After writing and editing numerous academic books, Nitin Sharma tried his hand at fiction and felt great relief and joy when his first short story “The Tribe” was well-received. His stories have been shortlisted or published by various magazines and blogs, such as Dark Moon Digest, Writing Wicket, Brave Wings and others. Currently he is working on his two trilogies. He writes in multiple genres and in two languages: English and Hindi.

Nitin was a guest author at New Delhi World Book Fair-2013. Indian delegations have taken his books to different nations. He firmly believes in an ancient Sanskrit phrase that translates as “Entire world is one family.”

When he’s not writing, he is probably cooking at his home in Gurugram, India.

He can be contacted at nitinlovesreader@gmail.com


by Nitin Sharma


Shhh! Show him respect, young man. Nothing is impossible for him!

He was the bridge between the mortals and the immortals, between the living and the departed, between this world and the nether, and they were expected to accept his authority unwaveringly, and most did. The tides were turning but not fast; an incident here and another there proved nothing.

He was the shaman, the most powerful being alive. He was the protective wall between them and the forces beyond the curtain, and they felt safe and thrived in his divine realm. When he treaded the village paths, hardly ever touching his two pronged stick to the land, they bowed—some out of respect, others out of fear.

She came out of nowhere.

She kneeled to grab his time-worn feet and buried her tear-soaked face in them. Her hunched, defeated shoulders shook with her hiccups that were audible through her golden wavy curls. Her partially torn skirt and bruised feet narrated the story of her ordeal, told even when she didn’t want it told.

He caught the young woman by her arms and helped her up. There was nothing but fear in her big blue eyes.

“Erlda, what is it?” he asked, concerned.

His fatherly manner gave her courage to speak. “They’re still following me.”

The shaman boomed deliberately, “Who!” He glanced around at the clumps of trees on both sides of the trail.

There was a rustle nearby and two bald heads emerged from behind an acacia. He raised his stick at them. Their bravado gave in immediately. They refused to challenge his unworldly powers and retreated hastily and vanished quickly.

“They’re gone,” he said, “but they’ll be back.”

“Why didn’t you smite them with a bolt of lightning?” she asked in a hurt, accusing voice.

The old man shook his head. Despite his age his thick brown hair was intact, and it complemented his robes of the same color. “They exaggerate my powers,” he told her earnestly. “Go and seek protection of your Orom.”

Orom was the title conferred on the village patriarch, the second most powerful man after the shaman, who ruled the village like a king.

“They want my baby girl Zelda, too.”

A wave of disgust rose in him like none ever before, but his wizened eyes could now see more than just fear in her moist eyes. “And what is your guilt about?”

Erlda’s face went ablaze. “I pawned us both,” she told reluctantly, and swiftly added, “I needed silver for her yellow sickness. What mother would let her child just die?”

He knew she wasn’t lying. “You did what a mother would, but now they want what you promised them. This whole trade disgusts me.” He sighed. “I will speak to your Orom. Is Zelda in safe hands?”

“I left her with my sister yesterday. I suspected they were after us. Offered myself to their whims but now that I wouldn’t give my daughter, they want my blood instead.”

“This cannot be allowed,” the shaman said, shaking his head. “Come with me, daughter.”


The Orom, the village patriarch and the de facto ruler, lived in a cavernous hut perched atop a grass-covered mound. To unaccustomed eyes it was a wonder, albeit less so than the shaman's white-stone altar in the barrenness far away from the village. Four sentries armed with bows and arrows, stationed in four clay towers around the hut, kept an eye on every visitor.

The Orom didn’t possess unearthly powers, after all, and the untimely death of his son and the inability of the shaman to resuscitate him despite Orom’s desperate pleadings had convinced him that neither did the shaman. It was something the latter was about to find out soon.

The Orom sat in his teak throne carved with scenes of battles of people with beasts. He was presiding a court. His disheveled green robes and uncombed hair evinced that he hadn’t been able to overcome his tremendous grief yet.

The shaman approached. The sentries didn’t bow to the shaman today, and that was the first sign. The shaman ignored their impudence and pulled Erlda along into the hut.

