The Navel of the Mekong by Gerry Christmas (Thailand 1973-76 & Western Samoa 1976-78)

Gerry Christmas joined VISTA as a social worker and housing specialist in Utah. He then joined the Peace Corps and taught three years in Thailand and two years in Western Samoa. He graduated from the School for International Training, and taught in China, Japan, and the United States. He is now retired and living in Thailand.

The Navel of the Mekong

By

Gerry Christmas

I

General Hunta felt beset by hyenas. He was a man of action to the core. He relished the great outdoors: the thrill of conflict, the camaraderie of men, the barking of orders, and the mass obedience of foot soldiers, tank commanders, and missile guidance technicians.

Now he found himself in a hostile environment: in a sequestered government room surrounded by feckless, inept, and corrupt creatures, commonly called politicians. For months they had failed to do their job; they had failed to govern the nation. This hacked the general off since these hyenas did not need to be brave or heroic or sacrificial. All they had to do was stop their bickering, compromise a bit here and a bit there, and set a date for free and honest elections. Indeed, “hyenas” was too hallowed a word for them.

Gerry Christmas

Gerry Christmas

“I’ve called this meeting today because we are faced with an extraordinary situation,” he said sententiously. “As you know, the government has been paralyzed for six months, the people have taken to the streets in mass demonstrations, even some of our fellow citizens have been ruthlessly killed. Only last week, for instance, a young married couple and their two young children were walking the city streets minding their own business. Suddenly there came a rat-tat-tat of an Uzi. The mother and children were killed outright. That night the distraught husband went on national television and begged for peace, pleaded with the people to come to their senses. Today I ask you to honor that man’s plea, to resolve your political differences that have crippled the economy and divided the people.”

The hyenas looked about furtively. General Hunta could see the fear in their eyes and the emptiness of their minds. Finally Hyena One broke the silence.

“I’ve talked to my cabinet members about resigning,” he said. “But if we resign, that would be breaking the law and we might be open to a law suit. Our hands are tied.”

“No, they’re not,” Hyena Two said. “We’ve had acting deputy prime ministers resign in the past. What you suggest is a capital idea.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Hyena One retorted. “You’re not facing the threat of a protracted law suit.”

“Around and around we go,” interceded Hyena Three. “If you continue along these lines, I’ll be sorely in need of a pillow and mattress.”

“This is no time for jokes,” General Hunta said sternly. “I want solutions and I want them fast.”

“You don’t understand,” said Hyena Four unctuously. “None of us are on firm ground any more. We’re up to our navels in the middle of a raging river. I’d advise that you distance yourself from us. You only have a year before retirement. I’d hate to see you swept away after such a sterling career.”

“Don’t worry about me drowning,” the general said icily. “I’m not only a good swimmer but have studied your shenanigans for three years. Never in my life have I seen such ineptitude, such sloth. You’re worse than a group of buck-toothed grandmothers addicted to betel nut.”

“May I make a suggestion?” Hyena Five asked.

“Please do,” said General Hunta.

“I see it this way,” he said. “Since free and honest elections are out of the question, I favor a national referendum as to whether reforms can be made before or after the elections.”

To General Hunta, this proposal made sense. But he hesitated for a moment and that was all the time the other hyenas needed. They were instantly at each other’s throats.

“Silence,” the general commanded. “I hereby order a representative of the government and a representative of the opposition to retire to the other room and hammer out a compromise. You’ve thirty minutes to come up with a solution.”

A buzz went around the room. Finally Hyena One and Hyena Two went into the other room. To the general’s great surprise, they emerged a half an hour later.

“What has been decided?” asked the general. “Has the government agreed to resign or not?”

“We refuse to resign,” Hyena One said dogmatically. “We’re the duly elected representatives of the people. The people are the only ones with the right to turn us out of office.”

General Hunta scowled. There was something about Hyena One that the general detested and despised. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Perhaps it was the slinkiness of the man. Or perhaps it was his stubbornness, his intransigence. Or perhaps it was a visceral reaction that had nothing to do with Hyena One whatsoever. He really couldn’t say. He only sensed a deep-seated hatred, an immense loathing, welling up in his heart-a hate and a loathing that spoke to a primordial urge to search and destroy, to liquidate with complete and utter brutishness.

