5000 years ago
In the small, secluded village Kendraa somewhere in the middle of 500,000 km2 of desert and home to only about three hundred or so people, residents halted their work of woodcutting, ceramics, and making dung cakes and rushed into their Wigwam huts. Five minutes passed, and then the village’s mukhiya, Ram, a fifty-five-year-old who looked like he was thirty, began to patrol, scrutinizing whether everyone had secured themselves in their huts. From the way the villagers had run and how Ram was inspecting the village, it was crystal clear that it was their routine; each of them was aware of the regular impending doom that escalated at or after dusk.
After everyone had locked themselves in, and when Ram found no one outside still working or wandering around, he locked himself in his own hut. Two other huts flanked it on each side, and they stood only a few inches away from the dirt road.
In one of the huts near to Ram’s, a child sat with his father.
“I’m scared, papa,” said a boy after a brief look at his father, who was sitting on the ground against the wall. The man secured his child in a hug with an expression of dread, startled at his son’s rush of feelings. Then he forced a fake smile, patted his son’s back, and kissed his forehead, assuring him that he was safe with his dad. The boy’s fear vanished, and he smiled back. All the while, the child’s mother sat against the wall opposite, hugging her knees and crying silently, keeping her face hidden in the hollow between her legs and breast to prevent scaring her son.
In one of the other huts, another wife cried, this one hugging her husband. “She ate my brother last month, my sister last week, and your brother yesterday. I don’t want to lose you.”
She was talking about an evil lady who visited the village after dusk and enjoyed massacring humans and eating their flesh.
A sense of apprehension dangled over every hut.
* * *
At the end of the desert, in a cave a few miles away from the village’s border, a churel (witch) named Dali glowed in the moonless night. She began to consume negative powers from the environment, levitating herself with her eyes closed and hands wide open. Dali, whom no one could kill with any weapon known to man, appeared out of nowhere about a year ago and had resided in the cave near Kendraa Village ever since. She did this not only because she had found humans to hunt but also for her own security.
Though it was true no one could kill her with any type of known weapon, the villagers didn’t know that she had a fatal flaw: she could be captured in any object and killed by fire. She knew if she began hunting humans in a bigger kingdom, a king might find a tantrik, the one who has thorough knowledge about mysticism and magic rituals, rishi (a sage), or someone else with this knowledge. They might capture with the help of a devotional hymn, black magic, tantra, or curse, or even execute her. But Kendraa Village was secluded; very few people knew about it, and it was rare that a traveler or a rishi passed by.
The villagers believed in God. They worshipped God, day and night, and they knew devotional hymns well. Yet, there was no one strong enough to use one against Dali—not enough to weaken her and capture her, and certainly not to terminate her. That was the reason Dali was completely safe here.
* * *
“I have heard that churels become strong on the moonless night,” said a teenage girl to her sister in the hut that stood in the center of the village. “Is it true? And if it is, how?”
“Everyone believes it,” said the sister. “So it must be. I don’t know exactly how. But people say the negative vibes we spread every day through our anger, jealousy, and other bad feelings become the churel’s fuel. She sucks this energy on the moonless night, and she becomes much more powerful.”
* * *
The wind whooshed as Dali exited her cave. Ten feet tall and two hundred years old, she was an ugly churel with a wrinkly dark face. She walked toward the village on her abnormal feet, which pointed backwards, looking around with her pure-white eyes and smiling broadly, showing her uneven, rotten teeth. When she was halfway to the village, she began to levitate, gliding the rest of the way with lightning bolt speed.
When she reached Kendraa, Dali halted in the air over the huts in the center. She looked around with a grin on her face, happy to find everyone had locked themselves in their huts due to the terror she wrought.
She let out a booming laugh in her croaky voice.
“She’s here,” screamed a girl, hiding under a blanket in horror.
“Everything will be alright, sweetie,” whispered the girl’s mom, stroking her back.
The girl stayed quiet, not reacting to her mother’s warmth.
“On this moonless night, I will gain more powers. I will become immortal,” Dali’s voice rang out, loud enough to enter every ear inside the huts. “After having the flesh and blood of more than two hundred.”
Camels grunted from where they were tied to skinny wooden posts, yearning to run away to protect themselves.
Everyone stayed absolutely quiet, trying not to breathe to avoid producing even the slightest sound, sweating profusely in trepidation of their death. Dali’s cackle wafted through the air, scaring the hell out of the villagers who were praying to God for help.
Suddenly, the camels rose into the air. Dali then began to squeeze their bodies by only staring at them and clenching her right fist. She sucked out their blood, which floated out of the animals’ crushed bodies and into her mouth.
The night grew darker, and the wind whooshed faster and faster, rapidly swirling the sand in the air, as if Mother Nature herself was upset for the innocents.
The empty bodies of the camels fell to the ground; it seemed as if they were not corpses but bags full of shattered skeletons. No trace of blood or flesh remained.
Dali licked the blood from her lips.
Her eyes rolled over the huts as another grin came over her face.
The villagers’ hearts beat even faster; they knew their death was nearing. All of them wished for a miracle that could save them from Dali. They continued praying; many of them asked for God himself to come to earth and end Dali’s after-life.
Each day before now, Dali had come to Kendraa to kill only one of them, but tonight seemed special for her. She seemed to want to have a party. She wanted to kill almost the entire village in a bid to become immortal, and now only God could save them. Or, more precisely, their courage and hidden skill to fight the churel. Their ability to sing a devotional hymn, find the courage to face the churel and the courage to fight her. That could save them.
Dali soared in the air, glaring at the huts and generating a violent fire bolt. The huts suddenly ignited in fire and everyone rushed out. Seeing the villagers trying to run away from her, screaming in angst, Dali laughed aloud. She was enjoying this more than she had on any other night.
She began capturing people—children, youngsters, women, even those who were pregnant, elders—stopping them from escaping one after the other and consuming them. The desert reverberated with the villagers’ gut-wrenching screams.
Ram and some other villagers had managed to escape her grasp, and they now stood on the dirt road, watching as she killed their friends and neighbors. They felt miserable watching their beloved ones die, but they were also afraid and helpless. As mukhiya of this village, it was Ram’s duty to keep everyone safe from the outsiders, solve the issues between the villagers, and make sure there was no crime. He was the decision-maker for the inhabitants and caretaker of the village. He had to come up with something to save them all from this bloodthirsty churel.
He looked around with wet eyes, hoping to find something that could help him kill Dali. However, before he could find something, in the distance to his right, his blurred vision glimpsed a man-like image coming toward him. He rubbed his eyes and squinted to get a better look.
Ram saw a rishi, about seventy years old, coming out of the darkness. He had a divine muscular physique and was walking toward him, holding a kamandal (container for holy water) in his hand.
Hearing the churel’s laugh and the villagers’ painful screaming, the rishi paused, fixing his glower on Dali. Then he paced to the village and stopped beside Ram. He looked into Ram’s wet eyes, down to his folded hands and then back to his face. He understood that Ram was requesting he saves his village and the villagers, as many had done so before in other towns and villages plagued by cruel kings, asuras, or churels.
The rishi marched toward Dali in rage.
Dali stopped her killing and locked her fury-filled eyes on the rishi, who stood right before her.
“Stop killing these innocents,” he said in a voice full of strict, threatening order. “Or, I’ll have to kill you.”
“I’m powerful,” said Dali, laughing at him. “You can’t kill me; you’re just a human.”
Dali’s mind was full of her own ego; she had been easily killing the villagers for a year. In her arrogance, she had forgotten that this rishi could set her on fire and end her terror forever. In this moment, she believed she was the most powerful being on the earth.
“How dare you call me an ordinary human,” he raged. “You have made a life-threatening error. I’m a divine rishi. I warn you one last time to leave this place.”
“I’m not afraid of you, ordinary human,” sneered Dali.
The rishi shifted the kamandal to his other hand and took some holy water from it.
Dali kept grinning at him. “You can do nothing.”
Enraged at the insult, the rishi replied, “I curse you—if you kill one more human, his blood will turn into poison for you, and you will burn in an intense fire.”
With that, he threw the water onto her body.
“Let’s see who wins!” said Dali, staring at him, her voice showing her importance.
She extended her arm and grabbed a young pregnant woman nearby by the neck. Her husband screamed and ran after his wife. When Dali brought the woman near her face, she glanced at the rishi, before locking her gaze on the woman’s scared eyes, and without pause, she thrust her sharp nail into the woman’s stomach. She pulled it back out, and she showed the nail, dripping with the woman’s blood, to the rishi. She was mocking him—his curse would fail.
The rishi stared at her with his intense look of anger, and when Dali brought the nail to her mouth to suck the blood, a lightning bolt struck her. It was as if her negativity—which she had spread throughout the galaxy—was coming back for her. She roared in pain.
The rishi smiled, seeing his curse had worked, and he happily murmured, “Har Har Mahadev!”
Dali began to cough and choke, and the pregnant woman slipped from her hand. Dali tried to attack the rishi, but the poison spread through her body swiftly, stopping her powers and weakening her.
The villagers watched in awe as her body began to steadily turn green. Before she died, she said, “I’ll return. I’ll return, immortal.”
The poison spread through her nerves from top to bottom and choked her completely. Her paralyzed body, now completely green, fell to the ground and ignited in fire.
The villagers stared at her burning body, blank expressions on their faces. Meanwhile, Ram quickly ran to the rishi and touched his feet to have his blessings.
The rishi gave a quick touch to his head. “Long live,” he blessed.