Upolu Island, Western Samoa
An old withered man is seated on a small wooden platform. A young man stands facing him with his arms folded.
The old man has a striking face. His skin is crumpled into millions of folds and crevices. But out of this sparkled a fountain of warmth and liveliness.
"You are now proficient. My congratulations to you. Not many have passed through this stage."
"Thank you, master."
"Do you remember the most important rule ?"
"Yes master. The rule of Savili, about the wind. Never get in its way."
The young man is now one of the Manalauleo, an ancient clan of wind benders.
The old man continues, "Remember, inspite of all that you have learnt, the key to this art is not the postures of the hand. It is the breath, the Manava."
"The Manava is the key for Manalauvili " The old man then raises his hand and keeps it on the young man's chest. His shriveled skin trembles.
He feels the breath of the young man.
" No, you will not die." The young man feels a chill running through his spine.
"I trust you have told me nothing but the truth."
The young man is a computer programmer. His name is Carl. He is stationed in Samoa on his work for United Prospects Inc., an insurance company which specializes on natural hazards such as floods and earthquakes. Carl's work there deals with the simulation of storm patterns in the Pacific.
He says and bends his knees down till they lie horizontal and facing opposite to each other. "My name is Carl. I have learnt this art for the sole reason of self preservation."
"Good. I shall ask you a final question before you leave."
"What is your most dangerous enemy ? Is it the rain, is it the earth or is it the wind ?"
"No master. It is none of them. It is the thunderbolt. "
"No son. It is not the thunderbolt. It is none of them." He keeps his shrivelled hand onto the temple of the young man.
"It is you."
37.2 N 95.6 W, Kansas
"Carl... Are you there ? I don't hear you."
"Yeah. I am on the way. I will be home soon."
"Take care. I am worried about you. You are riding right on the edge of the storm. Is your radar alright ? "
"Yeah. Don't worry Jess ! I'll be allright."
The signal gets garbled due to electrical interference.
"Tune for the weather reports. Watch out.."
".. .!@#$!@%^^^^^^^^^^^^^" But the signal deteriorates and finally snaps down.
Jess is a colleague and a friend of Carl's. A meteriologist by profession, he has reason to be doubly anxious about the new hobby of his friend's - storm chasing.
He wished he is accompanying Carl in his pursuit. Weather patterns on the Tornado Alley are his speciality. He would have been a great help for him. Moreover, he is not sure if Carl has understood the nitpicks of operating the radar.
Jess prays his friend keeps sufficiently distant from the eye of the storm.
"Nobody gets to photograph the funnel for the first time. Save your skin or you will not get to make the second attempt".
But, as it happens, Jess possesses a slightly warped picture of reality, dangerously so !
Carl does not possess a radar. Neither does he possess a camera. In fact, he is not traveling by his car. He is riding on a bicycle !
It is extremely dark outside, not withstanding the fact it is just 2:00 in the afternoon. A spiral of dark clouds are circling in the sky with a radius of 20 miles.
Carl leaves his bicycle and starts running into the open. It is a vast meadow of grassland. There are no trees for miles around. There are no signs of human civilization, the last buildings that have been sighted were 15 miles away.
There are no signs of animals or birds either. A cold silence permeates the atmosphere, resembling that of a grand opera hall before a performance. Moles, rabbits and the last of the ground dwellers are now deep inside their burrows, waiting in anticipation.
But there is the presence of something. Something beyond life. Something unearthly. The presence is strong. Something which burns with fire. Something which sounds with the wind. Something which never dies.
Carl rips his shirt open. He takes a curiously shaped white shaft into his hands. It is a long wooden shaft - sparkling white and shaped into a perfect helix, and tapering into the sides. He holds the shaft with both his hands. He closes his eyes and suspends his breath for one long minute. Listening.
There are still no visible signs of the winds. However tiny flakes of grass are suspended in mid air. They wobble randomly due to electrical fields.
Carl opens his eyes and looks into the far beyond. He hears a distinct roar in the distance - the roar of a wild panther.
At that moment, a sudden gust of wind appears out of nowhere. In a rapid motion, it spirals from the distant ground and reaches towards the sky. The storm has now started. Carl then observes it as it slowly crawls towards him.