“In that case,” the general bellowed, “I’ve no other choice but to seize power. We’ll have no further talk of referendums or elections or freedom of speech.”

General Hunta could tell by their facial expressions that they thought he was being facetious, that he was pulling their collective leg. “Well,” he thought, “I’d best put an end to that.”

“You all stay exactly where you are,” he boomed walking towards the door. “Don’t leave this room or my men will mow you down.”

Within seconds soldiers were inside the room guarding the hyenas with semi-automatic assault rifles. Before, the scene had been chaotic and bizarre. Not now it wasn’t. Now it had all the trappings of a well-managed gun shop.

General Hunta beamed. He’d never felt this great in his life. His entire body tingled from head to toe. Every cell in his body snapped to attention, ready for swift and immediate action. He walked from the room ramrod straight, absolutely positive that he had made the right decision.

II

The next day General Hunta was up at the crack of dawn. After issuing orders to his subordinates, he called for his driver and his black Mercedes Benz.

“Take me immediately to Phra Go Slo,” he said to the driver. “I need to consult with my friend before my meeting with his Majesty this afternoon.”

“Yes, sir,” the driver said.

The general and the monk had been the red and the black since their days at the military academy. Go Slo had had all the makings of a superlative soldier: sharp, fit, brave, and totally composed under fire. Then suddenly after only two years of sterling military service, he quit to become a Buddhist monk. General Hunta had been stunned.

General Hunta found Phra Go Slo on the second story of the monks’ quarters adjacent to a nearly completed temple that stood glistening in the sun. The general approached the monk reverently on his knees. The monk smiled and gestured for the general to sit on the mat before him.

“Would you like some hot tea?” the monk said gently. “You must be tired after what you went through yesterday.”

“Thank you,” said the general. “That would be nice. So you know about the coup?”

“I do,” said the monk gingerly pouring two cups of jasmine tea. “I’m sorry it had to come to this. We, as a country, were making great progress.”

“We can still make great progress once we get the people back on track and working hard.”

“Oh, really?” said the monk. “And right now you don’t think the rice farmers are working hard enough in the paddies? You don’t think the fishermen are getting up early enough to fish? You don’t think the street vendors who peddle their wares in the canals and at the night markets are putting in long enough hours?”

General Hunta hesitated before attempting to answer. His gaze went beyond the monk. Off to the left behind the glistening temple stood a caravan of five or six white Toyota vans. Off to the right was the fringe of an impoverished village consisting of four or five rusted corrugated shacks barely suitable for human habitation. Scantily clad emaciated men and women meandered about barefoot and in flip-flops. Their skin, prematurely aged, had a rough, leathery look and their bodies were terribly stooped. At a distance they appeared subhuman-an aberrant subspecies at war with the earth, ever on the brink of being swallowed up and devoured.

“I see that you’re making great progress with the temple,” the general said. “Tell me. Where are you getting the capital? Surely not from the villagers.”

“I’ve some generous donors in the city,” said the monk. “All Buddhists, no matter what their place on the social ladder, have to make merit. You know that.”

“And the fleet of Toyotas? Did that too come from your city donors?”

“Yes,” said the monk. “One of the donors is the owner of a five-star hotel. Another owns a global telecommunications company. Still another is the biggest exporter of rice in the nation. I’m most fortunate to have such backing.”

“Forgive me, my friend. But isn’t that stretching the concept of merit-making a mite. Didn’t Lord Buddha forbid all monks from handling gold and silver?”

“That is true,” the monk replied. “But Lord Buddha said nothing about paper money or credit cards.”

“How could he?” ventured the general. “Paper money and credit card did not exist in India 2,500 years ago.”

The monk smiled benignantly.

“There, there, my friend,” he said. “Let’s not quibble. Being a monk in the modern world is no easy chore. In the days of the Buddha there was only one path. Now there are three.”

General Hunta cocked his head.

“Really,” he said. “Would you mind elaborating?”

