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One Day Before Full Moon

Fiction (from books)

Ekanta

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Bats

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Kalyani’s eyed now widened. Now it suddenly made sense. She knew they had gone up to The Ends of The Earth. She too, knew perfectly well what could be seen from up there. And she knew only too well what it meant if it was raiders. "Let’s go", she said, now with a sense of urgency.

§

The massive bulk of The Ends of The Earth was completely deadening to any radio signal coming from the direction of the house. Luke had tried the radio as soon as they had descended and had emerged from round behind the bottom of the crag. The radio still didn't work. He gave up trying to make contact and they made haste back to the standing stones. 

Everyone was lively when they arrived. There was energising, powerful drumming and dancing. Almost immediately they spotted Apala and Manisha standing illuminated in the yellow glow down at the other end of the stones. 

As they moved towards them, a large black object swooped fast down towards them, abruptly turning just over their heads, and just as quickly disappearing again into the moonlight. It happened twice more, even before they reached the twins. 

Somewhere back behind them someone screamed. They turned around and saw people all over the circle ducking and running towards the stones and the fires, as huge black bats with wings as wide as a human arm span, dived and braked from side to side within the circle. 

The whole area seemed suddenly to come under a kind of mock aerial attack from hundreds of the flying foxes. Within seconds, everywhere was filled with a dense frenetic cloud of the giant bats, swooping and diving, careering and braking across the stones.

Luke quickly ushered Chandrika and the twins in towards the closest fire, and as the chaos of bats increased outside its immediate ring of light, it seemed that their surroundings were becoming noticeably darker. 

It wasn’t the bats that brought about the new blackness, but the moonlight itself that seemed to have disappeared. Luke looked straight up above their heads and found it was now impossible to tell what was above them, beyond the rushing cloud of bats shooting in and out of the circle of firelight. He looked around for the moon. It was nowhere.

Most people were now huddled by the fires or the standing stones, and it became increasing clear that the bats were either mad or disorientated, disturbed by something. There must be something upsetting them, Luke thought. 

There also seemed to be a change in the wind. A change in its direction, strength, or temperature. Luke wasn’t sure. The outline of the Ends of The Earth was somehow still visible, its pinnacle illuminated by a straight, bright shaft of shimmering blue moonlight now breaking through the clouds, as though it was taking centre stage in the developing drama. 

The bats must have been on their way there, he thought. That’s where they usually went. The brightness of the moonlight now over the Ends of The Earth contrasted with the surrounding blackness. The bright moonlight must have found some gap in that huge, dark mass of cloud, now blown by the storm above the island. But in a few seconds, the crag too, had dissolved into the surrounding blackness. 

And then as quickly as they had come, the bats were gone. Everything was suddenly quiet again. But it was dark now, very dark, with only the light from the fires and lamps illuminating glowing rings of people, and just marking out the circle of stones. 

People began to move back out again into the area between the stones, and now they were laughing at their unaccustomed invisibility in the newly arrived, unexpected, moonless darkness. This was very unusual. The moon was now nowhere to be seen. 

People were gathering around the fires, and started playing music. "We need to find Gopan", Luke was saying. He began explaining to the twins, but their attention was distracted by a loud metallic clang, sounding as though someone had violently hit one of the larger singing bowls at the other end of the stones, with something hard. 

"People are getting out of control, now", Apala observed disapprovingly.

"We’re not having that", Manisha said assertively. "Those bowls are valuable", and she immediately moved out into the darkness in the direction of the sound. She had got only about as far as the extremity of the firelight, when there was a small thud, and she seemed to exclaim something, like a fast, vocal exhalation. It was possibly pain. 

Luke wasn’t sure, but as he looked out in the darkness towards her, he thought he saw her slump to the ground. He rushed out after her. The others had seen it too, and were right there with him.

He wasn’t mistaken. She lay on the ground, motionless.

"Manisha… what is it?", Luke put his hand on her face to feel her. She moaned.

"My shoulder", she said, sitting up slowly.

Chandrika ran to one of the perimeter lamps, pulled it out of the earth, and ran back with it. In its light they could still see no injury.

