The sun had scorched our faces and burnt our skin red. We made our way across the sand dunes walking over the Khajurb desert. The chilly winds of the night were eating through our flesh and leaving a rancid odour of the wounds. Khajurb had been ruthless to us, always. “ But this time it was what saved us, at least for the moment.” Little Georgie thought. Compared to what Georgie could have gone through, Khajurb seemed like a blessing. The horrors of the Blacktown massacre were still fresh in little Georgie’s mind.
The Blacktown was the last main line of defence against the red armies of the north. Poor Georgie- he was only 16 years old when he was recruited by the Black Troopers; Blacktown was his first official posting in the field. The Troopers paid well and you got pension when you retired- that’s why he joined them in the first place.
The Red Army in its massive offensive against the Blacks had invaded the northern lines and had moved west. Blacktown was the last single largest military base holding the Reds back. It there was any chance the blacks could have pulled this one off, they had to keep Blacktown. The Nationalist movement had been at its peak when Georgie joined the Troopers. At that time, it would have been outrageous to even imagine that the Blacks could lose the war. Blacktown was not just their largest base but was also the hotspot for their trade, culture and commerce. But that’s all gone now. It would be futile to even have that thought now. It was a hell on earth- the bed for all the barbarism possible.
The Reds wanted to set an example for the Blacks this time. The brutality and the savageness was so astounding and unheard of in recent times that even the Reds had difficulty determining fact from fiction. The other stories Georgie heard were even more grotesque- something too much for a 16 year old to handle. For days Georgie would vomit as the images of the dead flashed in his mind. Now he was immune to it. God had given him the will to live and move forward. The only officer left in their platoon; Capt Rogers always said “To be caught alive by the Reds was worse than being condemned to death”. But in the midst of all this gloom, Georgie still believed in his luck and was hopeful. Georgie for one was a believer and believe he did.
The cosmos had always fascinated him. He believed that a supernatural force kept a watch on them. Raising his head to the starry night sky and taking a deep drag from his cigarette, he thought “Why would I be stationed at the Western gates that day when my usual post used to be the Eastern esplanade. Why would the General of the battalion try to escape at that very moment I was there” Georgie knew that abandoning his post would have lead to treason charges and a death sentence. “Future for later now” he thought
It had been 8 days since their battalion or whatever that was left of it had been drifting in the summer desert. Georgie had miraculously and with his presence of mind taken refuge with the absconding General. Of the 23 men who escaped that day, only 12 had survived. Capt Rogers had assumed command because the general had become incapacitated and in his guilt shot himself with his pocket revolver on the 6th day. “Growl”- a deep rumbling noise from inside- Georgie had not eaten anything for the last 2 days. They had run out of all supplies. Some of the men had contemplated eating the General’s corpse. Rogers had not given approval for this, yet. The high priest who had the patronage of the queen was strongly against the idea of cannibalism and that too of a senior officer- as if the flesh would taste any different. The priest warned of dire consequences once they reach the King’s lair.
He could say whatever he wanted. The man was obese and was carried by soldiers the entire time. Even Georgie got his share of “lifting the priest”. The rotund man with his buck teeth had consumed more than half the share of supplies in the name of god. “How ironical, The God man eats and lets those who serve him die of starvation” Georgie smiled at himself with a grim face. If it wasn’t for Rogers and the Life spores, the high priest in all likelihood would have been killed by his very own soldiers.
The Life spores were the only hope for the survival of the Black race. The entire expedition was to protect the life spores and to take it to a safe location and implant in a viable carrier. Rogers knew that the reds were almost on their tail and any chance of survival seemed bleak at the moment. Georgie didn’t clearly understand what the “Life spores” really did but he knew that they were like genetic carriers necessary for the existence- all the information required for their sustenance. The Reds needed to destroy the spores to end this war and wipe out the Black Race.
From the slumber of the harrowing dreams Georgie woke up next morning. Georgie along with Raphael went for their regular early morning scout to find out any possible sources of water or food. After an hour of trekking through the punishing Khajurb, Georgie halted to catch his breath. Raphael continued climbing up the large dune in front of them. Georgie stayed at the bottom of the dune and continued to see his shadow curl along the desert elongating and shortening at intervals. At the top, Raphael looked West and without a word started laughing like a mad man. He had the laugh of a person who had found a lost treasure.
“What is it?” Georgie asked.
“We are saved”
Then turning 180 degrees he looked at Georgie and started laughing uncontrollably. Just then his eyes started gazing the eastern horizon and he got stuck in time. The uncontrolled giggles turned in to mild coughing and a choked up Raphael came tumbling down the sand dune. Georgie quickly towards the still body of Raphael and tried to snap him out of his limbo.
“Dead” Georgie declared checking his pulse. He died in his own hysteria. He rushed towards the top of the hill and tried to clear his eyes. At the far end of the Western horizon, he could see it.
“God is great! He has showed us the way” he said to himself.