“Not at all,” said the monk. “The first path is total disregard for the rules-absolute corruption and hypocrisy. To satisfy his own personal wants and desires, the monk flies about in private planes, frequents brothels and massage parlors, speaks before large groups with deep pockets, and partakes of stimulants and intoxicants. The second path is a slight bending of the rules. Besides following Buddhist doctrines and precepts, the monk works to strengthen the order and to meet the spiritual needs of the people. This takes money. Any practical man can see that. The third path is the traditional way, the strict observance of the rules laid down by the Buddha. In today’s world a forest monk is about the only one who can pull this off. But there’s a downside to being a forest monk. Yes, the monk has more time to meditate and to heighten spiritual awareness. But being isolated in the forest, he has cut himself off from humanity. As a result, few men and women can seek him out for advice and guidance. I once aspired to be a forest monk. After completing my novitiate, I lived alone in the forest for two years. It was too extreme for me. No, at heart, I’m a builder, even if it means not escaping the wheel of life, even if it stops me from reaching Nirvana.”

General Hunta was glad that his friend had spoken at such length. It had given him time to reflect, time to settle down.

“Sometimes,” he said ruefully, “I wonder if I have wasted my life. Sure, soldiering has been great fun. Being in the army gave me a structure, a systematic way to order my life, to progress from one goal to the next. Still, it has been far from peaceful. Instead, it has been action, action, and more action-one stressful event after another. The mind goes into control mode after a time. It has to or one dies.”

The monk gazed at his friend sympathetically.

“You were born to be a soldier,” he said. “I knew that the moment we met. You love the life. You love the strategy and the tactics, the search for order out of chaos. But above and beyond that you’ve a deep and abiding love for your country. You want to see it work. You want it to function well. You want it to look good in the eyes of the world. That is why you are here today.”

“This is true,” the general intoned. “I’ve come seeking advice. Yesterday I felt compelled to seize power. I’d no trouble mounting the horse and taking the reins of command in my hands. But now I hesitate using the spurs. I’m not sure in which direction to go.”

“Have you talked with the King? You must receive his blessing. That is the way it works in our country. Everyone knows that.”

“No, not yet,” said the general. “I’m scheduled to see his Majesty this afternoon. I wanted to talk with you first.”

“About what?” the monk said bluntly. “The common people often ascribe to us monks magical, almost mythical, powers. But I can assure such is not the case. Deep meditation brings about profound insight, not mind-reading.”

General Hunta smiled. That’s what he liked about his old friend. He never put on airs. He never talked about a subject without some levity, without a quip here and there. It was the hallmark of a sane man.

“Well, I’m not worried about logistics,” the general said. “I’ve a fine staff and we’ve had a plan in place for just such a contingency. As we speak, my men are seizing control of the entire nation. We are rooting out subversives, keeping tabs on key politicians, censoring the news, enforcing a strict curfew, and prohibiting the congregation of groups for political purposes. These draconian measures have, of course, upset many of our citizens. I have therefore moved to assist the poor. They have suffered the most from this civil unrest.”

“That sounds reasonable,” said the monk. “Human beings however are emotional, not rational, animals. You admitted as much when you said you were compelled to seize power.”

“But I couldn’t allow the situation to continue unchecked,” General Hunta said defensively. “I had to act.”

“Are you sure of that?” said the monk. “Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes,” said the general. “There was no other way.”

Phra Go Slo paused. The light came and went in his soft brown eyes like a flame from a flickering candle.

“I can’t agree with you there,” he said. “We live in a world of internals and externals. Throughout human history those who have tried to bend external reality to meet their grandiose vision have failed miserably. I need not list their names for you. We went to the same school and read the same history books. Internal reality, on the other hand, is another matter. Buddha has taught us that could be harnessed, that could be controlled by living a pure life and by practicing strict meditation. I can bear witness that Buddha was right for I have transcended reality from time to time.”

“That’s all to the good,” said General Hunta. “But how does that help me, how does that help me win over the King?”

The monk’s eyes widened. Clearly he did not like that last sentence.

“No matter how smart you are,” said the monk, “No matter how in the right you presume to be, never try to ‘win over’ the King. He’ll see right through you and shut you down.”

“Then what do your propose?”

“Approach the King with an open and a clear mind,” the monk said. “Be ready to yield to his decision whether you like it or not. We both know the King. We both know he has a deep and penetrating mind and an even deeper and penetrating heart. A person can hear that in the soft modulation of his voice. A person can sense that in the strong aura that surrounds his being. Believe me, my friend, were he not the King, he would be the most hallowed monk in the realm.”

General Hunta took his leave. Approaching the long black Mercedes Benz, he returned the salute of his driver and settled into the plush leather back seat. He always felt an odd, animalistic thrill whenever he toured about in this splendid machine. But now, after the coup, this animalistic thrill was heightened and intensified. It made him feel like a veritable god.

