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Ebu Gogo (the Myth )

Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.

The myth of the Indonesian jungle

ebu-gogo-the-myth
ebu-gogo-the-myth

A MYTH

“THE EBU GOGO”


The rain is relentless. I hear it thrumming on the metal roof and running down the broken pipe into the mud, and I moisten my cracked lips with my tongue. I wonder if they’ll bring me food and water. I wonder if they are coming at all...this was not like the other days. I tried to stand up, but the walls around me seemed to be caving in. I somehow crawled along the floor; I knew the room well, like the back-of-my hand. I came up below the window, somehow I clawed my way up and clung to the grill, the torrential pour was life-giving, each gulp of water was painful, my throat felt as if, rubbed with sand paper. My clothes were in shreds, a streak-of-lightning lit up the small room. In that flash-of-white light, I saw something that brought a small sliver of hope, back into my heart. In the pitch-of-darkness, I found that small piece of metal...a clip. It must have fallen off, when I had caught a handful of her hair and had tugged with all my might...ripping off most of it. I felt the large cut that ran across the top of my head, large clumps of hair had matted with blood, sealing the wound. I ran a tired hand across my throbbing eyes, trying to peel away the dry bits of blood that clung to my eyelashes. Wincing with pain, I gathered my wits around me...just as I had done many times before. I had lost the count of the time and hour. I drank my fill and washed my face then I sat down awhile; slowly the haze was clearing from my head. I knew I had to find a way. I couldn’t die like this, I wouldn’t allow myself to.

Things had not been always this bad...my marriage to Rajiv, the scion of Marble Palace had raised my status from an unknown Cinderella, to some sorts of royalty. Raised in an orphanage, I never ever imagined my life taking such a turn. In the beginning, everything had been fine; I was leading a life-of-fairy tales but with the addition of a few rules that I suppose exists, in every normal household. The Palace was a happy and merry place; on Sundays there used to be high tea and lots of games...everyone loved playing musical chairs. The staff too joined in...I always looked forward to these Sunday afternoons, when everyone made an effort to win...the prize was given by the matriarch...she would ask the winner to choose a piece of jewellery from her own collection. I would often complain to Rajiv that I always lost. He would laugh and say, “Your turn too shall come.”

This dream would have continued, had I not opened that door. What had I done wrong? I had asked everyone. It was just a door that led up to a few rickety stairs. At the end of the stairs, was a small room...I rubbed my aching temples, trying hard to remember but I couldn’t. All I can recollect is that I woke up; to find myself in this room, from where there has been no escape. I had tried many times, but the stone walls had been unrelenting and the window too small for my growing body...food and water was given to me once a day, no one would speak to me or answer any of my questions. In the beginning, I had cried and appealed to them. A new nightmare had started a few days back. They had come and tied me up like an animal; there was this tall stranger with them. He spread my legs apart and then started to touch and prod me with a long steel pipe. The pain had been unbearable.

“She is bleeding, you should stop.” Above the mask, I had seen Rajiv’s grey-green eyes. They were cold and unfeeling; it seemed as if they belonged to a stranger.

“Isn’t that what I want?” I had heard her scream.

“She has taken my place,” I had felt her nails drawing blood across my thighs. Turning around, I had clamped my teeth on Rajiv’s arm and for a minute his hold on my legs had slackened. Kicking out, I had set myself free and had caught hold of her long gray hair. The old lady had fallen to the floor giving me the chance to run to the door, when a crashing blow to my head had brought me down to the floor.

