The Ultimate Truth


by Dolores Esteban



Mahesh took the sheet of paper that Professor Sharma had given to them and unwillingly worked through the text. It was another apocalyptic text and it was a religious one also. Mahesh was fed up with apocalyptic texts, particularly with religious ones. His parents were atheists and he was raised an atheist also. He didn’t care about religious texts at all.

Professor Sharma had made it his goal to clear up confusion and inform his students about the true nature of apocalyptic prophecies. They had already read seven or eight ancient texts from various cultural backgrounds. The texts had all sounded more or less the same. The new text meanwhile sounded familiar to Mahesh. He gave an annoyed sigh and then started to highlight the passages that deemed him important.

Professor Sharma’s intentions were understandable. From a rational point of view, Mahesh acknowledged his teacher’s ambitions. Because of this and since he liked the man, who was good-natured and not without humor, albeit a little scatterbrained sometimes, Mahesh forced himself to focus and concentrate on the text that sounded totally irrational and fantastic. It was mindless drivel to him.

There was a reason for Professor Sharma’s efforts. Apocalyptic views had sprung up in the past two years. There was a vivid discussion all around the globe. Self-appointed prophets had stepped forward and had announced their visions to everyone who would listen and also to those who were unwilling to listen to them. There was no escape. The prophecies and revelations could be found everywhere: in the newspapers, on TV, and on the internet.

Many people were confused and many were worried. The end of the world was supposed to come on the day of Winter Solstice, approximately four weeks from now. It all had started when the public at large had learned from the ancient Indian calendar that announced the end of a cycle. A time period was supposed to end on the day of Winter Solstice and, although scientists said that this day marked the end of a cycle as well as the beginning of another one, more and more people started to panic.

The self-appointed prophets declared that there wouldn’t be a new beginning. On the day of Winter Solstice, the world would ultimately and forever be wiped out. Many esoterics shared this view, although some said that there could well be a new beginning. Those with an open mind and even more those with enlightened souls could well enter a new sphere. There was some dissent on the issue, however. Some thought the new sphere would be an astral one, whereas others insisted on some cosmic shift. Mankind could be transferred to some other planet in the universe, either with the help of some cosmic energy that no one was able to specify and no one knew where it was supposed to come from, or – perhaps more likely – with the help of aliens who were ready to act on day X and were already watching the planet. A few insisted a holy being or a god would descend from the heavens and gather a selected group of chosen ones, the number varied, and take them to a heavenly kingdom or spiritual realm.

That was why Professor Sharma had made it his goal to clear up confusion and inform his students about the true nature of apocalyptic prophecies. In his honest opinion, there was no need to worry. Apocalyptic prophecies were a part of human culture. They had sprung up regularly throughout history and within every culture of the world. There were even psychological explanations for it. They had talked about it in class and they had read various apocalyptic texts from various cultures, some texts ancient, some not so old, and yet all sounding alike. Their central statements, at least, did not differ a lot.

Mahesh summarized the text he was currently reading. It was from a religious volume and it was titled The Book of Revelation. Mahesh had never read any texts from the religious volume. He had not even been mildly interested in the book. He worked on the text, feeling totally unbiased. He had no scruples to cancel all the passages that he thought were zealotic crap. He had finally finished his summarization of the text. He wrote the sentences carefully down in his textbook and then reread the summarized text.


Something like a great burning mountain was thrown into the sea. A great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch, and it fell on one third of the rivers, and on the springs of the waters. Many people died from the waters, because they were made bitter. There followed thunders, sounds, lightnings, and an earthquake. A great hail followed. One third of the earth was burnt up, and one third of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. One third of the sun was struck, and one third of the moon, and one third of the stars; so that one third of them would be darkened, and the day wouldn't shine for one third of it, and the night in the same way. The sun and the air were darkened. Smoke went up out of the abyss. There was fire, smoke, and sulfur. By these three plagues were one third of mankind killed. The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became as blood. The stars of the sky fell to the earth. The sky was removed. Every mountain and island were moved out of their places. A tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified. They hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.

There was war in the sky. They made war on the dragon. The great dragon was thrown down. There was something like a sea of glass mixed with fire. People were scorched with great heat.

There were lightnings, sounds, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men on the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty. Great hailstones came down out of the sky on people. The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. The great city, was thrown down, and will be found no more at all.

I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and the sea is no more. I saw the holy city coming down out of heaven from God.


Mahesh looked at the two final sentences, shook his head, and then canceled them. He straightened, feeling satisfied as had finally finished his homework. He was about to close his textbook, but then hesitated and reread the text again. Something was nagging on his mind and he felt a weak, yet odd sensation crawling up his spine. Mahesh quickly closed the textbook, pushed it into his backpack, and then grabbed his phone and headed out of the house.

***

He met Jay in a park and enthusiastically embraced his friend. He had not seen him for two days and he had totally missed him.

They sat down on a bench. Mahesh told Jay of the text he had read and summarized.

“Holy crap,” Mahesh said with a laugh.

Jay didn’t join his laughter. He looked aside instead. Mahesh stopped short and looked at his friend.

“Hey,” he said softly, reaching out his hand and placing it on Jay’s arm. “We have been talking about it. You can’t really believe in this crap.”

Jay shook his head slowly, yet did not respond.

“What is it?” Mahesh asked reluctantly.

Jay looked at him. “My mother believes in it firmly. She prays for salvation every day. It’s getting on my nerves. But what if it’s true? What if the end of the world is to come about soon?”

Mahesh gazed at Jay in disbelief. When had Jay changed his point of view? Only three days ago they had made fun of the false prophets and their weird prophecies.

“It won’t happen,” Mahesh said firmly. “The end of the world won’t come about. You should attend Professor Sharma’s classes. His explanations really help to see things clearly.”

They exchanged a look. Mahesh was feeling uncomfortable. He shifted his position. Jay sat motionless for a while, and then he shrugged.

“It’s just my mother. She’s driving us crazy,” he replied. “My father started spending the evenings away from home. He stays in the club house until late in the evening, just to escape her ramblings and complaints. My brother moved in with a friend yesterday. He just packed a bag and left the house.”

“Shit,” Mahesh said, not knowing what else to say. He stroked Jay’s arm softly. “You could move in with us,” he suggested. “We have a guest room. I don’t think my parents would object to the idea.”

Jay shook his head. “No, Mahesh,” he said in a low voice. “I must not go also. At least one of us must stay with her.”

Mahesh nodded. He moved closer to Jay and placed his arm around his shoulders. Jay leaned in to him.

***

Professor Sharma’s class started at nine o’clock the following day. The students had already assembled when the teacher entered the class. He greeted his students and smiled at them warmly. He placed a bunch of papers on his desk, sat down in a chair, and then looked at his students.

“You were supposed to do some homework. Have you all read the text?” he asked.

His students nodded and opened their textbooks. Professor Sharma looked at them kindly.

“What have you found out?” he asked.

Sheela, the typical nerd and usually the teacher’s pet, straightened in her chair and adjusted her glasses.

“It’s a religious text and the majority of passages are hard to understand, at least if you have no idea of the cultural background and the core statements of the belief. I read additional articles on the internet in order to get a better understanding of the belief. However, I must say, the text remains mysterious in major parts. Like the other texts, this text also describes the end of the world. Salvation is promised to those who repent their sins, which seems to me the only clear reference to other texts of this religious group,” she said in a clear and self-assured voice.

She looked at Professor Sharma, waiting for his appraisal of her performance which she had no doubt had been excellent. Professor Sharma gave her a small smile, yet did not respond. He looked from one student to the other. Sheela gazed at her teacher in complete bewilderment, and then slumped down in her chair.

Mahesh glanced at her, yet then turned his eyes to his notes. He reread the sentences he had written down in his textbook. He did not find any mysterious passages. Had he missed the core statements of the text?

“Yes, Arjun?” Professor Sharma asked.

Mahesh glanced up. Arjun, an overweight and usually reserved student, had raised his hand and looked at the teacher insecurely. He cleared his throat when Professor Sharma addressed him.

“May I go to the bathroom, Professor Sharma?” he asked in a low, barely audible voice.

Mahesh glanced at the boy. Several students rolled their eyes. Sheela let out an annoyed grunt.

“Of course, Arjun,” Professor Sharma said kindly, knowing the boy’s quirk of fleeing every situation that he felt he was not able to deal with.

Arjun trudged out of the room. Sheela turned around and looked at his desk. She gave another annoyed grunt.

“Empty sheets of papers. He has not read the text,” she said, turning back to Professor Sharma and adjusting her glasses.

Professor Sharma smiled mildly. Mahesh rolled his eyes inwardly. When did Sheela finally grasp that Arjun did not cope well with mental pressure? Arjun tried to get over his disorder, but sometimes it simply did not work out.

Another student had meanwhile read his notes to the class. Mahesh had not listened. He had been absorbed in his thoughts.

“Right,” Professor Sharma said. “So what kind of catastrophe does the text announce, in a nutshell, Rahul, please?” he asked.

“A comet’s impact,” Rahul replied.

“What do you others think?” Professor Sharma asked, looking from one to the other.

The others nodded. Sheela adjusted her glasses and focused hard on the text. Mahesh glanced at her. Had she really missed the core statements of the text? He shook his head slightly.

“Mahesh,” Professor Sharma said.

Mahesh startled and looked up. He gazed at his teacher. Sheela coughed.

“What?” Mahesh asked, feeling slightly bewildered.

“You have not yet said anything. I suspect, however, that you have listened to our conversation. Would you like to add something? Have you found anything else in the text?” Professor Sharma asked kindly.

Mahesh gazed at the teacher, then lowered his eyes and stared at his notes.

“Um, well,” he started.

He raised his eyes and looked at Professor Sharma. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sheela crossing her arms in front of her chest and giving him a challenging look.

“Yes?” Professor Sharma asked patiently.

“Something was nagging on my mind, but I was not able to grasp it. However, it has occurred to me now. It’s very odd, Professor Sharma. The previous texts that we read were written in future tense, which deemed me proper as they announced some event in the future. This text, however, is written in past tense, yet states it is a prophecy, announcing future events,” Mahesh said, and then fell silent.

The other students gazed at him. Some of them nodded, some turned back to the text and reread it. Sheela was flabbergasted. She sat with her mouth agape. Then her cheeks turned red and she shifted excitedly in her chair.

“Um,” she started, raising her hand.

Professor Sharma made a gesture with his hand to stop her from talking. Sheela shifted impatiently in her chair. Professor Sharma invited Mahesh to continue.

“Could it be?” Mahesh pondered. “Could it be that the text describes a true event in the past?”

“As a warning to future generations perhaps,” Sheela blurted out. “When could this have happened, Professor Sharma?” she asked. “Is there any evidence of a comet hitting the planet and destroying cities and nations and killing the majority of mankind at some date in the past?” she asked anxiously with an excited sparkle in her eyes. Sheela leaned forward curiously. “I have never heard of any evidence. This would mean we must rewrite history,” she mouthed in awe.

