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One Day Before Full Moon

Fiction (from books)

Ekanta

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The Mandala Temple

Text Extract
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The path down to the safe swimming beach was fairly narrow, rocky in places, and winding. 

It passed continuously through tall, dense green foliage, under the shade of huge leaves and fronds, from which numerous large, brightly coloured dragonflies, red bodied, orange winged, brown, and sometimes brilliant yellow and black striped, repeatedly darted out over the path. They continually made the members of the party duck away from the loud droning buzz of their coloured, filigree wings, as they flew back and forth across the single file procession.

Further down the path giant bamboos, beautifully patterned, shiny black and green, towered above, only a short distance back from the path’s edges, providing more welcome shade from the hot sun. 

The path meandered onwards and downwards, under the echoing calls of the birds. Twisting and turning in the heat, it occasionally squeezed between large boulders of deep red rock that seemed to be guarding the way. There the smell of the red earth was strong, and there were lumpy, tangled root masses underfoot. 

And then quite suddenly exclamations of disgust were heard at the front of the line. It sounded as though they had stumbled upon something very unpleasant. From where Luke was positioned it was impossible to see the cause of the disturbance. Confusingly, one or two people ahead had started laughing loudly now, and as he turned round to look at Chandrika, the stench of death hit them.

Luke attempted to suppress his body’s reaction to the smell of rotting flesh on the hot air. To his surprise, some of the people closer also seemed to find it amusing. "Something big’s rotting down there", he said.

Chandrika had her hand to her nose and mouth, and she was shaking her head. 

"What is it"? Luke asked.

She shook her head again, as if correcting him. "It’s the corpse flowers", she said, her voice stifled from behind her hand. "They’ve bloomed". 

Mohini didn’t seem at all amused. "This happens every time", she complained. "As soon as there’s one of these moons they bloom. The rest of the time they don’t bother".

The smell became gradually stronger, and soon, a little further down the path and round the bend, they encountered the first flower. 

It was gigantic. Some way back from the path below them, it proudly stood twice as high as any of the people walking past it, with a massive open trumpet of deep furrowed leaves, dark purple-red on the inside, like a rotting carcass. A giant yellow tongue protruded phallus-like, straight upward into the air from the centre of its trumpet of leaves, a cloud of flies and beetles humming and droning all the while, around it.       

"That’s how it pollinates", Chandrika said between hand covered breaths. "By pretending it’s rotting meat".

"Goodness knows why they’re supposed to be associated with the Buddha", Mohini said, still fighting with the smell.

Luke was getting more used to it. "Are they"? he said.

"Something like that", Chandrika said, "It’s in some story somewhere. Chinese I think". 

Luke stole some breaths from under his hand. "Perhaps it’s because they flower out of death… and sex… if you see what I mean".

Gopan was not very far behind, and heard the conversation. "Very poetic of you Luke!", he said.

"They are pretty phallic", Mohini observed.

"Indeed", Gopan agreed. 

Apala was following just behind Gopan, and now joined in. "Whatever made you think of that, Luke"? she said.

"Think of what"? Luke said, unsure what she was getting at.

"Enlightenment flowering out of death and sex", she said.

Luke didn’t have an answer. "I don’t know. It just came to me".

The path continued to wind on down through the dense, dark green foliage, past a good number of the reeking botanical beasts. Eventually, just beyond the next sharp bend the bamboo receded and a scintillating bright sea with its dazzling surface came suddenly into view again. 

The smell of the flowers abruptly vanished as they met the delightful, fresh salt wind coming in from the surrounding ocean. 

This side of the island, they could see the tide was already well into the shore, the water a vast, sparkling galaxy of glittering diamonds in the morning sun. The ocean seemed utterly at peace, watched over by the strange, tall, red rocky towers protruding from further out to sea, where they stood mysteriously in their curved line.

Shortly afterwards the bay itself came into view. It was looked on by another line of rocky outcrops in the sea, also with steep, dark red sides. The line of stacks acted as a breakwater, leaving the water in the bay very calm indeed. Virgin red sand extended back from the edge of the sea all the way up the beach, past some lumpy rocks, to the lush vegetation and palms at the back.

On reaching the beach, the line of people from the path spread out, passing over rocks and onto the soft sand. Some people headed for the very dense line of palms on one side, which cast a band of shade along the sand above the waterline. Others began preparing places for fires later, and set about collecting small rocks, which were added to the circles of rocks already placed there, making wheel-like patterns with radial spokes from the circle centres. 

