Nostrum – Chapter One – Up The River

nos·trum  [nos-truhm]


1.a medicine sold with false or exaggerated claims and with no demonstrable value; quack medicine.
2.a scheme, theory, device, etc., especially one to remedy social or political ills; panacea.
3.a medicine made by the person who recommends it.
4.a patent medicine.
1595–1605;  < Latin nostrum  our, ours (neuter singular of noster ); referring to the seller’s calling the drug “our” drug



Up The River

Two years ago…

Reuben stood on the pontoon of his seaplane and shouted across the water toward the shore, where his brother, Parker was loading one of the canoes.

“Parker! If you’re going to take so long loading that canoe, throw me a piece of fruit or something.  I’m starving!” Reuben issued the challenge.

He saw Parker smirk and pull an aguaje from a sack in the canoe.  Parker stood up straight on the bank of the Amazon and slowly lifted his head until he could see Reuben just under the bill of his camouflage San Diego Padres baseball cap.

Reuben reached behind and grabbed his catcher’s mitt from under the passenger’s seat of the airplane.  “Come on Parker, just like old times.” He whispered.

Reuben held his mitt up and waited as Parker nodded and pulled the fruit up to his chest. “1… 2… 3” Reuben whispered then suddenly flinched as Parker spun through his wind up in a flash.  Reuben barely saw the aguaje before it splattered into his mitt.

You still got it, Parker. Reuben thought to himself, but said out loud. “You still tip your pitches!”

“You flinched!” Parker shot back.

Reuben stood, tossed the catcher’s mitt back into plane and took a bite of the bruised aquaja. As He waited for Parker to bring the loaded canoe out to the plane, he watched Parker and his family say goodbye to the Amazonians they served and loved.


“Daddy, I don’t want to go.  I feel fine now.” Lydia pleaded.

“Lydia, it will only be for a week.  We can’t take any chances.” Parker replied.


“I’ll be so glad when this trip is over.  What if the cancer has come back, Parker? What then?”  Jeane said to her husband doing little to conceal her emotions.

“We’ll pray it hasn’t, but even if it has, God brought her through it once and He can do it again.  Our God is good.”  Parker said to Jeane.  It was the health of their only daughter, nine year old Lydia, that weighed heavy on their heart.  It was also the reason they had to make this emergency trip and leave their remote mission field.

“Don’t worry, mommy, I’m fine.  I know it.” Lydia tried to comfort her mother, still trying to convince her parents to cancel the trip to the Pelo.

Lydia’s cancer had gone into remission almost eighteen months ago. This was a miracle and had allowed them to return to their missionary work in the Amazon Rainforest after less than a year hiatus.

“Alright ladies, let’s say goodbye.”  Parker prompted.

As they spoke, they were joined on the bank by several villagers, whom they now acknowledged with handshakes and hugs.  A short man, the tribe’s leader, leaned in and said something to Parker.

“Thank you, Ake.  You are a good friend.  We will pray for you as well.  If the news is good, we will return in ten days.  If the news is bad, we will send word back with Reuben.” Parker replied.

God had answered the prayers of Parker and Jeane Long once before and spared the life of their nine year old daughter. Now, standing on the banks of the river, they loaded their belongings into a couple canoes and rowed out to the seaplane.

“Bro, help Lydia up to me, then start with the big suitcase first.” Reuben instructed.

“Here we go, Lydia.” Parker helped Lydia up to the door of the seaplane.

“I’m so glad you’re here Reuben, you truly are a God send.” Parker said as he grabbed Reuben’s hand and shook it.

“Where else would I be?” Reuben quipped, then lifted a much bruised fruit to his mouth, took a bite and smiled.  “Now hand me the rest of the bags and let’s get this plane off the water and in the air.”

The village of these native people, whom Parker and Jeane served, sat on the edge of the Amazon river, two to three days deep into the heart of the rainforest.  The trip out would be much quicker by plane.  By the end of the day tomorrow Lydia would be to a hospital where doctors could scan her abdomen and confirm whether or not the tumor had returned.

In the six months since their return, they had left the rainforest once every four to five weeks as a break for Lydia and to see Rueben.  This time it had been longer because they worried the long trip would take a toll on Lydia.  Instead they sent a message for Reuben with a fishing boat headed down stream, with instructions for Rueben to come for them in his seaplane.  But, Reuben wasn’t there to receive the note.  He was already on his way. He knew, somehow he knew to fly to the remote village and bring his family out.  He always seemed to know when family needed him.