Professor Sharma’s eyes rested on her for a moment. He gave a nod that was barely visible. The other students gazed at Sheela until her words had sunken in. Mahesh sensed a cold shiver running down his spine. He had a feeling of certainty that he was not able to shrug off or ignore. He had no doubt that he had just heard a secret and hidden truth.

“It could have been a local disaster, not necessarily a global catastrophe,” Professor Sharma said calmly. “A nation was destroyed. The survivors, shocked and shaken to the core, thought of some heavenly judgment. They preserved the story and passed it on from generation to generation. As a warning to future generations perhaps, like you said, Sheela.”

Mahesh looked at Professor Sharma, knowing that his words were not true. Their teacher just sought to calm the other students. He just sought to not disturb those who were not yet able to grasp the shocking truth.

The other students nodded. They had bought Professor Sharma’s words. And then the bell rang, and they all jumped from their seats.

“Just a moment,” Professor Sharma said. “I want you to read the newspapers, watch TV, or search on the internet, for the latest prophecies regarding the end of the world. Find out if the announcements have changed in the past couple of weeks and, if so, try to find a plausible explanation.”

The students nodded, and then hurried out of the classroom. Only Sheela and Mahesh remained in the room. Sheela sat upright. Her eyes sparkled. Mahesh straightened and looked between Sheela and his teacher. Professor Sharma looked between the two of them.

“It seems that you two are not afraid of the truth. Do you really think you could cope with it?” he asked calmly.

“Certainly,” Sheela answered promptly. “I would give my life for it.”

“No empty promises, Sheela,” Professor Sharma said.

Sheela smiled a small smile. She looked warmly at her teacher. Mahesh looked at Sheela with surprise. For the first time the pert girl seemed to be genuinely interested in someone else’s thoughts and considerations.

“There was a global catastrophe, wasn’t it?” Mahesh asked. “A global catastrophe in the past. The text refers to it.”

“But when did it happen?” Sheela asked. “I have never heard of any global disaster that mankind witnessed in the past. Shouldn’t there be evidence. I mean this text was written some 2,000 years ago. Shouldn’t there be evidence of a global disaster that happened only 2,000 years ago?”

Professor Sharma looked between them. “The text was written some 2,000 years ago. But the comet hit the planet ages before this text was written,” he said.

Sheela leaned forward. “When?” she asked anxiously. “Some 10,000 years ago? The most ancient buildings that we have found are dated back 10,000 years.”

“Even if it happened 10,000 years ago, there should be evidence of the disaster,” Mahesh said. “Geological evidence, for instance. I have never heard of this,” he said thoughtfully.

Professor Sharma looked between them. “There is in fact evidence of a global disaster. The scientists have evidence that a comet hit the planet in the past when mankind was still young,” he said. “The world was thinly populated back then.”

“At the time of early man?” Mahesh asked in bewilderment.

Sheela opened her lips slightly and gazed at the teacher.

“At the time of early man,” Professor Sharma confirmed.

“I can’t imagine that the story of the impact was passed on for ages,” Sheela said slowly.

“It was,” Professor Sharma simply said.

“But this would mean that the story was passed on for…” Sheela stopped short. Her eyes widened as she thought the impossible.

Professor Sharma nodded and smiled faintly. “The story was passed on for 120,000 years,” he said almost solemnly.

Sheela leaned back against the rear of her chair and gazed at her teacher. She was totally speechless.

“And that’s not all,” Mahesh said. He looked between Sheela and Professor Sharma. “It happened at the time of early man. The world was thinly populated after the impact. It was densely populated before the impact. Am I right?” he asked in a pressed voice.

“Yes,” Professor Sharma said calmly. “The world was densely populated. The world looked much like our world looks today. I would say that the civilization was even more advanced than ours is today. This past world, however, was destroyed. Only few people survived the impact.”

“The world started anew,” Sheela said in stifled voice. “The end of the world was likewise the beginning of a new one.”

“Another cycle started,” Mahesh said.

“Oh. Goodness,” Sheela mouthed.

There was silence for a while.

“How did you learn of it?” Mahesh asked finally, looking at his teacher.

“There is evidence,” Professor Sharma said, looking calmly between them. “You just have to gather the facts and you have to look at them with an open mind. The knowledge of that fatal day has never been entirely forgotten. The knowledge was passed on. Whoever has eyes ought to see. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

“Oh. Goodness,” Sheela mouthed. “I want to learn more of it.”

“I can tell you more if you like,” Professor Sharma said kindly. “However, I don’t have time now. I need to attend a relative’s birthday this afternoon. I must leave town in short. We can talk again next week after class if you two can spare some time,” he suggested.

Sheela and Mahesh agreed, and then left the classroom. Sheela mumbled something about doing some research, and then she hurried down the corridor. Mahesh looked after her. The girl had apparently found a mission in life. Mahesh went home. He stopped short at the sight of Jay sitting on the stairs in front of the house.


***

Jay was all in a fluster and he had a desperate look in his eyes.

“Hell broke loose,” he blurted out when Mahesh approached him.

“What happened?” Mahesh asked with concern, sitting down on the stairs next to him.

Jay looked at him and made a helpless gesture with his hand.

“My mother joined a weird sect. She tried to persuade my father and me to join the sect also. My father freaked totally out. They quarreled all night and they started quarreling again after a brief rest in the morning. My father stormed out of the house and my mother wept and then started praying. I tried to talk with her, but she totally ignored me. I could not stand it any longer. I also left the house,” he said.

“What kind of sect?” Mahesh asked, feeling worried.

Jay shrugged and made another helpless gesture with his hand.

“I can’t say exactly. It sounds all weird. They offer salvation. They claim to know a safe place where their followers can hide on the day of the devastation. My mother wants us to travel there. She claims that this is the only way to outlive the end of the world,” he said.

“Nonsense,” Mahesh said harshly. Then he reached out his hand and placed it on Jay’s arm. “If a comet hits the planet, then there will be no way to outlive the disaster,” he said in a serious voice.

“A comet?” Jay asked in bewilderment. “Why a comet? Is it true? Did they spot some asteroid or comet that will hit the planet on the day of Winter Solstice?” He looked shocked and his shoulders slumped. “I have not yet heard of it,” he said under his breath.

Mahesh shook his head. “No, no, Jay. No comet was announced. I was just assuming that only a comet’s impact could bring about a global catastrophe. I can’t imagine anything else bringing about the end of the world.” He bit his lip. He had confused Jay. “Sorry,” he said softly.

Jay gave him an odd look, and then he shrugged. “I think Professor Sharma’s classes are somewhat disturbing. I’m glad I did not join them,” he said.

“Professor Sharma tries to clear things up,” Mahesh said meekly.

He fell silent and looked into the distance. A group of children were running down the street. He watched them until they had turned around a corner. Mahesh turned his head back to Jay.

“It’s my honest opinion that nothing will happen on the day of Winter Solstice. Those false prophets should all be arrested and locked away,” he said.

Jay didn’t reply. He stared into nowhere.

“Where is this safe place supposed to be located?” Mahesh asked finally.

“On the west coast. A place somewhere deep in the mountains. A cave or whatever. I don’t know exactly. At least this was what I understood. My mother could not really explain it to us. She’s totally obsessed with her prayers,” he said.

“I can’t imagine there’s a cave big enough for thousands of people,” Mahesh said drily.

“Stop being cynical,” Jay said harshly. “Only the chosen ones will be led there.”

“I see,” Mahesh said shortly. “What is their exact number?”

“I really don’t know,” Jay said angrily.

He rose to his feet. Mahesh jumped up as well.

“Stop, Jay,” he said. “I was an idiot. We must help your mother to get away from the influence of that sect.”

Jay looked at Mahesh. “That’s exactly what I’m trying. I want her to stop whining and see things clearly. However, this is not easy. She’s totally obsessed with it,” he said.

Mahesh was thinking. “I could talk to my mother,” he suggested finally. “They’re friends. My mother does not believe in this crap. Perhaps she finds a way to get through to your mother.”

“Would you do this?” Jay asked with new hope. “I can’t imagine it works out, but we should try before it’s too late. Before she packs a bag and goes west with the sect, which I can imagine she does when my father continues scolding her.”

Mahesh nodded. “I’ll talk to her as soon as she comes home after work,” he promised.

Jay gave a brief nod. “Thanks,” he said. “I must go now. I must return home.”

Jay left and Mahesh looked after him. He wished that the day that followed Winter Solstice had already come and things had gone back to normal. Mahesh entered the house and went to his room. He sat down on the bed and thought of Jay and his crazy mother. Professor Sharma’s revelations suddenly deemed him very unimportant.

***

Four days passed by. Mahesh had not seen Jay. They had only spoken on the phone to each other. Jay sounded totally distressed and he could not spare time to meet up with Mahesh. Jay’s family problems were getting worse. His father had beaten his mother. The incident had finally made Jay’s mother give in to her friend. Mahesh’s mother had phoned Jay’s mother several times and she had also tried to speak to the woman in person, but Jay’s mother had always ended the call or smashed the door shut. However, after her husband had slapped her face, she called Mahesh’s mother, and the two women met in Mahesh’s house early in the morning.

The two women spent hours in the kitchen, and then Mahesh’s mother announced to her husband and her son that she and Jay’s mother would leave for the weekend. They would spend two days on the countryside. The two of them left right after the announcement. Mahesh’s mother drove the car.

Mahesh’s father was entirely confused. Nobody had informed him on anything. He pouted a bit, and then he decided to go fishing with a friend on the weekend. Mahesh had the house to his own. He was in a bad mood and he was feeling bored. He phoned Jay, but Jay could not spare time to see him. He worked on calming down his enraged father. His mother had called her husband only a couple of minutes ago.

Mahesh sat on his bed for a while, sullen and grumpy, until Sheela called him. The nerdy girl was totally excited. She told him that she had done thorough research and had compiled facts that definitely proved that an advanced civilization had settled on the planet ages ago. She invited Mahesh to come to her house and have a look at her research results. Mahesh rolled his eyes inwardly. She was such a smug. But he accepted her invitation as he did not know what else to do with the weekend and because she had in fact made him curious. He wanted to take a look at the articles that she had found on the internet. Mahesh grabbed his cell phone and his backpack and headed to Sheela’s house.

He startled at her sight. Her face was pale and she had rings under her eyes. Sheela looked as if she had not slept for days. She looked totally exhausted.

“I have not slept for four days,” she said proudly and was all smiles as she looked at him.

Mahesh nodded and gave her an odd look. Sheela ignored his look and asked him in. They walked down a corridor. Sheela told Mahesh that her parents had gone to visit a friend. Then she opened the door to her room and walked in. Mahesh followed her. He looked around in astonishment. The room was neat and orderly, totally unlike his own room. A desk stood by the window. Sheela walked towards it. She pointed at four thick folders.