Rucksacks were being thrown down onto the sand, while small bags emerged from other rucksacks, from which charcoal was poured into the spoke divisions in the rocks, ready for the cooking later. Piles of other provisions were placed nearby.

After some time preparing, everyone had gathered in a broad line along the beach, and the diversity of activities seemed to come to a natural halt. And then as if by some unseen, silent command, in a matter of minutes everyone was simultaneously running naked towards the water’s edge, leaving behind a line of brightly coloured, discarded robes on the red sand.

As he approached the water beside Chandrika, Luke felt a hesitation at entering the sea, but refused to give in to it. They were, after all, now on a different side of the island to the quicksands, and the sea here was so different to what he had encountered the last time he had run into it. It was sunlit, friendly, inviting, peaceful. They splashed into the water which was warm and still, and they swam a little, together.

"It’s beautiful!" Chandrika said, her eyes smiling, her body surrounded by dazzling flashes of bright sun bursting from the water as she splashed.

A female voice called behind Luke "It’s so different to the tarn, isn’t it"? 

Chandrika heard and called to Luke "Have you been swimming in the tarn, then"?

In a second, Luke saw Manisha appear between him and Chandrika. At least, he thought it was her. "We should do this more often", she said.     

Then the voice was still there behind him, and now laughed. "Perhaps we should move the Ekanta down to the beach…"

Luke saw Chandrika smiling. Chandrika had no difficulty at telling the twins apart, and she could see Luke looking surprised to hear both voices. "Manisha’s behind you", Chandrika said.   

Apala was still floating between Chandrika and Luke, facing the beach, and now she said "Here comes Inesh…"

The others looked across to the beach and up the path. A figure with a stick, in a bright orange robe was descending onto the beach, accompanied by a couple of other people. They recognised the figure as Inesh. In a short while the small group had also now discarded their robes and were approaching the water.

§

Everyone swam until exhausted or hungry, and soon the temporarily deserted red sand of the beach became populated once again, leaving only a few people still in the water. At the top of the beach by the palm trees, people were now mostly either lying on the sand, or sitting around talking, accompanied by the constant sound of the incoming sea lazily moving at the beach’s edge. Screeches from parakeets and other unseen wildlife sometimes echoed from further back in the trees, occasionally interrupting the peace.

Mohini came up and sat down beside Pramesh, who was sitting with Chandrika and Luke. She was holding something. "Look what I found", she said, and handed him an enormous, white, spiked shell.

"It’s beautiful", Pramesh smiled. "It’s really big for a conch", he continued, examining it closely, and passed it on to Luke. Pramesh then turned to Chandrika. "What did Inesh want last night then"? he asked. "I assume that’s where you were, when I got back"?

Mohini laid down abruptly, and covered her face.

Chandrika answered. "He wanted to talk about the situation". She was now staring intently out to the side of the bay. A dinghy was coming around the rocks, in towards the beach. "Has anyone seen Tarak"? she asked.

Pramesh and Luke followed her line of gaze. "No. That must be him", Pramesh said. 

"What situation"? Luke asked.

Chandrika looked away from the dinghy. "The moon".

"So what about it"?

"It’s that time again", Mohini said almost indignantly, without otherwise moving.

"Inesh is not going to be here, on the full moon", Chandrika said.

"Why"? Luke said. "Where’s he going"?

"The mainland of course. I assume".

Pramesh said "He’s got a place there".

"I know", Luke said.

Chandrika went on. "Anyway… he wants to see me tonight as well".

"What for"? Luke asked.

Mohini got up suddenly. She was clearly perturbed for some unseen reason. "I’m going to get some fruit", she said, and walked away up the beach.

Chandrika looked straight out to sea. "It may be the last time I see him…", she said.

Pramesh sat up straight. "You mean the last time we’ll see him"?

"Possibly".

"I see", Luke said. "You mean… so... are you staying on the beach for this… last meeting with Inesh tonight, or what"?

Chandrika shook her head. "I don’t know. I know Inesh doesn’t normally hang around here, but he’s here now, isn’t he"?

"Talk to him now then. You don’t want to miss things later".

Pramesh was standing up, looking around the beach. "It’ll be fabulous here tonight", he said. "Full moon on the beach. They’re spiking lamps in by the barbecues, and up the path, as well. Not that we’ll really need them I suppose".

