Shivering, sobbing, a nine-year-old boy lay flat on his stomach as his pirogue swirled downward through the Maranon River.

“Shauror!” someone shouted.

Shauror, a young warrior, slid down over a bank, plunged into the river, and grabbed the dugout canoe. He reached inside and jerked the boy upright. He reached back in behind him and snatched up a bow and arrow. His tongue jutting out, Shauror shrieked in horror and shook himself all over while many other warriors rushed up along the riverbanks, wildly clapped, and roared with laughter.

After scraping the pirogue in across a sandy beach, Shauror lifted out and stood the boy up onto his feet. He squinted down at him, snarled, cursed, and then asked him what in the hell he was doing down here.

Quickly, the boy told him that his name was Jovene and that he was from the village of Minarata,

way up there beneath the Andes. That he had set out to go hunting but got caught in this great big whirlpool, and ever since and for days and days now had been drifting down through the river.

“Skin and bones,” Shauror whispered, “must be starving to death.”

He took the boy by the hand and led him down through a jungle into the edge of a sprawling village. Jovene, stumbling backward, gasped and gaped in across at an enormous banyan tree, at heads, many severed human heads, dangling from the lower branches.

Jovene yip-yipped, clasped up, and buried his face in his hands. Shauror chuckled and slapped him on the back, then told the boy that that was their skull tree. That those heads were trophies of war, chopped off in battle, and were now drying out and waiting to be shrunken up by the old spider woman.

“But, but why?” Jovene asked.

Because chopping off and shrinking those heads would give the warriors these magical powers. Would appease the spirits of their slain ancestors, whose desire for revenge would then be gratified. Would harness the souls of their enemies and thereby enslave them. Would bestow upon Shauror and his comrades an abundance of crops, game, and fish; good health, wisdom, and fortune; the favors of women and fertility. Indeed, and would then consider them to be brave and manly.

Jovene gagged, clutched at his stomach, and doubled over sideways. Shauror hugged an arm around and half-carried him across into the communal longhouse. Jovene gulped in and glanced about through the darkness. He sniffed in the overly sweet smells of fruit and molasses. He blinked open his eyes and stared down a center aisle, at a long row of glowing glass bowls; at several tubes leading out from each of the bowls; at many beds on either side of the room. Beds on which shadowy figures, lying on their backs, were quietly sucking on the tubes.

“Opio,” Sauror said, grimacing.

He cut up salted monkey meat, manioc root, and scraped them onto a plate, then rambled on and on about the old spider woman. How she taught the art of weaving, presided over tribal rituals, performed so very many of those miraculous herbal cures. But most importantly, and all by herself, for so long now, had been shrinking the heads of their most hated enemies.

Shauror hooked in an arm and dragged Jovene out around into a thatch-roofed hut. He introduced him to the old spider woman. Hunchbacked, balding, and toothless. she poked out her long-stemmed pipe and sweetly smiled, then explained to the boy exactly how she had been shrinking heads.

First she made an incision, peeled the skin away, and tossed the skull aside. Next, she sewed the eyes shut and sealed the lips together with palm pegs. Next, she dropped the skin into a boiling pot and let it simmer for two-and-a-half to three hours, after which the head will have shrunk to about one-third of its original size, to the size of an orange. Next, she scraped away the excess flesh inside the head and filled it with sand. Next, she shaped the head with a hot stone, tattooed its face, and smoothed out its leathery skin. And then finally, with its long scraggly hair, hung the head up beside the others.

Suddenly, there were shouts, whistles, and thunderous cheers. Shauror and Jovene rushed out as a band of blood-soaked warriors swaggered in through the village. They threw down their spears, battle-axes, and splintered shields. Five of them reached up, tied scraggly hair around, and dangled their freshly severed heads from the lower branches of the skull tree.

Loudly and rhythmically, a drum began to beat. Chief Krykinac, wearing a yellowish–red headdress, strode in beneath the tree and raised his arms. Many other warriors, their women and children, rushed in around and surrounded him. Dogs yapping, chickens squawking and scurrying about as the chief chanted under his breath, his head bowing, then coughed abruptly and nodded across at the five warriors, who cackled and ugah-ugahed, stomped about, and repeatedly punched up their fists.