“I have filed the articles properly. I have sorted them by subjects and topics. I think I have found enough evidence,” she said proudly and all smiles again.

Mahesh gazed at the folders, and then he turned his eyes at Sheela. “When did you do this?” he asked in bewilderment.

“Like I said,” Sheela said, straightening and crossing her arms in front of her chest, “I have not slept for four days. The thrill of excitement kept me awake. I seized the moment and worked day and night. I worked fast and efficiently, I must say.”

Mahesh studied her. He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Okay,” he said finally. “Where do we start?”

Sheela’s smile broadened and her eyes sparkled excitedly. “I suggest we work through the folders, starting with folder # 1,” she suggested. She hesitated, and then adjusted her glasses. “Would you like a drink perhaps?” she asked insecurely.

“This would be nice,” Mahesh replied.

Sheela smiled again, almost shyly. “I always forget about these things. The social things. I’m usually too absorbed in my studies,” she explained.

Mahesh returned a small smile. “It’s okay. A drink would be fine,” he said.

Sheela gave a nod and then hurried to the kitchen. She came back with several cans of Coke and also a chair that she had taken from the kitchen. She handed the cans to Mahesh and placed the chair in front of her desk. Then she invited Mahesh to sit down next to her. Sheela opened the first folder and pushed it closer to Mahesh.

“Folder # 1, Ancient Buildings,” she said. “There are ancient buildings scattered all over the planet. No one can really explain how they were built as it is widely assumed that the cultures lacked the knowledge to build them.”

“This is a contradiction in terms,” Mahesh said. “They apparently built the buildings, so they cannot have lacked the knowledge,”

Sheela gave him a nudge. Mahesh looked at her with surprise, but Sheela ignored his look.

“Come on,” she said. “You know what I mean. These buildings, pyramids, walls, towers, and so on, have all been examined and studied carefully. It cannot be explained how those primitive cultures were able to build them.”

Mahesh turned the pages and looked at the buildings and monuments. They looked truly impressive.

“I didn’t know that so many of them are scattered all over the globe,” he said slowly. He turned his eyes to Sheela. “But those monuments were built some 5,000 years. Some are even younger. Not one can be dated back 120,000 years.”

“Well, yes,” Sheela said. “But you must acknowledge the fact that apparently a few thousand years ago buildings were built that required advanced knowledge in architecture and engineering. It seems that this advanced knowledge sprang up out of a sudden. The cultures turned from rural cultures into advanced civilizations in a brief period of time. Very odd, I think.”

Mahesh nodded slowly. Sheela was certainly right, but he doubted that those early civilizations were in any way connected with an advanced civilization some 120,000 years ago.

Sheela interrupted his thoughts. “This takes me to Folder # 2,” she said. “Ancient Knowledge.”

She opened the folder and pushed it closer to Mahesh.

“There are ancient scripts, found all over the globe, that indicate that the early civilizations possessed advanced knowledge,” she explained. She turned a page and pointed at the article. “This ancient script was found some 100 years ago. The ancient language had already been deciphered. They translated the text and found it was a description of the solar system. The ancients had watched the universe – they all were skilled astronomers, but more to this later – and they discovered the planets of the solar system. They discovered all of them, Mahesh. We found those far away from the sun only in recent years, or should I say we rediscovered them?” Sheela said.

She looked at Mahesh. “Astronomical facts are mentioned in these ancient texts that we have found out about only recently. Facts about the solar system, planets, their moons, their orbits. The ancients were able to calculate with large numbers, very large numbers, Mahesh. Their mathematical knowledge was impressive. And these scripts are far older than the impressive monuments. This one was dated back 10,000 years,” Sheela said, pointing at the article. “It’s not esoteric humbug. It’s proven and acknowledged fact. Of course, our scientists prefer not to mention it. It would raise doubts, regarding official history, I mean.”

Mahesh looked at the image of an ancient text. “You sound like an esoteric fanatic,” he said.

“What?” Sheela asked. She adjusted her glasses and gave Mahesh an angry look. “I’m not a fanatic. I have compiled facts. And I’m not yet through with showing you what I have found. Most esoterics are fanatics, but I must admit that not all of them are. I have meanwhile changed my mind a bit.”

Mahesh shifted in his chair. He was feeling uncomfortable. He took the article out of the folder and read it himself. It had been published in an acknowledged science journal. No esoteric humbug, scientific fact. Mahesh put the article back in the folder and gazed at it. Sheela watched him quietly.

“What do you think?” she asked finally.

“Odd,” Mahesh admitted.

“I was thinking,” Sheela said. “The ancients studied these texts and were able to make use of the knowledge, impressive buildings being the results of their efforts. This, however, implies that these ancient texts originally were a mystery to them also.”

“You mean the texts were written by an older and more advanced civilization?” Mahesh continued her thoughts. “You said this script was dated back 10,000 years. Perhaps there was an advanced civilization back then.”

Sheela shook her head. “They have found nothing that indicates there was an ancient and advanced civilization anywhere on the globe 10,000 years ago. They should have found more than these scripts. But they have not. I think these scripts are copies of older scripts. I think the original texts were written earlier, ages ago. They have copied the texts again and again, and they have passed the scripts on, in secrecy,” Sheela said.

Mahesh looked at her. “You mean the texts were written some 120,000 years ago? Could the texts have been passed on for such a long period of time?” he asked doubtfully.

Sheela shrugged. “Why not?” she asked back. “There might have been thousands of texts in the beginning, scattered all over the planet, perhaps in an attempt to preserve the knowledge and pass it on. Many texts were lost, most likely. But some were found in these days. We are able to understand the texts due to the technological and astronomical knowledge that we have gained.”

“And there are more texts revealing modern knowledge?” Mahesh asked.

Sheela nodded and turned the pages. “Yes,” she said. “They have found long texts as well as fragments of texts all over the planet. Like I said, not many texts, but enough, so that they cannot be ignored. Although they prefer to ignore them or, at least, they prefer to not inform the public at large. I suspect they fear that people would panic.”

“Like they do now,” Mahesh said thoughtfully. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “After all, this is exactly what those esoterics say. They say that the truth is hidden from the public. Some say that there was an ancient civilization that was destroyed in a single day.”

Sheela shrugged and adjusted her glasses. “Those people are by no means weirdos, Mahesh. They have just done what I have done. They have compiled facts and drawn conclusions from them.”

Mahesh nodded slowly. “Nonetheless, they make people panic. Jay’s mother is entirely out of her head,” he said with a sideway glance at Sheela.

Sheela looked at him, her lips opened slightly. Her brain worked on Mahesh’s statement.

“You mean his mother believes in the ‘end of the world’ crap?” she asked. Her voice sounded brittle.

Mahesh nodded. “She thought of hiding in a cave in the mountains. Some weird sect claims to know a safe place where they can outlive the end of the world,” he said.

“Bullshit,” Sheela replied.

“How can you be so certain that the world will not be destroyed on the day of Winter Solstice?” Mahesh asked in a slightly indignant voice. “Aren’t you trying to find evidence that exactly this happened some 120,000 years ago: the end of the world and the end of any advanced civilization.”

“It’s not the same,” Sheela said weakly.

“Isn’t it?” Mahesh asked angrily. “What if the end of the world will come about in four weeks? What if our advanced civilization will be destroyed in one single day? What if there will be some lucky, or should I say unlucky, survivors, amongst them a few astronomers and engineers? Those skilled astronomers and engineers will most likely hide in safe places that they have started to build years ago. There they will sit and watch and gladly document the comet’s impact. It might take a while, but ultimately they will grasp the awful truth. They can’t leave their sheltered place anymore as the world is destroyed. Their own doom finally dawns on them. How long can they survive in a cave in the mountains? These intellectual weirdos then will do what they always do. They will document our advanced civilization’s knowledge for no other reason than documenting it. They think that a future civilization will find the documents and will make use of the knowledge,” Mahesh pontificated with a condescending look.

Sheela’s shoulders slumped and tears showed in her eyes. She swallowed and turned her head away. Mahesh gazed at her in bewilderment. And then his cheeks turned red.

“I’m sorry, Sheela,” he said meekly after a while, knowing he had deeply offended the girl who so much enjoyed intellectual research and conversations.

Sheela sat motionless and did not turn back to Mahesh. Her shoulders looked tensed. Mahesh shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He seized another folder and opened it.

“Artifacts,” he read the title that Sheela had written on the front page. Mahesh turned the page and gazed at the article, but he was not able to read one single word. Sheela sat like a statue. Mahesh felt overwhelmed with remorse.

“Sorry,” he said meekly. He hesitated, but then he turned his head to the girl. “What’s it about these artifacts?” he asked cautiously.

Sheela glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. She shifted a bit in her chair. She was still hurt, but her eagerness to discuss her findings finally won and she turned back to Mahesh. She gave him an indignant look, but then she leaned forward and looked at the article.

“Artifacts that look like modern equipment, for instance,” she said. Her voice was filled with excitement. She pointed at the image that the article contained. “This item was found in a geological layer that was dated back some 110,000 years, very close to our 120,000 years,” she explained with new enthusiasm. “Please turn the page. You see the item on the left side of the image. You see its modern equivalent on the right side. The item on the right is a modern car battery. The item on the left looks almost identical.”

Mahesh gazed at the image. The items in fact resembled each other. He leaned forward and had a closer look. Finally, he glanced at Sheela.

“And no doubt on this?” he asked skeptically.

Sheela shook her head. “No, this archeological finding is officially acknowledged. However, there are only photos of it. The item has not been examined thoroughly in five years due to the political situation in the country where the item was found. The country is said to be politically unstable. Some experts wanted to examine the item, however they were refused a visa due to the political situation,” she said with a meaningful look at Mahesh.

“What country?” Mahesh asked curiously. “Some eastern country?”

“Um, no,” Sheela said. “The World Championships in Athletics currently takes place there.”

Mahesh burst into laughter. “Politically unstable,” he said in a mocking voice. “They don’t want the item to be examined. And why so? Because it is a car battery. Goodness, Sheela, why are they so afraid of the truth?”

Sheela gave him a smile. Her anger had gone.

“Like you said, they probably fear that people would panic. And I think that indeed they would,” she said. The tone of her voice turned serious. “You see it on TV every day. Four weeks until Winter Solstice and the proclaimed end of the world. People are freaking out and it’s getting worse the closer the proclaimed day comes. Last night a group of people killed themselves in order to escape the awful death on Winter Solstice. I heard it on the news today. No sect. An extended family, grandparents, parents, children, aunts and uncles gathered in a house on the countryside. Two of the men shot the others and then they killed themselves. They left a suicide note. They feared the end of the world. So they brought it about themselves,” she said in a stern voice.

Silence fell. “Horrible,” Mahesh said finally.

“It’s entirely irrational. But that’s how people act,” Sheela said.

Mahesh nodded. “I still think that an ancient car battery is no reason for panic,” he said slowly. “Well, yes, they would have to rewrite history, but…” He fell silent.