As soon as the villagers saw the shaman, they leapt up, bent their heads and bifurcated to let him pass, but the Orom didn’t get up to welcome him as he should have according to the custom. Another sign.

“Show me no respect if you don’t want to,” the shaman said, “but what Orom lets his people suffer the way you do?”

The Orom ignored his accusation. “And what brings you to my poor hut, old man?” he asked derisively, leaning forward. “Why aren’t you on your muddy trail?”

The villagers seemed taken aback by his curtness, but they could only play mute spectators between the two mighty men.

The shaman maintained his composure despite open provocation. “Orom, it’s not my fault that your son died so young. Not every serpent bite is curable.”

A mocking but painful little laughter from the aggrieved father followed. “Oh, but they say you can bring back the dead!”

“Even a shaman cannot do what you ask for, Orom. I can do things but...”

“Lies!” the Orom cried. “In my seven years of rule I haven’t seen a thing from you. You can fool the world but not me, you wretched old man!” Now he stood up, shaking visibly.

Shaman’s hand tightened around his two-pronged stick, and some villagers noticed it. “I'm not here to prove my powers to you. I’m here to seek justice for this woman and her daughter.” He caught Erlda's arm and pulled her forth.

The Orom displayed no signs of surprise. “I was expecting her, too, for she is required to present herself to the men she is pawned to. And her daughter, much younger as she might be, is no exception to the rules.”

“Orom!” yelled the shaman in fury. The villagers flinched. “Where is your justice, I ask! Where should this helpless woman and her daughter go if you won’t protect them?”

“They can go wherever they want in my kingdom,” the Orom said silkily, “but they will not leave this village until they have redeemed themselves by paying off their debt.”

The shaman had turned livid in anger, and the Orom seemed to be enjoying it.

“And I daresay I could have freed these women from their debt if you,” said the Orom, “the talker to the dead, could bring my son back. But as it seems to happen, you cannot. You have your impotence, I have mine.”

The shaman knew it was futile to argue. A part of his heart sympathized with the aggrieved father, but the other part wanted to punish him for his wickedness. “Your tragedy has rendered you incompetent, Orom. If you won’t do your duty, I will have to find another way to get it done. And I will.”

As the shaman strode out with Erlda in his wake, the Orom was breathing fire.


Erlda wanted to slit her throat on a sharpened axe, and if shaman had not alerted her sister that she could make such an attempt, she might have succeeded. “First I thought about killing those men myself,” she told the shaman.

“Do you trust me?”

She looked into his kind eyes, then nodded.

“Tell me, would you like to leave this life, all of this, behind you? I can give you a life where nothing will be the same ever, but the decision rests entirely on you.”

She looked at her little daughter who was playing with her pet toad.

“She can come with you,” shaman assured her.

“Then get us away from this hell,” Erlda said bitterly and decisively.


They walked entire evening and well until the midnight. They moved through eerie farms of corn, then along a moonlit lake, and then crossed an empire of barrenness to reach the forbidden ground where the shaman’s altar—a thirty-five foot high iconic white stone tower with an altar slab at the top, dedicated to Mayan gods of creation, rain, serpents, and destruction—stood, surrounded by totems and scarecrows.

No human dared venture near it unless the reigning shaman accompanied them, and there were stories of unspeakable misfortunes that befell anyone who broke this rule: some trespassers oozed blood from eyes until they went blind, some were found hanging from top branches of the tallest trees, some were stung to death by hundreds of scorpions, and what not. It was believed that ancient Mayan spirits guarded the place themselves.

Despite their exhaustion, the shaman didn’t allow Erlda and Zelda to halt and catch their breath near the base of the altar tower, instead he led them through a spiral staircase straight to the top. “It must be done with the rising sun,” he told them, without bothering to explain what ‘it' meant. “By the grace of our mighty gods and wise ancestors, I might be able to turn your fate.”

Atop the tower, Erlda noticed a goat’s skull, a serpent’s intact skeleton, and two human femurs near the altar slab. Shaman beckoned them to sit down on the floor and rest, while he picked up the two thigh bones and began to utter silent incantations, his eyes closed and determined face raised to the moon, his lips moving. There was a drizzle from the tiny clouds far up above, which Zelda liked.