“Take me to the King,” he said to the driver. “You don’t anticipate any delays, do you?”

“No, sir,” replied the driver. “I expect the usual traffic jams but nothing to fret about.”

“Good,” said General Hunta letting his body go limp against the car’s upholstery. “The King might tolerate such a lapse, but my code of respect could never permit it.”

III

The driver was right. They arrived at the Grand Palace a good half hour before the scheduled audience with the King. An old and loyal servant escorted General Hunta through the anteroom then down a long hallway that led to the King’s private study. This was exactly what General Hunta had expected. It was common knowledge throughout the realm that this room was the King’s favorite. Indeed, he’d used this study for decades to work on pet projects for the benefit of the people.

Entering the study, General Hunta found the King sitting cross-legged on the floor examining a topographical map. The general immediately bowed and prostrated himself before the King. Lifting his head, he met the King’s gaze. The monk was right. He must remain cool, calm, and collected. Otherwise, it would be impossible to state his case.

“Good to see you again, General Hunta. Please make yourself comfortable. You’ve been in my thoughts of late. We’ve much to talk about.”

“Thank you, your Majesty. You’ve been in my thoughts too. As you know, the last six months the various political factions have been at each other’s throats. Indeed, there have even been ten to twelve civilian casualties in the past two weeks. Being the head of the army, I’ve done my best to stay above the fray, to leave politics to the politicians. But yesterday things got out of hand and I had to seize control. I’ve come today to ask your permission to form a new government.”

The King looked troubled and weary.

“General Hunta,” he said softly but firmly. “How many times has our beloved country suffered such social upheavals?”

“Many, many times,” the general said suddenly realizing that the King had no intention of rubber-stamping the new military regime.

“Nineteen times,” said the King. “Most coups I’ve sanctioned but not all of them. One time I even sneaked out of the palace under the cover of darkness in order to link up with a general whose motives better served the country. As a result, the coup collapsed, but the country took a hit. The three instigators not only fled the country with their families but also absconded with a vast amount of jewels and money. I trust that you don’t have similar intentions. I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“I would never think of that, your Majesty.”

“Then tell me. What are your motives?”

“My motives are to restore order as quickly as possible,” General Hunta said sincerely. “My primary job is to defend the nation from external aggression. Believe me, I do not relish police work. Using military force against the citizenry is neither prudent nor practical. But yesterday I felt that our national security was threatened.”

“I applaud your sentiments,” said the King. “But coups have been a dark spot on our history. Many times in the past I’ve witnessed other generals-seemingly honest and upright men-undergo a total transformation the instant they seize power.”

“I can assure your Majesty I’ve no such intentions.”

“Are you sure?” the King dubiously. “Are you positive? Power, you see, is terribly addictive. I put it right up there with heroin and cocaine. Be careful, once you look into the eye of darkness, it looks back at you. For don’t you see, general? There’s something deeply ingrained in our natures that drives us to dominate and destroy. Now tell me honestly. Didn’t you feel a real rush, a sense of bliss, the moment you grabbed power?”

General Hunta was silent. The King was moving him into waters with which he was uncomfortable. Still, he knew that he could not lie. This was his king, a man he respected above all others. To lie to him would be worse than lying to his father.

“Yes,” he said meekly. “I felt the rush. I’ve never felt such pleasure in my life. It was pure bliss.”

“Exactly,” said the King. “But this was your first experience with such power, right? Oh, yes, you’ve experienced great power before on the battlefield. But that was physical power. The one yesterday was not physical power. It was psychic power. And that’s what made it so addictive. That’s what made it such a rush.”

General Hunta had never thought of power in those terms before. As a military man, he viewed power as a force, something that could be reckoned with. What the King was describing wasn’t like that. Psychic power one could not reckon with. Instead, it reckoned with you. At times it could be riveting, fulfilling, almost sublime. At other times it was jarring, awesome, absolutely terrifying.

“And let me tell you something else about this spiritual power,” said the King. “I fight it each and every day.”

General Hunta knit his brows.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “What do you mean?”