"What do you feel"? Chandrika asked.

"Something hit me".

Luke looked around. He was sure there had been no-one else there. Even in the small light from the fire he felt he would have been aware of the movement. Manisha seemed shaken, but was recovering quickly. 

As they comforted her, now someone further down by the stones screamed. As they looked, unable to see in the darkness, someone else screamed too. Almost immediately following the screams, another very loud metallic clang rang violently out from the bowls. 

And then another one, and then two more in quick succession. Now more screams, and something hard, a short distance away from them, thudded heavily into the earth. And then there were multiple loud thuds and poundings all around them, and a sudden cacophony of thuds on the earth and random loud clangs ringing harshly out from all the bowls.

The scene at the standing stones seemed to explode uncontrollably into panic and screaming, with people now rushing past the fires towards the perimeter lights and out towards the path where the trees were. 

Something crashed into the earth next to where Manisha was lying. Even in the lamplight Luke could see it was an oddly shaped, shining, cloudy ball of ice, the size of a fist. Luke pulled her straight up and locked his arm around her, while Apala took her other side. "Can you run"? he said.

More icy hail began to fall from the sky, and they felt a sudden fall in air temperature as they rushed with everyone else towards the cover of the trees. Then, just as they passed the line of the standing stones, a terrifyingly bright flash burst over the circle, briefly illuminating the whole area like daylight. Almost instantaneously a violent and deafening bang punched like a body blow, sending more screams out from the crowd. 

For what seemed like minutes to follow, the deep aftershocks of the thunderclap echoed back from the mainland and rolled over the sea, surrounding the island like hundreds of distant canon booms.

The air now had a vivid new freshness, cool and exhilarating. Everyone was streaming back down the path towards the house. Before anyone reached it, another blinding flash lit up the night all around them, causing more screams and sending everyone ducking for cover. Then another bang of such power that it felt as though it had cracked the island in half. 

As everyone poured into the safety of the house there was another explosive flash, and then two more, and a new wind was aggressively attacking everyone still left outside. Huge globules of water started to pelt loudly down on everything, all around. In seconds, everywhere outside the house was awash with water, and paths were turning into rivers. The air itself now smelt like fresh, running water. 

Even inside the building the smell and temperature of the air had changed. It was now refreshingly cool, invigorating, exciting. Luke’s room was the closest at hand, so Apala and Manisha headed there. Chandrika insisted on finding Daya, to examine Manisha. Luke determined to find Gopan, but urgently wanted to check on the boats again, from the Solar. In the storm they might even have turned back, hopefully.

He went quickly through the passageway and on to the spiral stair, stopping at the bottom to try the radio once more. The only response was static crackling, so he started moving at speed up the stairs. Deep booms from high over the building funnelled and vibrated in the spiral above him. 

At the ante-room the doors were open, so he went straight through into the darkness of the Solar. 

Gopan wasn’t there. 

Rain and hail was rattling deafeningly on the roof and windows, glass and metal sounds ringing out like an insane percussion orchestra. A single, tiny lamp, was flickering unsteadily in the corner, and a large cushion was out in the middle of the floor. 

Luke started walking towards the windows, but before he was half way across, the room was floodlit as an almighty crash shook the tower and rattled the windows. Momentarily dazzled, he went to the side of the room, to look for the binoculars. 

After rummaging around a bit he managed to find them. He went to the window and peered out. Even the small lamp in the corner was causing obscuring reflections now that the windows were being pelted with rain. He went back over to the lamp and snuffed it out. The room went perfectly black. Nothing at all was visible in the room now. He felt his way back to the window.

He could now make out the string of lights on the sea just off the mainland, still showing in the storm, their line wobbling up and down. Looking through the binoculars offered little help. The lights just appeared as big bright blobs. He couldn’t make out any other useful details. 

A brilliant fork somewhere above splayed through the blackness, for a brief moment lighting up the entire seascape, and he caught a clear glimpse of the scene on and around one of the boats. Another terrifying crash shook the glass again, its deep hollow echoes bouncing back off the mainland, moments later.

Luke realised he had seen nets. These looked like fishing boats. As the ensuing low rumbles died away into the distance, he audibly breathed a sigh of relief.

An invisible voice now startled him from somewhere in the blackness behind him.

"No they’re not", the voice said. It was Mohini. It was as if she had already been in his head. 

"Mo? What"?

"They’re not fishing".

"But they’ve got nets…"

"I know. But they’re not fishing". 

"How do you know"?

"Gopan said you’d have to be stupid to fish there. Like that. Nets above the waterline as well".

"What are they up to then"?

"I think they’re making a barrier. Our dinghies are much faster than those things, but we wouldn’t get through those nets. And the stretch of coast right behind them is the only place you can land. They’re Dhananjay boats".

"Inesh was right then"?

"Of course. Did you find it"?

"Not much help I’m afraid. We found a ring, that’s all".

"A ring"?

"Yes. Gold I think".

Mohini went quiet. Then she started to speak again. The sound of another very loud rumble thundering around outside, covered what she said, but he thought he heard her say "So there is a ring". 

Now a brilliant red flash illuminated Mohini’s face for a second, making it look as though she was wearing some kind of stage mask. A couple of seconds later a more distant, but still violent clap of thunder crashed around outside the Solar. The windows rattled loudly. 

Despite the intense red light Luke was in no doubt about what he had just seen in his brief glimpse of Mohini’s expression. But it was more than that. It was as if he was now in her head. 

The rain was still roaring relentlessly on the roof above. "What"? he coaxed her again.

She started to say something, but now the biggest, loudest bang that either of them had ever experienced seemed to explode all around them.

In a primal reaction Luke ducked to the floor. As he was recovering, his ears whistling, amazed that the windows hadn’t actually blown in, Mohini’s body was suddenly against his in the darkness. He wasn’t sure, but he thought she might have just collided with him after falling over the cushion that was on the floor between them. But even if she had, it all seemed now as if it were part of a hidden choreography that the storm itself seemed to be inducing.  

He could feel her breathing heavily, and her arms were now around him. She was shaking. He responded by embracing her and holding her tight. Their heads came together, and he felt the softness of her cheek against his. She continued to hold tightly onto him. 

As they crouched in the darkness another bright flash now lit up the room, but this time, something was different about it. They were not quick enough to see the fork. But its brief effect was intense, saturating them in an amazing, beautiful, ultramarine and purple explosion of light. In the midst of the fearsomeness of the storm the sheer colour and beauty of it seemed to come into the room like a piece of theatre. Literally like the change of atmosphere induced by the flood of theatrical lighting on dancers performing on the stage.

In that ephemeral, flickering flash of intense blue-purple, there seemed some far-off beautiful time and place, that in that tiny moment of infinite colour, contained all the past of this other place, a different story, another life, all its own stories, longings, hopes, loves, and all its futures.

But it was beguiling. For all the time it seemed to contain, condensed into a single moment of time in the Solar, in the merest fraction of a second it was gone, leaving them once again in the dark. A raw bang came after it, shaking the entire tower, and left them in no doubt of the storm’s uncompromising danger.

"I don't know what that was", Mohini said. "It must be something in the atmosphere. We do need to get down from here. We're too high up, Luke".

They got up from the floor but now something else outside, well below them, some distance off, caught their attention. A bright yellow plume was rising into the night on one of the hills. They both went to the window and looked through the water streaming down the glass. 

"It’s a tree", Mohini groaned. "It’s got one of the trees". In the distance balls of flame were flooding upwards, engulfing the tree, lighting up the land, bushes, and other trees around it. Mohini seemed upset. Luke thought he saw tears on her cheek as another fork crackled and split across the night. "That poor tree…" she said.

"It’s part of nature", Luke reassured her.

She seemed to recompose herself. "What about the boats"? she said.

"What do you mean"?

"Won’t they get struck"?

Luke peered out at the line of lights, still there, and still bobbing up and down. "It’s possible", he reflected.

A strong, metallic-like aroma now filled the room. "Can you smell that"? Mohini said, sounding worried. 

Luke nodded. "Ozone, I think. From the lightning".

"Let’s go", she said, taking his hand and moving towards the door.

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