A bullet of light strikes him on the face. It is a lightning. In a quick motion, he deflects his face sidewards. At the same instant, a monstrous report of thunder occurs. In the midst of its reverberation, Carl hears it again - the distinct growl of a panther.
Pellets of wind dart forward, raising his hair backwards like a wild fire. He moves his muscles in quick response.
An eerie glow of redness now sorrounds the horizon. The storm clouds emerge from this redness and burst forth onto the zenith of the sky.
Carl's ears stand upright, listening to the distant sounds. His eyes are alert, keenly observing changes in the reflection of light. And suddenly, he moves the shaft - bending the wind as it gushes onto him.
"Never get in its way". The voice rings in his ears.
Another thunder. The heavens reverberate monstrously. His eyes suddenly glow in a brilliant blue light.
Black clouds dash violently into the space, their shadows running wildly on the ground. But the windbender moves quickly. The wind leaps behind.
Rain keeps oscillating with the wind and strikes him with a vengeance. But he points the edge of the shaft at this flow, and then splits it. A slow battle then begins, where the eyes have to do the thinking.
He hears the whisper of his master. " Listen to your mind ".
A distinct circle is now visible in the sky. It is a bright moon, but glowing in red, like blood. Sorrounded by pitch dark clouds, it rapidly swirls around him - breathing fire and wind onto him.
" Listen to your mind "
Out of nowhere, he then sees a waterfall. It is an enormous cascade - leaping in front of him. He is standing near the tip of the fall. Deep down in the distance, he faintly hears a sound. The sound of a splash - as the water hits onto the ground. Carl jumps forward.
And he falls.
Gravity suddenly ceases to exert on him. He sees the water leaping towards him, but they both fall down together, into an unending abyss.
Wind continues to ravage him. But his eyes do not have to see and his mind does not have to think. Each fiber of his skin is alive and listening. His shaft does the thinking - and each muscle of his body deflects at its command.
Carl feels a hot breath at the back of his neck. Very closely, he hears the whimpering of a dog. He can feel the hot air from its muzzle. The breath now touches the tips of his earlobes. But he cannot see the dog. He sprains his head sidewards. It is now licking his ears with its tongue. He cannot see it.
But then the waterfall falls over him and envelopes him completely.
It is then that he sees the panther. Through the violent red skies, it is peering down on him - the skull of an enormous panther. The tips of its fangs are touching down his head. And above these fangs, he meets its stare. The cold stare, coming out of its shining eyes.
He is paralyzed by the stare. He cannot see the panther any longer. All he sees are its eyes. They follow him everywhere. And they envelope his own sight. In them, he sees the entire world reflected - in its redness. He cannot see except for this reflection.
The panther is him.
The storm abates.
"No. You will not die." He hears the words. He feels the shrivelled hand of his master on his chest.
The entire area now looks like a landscape from an alien planet. The ground is no longer covered with grass. It is brown in its nakedness. A clear blue sky dazzles above.
And then, he feels the cool breeze, stroking his face gently. Slowly, he hears the noises of birds.
Then he sees a motor car on the road. It is a deep blue colored Sedan. It is Jess.
Jess has tracked Carl to his mobile phone. And noticed with alarm that he was stationed right in the heart of the storm.
Immediately, he has jumped into his car and rushed to the spot. He has tracked Carl's car but he has not found him. He resumed the track of the mobile phone on GPS. And he has finally found it on the side of the road - strapped onto a bicycle. But again, he has found no trace of Carl. He has found no trace of any human being in this area for fifteen miles.
But finally, he finds a shirtless man in the middle of a field. He slows down his car.
The man has a striking face. It is extremely old, and crumpled into a million folds and crevices. But there is a fountain of warmth and light sparkling out of it. More curious than his face is his walking stick. The stick is a white shaft, shaped perfectly like a helix.
"Hey old dad ! Did you spot a young man here around ? His name is Carl. He has been caught up in the storm"
Carl looks at Jess. He smiles.
"No son. I have not found anyone here. No one would have survived in a storm this big. Poor luck !"
Monday, October 31, 2005
Upolu Island, Western Samoa