The shaman continued his ritual incessantly. The little girl had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when he finally opened his shining eyes.

Using his two-pronged stick as a lever, he slid away the altar slab. Erlda wanted to help but he insisted that it was to be done by him alone. Under the slab they could see steep stone stairs that descended into what looked like abyss. The shaman disappeared into it, set alight a torch by hitting two stones against each other, and Erlda and Zelda could now see a tunnel down there.

He beckoned them to come down and then led them through that long serpent of a tunnel. The tunnel was dim but not completely dark. Strange luminescent lights emanated from the walls, guiding their path.

Erlda, motivated by promise of life, followed wordlessly but little Zelda couldn’t resist the urge to ask where they were headed.

“To the most beautiful place on earth,” came the answer from the shaman.

On and on they went until they could see the purple, predawn firmament at the other end. Moments later they stood before a crevice amid two adjoining steep rocks.

“The guardian rocks,” he told them. “They keep intruders out.”

The crevice was so narrow that only one person at a time could pass through. Erlda stifled her claustrophobic urge to scream as she and Zelda followed the shaman through the narrowness. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long path.

The scene beyond made Zelda’s jaw drop open. Was it even the same world?

Lay open before them a valley like none other—pristine, lush, ornate with mysterious circles of tiny rocks—or were they carefully arranged big cobblestones? Each circle contained a smaller one, and the whole arrangement looked as if a disciplined congregation of children was waiting to hear a fairytale from an old man. Blue sky, neat except for a cloud or two, added to the calm and serenity of the valley. Gentle gusts of wind made the vegetation and grass blades dance in joy.

As the first ray of the sun touched the grass, it shone upon it like gold.

“Ooh!” exclaimed young Zelda.

“I have never seen such a place before,” admitted mesmerized Erlda.

“Our ancestors created this,” said the shaman, beholding it proudly. “There is no other place like this.” Then he turned to Erlda. “And you can both stay here, forever. No danger from humans, for no one can find this valley against the wishes of the spirits.”

“But...here? All alone?”

“Alone? There are hundreds like you who live here, daughter.”

Zelda turned her neck to glance around. “I don’t see anyone.”

“Oh, to see them you must become one of them.” The confounded look on their face amused him. “You will have to become the glow.”

The ‘glow’ was a popular subject of folklores the elderly told village kids quite often. Many believed that every shaman was bestowed upon a glowing radiance by the spirits of their ancestors, and some even claimed to have witnessed it now and then.

“Be the glow,” he said to Erlda.

“What does it feel like?” she asked, apprehensive despite her faith in shaman.

“Like pure bliss,” he replied.

But the fear of the unknown gripped her heart and she asked, “Do we have another choice?”

“Yes, you do,” the shaman said. “The neighboring village is merely a stone’s throw from here. You could escape to it undetected and try your luck there.”

“But sooner or later their Orom will find me and hand me over.”

“Quite likely,” came the reply. “There are pacts among villages, you know this.”

A moment of pondering followed.

“And..,as glow?”

“You live as long as this piece of consecrated ground,” he raised his stick, “remains in worthy hands of a Mayan. But you shall be bereft of cardinal pleasures, for no human could bear the glow. They will burn.”

Instead of a limitation it sounded like melody to her ears. After her traumatic experience with those men, she craved no cardinal joys. Moreover, her daughter, fragile as a petal in her innocent childhood, deserved to be safe from her mother’s past deeds. What bigger reason could she need?

She made a courtesy bow to the shaman.  “Yes,” she said courageously.

As soon as the word came out, she and Zelda fell into a deep but transitory dreamy somnolence, and they woke up in blissful warmth of their own glow and that of other ‘glows.’ The shaman, sitting on a rock, looked like a giant now that they had shrunk to the size of stones in the circles...but what stones?

The stones were gone, now replaced by tiny people their size, and they all had one thing in common: the glow. Even though they were strangers, they hugged Erlda and Zelda as if they were meeting their long-lost family. The apprehensions in the hearts of the two melted away in the warmth of their combined glow.

“Remember, you are safe as long as this sacred ground is safe.” The shaman took his leave.


As Cortez and his men landed on the shore, he thought it was a beautiful country, certainly one that would contain unlimited riches.