Night Of The Full Moon
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
"I donít know any ghost
stories," the old engineer said. "I donít know any werewolf stories either, and
Iíve never even heard of anyone who was bitten by a vampire. So sorry, but
there it is."
We were sitting over bottles of wine and plates of kebabs, with the lights
dimmed. The rain poured down outside with the force of a waterfall, and it made
the room all the cosier, and the atmosphere just right for storytelling.
"Iíve been listening to all of you," the old engineer continued, "tell
stories about ghosts and ghouls and all manner of creatures from beyond the
imagination, and Iíve been racking my brain, but I simply canít think of
anything you havenít heard before."
"Oh," said our hostís wife, who sat hugging her shins with her chin
propped up on her knees, "you must know something at least, some strange tale.
Donít say you donít!"
"Real life," the old engineer said, stroking his grey goatee and
smiling at her, "doesnít have any pat explanations. Iíve seen some strange
things, yes, and I could tell you of one or two of them. But thatís all I could
do, tell you. I canít claim that what I saw explains or doesnít explain ghosts
or demons or anything of the sort."
"Tell us anyway," said the hostís wife, who was very pretty, much
prettier than she had any right to be at her age, and flirtatious to go with
it. "I just know your storyís going to be the best of all!"
"Far be it from me," said the old engineer, "to resist a request from
such a pretty lady. All right, I shall tell you of something I saw once. I have
never been able to explain it or find an explanation that fits, but I shall
tell you anyway."
The rain began to pour down harder than ever, and thunder crashed
outside. We all poured ourselves more of the semi-sweet red wine and pulled our
chairs forward to listen.
You know (the old
engineer said) that Iím a mining engineer. At the time of which I am about
to tell you, I was much younger, and still junior enough for my employers to
send me out to godforsaken parts to do thankless jobs for them.
Back in those days, we were trying to revive mines that had been
abandoned for many years but might still be made productive, especially with
more modern techniques and equipment. Many of these mines were far away from
civilisation, and often they had been left alone for so long that nature had
reclaimed the sites, the remaining equipment, and the support facilities Ė all
One of these sites was the old coal mine at Koehla on the border of
India and what is now Myanmar. A team of us had been sent to try and restart
this mine, which had been abandoned since the Japanese occupied Burma back in
the Second World War. The mine area had seen some fighting and after the war,
when the area had been hit for some years by insurgency, had simply been
abandoned to be swallowed up again by the jungle.
Along with me in the team was Ganesan, a dark, lean Tamil with a bushy
moustache and a fierce look. There would be others, as well, but later. It was
basically for me and for Ganesan to do all the real work. We would be living on
site; the others would be coming once we had done all the preliminary surveys.
Koehla was then, and for all I know still is, a smallish village of a
few hundred people. It consisted of a row of huts straggling on either side of
a red earth road, surrounded by a few cultivated fields and the hills, covered
by forests, not far away. The derricks of the mine were visible from the
village, standing tall at the top of a low, forested hill. There were railway
tracks, too, which had once served to carry coal from the mine. But these were
tracks along which no train had run since the Union Jack and the Rising Sun had
flapped above the derricks in the distance, and what remained of the rails were
rusted through and so overgrown that they could scarcely be seen.
The mine itself was, when we arrived, scarcely in better shape. The
derricks, which had seemed so tall and impressive from the village, turned out
to be corroded and tilted, their lines blurred with creepers, their foundations
damaged by weather and water. The main mine shaft was collapsed on itself, and
buried under a mass of earth and rock. Clearly, we would need a lot of work
before we could even begin to determine whether the mine could be revived.
[ Continue to page 2 ]