Indian revolutionaries get a surprise boost from an unexplained presence – but is the being of this world, the spiritual realm or from beyond the stars?
1858, Uttar Pradesh, India:
Jay knelt quietly in the foliage, heart racing, brow sweating, peering through the leaves at the small opening beyond, cursing himself beneath his breath.
‘Dammit, I should have slowed down, I knew I was faster than Vijay. But what if I had? Then we’d both be down there…’
He strained his eyes, but it wasn’t hard to make out the figures looming over his friend, dressed in bright Khaki and the searing scarlet of the British Army.
The white officers in red, were on horseback, the three Indian sepoys on foot. Two of them were holding Vijay down on his knees whilst the third had a sabre jutted up against his neck. Typically his friend was defiant and all Jay could think was: ‘shut-up Vijay, just be quiet. Just surrender, damn you!’
For his part Vijay was doing his best to wake up the entire forest – and there was method in his madness. He hoped he was making enough noise to mask Jay’s escape, not realising that Jay was actually a silent stationary observer, not a few feet away.
‘Inquilaab Zindabad!! Karengeh Ya Marengeh!
‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai!’
Arkwright was fed up. Actually he had been fed up ever since the hot summer had set in in this God-forsaken part of the world. He furiously whipped away some flies from in front of his face and bellowed down at the man holding the sword.
‘What the devil is he saying, Raj Singh?’
Raj Singh hesitated, stealing a quick glance at the other white officer – Jones had been here long enough to know exactly what the revolutionary was shouting. But he just shrugged. So Raj Singh translated:
‘Long Live the Revolution, We’ll do or die and…’
‘And? And what?’ barked Arkwright.
‘And Sir, the desire to make a sacrifice is in our hearts.’
The officer finally perked up and even laughed: ‘Oh I’ll be happy to fulfil his desire, here and now. Especially if you don’t tell me where your friend is you Indian dog!’
‘Rot in hell you farangi!’ came the instant retort from Vijay.
Arkwright drew his pistol in rage ‘What did you call me you dirty peasant? Last chance, where is your partner?’
Even as Vijay screamed a final ‘Jai Hind’ his hidden and helpless friend shut his eyes tight, and wept in despair as he knew what would come next – he had seen many of his friends die like this.
Suddenly silence descended as Arkwright grinned and pulled back the hammer of his Webley Longspur Revolver.
It was quiet enough that the sudden bizarre rapid staccato clicking noise was clearly heard by everyone. Jai was closest too it, but as he turned towards the sound, he saw nothing.
But then he saw ‘nothing’ move. A vague outline of Nothingness blurring his vision. He froze, terrified. Not understanding.
He didn’t realise it possible to be even more scared than he already was until he saw two bright yellow dots, as if the eyes of the Nothingness, flare up and fixate upon him momentarily and then fade again. The scream in this throat was too terrified even to come out.
Which was fortunate, because the Arkwright had decided that Jai had given away his position. Except that he hadn’t. Nonetheless, the man with the sword was sent after the Nothingness instead.
Arkwright was waving his pistol about excitedly, but the other white officer was more cautious. He knew all the noises that this forest, and any humans within it, could make. And he had never heard anything like that before. He un-holstered his pistol.
Raj Singh came through the brushes, staring at the spot that Nothingness had occupied. He did not notice Jai as he was camouflaged against a tree bark, barely exhaling. Wide-eyed in wonderment, Jai could see the Nothingness move behind the hapless soldier. Too late the sepoy must have heard the movement and swung around. Even as he turned though, his head was sliced clean off his neck and flew across towards Jai landing at his feet.
The body seemed to attempt a blinded final swing of the sabre all by itself before collapsing in a heap. Jai looked down at the decapitated head at his feet. The eyes were still open caught in the popping bewilderment of fear, surprise and death. Jai stared back at the gaddaar collaborator and almost felt sorry for him.
It was Jones that called out now: ‘Raj Singh! Report back! Where are you?’
Jai finally wrenched his eyes away from Singh’s glare and looked around for the Nothingness, without success, but then, that seemed to be the point.
Back in the clearing Arkwright was addressing Jones: ‘Good God! Do you think the peasant actually got him?’
‘No, but something did,’ replied Jones ominously. Then issued instructions to one of the soldiers: ‘Khan – bayonet, and load your rifle!’
Daud Khan paused, but Jones glared down at him ‘Do it now! Jaldi man!’
The sepoy reluctantly swung the Enfield P1853 rifle musket off his shoulder, affixed the bayonet and then quickly, as if not wishing to take too long about it, bit open the greased paper cartridge to release the powder. As he did so he glanced over at his comrade, Naresh, who was now pinning down Vijay, face in the mud, with a knee anchored in his back. The glance was met with resigned empathy.
Armed and ready, the sepoy turned and pointed the Enfield in the direction Raj Singh had gone. As he did so he notice three bright red spots on his chest. Except that they were not exactly on his chest, they were moving.
Khan was frozen in sheer confusion and fear. Jones, still on horseback was slightly ahead of him and was the only other person who could also see the three specks. He was equally mystified.
‘What the devil?!’
Khan looked up at him as if for guidance, but Jones noticed the triangular specs had stopped moving and settled on where the sepoy’s heart would be. He suddenly realised they were some form of projected light. He quickly turned towards where the source might be, just in time to see a bright flash of light, followed by the painful shortlived howls of Khan.
Something had blasted a hole right through the sepoy’s chest obliterating his heart, and killing him.
Jones dropped off his horse, but held it steady to use as a barrier. The other sepoy grabbed the discarded rifle, but Arkwright was still on his horse. He furiously unloaded the barrel of his pistol, firing randomly into the forest. As he frantically reached down for the reload, he noticed the three specs on his tunic. Even against the red of his uniform they glowed brightly.
Another flash and Arkwright was dead. His horse bolted and Jones’ steed ran after it.
Jones flattened himself against the ground and looked over at the remaining sepoy, who was himself crouched low but wielding the rifle, though having abandoned any attempt to restrain Vijay.
Jones was gesticulating at the Naresh to go after the source of the shots. But Naresh was having none of it, the best he could offer was to meekly raise the rifle in return.
The former prisoner, for his part, was as terrified as the others but decided it would be best to stay put for now and see how this played out, rather than run.
He figured he could wrestle away the rifle from the sepoy and then stab him with the bayonet. With single shot he could try to take out Jones, but by then the farangi would have drilled him with holes already from pistol shots. And Jones was a little too far out of reach to be attacked directly with any effectiveness.
On the other hand, whatever was out there, was going to pick them all off anyway.
Whatever was out there was much closer though now. They heard the strange clicking sound again, and being that they were all so low to the ground, they could physically see the ground squelching as the Nothingness approached. But how was that possible unless this was some kind of Djinn?
The movement seemed to stop. There was a shimmer in the light, a faint outline of some kind of form was vaguely apparent. Then the eyes of Nothingness lit up.
This was too much for Naresh, he fired the rifle at the Nothingless. The Nothingness suddenly lit up like an lightning bolt striking a tree. The Nothingness started to spark and crackle like the fireworks of diwali, and then the Nothingness gave away to a corporeal being.
But it was a terrible vision of evil, a monstrosity of a man, if it could be called that. Bones and skulls of the dead hung from the netting on its torso, heavy armour seemed to cover its arms and legs, but that on its arms also appeared to be glowing with tiny lights.
The most shocking sight of all was his face – or was it his face? Perhaps it was a mask of some kind. It was flat but angular, smooth but jutting, plain but hideous all at once. The head was enormous, the eyes were blacked out now, knotted strands of what might be hair erupted and swayed from the top of the head.
And then Naresh noted the small still-smoking weapon on the being’s shoulder. Without even thinking, he went into automatic mode and quickly bit open a cartridge and reloaded the Enfield.
He knew he had hit the monstrous thing before him at close range, but he could see no wound or injury – how was that possible?
As he raised the elongated and cumbersome rifled again, the monster nonchalantly stepped up and grabbed it out of his hands. With barely a movement, he had somehow swung the rifle around and plunged sharp blade straight through Naresh’s eye socket.
Vijay, still laying flat watched the body of the sepoy slump to the ground beside him. Then was startled by another shot. Then another. Then another.
Jones had stood up and was striding towards the monster, having taken the moment to regain his composure. He was upright and stiff, yelling and firing at the beast as if outraged that he dare to interfere with the officer’s duties, and besides, he was going to miss high tea now.
The first shot had glanced off the monster’s shoulder and Vijay could see a bright green liquid ooze from the wound.
But the being had quickly ducked and dived out of the other shots. Two fearsome blades had somehow sprung forth from one of his forearms. The hideous being flung himself at the advancing officer, rotating and slashing before landing back on the ground in a roll, immediately standing up again.
To Vijay it seemed as if the world had suddenly slowed down. First the revolver fell from the officer’s hand, fortuitously close now to where the former prisoner lay, then, bizarrely the officer’s helmet strap fell.
Obscenely it was followed by the top of his head, a crimson line having appeared slicing diagonally from the ear to the opposing brow. As it started to slide down, the rest of the head too detached from the neck where the second blade must have cut through.
An instant later the body fell in an incongruous heap. The dignity drained from the veteran British officer. A formidable opponent, Vijay had had a begrudging respect for the fellow.
Then his thoughts turned to his own survival. The monster had walked back to survey his handiwork, but was paying Vijay no heed. So he began to reach out towards the dropped Webley.
By this time Jai had recovered his motor abilities and had been witness to the revelation of the beast, and the complete decimation of the men in the clearing. Seeing his friend reach for the weapon, a realisation entered his head. Finding his voice, he took a huge risk and called out: ‘Vijay – NO! Don’t!’
The being looked down at Vijay and the weapon on his shoulder swivelled towards the former prisoner in an obvious threat. Wisely Vijay withdrew his hand. He then scrambled back and finally started to move cautiously towards his friend, only half hidden in the foliage now.
‘C’mon, let’s go. Run Vijay,’ urged Jai.
But emboldened from the simple fact that he was somehow still alive in the presence of such brutal horror, Vijay paused and called towards the monster: ‘What the hell ARE you?’
The monster stared back and then finally replied in a coarse, guttural and barely discernible garble…
And then it laughed.
Vijay and Jai ran through the forest.
Sometime later. A small hut. Revolutionaries gathered. An elder spoke.
‘Vijay, we are so relieved that you made it back to us, you and Jai are our most courageous fighters. But this fanciful tale you tell us… how can we believe…’
He was cut short by the entry of another small group of men. They sat down with the others and one of them spoke up.
‘We found the bodies. Five men, two with their skulls missing, one with no eye, another with no heart, just as Jai and Vijay described.’
‘Two gorahs and three gaddaars?’ asked the elder.
‘Um… well, we could not tell,’ responded the unit’s commander. A murmur arose in the hut. The elder hushed everyone and barked back at the commander: ‘What’s the matter with you Durender, can’t you tell the difference between us and a gorah skin?!’
Durender look around at his team, and hesitantly replied: ‘That’s just it Mahdev, these bodies… they were strung up by their feet in the forest… and, they, er, were naked. I mean, not just that, but their skin had been totally peeled away from their bodies.
‘And underneath, after all, we’re all the same, just red flesh and blood.’
Everyone gasped in horror, a few wretched just at the thought of what Durender described.
For a moment the hut fell silent as each person swam lost in their own thoughts – a mixture of intense emotions, dread, fear, regret, disgust, and incomprehension passed through the gathering.
Then the elder once again broke the silence: ‘Don’t you all see? It was the Goddess Kali Ma herself – she has given us her blessings. The Gods are on our side.’
He turned back to the commander: ‘Durender, share with us again your plans for the attack on the British Cantonment, I believe that now we cannot lose!’
Excitement grew in the hut.