• Grietje Y. M. François

Hidden Figures 2/7

episode 2/7

Photo by Jj Ying on Unsplash

Shangri-La - I'm finally at the top. The morning sun blinds me when I set foot on the last step of the stone staircase. I hold up my hand in front of my eyes to protect them. They got used to the darkness on this side of the mountain and need to get accustomed to the sun. As I look back I can see only greyish clouds and a path going downwards, disappearing midway into the thick blanket of the early morning mist.


It must be around five-ish. Did I travel all night? I don't seem to recall my way up here. I catch my breath and feel the damp morning air add pressure to my chest. This high up you need to take things slowly, become more aware of your breathing, focus on how you invest your energy. Never mind my next climb, I've reached my goal, I finally get to stand at the gates of Shangri-La. It was worth every effort.


As my eyes get used to the exotic environment I start to see different shades of green on the ground I'm standing on. Plants and moss cover the path in front of me. It's a straight path, leading towards a rather small building with pillars for all I can see. The sunlight is still making it difficult for me to see what lies ahead. A dark rectangular shaped object flanked by many smaller rectangular shapes is all I can make up. On my left the mountain continues to climb, on my right a steep ravine dives straight into the surrounding clouds. I can hear flying and crawling insects all around me, sounds that make me slightly uncomfortable. I've never been a big fan of the crawlers, especially spiders. In these parts of the world they're a lot bigger than what we're used to back home. Focus on the path ahead, don't deviate and you'll be safe! I tell myself.


As I move forward I become aware of a weight I'm carrying on my back. It's my backpack from the office. A rather odd idea of mine to carry that one on a trip like this. The moist and heat will damage the leather, why didn't I think of that when I was packing? I take it off and carry it in my hand. It's not too heavy and it will keep me from sweating even more.


As I get to the front of the building I see the stone carvings in the walls, bas reliefs depicting many different figures in action. All artistic scenes from a time long ago. Men and women. Perfect half-naked bodies with perfect smiles in perfect harmony. The good old days it seems. The outspoken curves of the dancing women remind me the absence of mine. "As flat as they get." That's what my mother used to say about me. So embarrassing. I refrain from reaching my chest and force myself to remember why I'm here: to focus on myself, my time and what makes me happy. To learn to put aside anxiety and cast away my fears.

I enter the building.


The sunlight covers the floor and walls with a warm orange glow, regularly interrupted by the stone pillars supporting the roof. I'm standing at the entrance of a temple that might as well be built solely to capture this perfect harmony of light and darkness. I look around and enjoy every impression. The exotic smell of the flowers adds to the entire experience, this truly is Shangri-La.


Against the back wall of the temple sits a greyish stone figure on an altar placed three stairs higher than the floor I'm standing on. I walk towards it. It only takes a second to recognise the Hindu deity "Ganesh". His elephant head on a massive human body, his folded hands and a gaze upon eternity, the perfect figure to represent the phase I'm in right now. A phase where obstacles are in abundance and I'm buried underneath them. I approach the statue and mount the stairs. I'm standing as close as I can to the statue without getting on the altar. Orange flowers cover the feet of the statue. They seem fresh and spread a faint smell of sweet orange blossom. A sense of relief fills my insights, I feel at peace, at last. I drop my backpack and notice that there was some heaviness to it. I close my eyes and inhale the sweet moist air. I fold my hands. I am!


A noise that resembles boiling fluids awakens me from my meditation. It's behind me. I turn around and see a black oily puddle spreading at the centre of the temple. It wasn't there when I walked over here. How did it get there? "Why are you here?" A voice on my left startles me. A Buddhist monk dressed in an orange cloth with his hands folded stands next to the altar. How long has he been standing there? What is a Buddhist monk doing next to a Hindu altar anyway? The boiling sound becomes louder, the black stain spreading when suddenly the sound stops. I notice all the noises have stopped. I can no longer hear the busy insects. No bird sounds, no wind. Only silence and my breathing.

"Why are you here?" the monk asks me again. The expression on his face is a rather odd one compared to the circumstances, he smiles slightly and looks at me with a gentleness beyond compare. Should I be relieved or afraid? He averts his gaze towards the center of the building. I too look that way and what I see is most disturbing. Something resembling a thin black hand with needlelike fingers reaches up from the centre of the puddle, followed by its arm. The limbs seem spasmic and twisted in an unusual way. I took enough anatomy courses to know that there is something broken coming out of that puddle. And what comes out is a black as the liquid itself. With a violent throw the arm clamps to the boarder of the puddle. Five fingers covered in black ooze try to grab the floor, but there is nothing to grab.

I'm confused, anxious and feel the need to run away from this place as fast and as far as I can. But my legs won't move. The monk hasn't moved either and his face still carries that same faint smile. Maybe I shouldn't be afraid, he isn't! Should that be a relief? Maybe he's part of this horror. All of a sudden my curiosity takes the upper hand. I focus on the black puddle and await for what's next: a second hand and a second oddly twisted arm, both as black as the first one. They too reach for the boarder of the puddle. A lump seems to rise from in between both arms. It's a head, covered in black ooze. It's a human-like figure that's trying to get out of that black liquid. The creature seems to be pulling itself up. I hear a sickening breathing sound accompanied by the noise of a shrieking wooden door and the smell of rotten eggs. As the head rises I manage to distinguish a nose, cheeks and ... large white eyes stare right through me! A cold shiver runs down my spine. My insights turn as I release a moan of fear, lacking the capacity to produce a decent scream. "What the f*ck!" I whisper. I recognise those features. That head with long slanting hair even when covered with black liquids. "It's me!"


The female creature pulls itself towards the edge of the puddle in a spasmic way, while making more shrieking noises and looking my way. I cannot help but to look back. All kinds of thoughts run through my mind, but nothing helpful. A heavy sound awakens me from my trance. The statue of Ganesh has grown two stone arms. One upholding a sword, the other one holding some kind of mask.

"What will you do?" The monk asks me.

"What?" I reply. "What will I do?".

"Will you try to kill it? Or wil you hide behind a mask so it cannot find you when it gets here?"

"When it gets here?" I ask. "It will take ages to get to me, by that time I will have found a way to get out of here!" I scream. His expression doesn't change. This is surely getting on my nerves. My fear is making way for anger and it's directed at the monk.

A splash from the puddle reveals another pitch black arm, wait, no! That's a leg, ... is it? A very long member shoots out of the puddle and lands its tip on the floor. The enormous leg is broken in three places and yet there is a certain strength to it. It clearly belongs to the body crawling out. "A snail may be slow and predictable, but a spider isn't" The monk says. The smile has left his face. He now fixates his gaze on me. He turns his neck in a strange way, lifts his eyebrows and screams: "Face your fears or die!"


----

author Grietje Y. M. François

edited by Christopher Dunkley - chrisdunkley.biz

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