Senan watches the scrawny figures of men and women as they wade through a wetland, in slush thick and sticky like molten chocolate.
A hint of red tainting their peeling skin, they appear like human anomalies accidentally tossed into Mother Earth’s lap.
In the fields on the other side, lush green plants sway in the breeze, waves lapping in an ocean of emeralds. Bright sunlight strokes the blades of leaves. Music flows as locusts rub their legs against their wings, luring their mates.
Soon, their mating will be over. They’ll pounce, to notch the tender rice seeds. Like a hungry pack of wolves feeding on the warm blood of a fallen prey, they will drain out the sweet sap and devour the savory husks.
Adjacent to the paddy fields, by the side of a stream, stretches the Master’s plantation of coconut and araca nut. In between the palms, he grows rows of assorted trees that serve as support for black-pepper plants to climb on and thrive.
The Master’s mettle derives from the money he rakes-in through the export of these tropical crops; and, unflinching loyalty of the laborers who toil for him.
Senan’s eyes roam around.
Pink nylon ropes hang from a banyan tree, like the tongues of bloodhounds he sees in his nightmares. In their coils, they hinge a cushioned wooden plank.
The Master descends from the rain clouds. “I hold the power of wind in my wing muscles, and confine the strength of torrents within my chest.”
The swing sways in a breeze. The tree’s aerial roots, strands of dreadlocks, dance rhythmically in tandem as the wind gathers momentum.
Senan stands up, reaches out with a hand. The orange sun, glowing behind him, casts his shadow over the space before him in scattered patterns.
She emerges from shadows, parting the banyan’s roots, dreadlocks of ancient gods, with her hands. Her fingers wrap around the swing’s rope, and she hoists herself onto it. Her hair, auburn and lustrous, sweeps back from her shoulders, a cascade of brown lava, edges fiery golden.
“Even this girlie thing, a child’s source of glee…” The Master laughs. “It’s my legacy, like everything else.”
As she swings forward, the tail of her half-sari flutters in the wind, the flapping sounds compete with the music in her laughter.
She continues to swing. The wind comes from the fore, causing her linen garment to stick to her skin. Its constant caresses define her curvy contours; ample bust area, tapering to a flat belly, and flexing out to wide hips.
The Master’s breaths grow heavier.
The swirling air twists and coils the cloth around her neck and onto the rope. Her veins thicken, become pronounced on her pale skin, their greenish-blue hue pulsating with the thuds of her heart.
Senan yearns to rush forth, but fear freezes him.
Her large eyes pop out of their sockets, the gush of blood dark. He feels its warmth as it hits his face, a thick torrent.
“Anita!” Senan tastes her saltiness in his mouth.
Behind him, the Master’s laughter resounds with a diabolic cadence. Unleashed, his bloodhounds ravage. The Master, leashes in his hand, approaches Anita. He stands watching, his back turned to Senan.
The canines pant, their labored breaths mix with the chaotic rustle of banyan leaves. The swing continues to sway forward. The Master throws away the shackles.
Legs spread, she swings towards him. It looks like the ferocity of the wind has erased any traces of clothing from her body.
The Master doesn’t flinch away from the glow of her dusky skin, a mark of a lower-caste girl. A whore, he calls her.
Her eyeballs shoot back into their sockets, a scene from played-back video. She looks at Senan, the veil of wetness in her eyes inadequate to mask the pleading in them.
Senan struggles to pull free his feet, clamped down by fear for the Master, dread for his wrath. His knees, turned into jelly, buckle.
The bloodhounds run after her as the swing freezes in suspension for a moment, at the point of return. They stand on their hind legs, raising their forepaws as if to dig at her flesh. The swing regains its forward motion.
The Master, head between Anita’s thighs, inhales her femininity. “She smells the same, no untouchables here,” he announces. “And, I won’t honor ties that bind blood to blood anymore.”
A threat, Senan thinks, to dissuade me. “Leave her alone,” he yells, extricating his legs from the ground’s hold, and runs toward the swing. It disappears, a wisp of smoke; so does the Master and Anita.
The banyan’s dreadlocks crawl along Senan’s shoulders, and wriggle on his face. They coil around his ears, their tips sneaking into his nose, like the forked tongues of serpents. Their slithery movements torment him… an ice-cold feel of the nightmares that steal his peace.
He wades his way through, parting the dreadlocks with his hands, and gliding through like a black cobra.
On the other side, as dusk falls in the paddy fields, Senan observes the laborers, who evolved as starving zombies, haggard, fatigued. Shackles binding their legs jingle as they try to tread beyond the extent their restraints allowed.
Tormented by the sting of metal rings, they freeze to the realization of pain gnawing at their ankles and wrists.
The stream flows, a wanton maiden dancing on bejeweled feet, silver anklets jingling in gleeful abandon.
Senan lies on the shore, the bed of sand cozy like his mother’s lap.
Silvery sunrays render a grayish shine over edges of glaciers, which move like enormous snails crawling along the mountain’s foot. Rain clouds hover, dazzled by the freezing air, seeking refuge behind cliffs.
The making of a Pangaea unfolds before his eyes, a snowy land merging into a tropical region, a phenomenon of Triassic periods repeating in the present; a subcontinent that drifted away, now amalgamates with a continent.
Braced in preparation for earthquakes and tsunamis, Senan doesn’t even feel a slight tremor. The ocean remains calm, the mountains unperturbed.
The Master emerges, breaking a glacier’s wall, scattering chunks of ice around. “Look at me,” he says. “How I facilitate the amalgamation of lands whose traits contrast, how I drive a plate tectonics event.”
“To what end?” Senan asks, his voice vibrating along the glacier’s glassy surface, like the incantation of a mantra, a chanting of hymn for gods in the high skies.
“I can bring about calamity, akin to the one foretold to happen in Kali Yuga.”
Kali Yuga, an era of darkness, the last of the 24,000 years’ time cycle as per Hindu mythology, will end in 2025. A period of cataclysm, with disastrous consequences to the human race will follow. Trends of global warming, increased tectonic activities, and changes in earth’s cosmic neighborhoods may all represent the doom of humanity, an apocalypse. But, what the hell the Master has to do with those phenomena? Senan thinks.
“You aren’t a God, to control such matters…” he says.
“Oh, but I am, can’t you see?” The Master points to the ground that has turned into a large sheet of thin ice, below which water stands still.
Anita floats beneath the transparent layer, her eyes wide open, mouth gaping.
“I punish the guilty.” The Master laughs. “I give them life, again and again; to be killed again and again for each of their sins. Isn’t that a trait godly enough?”
“Release her from your spell, or…”
“Or what…” The Master snickers. “You have nothing. And, I’ll show you what power is.”
As the Master raises his hand, Senan feels an icy chill lick through his feet, blood freeze in his veins.
A tiny spray issues from the Master’s hand and a puddle appears on the ice sheet. As Senan watches, it churns into an enormous water body. Slowly, it turns into a huge wave, which crashes on the glassy surface, breaking it.
The Master’s mouth opens in a roar and his voice sends vibrations along the ground beneath Senan’s feet, shaking it. As tremors keep rocking his body, Senan observes an enormous whirlpool form, twirling the water.
Anita splays her arms and legs, gasping for air. The whirlpool swirls toward her, like a ravaging tornado.
“A twister creates a whirlpool, punishes a sinner… air and water at my command, what else you need to qualify as a God?”
Dewdrops hanging onto the blades scatter as a cobra wriggles through grass. Rumbles of thunder, shaking the rain clouds and vibrating along the earth’s surface, hasten its slither.
The snake raises its head, sensing danger, flicks out a forked tongue. Sunlight deflects from the specks on its spread hood. A shadow falls on its black, glistening skin.
“Wake up, Senan…” Her voice, mellow, echoes as a soft thud in his heart.
An eagle, soaring in the high skies, swoops down. The carpet of grass undulates. The bird’s scaled talons scrape past Senan’s cheek, and he jolts from sleep.
The eagle lands on the ground, wings still spread. The serpent’s raised hood pulsates.
“Revenge…” Her voice reverberates in his ears. “Respond to injustice.”
A thunderbolt splits the sky, sun sneaks behind a hill. Storm lashes out and rain batters the land. Chilly gusts cool the air, rainwater softens the soil.
In the damp darkness, an orange glow taints raindrops falling in a slanted pattern. Heat radiates, causing beads of perspiration to break on Senan’s skin.
The atmosphere thickens with clouds of smoke. Senan turns back and looks at the hill.
On the other side, where the stream meets the sea, he sees thick black clouds, edges orange, emit from the hill’s apex. His first sight of a volcanic eruption in this region, an experience that beholds him…
The Master stands in his hide, a demon rising from the tide, and yells into the murky dusk. Moon shudders, blinking once, stars shrink to naught. The evil, in its primal form, demonstrates itself; raw, savage.
Tremors jolt the Earth’s core and lightning whips a sole charging wave, driving it back from the shore in quick heaves. A tornado tears through the sand. The musky scent of sodden earth suffocates Senan as he stands sweating.
The Master wades through water, resurrecting waves in his wake, to lash at the shore. “Within me resides the cosmos,” he says. “And, in my hand the magic…”
Senan perceives a voice, so soft it renders itself as an inaudible intonation, from somewhere on the shore.
In answer, another voice whispers, “No, let the pot of sins fill. The time ripens only when it overflows…”
The Master strides to the shore, dragging Anita. Her curly locks twisted around his wrist, she fights trying to break free.
“Come to your damned senses.” The mellow voice Senan heard earlier whispers.
“The pot has to fill, overflow. There’s no other way for evil to bloom and perish unto itself.”
Senan knows, the Master has imported, with the money he gained from his exports, philosophies that appeal to him, and he has fed it to his brethren, who readily devoured it.
To the Master, the notions, which force the laborers and henchmen to act the way he wants in return for menial favors, remain the tools of his survival. The arrows in his quiver are never exhausted.
Ignorant men and women ravish on the crumbs he throws, less than the feed for his canines. Hungry, they devour the food with no appreciation of their entitlement for more.
“It’s in your blood,” Senan says, “oppress those who oppose, throw morsels to those who acquiesce.”
“The powerless…” The Master harks up a lump of phlegm, spits it out onto the shore. “They just lament always, doing nothing.”
“The power you don’t see,” Senan says, “maybe, that’s your downfall.”
The Master holds Anita up in his left hand, rotates the index finger of his other hand. A twirling ray of flame dances around it for a moment and disappears.
“At my command,” he says. “Now, I’ll unleash the fire’s devastating energy from the tip of my finger, and burn her to ashes.”
“No matter what hideous forms you manifest,” Senan says, “you’re just one evil.”
The sky, bluish and bright, the abode of angels and gods, shakes in the dhvani, a resounding echo of a mantra.
“It’s the cry of one of the ashtanayikas – the eight kinds of heroines – the one whose soul languishes in pain of separation.”
Taking intermittent swigs from a bottle of scotch in his hand, Senan listens to beetles hum in the garden, and observes their bluish-black bodies disappear into the flower bunches of coconut palms.
In a few moments, those insects will drain the palms of their sweet nectar; leave them lusterless like the zombies in the paddy fields.
The toddy tappers, whose wages depend on the volume of sap they tap, will gaze upwards looking for gods they’ll never find. Their wives’ stares burning their backs, they’ll slump to the ground and embrace sleep, swallowing the bitterness of their children’s hunger.
The evil descends from the sky, gazes at the coconut palms, and laughs. “Sans sap,” the Master asks, “what do they look like?”
The pot of sin keeps filling. He sucks out the nectar, sap or blood, discards trunks and bones of plants or humans; fate’s design, so that the pot doesn’t break, sins don’t go unpunished.
“Beware…” A voice resonates in the high skies. “The quicker you fill the pot, the faster you perish, more gruesome the death.”
Senan takes another swig, lights a cigarette. It’s about time, he thinks, I can’t let heaven come down to earth.
“Your love,” she says, “is something I never had to my satiation, something I never stop yearning for.”
“I’ll have to take care of the Master first.” Senan blows out rings of smoke into the air.
“You’ve no idea,” the Master says, “how enigmatic cosmos is, and what calamities await you in the black holes.”
Senan holds the bottle up to his face, sees he already had more than half of it. “I’ve been indulging, yet not to my peril. What can you, the one descending from a sky up above, do to us earthlings?”
In a ceaseless bout of laughter, the Master rolls on the Earth, grains of soil sticking to his skin. “All it takes,” he says, “is a moment. I will bring you doom, from the sky. Would you like a bolt of lightning electrocute her; the thunderbolts create cavities on earth to consume her?”
“Find her. Kill her, if you can muster the power.”
The Master stands up, makes gestures in the air with his hands, as if to pump strength into his arms.
Senan takes another swig of scotch, and gazes at the Master’s hands, fingers pointed skywards.
Gods in heaven ignore him.
The astrologer spreads the cowry shells, predicts about the cosmic influences in his client’s life, “Your stars shine, you’re a blessed soul, but you need to…”
“See…” Ramgopal holds up his hand. “My world is rid of buts, ifs, and the likes. When my stars shine, they shine and that’s it. I don’t want to listen to the rest of the crap.”
The astrologer gazes at him. “If you are a believer in astrology, you listen to what it suggests. My profession is my karma,” he says. “Allow me to perform it in the right manner.” He starts to retrieve the cowries.
“Okay, carry on.” Ramgopal leans back on his massage chair. Your pride can’t make me listen to what I don’t want to hear, he muses and switches on the music device on the chair’s touch-screen housed in its armrest, in earphone mode.
As the astrologer speaks, Ramgopal nods his head to the music’s beats. Suddenly, he pauses, thinking: Maybe, the seer has a point. I must know what dangers lurk beyond the shining stars. He lowers the volume.
“So, you have to be careful,” the astrologer says.
“Excuse me… can you repeat what you said earlier?”
The astrologer looks at Ramgopal’s fingers dancing on the armrest. “Your karma,” he says. “You’ve never walked the right path. Beyond shining stars, black holes await.”
“I’m not the sole soul to take detours, everyone does that.”
“Only, yours have been too much, too frequent.”
The astrologer sweeps away the cowries with a hand. The shells fly, hitting the windowpanes behind Ramgopal. Deafening noises resound in his ears as glass shatters.
“The pot of your sins,” the astrologer says. His scrawny figure looms larger. “Is almost…”
“Damn you.” Ramgopal stands up as shards pour into his chair. “What the hell is going on?”
The astrologer’s figure grows, and his head touches the veranda’s ceiling. “The calamity,” he says, “will now befall you, rather than the ones you seek to destroy.” He sits down, regaining his original form.
Ramgopal watches a slug crawl down the astrologer’s left temple, its muscles rhythmically contracting and expanding; an undulating wave. Another emerges from his other side, leaving glazing trails of slime on his dull skin.
“Watch out,” Ramgopal shouts, “the calamity is now upon you.”
The astrologer, indifferent to the milling sloths lining both cheeks, stares at Ramgopal, as they move down his smooth chin, and drop into his lap like beads of sweat.
“Can’t you feel their feet, the mucus they secrete, on your damned skin?”
The astrologist runs his hands along both his cheeks. “Why speak in riddles?” He asks, wiping his dirty hands on his dhoti, as if nothing unusual happened.
“You’re a disgusting devil.” Ramgopal pants.
The astrologer ponders for a moment, and then says. “I respect you, but you need to exercise more discretion while speaking to me.”
“I’ll show you what discretion is.” Ramgopal goes into the house to retrieve his gun.
The astrologer forsakes a possibly huge remuneration, abandons his cowries, and leaves in a hurry.
“You epitomize evil, like King Vena, one who eschewed dharma both as a king and a human, espoused adharma,” Senan says.
The Master looks up at Senan, who towers over him. “So, you assume the role of Prithu, one who took birth from Vena’s arm, after he was dead?”
“Mythologies may have their versions, but you authored me, using the five elements. And you annihilated her with the four of them; will you now, with a fifth, the Earth?”
“You say that I’m evil. Evil has no form, so I can take any form, even that of earth, and consume her in my cavities. Do you think you stand a chance, to prevent the inevitable?”
“I don’t have to,” Senan says. “I’ve lost her. Now it doesn’t matter to me how many times you rebirth her to kill her again, and again.”
“Yet, you want, I suppose…” The Master raises a hand to Senan’s shoulder. “You desire to protect Mother Earth, and her subjects the way Prithu did?”
“What I desire doesn’t matter. But, remember, Vena’s evils perished with him. The sages had to churn out his dead body so Prithu could take birth, sustain Dharma on Earth.”
“The mythologies perished, the legends are dead, except in the imagination of frail souls like yours.”
“Legends remain immortal, in one form or other.”
“It’s me, the evil, no legend that still is.”
“My birth is the trigger to your doom; your karma, the premise to your death. Her annihilation, in different forms, added more droplets into the pot of your sins. It’s about to overflow.”
“So, you’d kill me, your father?”
“I’ve had a moral dilemma about patricide; the result, her death.” Senan looks into the Master’s eyes. “I desisted from thinking of you as my father, tried to see you from the point of view of laborers who toiled for you.” He shakes his head.
“It should’ve helped you…” The Master takes a step closer to his son. “To overcome the moral dilemma of…”
“Every time I thought I did, the memories flooded back,” Senan says, “you hoisting me up a white stallion; climbing up behind me, securing me between your thighs and forearms while you held the reins.”
The Master stares at Senan, traces of tears in a corner of his eye. “The reins,” he says, “are now for you to hold. I have a kingdom awaiting you, a beautiful damsel to marry.”
The Master presses a finger against Senan’s lips. “Let’s forget the past, make the best of future.”
“It’s in human nature…” Senan says, removing the Master’s hand. “To suffer as much as they can… then they react.”
The Master, about to hug his son, suddenly withdraws his arms and scratches both sides of his face.
Senan watches, nonchalant, the beetles crawl out of the Master’s ears and nose. “Dermistidae, in case you don’t know. They feed on cadavers.”
“What the damn…” Words choke in the Master’s mouth as more and more bugs pour out like a small stream. His fingers tear at his throat, pull at his cheeks.
The colony of bugs wraps around him and within seconds he looks like a mummy cocooned inside a blanket of buzzing bugs.
“All females,” Senan says. “The smell of decaying flesh and the scent of their mate attract them.”
Like a zombie, struggling to break free of chains, the Master flails his limbs.
“Looks like you have a male bug somewhere on your body; and you’ve begun to rot.” Senan turns and walks away.
They remain ever on the move, the zombies.
They toil in the Master’s plantation, or his paddy fields, tending his cows and buffalos.
They feed the Master’s bloodhounds but the dogs never show any mercy to them, as if their sixth sense had told them the zombies were destined just to serve the Master.
When the men receive wages, they go to toddy shops or arrack shacks, vent their frustration. Returning home, some exhaust their fury in their wives’ wombs. Others smell whiffs of the landlord’s sweat on their mates’ youthful skin, and turn their back.
Women lament their fate. Children, unable to grasp the meanings of grunts, moans, and curses, stare at bleak walls, and fall asleep.
When dawn arrives, the cycle of toil continues for the zombies until day paves way to darkness. Change, never, is a constant for them; not even a wish.
As the last of the embers in Anita’s funeral pyre dies off, Senan sits waiting for dawn.
The Master arrives, guards flanking his sides, when morning sunrays begin to emerge.
The rustle of banyan leaves grow more chaotic as the wind gathers momentum, the thin dreadlocks sway faster.
Senan stands still.
The Master walks towards him, parting the dreadlocks. “The girl’s parents are here. They want to see you,” he says. “If you behave, you’ll have the blessing of a blissful life.”
The bloodhounds stand guard.
“You killed Anita, now you ask me to marry another girl you choose?” Senan asks. He relishes the slight recoil of the Master’s body, caused by the recalcitrant response.
“You call her yours, the whore from a low-caste, low-class family?” The Master’s voice sounds harsh, yet devoid of its usual authority. “Do as I say or I’ll condemn you to the dungeons.”
“I’m liberated from fear, I see no reason to hold on to life; no dungeons can confine me, no fetters can restrain me, anymore.”
“You shout at me?” The Master’s double chin undulates as rage swells inside his throat.
Senan clasps his fist around a shackle in his hand. The metal jingles. He fixes his eyes on the bloodhounds.
The beasts back away. Tails tucked between their legs, they yelp and squeal, looking at their Master. Their tongues hang out, a white pallor taking over the pinkish hue.
“They’ve aged.” Senan snickers.
The Master stands, recognition dawning, the chill of an avalanche hitting his senses… a cold recognition. He’s aging more than his dogs. He stares at his faithful companions.
The Master remembers the astrologer’s words. “So, is it the black hole?”
Senan shakes the shackle wildly, its jingles become chaotic. The bloodhounds cringe away. “Yes, and don’t forget, the pot is full. You’re finished, no resurrection.”
The Master’s shoulder slump as he heaves a sigh, glares at Senan with dread clouding his eyes.
Through a misty veil, he sees the orange disc of the rising sun climb up from behind the mountain ranges, a bright halo around it. The ground turns into a thick sheet of ice, freezing his feet. Mountains spit fire, scalding his ice-cold skin, and crevasses appear in the earth as a storm builds.
“I’ve had my visions too,” the Master says. “I knew one day this would…”
“Your henchmen, their loyalty had swung in my favor,” Senan says. “Better promises; and fear consumes your canines, they’d just rest.”
Suddenly, in the backdrop of the lush green paddy fields, a fierce orange glow bursts as the laborers light torches.
“The elements, one by one, will now consume you.”
Zombies, holding torches, walk towards them. Their wives and children follow.
“Which one will be the first?” the Master asks.
This story was previously published in Vol.XII, Issue 2 (Summer 2020) of Pennsylvania Literary Journal.
Hareendran Kallinkeel writes from Kerala, India, after a stint of 15 years in a police organization and five years in the Special Forces. He reads for Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores and is also a Staff Reviewer for Haunted MTL Magazine. His recent publications include The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Bryant Literary Review of Bryant University, and El Portal Journal of Eastern New Mexico University, among several others. His works are forthcoming in 34 Orchard, The Chamber Magazine, Cardinal Sins Journal of Saginaw Valley State University and Night’s End Podcast. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and he is also a finalist of the Best of the Net-2020.
If you enjoyed this story, you may want to read “A Saga of Blasphemy“, also by Hareendran Kallinkeel.