I opened my eyes with a startle and looked around the hut. It was immersed in an eerie darkness and that lone window on the east end of this dwelling brought in no moonlight – Of course it couldn’t, tonight was a no moon night. Tonight, was THE night.
There were numerous times in the recent past when I was roused from my sleep with a spontaneous memory of that fateful night a month back …. when Adam, my beloved husband, had entered the hut when Neil and me were together.
I wouldn’t say he caught me red handed. He could have, if he had walked in on us… an hour or two earlier, but as soon as he came into the hut, he immediately understood. He looked at us, and without uttering another word, walked out into the dusk and didn’t return for the next two days. I knew I had sinned.
Loyalty, trust and devotion these were the core values of the Gamma tribe. These values had kept us alive in the time of difficulties. It was indeed a difficult transition…for all of us…. to leave the city life and start dwelling in the jungles, but the cities had become too dangerous for our survival. The nauseous mix of polluting gases and chemical wastes had affected fauna to such an extent that ordinary animals had turned into monsters. There were dog sized rats, vicious killer rabbits and frenzied rabid lions …all thirsty for human blood and flesh. These monsters had now infested the cities and wiped out half of human population.
Some of us had broken into tribes and fled into the jungles, where surprisingly there were no monsters or even animals anymore. We had formed a settlement near the river where there was abundance of food and water and we all always stayed together to fend off any unexpected attack from a monster. In the last two years the number of such attacks had died down and no one even spotted monsters anymore.
Maybe not the tribe, but I had betrayed Adam on all three counts – loyalty, trust and devotion. I was, and I had to be ready to face my consequences.
Neil, was the eldest son of Bareish, our tribal leader. Neil was the alpha male of the gamma tribe. He was the one who had led charge of the counter attacks against the monsters when they tried attacking the village in the summer three years ago. I was really drawn to him right from the start. We hit it off quite well too…. before of course Adam came to know.
Ever since then, I have been banished from the settlement of the main tribe lands and I now stay in the migration huts that were erected years back by the south side of the Junguraum river. No body stays here now, except the one who must be sacrificed by the tribe every moonless night, at the railway tracks on the edge of the jungle.
That’s right. The main reason Bareish says that the attacks from the monsters have come down is because they are being fed every moonless night. As long as we keep that tradition ….Gamma tribe will be safe. What a truck load of baloney. Nobody wanted to believe him, but you cannot defy data…ever since the ritual began, not a single attack happened….and moreover Bareish was the chosen leader of Gamma – no one could stand up against him.
The ritual was very simple – since we didn’t have courts, lawyers and judges. Every person convicted ended up with the same sentence. The Death sentence.
I wish it were as simple and short as the word itself – death. No, it wasn’t it was a painful and excruciating death at the hands of the monsters that were hungry for human blood and flesh. The ritual, so to speak, had also gained a ceremonial status now – The banished person had to stay alone for a week in the migration huts and once the moonless night falls upon us, the banished is tied to the railway track on the edge of the jungle and the city.
It is believed that the famished monsters come out of the depths of the city ruins and the savage feast begins. It is believed to be so terrible that ….till date…. not even the remains of the banished prisoners have been found. The only thing that is found the next day morning is the rope that was used to tie the prisoners and the pool of blood that the monsters couldn’t lick clean.
So tonight, is THE night for me. It is my turn to be punished unto death and tied to the rail tracks outside the forest.
It must have been approximately an hour later, when I heard voices from outside the hut. Clearly, my last few hours before I die. I said a quick prayer – the Gamma tradition. Three men entered the hut and stood in silence as they waited for me to complete my prayer. As I looked up and opened my eyes, I saw Bearish, he spoke softly yet confidently – Ellen, we are the small council, I ask you one last time – Are you guilty?
I looked up from his flowing black beard that covered his upper torso and then rested my gaze on his brown eyes. I nodded and looked down again.
He took a step back and gestured to the other two men in the hut – “Gentlemen, take her to the tracks and tie her up. Her time with Gamma has come to an end”
I was blindfolded and led outside the hut – we would have walked for at least two hours, before we came to a halt and my blindfold was taken off.
In the light of the burning flame, carried by one of the men,… there…right before me stood my deathbed. The shining steel railway tracks. They had a loop of strong ropes attached to one of the ends and I saw patches of dried up blood around all around it.
“Quick” said one man to the other – lets tie her up quickly and go back before the monsters come out. It took them just five minutes to tug my hands and legs tightly on either side of the rail track and once they were done, they did a final check of the knot and left immediately.
Just as I was all alone on the tracks in the dead of the moonless night, for the first time in the dead of the night a shiver ran down my spine as I heard a loud roar from behind me.