Parker, Jeane and little Lydia were the only family he had left.  Their widowed mother had passed away only 5 years ago.  Cancer. Reuben hated the disease. He was the only one left to care for their mother and he watched as she turned from a vibrant, fully alive saint, into a sickly and humiliated shadow of herself.  After her death, he traveled back to the Amazon to be close to the only family he had left.

After the last bag was loaded, Reuben reached his hand down to Parker and helped him up into the plane.  Then he pulled up the anchor and closed the door.

“Everybody strap in” Reuben checked the map one more time. He had flown into Pelo before, but only from his base which was on the edge of the Amazon.  From there it was as simple as following the coast, but flying over the rainforest would be more complicated, especially during this season, when insect swarms could force him to change his route.  He closed the map and set it beside his pilot seat, started the engine and the propeller began to whir.

“What’s the deal? Nobody wants to sit up front with Uncle Reuben?” Reuben directed his glance backward toward Lydia.

“If it’s alright Uncle Reuben, I’d like to sit back here with mom and dad this time.”  Lydia said, placing her left arm around Jeane’s shoulders and her right arm around Parker’s.

“Well I’m sure you have your reasons, I’ll try not to feel too hurt.” Reuben wiped a fake tear from his cheek.  “If you change your mind, you’ll have to wait until we are in the air.”  Rueben said as he flipped a few more switches and checked the gauges.  Then he pulled back on the throttle and the engines began to roar. The seaplane crept forward with the current.

“Hang on” Reuben instructed.

The plane sped down the river, then slowly pulled away from the water and lifted into the air. Reuben turned the plane and rose across the trees as they gained elevation.  Minutes into the flight, Reuben saw something unusual rise up from the trees below.  First it looked like a simple column of smoke from a village fire pit, or some explores’ campsite, but thicker.  Then it changed shape and no longer appeared as a column but more like a black cloud.  It twisted and rolled as it grew closer to them.

“It’s a swarm!” Reuben gasped.

“Hold on!”  Reuben shouted and then pulled back drastically to gain altitude over the swarm, but they were too close.

The plane sped directly at the center of the swarm.  The aircraft ripped a whole in the middle of the buzzing sphere as the propeller sawed through the insects, spraying bug juice onto the window in front of Reuben.

He switched on the wipers, but they did little to help as more insects splattered onto the glass. Reuben held the plane on a steady course until they passed through the cloud of insects. Then he rolled down his side window, grabbed a handkerchief from his back pocket and reached around to the outside of the window.  With his handkerchief, Reuben smeared around on the glass until he had cleared a small circle directly in front of his vision.

“What was that uncle?” Lydia asked with panic in her little voice.

“A swarm of bugs.  Wasps, I think.  I’ve never seen them swarm like that.  I’m going to have to land the plane and clean off this windshield before we can go any further.”

Reuben stuck his head out the side window and spotted the river to his left, then he turned the plane and began the descent downward toward the ancient river.   Normally he would have flown above the river to line up the plane but his vision was too obscured by the bug residue.   He would attempt to descend the plane and at the same time angle it toward the river.  His only visibility was through his side window and that small smudge of a circle he’d smeared in front of him.

The plane dropped lower and lower and closer to the tree line.  At the last minute they cleared the trees and the plane swung level out over the river, Reuben straightened the plane, to begin his water landing, but he entered the river at a critical bend where it turned sharply back to the south.

He banked the plane to the right as quick as he could maneuver.  But as it spun, the tail of the plane slammed into a tree above the bank of the river and the branches of the trees caused the light plane to jerk back the other direction.  They lost altitude quickly and headed nose first toward the water.

Reuben pulled back hard to straighten out for another run, but it was too late.  The plane hit the water and lunged forward. Reuben’s head hit the ceiling of the cockpit and he rebounded back down into his seat.  The back end of the plane swung out above him and the motion threw him forward again, face first into the control panel.  All sound and sight faded into blackness.  The tail, weakened by its collision with the tree tops broke apart from the rest of the plane, spilling Lydia and her parents out into the water.

Lydia and Jeane screamed and Parker reached for them both.  He grabbed the unconscious body of little Lydia first.  She was closer.  A few strokes and he lunged for Jeane but missed.    He instructed her to swim toward the front half of the plane which now floated on its nose, but the current was pushing them away faster than they could swim.

While he struggled to keep Lydia’s head above water, he had the rest of his attention on Jeane.  She tried to swim, but he could see she was only using one arm.  Her other arm was injured.  She struggled frantically but the current was carrying her farther downstream.  Parker saw Lydia’s face in the water and he held her up again, which caused his face to go under.  He swallowed a huge gulp of river water and choked.

Parker shouted for Reuben as the distance between the plane and the desperate threesome grew farther.  But Reuben, still unconscious, could not hear him.  And he would not hear the Parkers voice again.


Reuben awoke to the sound of a motor.  He looked up, where the tail of his plane had once been, and saw nothing but the sky above him.  The plane was face down in the water, balanced on its nose and wings, bobbing up and down as if it were a bobber and a perch were toying with the bait beneath.  He struggled to climb out but his legs were weak beneath him.  He grabbed his throbbing head with both hands.  The cockpit seemed to be spinning around him.  His eyes stung with the blood from his head wound and his hands were now slick with the blood from his face.  He knew he had to get out and help Parker and the girls.

He tried again to climb out, but he failed in his second attempt, and only succeeded in the rocking the plane back and forth.  On his third try he steadied his feet beneath him and stood to see the fishing boat, named the Marianela, coming toward him.  He could not, however find the tail of his plane nor any sign of Parker or the girls.  A wave of desperation surged over him.

To look backward, up the river, he stepped up and stood on the back of his captain seat.  As he did, he shifted the balance of the craft and the plane tipped over and fell back down onto its pontoons.  The momentum sent Reuben sliding out of the plane and into the water just before the fishing boat reached him.

A hand reached out over the starboard and pulled Reuben’s head back above water.

Reuben choked on the water in his lungs and pleaded with his rescuer.

“Parker! Jeane! Lydiaaaaaa!  Help me find them!  You… have to help me find them.”

“Sorry friend.  I see nobody.”

“No,”   Rueben gasped.  “You have to help me find them.” Reuben choked again.

“The tail section of your plane is downstream. Nobody there.  It is a miracle you are alive.”

“We have to look.  They’re out there!”  Reuben wouldn’t give up.

Reuben shouted. “Help me find them.  You have to help me find them”

Reuben stumbled forward. His legs still unsteady beneath him.

“If you had passengers in that plane, there is no way they could have survived.  I came from downstream when I saw your plane go down and I tell you I didn’t’ see anyone until you.”

“NO, NO!” Reuben could not accept this. This time he stood up to his rescuer and began shouting.

“I will not lose my family! Now you can either help me or get out of my way!”

“Listen to me, friend! It has been too long.  I saw you go down a hour ago.  You are the only survivor.  There is no way any passenger is alive.” His rescuer reached out his hand in an attempt to calm Reuben down.

“I’M FINE!” Reuben screamed “My injuries can wait!” After shouting this, Reuben tried to stand but his legs gave way and he went down to one knee.

“Okay. We’ll look together.”  The captain turned his vessel around and went back toward the area, he’d seen the tail debris.

“No, no, no.  God, NO!”  Reuben murmured as the Marienela sped downstream.  Its captain and Reuben scanned the banks of the Amazon for Parker and Jeane and little Lydia.  They examined a few fallen trees in the river to see if someone was holding on.

The captain shouted to Reuben.  Reuben turned to see the short man laying on stomach and reaching over the edge of the boat.  Reuben rushed over to see the captain pull an object out of the water. The captain turned and handed wet camouflage San Diego Padres baseball cap to Reuben.

Reuben clutched the cap and started choking. “Parker, NO! This can’t happen.  This can’t HAPPEN!”  Reuben dropped to the ground and heaved the remaining mud and water from his lungs.  Shaky, he rose up to his feet.  “We have to keep looking.”

They continued the search until Reuben blacked out.  The captain of the Marianela patched Reuben’s head wound and turned upstream to a small village he knew.  He was met at the bank by a curious villager and her short chief, Ake.

Ake called out for others to come to the bank and help Reuben.  Soon, Reuben was being carried up the bank by five Amazonian villagers.



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