Several months later, a balsa-logged raft swiftly drifted down through the Maranon River.

“Shauror!” someone shouted.

Shauror raced up across the riverbank and glanced down at the raft at a heavy-set white man wearing a purple robe, standing in the center. At three white woman wearing powder-blue robes; two of them standing behind the man; the third one, between the two women, was seated at an organ. The organ was pumpingly blaring out a somber paean; the three women were joyously singing along. While, on a back corner of the raft, a short, stocky native was thrusting a pole in and out of the water.

“Strangers, the Devil himself!” Shauror shouted, racing down along the river. “Beware the evil spirits!”

The women and children screamed, ran back in through the village, and hid in their huts. The warriors, wide-eyed, their mouths hanging open, grabbed up their shields and spears and shuffled in after them.

His arms waving up, the native jumped down onto the beach and flashed a sappy grin. Quickly, he told the warriors that his name was Naga-Naga and that he had been hired to be an interpreter for Brother Winston, a Christian missionary. Who, with these three sisters—Faith, Hope, and Charity—had traveled all the way down here from the United States of America, in through Ecuador, to save their souls. To save the souls of the godless, and heathens, of murderous headhunters.

Naga-Naga winced, reached upward, and helped Brother Winston down off the raft. Red-faced, and gasping for breath, Brother Winston slapped at and shoved him away, then rambled on and on as he furiously jabbed a finger across at the severed heads, at the warriors, their shields and their spears, and finally around at the thatch-roofed huts and longhouse.

Naga-Naga nodded and ducked in beside Chief Krykinac, then told him that if he and his warriors wanted to be forgiven for their sins: for the hatred of their enemies, for the waging of war, for the chopping off and shrinking of those heads. They must do exactly what Brother Winston had been telling Naga-Naga that they must do. Because that was the only way that they could be forgiven, could be blessed and baptized, could then be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven. That blissful paradise of power and peace, glory, joy, and happiness for ever and ever.

Chief Krykinak snickered, shook his head, and squinted across at Brother Winston. Brother Winston, infuriated, lunged forward and slapped at him, hollered at him, then waggled up and repeatedly tapped his Holy Bible. Naga-Naga gagged, his head bowing, and clasped his hands upward. While the chief, after gaping at the bible, at the Christian Missionary, at Naga-Naga, jerked upright and started screaming and wildly jabbing his finger back and forth: at his warriors, their shields and spears, the thatched huts, longhouse, and finally around at the skull tree.

Brother Winston clapped, stamped his foot, and hallelujahed. “Amen, my children, and so now you must bury! Must hurry and hide every last sign of your evilness from the eyes of the Lord!”

Shauror and Jolene grabbed up shovels and rushed out into the jungle. Quickly, the warriors cut down the severed heads; tugged the tubes out of the bowls in the longhouse; yanked down the shrunken heads in the hut; gathered up their shields, battle axes, and spears. Then they hurried out into the jungle and tossed everything into a shallow grave, after which Shauror and Jolene shoveled in and tamped down the dirt.

“Yea and now, my children, the Cross of Jesus!” Brother Winston, beaming from ear to ear, strutted about through the village and raised his arms high over his head. “Indeed! For it is common knowledge upon this  Earth that the Crucifix hath the greatest of powers against Satan!”

Naga-Naga nodded up at Chief Krykinak and rambled on and on. The Chief shrugged, whirled about, and shouted out several other commands.

For the rest of the afternoon, into early evening, the women and children of the village stripped and carved out many wooden stakes. The warriors fixed them over into crosses, and wrapped leather cords around them. Shauror and Jolene then, one after the other, looped over and dangled a crucifix from a lower branch of the Banyan tree.

“Now you, you savages, you murderous warriors, I must baptize you!” Brother Winston bellowed, struggling to catch his breath as he wildly waved on, waddled across, and plunged out into waist-deep water. “Why, and to cleanse your Godless souls! To purify, to regenerate, to prepare you for your admittance into that eternal Kingdom of Heaven!”