"Almost full moon", Chandrika corrected.

"Well it’s as good as the proper full moon… at least to see by", Pramesh said.

"Not the same though", Chandrika said.

Pramesh was undaunted. "It’s going to be beautiful down here tonight, though…"

Footsteps in the sand approached them. Gopan and Tarak came towards Luke and stood beside him. "We’re going back up to the house on foot to get some more lights", Gopan said. "If there’s anything you still need, small I mean, we could bring it"?

No one needed anything so Gopan and Tarak went off up the beach. Chandrika watched them and saw them stop and talk to Manisha on their way up to the path. 

Manisha got up and disappeared up the path with them. "Where’s she going"? Chandrika said quietly, still watching. 

Luke heard her and turned around to look too, and he just caught sight of them. "Which one was it"? he asked.

"Manisha".

"How do you always know? Surely you can’t tell from here"?

"She’s wearing red. Didn’t you notice"?

"They might have swapped", Luke said jokingly, although it was perfectly true. "They do, sometimes".

Chandrika replied seriously. "Well they haven’t this time".

§

The day was lazy, apart from the beach games and the swimming. At the onset of evening the barbecues were lit and the smell of charcoal smoke and cooking food drifted deliciously over the beach. 

The tide had receded, exposing a greater expanse of flat, shiny sand. Tranquil water still extended to just inside the breakwater rock towers, connecting through the inlets with the sea beyond. A channel of deep water still flowed right into one end of the bay and along the beach. 

Everyone sat around the barbecues eating and drinking. Far across the sea, beyond the stacks, the sun began to set. At first orange, then red, then deep blood red as it approached the horizon, illuminating the wet sand and water inside the breakwater rocks with dazzling, fiery, reflected light. 

The mood was quiet as the great red orb began its gradual sinking into the ocean. Huge dark shadows from the stacks reached all the way from the sea to the island. The whole beach started to become veiled in half-light. 

Everyone knew the moon would not be visible above the higher land behind the bay until some time after the complete disappearance of the sun. A pile of spare wood and bamboo had been placed between two fires made up in stone rings a little further down the beach, which were now lit. Final lamps were spiked in at the top of the beach and all the way up the path.

As the light began to fade more and more, the fires, now lit, roared up vigorously and noisily in bright yellow cones of playful, crackling flame, the bamboo mixed in with the wood, popping and exploding in extremely loud bangs. 

People began to drift over from the barbecues to the bonfires. Clay goblets were passed around, and more small musical instruments appeared. People began singing, and some danced. 

The final glare on the water now gone, the sun slowly submerged behind the edge of the sea. The very last tip of its crimson circle dissolved through the horizon, leaving behind its unclaimed dying red sky, still flaring above the water. And now in the increasing darkness, the yellow light of the bonfires seemed to spread out over the sands, like a semi-luminous lake in which giant, moving, elongated shadows danced.

Everything was peaceful, as the sea and land beyond the reach of the firelight began to darken into obscurity. Some time later, someone down the beach called out, and pointed upwards to the sky above the back of the beach. A brilliant arc of golden light was emerging like a giant celestial jewel in the sky, just above a tall line of trees behind the top of the red cliff. People moved further down the beach to get a good look at it. Some time later, the shining, golden, lunar disc had emerged in its entirety, just above the tree line. 

Then the strange fullness of its presence was felt by everyone, as if it was presiding over the beach and its occupants. The bright golden circle slowly rose away from the land, and towards the stars, only one tiny part of its circumference less than perfectly sharply defined. 

For a while everyone was silent, watching, and drinking, and eating. The gentle surf crashed over the sand in the semi-darkness further down the beach, with endless repetition, like some rhythmic, cosmic breathing. The crackling of the fires continued, and the strange cry of a night bird echoed out unseen from the darkness behind the trees. While everyone was remaining utterly still and quiet, the beach could have been deserted. And then people again began to move and talk, and play music.

Luke walked slowly with Chandrika and Mohini along the entire length of the beach, next to the sea. They didn’t say much. They were all feeling the mix of energies in their surroundings, the difference between the illuminated activities higher up the beach, and the vast, dark expanse of natural power that lay in the moonlit sea beyond the beach and out to the rock stacks. And all the time, above them, amidst the constellations, the almost perfect moon painted everything in its mysterious light, even the far off rocky towers looming tall out of the sea, way beyond the bay.