“I was born into psychic power,” said the King. “As a young monarch, it wasn’t so bad. I lived in a fog of confusion, so my ministers and advisers made most of the state decisions. But as the years passed, as I worked for the betterment of the country, I noticed a great reverence, a deep awe emanating from the hearts of the common people. No matter where I traveled, people young and old would line the streets and cheer me on. Why were they cheering? What made them love me so? Yes, I’d tried to better their lives but, for the most part, they still lived in squalor, in abject poverty. That’s when I realized a simple truth, namely that the only difference between them and me was birth. My noble birth set me apart. But that was enough. That gave me almost limitless psychic power. And that made me not only different but highly dangerous as well. For psychic power is not something a person tames. It’s always there to use for good or for evil. Are you beginning to see what I’m getting at?”

“That must be a terrible burden to carry,” said General Hunta.

“More than you will ever know,” said the King.  “I honestly cannot put into words what being a monarch is like. But I can give you some idea. How familiar are you with the Mekong River?”

“Extremely familiar,” said General Hunta. “We often go there on maneuvers.”

“Then you are familiar with the section of the river that is poetically dubbed ‘the Navel of the Mekong?'”

“Yes, I am.”

“Can you describe it to me?”

“Well,” said General Hunta. “There’s a long stretch of the river to the west that appears quite normal. Then suddenly the currents go all which way. Some continue downstream. Others turn sharply back and go upstream. Still others form treacherous eddies and whirlpools. Added to that, there are numerous branches and logs spinning about and legend has it that an enormous river serpent lives somewhere in the murky depths.”

“That describes to a T the waters I navigate every day,” said the King with a wry smile. “Believe me, the first day may be fun and exciting but it grows old fast.”

“I’d no idea,” said General Hunta.

“I know,” said the King. “So I’m here to warn you today: stay as far away from this psychic power as you can. It will not only destroy you but will also harm the country you love.”

General Hunta was now looking the King directly in the eyes. What he saw lurking there had nothing to do with physicality and aggression. It had to do with spirituality and peace.

“Don’t ever feel sorry for our country,” the King said evenly. “Sure, many of our people suffer greatly and we have a long way to go before we are modernized. But I wouldn’t trade places with another country in the world.”

“Why not?” the general said incredulously. “There’re scores of countries throughout the world more sophisticated and advanced than ours.”

“Precisely,” said the King. “But don’t you see? These advanced and sophisticated countries are spiritually sick. Indeed the most powerful ones are dangerously demented. You view these countries as sources of modern arms and military training. Only a few years back we felt compelled to buy an aircraft carrier and a secondhand submarine. Talk about ridiculous. Talk about a waste of money that could’ve been spent improving the lives of our people.”

General Hunta grunted. Sometimes the King could be most disconcerting, especially when it came to the general’s favorite toys.

“I’ll tell you,” the King said his eyes hooded, downright owlish. “Behind these doomsday gadgets, behind these newfangled goodies, lurk dark and sinister forces-spiritually bereft gnomes that are wrecking havoc on the world.”

The general frowned. He had a sharp, eclectic mind but the subject of gnomes was not exactly his cup of tea.

“I’ve given these gnomes considerable thought,” the King said reflectively. “But I haven’t spoken with anyone about them, not even my top advisers and closest confidants. Still, I’ve come to some basic conclusions. In broad sweeping strokes, here’s how these gnomes operate. First, they target a third world or developing country rich in national resources. Next, they create a bogus incident or situation in order to precipitate an armed conflict. This incident can take many forms: bombing an embassy, sinking a munitions ship, or crashing a commercial airplane into a skyscraper. Since war is a highly lucrative endeavor, the gnomes then invest in weaponry, thus reaping grotesque profits. But they do not stop there. As the war winds down, as the war loses its popularity back home, they switch gears and stop being merchants of death. Of course, at this juncture the infrastructure of the targeted country is in tatters, so the gnomes invest in the building of new skyscrapers, highways, bridges, and transit systems, thus reaping grotesque profits yet again. In the end the targeted country is a financial basket case, so it has to borrow huge amounts of money from the IMF or the World Bank to pay the gnomes off.”

“That’s diabolical,” said General Hunta.

“Diabolical is the right word,” said the King. “Which brings us back to the question of motive, to why these gnomes wreck havoc on humankind.”

“Why indeed?” General Hunta asked.