“Yea, hallelujah and praise the Lord!” the three sisters shouted, vigorously clapping and dancing about.

Naga-Naga ran across and jumped up onto the raft as Chief Krykinak and his many warriors shuffled out after him. After he had unstrapped a huge bundle, Naga-Naga flapped out long white robes and tossed them around to the warriors, who slipped them over their heads, down over their waists, to their ankles, stepped into the river, and waded out around Brother Winston.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” he muttered, abruptly frowned, and crossed himself. “Amen, and hallelujah.”

He jabbed inward and jutted up five fingers. The first five warriors, trembling, squinting at him, edged in closer and bowed their heads. One by one, he grabbed them by the shoulders and plunged their heads underwater, held them under for five seconds, then jerked upright and kissed them on both cheeks. Five at a time, one by one, and over and over again, the three sisters joyously singing, the women and children of the village clapping and dancing about. Until finally, Brother Winston shushed everyone, sloshed out, and led the warriors in through the shadowy darkness.

“You, now, you heathen little devil,” Shauror loudly whispered.

He slipped over and tugged a robe down over Jolene’s head. He grabbed him by the shoulders and plunged his head underwater, held it under for six seconds, then jerked upright and pinched him on the cheek. Flashed a grin, frowned, then sloshed out and hurried in after the others.

Jolene half-swam into the shore, tripped over, and pushed himself up. Hoisted up the hem his robe and ran in after Shauror.

Suddenly, bright yellow moonlight swept down over the village. A warm, gentle breeze slowly swirled across.

Brother Winston leafed through his Holy Bible and, for the next hour or so, recited verse after verse, chapter after chapter. He closed his Bible, smiled sweetly, and pointed up across at the many crucifixes gently swaying in the breeze. The villagers, sitting around in front of him, oohed and ahhhed and beamed from ear to ear.

Brother Winston chuckled and edged around to his left.  “Charity, if you please.”

Charity pumpingly banged out a major chord on her organ. Faith and Hope, standing on either side of her, clapped up their hands and swayed back and forth. The three of them then joyfully burst into song, singing a hymn. The villagers—weepy, wide-eyed, nodding—swayed back and forth, their hands clapping, and softly hummed along with them. There in the moonlight, hymn after hymn, throughout the evening and early into the morning.

After Brother Winston, the three sisters, and Naga-Naga had tearfully departed, word of the Christian Miracle quickly spread out across Ecuador, up through South America, and into the United States of America.

Two days later, the sound of a motorboat echoed down through the Maranon River.

“Shauror!” someone shouted.

Shauror raced up across the riverbank and glanced down at the motorboat, at a tall, slender white man standing on the bow of the boat. At a stack of wooden crates behind him. And at Naga-Naga, seated on the stern and clutching at the handle of an outboard motor.

The women, the children, and the men of village rushed out across and wildly waved.

Naga-Naga scraped the boat in across the beach, jumped down, and flashed a sappy grin. He reached up and helped the man down. Blond-haired, wearing a blue suit, a white shirt and a red tie, the man snapped to attention and briskly saluted the villagers. Naga-Naga, hopping about, grimaced and rambled on and on. Telling everyone that the man owned a really big company up there in the United States, and that he now wanted to make some kind of a deal with them.

The man strode in beside Chief Krykinak, flicked out, and offered him his business card: reading:

C.F. Thaxter
CEO Delighto Corporation
Novelties, Notions, and Bric-a-Bracs

Naga-Naga gulped in and gaped back and forth at the chief and Mr. Thaxter. He shrugged, ducking in closer, and told the chief about the deal. About how if he and the men of the village would just go back to their old-fashioned ways–warring, headhunting, and so on—well, then Mr. Thaxter would give them these so many wonderful gifts that he had brought with him.

Chief Krykinak gagged, stumbled backward, and furiously shook his head, then quickly told Naga-Naga that to go back to their old-fashioned ways would be impossible. And why? Because he and his tribe were God-fearing Christians who had repented for their sins, had found true happiness, and would now be admitted into that eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

“Make a, make a deal,” the chief muttered to himself. “Never, never, and would be impossible.”

Naga-Naga shook his head and whispered to Mr. Thaxter. Mr. Thaxter sighed deeply, abruptly whispered back, and snapped up his fingers. Naga-Naga whirled about and shouted out several commands.

The men of the village raced in around the boat, unloaded, set down in a long row, and flopped over the

sides of the wooden crates.

” All of these many gifts will be yours if you make this deal!” Naga-Naga shouted, as the women and children rushed out through the village.

Mr. Thaxter grinned, bowed, stepped in beside, and pointed down into the first crate: “A Maytag microwave oven for the old spider woman.” He stepped in and pointed down into the second crate: “Three Memory craft sewing machines for the longhouse.” The third crate. “Mink stoles, Tiana designer dresses, perfumes, and costume jewelry for the ladies.” The fourth crate: “Puzzles, games, dolls and toys from Mattel for the kiddies.” The fifth crate: “Remington sniper rifles with scopes, ammunition belts, and pearl-handled scimitars for our brave warriors.”

The women and children edged in closer, gaped into the crates, and oohed and ahhhed while Mr. Thaxter a-haaed, spun around, and jabbed a finger towards the village as two men carried a Samsung Flat Screen television set into the chief’s hut; a man climbed up onto the roof with a Turbo satellite dish on his shoulder; and three men rolled in a Generac portable generator and unraveled red, blue, and green coaxial cables.

“Yes, my friends, all these things will be yours, if you will make a deal with me and just go back to those old-fashioned ways of yours,” Mr. Thaxter said. “Warring, chopping off, and shrinking those heads. Those shrunken heads. Except that now, of course, in far, far, far greater quantities. So that Delighto Inc., my corporation, can remold, fashion, and mass market them as novelties, notions, and bric-a-bracs. As lamps and candy dishes, fruit bowls, bookends, coffee mugs, and so forth. Maybe further shrink them for key chains, earrings, and charm bracelets.”

Naga-Naga excitedly repeated everything to Chief Krykinak. The chief gasped, stamped his foot, and waggled his fist up at the tall, blond-haired man.

“Never, never, never!” he screamed.

Chuckling, Mr. Thaxter hugged an arm around him, wrestled with, and dragged him across into his hut, where, after a few moments of silence, something beeped slowly, then faster and faster. Then suddenly, and blaringly, there were sounds of screeching guitars, of hoots and hollers, of bells and whistles, and finally of thunderous applause as Chief Krykinak yip-yip-yiped, staggered out through his hut, and hurled his arms high up over his head.

“A guerra, a guerra, a guerra!” he hollered.

Mr. Thaxter clicked off the television set and stepped out behind him. “What’s that, what was he saying?”

“To war, to war,” Naga-Naga said, “that he now wants to go to war.”

“Excellent, absolutely, but first they must go back to those other old-fashioned ways of theirs,” Mr. Thaxter said.

Naga-Naga shouted out several commands. Shauror and Jolene rushed out with their shovels and dug up the shallow grave. The warriors first cut down the crucifixes from the Banyan tree and tossed them aside, then ran back and forth through the jungle; grabbed up and hooked up the opium bowls in the longhouse; grabbed up and hung the shrunken heads up in the old spider woman’s hut; and finally grabbed up and dangled the many severed heads from the lower branches of the skull tree.

Loudly and rhythmically, a drum began to beat.

“A guerra, a guerra!” Naga-Naga hollered and ducked in beside a crate.

After he and Shauror had quickly handed out sniper rifles, scimitars, and ammunition belts, Naga-Naga repeatedly slid a bullet in and out, cocked, and uncocked his rifle. The warriors nodded, frenziedly dancing about, war-whooped, and ran back out through the jungle.

“No longer need battle axe,” Shauror whispered, hooked the scimitar’s curved blade around his neck and

jutted out his tongue.

“No longer need a spear,” Jolene whispered, heaved halfway up and cocked his rifle.

“Ugha-ugha,” Shauror quietly chanted.

“Ugha-ugha, ugha-ugha!” Jolene excitedly chanted.

The two of them grunted, their teeth baring, whirled about, and raced after the others.