In Between the Lamps | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 25, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:56 PM, January 24, 2020

FICTION

In Between the Lamps

The pale yellow moon shone through the leafless winter trees. Their silhouettes were the only beauty in the dark between the lights of town. I hunted the imagined monsters that live in the dark. I was out in the fields where no one should walk alone. Even farmers know to lock their doors to the grim winter night. Anything that can survive the cold and dark is feared by those who live in the bright and warm. My hunt for the lizard man took me west and into the black fields. The night belongs to the owl and I was permitted to promenade through the darkness. In the distance, I saw the orange of town as it’s painted the clouds a fetid colour. Street lamps turn the blaze of orange into a cold beam. I saw through the dark under the pale yellow moonlight and found my way out of town.

The Lizard man was a fiend of the marsh. Cows had disappeared and turned up as piles of bones and skin. The locals avoided the marsh. They believed the Lizard man was tied to the stagnant water. I didn’t believe in monsters. I travelled the country in search of scientific explanations to disprove local folklore and legend. I used science as a beam through the fog of superstition. I began with an assessment of the local town Elefield. The town by the marsh was close to death. The shops were boarded up and the people were blighted by such doom. This was a common factor in what fed the invention of ghosts, monsters and other perverse creatures of the night. The poverty of a town pushed the people to believe in the supernatural. It was a way of rationalizing their starvation and suffering. And when farmers lost livestock to poaching, the town went silent and blamed it on the beast. Farmers were easily frightened as they had no formal education. I chose to expose these myths and bring the people back to rationality. I had no monetary worries and I could pursue the beasts as they arose.

The Lizard man was said to be seven feet tall, with dark purple skin, almost black and scaled like a fish. His eyes were big and white without pupils. It screamed in its primal urge for violence and growled as it guzzled down its preys. It only raided cattle on the edge of the marsh. I heard many tales about the marsh so that’s where I began. The lights of two towns could be seen as faint orange on either horizon. The moon gave light then vanished behind clouds leaving everything dark. I found the marsh by stepping into it. My foot sunk into a pool of putrescent mud. I nearly lost my boot as I pulled it out. The marsh smelt like death. I plodded around looking for a sturdy path in. I found a gate that led to a wooden bridge into the marsh. Everything appeared as sedate, apparently with no sign of hysteria that shook the town. I stepped in. I shone my torch on the ground in front of me to thwart falling into the bog on either side. I stared down at the moss and leaves. This was the worst one yet. I had been all over the country on the trail to break superstition but never into a marsh. Part of me hoped the lizard man was real so that I could justify the stench and mud. I looked down at something off white. I looked closer; it was a jaw bone with teeth still attached. It was surrounded by bones. The floor was covered in cow bones, shins, shoulders, legs and ribs. They were too big to be human, but I’m not a biologist. It put my hairs up. This was evidence. I had never found evidence before. My brain sped up and I felt fear invaded the back halls of my mind. “Bones on the ground?” The locals could have planted these to strike terrors among the farmers. Yep, that’s what this was a plant to give weight to their stories. I let a deep breath out and reassured myself that this was a hoax. I didn’t let the other possibility take over my mind. If this was real, I was standing in the monster’s den where it chowed down its prey. I tripped over the bones. It was time for a decision. I could head back and come back in the day, or I could carry on with my research. The path led deeper into the marsh. My sense of macho pride kicked in and I shuffled further from the gate. I wasn’t going to let a pile of bones scare me; I had to see the beast in order to believe it. I was unarmed and undefended. All the sticks I picked up were crumbled so I gave up and clutched my keys as a crude shock weapon. The further I went, the thinner the road had become. I slipped into the bog a few times and my feet were soaked with mud and stank.

I saw a dull and warm light in the distance. It was a fire, and I broke into the clearing and introduced myself to the couple that sat beside.

“Hi, there?”

The couple turned to me without fear. They were old, too old to be camping on a wintry night without a tent. They looked old but uncharacteristically strong at the same time. The old man was thin but muscular; years of heavy work had toughened his body. The lady looked no different, yet she was spry and welcomed me to the circle, while the man sat still and watched.

“Traveller...come sit with us. We don’t see many people anymore...and we would be offended if you don’t sit with us and tell of our dear old town. Did you go to Elefield?” muttered the old lady.

I was taken with their instant report. Albeit, I felt no danger and sat down on the log set out by the fire.

“Thanks, I did visit your town and its looks more like a ghost town, more dead than alive. May I be rude and ask why you’re camped out in the marsh?”

“Yes you can ask but I don’t think you will understand even if we told you. Will you have a drink before we begin?”

The old man’s eyes glowed with smile and perked up at the suggestion of booze.

“I will have a drop.” I said. I couldn’t refuse. I knew I had found the answer to my lizard man. I took a sip of the drink and coughed until my eyes were red.

“What is this?”

“This is refermented gin, infused with black berry and sloe. Now what would you like to know?”

“I feel I have to be honest. I am a monster hunter and I am hunting down the lizard man. He is said to dwell in this marsh. Now I’ve found you two, I feel that my original theory has been ratified. But why do you keep this myth going?”

“You’re mistaken traveller; do you think we made up the lizard man?”

“No of course not, but he isn’t real, I think you have been abetting to scare away the farmers so you can feed the poorest of the town poached beef, I don’t blame you.”

“No traveller the Lizard man is real.”

I looked her in the eye. She didn’t sound like she was lying. But my story did fit well. Surely the bones were scattered to terrorize the farmers and build the myth.

“You think the lizard man is real?”

The old man nodded with his wife, he’d followed every word.

“If the lizard man is real then why are you alive? We are in his lair are we not?”

“We are in the Lizards’ lair but we are welcome.”

“What does that mean?”

The old man smirked which looked evil in the fire light.

“It means you are trespassing” said the old man.

“Come on. The lizard man isn’t real.”

The couple stood up. The lady put out the fire and they walked deeper into the marsh.

“Hang on. Wait up where are you going?”

The couple faded into the dark. I tried to chase them but fell into a bog. It took me all of my strength to get back onto the path. When I looked at my torch I could see the batteries were low. I had all the information needed to demystify this myth. I would write it up at the hotel. I just needed to find my way out of the grungy marsh and back to the glare of street lamp. The torch went out. I felt my way by testing my footing. I couldn’t see much and the moon had retreated behind the clouds. The fear that I put at the back of my mind came to the fore. I kept saying “it isn’t real” over and over until I pushed the fright back to a murmur. Then I heard a growling gurgling howl followed by a sinister scream. Adrenaline pumped through me and I ran, slipped and fell into the bog. My strength to pull myself out spent, I laid there. The hollering of the beast was close. As my head slipped under the mud, I saw two white eyes. They were crackling and the roaring ceased.

 

Hasan Maruf teaches English in DPS STS School, Dhaka. What influences him to lift the pen is not only for his adoration for creative writing, but as a form of therapy to seek spiritual salvation.

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