It was some considerable time later, when the moon was silver and shining down into the bay from over the sea, that they heard a noisy disturbance up by one of the bonfires. "That’s Gopan", Mohini said, trying to make out what was going on.

"Come on", Luke said, starting quickly towards the bonfires. "Let’s see what it’s about".

There was another figure beside Gopan, either Manisha or Apala, Luke couldn’t tell in the firelight, but it looked like she was wearing red. And then another figure got up and walked away, which was almost certainly Inesh. There was shouting, or at least some kind of loud declaration by Gopan. It didn’t seem to be confrontational, but again, none of them were sure.

"Is he drunk"? Chandrika said, almost in disbelief.

"I don’t know", Luke answered, as they approached the fire. Inesh seemed to be walking away from the fire and the commotion, towards them. Gopan suddenly seemed to be attracting the attention of many others who were now moving towards the fire. Inesh was now joined by Manisha, and they continued walking directly towards the three of them.

They finally met up some distance from the fire. "What’s going on"? Luke said.

"It’s time for us to go". Inesh calmly said to Chandrika. He turned to Manisha and spoke to her. "I’m going to go back with Chandrika now. You must do whatever you have to do concerning Gopan and this Rahasya". He then turned to Luke and simply acknowledge him silently, with a gesture.

By now Pramesh and Tarak had come up to join the group. Inesh turned to Tarak and asked "Are we ready"? Tarak said something and pointed to the dinghy.

Inesh then walked off with Chandrika and Pramesh and Tarak, down to the side of the beach where the dinghy was waiting.

"They’re taking the boat round", Manisha said, stating the obvious. Even as she said it the smell of dead flesh came to them. The wind was now coming across from the direction of the mainland, occasionally bringing with it the stink of the corpse flowers, right down onto the beach.

Mohini grimaced. "Can someone go and get a boat for us too, so we don’t have to go back up past the those horrid flowers again"?

Somewhere over the mainland a bright red flash quickly flickered right across the sky. Like Luke, Manisha saw it and looked up. "The wind’s changed", she said.

A few minutes later the engine on the dinghy was roaring, and a powerful search light was illuminating the water out to the inlet, as it accelerated away.

Gopan’s voice sounded from next to the bonfire. He was standing holding something, and more and more people were gathering, standing and sitting around him. 

"…So I thought we might have a reading", he was saying loudly. The three of them hastened towards Gopan. In the distance, thunder rumbled somewhere over the mainland. 

Mohini knew immediately. "He’s got the book", she said. Then she turned to Manisha. "Did you give it to him"? Manisha didn’t answer.

Gopan was waving the book in the air now. "You might think you know", he was saying, "but it’s not even all here, not even for the people you trust to tell you what’s in it and what it says!" 

"Why is he doing this"? Mohini whispered loudly.

Manisha was standing staring towards Gopan. "He says it’s deception and delusion", she answered. She shook her head. "And Inesh has washed his hands of it".

"He knows about your secret page, you know", Mohini said assertively. "We all do".

Manisha retorted "It’s not my page, Mo. Inesh took it out. He just told me about it".

Gopan’s voice became louder on the wind. 

"So let’s have a look…", he was saying. He turned over the loose pages, with two people beside him holding up lamps one each side of him. "You’ve heard about the secret details, yes? Well why should they be secret? Whose ego is that boosting? Eh? Here you are then… and let us have no more secrets".

He started reading loudly. "The consort and his female shall be one. On the night of the full moon they shall be together in a high place. They shall be united under the beginnings of creation". 

He looked up. "Yes", he nodded. "That’s it. So now you know. Make of it what you like. Oh and each verse begins with… And the consort shall know the youngest who came on the fourteenth moon. And you already know who came on the fourteenth moon…"

Some people cheered quietly and others voiced Chandrika. Several others called out "Who’s the consort"?

Gopan answered loudly "Well who’s she with"?, as if it was a stupid question.

More people answered "She’s gone off with Inesh". 

The people closest turned and looked at Luke. Someone handed Luke a goblet. He drank. Someone said something about the full moon, and a lot of people around laughed.

"Why do you believe this stuff"? Gopan was demanding. "Why do we believe everything we’re told"?

"The prophesy says so", someone called out. "Dhananjay was the Grand Master".

Someone else argued back "Dhananjay wasn't a Grand Master. He just inherited the prophesy".

