. A soft tinkling sound proceeded a loud thud. She looked up at the golden statue of a Naga dragon
with seven smaller Naga serpent heads hovering protectively around
it.

Strange sounds seemed to be coming from this direction. It creaked. It grunted. Nicole wondered if the demons in this statue could somehow communicate because of the priest’s regular sacrifices? The idol groaned as if waking up. Then it moaned what sounded to her like, “haam khaa.” Which, in Thai meant, “Do not kill.” or “I forbid you to kill.”

The effigy seemed to loom forward. The priest shrieked, and she examined his horrified face. Clearly, this was a new experience for him. He dropped his knife and picked up the hem of his robe and fled screaming in terror.

Nicole feared she might have gone from the frying pan to the fire when she looked back at the unnerving idol. It continued to groan and teeter, and soon it was rocking from side to side. Tingles, like hundreds of spiders crawling up her spine, seized her. She earnestly prayed for God to rescue her.

[]

Investigation

After hearing the evil priest’s words, Chaz’s nerves
were coiled like a cobra. When the twig snapped behind him, his
muscles thrust him to safety, before his brain was finally able to
shout, “Run!”

A moment later, when he reached the underbrush, he turned to see his sister hadn’t moved but was now encircled by the two guys. He smacked his head with his palm in frustration.

So, do I run and tell dad, or do I save her? I’d better stay close and see what they have planned first.

The guys escorted her inside the temple, keeping a nervous distance from her. Had they laid a finger on her, he would have attacked them for all he was worth. He would do whatever it took to keep her safe, even if it meant forfeiting his own life for hers.

He hated it when people said he was impulsive. He was going to prove how thoughtful he could be in a dangerous situation. He needed to know first where they were taking Nicole. If he didn’t watch and find out, they could hide her in a dungeon cell and then lie about even seeing her.

His eyes fell on gleaming white steps that went up the side of the temple to a small watch tower. Chaz raced over and quickly clambered up.

Halfway up, Chaz paused at a landing. A large iron welded oak door loomed to his left, while the stairs continued upward to his right. A heavy chain looped through the handle, and a padlock secured it. He nudged the lock, and it shifted sideways. It was completely unlocked. He slid the chain out and entered a small dark room.

He slowly made his way down a corridor with intricately shaped archways to his right. In the daylight, it might have been impressive, but right now it was just creepy.

His every step upon the wooden floorboards creaked and groaned. He wondered if there might be termites in the wood. At the end of the hallway, a stairway went up, and another went down. He braced his hand on the wall straight ahead as he tried to decide which way to go and he felt the wall bulge.

He lost his balance and fell through a facade. The light veneer crumpled and Chaz found himself in a dark, musty room. A slit of flickering light, at the other side of the room, transfixed him. He headed towards it and bashed his knee on a jagged, unmovable object on the floor, and he collapsed in a heap.

A meaningless grunt, “Haaagh Kaaagh,” seeped through his teeth while he kicked the floor a few times.

When he had recovered, he stood back up and tried to peek through the narrow crevice. He couldn’t see anything specific, but it seemed he was looking down on a large room. He was pretty sure it was the main temple area where the guys had taken Nicole.

Chaz tried pushing on the panel near the crevice, and it turned out that it was actually a small door. He pushed first with his hands and then with his shoulder, but it appeared that a large cement pillar blocked the door from opening.

He was able to wedge it open enough that a larger crack of light entered the little room. Flickering candlelight gave enough illumination to reveal a crowbar on the floor.

***

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Missionary Kid Chronicles: The Naga Trilogy: Journey: A Supernatural Adventure

“Can your God stop a dragon? Will you go?” Recently rescued orphan Katya begged Chaz and his family to return to her isolated home village in Thailand. In this coming-of-age story, missionary kid, Chaz, must stop a Spirit Doctor from sacrificing a little girl to a Naga dragon. Chaz discovers a military plot that will displace thousands of villages along the Salween river. He might be able to tell the world if he can only survive the Journey.

  • ISBN: 9781370509867
  • Author: Sean Sanborn
  • Published: 2017-04-11 00:50:19
  • Words: 95183
Missionary Kid Chronicles: The Naga Trilogy: Journey: A Supernatural Adventure Missionary Kid Chronicles: The Naga Trilogy: Journey: A Supernatural Adventure