“It has to do with human nature,” the King said gravely. “Most human beings are decent. I can say that with some conviction. Throughout my long reign I’ve come in contact with countless people. Most are hardworking, honest, loving human beings. They firmly believe decency is inherent, common to all. That’s where they are wrong. That’s how they are duped. And ultimately that’s how they are enslaved.”

“How so?”

“Remember my analogy about the Navel of the Mekong?” said the King. “Well, these gnomes, these cliques of indecent, devious, and subterranean creatures, make that look like a bubble bath. They’re the maggots of civilization, the cesspool of civil society. Always have been, always will be. You recall the story of Prince Siddhartha, don’t you?”

“Of course,” said General Hunta. “What schoolchild doesn’t?”

“But the historians have left something out,” the King said firmly. “I’m convinced Prince Siddhartha left the palace of his father and deserted his wife and child to escape the ancestors of the gnomes of our time. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Siddhartha not only saw the external life of suffering outside the palace walls but also came face-to-face with the ghoulish evil and duplicity inside his father’s court. He therefore had to escape. He had to get out at all costs.”

General Hunta lowered his head in thought.

“What’s on your mind?” said the King. “You look glum.”

General Hunta raised his head and looked blankly at the King.

“You make it sound so hopeless,” he said with a sigh. “The picture you paint is so dark, so sinister, so bleak.”

“Not at all,” said the King. “There is within us a sameness, a basic instinct to do what is just and good. That is the instrument of our evolution, of our advancement as a species. Still these hellish gnomes exist, forever nudging us nearer and nearer the abyss. As a result, there are times when cultures evolve and other times when they devolve. Our job is to maximize our evolution and minimize our devolution. The problem with your seizure of power really has nothing to do with your intentions, which I know, at heart, are noble. The problem lies with your misguided belief that one institution-in this case the military-can set all social, cultural, and economic ills aright. That is not so. Were it so, wouldn’t I have used the monarchy to make us holy, pure, and perfect? Human advancement comes from various power centers working together overtly for the collective good, for the commonweal. It doesn’t come from various power centers working covertly for their mean, barbaric, and self-serving ends. Remember: not all rats walk on four feet.”

General Hunta felt disheartened and deflated.

“Then you will not sanction my new government,” he said.

“I said nothing of the sort,” the King said whimsically. “Indeed, I wish you all the best in the difficult task that lies before you.”

General Hunta was thunderstruck.

“But my blessing comes with a caveat,” the King continued. “I ask not only for you to move boldly and swiftly but also benevolently and creatively. Never get lost in the seductive vortex that swirls about you. Never let the Navel of the Mekong pull you under. Guide events. Don’t let events guide you. To pull that off, you must give yourself time each and every day for solitary thought and introspection. That is the only path to success. Believe me, I don’t want you to end up like other generals: totally vanquished by psychic power.”

“Thank you, your Majesty.”

Walking out the Grand Palace and entering his Mercedes Benz, General Hunta did not feel the usual surge of pleasure and contentment as his body sank into the plush, soft leather seats. Suddenly he saw the vehicle for what it was: a means for taking him from point A to point B. That was not his normal emotion. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind he’d changed. He’d undergone a transformation. He knew that. He knew that for a fact.

“Should I tighten my hold on power or should I obey the dictates of my religion and my king?” he thought.

Ah, that was the question. A few days ago he wouldn’t have hesitated. He’d have done his duty without giving it a second thought. But now, with what the King had said about the gnomes, he wasn’t so sure. Why be noble and upright? Why not seize the day and revel in the moment? After all, such moments do not avail themselves to most men. He’d be a fool to be honorable and dutiful when the rest of the human race wallowed in a sea of illusion and fanciful thinking.

General Hunta closed his eyes, straightened his back, and concentrated on the Third Eye. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, an eddy took shape in the universe of his mind. This eddy quickly expanded into a whirlpool then into a vortex then finally into a seething maelstrom. The maelstrom had a hypnotic, mesmerizing, soothing effect. His entire spirit, his complete soul, felt inexorably drawn to the seething waters.

Why fight it? Wouldn’t it be much simpler to yield? So yield he did. But instead of being sucked in, instead of being pulled under, a great green head suddenly emerged from the depths-its red eyes afire and its purplish mouth agape with razor-sharp teeth. He only had a split-second to recognize the monster before being consumed. But recognize it he did.

Naga, the gigantic river serpent of the Mekong, had come forth to reclaim her errant son.

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