The sky was ablaze with crimson fire, as the sun was about to set. With trembling hands, Shataneek slowly lifted his battered body to rest against the nearest boulder. A labored glance at his wrist watch told him it was indeed dusk he is watching. But he has already lost count of days. Is it the ninety third day? Or was it eighty-two? Flicking his tongue on the parched lips, he drew his coat over his neck; the fever is rising again. Will it be his last day in the treacherous Australian Outback? He looked around to find his empty bottle lying a few feet away. The last food he can remember having was a tiny Bilby, the desert rat. He remembered Wannamutta, his native guide telling him what are eatable and what to avoid. This was before Wanamutta perished in front of him, trying to save him from a pack of Dingo’s. “Bahba, if you see a pack of Dingo at night, you don’t look back, you don’t run, simply look for the nearest tree and climb” And to help Shataneek climb the tree, he slipped, and all that he could say was – “Kungadgee Bahba”.
Wanamutta told him again and again if he is sure. It’s not easy to take on the desert of Australian outback, relying on just the direction given in the diary of a dead adventurer. He found the diary in an old book shop, a dark tan leather-bound cover with golden embossing. He was surprised when he flipped through the pages. He saw three different set of hand writing. It was a single note-book having entries by three different people. He just had to buy it. Few cups of caffeine and several hours deep into the night, Shataneek was finally gone through the pages. The diary started with account of Capt. Standish when he embarked in his journey in August of 1876, with his troop to scout for the missing idol of Tlaloc. The idol of goggle eyed deity of Aztec god of rain and thunder was stolen by the Spanish conquistadors. It was not only for the two pigeon-egg sized diamonds, set as his eyes, but also for the supposed power it gave to its owner, – the power of thunder!
The diary details the account of Capt. Standish and his team of troopers as they set on their journey, following the account of an old sailor at the port of Darwin. The spiraling handwriting gave account of all the dangers of Australian outback, and a vague direction to the point where the idol might be found. Captain Standish seems to be careful of not divulging the actual location. He gives account of losing his troop to the summer of Australian Outback by the time he reached near his goal. But his account stops where he mysteriously ends with a call to fellow adventurers to follow his footsteps, to the base of a hill and rescue Tlaloc. And he got a follower. Kevin Hartman starts his part of the account from October 1948. He was an expert prospector, who wanted to get his hands on the diamonds of Tlaloc. And who knows the powers mentioned by Capt. Standish might give him enough power to raise his own army! Kevin knew the perils of Outback. And he knew how to track the animals around. He survived the pack of Dingos, and he survived the heat of Outback. He nearly got killed by the Taipan, and survived on lizards.
Kevin’s crispy straight handwriting suggested that he has seen the idol. Or was it his dream? Was he hallucinating before he ended his account? Interestingly though Kevin Hartman’s account doesn’t mention if got his hands on the diamonds or what he did with its power, the account of the next owner clearly mentions that he found the remains of Kevin near a hillock of Outback. Chandrashekhar Apte in his account of journey clearly mentions finding the remains. No idea how the Indian got his hands on the diary, or what was he doing in the outback. But it was clear that he knew that the idol was not to be disturbed. Or was it his Hindu mindset that made him run? He was very afraid, and running away to safety. Yet through the summer months of 1957 he went in circles and reached the very foothill Capt. Standish mentioned. When Shataneek finished reading, he somehow couldn’t believe his fortunes. He studied geology not to fatten his but on a chair as a clerk in a Mining company. He was after adventure; especially after his university study trip to wastelands of Rwanda. He was itching to find a reason, and this time somehow the dark tan diary in his hand was pulling him out there; in the perilous journey to find the Aztec Rain god. He knew his Anglo-Indian college mate Jacob went to Australia as a missionary, and reminding him of all the smokes they shared and the help he got from Shataneek on the exam halls was enough to secure him an invitation. No one could stop him after that. Leaving the sleepy bye lane of Kolkata, he was in the port of Darwin in August of 1968.
He knew nothing of the country. And it took him three months to earn enough and secure the guidance of Wanamutta. He can’t say the Wanamutta didn’t try to stop him from his journey. But somehow the native Australian started loving him like his little brother. He kept saying, “Bahba, the outback is not for your soft heart; go back when time is in your side.” But Wanamutta’s ‘Bahba’ – his little brother Shataneek was sure he wanted to do this.
He shook his head, is he becoming delirious again? He needs to be awake. Last night he hardly slept, he had to keep staring at the flicking tongue and blue eyes of the Death Adder. Wanamutta’s word saved him. It was one of the most stubborn of all outback snakes and as deadly as the Taipan Kevin survived. How long was it? Two hours? Or was it six? He was not sure. He just remembers that he heard the slithering noise and pointed the frail beam of his torch. The Adder lifted is to striking position in middle of the beam. “It can strike and go back before you blink your eyes!” was Wanamutta’s warning about adders, “and, their name has the word ‘Death’ not for no reason Bahba. If you see one about to strike, don’t take your eyes off them. They are stubborn, so be patient like a Heron”. And patient he was, not taking his eyes of the death dealer. Shataneek lost count of time. Till he suddenly realized it was no longer there, and he slumped into sleep.
In the dying day light, Shataneek took out his fountain pen with last droplet of ink, shakes it, and opens the dark tan diary. He needs to write down how he failed. Even after losing all hopes and his tracker friend, the gentle Bengali roamed all through the Australian outback. He has created the map, and marked every single hill and hillock. Yet neither did he find the place mentioned by the old sailor to Capt. Standish, nor can he find the trails mentioned by any of the writers. As if all of that simply vanished. Or does Australian Outback keep changing itself like the dunes of Sahara? He needs to warn future readers of this Diary not lose their life in pursuit of Tlaloc’s goggle eyed idol. The pen’s ink is also about to end. Shataneek tried to be as precise as he can be, and then lifted the back cover to close his diary one final time. He knows the Adder will be back tonight, and he doesn’t have any energy left to out wink it this time. But, as he was about to close, he felt the leather jacket of the back cover was a bit loose.
He picked up the diary closer to his eyes to look properly in the rapidly growing shadow of creeping nightfall. Yes indeed, the back cover was loose. In his excitement of what was in its pages, he never paid attention to the back inside part of the cover. He felt curious, and slowly pulled at the leather cover from where it was loose. It came peeling off; the hard board inside the cover too was dark brown. And it had golden lettering embossed in it too. Letters that formed words covered by the dark tan jacket. The words were puzzling. He read it again and again; and then flipped through the pages. Can it be true? His head started to spin! The air around him felt heavy, he was having difficulty to breathe. Is this the end? He was not sure – he can’t die like this. He slowly started flipping through the pages again. It can’t be the same diary that he read till a few minutes back. How can it be? It says Capt. Standish died in Mexico, Kevin Hartman mentions Kilimanjaro, and poor Chadrashekar Apte had his last breath in forests of Java. Shataneek scrambled to open his pen and write down the warning. Very little ink left, he kept shaking it, till he wrote the warning. They were the same six words that all the others before him wrote last; the words that were not visible to Shataneek till now. They were the words that were embossed on the back – under the cover. As Shataneek slowly took his last breath, his warning started to fade. The diary has started to change the notes written in it, this time Tlaloc got buried in wasteland’s of Rwanda. It lay beside the corpse, with its bright dark tan leather cover hiding its name embossed at the back – “This is a book that lies!”
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“Will you be coming over today?” ...