As Georgie turned himself towards the camp, he could see what led Raphael from hope to despair. A dusty entourage moving towards us at the eastern front. The reds had come close and he could see them now. The horrors of the Blacktown massacre came back to him.
When Capt Rogers saw him again, Georgie was panting like a dog. He had run over 6 miles without halting. Getting hold of his breath, he said in a garbled voice “The Reds are upon us and we have found water.”
After an hour, the men reached the spot where Raphael’s body was being probed by vultures. The platoon gave him a quick burial and moved forward. It was becoming evident that to reach the Oasis they would have to cross the “Forbidden Line”. It was an ancient legend, that God himself made it and watched over it to separate the man’s world. No one who had dared to cross it returned alive. Rogers looked at the green patch on the other side. It would be just a 3 or 4 hour hike from here. But the Forbidden Line was something even Rogers dreaded. He had only heard stories about its existence, never really seen it with his own eyes. Rogers rounded up his men and told them about the situation.
“Boys, it’s been a long journey till here. We have lost many to reach this juncture. We are at the point of no return. If we give up here, all that we fought for would go waste. On the one side we have the Forbidden Line and our last hope for survival- not just ours but for entire race- on the other side is the advancing red army who would catch up with us any moment now. You have to make a choice now.”
“Heresy. This is madness.” The High Priest shouted.
“You dare mock the gods. The gods will smite you with all their might. You don’t have a chance defying the gods. If your men cross this line, I would make it a point to see that all of you rot in the Black Dungeons for the rest of your miserable lives.” The obese couldn’t tolerate their audacity.
At this Georgie couldn’t bear any longer and whispered in Roger’s ears, “Let the priests revere the gods on this side.” Rogers realized the logic in the young boy’s words. Years of indoctrination had clouded their minds and judgement. The other soldiers looked at Rogers in their mixed sense of plight.
“Drop the priest here. We move forward” Rogers shouted.
“You can’t leave me here. I am the high priest. It is your duty to protect me. I am the high priest of Blackland. I will get your heads chopped off for this blasphemy” the priest yelled.
No one said a work. The Life Spores were taken off from the high priest’s sack.
A few hours after crossing the line, Georgie looked back to see what happened to the priest. The man lay on his back waiting for the inevitable. “What kind of torture could the reds put an obese man through” he thought. The morale of the soldiers was back at a high. Their pace kept increasing. A sense of happiness and hope dawned and hazed their minds, in spite of the looming threat behind them.
Everyone jumped in the water and started drinking like wild animals. They had given up on all their good manners they learnt at the academy.
“First life, then civility” Georgie thought. Georgie laid his hands on the dates at the short palm tree next to the pool.
“The dates taste sweet” he cried. No one cared to listen to a 16 year old in all the frenzy.
“Hey everybody, the dates taste like chocolate”. Georgie pried open the bark of the tree and slid his teeth into it. Even the bark tasted sweet.
“This has got to be work of a superior being” he thought.
“Guys look, I can even eat the bark of the tree. The entire Oasis is edible” he screamed. A few men turned their heads and decided to try it. They couldn’t believe their eyes. The shrubs, trees, even the white crystal like bricks on the ground tasted sweet. It was like God had led them straight to it. God wanted Georgie to live for now. The thunderous stomping by the Reds could be heard from the Oasis. The fierce army was close and would reach any moment.
Georgie looked up at the sky. He knew the gods were watching them. He started praying to the lord above “You wouldn’t leave me at this, god. We have done our part. Lord, it’s your turn now”. Rogers looked at the dust storm raised by Red army. It was getting hopeless now. The men started loading their rifles. Georgie realized the futility of the entire situation and took out his last cigarette and started smoking. The reds were just a mile away now. They could see the severed head of the priest cast on one of their flags.
The sky abruptly turned overcast and sun was behind the clouds. The red army was almost at the edge of the Oasis when it unexpectedly started to rain. The rain grew stronger and water started flooding the desert. Rained turned into a flash flood with a burst of water. The Lord had answered our prayers. The flood washed away the entire red army with it. Rogers and the men stood in disbelief. It hadn’t rained one drop in the Oasis. Georgie finished his cigarette, fell on his knees and started kissing the ground. The men in their devotion started shouting
“Lord be praised!!
“Lore be praised!!”
The rain drifted away. The water started receding. A last drain of water falling from above thinning in the sky. The water seemed to be coming from a giant hole in the heavens. Then with a jerk the giant crack in the sky vanished farther. The hole retreated deep into space and coiled around what seemed to be a hook in skies. Out of nowhere the LORD himself appeared and dragged his feet across the desert, crushing the last remnants of the red army. The LORD then moved across to the forbidden line and roared in a loud voice
“Mom, we have a Red Ant problem.”
The men didn’t understand what the lord really said. The sight of the Lord brought shivers to their spines. Rogers took this as a gift from the heavens and decided to move on. Georgie and the men persevered ahead and with an altered perspective of reality, pondered over the “Miracle at Khajurb”.