"The Singapore Stone" - Draft Excerpt
Makruk: Thai variation of game of Chess
Return to Comoro Lawang by Pony
Nick looked away and remembered the girl between the pillars. Did he imagine her or was she a glitch of time? Should he tell Megan? Maybe later. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and became aware of Megan studying him closely. ‘I appreciate your support,’ he said.
‘Don’t patronise me. You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.’
She wrapped the scarf around his bloodied head and tied it off. Tight.
‘Careful. You’ll restrict my thinking.’
‘Might be an improvement. What happened in there? What did you see?’
Nick had gone quiet.
‘Is your head okay? What are you thinking about?
‘Not so many questions. He upset the chalices and one spun out and cracked me on the skull.’
Megan frowned. ‘Were you distracted for an instant or not focused? You’ve lost the “artifact?”’
‘Not lost. I placed it in the centre. That’s when hell broke loose.’
‘I can still feel the ground moving.’
‘Possibly your excitement of seeing me again.’
‘I am pleased you survived, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.’ Megan leaned over and reached to adjust the bandage. ‘We’ve given them an edge. They’ll be fine. Come on.’
‘Slowly, I feel like I’ve been run over by a road crusher.’
‘Not surprising, you bounced down those steps like you knew what you were doing.’ she said and waved to a couple of Tengerran horsemen that had drifted wide of the main tourist trail.
The Tengerran held the ponies steady as she swung easily into the saddle of the first to arrive.
‘There was no temple beyond the door,’ said Nick as he turned to look up the steps. It was once again open. ‘It was a battleground.’
‘Isn’t every place of worship?’
‘I never thought of it like that.’
‘It was obviously built much later than your visit. Time shift as you went through.’ said Megan. She studied the huge construction. ‘Still impressive. And it doesn’t appear to have any stones dislodged by your encounter. The pony snorted, stamped a hoof and tossed its head. Megan cupped a hand over her mouth and turned away from the dust. ‘Get on,’ she said as the second guy led his mount alongside Nick.
A gust of wind swirled the dust raised by a passing and fast moving Toyota. They turned towards the parking lot and Megan buried her face into her jacket, but looked up as a motorcycle appeared raising more clouds of dust.
‘Did he make it out in one piece?’ the rider called over the exhaust throb of the bike. It was Todd
‘He’ll survive. You took your time. Can we hitch a lift?’ said Megan
‘I’ve only got one helmet, he said.
‘That’s ok, I’ve only one head.’ Megan climbed off her mount. She counted out a handful of notes and thanked the gappy-toothed smiling Tengeran. ‘Next time the whole way,’ she said to him.
Todd passed his helmet to Megan. ‘I just hope I don’t get sun-struck.’
‘Me too—one patient is enough,’ she said as she pulled on the headgear and dropped the sun visor. She fossicked in a pocket of her backpack. ‘You can wear my sunglasses.’
‘Thanks,’ said Todd, stretching the arms of the glasses around his head. ‘I look good in red. You set?’
Megan made herself comfortable on pillion and slapped Todd’s shoulder. ‘Let’s go.’
Nick was happy to ride the pony the short distance back to the parking area. It would give him time to think.
Nick seemed not surprised by his mate’s arrival and was deep in thought and trying to make sense of his rough clash with eternity. He was oblivious to the air quality as he swallowed lungfuls of hazy grit. His mind was on Singapore and could see a solution to interpreting the script on the rock face. Its meaning was beginning to make sense. The writing an obscure and forgotten form of Sanskrit. A sacred variation of the Kawi (or Kavi) script shaped by the scribes of the Majapahit empire. Nick imagined he could see through time. The timekeeper had taken leave of his posting. With no vigilance of a regulator he had a clear focus into the past and all that had been and will be was apparent. The minutest detail to the greatest of events merged into one subjective understanding. Time was loosely jointed and cavernous. He looked ahead where Megan behind Todd on the bike, had her head down. Her hair streamed out in another gust of wind. Wind that seemed undecided as to blast them off the planet or stay calm and let these aliens have free rein and destroy themselves by their own misguided actions. They might even stumble off a precipice and meet their own demise.
The driver of their 4wd was polishing the headlights of his Toyota as first Todd and Megan arrived followed by Nick a short time later.
The vehicle was glistening with the superfluous attention during the extended wait.
He hurried them into their seats and the vehicle plowed an arc in the sand as it roared off back to Cemoro Lawang and their room. Todd’s plan was to intercept Julian in Surabaya. He was already out of sight.
