August 18, 1934
I have sinned.
It’s almost dark. In case I don’t return to the mission camp, I wanted to stop and write down what happened to us. I wanted to warn my family and any other missionaries that are trying to spread the gospel here in Peru to run. Run now, and flee the jungle’s evil.
I don’t know where I am. Our camp was fifteen miles east of Iquitos, but Mafi and I probably traveled another six to get to the forbidden village, where the missionaries hadn’t yet ventured. Father always said that Satan lived where Christ hadn’t gone. I don’t know how much further we ventured to get to the Shaman. I could be in Brazil for all I know.
My Urarina still needs a lot of work. The forbidden villagers didn’t speak it the way that the Indians near our camp did. I couldn’t understand what the elders were saying when we got there. I tried to tell them what was wrong with Mafi before I asked to see the Shaman. I didn’t think they’d tell us where she lived without a good reason. I thought surely they’d sympathize when they saw my corpse of a sister.
I told them about Mafi’s affliction. The voices. The sleepwalking. The obsession with torturing animals. The hatred of any Godly thing. I told them how my stubborn father refused to do anything but make ten-year old Mafi pray and fast for forgiveness. He wouldn’t leave the mission field until his precious mission work was done. Mafi had become a skeleton. The friendly natives back home told me about the Shaman. They told me it was Mafi’s only chance. I thought she on the verge of death so, having no other option, we snuck away from camp and fled east, into the unknown.
I begged the forbidden elders to take us to the Shaman. They saw how petrified we were. We had tears streaming down our faces. This part of Peru was never colonized. They have no concept of God, of Jesus. I was so naive to think that they’d relate to Mafi’s affliction. So foolish. Once we asked to see the Shaman, they all started laughing at us. It was an evil cackle, like we didn’t know what waited for us on the other side of some grim descent into hell. The men grabbed us and tied our hands while the women put blindfolds over our eyes. They took us away.
I don’t know how far away from the forbidden village we walked, or what direction we took. It could have been an hour. It could have been ten minutes. The intoxication of fear clouded my grasp on reality. The journey was brutal without any sight. The weaving around trees and the ducking beneath branches was exhausting. There were too many noises to glean any clues that might aid our journey home. I was doing my best to hold in the tears, but my frail sister sobbed dreadfully. Every creature in the forest seemed to be squealing at us, laughing at our plight, while the crunch of twigs and insects followed us with each step. Meanwhile, our captors continued to speak their elusive Urarina dialect.
We came to an abrupt stop. The men removed our blindfolds. We stood on a pathway where the dense foliage parted ways and formed a dirt path. It pointed straight ahead to a large hut, almost the size of the log cabin that Abraham Lincoln grew up in, except it was dome-shaped and made of wood and leaves. The hut stood in the middle of a clearing. Rays of sunlight warmed its top.
The men shoved us towards the hut. They told us, in language I understood clearly, that if we left without seeing the Shaman, the spirit inside Mafi would kill us both and then torment my parents and the other missionaries. The sadists laughed and then sprinted back into the dense jungle. I grabbed Mafi’s brittle hand and guided her towards the hut. It had become late afternoon. The journey and the heat left had us beyond parched.
We stopped in front of the entrance, but couldn’t see inside, despite the bright sunlight shining into the opening. A faint voice, also clear, told us to come in. We couldn’t see the voice’s owner. I hugged Mafi and said a quick prayer before we ventured in.
The temperature dropped the moment we set foot in the hut. It felt like when we lived back in Arkansas and had air conditioning. Suddenly visible, the shaman was staring directly at us. She sat cross-legged on the ground, against the wall. She was naked except for a loin cloth. Her hair had almost fallen out. Random growths of clumped hair made the witch doctor look unbalanced. The leathery texture of her saggy flesh was almost unearthly or ancient, like a relic of an extinct time.
I felt relieved for some reason. What was there to fear from a woman about to knock on death’s door? The hut was bare except for a few items. To the woman’s right was a small table, maybe two feet tall. A skull, a jar of bugs and a small statue of some kind of native deity were all that sat on it.
“Why have you come to me?” she asked. Her speech seemed labored.
I told her all that had happened to Mafi and that the villagers near our camp told me that I should take her to the Shaman.
“If I removed the girl’s spirit, what would you do?”
I responded that we’d be eternally grateful and continue ministering to the natives. I told her that we want to help them, that we gave up everything we had to help the people of the Amazon.
“There are hundreds of tribes under the canopy. You think all the children of the forest are the same. What help do we need?”
I was mortified. I thought I’d shown my good intention, but I’d somehow insulted her. I told her that we wanted to give them food, schooling and medicine.
“Why do you lie?”
I swore to her that I wasn’t. Mafi got down on her knees and pleaded our case.
“Mother forest provides all that we need. You came here to kill.”
I then fell to my knees, next to Mafi, and implored the Shaman to believe us, to believe what was in our hearts.
The Shaman grabbed the jar of bugs and emptied the contents onto the floor. I couldn’t tell what they were until they got closer. They were termites! I’d never seen termites crawl around in the open like that, like a cockroach or a beetle.
“Some kill with blades. Some kill with arrows. You kill with words.”
Once again, both Mafi and I reiterated our peaceful stance. I noticed that the termites seemed to be multiplying…and getting bigger.
“The bugs destroys the tree, but grow in numbers. You are the bugs. You destroy our way of life, but you grow in numbers. You want the children of the forest to be the children of your God. Even if you don’t destroy the trees and animals of the forest, you want to sever the Mother’s bond with her children. That’s the same. All you care about is growing in numbers.”
