Saturday, September 26, 2020
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Devils of Moloch

‘Come on Grandma, tell us a tale,’ requested seven-year-old Mark. 

‘And it has to be a new story. We know all your old ones,’ whined his younger brother Josh. No fairy tale. Eew…..

Martha smiled as she tucked in her grandsons.

‘A new story?’ she asked as she settled into her armchair, ‘Hmm… Let me think.’ She pretended to think, though infact she knew exactly which story she was going to share with them tonight. She had stumbled across this website while browsing for new stories. What luck! It had something to do with an Inn where artists resided. She was just happy, now that she had access to new stories. 

‘Ok, here we go. Once upon a time, in a land far away, was the Kingdom of Agamida. It was ruled by King Frillard. Now King Frillard was no ordinary king. He belonged to the clan of the mighty Chlamingi. They were the fiercest lizards in their land.’ 

‘What?’ Mark sat up straight in his bed. ‘Did you say lizard?’

‘I most certainly did. Oh! Did I not tell you, this is a fable.’

‘No.’ Mark frowned. What’s a fable? But Josh had a grin on his face. Lizards….Yay. Reptiles were his current obsession.

‘Go on Grandma,’ urged little Josh. 

‘As I was saying, the Kingdom of Agamida had all sorts of lizard clans. Clan Draco, the flying lizards were the Royal Guards. Clan Mastigure who wore armor on their tails, were fierce warriors.’

Little Josh’s eyebrows shot up at the thought of armored tails. 

‘Then there were the regular lizard clans; Agamas, Sitanas and others. They were servers, jesters, burrow diggers and hunters. These lizards were much smaller in size.  Our hero belonged to the Agama clan. They were mainly hunters. His name was Cooper. He knew the land and her moods well. For when you forage for food, you learn things.’

‘Forage?’ asked Josh. 

‘To search for food.’ At Josh’s nod she continued. 

‘He and his family lived at the edge of the forest abutted by a desert. When he was not out hunting and gathering food, he helped other lizards in taking care of the Royal Burrows.’

‘Grandma, what did the lizards eat?’ asked Mark.

Before Grandma could answer, Josh pipped in, ‘Small insects and sometimes flowers and leaves.’

‘Well done Josh!’ Grandma said looking at Josh, who wriggled happily under his dinosaur duvet. 

‘Now Cooper was a very smart young lizard. During his hunting trips he noticed that the vegetation was changing. And so was the weather. It was hotter and drier during the summer. The rains too were giving the forest a miss. The trees were more brown than green. His father confirmed his suspicions. He too had been observing these changes in his life time. But things were bad now.’ 

‘Yes, weather is changing. It is due to globe warning,’ Mark added feeling proud that he remembered what is teacher had taught him in his geography class.

Grandma suppressed her smile and said with a straight face, ‘Yes Mark, that is correct. It’s because of global warming.’

‘What’s glo worming,’ Josh struggled with the words. Glo worms…. Awesome.

‘Nothing you can understand,’ retorted Mark. 

Josh was about to retort when Grandma said, ‘Nah ha!’ looking at Josh. She knew if she didn’t nip this argument in the bud it would progress to a full-fledged fight in a heartbeat. And that was not good for the sleeping process. Looking at grandma’s wagging forefinger Josh settled down.

‘Looking at the hot days and dry months, Cooper knew that life would become difficult in the future. They could not continue this way. So, he went to the Royal Advisors and spoke to them about his concern. But they rubbished him and sent him away. Then he mustered courage to speak to the King directly.’

‘Did the King listen to him?’ asked Mark.

‘Well he did. But he was surrounded by his foolish advisors. So, on their advice he chose to ignore Cooper.’

‘He must have felt sad,’ said an empathetic Josh. 

‘He did. But not for long. He was not one to waste time crying. So, he took his theory and his plans directly to the subjects. Oh! But they made fun of him, they thought that he was mad. Things had been like this and would continue to be like this, is what they believed. Their kingdom was blessed, they said. But his family believed in him and stood by him.’

‘Just like mom says we should standup for each other,’ said Mark.

Grandma smiled. She nodded and said, ‘Yes Mark, always be there for each other. Just the way Cooper’s family was there for him.’

‘Then what happened?’ Josh said impatiently wanting to get on with the story.

‘Then, Cooper and his family decided to implement Cooper’s plan. They worked day and night on it, while they went about their daily routine. Cooper continued talking about the changing weather. And the consequences of ignoring the signs and not preparing for the future. As a hunter he had heard the lore of the fire-monster. But as months went by and none listened, he lamented and cursed their inaction. He vowed to get his family safely away from the kingdom, at the first opportunity, before any harm befell them.’

‘So, why didn’t they just leave?’ asked Mark. 

‘Because they are lizards. They cannot be out in the sun during the day,’ said Josh as he rolled his eyes at his brother’s ignorance.

‘May I continue?’ asked grandma and did so at their nod, ‘A few months later, during the height of summer, disaster struck. The dry and thirsty forest was a giant fuel pod waiting for a spark to ignite it. It was while Cooper was out foraging for food that he heard it. The sound was unlike any other. Alas! He didn’t know, but it was the snapping and crackling of leaves. He turned towards the sound and stared in disbelief. 

‘Apparently the spark had been lit. The tiny flame unfurled itself. It looked around in glee. There was so much to eat. And oh boy! was it hungry? As it ate, it grew. Then it swirled and its fiery red-orange long-coat spread in different directions. The hem smothered the smaller bushes. Then it frayed at the edges and the pieces threaded out and climbed the trees. The blazing center stood and willed its carnage far and wide.’

‘So, Cooper and his family died?’ asked a teary Josh.

‘Josh, remember I told you Cooper was smart.’ 

Josh nodded. 

‘Then hang on to that thought. So, Cooper wasn’t far from where the monster unfurled. He saw the monster grow. Fear gripped him. But when the monster swirled and spread his reddish-orange hue over the drab brown landscape Cooper broke from his trance. He raced in the direction he had last seen his brothers. And he was clicking his tongue furiously to warn them of the danger.’

Both the boys broke out into grins. ‘Run Cooper! Run,’ willed Josh. It was action time.

‘Yes, run he did. But even though he was fast, the heat wave chasing him was faster. It finally over took him. Suddenly the balmy morning turned blisteringly hot, as if the sun had blown down on them. He needed to act fast, before his body temperature went up too much. He knew the monster was not far behind. He could hear it chomping on the trunks and branches. Over the swishing and swirling of the monster he heard an answering click. With clicks and squeaks he quickly communicated with them. And then he was off in the direction of his burrow.’

‘Yay…he is going to save his family. Isn’t he Grandma?’ asked a round eyed Mark. 

‘Wait,’ laughed Grandma, ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Now, his burrow was in the line of fire, literally. He just hoped, he made it there before it did. The heat was unbearable. Breathing was becoming difficult. Ash and embers started to rain down. A few of them landed on his scales. Pain seared down from those points. He squeaked in agony. And wished he had a hard skin to protect his body. But he continued. His chirps and squeaks sought a response. Every time he stuck his tongue out to catch the scent, his tongue felt as if it had been scalded. But finally, he caught the scent of his family.’

‘But how is he going to save them? The forest is on fire. They have nowhere to go,’ asked Mark.

‘Don’t they? Remember, Cooper had a plan. As he raced to his family, he was relieved and horrified. Relieved because they were all there. And horrified because as the older members marshalled the hatchlings protectively, towards the new burrow, they were getting burnt. For every burn and squeak he heard, his heart cried. He wished for scaly and spiky skin for their protection. He prayed that all of them could get out of this burning hell-hole safely. And he vowed that he would build his own kingdom where they were not dependent on anyone. Where they would not need the forest to sustain them or burn them.

‘So, while the forest burnt around them and the Dracos flew and the Mastigures thrashed about, Cooper’s family made a beeline for the burrow. The monster was almost upon them, when the last member of the family stumbled inside followed by Cooper. They crawled and slid down the relatively cooler burrow. A burrow that they had been digging for months.’ 

‘So that’s what they had been doing. Digging a tunnel for their escape. Away from the sun,’ smiled Mark.

‘Lizards are smart,’ said Josh matter-of-factly. 

‘Yes, they emerged on the other side of the burning forest and into the golden sandy desert. And as each member emerged from the depths of the tunnel, their wounds healed and in its place, grew scales and spikes. They looked like thorny devils. They didn’t need the forest anymore. They could drink even the dew drops through their skin.’

At this, both the boys gasped. ‘Through their skin, how?’ asked a very interested Josh. This was news to him. 

‘Oh, through a very unique adaption. They became the sole inhabitants of the new kingdom. They named it Moloch. And they became the devils of Moloch.

‘The End,’ said grandma. As she kissed their foreheads, she was sure the boys would dream of this wonder land tonight. 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

The Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus) is a species of lizard in the family Agamidae. The species is endemic to Australia. It is the sole species in the genus Moloch. They are one of nature’s example of extreme adaptation. To know more about these fascinating animals please follow the links – 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorny_devil

https://www.wired.com/2014/09/the-creature-feature-10-fun-facts-about-the-thorny-devil 

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Photo By: Pixabay

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This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here:  https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
Get your copy of Death at Midnight here:
www.artoonsinn.com/shop or
https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194132649

Room8 appreciates your rating of the story out of 10 in the comments.

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Shweta Singh
Shweta Singh
Shweta Singh is passionate about books and food – both interests inherited from her father – and loves to write and travel at every opportunity. A closet writer, who after encouragement from friends and family has embarked on the journey of self-discovery.
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