Now I walked on unsteady feet to the door. It was ancient like the rest of the Palace and had a simple lock. In the orphanage, food was often a scarce commodity. One learnt to survive; hence picking a lock was not at all difficult for me. I twisted the clip into a hook, shaped like an ‘S’ and then after a few twists and tugs, there was a loud click. Petrified I stood, lest someone was -waiting outside the door. The door swung open easily and I found myself in a long tunnel. The walls were carved out of stone...at some places; there were moulds and algae that had found roots in the crevices. I kept my back to the wall and cautiously moved along; I found the walls wet and damp at some places, due to underground springs that had found their way down. I could see my way, the algal growth threw a strange blue light and the soft muddy ground was crisscrossed by footsteps. I followed these and soon found myself in a small cavern that had a door at one end. I walked out into the torrential pour, lightning streaked across the sky and I found myself standing at the edge of the moat. The draw bridge had been raised, cutting off my underground prison from the rest of the world. The moat that had stood empty and dry for months was now a death trap; I had to get across, I could hide in the small scrub forest that bordered the palace but then the hunting dogs would find me easily, and tear me to bits. There had to be another way out. I knew the old gardener who doubled up as the huntsman for the palace, he lived somewhere in the scrub jungle. I had seen his wooden hut from far. I headed that way; the gods of the heaven lit my way. Barefoot and injured, I found walking extremely difficult, for the path was littered with thorns and sharp stones. I reached the clearing soon enough, a small light flickered in the single window. A large metal hook lay across the table. I knew that hook well; the huntsman had used it to drag me across the floor when they had caught me trying to escape the first time. That old wound still hurt where the hook had torn into the small of my back. I saw the figure of a man sleeping in the single chair next to the table. I tried the door but it was bolted from inside. A bit further away from the hut, there stood a small shed, I looked in...maybe, I would find something that I could use, but just then the skies lit up and a mayhem of calls were let loose by the hens, that were now wide awake. The hut plunged into darkness and a volley of gunshots erupted from the now open door. I threw myself across the floor of the shed, that was now littered with bits-of-flesh and feathers. I crawled and hid behind a large cage, the tall shadow of a man with gun-in-hand loomed against the lightning streaked sky. I knew I had the advantage of the unknown. He was not looking for me, but for the errant fox that often came for his hens. As the sky plunged into darkness, I scooted into the hut. It was sometime before I saw the huntsman returning. He lit the lantern and lay down his gun across the table. This was the very moment that I was waiting for... I drove the wooden spear into his back with all my might until the sharp wooden tip protruded out from his chest. Still alive with blood trickling down his lips, the man turned around. I picked up the hook, and brought it down over his head. “You?” were the only words he uttered, before his brains splattered across my face. The feel of warm blood under my feet felt good. I licked my lips...I was hungry and thirsty. The warmth from the dying embers of the fireplace indicated that I should move. The oversized shirt gave me a decent cover, the boots fitted me well. Surprisingly for a large man, the huntsman had very small feet. Revived, I reached for the lever behind the door, which would lower the drawbridge.

Picking up the hook, I walked across the drawbridge. The sky poured ceaselessly and in the cover of darkness, I cleared the grazing grounds of the horses and reached the stables. The Marble palace was famed for its prized Marwari horses; the groomsman always carried a gun and was a good shot too. The stormy weather gave me a safe passage. The palace lit up with iridescent white light. In-between I and the palace, there lay a massive undulating green lawn that had a duck pond in one corner and the kennel for the hunting dogs, at the opposite end. I was tense and worried for there would be no place for me to hide, if the dogs picked up my scent. The groomsman was a vicious fellow...I already knew of this, based on one of my previous experiences. I had reached the corner stone of the main staircase, when I heard the distant baying of the hounds. Someone had let them out... I ran up the stairs and then went down the main corridor to the back of the palace. I reached the khansama, where the main cooking for the household was done; the dogs were getting closer. I tried the large window but that was shut from inside and so also was the door. I moved to the shadows under the alcove of the window, waiting for sure death. Shivering with cold and fear, I saw the groomsman coming at the heel of the dogs. Thinking me to be unarmed, he came close...I could smell his stale breathe upon my face. I heard him laugh and say, “lets us have some fun, I am in the mood.”

I tensed my body; in the cover-of-darkness, the groomsman had not noticed the hook in my hand. The dogs were growling ferociously and crouching low, preparing to attack. At that very moment, the thunder rolled with great streams-of-white light striking the palace...sparks flew in all directions. The dogs whined with fear, tail between their legs, they cowered to the ground...I hesitated not; I brought down the sharp edge of the hook, catching the man’s throat and slicing it open.

The dogs had been always kept starving. In the past, I had tried to reason with Rajiv but he had brushed aside my concerns saying, “They will hunt only if they are hungry.” They were indeed...very hungry; I stopped not to watch them feed. I walked towards the maid’s quarters; most of the doors stood ajar, the rooms stood empty. Where was everyone? I was not surprised; often enough, I had heard about how maids left their jobs, because of the matriarch, who was too difficult to please. The frequency with which new staff was hired; these quarters shouldn’t be standing empty. Maya would know she was among the old staff, who knew the palace well. I knew her room; it stood at the end of the row.

