There was a demon holding up traffic. It had the guise of a female, with black as night skin. Its sinewy body stood ten feet tall, all its fat seemingly collected in two massive, protruding breasts unaffected by the wind. Its arms were spread out wide. In one hand it held a dagger, in another a sickle covered in blood. The other two hands each held a severed head by the hair. Its head was small, mostly taken up by three eyes and a wide mouth with tongue stuck out.
Sandhmar channeled a glimmer toward the demon. It wasn’t real, just bamboo and paper.
The steadily lengthening line of cars waited patiently as the villagers carried the demon they’d made for the Ngrupuk parade down the road. The demon was large. Twelve men, slowly shuffling down the road, where needed to carry it. After some three-hundred yards they turned a corner. Traffic started up again, and Sandhmar put his car into gear.
He glanced into the side street as he drove by and saw two more demons in the distance. One small green dragon and a car-sized orange boar with four tusks almost as big as its legs. Both were also only bamboo and paper, villager-made Ogoh-Ogoh. Not real. But then, it was still early in the day.
Sandhmar drove on to Ubud. He was stopped two more times by a demon-instigated traffic jam on the way. Around 4 pm he parked his car, closed his eyes, and scanned the town for the presence of Keepers. He was alone, the others had not yet arrived.
He exited the car and went for a walk around the town. His usual circle; he started off down Jalan Monkey Forest, turned into Raya Ubud, and finished his tour of the busiest part of town with a stroll down Hanoman. The streets felt like every other year he came here. Buildings changed, shops came and went, but the serene atmosphere of Ubud was draped over the town same as ever, like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.
He saw three girls decked out in exercise gear and with yoga mats slung over their shoulders chatting animatedly as they crossed the street. They weren’t paying attention and their fragile state of zen slipped away from them when a car, honking loudly, nearly ran them over. Though the memories of his many journeys to Ubud had jumbled together, and he could not recall how many times before he’d walked theses streets, he did remember fondly his first few visits, when there were no such things as cars.
There was a wonderful vibe in the air. The Balinese people prepared for the night’s parade and Nyepi, the first day of their new year. All the locals were dressed in their finest, hovering excitedly around the Ogoh-Ogoh they’d poured so much time, energy, and creativity into making. Tourist moved between the locals, snapping pictures of this, for them, unique event.
The demon exorcising tradition on New Year’s Eve of the Balinese calendar. It intrigued Sandhmar, how this spell of collective consciousness had come to be. The islanders had no inkling of what the true meaning of this day was, yet over time they had begun making Ogoh-Ogoh, and attached ceremony to the Resolution.
Sandhmar finished his walk. He scanned the town for the arrival of other Keepers again. He was still alone, which was unusual, but not yet a cause for concern. He walked into the nearest restaurant. After a lengthy perusal of the menu he decided on a Bento box and a large dose of Oolong tea.
He wasted away a few hours at the restaurant, waiting for the others to arrive. He sipped his Oolong as the light of the sky. He sipped more tea as the sun disappeared from view on this side of the Earth. He was completely done with sipping tea as the sky turned dark and the long-traveled twinkling light of stars appeared.
No one around him noticed that on Nyepi the blackening of the sky after sunset took much longer than on any other day of the year. An effect of the Parallels aligning, which Sandhmar sensed would be happening soon.
He scanned Ubud and the surrounding area once again for the presence of other Keepers. His body relaxed when he registered their approach, releasing the tension he hadn’t noticed he was holding. Sandhmar waited for the others to converge on his location.
One by one, they entered the restaurant. All three had a solemn look on their face, and none spoke as they seated themselves at the table. Sandhmar ordered more Oolong tea and three extra glasses. He did not refill his own. The group of four remained under cover of quiet until the new arrivals had taken several meditative sips from their steaming tea.
Sandhmar broke the silence by acknowledging the men one by one. “Jarro. Hayden. Kinto.”
Each man nodded in return.
Sandhmar observed the three stony faces around him. He could see the cracks beneath the surface of their calm exterior. They were far from the most experienced Keepers, for Hayden this was only his second Resolution.
“The four of us will be enough for tonight. We have held fast every year for too many years to count, sometimes even with only three Keepers, and we will hold fast this year.”
The three men did not look convinced.
There was no time left to boost their morale. Sandhmar felt the Parallels align. For an instant the world around him appeared to fold and tip over. Reality balanced on a precipice, about to tip over into the chasm beyond oblivion. It lasted for a single moment. Reality snapped back into its natural order. The Parallels had aligned, and worlds that should never be connected were accessible through a path that should never have been.
The demons wasted no time, immediately Sandhmar sensed three energy shapes bolt across the sky and land on the streets of Ubud, taking control of unsuspecting human hosts.
More would be coming. Many more.
“Go! Go! Go!” Sandhmar shouted, “Spread out and stop them. Now!”
The four men jumped up and dashed out of the restaurant, ignoring the waitress’ cries that they had to pay. No time. Five more energies streaked into the sky above Ubud, drawn through the Parallels by the living beings on the streets of the town.
Sandhmar ran down Jalan Hanoman until he reached the crowd surrounding the demon exorcising ceremony. The sidewalks were packed with people observing the Balinese dancers performing the ceremonial dance. Ogoh-Ogoh moved around menacingly in the background, carried proudly by their makers. Bald, pudgy manlike beings the size of a small woman, to a dragon with a twenty-meter-long tail; beasts with monkey-like features, bird anatomy, or resembling a creature never seen by any man; green skin, blue heads, orange appendages; the villagers had built Ogoh-Ogoh in all colors, shapes, and sizes.
Sandhmar however, was looking for real demons. He spotted across the street. They had invaded a thirty-something American couple, two-thousand-dollar cameras dangling from their necks, and stood among the crowd of excited spectators, observing the crowd instead of the parade – observing with predatory menace.
A crowd that didn’t notice two of its members were no longer human.
Sandhmar connected his mind to the nearest two Ogoh-Ogoh and Anchored them. He channeled a Purge at the demons invading the American couple. The demons struggled to keep their hold on the hosts, but it grew tenuous. The moment Sandhmar sensed the different beings separating he Whipped each of the two demons to an Anchor inside the Ogoh-Ogoh. The inanimate material would keep them contained long enough.
The American couple stumbled as they regained their bodies, and senses. They would not remember anything, except a strange, short sensation of lost time.
Two more demons landed inside hosts further down the street, and he still had to locate the third demon from the first landing. Sandhmar pushed through the crowd, Anchoring several Ogoh-Ogoh as he went. It took him several minutes to break through the closely packed spectators. When he reached an emptier stretch of street the demons had escaped his sight. His eye-sight that is, he could still sense them.
Sandhmar started the hunt.
He moved back and forth through the town. Weaving through the crowds on the town’s busy main streets, prowling the side streets, occasionally entering a garden to catch a demon who preferred hiding to running. The demon from the first landing eluded him for a long time. He finally purged it from its host in a rice field on the outskirts of town. The howl it released as it was whipped all across town to the Ogoh-Ogoh waiting to imprison it on Hanoman was heard by no human ear.
And on the chase went. Sandhmar had never seen so many demons cross the Parallels. He sensed the other keepers moving and channeling as hurriedly as him, and hoped that the four of them would be enough.
The night grew short. The crowds thinned and dispersed as the festivities came to an end. Still demons streaked across the sky looking for a host.
The people of Ubud went to their beds. Only the occasional stragglers – mostly tourists – remained on the streets.
Sandhmar stayed on the hunt, he still sensed the presence of uncaught demons.
The town had gone to sleep, every street had succumbed to the darkness of night. The only light that remained came from the moon, bouncing softly off the walls and roofs, and the statues of Ganesh decorating almost every home of these deeply religious people. And still Sandhmar hunted. The sky was clear of new arrivals, but there were still demons on the ground, hidden in their hosts.
By the time the brightening sky announced the arrival of the sun Sandhmar was awash with fatigue. His whole body ached. His mind had become dulled, he struggled to form a coherent thought. But the demons had been contained, all he sensed were anchored and imprisoned in Ogoh-Ogoh. His sense of the other Keepers started to fade, they were leaving town.
Sandhmar returned to his car and started the drive south toward Kuta. Ten miles out of Ubud he allowed himself a moment’s rest. He parked the car and leaned against a tree. Exhaustion drew him to the ground with a force stronger than gravity. He toppled over, asleep before he hit the grass.
He awoke to the sounds of nature. Nothing else would be heard on this day. Nyepi day, the Day of Silence. No crowds out on the streets that might draw a demon’s attention. The alignment of the Parallels had passed, but it would still take most of the day for the pathway to close. The Day of Silence was a useful tradition that kept the people safe. No demon had escaped to wreak havoc on the island, or other parts of Earth. The demons anchored during the night would perish when the Balinese finished their exorcising ceremony by putting the Ogoh-Ogoh to the flames.
They had made it through another Resolution. Sandhmar sat against the tree, lost in his own contemplation, wondering if he had the strength to return for Nyepi next year.
My own story of Ubud
Ubud is a lovely, picturesque town nestled among the rice fields on Bali. It is a popular destination for tourists and yogis. I’ve been there several times and once I happened to be there during Balinese New Year. It is quite the event. The Ogoh-Ogoh that the townspeople have made for the New Year’s Eve festivities look amazing. You can feel the excitement in the air, it’s a special day for the locals. In the evening the streets are packed with people watching the parade and dancing.
On Nyepi day the island really shuts down, much to the frustration of the unwitting tourist. No one is (allowed) out on the street, everything is closed, no flights, and less electricity. It is a day of contemplation, but there is also another reason for shutting down the island; when the demons come they will think Bali is uninhabited and pass it by.
Nothing wrong with a day of contemplation, but if like me you forget to stock up on food, that day can feel very, very long.