The first retaliated "That's where you're wrong! How could he inherit if he wasn't a Grand Master? The book itself says so. Everyone knows that". 

Gopan's big voice interjected. "How do you know any of that"? he demanded.

Several people answered "It says so in the book…"

"It says so in the book…", Gopan retorted. "Oh… I see Well that makes it right then, doesn’t it? The book says it’s the truth so it must be mustn’t it"? 

He shook the book in the air. "After all it is bits of paper, isn’t it? Holy paper, no doubt. Well the book also says the consort shall know the youngest who came on the fourteenth moon. Well in case you hadn’t noticed, for a start, Chandrika’s not the youngest here".

Murmurs and exchanges went round those closest to Gopan. Someone called out "It means she’s younger than the consort". Loud murmurs of agreement followed.

"Oh right", Gopan said. He stooped down and picked up a goblet from the ground by his feet. He drank from it, unhurriedly. He swallowed heavily and handed the empty goblet back to one of the lamp holders beside him. "It doesn’t say who she’s younger than, but now it seems… we just know. That’s convenient, isn’t it"?

Someone called out loudly "The book communicates, even if you can’t read it".

"It’s an energy source", someone else said, and more loud murmurs of agreement erupted.

A very deep, low, powerful rumble sounded from somewhere far off behind the back of the bay. More thunder in the mountains.

"This…", Gopan said loudly, shaking the book in the air, was written by Dhananjay. It’s his. He is notwas notGod… So why do you worship him? He was an academica cleithrophobiceccentricridiculously"... Gopan cleared his throat and reached out to take another goblet. He took a gulp and continued, "...Wealthy man with spiritual beliefs… who happened to come across this island. How many of you have checked out the Sanskrit source? Come on! Who? Who’s actually checked the facts"?

"It doesn’t matter…", someone called from in front of Luke. "The book still carries the energy".

And now unexpectedly Luke broke his silence, and replied to the voice in the crowd. As soon as he started speaking everybody seemed to stop. All ears seemed to be listening attentively. Something was driving him to speak. He didn’t really know what it was. 

"The only energy is you", he said. "Everything else is just the phenomena. And the whole lot of it’s just going to disappear anyway, just like the Old World".

For a minute Gopan stood silently. The fire crackled and hissed and spat. Then he spoke again. "I’m no prophet", he said, "but… manuscripts… I do know about. And you people should know the truth there. I’m telling you because I respect you. And I don’t believe there’s any value in secrets and lies and delusions".

Luke spoke into the silence again. "He does know what he’s talking about, when it comes to manuscripts".

Gopan finished the contents of his goblet as Luke was speaking, handed the empty goblet to the lamp holder, and held up the book again and shook it. "There’s no way the source of this… this so-called sutra… is any older than Dhananjay’s so-called translation. As far as I can see, it could even be that the so-called original Sanskrit is a translation of the so-called translation"!

There was a brief moment of silence and now Gopan suddenly laughed heartily as though he just realised what he said was funny. 

No one reacted.

He went on. "Don’t you see? It’s a fake. Even I can write in Sanskrit. And when I want to be, as it happens I'm not a bad poet, either, even though I say so myself. I expect you didn't know that did you? The whole thing is a fake, the Sanskrit is no older than Dhananjay, and Dhananjay either knew it or was a fool to even bother with it. Either way, the sutra wasn’t here before Dhananjay was".

He took another goblet, turned his back on his audience and started drinking again.

Now murmurs of no and that’s wrong and general disagreement ran around everywhere.

Gopan was now taking another long drink from the goblet which had been refilled. He swallowed the last drop, and handed it back to the person beside him.

He looked around and shook his head. "You want to believe it… so it’s become real for you. Don’t you see? But it’s not the truth. This is worthless", Gopan said, vigorously waving the book in the air again. 

And then he tossed it into the fire.

Turmoil was suddenly unleashed. The book’s pages flew apart as it hit the fire in a huge explosion of flame and sparks, and as two people rushed at it, several others leaped forward to restrain them from the roaring blaze. Someone got up and pushed Gopan hard, but whilst Gopan, who was by far the largest of the two, didn’t react, Amrit stepped in between Gopan and his assailant, who then launched an attack on Amrit. 

As the attacker lurched violently forward at him, Amrit moved gracefully aside and his assailant was immediately on the ground with Amrit holding one of his attacker’s hands in both of his. Amrit held him absolutely still and in obvious discomfort for a second or two, and then released his grip. 