“Well,” Sheela said, adjusting her glasses. “The car battery could have been left by aliens. Aliens, you know.” She gave Mahesh a meaningful look.

“Goodness, yes,” Mahesh uttered. “Now I understand. If aliens visited the planet 120,000 years ago, they could well visit it again, maybe tomorrow, or even tonight.” He paused. “Perhaps on the day of Winter Solstice? What do you think?” he asked curiously.

“Nonsense,” Sheela said in a firm voice. “Aliens who are capable of doing long-distance journeys through the universe would possess a knowledge that surpasses ours by light years, so to speak. Why should they want to get in touch with primitives? If they are only interested in natural resources, they would not visit our planet either. We have discovered a bunch of exoplanets only recently. We discover a new one every week or so. There are trillions of planets in the universe, most of them without any traces of life. Aliens would exploit those planets. Why should they steer to an inhabited planet and mingle with the primitives?”

Sheela leaned back in her chair. She took off her glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief. Mahesh watched her thoughtfully.

“Right,” he said. “Totally plausible. But the masses would not listen to your explanations.”

“That’s why they keep those artifacts secret,” Sheela said. “I can understand the practice to a certain degree.” She sighed, and then smiled. “However, it’s a pity also. It’s hard to find evidence for our theory.”

“You have compiled a lot,” Mahesh said, returning her smile. “What else have you found out?”

“A lot,” Sheela said, pointing at her folders. She looked at her watch. “My parents will be back in short, and then we go out and have dinner. How about you pick one of the folders and take it along? We could talk about it in a couple of days,” she suggested.

Mahesh looked at her with surprise. This was definitely a sign of trust that he had not imagined Sheela was capable of.

“I’d be glad to. Thank you,” he said with a smile.

Sheela smiled back. “This folder is the artifact folder. Then there’s one on religious texts like the one we read in class. I have also compiled esoteric statements and what is called secret lore. However, much of this is not so secret anymore. It’s in fact very popular in these days with the end of the world being near. I’m certain you have already heard most of it. The esoterics and prophets talk about it every day on TV,” she said.

“I’ll take along your artifact folder, if you don’t mind,” Mahesh said. He was curious to see more images showing ancient artifacts that looked like modern items.

“Certainly,” Sheela replied with another smile. She rose to her feet. “Um,” she said. “What you said earlier. I think you are right. I could well imagine that the astronomers and engineers would hide in a safe place and let us others go to ruin.” She paused. “This was perhaps how it happened 120,000 years ago. They left documents, but only few of the texts have come on to our days.”

Mahesh rose to his feet. “One would think there was more evidence. I mean, if there was an advanced global civilization in the past, wouldn’t we find more artifacts?”

Sheela shrugged. “I can only imagine the catastrophe was a total one. Not a stone was left standing, so to speak. The impact was disastrous. Change of the climate probably, radical change of the land masses. All not done in a day. The process lasted for many years, hundreds of years probably. Human life most likely started anew. Perhaps there were a few survivors, local groups scattered all over the planet.” Sheela paused. “Yes, I can totally imagine that nothing is left of that ancient civilization. Nothing but a few texts that were accidentally preserved in safe places. Some of them were found centuries later. The ancients must have deciphered some of the texts. The knowledge enabled them to build those impressive monuments and buildings. But only we who have gained the same advanced knowledge are able to fully understand the true meaning of the texts.”

“It still sounds very speculative to me,” Mahesh said. “But I think our speculations contain a grain of truth. It would be easier to believe it, if we had proof and evidence, some fact that cannot be ignored or explained away, some fact that everybody must acknowledge.”

“Certainly,” Sheela said with a smile. “It will be found some future day, who knows.”

They parted and Mahesh went home. He took his cell phone and tried to phone Jay. Jay answered the call and promised to come to Mahesh’s house later in the evening. Mahesh switched on the TV.

***

Mahesh switched through the channels and stopped at an interview. They were talking about the so-called ancient astronauts theory. A stout man, the most popular researcher in this field, was being interviewed.

The man claimed that ages ago extraterrestrials had visited the planet and had taught the early humans their knowledge. They showed the buildings and monuments that Mahesh had seen a short while ago in Sheela’s folder # 1. Like Sheela, the man claimed that the ancients would not have been able to erect the buildings without advanced architectural and engineering skills. He claimed that the aliens had taught the humans or had even erected the buildings themselves. When asked why and for what purpose, the man claimed that the places were ancient airports and runways. Mahesh looked at the pyramids. Some had been erected in a desert, some in the tropics. He found that the areas were by no means suitable places for airports and the buildings did not remind him of airport buildings at all.

They showed ancient images on stone walls and also ancient statues. A few images showed things that indeed looked like modern tanks and helicopters. A few sculptures, that were said to be birds, in fact looked more like modern aircrafts. Mahesh nodded thoughtfully. He was certain Sheela had printed out images of those findings also. The man claimed that the extraterrestrials had visited the planet repeatedly, each time visiting a different area and each time increasing man’s knowledge. Mahesh found his argumentation was crap. Why should these extraterrestrials undertake the effort and teach the primitive humans? Mahesh saw no reason for it.

The interview ended and Mahesh watched the news. It was getting worse. Not only the extended family had killed themselves the previous night in order to escape the end of the world. The members of an esoteric sect had also committed suicide at the bottom of an ancient pyramid. A church had been devastated. The intruders had acted like vandals. They had all been arrested. Their leader said that the church spoke false and that the false priests were not able to lead the people to salvation. Feeling disappointed, he and his followers had decided to wreak havoc and devastate the places of lie and deceit. The man was wearing a dirty gray shirt with the words ‘Doomsday is near’ on it. A few politicians commented on the situation. Most of them shrugged the incident off. Only one said in a serious voice that panic buying would start very soon. A commercial expert said that additional purchases would boost the global economy. And then they changed the topic and announced that some actress had married her manager. Mahesh looked at the screen in disbelief. He switched off the TV and brushed through Sheela’s folder.

Finally, the bell rang and Jay arrived. He looked better, less worried, and he greeted Mahesh cheerfully. Mahesh steered Jay into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and took two pizzas from the freezer compartment. He was hungry and Jay said he was also. Jay told Mahesh of his day while they were eating their meals.

“My father was totally enraged when he learned of my mother spending the weekend with your mother on the countryside. I phoned my brother. He came in and we luckily managed to calm down my father. My mother called again in the afternoon. She already sounded much better. She said that she and your mother had been going for a long walk. It was cold and light snow was falling. She said she had been somewhat surprised that winter had already come. She had not realized it as she had been totally distracted by her worries and prayers. I can only hope her changed state of mind will last and things won’t get worse again after she has returned home,” Jay said.

Mahesh nodded. “She should not reconnect with the members of that weird sect,” he replied.

“Yes, we will be working on it. We are already working on it. My brother suggested we change the house a bit. We drove to a store and bought wall paint. We were painting the walls until an hour ago. My father worked like a maniac. I guess he hopes the fresh color will ultimately change things for the better. He and my brother drove to a diner. My brother will stay with him for the weekend. I’ll go home also later,” Jay said. “Or early tomorrow morning,” he said with a smirk at Mahesh.

Mahesh smiled broadly. “I’m alone in the house. My father also left for the weekend in order to go fishing with a friend. I doubt they go fishing, however. I don’t think you can go fishing in winter. They probably spend their time in an inn.”

Jay gave a laugh. “This ‘end of the world’ crap plays havoc with us,” he said.

“Things are really getting worse,” Mahesh replied. He told Jay of what he had seen on TV.

Jay nodded. “I wished the day of Winter Solstice would finally come and pass. Then we can finally live on in peace.”

Mahesh gave a nod. He rose to his feet and got two cans of Coke. He spotted Sheela’s folder that he had placed on the kitchen counter. He pushed it aside and sat down at the table again. He refrained from telling Jay of Sheela’s findings. He did not even mention that he had gone to see the girl. He had no intention to spoil the evening.

Mahesh showed Jay the computer game that he had bought the previous week. They played for a while, and then they sat down on the couch in Mahesh’s room. It was quiet in the house and it was quiet outside. The atmosphere was totally peaceful. Mahesh placed his arm around Jay’s shoulders and Jay leaned in and closed his eyes. Mahesh turned his head and placed a kiss on Jay’s temple.

***

Mahesh’s father returned on Sunday morning, slightly exhausted from his tour on the weekend. Mahesh’s mother came back in the afternoon. She was tired but also in a good mood. She was confident that she had restored her friend’s peace. She said that Jay’s mother had been totally brainwashed and that, if they had not been friends for years, the woman would have never listened to her.

Jay’s mother called the following day. Her husband had suggested they left for an extended vacation. They wanted to leave in ten days and spend three weeks with Jay’s grandparents who lived in a rural area. Thus they would spend the day of Winter Solstice in the house where she had been raised and where she had always felt comfortable. She asked if Jay could move in with them for three weeks and Mahesh’s mother promptly accepted.

Mahesh was excited when he learned the news. He was focused on Jay for a couple of days and he totally forgot about Sheela’s folder. He felt guilty when he spotted it again. Mahesh phoned Sheela, but, to his very surprise, the girl did not pout at all. They agreed to meet in the school’s cafeteria the following morning, one hour before Professor Sharma’s class would start.

***

Sheela was already sitting at a table when Mahesh arrived. She was reading an article when Mahesh approached her. Sheela looked up in confusion and gazed at Mahesh.

“Hey, Sheela,” Mahesh greeted her.

“Sorry. Hello, Mahesh,” Sheela said. “I had been totally absorbed in this article.”

Her cheeks blushed a bit. Mahesh sat down with a smile. He placed the folder on the table.

“Any new findings?” he asked.

Sheela shook her head. “No, I was occupied otherwise. I had to write an essay for my literature class. I had totally forgotten about it, which is entirely untypical of me. But the research on the ancient civilization had really distracted and occupied me,” she said. She shifted in her chair. “What about you?” she asked

Mahesh summarized the events. Sheela nodded.

“It‘s probably a good idea that Jay’s parents will be going for a vacation. I watched TV. It’s getting worse,” she said.

They whiled away their time with small talk and did not pick up on their previous conversation until it was time to head for the classroom.

Sheela shrugged. “I can’t say why, but I didn’t feel like talking about our research. The excitement would just not come up,” she said with an apologetic look.

Mahesh waved his hand and pointed at his watch. They left the cafeteria and headed for the classroom. The other students had already assembled and were talking with each other excitedly.  Arjun, the overweight boy, was sitting in his chair. His shoulders were slumped and his face was as white as snow. He stood slowly and trudged towards the door. Mahesh stopped him.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Arjun said with a pleading look. “I really need to leave at once.”

“Sit down,” a girl called out harshly. “Else you will get yourself in troubles, Arjun.”

Arjun returned to his seat reluctantly. Sheela and Mahesh went to their seats also.

“Hell, what’s going on?” Mahesh asked again.

“Miss Pandey, the school secretary, was here a couple of minutes ago,” a girl explained. “She said Professor Sharma won’t come to class today. We must not leave the classroom until Mister Prasad, the principal himself, comes here in order to question us.”

“What?” Mahesh asked. “Question us? Why? And what do they want to know?”

“We’re having no idea,” the girl replied. “We don’t have a clue at all.”

Mahesh and Sheela exchanged a look. They pushed the two bags they had carried under the desks. The bags contained Sheela’s folders. The others resumed talking with each other. Some of the students wrote text messages to students in other classrooms. None of them, however, received a reasonable reply. Their vivid talk slowed down and finally they all fell silent and gazed absentmindedly into nowhere or at the walls of the room. They all winced when a chair was pushed back. They turned their heads. Arjun had risen to his feet.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” he said in a low voice. He looked as if he was close to faint.

“You must come back soon,” Sheela said.

Arjun nodded and trudged out of the room. The others looked after him, and then continued gazing at the walls. They all startled when the door opened and Arjun entered the classroom with widened eyes.

“Something’s going on,” he said in stifled voice. “I saw Mister Prasad, Harvey, and Mister Ghotam walking down the corridor. Each of them entered a classroom and picked a student. They led them to three empty classrooms at the end of the corridor. At least I think the rooms are empty. Interrogation rooms, I suppose. They inquired them for a couple of minutes, ten minutes or so, and then they led them back to their classrooms. I hid behind the door to the bathroom and looked out through a gap. I was just about to go back to the classroom when the door of a room opened and a boy came out, the boy Harvey had interrogated. The boy headed for the bathroom. I saw my chance and I stopped him and asked him what was going on,”Arjun said in an agitated voice and with a meaningful look.

Two or three seconds passed. “Goodness,” a girl blurted out. “Won’t you tell us what is going on, or what?”

Arjun swallowed. “Harvey asked him about Professor Sharma and about his lessons. He wanted to know what kind of texts they had read and if Professor Sharma had ever approached one of his students, invited them to his house and such,” he said.

“What?” the girl called out. “Hell, what’s going on? What has the man done?”

Sheela and Mahesh exchanged a look. Sheela looked surprised and a bit frightened. She pushed her bags more under her desk.

“Quiet!” another girl cried excitedly, holding up her cell phone. “I’m having news. Leela Bedi sent me an email. She’s at home, officially because of an illness. Truth is she has not slept much and is totally shocked. Asha Anand phoned her at night and told her that something terrible happened. Asha had been out. It was already after midnight when she returned home. Her parents were waiting for her. Her father freaked totally out. They pressed her and she finally confessed that she had spent the evening with Professor Sharma in his house.”

The girl looked from one to the other triumphantly. The others gazed at her in shock.

“And that’s not all,” the girl continued. “Asha confessed that she had already gone to his house several times. She said that usually two or three other girls had been present, but yesterday she had been his only guest. She said they had done extended homework.” The girl rolled her eyes. “That’s how you call it in these days. Extended homework. Goodness,” she said.

“I cannot believe it,” Sheela said. She tried to sound firm, but her voice was brittle.

The other girl waved her cell phone. “Asha’s parents complained to the police early in the morning. They accused Sharma of being a child molester. Asha denies it. She insists they had only read articles. Articles!” she carried on excitedly.

“She could well tell the truth,” Sheela said defiantly.

“She lies out of the shame,” the other girl said with a meaningful look. “After all, she’s a minor. She’s only fifteen.”

Silence fell. They cast each other awkward looks.

“I don’t think Professor Sharma is a child molester,” Sheela insisted.

Nobody replied. They all looked at the walls or at their desks.

“Her parents also called Mister Prasad, the principal. That’s why they are making such a fuss,” the girl said.

“They are going to question us,” Arjun said. He was still standing by the door, his shoulders slumped, his arms hanging down, and his eyes widened with fear.

“Sit down, Arjun,” one of the girls said.

Arjun walked obediently to his seat. He had just sat down when the door opened and Mister Prasad, Mister Ghotam and Harvey - nobody knew why he was called Harvey; his true name was Mister Khan – entered the room. They gave the students serious looks. The students just gazed back at them. The principal coughed and then told them that they were having a serious issue. Due to some complaint they were forced to inquire the students. He asked them to tell him about Professor Sharma and his lessons. The students gazed at him, none of them replied. Harvey stepped forward and spoke to them. He asked the questions that Arjun had already told them.

“Has Professor Sharma ever approached one of you? I mean did he ask one of you to meet up with him in private, in a coffee bar perhaps, a diner, or even at his house?” Harvey asked kindly.

Mahesh wondered if the teacher thought they were five-year-olds. He glanced at the others who were all gazing at Harvey. Some of them shook their heads. Sheela was shaking her head also. She looked at the desk as she did. Mister Prasad and the two teachers watched them all closely. Mahesh wished Sheela would finally stop shaking her head.

“What did you read in class?” Harvey asked. “What kind of material? Could anybody please hand me copies of the texts?”

A girl in the first row pushed a folder towards the teacher. Harvey took it and sat down behind the teacher’s desk. He turned the pages while the principal and Mister Ghotam watched him attentively. Harvey finally looked up and nodded seriously. He handed the folder to Mister Ghotam who headed out of the room and returned a couple of minutes later with copies in his hands. He handed the folder back to the girl. Mister Prasad coughed and turned to the class.

“Professor Sharma will not resume his classes. We will find substitutes quickly. However, we must work on the curricula. It seems that Professor Sharma read the same texts in every single of his classes, regardless the level, the subject, and the age of the students,” he said. He gave another cough, yet did not say anymore.

Harvey stepped in again. “In order to avoid any rumors spreading in school, we decided to inform Professor’s Sharma students on the issue. A father complained to the principal this morning that Professor Sharma approached his fifteen year old daughter. So far, we do not know if the accusation is true. However, since the man also complained to the police, we must take steps. We strongly ask you to report to Mister Prasad, the principal, or any of the teachers, if you find that Professor Sharma did not treat you correctly,” he said.

The three men left the room. The students gazed after them.

“I cannot believe it,” one of the girls said.

Another girl started to cry, apparently out of shock. The other girls hurried towards her. The boys gazed at each other and shook their heads.

“No way,” Arjun said in a determined voice. “No way. He's not a child molester. He was somewhat obsessed with his texts. I have never really understood what he was aiming at. And he read those texts in every single of his classes. He ignored the curricula. Wow, that was really courageous.” Arjun looked into the room, nodding his head admiringly.

The others just looked at him.

“I think we can leave the room now,” one of the boys said finally. He rose to his feet and walked out of the room. The other boys followed him. And then the girls left the room reluctantly also. Only Arjun, Sheela, and Mahesh were still sitting at their desks.

“I have never really understood what he was aiming at, but there is no way he’s a child molester,” Arjun said again.

“No,” Sheela said harshly. “Professor Sharma had made it his goal to clear up confusion and inform his students about the true nature of apocalyptic prophecies.”

“He didn’t want us to join some weird sect, did he?” Arjun asked. “Things are getting worse. I have seen it on TV. Professor Sharma is a truly courageous man.”

Arjun rose to his feet and trudged out of the room, completely ignoring Sheela and Mahesh.

“Hopefully, the police will not inquire us,” Sheela said.

“And if so. I can truly say he never asked me to meet him in private,” Mahesh said in a firm voice.

“We wanted to talk with him today after class,” Sheela said in a low voice.

“Not necessarily in private. We most likely would have talked in the classroom. I, for my part, did not understand that I was invited to his house, and I did not think he was trying to date me or you,” Mahesh said.

Sheela nodded. She pulled her bags from under the desk.

“I think school is over for today. I’ll help you carrying the bags to your house. It’s not a long way around,” Mahesh said. “I just want to write Jay a text message first.”

Sheela nodded and smiled briefly. Then she looked at the wall, still in shock.

***

Things were totally upside down in school the following weeks. Mister Prasad was seen throughout the week hurrying down corridors and entering classrooms in order to personally make spot checks on the lessons. He was dressed in a black suit and he wore a tie. He looked as if he attended an elegant dinner. Everybody found that he was overreacting, but nobody stopped the man. The principal freaked totally out when he entered a classroom and found the students as well as the teacher quietly reading comic books. Mister Prasad personally collected the comic books and took them to his office room. It turned out, luckily, that the comic books were harmless and age-suited. They were written in French and served as an example for the students to write their own dialogues in French. Mister Prasad calmed down and apologized to the teacher.

Nobody heard of Professor Sharma, but all kinds of rumors came up and circulated throughout school. Asha was absent from class. Nobody had heard of her or from her. The curricula were revised and substitutes for Professor Sharma were found. The man had entirely ignored the curricula and had set up his own lessons. The incident caused a great stir. Many parents called Mister Prasad until the principal finally organized a parents’ evening. The principal informed the parents on what had happened and introduced the new teachers. After a lengthy discussion, the parents and the teachers agreed on an extra hour per week in order to catch up on the teaching subjects, much to the dismay of the students.

Finally, the week was over. Mahesh stormed out of school as soon as the bell had rung and headed home. Jay would move in with him this evening. Mahesh’s mother had already prepared the guest room for him.

Mahesh was sitting in the living room, whiling away his time. He switched on the TV and at once was reminded of the end of the world. He had totally forgotten about it. Mahesh gazed at the screen and listened to the news. Panic buying had started all over the world. Many stores had already run out of food and water and a number of shops had been raided. Two shop owners had been killed during the week. They showed images from all around the globe. The images looked much alike. Mahesh realized that the panic had seized the entire world.

Mahesh leaned back on the couch and looked at the screen. The events in school had distracted him from what was happening in the world. Mahesh was shaken.

“Mom,” he called out.

His mother entered the living room. She looked at the TV screen. “It’s getting worse,” she said quietly.

“Do we have enough food and water in the house?” Mahesh asked, giving his mother a worried look. “Many stores are running out of supplies.”

His mother nodded. “Your father and I took a day off on Wednesday,” she said.

Mahesh gave her a surprised look. He had not seen them at home after he had returned from school. His mother smiled briefly.

“We went over to Miss Devgan in the morning and fetched her freezer. I had met her the previous day and she had offered it to me. She’ll spend a few months with her son and his family until things will hopefully have gotten back to normal. She thought I might need an additional freezer. I talked to your father and he found Miss Devgan was right. I phoned the old woman and we went there the following morning,” she told her son.

“How did you transport the freezer?” Mahesh asked in bewilderment.

“Jay’s father brought his van in the morning. He helped your father,” Mahesh’s mother said.

“I had no clue at all,” Mahesh said slowly.

“We didn’t want to confound you more after what happened in school lately,” his mother said. “Well, afterwards we went shopping. We went to the supermarket round the corner. I found all I wanted,” she said. “Both freezers are filled as well as the refrigerator. The pantry is filled with food and one basement room is filled with water. I think we can outlive a few months. Not that I think that the end of the world is about to come.” She paused and looked into the room. “If it’s all true and the end of the world will come about, then it’s too late anyway,” she said, turning her eyes to Mahesh. “Even if we survived the day, we would not outlive the winter, regardless how much food and water we have stored. We would not survive a long time without heating and electricity.”

Mahesh swallowed. “Are you frightened, Mom?” he asked.

His mother smiled briefly, but then she nodded her head. “A bit,” she replied. “The closer the day comes, the more I feel worried. I try to not show my fear. I want to be there for you and your father and also for Jay. He must get through the day of Winter Solstice without his family. I understand his mother’s wish. She has gone through a lot and she needs to come to terms with it. But it must be hard for Jay. So far, not even his brother has invited him to stay with him on that day.”

Mahesh swallowed. His mother was right. Jay was all alone. His family had left him, in a sense. Mahesh’s mother gave him an encouraging smile.

“We’ll do what we can to make Jay feel comfortable, won’t we, Mahesh?” she asked.

“Certainly,” Mahesh replied.

His mother looked absentmindedly at the TV screen, before she turned back to her son.

“I plan to cook a big meal on the day of Winter Solstice, now that I have plenty of food in the house. We can live in opulence for a couple of weeks,” she said with a smile.

Mahesh nodded, yet did not return her smile. He was suddenly feeling depressed. He had forgotten about reality, but reality had caught up with him. His mother gave him a thoughtful look, and then she switched off the TV. She asked Mahesh to lay the table. Jay would come soon and eat with them. Mahesh’s mother went back into the kitchen.

***

Mahesh’s mother had made a rice dish that Jay had once mentioned he liked a lot. She did everything to make Jay feel comfortable, and Jay was all smiles and seemed to enjoy the evening. Mahesh and Jay went to Mahesh’s room after dinner. Mahesh closed the door and when he turned back to Jay he saw that his friend had an absentminded look that he quickly tried to hide behind a smile.

“How are you feeling, Jay?” Mahesh asked.

Jay shrugged. He sat down on the couch. Mahesh sat down next to him.

“I’m fine, really,” Jay said. “I don’t believe in this ‘end of the world’ crap. Even my mother now says that the prophecies are all wrong. But…” He paused and glanced at Mahesh. “But it’s true, I’m wondering if I will see my parents again.”

Mahesh opened his lips, yet did not know what to say.

Jay patted his arm. “I’m fine, really. I don’t really believe it will happen,” he said.

Mahesh changed the topic in order to distract Jay. He told him of Mister Prasad’s efforts to eradicate the evil that had seized the school.

“I saw him hurrying to his office room with the comic books he had gathered. The man is totally overreacting,” Mahesh said.

“I understand him to a certain degree,” Jay said seriously. “After all, Professor Sharma is being accused of being a child molester. Mister Prasad had to take steps.”

Mahesh gave a laugh. “Professor Sharma is not a child molester. There’s no way he is. He’s far too scatterbrained to be,” he said.

Jay gave him a serious look. “How can you be so certain about it? He invited a fifteen year old girl to his house. She went there in secrecy and she was with him until midnight,” he said. “No wonder her parents are suspicious.”

“They were just working on his texts, like Asha said. They ought to believe her,” Mahesh replied.

“What’s it about these texts?” Jay asked. “I’ve heard a lot of rumors during the week. You attended one of Sharma’s classes. Tell me what’s it about these mysterious texts?”

Mahesh made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “We read various texts from various cultures and from various time periods. The texts were all prophecies announcing the end of the world. Professor Sharma just wanted to explain and clarify that apocalyptic views were somewhat common in history. They tend to pop up in cycles,” he said.

“And why did he read these texts in every class? Is he obsessed with the end of the world?” Jay asked, slightly narrowing his eyes.

Mahesh looked confused, but then he gave a laugh. “Oh, no, Jay, Professor Sharma is not a sect leader. He didn’t brainwash us. He was not looking for followers and he held no meetings. He…”

Mahesh fell silent. His face turned pale. Jay studied him attentively. Mahesh turned his head and gazed at Jay.

“No, Jay, no, it cannot be true. He’s not a sect leader,” Mahesh insisted.

“He invited Asha to his house. The girl lied to her parents and spent half the night with him. She said she was alone with him that day, but usually others had been present,” Jay said. He shrugged. “This is at least what I have heard.”

Mahesh gave a faint nod. “Well, yes, Sheela and I wanted to talk with him after class as well,” he replied.

Jay leaned forward and looked at Mahesh intently. “You wanted what?” he asked.

Mahesh shifted uncomfortably. “He told us of his theory. It intrigued us. We wanted to hear more of it. It’s very fascinating. Sheela has done extended research,” he said.

“Sheela has done extended research,” Jay echoed. He leaned back and studied Mahesh. “Asha has done extended homework,” he said.

Mahesh swallowed and shifted his position again, and then he told Jay of Sheela’s research. Jay didn’t respond for some time. He just gazed at Mahesh.

“I’ve already heard this several times in the previous months,” he said finally. “I’ve heard it on TV and read it in the newspapers. The internet is full of it. The ancient buildings, the ancient manuscripts, the ancient artifacts… they all prove that either aliens visited the planet or superior creatures once lived on the globe. Those creatures could have been dolphins, lizards, light beings or angels. And now the time has come and they will return to either teach us or ultimately destroy us because we are imperfect or whatever. There’s overwhelming evidence for it, for instance that cyclic calendar that ends on the day of Winter Solstice,” Jay said drily.

He leaned back and looked at Mahesh.

“But that’s not all, of course,” he carried on. Some people are chosen and the closer the day comes, the more are chosen, which I personally find a bit odd. I watched TV at home before I came here. They showed the picture of a middle-aged man, average-looking, a tax officer. He said to his wife in June that he was chosen. He had had a dream. A light being had told him that he would be saved from the disaster if he prayed each day to the rising sun. That was what he did from that day on. His wife, skeptical at first, later joined him, and also his two sons. They prayed to the rising sun every morning, outside of the house, on the lawn. His neighbor said that they chanted loudly. His neighbor works shifts. Yesterday, he could not stand it any longer. He had just gone to bed when the chosen ones started their chanting. The man grabbed his gun, went outside, and shot them all dead. He went back into his house and lay down and slept until the police rang at his door.”

Mahesh gazed at Jay. Jay’s eyes were piercing.

“You have no idea at all what Sharma had in mind, Mahesh. His intentions are harmless maybe, perhaps even honorable. But they could just as well be malicious, misguided at least. I’m not sure about you, but Sheela would have run to his house without giving it a single thought,” Jay said.

Mahesh nodded slowly. “You’re right,” he admitted finally. He was feeling like an idiot and he gave Jay a meek look.

Jay reached out and patted Mahesh’s arm. He smiled briefly. “It’s okay,” he said. “Let’s stop it now. I’m terribly tired.”

Jay yawned and wiped his eyes. Mahesh reached out and touched Jay’s shoulder.

“Okay, let’s stop it. Let’s talk about it some other day. Let’s rest now. Mom prepared the guest room for you. Dad carried your bags there,” Mahesh said. He patted Jay’s shoulder once more. “Come, Jay, I’ll take you to your room.”

They stood in the doorway of the guestroom for a while, just looking at each other. Finally, Jay placed his hand on Mahesh’s arm. He leaned in briefly and whispered goodnight. Then he stepped back and waved his hand. Mahesh made a step back and Jay closed the door.

Mahesh kept standing in the corridor, and then he trudged back to his room. He went to bed and for a while he tossed and turned, but then he finally fell asleep. He awoke after midnight. The house was quiet and the night was calm. Mahesh listened into the darkness for a while. Then, following an impulse, he got up and left his room. He sneaked down the dark corridor and entered Jay’s room. He listened into the darkness for an instant and then quietly crossed the room. He walked slowly and cautiously, but then he stumbled over a shoe. The noise made Jay turn in his bed.

Mahesh sat down on the edge of the bed, and then he slipped under the blanket. Jay gave a surprised grunt, and then he fell silent. Mahesh sensed the warmth of Jay’s body and he heard his breathing. He moved closer. Jay gave a laugh, turned on his side and wrapped his arm around Mahesh.

***

The weekend passed quickly. Mahesh’s parents did everything to make Jay feel comfortable in their house. Mahesh’s father had bought basketball tickets for Saturday afternoon. In the evening, they all went out for dinner. Early on Sunday morning they left town in order to go for a long walk through snow-covered fields. They had lunch in a traditional inn and they had coffee when they returned home. Mahesh’s mother had made a huge apple cake the previous day. Mahesh and Jay were tired and exhausted at the end of the day, but they were also happy.

The following week started largely like the previous week had ended. Mister Prasad, the principal, and the teachers continued working on general improvements at school. Professor Sharma was still absent. Nobody had heard of him. Asha was also absent, but on Tuesday rumors spread that Asha’s father had withdrawn the complaint. The rumor proved true. Asha returned to school on Wednesday and told the others what had happened in Professor Sharma’s house. Mister Prasad held a brief meeting and told the students that all accusations against Professor Sharma were dropped. He said that Asha’s father had misinterpreted the situation which of course was understandable as he was a father who was truly concerned about his child. Professor Sharma had talked with Asha and her parents. He had been able to clarify the matter and had admitted that he had acted unprofessional. The principal said that this was also the reason why the curricula and schedules were being revised and substitutes would pick up on Professor Sharma’s classes.

The following morning, Mahesh and Jay entered the cafeteria and stopped short at the sight of Arjun, the overweight and nervous boy, handing flyers to the other students. They watched him for a while and then approached him to get a flyer as well. Mahesh and Jay sat down at a table and studied the piece of paper. Arjun had written a stirring appeal to let Professor Sharma come back to school and resume his work. He explained that Professor Sharma had only tried to save the students from falling for the false prophets who announced the end of the world and who were misguiding and brainwashing people. Arjun mentioned the address of a website that he had put online the previous day. Mahesh and Jay opened their cell phones and visited the site, like most of the other students in the cafeteria did also. Arjun had listed links and provided texts that presented the core statements of the false prophets. He gave a brief summary and an analysis of each text, like they had done with the texts they had discussed with Professor Sharma in class.

“Goodness. He must have worked on this for days and nights,” Jay said just when Sheela joined them with her cell phone in her hand.

She sat down and looked admiringly at Arjun who was talking with a group of students.

“He’s very courageous. Wow, I would have never expected this from Arjun. He was always so timid and awkward. I was really thinking he was having mental issues,” she said.

Mister Prasad freaked totally out when he learned of what was going on. He sent a teacher to the cafeteria and the man led Arjun out of the room. Arjun walked upright and his look was self-assured. He looked like a true winner. The other students gazed after him in disbelief.

Mahesh and Jay headed home after school. Mahesh’s mother had switched on the TV. She pointed at the screen.