They looked forward to showering off the grime of the desert.
They dared not start dusting off the clothes they wore while inside the treasured and immaculate 4wd.
One Hour Later
Travelling on the minibus back to Probalinggo from Comoro Lawang, Megan was scrolling her Facebook when Nick remembered the battery pack. He felt in his pocket. It was still there and he slid it out. The wire attached was black and crumbled in his hand. Pressing the storage indicator button four lights glowed. It was at full capacity. He recalled that earlier only one led had illuminated.
Megan reached over and took it from him. ‘What happened to this, did you put it in the toaster?’ She pulled out the charred cord and replaced it with one from a pouch in her backpack. ‘I’ll risk it.’ She plugged it in to her phone. ‘It’s working. The lightning strike is showing.’
‘Are you convinced now of Julian’s intentions? You almost stayed too long. Do you believe now, that what I was saying is the truth?’
‘What happened in there?’
‘You lost concentration when the mask was torn off. What the hell were you doing? Gave them a chance to attack you.’
‘Me? It was you who upset the Vulcanic gods. What did you do to them?’
‘I just went to the brink of the crater and made a face.’
‘Worked. Must’ve been ugly.’
‘They thought so! Tell me what you saw in there? I think you had a glimpse into the 14th century.’
It’s time to just go and lie on a beach in Bali and forget trying to disable Julian,’ said Nick.
‘You have a bit of a nerve existing if you don’t have a clear purpose in life. Remember the instructions the advisor gave us in Denpasar. You’re not dead till they say.’
‘Or misplaced confidence,’ said Megan, turning from Nick to stare into the distance.
‘What’s that legend of Kesuma and do you think his betrothed had a part in this?’ said Nick. ‘Could she be still pissed off by the god of the volcano’s demands? She’s in a difficult position.’
‘She chose it. We can do little to help settle her persistence to reunite. Unless…’ said Megan. ‘Could she be interred into the eternal also? Is Kesuma really consumed or can we arrange an alignment for them? Why does Bromo still erupt if the sacrifice really occurred?’
Nick wondered if she really believed such a fanciful situation. He wondered if they were equipped to resolve her dilemma. To deal with her unsettled existence? After all he only held an associate diploma of eternity. With a date stamp that that was about to expire.
He laughed at the thought, ‘We don’t know if another anguished soul has made a request and it has gone unrequited—the deadline passed in the arrangement.’ But he knew that this was a desperate grasp for an excuse to relieve him of further responsibility. A responsibility he accepted as his own role. He could see that Megan was implicating herself despite her aloofness.
And where had the girl he’d seen at the entrance gone?
Into thin air?
‘They can be pretty deadly these magma fissure outbursts. Could be spewin’ about some new issue.
Get on the wrong side of a volcano and you’re as good as dead,’ said Megan.
* * *
They didn’t waste time for showers at the accommodation as Julian would be making haste, they assumed, towards Surabaya Airport and on to Singapore. They would have a slow trip to Denpasar but fly direct to Bangkok. With luck and a hire car they would be at the Facility before he discovered his diversion to Singapore was futile, thanks to Todd.
Surabaya, once known as Jungala and named after the Serpent and the Crocodile who had fought for supremacy of the region until equal in strength had assumed at last to accept joint reign.
Would he have to do likewise? Could their differences be resolved such as the Jungala? Such as the Monsoons that blew first one direction from May to September, then the other from October to April?
The thought of what lay ahead filled Nick with apprehension. The beach in Kuta was growing in appeal and he curled his toes in imaginary sand and could taste the pina colata trickling across his tongue.
Megan jolted Nick from his reverie with a jab in the ribs ‘Look,’ she said, ‘Something’s downloading and there’s no reception.
‘Pull the plug, it could be a virus. Probably too late.’ He leaned over. ‘Sure you don’t have internet? It’s only a battery pack.’
‘Where’d you get it? It’s an odd design.’ She fumbled in her jacket and produced a notebook. Flicking it open she wrote in a strange script…
* * *
Megan was full of herself and had taken on an unique persona. She had derived an essence of Keisyianna—the young woman who had been betrothed to Kusuma. She had instilled life into this lingering spirit and as such existed as her avatar. Two heads? Maybe.
Nick shivered. Not again— But at least now after his encounter on the mountain he could understand her dilemma
There is an old saying: “If you swallow the dust from Bromo, you are never the same.”