As he went to walk away, his opponent sprang up again and rushed at him. Amrit turned gracefully almost as if in a dance, and seemed to smoothly melt in contactless movement with the oncoming body, sending it tumbling rapidly to the ground. The people who were still too close leapt out of the way.

By now everyone else around had moved quickly back, sensing the danger. Amrit’s attacker now lurched angrily towards the bonfire and pulled out a long, brightly flaming stick. Several others now instantly got up and started to move in on him, but were quickly stopped in their tracks when he made a violent swooping movement towards them with the burning weapon. The flames doubled in brightness and roared loudly as it rushed through the air. Then in another strike he lashed out at Amrit, swiping the stick vigorously again in a roaring stream of sparks. 

Faster than anyone could follow, the dark end of the stick was transferred as if by some unseen sleight into Amrit’s hand, and his opponent suddenly lay bent on the ground, his arm twisted and his hand locked in Amrit’s. Amrit let go and threw the stick back onto the fire.

The attacker got up again, but now Gopan was behind him. As he went to grab another stick from the fire Gopan tore it out of his hand, picked him up entirely into the air, and threw him some distance away from the fire onto the soft sand. Gopan then walked across to him, knelt down and leaned over him, saying something, pointing out to sea.

Gopan stood up and faced everyone. "There’s never any excuse for violence here", he said loudly. Even if that had been Dhananjay’s copy. Which of course it wasn’t. Even that has some… academic value… if nothing else".

"Oh Gopan…", Manisha said quietly to herself, exasperated, shaking her head. 

The whole incident just subsided back into the night. Everyone was talking again. Manisha looked around. "Has anyone seen Apala"? she asked.

Gopan was still saying something about the Ekanta not tolerating violence. Another bright red light flashed widely across the sky, followed by several faster yellow flickers.

"She’s just gone down there, I think", Mohini said, pointing towards the water. Manisha turned and walked away into the dark.

Mohini looked at Luke. She found somehow she just couldn’t read him. "Luke…" she said. He didn’t answer. "It’s not really the full moon yet", she said. She wasn’t sure why she said it, but she wanted desperately to contact and communicate with him.

"I know". Luke finally answered.

"Are you going to stay down here"? Mohini asked.

Luke was quiet. A long, deep rumble echoed in the far distance again. Then he said "Yes, I think I will".

"Okay. Look, Luke… I don’t think I want to stay, really".

Luke answered. "I’ll take you back if you like. I just thought I might have a swim first".

Mohini smiled. "It’s alright. I could ask Amrit".

"Do you fancy a swim in the dark"? Luke ventured.

"No… really… I think I want to go now. I don’t feel right down here any more. It’s okay. I’m sure Amrit will come back up the path with me".

"Okay. If you’re sure".

"It’s fine", she said. She kissed him. "I’ll see you later".

"Okay Mo". He just touched her hand.

Shortly afterwards he saw Mohini and Amrit going towards the lights on the path. He turned and went down the sand towards the sea. 

The moonlight was bright now, and was reflecting off the rippling dark water like hundreds of little moons. He could see two bodies already in the water, swimming close to the shore. Occasionally a mysterious bright blue-green glow was emanating all around them from the agitated water. He stripped off and went closer. One of the swimmers called out to him. "It’s wonderful", she said. "Come in". 

It sounded like Manisha. Then the other voice called. Luke was expecting the other twin, but instead he recognised the voice as Pramesh’s. "Look at this", he said. He swept his arms rapidly from side to side, sending bright showers of liquid blue light all around him. 

"Algae… Phosphorescence…", he called. "You’ve only got to move and it glows. I’ve never seen it as bright as this before though".

"I thought you’d gone back with Inesh", Luke said, entering the water in his own shower of glowing blue-green light.

Pramesh answered. "Tarak took him".

"Will he bring the boat back"?

"No I expect he’ll come on foot".

Now Manisha was suddenly beside Luke. "This is more… beautiful… than the tarn", she said.    

A rapid series of loud cracks from further up the beach by the bonfires shocked the night. 

"Bamboo firecrackers!" Pramesh said. "I’m going up". He swam to the edge of the water in a shower of coloured light, and then began walking up the beach.

Luke saw Manisha coming towards him. She came right up against him in a pool of blue luminescence. For a while she floated beside him, then she said "I think I’d like to go back now. Would you mind walking up the path with me"?

"Of course", Luke said.

She swam slowly to the edge of the water and got out. Luke followed. They walked up the beach. More firecrackers went off in a rapid series of bangs. They reached her pile of clothes first. She put the robe on. They went over to where Luke had left his things. They said nothing. He started drying. In silence she took the shirt out of his hand, and started drying him with it. Then he put the rest of the things on. 

They walked up past the fires, still crackling, and towards the path. "At this time of night we’ll see the Mandala Temple’s lamps from the top of the path", she said.

"Can’t smell the corpse flowers", Luke observed.

"Fortunately they do it periodically", she said. "And only for a few days". 

They walked on, up the beach and onto the path. It was visible in the moonlight, and every now and again the lamps that were still alight illuminated clouds of insects that had been attracted to them. 

In the darker but moonlit stretches between the lamps, the strange, ghostly lights of insects glowing with beautiful purple and blue lights frequently flew across their path, while hundreds of green glow worms seemed to be dotted everywhere in the thick leaves and growth at the sides of the path. 

Choruses and choruses of thousands of crickets chirruped relentlessly all around them, all the time, constantly surrounding them, loud but unseen, and sometimes even louder on the path itself. Now in place of the earlier stink of the corpse flowers, the night air all along the path was thick with some sweet, honey-like fragrance. 

The walk up the path was long, and they followed most of the time in single file. Then as predicted, when they finally reached the top of the path, the Mandala Temple was there, in the distance, on top of its hill, its walls glowing strangely and ethereally with reflected moonlight, against a backdrop of a billion bright stars. A deep, contemplative red light from the lamps within it was emanating eerily but beautifully, and strangely seductively, through the windows of its upper storey. 

They walked on silently to where the Mandala Temple and the Ekanta could both be seen. Orange-red light from the Ekanta’s windows spilled out over its surrounding gardens, invitingly. They stopped and looked. 

In the warm, humid air, symphonies of chirping crickets now seemed to move relentlessly in waves all around them, unseen in the darkness. And now the honey-like fragrance came again strongly on the breeze. In the light of the almost-full moon everything seemed poised in an unworldly, monochrome, timeless beauty. 

Powerful things, mixed things, confused things, were stirring in Luke, but something else was now bothering him. Something more immediate. He whispered it. "Manisha"? The nature of his question was veiled, but unmistakeable.

"Apala", she whispered back, correcting him.

"I thought so", Luke answered quietly. Another stray, glowing purple glowing insect flitted around both of them like a phantom, and then disappeared back into the leaves. They stopped, turned, and faced each other. 

Apala spoke first. "Manisha said she took you to the tarn?", she said, questioningly.

Luke didn't want to answer. "You know, don’t you?", he said.

"What"?

"Where Chandrika is. What she’s doing".

The crickets’ chirping seemed to get louder. Luke and Apala became aware of something moving overhead, something seemingly huge and dark, that flew with an angular motion and an unfamiliar sound, not far above them. But they didn’t look away from each other.  

Apala nodded. "She’s with Inesh".

"How did that happen"?

"There are no answers, Luke. You must know that by now. If it disturbs you, why didn’t you just object"?

"It was impossible. That’s all. I don’t know how or why. It just didn’t happen".

"You do know why".

Now as they looked steadily at each other, another red light flashed rapidly across the distant sky, and then silently flickered again, now orange.

"Perhaps", Luke answered. Then thoughtfully he added "You’re not the same as Manisha, are you"?

"No. We’re different. Everyone’s different".

Neither of them moved. Luke could hear her breathing.

Apala whispered again. "Mine is the most beautiful room in the Ekanta. We could go. If you want to". 

A sudden, brighter orange flash lit up the entire sky and land from the direction of the mountains, openly revealing just for a splintered second, all the secrets of their surroundings that the moonlight had been disguising. 

The crickets chirped on and on, undisturbed, as loud as ever. Apala put her lips to Luke’s. Low thundering, mixed with strange, tearing, electrical crackling sounds, emanated from over the sea. The thunder echoed and rumbled around, forewarning the awesome power as yet still a long way off in the mountains. The breeze seemed to become a little stronger.

Apala looked up at the night sky. It was brilliantly studded with a mind blowing depth of celestial lights. Luke said nothing. She continued looking up at the sky. And then she looked in the direction of the mainland as another deep, hollow rumble of thunder echoed menacingly from the mountains. "It’s coming", she said knowingly.

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