“You won’t believe it,” she said. “The tone has entirely changed now that the day of Winter Solstice is near. They finally try to clear things up. They analyze the false prophecies in a reasonable manner. In my honest opinion, this comes a bit late. They should have started this earlier.”

She changed the channel when the program had ended. A talk show had just started. They were discussing the false prophecies. Mahesh’s mother shook her head in disbelief.

“Looks as if they have agreed on changing the television programs. Now this gives way to new conspiracy theories, I would say,” she said.

“It seems Arjun had a good nose for what was to come,” Jay said with a smirk on his face.

They told Mahesh’s mother of what Arjun had done.

“I do approve of his step,” she said. “Hopefully, Mister Prasad will exercise leniency.”

And this was exactly what the principal did. He had apparently also watched TV and witnessed the change of tone. He gave Arjun permission to continue handing out his flyers, which the boy did enthusiastically. At the end of the week, Arjun was the new school hero. Mister Prasad felt compelled to call a meeting at twelve o’clock on Friday, right after the final class had ended. All students were obliged to take part. They were sitting in their chairs, talking vividly with each other, when Mister Prasad and the teachers entered the hall. The students fell silent.

The principal talked at length about the past events. And then he invited Arjun to step forward and join him. The overweight boy rose to his feet and crossed the room. He walked upright, his steps measured, no trudging or walking slowly. Arjun had entirely changed. He stood next to the principal and looked at the other students. Mister Prasad thanked Arjun for his courageous effort and invited him to speak to the crowd. Arjun explained his mission. He talked distinctly, his eyes meeting the eyes of the students and teachers. His speech was fluent and touched the audience. The shy and awkward boy had turned into a talented speaker. His listeners hung on his lips and when he had finished, the teachers and students applauded. Mister Prasad thanked Arjun again. The boy walked back to his seat. Everybody’s eyes were following him.

Mister Prasad spoke up again and announced a surprise guest. A teacher opened a side door and Professor Sharma stepped in. The crowd applauded again. The principal reached out his hand to Professor Sharma. They shook hands and then Mister Prasad addressed the students.

Mahesh listened only with half an ear. He looked at Professor Sharma who looked tired, exhausted, and very distressed. His face was ashen and it seemed that he had drastically lost weight. Nonetheless, the poor man stood upright and did not turn his eyes from the crowd. Mister Prasad finally thanked him for his courageous efforts and Miss Pandey, the school secretary, rose from her chair, walked to the professor and took his arm with a smile. She led him to the row where the teachers were sitting. Professor Sharma sat down.

“Love, peace, and harmony,” Jay said in a low voice.

“Quiet,” Sheela hissed. “I’m so happy they are fair with him. It was all so unjust.”

Finally, the meeting was over and the students hurried out of the building and headed home. They had a one-week-break and they were looking forward to it. A one-week-break. It sounded somewhat surreal to Mahesh as the day of Winter Solstice was only two days away. Mahesh joined Sheela and Jay who were talking with each other.

“Professor Sharma had a theory that I thought was worthwhile researching on,” Sheela said. “I have done extended research and I have indeed found a lot of information and facts that support his theory.”

Jay looked at Sheela, but glanced aside when Mahesh joined them.

“Did you carry on with your research?” Mahesh asked Sheela.

“A bit,” Sheela admitted. “I’m totally convinced that Professor Sharma is right.”

“What kind of theory?” Jay asked.

“It’s indeed very interesting,” Mahesh said. “I’ve already told you of it. Professor Sharma is convinced that some 120,000 years ago a comet hit the planet and destroyed a global and advanced civilization.”

“A civilization that can well be compared to ours,” Sheela said. “There are ancient scripts that tell of advanced technological and astronomical knowledge. The ancients for instance knew all the planets of our solar system. They knew of planets that we discovered only recently.”

“I know this,” Jay said shortly. “The esoterics and prophets have spoken of it in the previous months. But the ancients lived some 5,000 years ago. The scripts cannot be dated back 120,000 years,” he said. He shifted impatiently.

“The knowledge could have passed on orally and was only written down 5,000 years ago,” Sheela said.

“Nonsense,” Jay said shortly. “120,000 years ago only primitive humans inhabited the planet. Shouldn’t we find thousands of modern looking skeletons, if 120,000 years ago modern looking people inhabited the planet?” he asked.

“Goodness, Jay,” Sheela said, rolling her eyes in disbelief. “Those primitive beings lived millions of years ago. Modern men have lived from about 250,000 years ago to the present day. This is acknowledged history and not esoteric bullshit. Current research has established that humans are genetically highly homogenous. The DNA of individuals is more alike than usual for most species, which may have resulted from their relatively recent evolution or the possibility of a population bottleneck. A population bottleneck is an evolutionary event in which a significant percentage of a population or species is killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing. The Madhu catastrophe theory suggests that a bottleneck of the human population occurred about 120,000 years ago, proposing that the human population was reduced to perhaps 15,000 individuals when the supervolcano Madhu erupted and triggered a major environmental change. The theory is based on geological evidences of a sudden climate change and on coalescence evidences of some genes - including mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosome and some nuclear genes - and the relatively low level of genetic variation with humans,” Sheela lectured. “I found articles on this in acknowledged scientific journals. It’s proven fact that there was a population bottleneck about 120,000 years ago. This is just the time frame that Professor Sharma told us. He certainly knows of the scientific research and that was what he wanted to explain to us in more detail,” she said.

“I thought he said a comet had destroyed the ancient civilization,” Mahesh said.

“I guess the supervolcano erupted as a result of the comet’s impact,” Sheela replied. “They have proof of the eruption, but they have not yet detected the impact crater.”

“It most likely is at the bottom of the sea,” Jay said with sudden excitement.

“The texts we read in class told of a flood,” Mahesh said.

“Tsunamis,” Sheela said with a meaningful look.

“Population bottleneck,” Mahesh said slowly. “I had never heard of it. I truly didn’t know that human population was reduced to perhaps 15,000 individuals in the past.”

“About 120,000 years ago,” Sheela said. “The catastrophe was global and totally devastating. That’s why we find only little evidence of this ancient civilization. However, there are findings that support Professor Sharma’s theory.”

“Unfortunately they are ignored or explained away,” Mahesh said.

“Yes,” Jay replied. “People wouldn’t be able to cope with the truth. But it could not be explained away, if there was some hardcore evidence, an ancient nuclear power plant, for instance.”

Sheela nodded. “I will speak to Professor Sharma when school has started again. Perhaps there is such evidence. Perhaps he knows of it,” she said.

“Provided we will outlive the day of Winter Solstice,” Mahesh said gloomily.

Sheela looked at him in astonishment. “I thought you did not believe in this crap,” she said.

Jay nudged Mahesh. “Come on, get a grip on yourself. You were the one who told me it was all crap. The end of the world is not supposed to come. That cyclic calendar just reminded the natives that history repeats itself, which makes total sense to me now.” He paused. “Provided the population bottleneck theory is true.”

“It is,” Sheela said, pursing her lips.

Jay smirked at Mahesh and nudged him again. Mahesh nudged him back. Sheela watched them and shrugged.

“Alright, I’ll see you in a week. Have a nice day of Winter Solstice,” she said.

Mahesh and Jay turned to her. Mahesh smiled and Jay winced at her.

“The same to you,” Mahesh said.

Jay just nodded his head. Sheela returned a brief smile, and then walked away. Mahesh and Jay looked after her.

“She’s a real nerd,” Jay said.

“I’ve changed my view a bit after I spent an afternoon in her company,” Mahesh said. “That nerdy trait of hers disappears once she dares to come out of her shell. She’s quite nice, actually.”

Jay gave Mahesh a skeptical look, and then he took a deep breath. “School’s over for a week,” he said with relief.

He gave Mahesh another nudge, and then they finally left the school building and headed home.

***

Two days had passed. The day of Winter Solstice had come. Mahesh and Jay got up late. They found Mahesh’s mother in the kitchen, already preparing the extended meal she had planned for the day. Mahesh’s father was reading a book in the living room. Mahesh and Jay joined him and brushed through journals and magazines. None of them mentioned Winter Solstice or the end of the world that was supposed to come upon them that day. They all behaved totally normal as if the day was just a normal and peaceful holiday. However, they did not switch on the radio or TV, and none of them checked their cell phones or the internet. They had agreed tacitly to ignore the news.

They had an extended lunch, and then went for a walk together. The streets of the town were empty. It was cold outside and snow was falling. They walked rapidly, joking and laughing, and then they returned to the house. They had coffee and played cards afterwards. It was already four in the afternoon when they finished their game. Mahesh’s father looked furtively at his watch. Jay and Mahesh shifted nervously in their chairs. Mahesh’s mother wiped back her hair. They looked at each other. Their somewhat exaggerated cheerful mood was suddenly gone.

“The day will end in short in some parts of the world,” Mahesh’s father said. “The first time zones will soon have made it.”

“Possibly,” Mahesh’s mother replied. Her voice was rough.

“Perhaps we should check the news,” Mahesh said in a pressed voice.

Jay leaned forward and took his cell phone from the table. He looked at it for an instant, and then he raised his eyes and looked from one to the other.

“I’ll check the news on the internet, okay?” he asked.

The others exchanged a look, and then they nodded. Jay opened his cell phone and surfed to a news site. He scrolled down the page and read the titles of the news.

“Nothing extraordinary has happened so far,” he said. His voice showed relief. “Heavy rain in the south and some damages caused by a minor flood, not unusual at this time of the year. A plane had to make an emergency landing. Several people were killed in a major car crash. They’re going to start fireworks in the eastern parts of the world in about half an hour, at midnight their time.”

They looked at each other. Mahesh’s mother smiled, albeit nervously. Mahesh’s father leaned back and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His look was serious.

“I’m certain that nothing will happen, but I must admit that I’m feeling a little uncomfortable. We must think of something to while away our time, else the evening will be a very long one,” he said.

“How about we have a look at old photographs,” his wife suggested.

Her husband and the boys shrugged.

“Why not,” Mahesh’s father said lamely.

Mahesh’s mother opened the drawer of a sideboard and returned with three boxes. She opened them, took out photos and handed them to the others. The atmosphere was tensed, but her efforts worked out. They all relaxed a little. One and a half hour passed, and then they agreed to have supper. They ate slowly and talked about the weather and related stuff until they fell silent again. It had gotten dark meanwhile. Night had fallen. Six more hours until midnight. Jay couldn’t stand it any longer and opened his cell phone again. He shook his head.

“Nothing has happened, no catastrophe. The people in the eastern countries are already celebrating. Minor communal disturbances in the west where false prophets are still warning the people. No, nothing extraordinary has happened so far,” he said.

“There are still a few hours till midnight,” Mahesh said.

Mahesh’s father rose to his feet. “Nothing will happen. Let’s watch TV. I read yesterday that there will be a great live show on TV tonight,” he said. He gave his wife an apologetic look and shrugged. “Better watch TV than sit and brood.”

“Sure,” Mahesh’s mother replied. She rose to her feet as well.

They all sat down in the living room. The live show had just started. A big surprise was announced that would be revealed at the end of the show. The moderator of the show enthusiastically interviewed the celebrities that had been invited, amongst them singers, actors, stage directors, and a few national and international politicians. Popular singers and bands performed their latest songs. The show was much like a jovial New Year’s Eve party. Unfortunately, the audience did not catch fire. The people in the studio looked disinterested and listless. The cameras therefore focused on the cheerful moderator who more and more came across like a total fool or someone who was drugged and high. Jay, Mahesh, and his parents sat quietly and gazed listlessly at the screen. Mahesh’s father switched the channel at every full hour in order to check the news. However, nothing had happened in the world. It grew more and more obvious that the whole ‘end of the world thing’ had in fact been a big charade. At half past eleven, the clownish moderator announced the big surprise of the show. He made quite a fuss and paused several times for dramatic effect.

“Get on with it!” Mahesh’s father hissed.

Mahesh and his mother exchanged a look. Jay chuckled and checked his cell phone.

The moderator finally revealed the surprise. It was a live conference. The president of the country would speak to the people. Mahesh’s father gave a disappointed grunt. He leaned back against the rear of the couch. Mahesh’s mother looked at her watch and yawned. Mahesh glanced at his parents. They had apparently stopped thinking about the end of the world. Jay placed his cell phone on the table and also leaned back. Mahesh rubbed his eyes. He was feeling tired.

The image on the screen changed. The face of the president showed up. The man smiled into the camera and greeted the nation. His voice was measured, deep, and full. He spoke fluently and not without emotion. Jay, Mahesh, and his parents listened with only half an ear. They had heard it all before, at least this was what they guessed from the words and phrases that reached their ears. Mahesh’s mother looked at her watch. His father did likewise.

“Twenty more minutes,” he said.

The president turned aside a bit and pointed at a large picture behind him. It showed a big robot. The president turned back to the camera.

“Like I have always stated, the end of the world will not come upon us tonight. We witnessed a major event today, however,” he said. “Curiosity has landed on Mars this morning. The rover is ready to broadcast the first live pictures from Mars. The end of the world has not come today, but today man has accomplished a big mission. Man has reached the planet Mars. This is a giant leap for mankind.”

The president pointed at the large picture again. The camera zoomed closer, and then the image changed and a reddish sand plain appeared on the screen. The voice of a man commented on the picture. He introduced himself. He was the head of the space program. He said he was happy that their efforts had worked out. Like they had planned it, the rover had landed on the day of Winter Solstice. The man said that they had just activated another camera. In seven minutes, a high resolution picture would reach the TV screens.

Mahesh’s father looked at his watch. “At midnight,” he said.

“Wow, what a surprise,” Jay said drily. “They must have carefully planned it in order to eradicate and wipe out every thought of the end of the world.”

“A good marketing strategy,” Mahesh said.

“They are not unintelligent,” his father said drily.

“It must have long been known that the rover will land on the day of Winter Solstice,” Mahesh’s mother said. “Did no one take notice of the Mars mission?”

“Apparently not,” her husband replied. “We were occupied with the end of the world, getting freezers and loads of food. We will not run out of supplies for months,” he said cynically.

Mahesh’s mother rolled her eyes, yet did not respond. She looked at her watch.

“Ten more minutes,” she said.

***


The image on the TV screen changed and showed the reddish sand plain in more detail and in high resolution. The shape of a mountain range was seen in the distance. The camera moved. A black object, a rock formation perhaps, appeared on the screen. The head of the space program raised his voice and enthusiastically explained the advanced technology of the camera. He said that they would zoom in and have a look at the rock formation in the distance in order to demonstrate the camera’s functionality. When he had finished his explanations, the camera zoomed in. Seven minutes later, the black object appeared on the TV screens.

It was a vast cube made of a lustrous material. The cube was entirely covered with symbols. There was no doubt that they were artificial. A flag was seen on top of the side of the cube. The flag consisted of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton bearing lots of small, white five-pointed stars. The image showed on the screen for about thirty seconds, and then the TV screen went black and remained black for a couple of minutes before an advertisement appeared on the screen. The image was frozen on the screen and was not removed for half an hour.

Mahesh’s father seized the remote control and switched channels. His hand was trembling as he did. All national TV stations had stopped broadcasting. Several international TV stations had also stopped their programs. Nervous moderators and broadcasters were talking rapidly. They sounded shaken. Mahesh’s father switched back to the channel they had been watching earlier. Jay chewed his nails and Mahesh felt as if he was close to a heart-attack. His mind was blank. He was entirely unable to think coherently. His mother’s eyes were widened and his father seized the remote control tightly. His knuckles were white from the grip.

National and international broadcasting started twenty minutes later. All TV channels showed the image of the cube on Mars. The moderators were talking in high-pitched voices. Some of them almost screamed. The news had spread with light speed and the world was paralyzed from shock.

Jay, Mahesh, and his parents spent the night in front of the TV, unable to rise to their feet or even speak much. Mahesh’s father regularly switched the channels in order to check the worldwide news. He didn’t put down the remote control. He seized it tightly for many hours as if he needed to remain in control at least of what was going on in his house. The hours passed slowly. The picture of the black cube was shown again and again. Moderators speculated, newscasters told the same repeatedly. A TV station had organized a live talk show in next to no time. A few esoterics were discussing the finding on Mars. Mahesh recognized the man who claimed to be an expert in ancient astronauts research. They listened for a while until the man stood and held a speech to the unknown species that had erected the black cube on Mars. Mahesh’s father let out a grunt and switched the channel. They listened again to the news.

Official statements were made worldwide a couple of hours after the discovery. The presidents and rulers spoke to their people. They gave no explanations. They just aimed at calming down people. Behind the scenes, however, astronomers and mathematicians had immediately started to analyze and decipher the code. Only nine hours had passed when the result of their work was globally presented to the public: The cube’s origin was Earth. It had been placed on Mars 119,989 years ago by the United Nations of America. More details were announced to be presented in the course of the day.

Mahesh received a text message right when the announcement had ended. Sheela had written only one sentence: Professor Sharma was right!!!!! Mahesh gazed at Sheela’s enthusiastic exclamation marks, and then placed his cell phone on the table. His father finally gave up seizing the remote control. His mother went into the kitchen and made fresh coffee. Jay joined her and made toasts. Mahesh heard the two of them laughing. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. His tensed body relaxed slowly. Mahesh’s father opened the window. Fresh air filled the room. Mahesh’s father leaned out of the window and for a couple of minutes studied the snow that covered the place in front of the house. He commented on it at length as if the discovery of the fallen snow was the most unexpected thing in the world. Mahesh watched him in disbelief, but then he closed his eyes. He was way too tired to think.

***

The presidents and rulers spoke to their people in the course of the day. Their core statements were the same and there was not one man on Earth who would not agree with what they said: “History must be rewritten. Winter Solstice marks the end of the world we have known.” There was no denying the fact, no denying the truth as the whole world had witnessed it.

As soon as the finding on Mars was officially acknowledged, the scientists stepped forward and presented the evidence that they had found over the years and that supported the idea of an advanced ancient civilization that had been destroyed by a global catastrophe 120,000 years ago when the supervolcano Madhu exploded due to a comet’s impact. Geologists explained the effects of the eruption, mythologists presented ancient legends and myths that had been orally passed on for ages and that told of a global catastrophe that had reduced the human population. Anthropologists and biologists presented the population bottleneck theory to the public and explained that genetic research indicated that the global population had been reduced to some 15,000 persons about 120,000 years ago. Archeologists lectured on ancient scripts that revealed that the ancients held advanced astronomical and technological knowledge that had probably been passed on for ages in secrecy, held only by the elite of the culture. Field-research on ancient buildings was enforced and many archeological findings were presented to the public at large. The scientists spoke like the esoterics and prophets had spoken before the day of Winter Solstice had come. The world eagerly listened to them and slowly recovered from the shock. A few individuals and groups claimed that the cube on Mars was not real and that the pictures had been taken on Earth in some secret place in a desert. They claimed the whole thing was a marketing strategy and mere propaganda. They could not offer plausible explanations, however, as to what the rulers of the countries were aiming at with their global marketing strategy. The majority of people ignored the conspiracy theories. After months of hearing wild speculations on the end of the world, they were fed up with the crap. The world chose to embrace the inheritance that an ancient human civilization had left to them. The cube on Mars was examined carefully and all findings were presented to the public.

***

Mahesh, Jay, Sheela and Arjun went to see Professor Sharma a few weeks later. He had invited them to his house in order to discuss with them the turn of events. His students looked forward to the meeting. Sheela had carried on with her research in the previous weeks. Her new friend Arjun had enthusiastically helped her. They carried twelve folders to Professor Sharma’s house. They were thickly filled with papers on their findings. Mahesh and Jay, more interested in the current events, had brought journals and magazines that contained articles on the cube on Mars.

“What truly fascinates me is how long the knowledge was passed on,” Sheela said, adjusting her glasses. “120,000 years are a very long time.”

“The impact of the comet did not come unexpected,” Jay said, pointing at the picture of the cube in one of his magazines. “They have meanwhile deciphered the whole code. The Mars rover surrounded the cube and took photos of the cube’s sides and also of the top of the cube. The code had been carefully planned. It’s based on mathematical and astronomical formulae and data. They left the cube there for a future civilization to find it and decipher the code. They discovered the comet thirteen years before the impact. They knew the impact would be disastrous. There was nothing they could do. No way to evacuate the whole population. They were not advanced enough to leave the planet. So they gathered a group of people and found a safe place for them in order to outlive the catastrophe.”

“Noah’s Ark,” Professor Sharma said thoughtfully.

“They could not foresee if this would work out or if the human race would die out. They knew, however, that, even if the small group outlived the disaster, their civilization would be destroyed. The chosen individuals would more or less live in the Stone Age. The group had only one goal: breed and increase the population. The ancient knowledge was deposited in several places on Earth. The cube on Mars was left for some possible future civilization that was advanced enough to find out about their true origin. The code on the cube indicates where the ancient knowledge can be found on Earth. Some of the places had already been found in the past. Some of the scripts had been found and deciphered some 5,000 years ago when the ancients suddenly held advanced architectural knowledge. It’s fascinating. There’s still so much to find out,” Jay said.

The others nodded. Professor Sharma smiled.

“And yet it seems that history repeats itself. Like that calendar that is based on cycles,” he said.

“The calendar was right,” Arjun said. “The cycle ended on the day of Winter Solstice and actually a new era has begun.”

“The esoterics and prophets predicted the end of the world, but none of them anticipated the cube that ultimately revealed the truth to the world,” Mahesh said.

“But only truth matters,” Professor Sharma said wisely.



THE END



© 2012 Dolores Esteban

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First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction