The air continued to get colder until it became obvious that something malicious was about to happen. All the animals and bugs that were moving about the place moments ago had now disappeared just like the lemuranda. A crackling sound became present and crept its way in muffled layers. The sky continued to grow darker still, its blue draped into a velvety navy blanket.
‘There is a new evil stirring the air. We should be moving even quicker,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Let’s go faster. Now!’ screamed Aruna. Jumo picked up London and put her onto Ash’s back. They began to run through the narrow path with their hearts beating furiously. The group ran until they reached the end of the path, which split two ways. ‘Which way Leafy?’
‘I do not know,’ replied the tree spirit.
‘The tsingy is a maze,’ said Jumo.
‘Right. Jumo and Aruna, you both remember the path as I am going to guess our way out of this. Bradley, watch out for anything that moves and take care of Aruna and Kurumi. Kurumi, you also keep a watch out and be ready for London,’ said Ash. ‘Go! Left!’
They all turned left keeping pace with Ash and London bopping up and down on his back with the tree spirit hovering and illuminating above her. When they had reached another two-way turning followed by several more, Ash screamed out directions. Jumo and Aruna recited the path under their breaths as if reading a sacred mantra of ancient text. However fast they moved forward the crackling sound got closer and closer.
Aruna showed signs of the first to crack under the fear.
‘My legs are hurting,’ said Aruna. Her voice trembled; her hurried footsteps had gone from a run-for-your-life to a limp, and now a complete full stop.
‘Stick together’, screamed Jumo. Desperation raged throughout his body. Aruna was humbled. It was the first time to see Jumo show any emotion except for that of admiring interest and wonder for all things unknown.
Boom boom, boom boom, crack crack, boom, and crack crack boooooooom. The last boom was drawn out for an excruciating long time. It was almost unbearable for Aruna.
‘What was that sound,’ asked Kurumi. Her feet were shaking. Bradley had already long crumbled in fear. ‘All of you shut up,’ said Ash in a hushed voice. Sporadic sounds from all directions began to echo as if something solid was skidding off the other side of the wall. The tree spirit danced across the path and cornered in on a gecko. The gecko stopped and looked at the tree spirit for no more than a second, flipped its tail and bolted off on to the ground and out of sight. By now the coldness had dropped below freezing.
Without sound or warning a dark black object shot through the air and violently knocked Bradley off his feet. He crashed down across the floor. He could no longer move. Aruna rushed over to Bradley dropped to her knees and checked he was still breathing. Ash quickly followed. At the moment he kneeled down the black object skated over his head missing him by millimetres. It then changed its direction with a sharp turn away from Kurumi, crashed into the wall and bashed straight into Jumo throwing him across the floor. London shivered against the cold air. Kurumi stood motionless in a state of shock and fear. Both Bradley and Jumo were both down and hurt. How quick things around them had changed. They all felt powerless.
‘Why didn’t it touch me?’ asked Kurumi shakily.
‘That my dear friends, is a Rackaamataar,’ echoed the tree spirit. ‘An ancient creature of dark paths, though I did not think such creatures still dwelled on these lands. Our enemy’s enemy has been busy.’
‘Aruna,’ said Ash in a forceful voice, ‘and tree spirit. You both stay with London.’
‘Where you going Ash?’
‘Did you not see how it changed its direction after missing me? It diverted away from Kurumi and hit Jumo. Aruna, you try and get Jumo and Bradley back to their feet.’
‘Where are you going Ash?’ asked Kurumi.
‘It’s pinpointing the strongest of us. It skipped me because I was on the floor. One of you will be next after me. Tree spirit, let me know when it is coming. Kurumi you help Aruna and then stay close to London.’ Ash crouched down next to London and gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead. She smiled gingerly.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
‘I am going to go back the way we came so you all go forward once Jumo and Bradley are up on their feet.’
‘It is coming,’ said the tree spirit. The creature came flying out from the corner ahead. It had a shark hammer shaped head and a round body the size of a monster truck wheel. It had no arms and no feet. In the centre of its head there was a slit slowly opening to reveal a muddy yellow eye with no pupil. As Ash predicted, it went straight for him.
As it approached Ash sharply turned in the direction the group had come. The rackaamataar was moving at an incredible speed behind him. Within seconds Ash was out of sight followed by the creature ripping through the air. Immediately, Kurumi and Aruna set to their tasks.
The rackaamataar was right on Ash’s tail. He was breathing heavily and his heart was pounding like the base sound on a sub-woofer speaker. It now moved within reach of his back. From its dirty yellow eye another slit appeared, and out slid a slimy transparent needle dripping with what looked like sap from a tree.
Ash jumped forward and span into a roll. The creature missed him, but was now even closer than before. He gathered himself and continued to move forward with pace. Again, the rackaamataar aimed a swipe at Ash, but his growing sense of space was adding to his advantage. He sidestepped, jumped up against the wall and back flipped. The creature slammed into the wall and dropped to the ground. There was no sound; instead it just ceased to move.
At seeing this opportunity, Ash began to run back from where he left the group, but before he made the first corner a long drawn out hissing sound stopped him in his tracks. He anxiously looked to see that the rackaamataar was sucking in the air around it, not only healing its own self-inflicted wounds, but also reducing its size. From its side grew thick moth coated arms without hands or fingers. Like characters seen in films Ash was rooted to the spot as if confirming what he saw before his eyes was really real and actually happening. The rackaamataar leaped into the air latching itself to the wall. It made way for Ash again, but this time moving at a much more incredible speed than before, combining moving along the walls like a lemur and then darting through the air with the swiftness of an eagle. Ash was being more than chased, he was being hunted, and now the situation had reached a whole new level of dangerous.
He ran as fast as he possibly could whilst deliberately taking a different direction leading away from the group. He entered into a lush enclosed open space of vegetation with orchids, pachypodiums, coffee plants and a small pond in the middle. The sound of the rackaamataar had disappeared from behind him. He quickly assumed there was something in this particular area that the creature did not like, but it did not stop him from proceeding. He slowly advanced through the small patch of greenery scanning every corner of his surroundings. Several unknown insects were dipping in and out of the ground like high waves in an ocean. A frog the size of Ash’s chest stealthily popped its head out of the pond water, peered at Ash then disappeared. To say that Ash was not frightened at that moment would be a cruel understatement. A red parrot with pink and violet stripes and a yellow mouth swooped past him. On any other occasion he would marvel in the beauty of the creatures around him, but not this time. He looked back to double check that the rackaamataar was nowhere to be seen, and as he did so he just missed stepping on a giant snail before being confronted by an emerald green snake the length of his arm.
Ash stood frozen to the spot, he had never been this close to a snake before, or any of these animals and insects for that matter. He looked deeply at the snake with scared pleading eyes. The snake edged closer to him, raised its head and stuck out its four-slit tongue. Ash’s heart was crashing against his chest not for the first time. Two questions circled in his head. Can I out jump its strike? Is it poisonous?
Ash slowly raised his back foot to the tip of his toe readying himself to jump. At the same time the snake pulled its head back readying itself to strike. It was like a fight between two samurai, both cancelling out each other’s movements lining up for the one killer blow. The snake moved quickest, Ash was rooted to the spot and for the life of him could not move, but the snake stopped abruptly midway between them. He was astonished to find a lizard, a leaf-tailed gecko and a chameleon all facing the snake and blocking the path. There was a lot of hissing and licking. A real conversation between these creatures took place. The snake for one reason or another decided to turn around and no longer pursue its attack on Ash. Ash looked down at the lizard, gecko and chameleon, said thank you and then was about to move forward only to see the rackaamataar drop right in front of him. All that time the creature pursuing Ash had been sneaking along the wall above. This time however the creature blew air outwards and sent Ash flying a good few metres. Ash was rattled. He was helpless.
He picked himself up and began to run again. It was all he could do. How do you fight back when you do not know how to attack? Up ahead in the walls he noticed a gap. He jumped, left, then right, and up into the gap. The rackaamataar whizzed past, but its horrible presence could still be heard waiting for Ash to come out. He sat for a while thinking about what to do. He was stuck and defenceless, not an ideal situation, especially in an unknown place. A minute passed, then another and nothing came to mind. I hope London and my friends are safe by now he said under his breath.
He had done a most admirable gesture indeed, to put his life in complete danger in order to ensure the safety of his friends and sister. Now he had reached the end of his line. He could climb up or out, but either way he was going to be exposed. He sat and thought about his sister and his mother. A globe skimmer dragonfly landed on his left knee, its delicate wings slowly came to a stop. It made no sound. Ash looked at its fine and intricate details. It had a majestic golden glow that strangely seemed to warm his leg.
‘At least you can fly out of here. Help me please.’ It flew away. As it flew away he spotted two small rocks beside his foot. An idea sprang to mind and so he chucked the first one up and over, waited for five seconds and then threw the next one. The rackaamataar fell for the bait. Ash leaped out landing on the ground smoothly and ran. He made good distance before finally turning onto the path where he had left Bradley and Jumo on the ground. He looked back to find nothing chasing him, but that did not stop him from running at full speed. He reached half way through the narrow path way and then felt a heavy object crash into his back followed by a heavy pain that sliced its way throughout his body.
Ash hit the ground hard and was knocked out. The rackaamataar had finally got the upper hand on him. Its yellow muddy eye turned into a dark crimson glow. It hovered over him and as it did so the atmosphere began to change rapidly. It was sucking in all the surrounding air. From its body it released at least a thousand fireflies. The bright yellow and green glow illuminating the walls as they drifted up in unison towards the sky disappearing into the clouds. The clouds began to stir. The rackaamataar sent gushes of air upwards into the sky. This was followed by blue, pink, and white beams of lightening rocketing outwards in all directions. The deathly creature circled around Ash six times and then drifted off. The lightening strikes were now less sporadic and more targeted towards the tsingy with its bolts hitting the tips of the rocks.
A short while later Aruna and Bradley arrived up ahead.
‘Ash, get up you idiot!’ screamed Bradley. However, Ash did not move a single muscle, as he lay unconscious to the plea of his friend. ‘Aruna go, the lightening is gonna hit Ash.’ Aruna dashed forward towards Ash followed by Bradley several steps behind trying his best to keep up. The sky lit up with a crescendo of natural fireworks moving into a grand finale. And then Silence. No lightening and no colour. Aruna reached Ash completely forgetting about the rackaamataar hovering not far above in her panic to save him.
‘Move him, now!’ screamed Bradley as he advanced closer. Without hesitation or thought Aruna pulled Ash with all her strength from the centre of path just in time to evade the lightening strike from the sky. The sound and the light vibrated the ground and walls violently sending a booming echo throughout the stone forest. The noise brought Ash back to consciousness to find Aruna looking down at him. Realising that it failed, the rackaamataar closed in on Aruna. She screamed, but Bradley struck it with a direct blow to its soft body, which was less solid now due to the release of air and its coating of fireflies. The rackaamataar tumbled across the ground. As soon as the creature came to a halt, the lemuranda reappeared and crushed the rackaamataar causing further tremors. Before Bradley could say or do anything it turned and disappeared. A handful of fireflies from where the rackaamataar had fallen ascended into the sky fading with each wavy climb. The three looked at each other and sighed a very deep sense of relief.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp