The moon seemed somehow an extension of the great, jagged peaks—imposing, icy white, and daily threatening to eviscerate the cold blue underbelly of heaven. Cold wind bit into flesh as if possessed by an arrogant demon. The sky might one day shatter and rain icy blue shards over the helpless laity, the herdsmen and tribal nomads of the uncompromising, unforgiving Himalaya.
It was not at all difficult to believe that the moon had originated in this place.
Norbu was worried. Thoughts such as these were not typical of him. Long ago, in this place poised on the edge of oblivion, he had come to understand harmony.
Not so on this day. As he watched the pink horizon graduate and deepen into shades of violet, the sharp white blades of the Himalayas seemed murderous.
He hoped desperately that he would again feel as one with the serenity around him. But this night he would play a dangerous game with the unknown.
Indeed, Norbu may not survive the night.
Sighing heavily, wearily, Norbu turned and began the long ascent up the cold stone steps of the monastery.
Tibet, 1114 A.D.
Chaos. From outside the heavy wooden gate, Norbu could hear the screams. As he entered the inner courtyard, he saw a monk lifted as if by sorcery from the nearby steps into the temple, and dashed brutally against the stone wall. Blood flew out of him and against the cold stones like water from a carelessly tossed leather sack. His skull made a sound like a wooden water bucket dropped onto stone.
Monks were fleeing everywhere—up the stairs, through the corridors, into and out of the temple. Men of tranquility were utterly unprepared for such horror.
For the briefest of moments, a young monk separated from the scores of panicked and fleeing men. He was seized by an invisible force and lifted into the air, spinning like a prayer wheel. Flesh was torn from his body as if by a thousand living whips, hungry for blood and meat. Strips flew off in all directions. The boy squealed in agony then fell to the stones below, wide-eyed terror frozen on the remaining half of his face, the other half an obscenely exaggerated scream from the most hellish depths of human fear.
Norbu glanced around at the terrified men, his eyes never having the chance to settle on anyone. A flurry of earthy red robes, appearing almost brown in the pale moonlight, ran every which way, like gnats swarming around a horse carcass.
He didn’t know what to do. The monastery was now a prison in the wilderness.
Norbu did the only thing that would come to him. He simply opened his mouth and chanted.
The deep, raspy, yet harmonious sound issued from his throat. Almost simultaneously, the fleeing monks turned and looked at him, their terror-contorted faces illuminated subtly by flickers of hope, like dozens of lard candles spontaneously giving birth to fragile, trembling flame.
A monk standing nearby joined him. The voices of the two throat-singers mingled, echoing throughout the cold stone courtyard.
An instant later, the entire courtyard erupted in a throbbing chorus of deep droning; throats, chests and ears vibrated as the monks sent the words of an ancient Sanskrit hymn pulsating into the black sky.
Each man glanced from one to another, then upward, as if the sky itself were an enormous black bird of prey and they were field mice, paralyzed with fear as they watched angry talons close around them.
Norbu met the gaze of another monk. The man looked half-mad; he trembled like a spooked horse, his flesh was pale gray. Beads of sweat gathered on his lip and forehead despite the frigid cold. Norbu looked down and saw a growing dark spot near the man’s groin.
The men were trying to calm themselves as much as to ward off an invisible evil.
A whirlwind. Robes suddenly thrashed about like ceremonial flags as wind tore along the courtyard walls more fiercely than the most violent blizzard. A deafening scream arose from everywhere, piercing eardrums with hot, angry needles. The sound was not born of the wind, but rather carried upon it, as a Mongolian warrior was carried upon his mount. It was not a natural sound, yet unmistakably that of something living.
The hellish shriek was at once demonically deep and impossibly shrill. It enveloped the monks completely, and the men were paralyzed by a terror colder than the most bitter Himalayan night.
Norbu, feigning calmness, slowly made his way through the crowd of confused and frightened men toward the stone steps. Stoically, he led a reluctant, shaky procession into the temple.
Pale blue light was the only illumination in the otherwise dark temple. It fell into the temple in large blocks, cast from rectangular openings in two of the walls. Several monks went quickly about lighting the six pyres, three on each side of the rectangular room. Suddenly, the temple was a festival of amber light. The temple was adorned on all sides with gold. Gongs, cymbals, incense burners, statues—these things seemed to come alive, dancing feverishly with the orange flames.
Buddha presided over all activity in the temple; an enormous gold statue forever portraying peace cast its immortal gaze through the opening directly opposite its station. On this night, Buddha’s gaze was filled with the icy full moon that dominated the black abyss and caused the mountains to shimmer like white fire.
A rectangular pit was set into the middle of the floor, and the men quickly took their places. They looked now to the moon, with a sense of foreboding welling up within them as they stared into the face of the malevolent unknown.
And all the while, they chanted.
Norbu took his place, standing above the men in the pit, across from Buddha’s likeness and below the hungry moon.
He motioned hurriedly to the young man who was his assistant. Sagar was Nepalese, not Tibetan like most others. The young monk gathered up a stack of bound skins and rushed to his master’s side.
Norbu stopped chanting.
“Are you certain tonight is the worst?” asked Norbu.
The young man was respectful and submissive, yet rushed. “Yes, Lama Norbu. I am quite certain.” He quickly unrolled one of the bound skins and pointed to an illustration depicting lunar cycles, carefully drawn with vegetable dyes and charcoal. “The unseen devil disappears completely during the new moon. Then he reappears and grows more fierce as the moon blossoms. Tonight the moon is at its fullest.”
“How long have we endured this?”
One by one, the young monk pointed to each individual illustration depicting nine complete cycles. “Nine moons, Lama Norbu. We have been plagued for nine full moons.” The monks droned on. “What will you do, Lama Norbu?” asked his young apprentice.
Perhaps because he knew he was out of options, Norbu stepped closer to the large opening in the wall, closer to the moon, challenging it. With one broad sweep of his hand, Norbu gestured that the men be silent.
When the chanting ended there was nothing to take its place. The entire monastery seemed to hold its breath. Some had the unsettling notion that at last they had fallen off the edge of the world. And with the silence returned the terror.
They waited, all eyes on Norbu. Hearts pounded. Chests rattled.
Norbu turned from the monks and averted his gaze to the moon. He seemed to relax slightly, his shoulders dropping as he closed his eyes, bathing in moonlight.
He whispered. The sound was so low, so weak that normally it would have been inaudible. But on this soundless night, in this soundless place of muted terror, Norbu’s whispers carried on the cold air undiminished.
Norbu suddenly stopped whispering. His eyes flew open as he sensed… something.
“Sagar,” he said, turning urgently to his apprentice, “please make arrangements for a carava—”
Norbu flew violently backward as if dealt a devastating blow, though the monks could see nothing. The closely gathered monks caught him, easing him onto his back on the stone floor.
The old man twisted his body with unusual speed and agility, positioning himself on his hands and knees. His shoulders were tense, rigid. His head was bent low, his face concealed by shadow.
A scream shattered the monastic silence; an unholy, unnatural cry arose from within the beloved teacher, deep and guttural and furious, sounding much like a grunt of mindless animal passion.
The monks scurried away from Norbu like cockroaches from torchlight.
This was Norbu no longer.
The old man lifted his head, torchlight dancing across his pained and twisted face. He was red with strain from the neck up, veins bulging, eyes clenched and teeth gritting, lips pulled back in a foul grimace.
“Teacher!” Sagar cried, hurrying to his master’s side. Another monk shot forward, as close as he dared, and restrained the young apprentice.
“I enter here in this place! So begins the treachery! Let men and women fall by my teeth! Let children cry tears of blood and spit mouthfuls of viscera!” The voice came from Norbu’s throat, but did not belong to him. It was the voice of ten hardened warriors, speaking at once, through throats full of sharp pebbles.
The monks gasped.
Sagar broke free and stepped forward, collecting an armful of bound skins, and approached the entity. “What is your name?” Sagar commanded shakily.
An arrogant, blood-chilling laugh echoed off of stone.
“My name is Fuck Time!” Again, an arrogant cackle.
It took the men a moment to recognize the language. One by one, it dawned on them – the devil had spoken the long-dead Sanskrit, a tongue that now existed only in prayer.
Sagar began to chant. The others quickly joined in, and the temple was immediately filled with rich sound.
The entity let out a long, menacing groan—this time seemingly with pain.
“Give me your true name!” Sagar demanded as the others continued their deep chorus.
The entity struggled to pronounce a series of nonsensical syllables. Norbu’s face contorted awkwardly as the entity slowly moved his lips.
“Where do you come from?”
A monk sat with his back to the opening in the wall. Suddenly, his arm twisted unnaturally behind him, pointing in the direction of the moon like a gnarled tree branch. The others could hear his shoulder snap as it was violently wrenched from the socket. The monk screamed in pain.
“I come from…all!” This word was triumphant. “Inside and out! Wax like the tide!…Feast!” Even through obvious pain, the voice dripped with deadly passion.
Blood appeared on Norbu’s lips and trickled onto the stones.
“Why have you come, devil?”
“To eat and fuck like dogs!” A cry of pain, and Norbu vomited blood onto the floor, a seemingly endless torrent of glistening red-black—a sea of blood by moonlight.
Sagar motioned to the men to cease chanting.
The prayer had been a cage that held a wild beast. Now, as the prayer ceased, the cage opened. Norbu reeled backward onto his knees, arching his back and throwing his head skyward, his chest jutting forward. His ribs cracked forcefully with a sound like twigs underfoot; the sound leapt onto stone and assaulted the terrified men. Impossibly, his chest became larger, increasing to the front and sides. The men saw Norbu’s chest rise and fall in time with his quickening breath, which now came in rapid heaves; eyes clenched and mouth agape, he grunted spasmodically; out came a loud, pulsating, desperate sound like a dying wolf gasping for breath—or a demon coming forth in flesh.
Dozens of sandals slapped stone in a hectic race through distant corridors. An unearthly howl followed them through the dark corridors—a cry full of terrible desire.