We stood speechless. In a blunt sense, she was right. The termites were multiplying faster. Splitting and dividing, their color grew darker while their size grew to the length of my pinky finger. I wanted to run out the door, but the demon termites were swirling around us. With the hiss of a cobra, each termite’s demonic anatomy was all too easy see.
“Please help us!” I cried.
The Shaman snapped her fingers and the termites stopped in place. It was just like when Jesus calmed the storm for his disciples. She smiled, perhaps reveling in our looks of defeat.
“How long has it been since you had a drink of water?”
While I tried to do the math in my head, Mafi spoke up, “five hours.”
“I’ll quench your thirst.” The Shaman grabbed the statue. She held it to her face and licked it, not just once, but many times. Her tongue glazed every bit of the statue’s surface. She sat back and spread her legs, as if she were about to give birth, then placed the statue right next to her private area. Closing her eyes, she began rubbing it in a hypnotic circular motion. She moaned while she did it.
After a minute or so, she opened her eyes. “Behold, drink the juices of the forest.”
I felt raindrops on my face. At first, Mafi and I were so thrilled that we forgot that we were in-doors. We looked up, in a state of perfect fear. Raindrops were falling from the ceiling. Their frequency increased. In a few seconds, it was downpouring. The sun was beating down outside. It was madness!
The termites had started their circle of horror again when it began to rain. I succumbed to my thirst and opened my mouth wide. I didn’t care if it was poison. It was the most delicious thing that I’ve ever tasted. The Shaman scooted back to her upright position and placed the statue in front of her. The rain continued.
“I’ve quenched your thirst, but that is not why you came to see me. It is within my power to rid the child of the pest that ails her.”
Mafi grabbed me and I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her head. Drenched but rejuvenated, we thought we’d been delivered.
“The spirit that haunts the girl is a servant of Mother. It will kill her. She’ll be dead by sunset. How many villagers has your group turned against the forest, to the tribe of your God?”
Sensing that honesty was the best policy at this point, I told her the truth: twenty-two native souls.
“If the spirit leaves the girl, the forest will send a spirit into each body that you turned against Mother. They will be dead by sundown. Or, if the spirit stays inside the girl, your numbers will still increase and the villagers hypnotized by your killing words will go unharmed. One way or the other, Mother requires a flesh offering.”
Mafi looked up at me. She could barely keep her eyes open, the rain pelted our faces. Her lips quivered. She took my hand and pulled me down to her eye level. She kissed my forehead and told me that she’d save me a seat in heaven. She promised to watch over me and said that she’d always live in my heart. I was stunned by the perfect love Mafi had for her fellow man. She didn’t even know the natives, but she was offering up her life selflessly, without reservation. I hugged and kissed her. We told the Shaman our decision.
“A brave choice. Death before a deficit. So be it. Older one, no matter happens, do not touch your sister.”
I backed away, as far as the termites would let me. The shaman grabbed the skull from the table and tossed it into Mafi’s hands.
“Death is yours, child. You must grip the skull until your last breath. Your soul, and the spirit within you, will flow into it safely. Once your body is no more, Mother will free your soul from the skull’s cage to join your God, since your debt will be repaid. If you drop the skull before you die, your soul will flow into the forest and you will be a prisoner of Mother forever. And the spirit will then enter your sister, the only other vessel that’s surrounded by Mother’s legions.”
“Wait, that’s not what we agreed to!” I screamed.
“You lied!” cried Mafi.
“Remember Older, no touching.” The Shaman snapped her fingers again.
The army of termites attacked Mari. Climbing up her leg, then spreading to the rest of her body, the mutant insects bore into her with horrific efficiency. Arms, shoulders and then head, they quickly engulfed her entire body. Their razor jaws sliced into into her flesh like butter. She cried out in agony. I wanted desperately to pick her up and save her, but I knew if I did, we’d probably both be damned.
Mafi held the skull over her head but the termites quickly rose to that point. They bit at her knuckles and fingers without mercy. Some carved into her cuticles, while others burrowed under nails. The noises that came out of my dear sister’s mouth were insufferable. It was like a puppy being dismembered. It was obvious that they were trying to get Mafi to drop the skull. Her current stance was failing. The rain made it harder to hold onto the skull.
“Kneel down and curl into a ball! Keep the skull in the center and hold it as tight as you can!” I screamed.
Mafi turned so that I could see her face. She had to have been blind by that point. There was no skin left, just holes, bone and muscle. But there was still strength in her. I realized she had heard my suggestion. She was lowering herself to the ground. I prayed she’d make it. But as she squatted, something happened. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if a termite pinched a nerve or something, but her arm spazemed and she dropped the skull.
I’m ashamed to say what I did next. I feared becoming possessed by Mafi’s tormentor, so I jumped as far as I could towards the entrance. I landed in the middle of the termites, but kept running. Their jaws sliced into my legs. I looked down and saw the rainwater turn a crimson tint. Somehow I made it to the outside and used my fists to fight the bugs off. My injuries were serious. For a second, I took one final look behind me. I couldn’t see Mafi. I just saw a mound of swarming termites where her body used to be.
“Do not run! Mother’s spirit will find you wherever you go. You’ll be dead by nightfall!” the evil witch cried.
I ran. I’ve been running for the last two hours. I’ve repented before God. I don’t know what fate will befall me. My wounds ache. They’re already blackening with infection. I fear that the termites’ jaws were laced with poison.
I feel so cold. I’m huddled against a tree in the middle of the jungle. I don’t know if I’ll survive the night. It’s twilight. If the Shaman’s prophecy was right, the demon will take hold of me any minute. I pray that this diary makes its way into the hands of a missionary. All must be warned. The forest doesn’t want us. It hates us. We are desecrating their most holy place. And we will pay with our souls.
I hear voices. I believe that it’s best that I conclude my account.
Until the darkness takes me,