I had to get the keys. I knocked with a calm hand and waited poised with my hook ready. Getting the keys from the sleepy figure was not at all difficult, though Maya did struggle a bit. Hook in place, she moved not an inch, it reminded me of fishing, it was that easy...I asked her to be quiet and then I pushed her ahead of me. Key-in-hand, she whimpered with pain and opened the door that led into a long passage. At the end of that passage there was a short flight of stairs that led into ‘My Lady’s chamber.’ The room was still the same, just as I had left it, on that fateful afternoon, the stale cup of tea still stood by my bedside and the novel that I was reading, lay where I had left it.

I drove the hook deeper, Maya let out a gurgle of blood. “One more sound, I will cut you in half.”

“You were the one who told me about that door,” I shook her a bit.

Shivering with pain she said, “I was asked to.”

“Why?” I spoke into her ear.

“An offering is always made...you were chosen.”

“Chosen by whom?”

“The game,” she whimpered. Things were becoming clearer now; the simple game of musical chairs played by the whole household had an ugly ending for the winner.

“You allowed me to win that day...Dear Maya.” I remembered that Sunday very vividly, Maya had lost too easily. As I had jumped with joy, she had thrown a secretive and friendly smile, as if she had bestowed upon me, the greatest favour. The mystery about frequent hiring of new household staff was becoming a bit clearer now. Whoever won the game disappeared.

“What happened to the winners?”

“They were taken to the door,” answered Maya.

“What lies beyond it?” I hissed angrily.

“I don’t know,” she whimpered with pain as I twisted the hook.

“Who knows?”

“The Matriarch,” she whispered.

Pushing her ahead-of-me, we moved towards the stairs that the servants used, until we came to a stop, in front of an ornate door. “Open it,”

“Ebu Gogo...we all will die,” I could feel her fear; she was shivering at the end of my hook.

“I am going to return your favour,” I twisted the hook, tearing skin and bone; Maya fell to the ground and lay still. I opened the door wide and dragged her still form across the doorway, leaving it at the bottom of the rickety stairs, which disappeared into the turret. Whatever was up there would come down; I dipped my hook into the blood and as I walked towards the main chamber of the matriarch...the dripping hook left a trail of blood behind me.

On the large bed was a solitary figure, snoring loudly. I tapped her gently with the hook. The Matriarch of the Palace, was wide-awake now; with hair and skin missing, one side of her head was raw-red. I held the sharp edge of the hook against her neck and said, “The new hairstyle that I gave you is so becoming.”

The old lady grinded her teeth and glared up at me. She was a tough one, her neck bore a crisscross necklace of cuts that bled, turning her white silk nightshirt into a canvas-of-red but yet, she wouldn’t even give a single answer to any of my questions. I slacked my hold for a second and she made a run for the door. I swung the hook sideways, impaling her like a fish. “We can do this the whole night, and I will cut you alive,” I hissed...

“What is there beyond that door?” I snarled out.

The whole palace lay silent; I pushed her ahead of me, till we reached the library. With shaking hands, the matriarch opened the great doors. We passed rows and rows of bookshelves, until we reached the very end of the room, where stood a fireplace. The rest of the stone wall was bereft of any shelves, but instead, there hung an old and faded tapestry. She pointed to it saying, “My ancestors brought it back with them.”

“Brought what back?” I shook her again and again, till she whimpered and begged for mercy. I needed light to see what was on the tapestry, the fireplace still held a few glowing embers. I threw in a few logs and soon had a fire going. The warmth revived my aching limbs and lit up the library. Old and faded, the tapestry still had a few bright strands of colour in it. It was divided into four parts, The Ocean rolled and heaved and among its waves, nestled a small ship. In the second part of the woven picture the ship was near an island. The lower bottom showed the sailors carrying a cage back to the ship. The last woven threads were faded, if there had been a scene but now it was lost to the vagaries of time. At the bottom of the tapestry, I read the faint outlines of a few letters that said, “He who eats everything.”

“Why hasn’t he eaten you...I wonder?” I looked at the matriarch with curious eyes; she no longer looked her regal self.

“The same reason that he didn’t eat you,” she hissed out.

A volley-of-terrified screams erupted from somewhere beyond the palace. The matriarch looked at me with fear in her eyes, “you have let him out?”

I smiled; the trail-of-blood would sooner or later lead him here. I am sure an offering would draw peace between him and me. I looked at the fallen figure of the matriarch, still alive she was begging me to kill her, when the great doors of the library opened and I heard footsteps on the cold stone floor.

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ebu-gogo-the-myth

© 2022 sudha madhuri dash

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